Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today


May 2010

>Emerging Complexity

>Things are necessarily complicated. That is why simple answers often don’t satisfy. This is especially true when it comes to human concerns: sociology, relationships, family systems, psychology etc.

I listened to a presentation the other day that was anti-hunting. I tried to listen with an open mind but I kept coming back to the thought “but you’re going to have to do something”. As sprawl continues to become a reality in most locations, human activity is ever encroaching on the deer’s habitat and we removed their natural predators. Damage to gardens and lawns make the deer a ‘suburban nuisance’. Overpopulation leads to chronic wasting disease. Increased populations become a real hazard for driving. I heard about one state where the insurance company sponsors bowhunting classes. Simple answers like “people shouldn’t shoot Bambi’s mom” just don’t work. Things are complicated and the answers often have to be nuanced and multi-layered.

I like that old quote attributed to H. L. Mencken
For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”

This is why I am a big fan of Emergence thinking.
I have talked about this before – you may remember the ideas of Philip Clayton or the Scrabble analogy. That Scrabble analogy really works for me. There are tiles that have already been played and can not be removed. Our job is to creatively play the tiles in our hand given the titles that are already down. Two things we don’t have the luxury of doing are A) starting from scratch and B) undoing the past. These are just not options.

Emergence acknowledges that something new grows from something old but then returns to nourish and inform the old structure and forms. We experience and appreciate that, firstly, new expressions come from someplace. They do not come from a vacuum – they owe their life to something previous. Secondly, we anticipate that the new expression will impact the old form and influence it in turn. This is a dynamic relationship. It is also a symbiotic relationship.

We can begin here to integrate the ‘flower paradigm’ ( root – stem – leaf – flower) into emergent thinking and say that the flower is both an expression of the plant, unable to exist without it. But that the plant also needs the flower if it is ultimately to continue to have life.

This would help when we talk about things like worship. Worship is an expression but it is also an edification. It is something to God but also something that nourishes us. When people tried to oversimplify worship the diagnosis never works. Worship is complicated. It involves Mind Body & Spirit, it is communal, is deeply personal, it is historic , it is contextual, it is both ancient and adaptive. New expressions of worship emerge from the heart of the Church but then return to inform and to enrich the heart of the Church. This is dynamic and reciprocal, ever evolving but honoring the tradition from which it came. It is not simple. It is complicated — necessarily complicated!

All content happens in the context. Every form of worship that somebody refers to as traditional or ‘ the way’ was at some point new and innovative. It came out of context. It emerged and evolved – nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything is contextual.


Sometimes it is helpful to have a diagnostic tool to help sort through the necessarily complicated situation. For the last 15 years I have been using a tool called “The Four M’s”. They are Model – Method – Message – Motive.

I know that it may seem cheesy or clichéd or formulaic when you first hear it, all I can tell you is it has helped me immensely.
It does not work in every situation (as almost nothing does) but often it gives me a handle on something so that I can bring it with me.

Takes something as obvious as preaching. When you utilize The Four M’s as a diagnostic, it is amazing how complex preaching is shown to be. Once you acknowledge the diversity of models, add to that the elaborate mix of the methods, look at both the integrity and totality of the message and then do the heart check for motive… you have quite a picture of the landscape.

This is really essential to avoid boiling things down simply to techniques!

I was recently conference with one of my mentors. We were supposed to go to one of four breakout sessions for a ‘ conversation’ about the various topics of the conference was about. We had peaked in the door at the back of three different rooms. Each one was set up in straight rows with a white male standing at the front talking. When we got to the fourth room we saw that the chairs were set up in a large circle. We turned and looked at each other and both of our eyes lit up. I am from a Cell Church background so I love the circle. My mentor is Native American so for him the circle is both sacred and special. We nodded with approval and headed in.

It was more than disappointing as we sat there and listened to one guy — the leader — not just do almost all of the talking but as the expert he was conveying to us how to do it. This was not a round table or an exchange of ideas or a conversation per se… the only part that was a conversation was between him and his protégé about his great technique and performance as the expert.

