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Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today

LiveStream Sermon

We did a little experiment last week with Facebook Live. The feedback was good so we will be improving the audio and visual quality.

If you want to check out a short sermon (like if you don’t make it church tomorrow), I hope that you will be encouraged.  Below is the link [even though it won’t embed for some reason]

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FBoCSanders%2Fvideos%2F1976540172376751%2F&show_text=0&width=560

If that doesn’t work, here is a simple link

https://www.facebook.com/BoCSanders/videos/1976540172376751/

If you want to listen to a whole gathering from Vermont Hills UMC, we recorded the whole service last week and have 35 min of highlights:

http://vermonthillsumc.org/listen-to-a-full-service/

Be well and happy listening/watching

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Sacred Average Day

How do you experience the divine presence in an average day?

This topic has become one of my favorite things to chat about. I have found two powerful trends that seem to be developing.

First: Depending on your phase of life, there are certain ‘givens‘ that seem to be assumed and everything else becomes a ‘variable‘. In the formula of life, the question seems to hinge on either how to manipulate (change) the variables or how to transform a given into  a variable.

[more about this in the video]

Second: This seems to be one of those categories where “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”. People who can sense the divine presence in one area of life can translate that into finding the sacred in many other areas and moments of life. People who don’t develop that ability in the big stuff, unfortunately, can’t detect the divine in any area of life.

This is why I am so passionate practicing together when we have gathered! If Sunday is done right, it helps me see the sacred in the other six days of the week. If our activity at church is effective, it opens our eyes to see the sacred at work in the rest of the world.

Watch the short video and let me know your thoughts. I love comparing notes on this topic.

Updating CS Lewis

A Year with C.S. Lewis was my go-to devotional for about a 5 year window. I just loved his witty takes, his everyday language, and his optimistic outlook.

Once I decided to go to seminary and started reading heady theology, Lewis took a back seat. I tried to pick it up again a couple of years ago but it seemed too folksy and some of his logic seemed questionable.

Lately I have been doing an experiment: taking material that I used to get a lot out of and attempting to update-adapt-translate for my current context and our contemporary era.

Bringing Lewis into the 21st century is a fun experience. I actually think that his ideas hold up for the most part but that his language just needs a little updating.

Here is an example from Mere Christianity:

A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way, a Christian is not a woman who never goes wrong, but a woman who is enabled to repent and pick herself up and begin over again after each stumble – because the Christ-life is inside her, repairing her all the time, enabling her to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ carried out.

That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or – if they think that there is not – at least they hope to deserve approval from good people. But the Christian thinks any good she does comes from the Christ-life within her.

She does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because God loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.

It is amazing how just a couple of pronoun changes and making God-language gender neutral (as God is) takes away all the distracting antiquated elements and allows the encouraging thought to come through with clarity and insight.

I am encouraged that I will be able to do this same process with some more material that has been so valuable to me over the years.

How about you? Anything that you would like to see updated-adapted-translated for our current context and contemporary era?

 

 

Constant State of Emergency

The events of September 11th, 2001 has transformed our society in powerful ways.

One of the lingering effects has been the constant state of emergency. Certain policies were put into place in the days following 9/11 and they continue without any sign of being reconsidered or retracted.

We live in a perpetual state of emergency.

It is why so many of us feel exhausted, agitated, suspicious, and resigned.

The ‘patriot act’ has become a surveillance society. Torture has become ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. We are still in two wars with no end in sight. The current administration seems to pick fights with our formerly friendly neighbors and allies.

I wrote the below several years ago but the news this week prompted me to edit it and re-post it.  I hope you find it helpful.

“Sovereign is he who decides on the exception” is a sentence by Carl Schmitt that introduces ‘political theology’. That word ‘exception’ is a key to understanding what is going on in our nation right now.

In the last four centuries ‘sovereignty’ has shifted from:

  • God
  • to the King
  • to the Nation
  • and now the State.

In that same work, Schmitt also says that “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.”‘

The State* now has both the ceremony (pledge of allegiance – national anthem at all sporting events, etc.) and the power (exclusive claim to foreign and domestic violence).

 The State, and those who defend it – whether police or military – have the power of exception. It is important to understand it that:

  1.  The playing field is not level. It is slanted.
  2.  The rules do not apply equally. There is an exception.

Citizens who are upset are not permitted to be violent. They must protest in an orderly and civilized manner.

