“Jesus was a Zombie.”


“…Jesus was a zombie.”

Do you ever wonder how conversations end up where they do? How they wind around, weaving and twirling until someone says, “But you know, Jesus was a zombie”? That’s where my conversation stood at this particular moment. We had been waxing eloquently about the beauty of ancient architecture and whisky, the exquisite splendor of nature and the best floral notes of gin, when all of a sudden something triggered a long, drawn-out rabbit trail that ended with, “Jesus was a zombie. How anyone could believe in Jesus, a man who rose from the dead and only wants to steal your brain. Well, that’s just beyond me.”

How do you respond to that?

I sat there and stammered, “u-ummm, w-well… uh… so… u-uhh… you see it… uhhhhhh…” I sighed in confusion and fell silent, looking down at the whisky I began swirling in my glass.

I’ve had my share of interesting conversations, but never before have I heard this: “Jesus was a zombie…. who only wants to steal your brain.” The inference of such a statement is pretty clear: in order to believe in the resurrection (and Jesus) you have to check your brain at the door.

My silence felt like a speed bump but our conversation drifted smoothly back into its original lane.

Hindsight can be an important teacher.

If I had this to do all over again, I would have responded differently… I would have replaced my stammering–a sign of my own internal struggle and need to defend and attack with sharp and cunning statements of certitude and conviction (my brain is fully engaged thank you very much!)–with questions that pursued understanding, sensitivity, and kindness. I would have thoughtfully engaged in his thinking and his ideas with a posture of learning and inquisitiveness to get my head around his conclusions. It is only when we seek to understand that we can have a fuller, more rich conversation.

While I may have failed in the moment, I wanted to prepare myself for another potential “Zombie Jesus” conversation. In pursuit of understanding, I did a little digging. (There’s a treasure trove of interesting images on Google). I found that “Zombie Jesus” has actually been around for a while. Its origins are attributed to a throwaway laugh line (“Sweet Zombie Jesus!”) in an episode of Futurama from 1999. The more I looked into the depths of the inter-webs, I found that Zombie Jesus is actually a symptom of a much larger conversation at work in our culture. Zombie Jesus has become a rallying cry of critique against the anti-intellectualism of the Church. Hence the statement: “check your brain at the door.”

Check your brains at the door.

The sentiment is that the church, and Christians in general are an unthinking sort who have dismissed art, literature, philosophy, education, and science. And if you’re thinking that’s an unfair critique, the critics will quickly point to the Christian subculture that we have created. We have distanced ourselves from engaging with art and literature and replaced it with Thomas Kinkades, Precious Moments, and The Left Behind Series. They are also quick to point out our penchant for deriding public education and science. (People I meet in bars are always surprised to find out that as a Christian we don’t homeschool our daughter or have her in a Christian parochial school, but have her in the public schools system.)

In the many different conversations with people at bars and coffee shops around Seattle, I have found a growing sentiment of anti-intellectualism as a unifying critique of the church. We are a zombie church following after a Zombie Jesus intent on devouring the brains of the people.

Now, this critique isn’t without warrant. In my own history within the church I have experienced much of the same. I’ll never forget the time a man from the congregation stood up in the middle of a sermon to say the Pharisees greatest sin was that they were “too educated!” His statement received with applause and nods of agreement. Or the time I was told I would be respected more if I dropped out of graduate school and stopped pursuing greater education in favor of greater experience.

What I am finding along this journey of understanding the anti-intellectual bias within the church is, Jesus doesn’t actually need me to push back and fight against “Zombie Jesus” as a statement. He needs me to understand it and its cultural significance. He needs me to be curious. To be a learner, a pursuer. To press into the conversations and the ideas that are present in this place instead of pressing against them. Jesus needs me, and the Church to show differently.

I have found some encouragement in this pursuit through the words of Father Richard Rohr, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Oppositional energy only creates more of the same.” I don’t want to speak out in opposition to “Zombie Jesus” and the anti-intellectualism it represents. I want to practice something better. I want to explore all of the ways in which I can better love God with all of my mind (Matthew 22.37). Or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, my intelligence. This is, after all a part of the greatest commandment.

Abortion Politics: A conversation with a political operative.