We didn’t last long. We got up and left and went to a restaurant. We were trying to figure out why they even bothered to put the chairs in a circle if one guy was going to do all the talking as the expert – it defeats the entire point of having a talking circle. I drew the 4 M’s on a napkin and we went through them. As far as we could tell the model was the same as if the chairs had been set up in straight rows and the expert would have been upfront. The message was the same — it would have been the exact same presentation. The motive was the same: for the expert to tell us how to do it like him. So literally the only thing that was different was the arrangement of the chairs. At that point what used to be a method had simply become a technique… and subsequently ceased to be helpful for the purpose that it was originated.

I recently had a chance to listen for contrast between a church in Portland Oregon with one in London England. The church in Portland is known for its new and innovative forms. The church in London utilizes old forms of liturgy and ritual prayers. The funny thing is that the Church in Portland, though it has new forms has a very old ideas. The church in London though it has old forms as very new ideas. The church in London is using these pre-modern models and methods to frame a unique message and combat the selfishness of consumerism that they believe engulfing the soul of our culture. The church in Portland uses innovative and inventive models and methods to combat that same cancerous consumerism – but behind-the-scenes they hold to the old ideas of women’s roles and God pre-selecting who goes to heaven and hell (two name just two). So while the feels is hip and cutting edge and one might expect it to be progressive and post-modern the reality is that the foundations are conservative and fully modern.

Like I said – things are necessarily complicated. That kind of complexity, just looking at these two expressions that are both taking a prophetic stance against the same enemy, requires a diagnostic that is appropriately complex.

I do not have that yet.

I am hoping that my old standby: The 4 Ms – coupled with the Scrabble metaphor, the ‘Plant’ word picture and a growing familiarity with Emergence Theory will give me a more useful tool belt.


>Feedback on the Weakness of God

>Sometimes you have to start in the middle. So here is the definition of the weakness of God that we ‘ended’ up with.
Then we will go back to a few weeks ago when we were working it out.
We will end where we started (the middle) with this definition again
and then I will propose something new for the road ahead !

These are mostly emails conversations that I have gotten permission to use (that is why I changed the identity or location of the writer) the one’s at the end were comments on the website.

here is where we are now

Hey! what about this:

What if every time I said “weakness’ , if I said (in parentheses)
“God’s inverted redefinition of Power we see in Christ – 1 Cor. 1:25)

would that help?

now we go back

When I first read your blog my first reaction was to question where God was weak. Personally I don’t like the idea of a weak God, but I came to the conclusion that a being is weak or strong is like to our word for an abstract concept. As you know the Latin/Western world views something as strong only as long as it can conquer something else, creating dominance, and vis versa, the loser is weak. As I read through your paper I can to realize that we I might call strength is not as such. I asked myself if a great strength can be found in adhering to mercy. I think back to Aslan in the Lion, the Witch, and the wardrobe He gives his live for the safety of another. The Lion is taken is what seems to everyone as weakness, but it the action has an inherent strength. All that to say this: what is even though Caputo speak of God as “weak”, what westerns should do is rearrange our definition of strong and weak. If true strength is revealed through weakness then it is in fact strong. Thus if being strong is truly a form of a weak or cowardly mind then it is weak.

Therefore, in my own head, even though Caputo make a case for a weak God, the underlying tone is the God being called weak by western humanity is truly strong than we know. Thus a slight reversal in our names for abstract ideas can change our culture.

I loved the idea of theo-poetics, but I still have a hard time wrestling with Christ as an event of God. I still somewhat see this as a denying that Christ was incarnate. If you wouldn’t mind helping me with that, I would appreciate that. It seems that if Christ is an event of God than Jesus is just a human with a deep connection to God who is still distant, where the classical idea is the God was among us on Earth. I still prefer the later.

I do not have an opinion to share on the weakness of God. From some of the discussion I’ve heard, it sounds like the sticking point is the difference between God being weak, and God choosing to be weak. I would tend to list towards the latter opinion, but again, I haven’t read all of your thoughts on the subject yet.

My question would be, then, how is God redeeming this? Or, how is God trying to work through us to redeem this?

Institutional Christianity is increasingly becoming irrelevant in America; “We are in charge” may be doomed sooner rather than later. It’s mostly the crazy Christians that get TV air-time. I would say this is equivalent to reality TV: institutional Christianity in America is becoming a ridiculous side-show. So maybe you don’t have to be a cynic for too much longer. Maybe the over-the-top caricature of institutional Christianity that seems to get the most media attention is making room for us to provide an ever more striking contrast as an alternative.

