All posts in Water To Wine

  • Now Is the Time for the Good Wine!

    Now Is the Time for the Good Wine!

    Brian Zahnd

    I know what it’s like to fear that the feast is about to cease because, as in the words of Mary the Mother of Jesus in Cana of Galilee, “They have no wine.”

    This was my experience almost twenty years ago when I first began to feel the falseness prevailing in Americanized Christianity — it was too shallow, too watery, too weak, too partisan, too incurious, too complicit with the materialism and militarism of the age. For me this wasn’t a crisis of faith in a general sense — I was still fascinated with the Jesus who had captured my heart as a teenager — but I knew Jesus deserved something a whole lot better than American pop Christianity. I still believed in Jesus, but it felt like the party was coming to an end.

    But I didn’t walk away, instead I threw myself into seeking something better, and in 2004 Jesus performed a miracle — water turned into wine! I found the rich, substantive, subversive, intoxicating Christianity I was looking for. Today I’ve never been more excited to be a Christian, and I’ve never been happier to serve Jesus and his beloved church. This is the truth and it’s the story I tell in my spiritual memoir Water To Wine.

    The point of this piece though is not to retell that story (as wonderful as it is) but to encourage those of you who feel the falseness prevailing in Americanized Christianity and fear you’ll soon have to walk out on the Christian feast. I have good news for those forlornly looking for the exit from a party that feels like it’s about to grind to a halt: Now is the time for the good wine!

    After Jesus had performed his first miracle in Cana of Galilee the master of the feast told the truth when he said, “You have kept the good wine until now!” That’s what I want to say — now is the time for the good wine!

    I’m well aware that much of the more public expressions of Christianity in North America seem to be backsliding into religious nationalism, narrow fundamentalism, and tawdry consumerism, but that’s not the whole story. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to travel widely and to speak in churches, seminaries, and conferences across North America, and I’m happy to report that Jesus is manifesting his glory by turning water into wine! The good news is you don’t have be done, you just need to find where Jesus is doing his thing and give it a hearty salute — L’Chaim!

    It’s by coming to the end of that which is fading away that we are invited to participate in what the Spirit is doing now. We can call it deconstruction if we like. Indeed sometimes a whole wing of our theological house needs to be demolished so the renovation project can move forward. But I prefer to use the metaphor of a precious icon being lovingly restored so that we can once again behold the beauty of Christ. But my favorite way of talking about this spiritual phenomenon is to say that when the inferior wine has at last run out, don’t walk out, instead let Jesus turn plain tap water into extraordinary carménère!

    This is why I’ve again asked some friends to join me in June for our second Water To Wine Gathering. June 13–15 we will gather at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri to talk about all kinds of things I bet you’re interested in. Of course we’ll have plenty of plenary sessions (and every session will have Q/A), but just look at these workshops!

    Joe Beach — “Wittenberg, We Have a Problem: Christianity’s Dangerous Idea”

    Sarah Bessey — “A Path In the Wilderness: Deconstruction Beyond Doubling Down or Burning It Down”

    Cheryl Bridges Johns — “No Other Gods: Discipleship in the Age of Empire”

    Jonathan Martin — “Staying True To Your Roots!”

    Rich Villodas — “Sabbath-Keeping as a Contemplative Practice of Resistance”

    Derek Vreeland — “Atonement and Authentic Discipleship: How the Cross Frees Us To Follow Jesus”

    Brian Zahnd — “A Blight Upon Beauty: How We Should Understand Hell”

    Peri Zahnd — “Why Fixing People Doesn’t Work: Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Care”

    We’ll be talking about the Bible, the Spirit, deconstruction, empire, atonement, hell, Sabbath-keeping, and spiritual direction all in a vibrant, life-giving, water to wine context.

    So take heart my troubled friend, you don’t have to be done with Christianity — Jesus is still turning water to wine!

    Register today for Water To Wine 2019.

    L’Chaim!

    BZ

    (The artwork is The Miracle of Cana of Galilee by Alexandra Desnitskaya.)

