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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Review of "Water to Wine"

Water to Wine: Some of My StoryWater to Wine: Some of My Story by Brian Zahnd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Water to Wine: Some of My Story is Brian Zahnd's memoir of his spiritual journey from "Americanized Christianity" to a deeper level of Christian living. Zahnd first encountered the Christian faith during the "Jesus Movement" of the early 1970s. He began a non-denominational Pentecostal church named "Word of Life Church" in St. Joseph, Missouri that grew into a highly successful fellowship.

Despite his success as a pastor and much in demand speaker, Zahnd began to feel a his faith was lacking depth, and so he began a study and walk of faith that led him to discover more a deeper theology and prayer life than he had experienced in more formulaic Christian worship and belief.

He developed an appreciation for Christian thinkers like St. Augustine, Thomas Merton, G. K. Chesterton, and St. Francis of Assisi. He read Karl Barth's Dogmatics, no easy chore I can affirm, as well as other theologians. He also developed a deeper prayer life through spiritual mystics like Julian of Norwich along with a host of other poets and singers, including Bob Dylan.

I found his story interesting in that he rejects the typical conservatism of most evangelical Christianity. He calls his uncritical viewing of the American air attacks on Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War his "worst sin." He says that his changing perspective have cost him many former friends and church members. He also is critical of the evangelical churches uncritical endorsement of capitalism. His criticism reminds me of something I encountered a long time ago and affected my attitude toward conservative evangelicalism.

Several decades ago I was in a Christian book store and saw some "biblical action figures" for sale. This was during the "golden age" of action figures, if such an age exists, featuring "He-Man," "Skeletor," "She-Rah," and others. These articulated dolls were heroes like "Samson," "David," "Moses," "Joshua," and "Gideon." There were even villains like "Goliath" or "Pharoah." It seemed to me that someone had taken a consumer product and had poured "Christian sauce" over it to make it acceptable and also to make a buck.

I find his spiritual journey similar to my own in many ways. I was raised evangelical, in the holiness tradition, but have since joined a church involved in the social gospel. My own passion is for social justice. This is one area of lack I see in Zahnd's story. He hints that he may be open to working for "justice of all," but he does not detail any concrete steps he has taken in this direction.

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