Republic of Island
You know, I love the architecture of all the “churches” here, but they are giant imposing reminders of who’s (or who was) in charge.

There are boxes with family names in the older church buildings where the rich folks used to sit (chief seats). I know old folks who won’t go to church because they remember that when they were little, they had to sit in the back while the rich folks sat in front.

There are monuments in church buildings here that praise soldiers who died in service of God and (country) halfway across the world while trying to conquer a foreign people.

80% of our income goes out the door (to the denominational hierarchy). Some of it goes to pay for the upkeep of empty church buildings.

Our denomination has a “Redundant Buildings” Committee.

Here we are at the end of the empire, trying to figure out what’s important. It is an interesting time to be working (in this system).

North Dakota
“The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God”. For me, the cross really is powerful. Salvation is found in it, healing is found in it. In a profound feat of weakness, defeat, and quiet victory over sin and death, God’s power has been shown to us through the cross. “A bruised reed he did not break, and a flickering candle he did not snuff out”, but in the process, he provided salvation and healing to any and all who would call
on him. Because I am a real Christian, and am against the argument culture of denominationalism/Christian Sectism/Conservative/Liberalism, I REALLY DO THINK GOD IS STRONGER and MORE POWERFUL than anyone in the world. I do not think America is powerful. I think I just have an enlightened perspective:-) Take the way I spend my time: I spend the most amount of my time and energy on those who are on the fringe, annoying to other people, have mental disorders. I do that because I believe that “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick” and Jesus came to call “not the righteous, but the sinners to repentance”. I see the power of God in these conversations/discipleship scenarios. When I hear about a need from someone who will have no way to return the favor, I’m ALL OVER THAT most of the time because I believe that I’m supposed to not
invite those who can’t return the favor to the lavish banquet. I am with Jesus in weak ministry to the weak. I feel God’s presence in it, and in a twist, I see HIS POWER, and the POWER OF HIS CROSS. I just have such a different perspective on power than the world, that I really have come full circle to the point that I see Jesus and the cross as power, and talk-radio/voting/and politics as NOT-POWER. I do understand why you are hitting this thing hard.
I was so mad last week because I met with someone who is a very passionate follower of Christ. My one problem with them, was I was explaining how for us as followers of Jesus, I do not see how we can participate in any military machine. He said, “but in Ecclesiastes it says there is a time for war”. Yeah? Well, it also says there is a time to die. Let me ask you, was death part of God’s original plan? Why the hell did Jesus come anyway? Like you so rightly said it in your PODCAST, we did not learn the lessons from Jesus that we were supposed to, and now we are Spiritually retarded. I mean, if not to revise things, then why did Jesus come at all? Why did he die on the cross? So, I guess I am with you, and I understand your methods of communication. Because I feel the power of the cross in my life, and in the lives of the lowly and weak around me, I have an upside-down opinion on power.

What the heck do we do with the Bible and people’s mis-understanding of it? This is such a bad problem. People think that because something happened in the Old Testament, it’s fair game, and no one seems to understand what Jesus came and did. It seems that people see what GOD did in the Old Testament, then appoint themselves as ‘god’ in the New Covenant. “We can do what GOD did in the Old Testament!!!” No, Jesus modeled for us God’s desire for humanity. READ YOUR bible, and stop ‘cherry-picking’ from the Old Testament. YOU ARE NOT GOD (Romans 8:28-30). Jesus was the “firstborn” among many brothers. That means that everyone after him is supposed to be like him, NOT like GOD in the Old Testament examples, or even like Old Testament
peoples. Please leave being GOD to GOD. Right? Jesus is the firstborn, we are his offspring. We are to “Walk as Jesus did”.