  • God’s Love In Granite

    Mills

    God’s Love In Granite
    Brian Zahnd

    The Bible opens with a creation narrative and the constant refrain is the goodness of it all. In the first chapter of Genesis God declares every day as good. The third day (the day life begins) is declared good twice. On the sixth day of creation we are told, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

    The ancient Hebrew account of the entire goodness of creation stands in stark contrast to the pagan creation stories where the world comes into existence amidst the chaos of a great struggle between good and evil. In the rival myths of the ancient world, evil plays a role in creation. The first great revelation of the Hebrew scriptures is that the universe flows entirely from the goodness of God; evil played no part in God’s good creation.
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  • Reading The Bible Right

    marcchagallexpulsionfromparadise2

    Reading The Bible Right
    Brian Zahnd

    (I put this poem in Water To Wine.)

    It’s a STORY
    We’re telling news here
    Keeping alive an ancient epic
    The grand narrative of paradise lost and paradise regained
    The greatest “Once upon a time” tale ever told
    The beautiful story which moves relentlessly toward—
    “They lived happily ever after”

    Never, never, NEVER forget that before its anything else it’s a story
    So let the Story live and breathe, enthrall and enchant
    Don’t rip out its guts and leave it lifeless on the dissecting table
    Don’t make it something it’s really not—
    A catalog of wished-for promises
    An encyclopedia of God-facts
    A law journal of divine edicts
    A how-to manual for do-it-yourselfers
    Find the promises, learn the facts, heed the laws, live the lessons
    But don’t forget the Story
    Read more

  • Water To Wine Gathering

    Water to Wine Gathering 1024x1024

    Two years ago I published Water To Wine — a memoir of my spiritual journey out of Americanized pop Christianity into a deeper, richer, more substantive Christian faith. This journey was both the best and most difficult thing I’ve done in over forty years of following Jesus. I describe it as being “born again again” and use the metaphor of water turning to wine. (You can read more about my water to wine journey in this blog post: Twenty-Two Days.)

    I’ve honestly been surprised at how much interest there’s been in the story of my spiritual/theological transition. I think part of the interest is that I did it as a pastor while attempting to bring my congregation with me — a risky endeavor that I more or less succeeded in doing (though not without considerable cost and pain).

    Since the publication of Water To Wine I’ve received messages from hundreds of pastors and Christian leaders from across America and from a dozen or more countries who personally resonate with my story. I find that so gratifying. These days I typically receive three or four of messages a week from pastors who are on what I call “the journey.” Many ask to come visit me and I always say yes, even though it can be a challenge to find the time. A few have even moved to St. Joseph to be a part of Word of Life. I find that so amazing!

    Last fall after meeting with a pastor from Texas, I began thinking about hosting a gathering for people who are on their own “water to wine” journey; I want to tell these seekers what I wish someone had told me fourteen years ago. This will also be a great opportunity for people on the water to wine journey to connect with one another. When I floated the idea on social media, it generated an enthusiastic response.
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  • Twenty-Two Days

    Version 2

    Fourteen years ago I began a journey of faith that led me beyond paper-thin pop Christianity, cheap certitude, and nationalistic civil religion. That’s when the water became wine! In a few days we’ll be announcing a Water To Wine gathering here at Word of Life in St. Joseph in June. But today I thought I would share the first chapter of Water To Wine — the story of my deep discontent and the 22 day fast that began the pivotal year of 2004. (The photo is me in Beit She’an, Israel in November of 2003, shortly before the fast.) -BZ

    Twenty-Two Days

    “No one who has ever tasted fine aged wine prefers unaged wine.”
    —Jesus

    “The only wines that actually speak to our whole lives are authentic wines. Confected wines are not designed for human beings; they are designed for ‘consumers.’ Which do you want to be?”
    —Terry Theise

    “When we are crushed like grapes, we cannot think of the wine we will become.”
    —Henri J.M. Nouwen

    I was halfway to ninety — midway through life — and I had reached a full-blown crisis. Call it a garden-variety mid-life crisis if you want, but it was something more. You might say it was a theological crisis, though that makes it sound too cerebral. The unease I felt came from a deeper place than a mental file labeled “theology.” To borrow some King James style language, my soul was disquieted within me. It was like I was singing over and over the U2 song:

    I have climbed the highest mountains
    I have run through the fields
    Only to be with you
    But I still haven’t found
    What I’m looking for
    —U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”

    I was wrestling with the uneasy feeling that the faith I had built my life around was somehow deficient. Not wrong, but lacking. It seemed watery, weak. In my most honest moments I couldn’t help but notice that the faith I knew seemed to lack the kind of robust authenticity that made Jesus so fascinating. And I had always been utterly fascinated by Jesus. Jesus wasn’t in question but Christianity American style was. Read more

  • God Is Love. God Is Love.

