Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today

Civility or Resistance?

Last week on the Peacing It All Together podcast, Randy and I talked about ‘the call for civility’.

Next week at the church’s pub-chat, the topic is the same.

Randy and I came up with 3 ideas about this and I want to reflect on them here.

First, it is important in ‘The Argument Culture’ (as Deborah Tannen famously called it) that we don’t prioritize policing people’s tone or vocabulary. Yes, we don’t want to inflame the situation and make it worse… but policing tone is not our highest priority.

The bigger issue is committing to stay at the table. Part of problem right now is that people can tune each other out, turn the channel, unfriend or mute voice they don’t agree with. Our self-selecting news feed becomes an echo chamber and bubble.

Staying at the table even when things get heated is an important first commitment.

Second, humanize – don’t demonize those with whom you disagree. A gift (or grace) that we can give our fellow members of the human race is to spend our time and energy imagining them as more fully and faithfully human. It is a dangerous thing when we make people into non-human things like monsters and animals.

Third, if push comes to shove (as they say) make sure that you punch up and not down. Focus your critique and concern on those who have more resources and influence than you do. Don’t take swings at those who are marginalized or disadvantaged.

Use your voice, your influence, and your resources for those who have less access to influence, fewer resources, and less power than you.

Is there any that you would add to our 3 suggestions?


Nudity as Social Construct

A State-Trooper in Georgia introduced me to the difference between ‘naked’ and ‘nekid’.

Naked is when you don’t have any clothes on.
Nekid is when you don’t have any clothes on and you are up to somethin‘.

This is a surprisingly helpful distinction!

Earlier this week I saw a podcast episode humorously entitled “Nudity as a Social Construct”.  I am finding this analogy equally helpful.

Every time I attempt to talk to somebody about how both race and gender are socially constructed, they want to argue about biologic (or physical) element of skin color or genitalia – things are visible to the naked-eye (as it were).

I have been looking for a third example to use as an analogy and now I have it: nudity.

See, the fact that you don’t have any clothes on is not up for debate. That is a physical reality, a biological ‘given’.
What it means in our society – or how it is interpreted – is both situational and culturally determined.

Depending on your:

  • geography
  • culture
  • situation
  • era
  • intention

Not having a shirt on could mean very different things. If you were a tribesman in the 1900’s in Saharan Africa, not having a shirt on means something very different than if you show up to a business presentation with no shirt on in modern-day America.

Both men have no shirt on. How that is interpreted is socially constructed.

It is situational, or location specific. Like the clothes that you wear (or don’t wear) to the beach.

I am finding this analogy a helpful conversation starter with those who struggle to understand how race and gender are socially constructed concepts and not simply biological realities.

Have you found any helpful analogies or tools to further this conversation?

Media Links July 2018

Wanted to give you an update on two sets of links you might enjoy.

Randy and I have released the second batch of podcasts for Peacing It All Together:

Episode 5 Place – I tell about my ‘conversion’ journey from Western White Christianity

Episode 6 Not Christian – we talk about whether the label ‘Christian’ is usable anymore

Episode 7 Western Fallacies – Randy presents on 8 Fallacies of the Western Worldview

Episode 8 Culture Wars – we chat about our culture of conflict and what’s behind it


Over at the church, we have started a Youtube channel where you can see sermons and conversations.

Here is a recent sermon on Poetic Language of Faith [link]

Last week’s sermon was about Bridging the Divide with Christ’s love.

Please share links with friends – and thank you for all the feedback and support.

Trinity of Belief

There are 3 elements of belief that overlap and interact to form what we generally refer to as ‘faith’.

I am fascinated with how these layers stack up and both empower the other layers but also limit the options of each other.

The 3 elements are:

  • narratives (story)
  • practices (action)
  • relationships (connection)

Narratives are powerful because the stories that we tell ourselves – or the stories that we are told and buy in to – frame our actions and give direction to our relationships.

Each of us live in a story.

Practices are important because ideas don’t just remain ‘theories’, they translate into actions, habits, and ultimately practices. Some of these are intentional, others are by default. Regardless, they reinforce the story that we live into and they connect us with others who become our community.

Relationships are vital because we are essentially (and fundamentally) social creatures. There is not one aspect of human existence that isn’t relational. We are born into a family of origin, and even the words we use to form our own thoughts are given to us. In fact, who we are connected to defines us as much as anything else and determines what we are allowed to believe or not allowed to believe.

  • Our stories frame our experiences and inspire our actions.
  • Our practices em/body and en/act our beliefs and ideas.
  • Our relationships connect us to a web of meaning and creates community.

It is the interplay between these 3 elements and specifically the spot where they overlap that has become my fascination.

Here is a short video – let me know your thoughts.

The reason that I call it the ‘trinity’ of belief is because each of the 3 elements can correspond to a ‘person’ in the Christian trinity: the story of God (the Bible is primarily narrative), Christian practices are founded in the incarnation and embodies presence, the Spirit is how we all connect to one another (community).

An Hour Without Trump

About a year ago I figured out that if I didn’t put a moratorium on talking politics, that it was all we would ever talk about.

So I implemented a 1-hour prohibition on saying the ‘T’ word in our gatherings. It has a made a huge difference.

Here is a short (5 min) video

Poetic Language in Faith

Here is an 8 minute sermon that I preached last week about belonging, identity, and faith.

The Bible is full of poetic language – including metaphors and metonyms.

I have some fun with those examples before getting into the idea of “the Law” as a much bigger concept.

When you don’t understand the poetic language in the Bible, you can do some harmful stuff with the Old and New Testament.

There is a lot of grace in the ‘Old Testament’ – God is really gracious with the People. Likewise, the New Testament has a fair number of rules and standards for holy living. So you can’t say “the Old Testament is all rules and a wrathful God while the New Testament is full of Grace and kindness”. It is not that easy.

Paul in Galatians uses ‘the Law’ as a metonym for Jewish belonging, identity, and faithfulness. We do the same thing with “grace”, the cross, and “church”.

Check out the video and let me know what you think

Bound In Conflict & UnBound In Love

We live in a time of division and conflict.

It is perfect timing then, that our topic this week comes from Galatians 3 and says, “In Christ, there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile … all are one.”

Usually when this topic comes up people want to focus on how Christ’s love “bridges” the divides between us.

I want to take it a step further! I want to look at how:

A) we are bound up in those categories of sex, religion, and politics

B) Christ’s love ruptures those categories and un-binds us from them

The love of God doesn’t just bridge the divisions among us – it binds us together in love and undermines the very categories themselves.

God’s love calls into question the human categories of:

  • Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Religion
  • Politics

Love UnBound doesn’t just help us bridge the difference between us – it unbinds us to see the other in such a different way that our categories themselves are called into question.

Here is a short video – let me know what you think …

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.

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:

Like us on Facebook to join the conversation:

We are on iTunes

and Stitcher

There is even a Patreon page if you want to support the podcast

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 .





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