Now that I understand that you are “hitting this thing hard” and that you DO consider Jesus’ healing and such to be powerful, I feel fine. It just seemed like when people asked you about the healing of Jesus, or salvation, or any other displays of power, you defaulted to “God isn’t able to help, God is weak” without explaining his healing and salvation fit. You were trying to keep people from defaulting to Caesar-like America-like power. I get it. For me, it seemed like you were avoiding questions that might challenge your thesis, which I felt was lame. I don’t think so anymore. I see what you’re doing, and I’m cool with it. I think we are actually in agreement about this stuff. The more I consider it and think about it, and read the Scriptures, the more I know what you are saying. The real question is, what is God’s nature? What is God like? We see all the way through the Old Testament God appointing Prophets and Patriarchs to accomplish His will (which didn’t go well, and He didn’t interfere for the most part), then in the New Testament, persecution, the cross, a virtually invisible resurrection from the dead and ascension, then a persecuted, murdered, minority Church to spread the Gospel. You are right that we should heed these stories of what God has done in order to see what God is like in His Nature. One interesting story of Annanias and Saphira (sp?). God put them to death for deceiving, and claiming to give all, but only giving some. Is that God’s holiness or what? Some would read that story and say God was choosing a display of power to make a point about not doing “unholy things” in the presence of “holy God”. Maybe it was just unavoidable because of God’s nature. Whatever. Random thoughts.

I agree with you that God is weak, in that His power is not coercive or dominating. I was just confused by your insistence that he is weak without comment on his power in healing and salvation. I’m still thinking about the idea that God can’t do anything unless through us. Us good protestants say that Jesus is the only way to God, and so we are in essence saying, “God needed a body” to accomplish salvation, even His own body. Interesting stuff, and interesting thought. I know that practically, I live my life like this is true. Even when God does provide for his people, it is through angels, and actions on the part of his people. This does seem to be how God is, what He’s like, and how he carries out his will. Anyway, I get ya that POWER as defined by you is the worlds power of domination and coercion. I was just missing the talk about the power I feel is in the cross. See above for my writing on that.

I find the conversation here at Everyday Theology very helpful and incredibly interesting. Before I ask my questions though, let me say, as gently as possible: God is not the author of death. He is not sending anyone a message through the earthquake in Haiti. If there is a spiritual component to this horrible event it originated in Hell, not Heaven. Don’t worry, the Pat Robertsons of the world will continue to marginalize themselves by saying anti-Christian things like his latest, until no one is listening to him anymore.

I do however have a couple of unresolved questions. ET says that this disaster was caused by shifting tectonic plates and unresolved poverty. Yes, this is the vehicle through which death was delivered. But I do believe that there is a spiritual component to this event. I am not sure what it is, but I suspect it has something to do with Satan’s desire to kill, steal and destroy and my failure as a follower of Jesus to bring redemption to the people of Haiti. Is there a spiritual component to this disaster?

Second question: While Jesus displayed a glaring lack of human power he did display an incredible amount of heaven’s power (healing sick, feeding the hungry, raising the dead and so forth). While the weakness of Jesus has got me thinking about what the Gospel really is and how it is totally and utterly opposed to empire, I still see a power offered to his disciples that inserted the impossible into human tragedy. Where does this authority over sickness and death fit in this emerging theology?

Wow. you have quickly gotten to the heart of the matter. I really like what you said in your first paragraph. Powerful statements.

First question: I can only tell you what I think. I think that the tectonic plates are ‘natural’ in origin. I think that the systemic poverty is ‘human’ in origin. and I think that IF there is anything ‘spiritual’ that it is people’s response to tragedy and hurt. Christ’s body reaching out, holding the hurting, healing wounds and reaching into the wound.

second question – this is a tough one. I want to believe. I do not want to be a cynic. If we have the power to raise people from the dead and heal the sick, why are we not flying ‘miracle teams’ over there to raise the dead and heal the sick? IF EVER we were going to step up into an ACTS like authority and take ‘dominion’ (as someone else has said) then THIS would certainly be the time do that!! The world is watching – it would be publicized on GLOBAL TV. The world would SEE and BELIEVE.

please understand me. I have seen miracles. I believe. I just don’t know that it is predictable enough to ‘go public’ with it. I think that we 1) show up 2) love without condition or judgment 3) serve 4) pray and see what happens. That really is the best I have right now. I mean, if you feel called to get on an airplane and fly down … or better yet – just pray from where you are that the dead in Haiti will get up and start to tell of God and his power, you can do that right now.

I am just saying that I do not think that is that way it works. I think that God is weak. I think that God loves weakness. I think that God works in our weakness. That is why I think we go (in weakness) and serve (in our weakness) and embrace others weakness and that is how God is made manifest, in our weakness.