    Sunset from the Top

    God is Love. God is Love.
    Brian Zahnd

    The topography of biblical witness is full of peaks and valleys, mountains and plains. The Bible is not flat terrain. The honest reader of the Bible readily admits that the Levitical prohibition against eating shellfish does not reach the same heights as the lofty Christology in Colossians. As we look at the great peaks of inspired biblical witness, none soar higher than the twin peaks of divine revelation given to us by the Apostle John.

    “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. … We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John 4:8, 16)

    Soaring above everything else the Bible has to say about God are these twin peaks found in John’s first epistle: God is love. God is love.

    The Arapaho Indians called Longs Peak and Mount Meeker Nesótaieus, meaning “two guides.” The two peaks of this towering massif are useful for orientation when traveling in the front range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, just as the two peaks of 1 John 4:8 and 4:16 are invaluable when navigating our way through the Bible. When the aged apostle put quill to papyrus to tell his readers that God is love (twice), and that to know love is to know God, and that to live in love is to live in God, he was making a daring move…and he dared to do it!
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  • The Jesus Revolution

    photo(79)

    The Jesus Revolution
    Brian Zahnd

    You say you want a revolution
    Well, you know, we all want to change the world

    —The Beatles

    During the heady days of the Jesus Movement there was a pervasive conviction among the young people involved that we were part of something revolutionary. Our lives had been radically transformed by Jesus and we wanted to relive the Book of Acts. Church as usual was not an option for us. We weren’t interested in being conservative or playing it safe. We carried a strong counterculture ethos. We saw Jesus as a revolutionary and we wanted to be revolutionaries too. We shared much of the theology of conservative evangelicals, but our vibe was decidedly counterculture, with our long hair, patched blue jeans, and tie-dyed t-shirts. We preached on the streets, in the bars, and at rock concerts.

    More significantly we had inherited a distrust of government and a disdain for war from the Vietnam era. We saw a Christian critique of war as being faithful to the revolutionary Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. We had no interest in serving the political causes of either Republicans or Democrats. We saw Christianity as a revolutionary movement that was incompatible with power-hungry political parties. We wanted to change the world in the name of Jesus; we weren’t interested in who was the current resident of the White House or the composition of Congress in the name of politics.
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  • We Need Contemplative Pastors

    JacobsDream

    We Need Contemplative Pastors
    Brian Zahnd

    I became a pastor when I was twenty-two. (In reality I had been doing the work of a pastor since I was seventeen, but by the time I was twenty-two I had been ordained and embarked upon the fulltime vocation of being a pastor.) As I look back upon this, it does appear somewhat ridiculous. A twenty-two-year-old founding pastor! Do I regret it? Yes and no. I admit that it’s probably not the best way to go about planting a church and making disciples, but it’s what happened. It was part of the phenomenon of the Jesus Movement. Young would-be followers of Jesus were looking to me for leadership. It’s the cards that were dealt me. So I did my best. I learned on the job. And the Lord was with us.

    But by the time we began to have the success of numerical church growth in the 1990s, we were fully locked into the charismatic evangelicalism that too often appears committed to an elementary level of faith. Later I would discover just how difficult it can be to lead a large church beyond a quasi-fundamentalist and largely reactive Christianity. It’s not impossible, but it’s very difficult. And always painful.
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  • It’s My Birthday and I’m an Eclectic Christian

    Card

    It’s My Birthday and I’m an Eclectic Christian
    Brian Zahnd

    Today is my birthday and the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri made me a birthday card. On the cover of the card is a cross composed of the “Five Words” (Cross, Mystery, Eclectic, Community, Revolution) that I talk about in the second chapter of Water To Wine. And since it involves the Sisters at Clyde, let me share a little bit of the Eclectic portion from the “Five Words” chapter. It’s a nice story…
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