The police/riot-squad/ military are seemingly allowed to escalate and utilize violence because they have the exception of the state behind them.

We are not all playing by the same rules. Citizens have an asymmetrical relationship with the State when it comes to violence.

It is vital here to understand the insight of Max Weber when he talks about the State’s monopoly on violence. The link explains that:

“Weber describes the state as any organization that succeeds in holding the exclusive right to use, threaten, or authorize physical force against residents of its territory. Such a monopoly, according to Weber, must occur via a process of legitimation.”

Violence is a one-sided relationship. The State – and those who act on its behalf – may behave in violent ways because it will always be construed as exceptional.

Bonnie Honig, in Emergency Politics, says “The state of exception is that paradoxical situation in which the law is legally suspended by sovereign power.”

The problem is that we now live in a permanent state of emergency.

September 11, 2001 ushered in a state of perpetual exception. This applies to racial profiling, police brutality, State surveillance of its citizenry in the NSA – to name only a few.

When people are scared they willingly sacrifice their freedom and privacy in exchange for safety. The State benefits from a frightened population and people are more willing to accept the exceptional violence and excessive forced used by law enforcement. They are more likely to turn a ‘blind-eye’ or call them ‘isolated incidents’ and claim that they are being ‘blown out of proportion’.

A population is more willing to view as exceptional the excessive tactics and escalation of violence precisely because we now live in a permanent state of exception (or emergency).

What do we do now, however, when communities are not sure they are being protected by the police and in fact need protection from the police?

In his eighth thesis on the philosophy of history, Walter Benjamin says:

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency.” (1968)

I hear people asking about the current protests, “What are they hoping to accomplish?”

One thing they could accomplish is to create a real sense of emergency that will call into question in the larger American conscience a question about the permanent state of exception that has crept in over the past decades. The supposed ‘war on terror’ and ‘war on drugs’ are but two examples of this.

None of us want to live in a police state.
No one I know wants to live in a state of fear.
That it why we must question the exceptional violence and emergency politics that have become too normalized and quietly accepted in our society.

The people are raising their voice in protest of this exceptional violence.

_______________________

* I will be capitalizing ‘State’ to illustrate its elevated and exceptional status.

** I know four people in law enforcement and they are all amazing, loving, kind, people. My concern is about a larger mechanism in our society.

For a powerful response to Schmitt, see Paul Kahn’s Political Theology: Four New Chapters On the Concept Of Sovereignty 

4 Questions at Church

Interactive Church is the future!

Facilitating conversational community is not difficult and bears great fruit.

Here is a 10 minute video about the 4 kinds of questions that work well.

4 Kinds of Questions:
1) Ice-Breaker
2) Feedback
3) What Did You Hear?
4) Bull In The Middle

Video: No Neutral Anymore

We live in changing times. This is part 3 of ‘Why things seem so bad right now’.

You can read the full post here [link]

Human knowledge and meaning making are culturally conditioned and socially constructed. This leads to a contested atmosphere.

Video for part 2 is here: Fragmented and Fractured

Video: Fragmented & Fractured

Here is a follow up video for the blog post (2 weeks ago)

You can read the full blog at [this link] and either comment here or there. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Next up: There is no neutral anymore

A Week Without Email

A week in the woods is good for my soul. I look forward to my annual May camping trip and this year did not disappoint.

This year had an extra interesting wrinkle. The Sunday before I left on the trip, I gave a short homily about email entitled, “too much of a good thing”.  (It was the topic in our book series Sacred Everyday based Liturgy of the Ordinary).

I also did something for the first time ever: I set an automated away-message for email.

It was surprisingly liberating!

 

So now I am back in the office, catching up on emails, and I am having a blast reading the posts I missed from our writing team.  I wanted to share them with you as an encouragement and a challenge.

Bryan tells us that we don’t need to read every email (his professional opinion)

Katie wants us to practice presence with her favorite saint and mystic—Brother Lawrence

Dori addresses the need for HELP! in midst of chaos and order

Charlie gets deep about finding the divine in the descent into nihilism

Sara meditates on the ‘therefor, go’ – ness of it all  (just read it – trust me)

 

I hope that they help and inspire you as much as they did me. I love doing church as team!

Jordan Peterson and the Past

I listened to a fascinating podcast yesterday where an older British intellectual (Philip Dodd) took Jordan Peterson to task on one subject after another. It was very argumentative and quite contentious – not to my irenic liking.