Ike in Bosnia
Hello Everyday,

Wow, lots of good stuff to chew on.

I’m still do not agree that if we say to the people of Haiti, “God is weak” that that is somehow a more palatable, 21st-century message. Likewise, if we say, “Good news Haiti, God is in control” I don’t believe that it is outdated, nor that it is proven wrong by present facts and reality.

We do have to wrestle with pain and death in this world. We can make the world a better place but we cannot make it a perfect place without pain and death. And there is a reason for that. God is in the process of redemption but has not completed it yet.

Why is it that when human suffering was commonplace and taken for granted it was OK to say that God is almighty. Now, however, we can’t say that because it doesn’t fit our context?

You once indirectly criticized a preacher for refusing to believe in a Jesus who could be beat up. That concept of Jesus just didn’t fit with what he decided was right or proper. But at the same time I’m hearing that we cannot believe in a strong God because it doesn’t fit 21 century concepts of what is real or works or is proper?

When did we, the citizens of the 21st century, decide how God should be? And when did God say, “Oh, you’re right. I have to change myself to fit your your conceptions of me?”

I think one amazing point of the incarnation, the manger and the cross is that God did things his way in a manner that didn’t fit the preconceived notions of the day.

Then by the resurrection God showed strength in the midst of weakness. God will do the same in our weakness. As we are weak, God is strong and proves that God is faithful to those who have that trust.

At some point we must all wrestle with the true God, as is. I am created, God is creator. Somehow I feel we are getting this backwards.

Ike – You know how much I like you! And how much your contribution here means to me. So I am not saying this to you per se but just throwing it ‘out there’.

When we say that “God is in control” what does that mean? To the people of Haiti does that mean anything? In the Balkan Wars when Catholic Croats, Serbian Orthodox Christians and Bosnian Muslims were raping and killing each other… in what way was God in control?

I am not sure that God is in control. I am growing to believe that God is a weak.

The first objection someone makes is to say ‘ God isn’t weak, in the Old Testament…” but that raises a whole new set of questions.

-Is that God dead? I mean, why doesn’t that stuff happen now?
– If he’s that strong and he doesn’t do anything, maybe he doesn’t care. I mean if you’re telling me that he’s strong then maybe he’s not as loving as we’ve been told.
– Is it possible that the ancient Hebrews were mistaken and YHWH isn’t the King of Heaven (God most High) like they thought and was, in actuality, a regional Deity and we have outgrown his power?

Maybe it would be best if people didn’t just tell me how ancient societies conceived of their God. I am asking a real question: what if God is weak? What if the explanation of the evil in the world isn’t Theodicy or Sovereignty or any of the constructs of the past? Maybe we have conceived of God wrongly and God isn’t who we were told he was. If Jesus is God ( which is what I believe) then maybe HE should be a lens by which we can evaluate what happens in history.

The difference between me and the bully preacher from Seattle is that I am not saying that if God isn’t who I thought he was that I won’t worship him. What I am saying is that maybe God has shown who he is and we have chosen to stick with a previously conceived notion that is far more fantasy and façade than revelation.

What ever God turns out to be, I will worship. I’m not telling God who God has to be. I am asking what if God isn’t who we told that God was.
I am looking at who God has revealed God’s self to be in Christ and in history — and I’m wondering if God is really weak and it is WE who will not accept that.

Hey! what about this:

What if every time I said “weakness’ , if I said (in parentheses)
“God’s inverted redefinition of Power we see in Christ – 1 Cor. 1:25)

would that help?

that is where we find ourself in this conversation

Here is something to power us on the road ahead:

I am presenting the New Testament as a “poetics” of the kingdom of God, a theo-poetics — as opposed to a “theo-logic”, an ethics, or a church dogmatics — as a complex of narratives, parables, and paradoxes of which Jesus is the centerpiece. From a work such as that cannot simply and straightforwardly “derived” a course of action. We need instead to “arrive” at an instantiation, a concretization, a way to translate it into existence, all the while letting it happen (arriver) to us, allowing ourselves to come under its spell and be transformed by the event it harbors. For that we require a delicate style of interpretation, a “hermeneutics”…
– John Caputo

>Who Gets In ?

