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Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today

Not Literally God

An interesting discussion from Facebook this week continues so I thought I would post it here as well.

I commented Sunday morning,

Some church songs are easier to make gender neutral than others.

Some of these songs lean so heavily on the masculine pronoun that they are nearly unusable

As someone who is very intentional about mixing up the English pronouns used for God [link], this is an important issue for me. It sparked a nice little discussion. To clarify I added the following:

The gender pronouns in the Bible are not a problem unless you think they are literal.
Scripture is fine as contextual (and timely) expression (as all expressions are). It is actually comes down to your view of language.
Language is the limiting factor because each era attempts to do its best with the words that it has – OUR era has two difficulties

  1. Hebrew and Greek do not come into English smoothly – one issue is the lack of masculine/feminine that say Spanish and French have. English is limited in that sense.
  2. The nature of language means that we utilize word pictures and metaphors that are never the exact representation of thing we are talking about. It is just as accurate and inaccurate to call God a rock, a father, or a mother hen. Of course, God is not actually ANY of those things really. They are word pictures. God’s ontological reality is not captured in any language.

We are just doing the best with the tools that we have.”

People will then point to Jesus’ gender as an endorsement of a masculine God.

Jesus, however, was using relational language. Not literal. God is not a big man with a penis in the sky. Jesus was saying that he related to God as one relates to a perfect parent.
IN fact, Jesus’ statements about his relationship ‘abba’ were so in depth that they comprised Jesus’ character {as in ‘I and the father are one’ if you have seen me you have seen the one who sent me)
In this way, Jesus was unique in history and truly worthy to be called ‘son of god’ which makes him worthy of praise (as we praise god) so that the Christian church developed a trinitarian understanding of god (a novel development)

It reminded me of that old CS Lewis poem, “A Footnote To All Prayers” (it references Pheidias who was  a legendary statue maker in the ancient world)

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskilfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

I am always surprised by how insistent people are that their language of God is accurate and sufficient. I guess that is a good reminder why this issue is worth contesting and why it is so vital that we challenge the status quo.

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New Podcast

Big news: I have teamed up with Randy Woodley for a new podcast!

It is called “Peacing It All Together”

The first 4 episodes came out this morning.

Please visit the website: https://www.peacingitalltogether.com/podcast/

Like us on Facebook to join the conversation: https://www.facebook.com/PeacingItAllTogether/

We are on iTunes  https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/peacing-it-all-together/id1403549692?mt=2

and Stitcher https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/peacing-together/peacing-it-all-together

There is even a Patreon page if you want to support the podcast https://www.patreon.com/peacingitalltogether

I would love if you subscribed, listened to an episode (or 4) and let me know what you think.

The audio quality and production will get better as we go – but we are delighted to be up and running.

You can post comments either here (my blog) or at the podcast FB page .

 

 

 

 

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

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

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