Jordan Peterson has risen to fame recently in a parallel way to “Make America Great Again” based on the same ‘things are out of control’ discomfort and backlash. This is a phenomenon that I am particularly intrigued by.

Peterson’s brand of ‘we have to get back to the preferable past’ reclamation project is the perfect blend of two things that I am very familiar with: The academic approach of Alasdair MacIntyre and the therapeutic manliness of John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart” series.

Eldredge has a therapeutic approach to masculinity based loosely on Jungian archetypes (warrior, king, magician, lover) and thinkers like MacIntyre are trying reclaim Aristotle’s ancient Greek notions of virtue, ethics, and moral character.

When you combine “Wild at Heart” masculinity, with Aristotelian principles in ethics, and throw in a dash of ‘make culture great again’ … you get Jordan Peterson.

Peterson’s book is “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos”. The first six rules are:

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back
  2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you
  4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
  5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

None of these rules seem intrinsically bad. Rule 1 is very ‘Wild at Heart’. Rule 6 is very MacIntyre.

Now I have written a lot about MacIntyre and the problems of Aristotelian reclamation projects. Susan Heckman[1] has convinced me that the solution is not simply to (re)claim/(re)cycle/(re)purpose ancient, antiquated, or Aristotelian concepts from the pre-modern world.

 “MacIntyre’s approach exemplifies a disturbing characteristic of much of the communitarian literature: the romanticization of premodern societies that ignores the oppression and hierarchy that was endemic to those societies. Even Sandel (1984), despite his modernist leanings, sometimes falls prey to the tendency to glorify traditional communities. The narrative selfhood that MacIntyre lauds can only be obtained at a high price: the ascription of traditional roles.”

She explains:

“When it comes to the highly charged issue of the sexism and racism of the traditions he praises so highly, MacIntyre seems to abandon his interrelationship thesis. With regard to the Aristotelian tradition, he tries to deny the claim that sexism and racism are an integral part of this system of virtues.

… throughout his writings MacIntyre unambiguously asserts it is this traditional community we must foster if we are to return to any semblance of a moral life:

“What matters at this stage are the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us (1984).”

To thinkers like MacIntyre and Hauerwas and Peterson, we are descending further into an age of darkness.[2] Their answer is to (re)claim or (re)turn to some former understanding or expression of virtue and order. Hekman is right though – we cannot even attempt to do so without acknowledging and addressing the inherent racism, sexism, and disparity built into every level of the structures from which those romantic notions come.

This is the problem with Jordan Peterson’s notion of the past.

 

Three thoughts that I want to leave you with:

Don’t read Peterson – it is too predictable. Read instead Teaching Community by bell hooks and Church In The Round by Letty Russel if you want to understand and do something in our historical moment.

 

The future is going to be slightly like the past but largely unlike it. The world is really changing in some ways and this cultural shift requires not just a new mental framework (thus my interest in ‘social imaginaries’) but a new skill-set. In a land based culture, farmers develop a certain set of skills. As we move to a more liquid and fluid culture, sailors need to develop a different set of skills and knowledges. Both require strength and intelligence … but they are very different.

 

Peterson came to prominence for contesting Canada’s language directives to use gender-neutral pronouns for trans people. Now, leaving out the argument about the government telling us how to talk (a whole other subject) I just want to say that using ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ is not that difficult and doesn’t take anything away from your masculinity.

It is a really easy change to make once you realize that language (and especially English) is always adapting and evolving anyway. Referring to people by their preferred pronoun is a gracious thing to do (Peterson claims to be a Christian and bases much of his thought on Hebrew Bible stories) and it models Christlikeness through Kenosis (self-emptying) as seen in Philippians 2.

 

 

[1] Hekman, Susan. “The Embodiment of the Subject: Feminism and the Communitarian Critique of Liberalism.” The Journal of Politics 54, no. 04 (November 1992): 1098–1119.

[2] In the consumer society of the 21st century, it is not enough to want to ‘get back’ to a former era of romanticized notions which utilize previous formulations of order and social coherence. We must follow Jesus’ example of interrogating the ‘as is’ structure of our given systems. Jesus employed tactics which subverted the assumed nature of the status quo to inspire people’s imagination about the way that things can be. The way that things are is not the way that God wants them. Things can be different. The gospel calls us to imagine that the world can be a different way. This is good news (evangelion) in the original sense.

 

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