>They say to never judge a book by it’s cover. And this is true. Sometimes the cover is completely underwhelming for the quality of what is inside. Other times the cover is seemingly the best part. I have read two book in the last 5 years that were both wonderful and I think that their titles are the best two subtitles of any books I have heard of.

The First is Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party).

The second is a Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentalist/calvinist + anabaptist/anglican + methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished CHRISTIAN

It also happens that both of these books touch on something that I want to touch on here: phenomenon and attitude.

Crunchy Cons came at a perfect time in my life. My wife and I had been trying to live a different way for a couple years. We had tried to get away from the cycle of credit card debt, eating factory farmed meat and things like that. It turns out that we weren’t the only ones! In fact this book is about how people all across North America had been making some of the same adjustments and coming to some of the same convictions that we had. The interesting part is that there was no manual, no spokesperson, no school that was preaching or teaching how to do it. It was a phenomenon- a spontaneous movement of like minded people all seemingly making the same changes at about the same time. It was amazing to read and to learn that we weren’t the only ones. It was a unique migration — if you will.

A Generous Orthodoxy was a similar story.

Two years ago I made a list of some groups and Christian schools of thought that I hoped to have a conversation with and dialogue about the direction that the church could go. I had grown tired of the partisan arguing between denominations and dogmas of my youth. I knew I wanted to go a different direction. I made this list and said somehow we need to frame the conversation in a way that both Pentecostals who believe that every one who is filled with the Spirit can speak in tongues – and Dispensationalist who think that speaking in tongues died at the end of the apostolic age (when the apostles died) can both be in the conversation.

I’m tired of one group saying that the other group aren’t Christians
or real Christians.

I wanted to have a dialogue between those whose roots go back to the 18th century and John Wesley in England who believe in free will – and of those whose roots go back to the 17th century and John Calvin’s Dutch and Swiss context who don’t believe in free will.

It was a long list.

Six months ago I was part of a conversation between a group that believed not just in the virgin birth but in the immaculate conception (which, for those of you who don’t know isn’t about Jesus Conception but Mary’s conception because later it was thought that she also needed to be conceived this way in order to be without sin otherwise she would have passed it on to Jesus) and another group who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and was sinless but did not believe in a virgin birth for him – that is something that was added quite a bit later. It was added they said because of the belief in that day that sin came through the father’s seed in the sex act and so there needed to be no semen in order for Jesus to have been sinless. There was a third group that was saying it didn’t matter either way – that the virgin birth was not essential for what happened on the cross and in eternity. The first group said it was essential for it was in the Bible and if you don’t believe it then you don’t believe the Bible – that you can not just pick and choose what to believe and what not to. the second group pointed out that the Prodigal Son of Luke 15 was in the Bible and that it was not literal. It was a parable too.

SO you can see that this is a real pickle. I think that the conversation about the virgin birth is a really good conversation. But it’s not going to work if it causes one group to say that the other group isn’t Christians and for the other group to say that the first group are not real Christians but mindless sheep following blindly superstitions of the past.

Part of the problem is that, for so many of us, we no longer have the structures of the past to decide who’s right. We don’t live in an age of the state sponsored church and the church sponsored state. It was easier (in one sense) when to be German was to be Lutheran, or to be English enrolled to in the church of England, were being Dutch meant you were part of the Dutch Reformed Church or for Russians the Russian Orthodox Church. That list could go on and on but you get my point.

So who is going to decide who’s in? The optimist in me hopes that this post-denominational era give us the opportunity to erase some of the old battle lines. The pessimists in me is afraid that we are more fractured than ever before and there is no venue to have this conversation and no unifying authority. Obviously I believe in the power and presence of Holy Spirit. Only the gentle dove is not coercive but invitational, not dominating but participatory and relational. I don’t know what that means to the conversation.

And that is scary. Because there are some big things on horizon!

I was part of a conversation between a group who says that homosexuality is a biblical sin. The other group was saying that those six verses sprinkled throughout the Bible are not about sexual orientation but about an act that we would all still be against.* There was a third group saying that as we explore the human genome, if it turns out that sexual orientation is genetic we are going to have to change how we be those six verses.

Now my only point in all of this is that we can’t afford to have one group saying that the other group, because of this belief, is not Christians and are “out” of the conversation. I am hoping for a construct and a framework so that all three groups get to be “in” the conversation.