Abortion Politics
“What brought you to DC?” I asked the guy sitting next to me at the bar. He was well dressed, tie loosened, and finally off work at 9:00p.

“Politics, just like everyone else.”

I love being in Washington DC, the frenetic energy, the pace, the seemingly endless potential to make a difference in the world. In fact, that’s why I wanted to go into politics when I was in high school… and maybe that’s why I ultimately ended up in ministry. There are some interesting similarities between the two.

My single-serving friend for the evening was a political fundraising director for Congressional campaigns. He seemed to be pretty good at his job considering he’d hit all of his financial goals for the 4 previous GOP Congressional campaigns he’d run… well over $1.5 million per campaign. We talked shop for a while, I learned an awful lot about fundraising from this guy in just the 20 minutes we talked.

As we sat there talking, he looked tired; ready for this political season to be over. (Aren’t we all?)

“Do you vote for or believe in the candidates you raise money for?” I asked.

With a snort he responded, “No way.”

“Why do you do it then?”

“It’s a job.”

“I get that,” I responded. “Is it easy?”

“Yeah,” he laughed sarcastically, “if you have no soul!”

I chuckled along with him even though I think he may have actually been a little more serious than sarcastic. But I was really interested in his response so I pressed a bit deeper. “Who are the easiest people to raise money from?” I asked, wondering how predatory political fundraising is… I didn’t expect his response.

“Christians. Without a doubt. Christians.”

He had no idea that I am a pastor. No idea what I did for a living. Perhaps one of the benefits of being an evangelical pastor and not wearing a clerical collar.

“Why are Christians the easiest?” I asked.

“All I have to do is talk about abortion and they’ll support anything and anyone. In fact, abortion helps me get them to double max all the time.” (I had learned earlier in our conversation that a double max is the $10,500 total for a married couple for the primary and general election.) “And then,” he continued braggadocious-ly , “I get them to pledge a vote to my candidate, even though he won’t be able to do anything about it… And my candidate knows it. Abortion is just a GOP political tactic now for money and votes.”

“My candidate won’t be able to do anything about [abortion]. Abortion is just a GOP political tactic now for money and votes.”

You know that moment when you keep talking and reveal too much behind the curtain? Yeah. That was that moment. But I don’t think he cared… or maybe it was a moment of confession from someone who was starting to wrestle with the current reality of our political system.

I was taken back. I couldn’t believe he said what I have been thinking for nearly 10 years now.

You see, I cast a vote in my first presidential election for George W. Bush on the promise that he would do something about abortion, and more specifically about Roe v. Wade. The conservative Bible College I attended ran Pro-Life campaigns on campus, went to DC to rally against Roe v. Wade, and all of that made an indelible imprint on me–which is why I also cast my second-ever presidential vote for George W. Bush. I was a single-issue voter, and this compassionate conservative president was going to make a difference in the right way.

And then he didn’t.
And neither did Congress.
Everything stayed the same.

You see, when George W. Bush was in office, the Republicans had control of the House and Senate for 4.5 years of his 8 years in office. That’s nearly 60% of his time in office. And together, they couldn’t do it… or wouldn’t do it.

…Four and a half years…

Of course when you believe in a cause and you’re promised an action that never materializes, you tend to become a little cynical. My cynicism surrounding abortion politics began to create a few different scenarios in my mind for what was really taking place behind the curtain. Of course the one scenario that stuck in my mind was that the GOP really didn’t want to do anything about abortion because it was a source of cash and easy votes. Well, the curtain has been pulled back thanks to my single-serving friend and the darkness of abortion politics has been revealed.

So, if you’re voting for a pro-life candidate or if you’ve given to a pro-life candidate maybe start looking at the rest of their platform to see if they’ll enact legislation that will help drive down abortion rates through policies that help support women and create better environments for them and their children, like Obama has done (13% decrease according to a study done by Guttmacher). Maybe there is still a way to “defeat” abortion… but it’s going to look a whole lot different than the rallies and picket signs we were encouraged to take up in the fight.

Update |
“I’m pro-life. And I’m voting for Hillary. Here’s why. is a great blog post that was recommended to me regarding this conversation of voting and the pro-life movement. Shannon, the author, lays out a thoughtful position on pro-life and why a tacit GOP vote because of their pro-life stance may not necessarily be the best way to go.