This would be the case for those who believe that the world was created 6-10,000 years ago in 6 – 24 hour periods. It would also include those who believe that every ancient tribe had its own origin stories that were told as these epic poems and that what we have recorded in Genesis is simply the Hebrew’s version of it. We would also include those who are agnostics on the issue and say that it isn’t one of the criteria for a relationship with Christ and his Church.

This would be the same for those who believe that we live in the End Times and that Jesus is coming back soon. It would also include those who think that apocalyptic writing was part of a lost genre and that it was a political view of the Roman empire and it has nothing to do with our time – that there is no end of the world. We would also include those who say that there’s no way we can know so let’s not make it an issue.

This would enable people who think that the Bread and the Wine actually become the body and blood of the Lord to take communion with those say that it remains Bread and Wine but that we take it by faith to be those things – as well as – those who say that the Bread and the Wine are symbols that remind us of the broken body and spilled blood. Then Jesus’ prayer in John 17 could be heard and all three groups could be ‘one’ at the Table of the Lord.

My hope is that like “Crunchy Cons” that I am not the only one and this is instead a global desire to move in a direction and that like “a Generous Orthodoxy” we find this attitude.

to listen to the Podcast of this click here

* If you study household codes of the time, you will see that it is what we would call ‘statutory rape’ or something similar that we have legal words for. Remember that things are often lost in translation and that homosexuality is the English word that comes with it’s own baggage. The Hebrew and Greek words are different.

>Why Flowers are Better than Cars for ‘Soul’

>Often the way we think about something dictates what we think about it. That is why our framing metaphor is so powerful.

A question I love to ask is whether Jesus, if he were teaching today, would use technological examples or if he would still use farming examples. I love to play around with this idea and sometimes I take it one way, sometimes I take it the other.

Today, I want to go in a little bit different direction with it. I got thinking the other day that Jesus never said ‘ the kingdom of heaven is like a chariot’. He never said ‘ if you drink this living water you will become like a Roman aqueduct’. Both of those would have been workable analogies. They were both examples of fine engineering and ingenuity.

Instead he spoke of soil and plants and birds. I have been thinking about the implications of that lately. I love the earth. I am more aware than ever if of the biological nature of my existence and the inter-connection that humans have to nature.

I have also noticed that often when people speak about modern ministry or spirituality they use machine or technology examples. I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with that. Often the organizations and structures that we are working in & talking about are human inventions and constructions. So using analogies of inventions and construction fits. If we are talking about institutional change and we want to use an analogy of a house, that may work. That’s not my concern.

My concern is in relation to community and spirituality. I think that organizations are more like organisms than machines. I also see that spirituality is not mechanistic or technological as much as it is organic and dirt-y at the ‘ground’ level.

The word that has got me thinking about this is the word “results”. The question is how do we get different results? Sometimes it comes in this slightly different form of how do we measure success? But that too is results oriented.

In the past month this has shown up in three distinct scenarios. The first was a pastor who wants to make changes in his congregation. The second is a couple who wants to see something different in their marriage. The third is a woman who has a desire for renewed vitality in her spiritual life.

In my conversation with all three of them a discernible pattern emerged. Fundamentally, they wanted to be able to pull out the ‘part’ that wasn’t working and quickly install a replacement part. If a car analogy was used it would be like requesting a new transmission so that ‘we can get back on the road again’. If it was a factory analogy it was so that ‘we can get up and running again’ or ‘get back to business’.

The problem, as if I even needed to say it, is that congregations, marriages and souls are not produced on assembly lines or in factories. And I know that is not what anyone meant to say. It’s just that the analogy was breaking down because the metaphor was not just insufficient but increasingly unhelpful.

So I want to suggest a different metaphor – and old classical: A Plant.

instead of ‘results’ we will talk about flowers or fruit. If you want to bring about different or better flowers there are three other things that you need to be concerned with first: the roots, the stem and the leaves.

Even more important is to realize that this will be a process and that process will take a while. This is why we have seasons. So wisdom is to know which season you are in and to adjust your expectations accordingly.

The roots absorb nutrients and ground the plant for stability. The stem provides structure and strength as well as healthy exchange between the elements. The leaves absorbed sunlight and convert energy.

This analogy works for congregational, relational and spiritual changes.

It helps to verbalize and analyze what our roots are grounded in.

It is essential that we acknowledge the frameworks that hold up the structure, gives shape to us and allow for healthy transfer. This is the conversation about the stem.

When we talk about the leaves we talk about how we are receiving from above (or outside) and how that is being converted to energy.

All three of these conversations happen before we ever address ‘getting different results’. A forth conversation then is ‘what season is it?’ It is time to rest and recharge (winter)? It is time to plow and plant (spring)? Is it time to water and watch (summer)? It is time to prepare for harvest time?

The flower is ultimately a result of health and an expression of life that gives the capacity for more life.

A friend of mine who does marriage counseling told me an interesting story last week. A couple had come in who were just not doing well. In this particular session the husband was being quite vocal about his displeasure with his wife. My friend finally stopped them and said “You have come here because you want me to fix this. Like you take your car to the mechanic, puts it up on the lift and swaps out the part that isn’t working for an identical one ordered from a catalog or that he got from a warehouse, then you pay him and go right back to what you were doing before. But that is not going to happen. You’re wife is sending you signals and trying to tell you that she is not being nourished, she does not feel safe and that she wants a partner who participates in the health of your marriage. You think that the engine is just fine and that everything is running fine — if you just to get a different transmission so that the power transferred back then you could move forward. You want this to be over quickly so that you can get back to business as normal. She is telling you that you are months away from harvest. You need to wake up and figure out what season you are in. There is no sense in acting like it’s close to harvest when you are in winter buddy. Your wife is asking you to turn over soil and plant with her and water your relationship. You want to snap in a new part and be on your way.’

We often pick the analogies, word pictures and metaphors because of how we envision something or what we want to happen. They are revealing. They tell us something.

My only suggestion out of all of this is that when we are talking about something that God made – like the Church and relationships and soul… that we use analogies from things that God made like soil and plants and seasons. They go together so naturally.

to listen to the Podcast of this click [here]

>The deal with reading the Bible

>Sorry for the giant delay in posting these here. I will be moving all of them over this week so that they are synced with the website.

3 things in this one: how NOT to read it, WHAT you are reading, and HOW to read it

You can’t read it like a contract.

– By His stripes we are healed.
– The Lord is my shepherd , I shall not want
– Every knee will bow and every tongue confess
– If you confess your mouth and believe in your heart- you will be saved.

We live just after a time (Modernity) where language was viewed a certain way and texts were treated accordingly. The problem is that the Bible was not written in that same period or mindset so … when we use that Modern approach there can be a bit of a gap between what it originally meant and how we read it.

Let’s look at Psalm 23 and specifically just the first line. The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. Well, the problem is that believers in every place in all times have been in want. Does that mean that God is not holding up his end of the deal? Is God breaking the contract? No. You can’t read the Bible that way. God is not actually a shepherd and you will not actually never be in want. You can’t read it like a contract.

A lot of people though – have been taught to read it like a contract. We use this Modern sense of language and say that each word and each phrase is an exact representation of it’s greater reality. That it exactly represents what it is talking about.

But this leads to some pretty complicated situations. Like when Paul says ‘God exalted his name – so that at his name every knee with will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.’ I am not sure that Paul was saying that at some point in history or after human history that every knee will bow. I am not sure that is the point of his writing that. But when we read it like a contract, we say “It says EVERY… in plain black and white – EVERY”. So then we develop elaborate constructs and scenarios where by God can uphold his end of the bargain and live up to his end of the deal. But I am not sure that it works like that.

People do this with Old Testament prophecies and say “It says that by his stripes we ARE healed – not ‘will be’ or ‘might be’ – we ARE.” As if this in an exact 1:1 equation. “God said, I believe it, that settles it”. But I am not sure that it was meant to work like that. And when it doesn’t…. well then we say ‘Maybe it’s you! Maybe you don’t have enough faith or maybe you have unconfessed sin or maybe your just not one of the elect who is meant to get it.’ You can not read the Bible like a constitution.

Like when Paul says ‘if you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart you will be saved’. But then there are all these other expectations and other times he says ‘if you hold fast to the faith’ as if it were conditional. A lot of time and energy has been spent to try an explain the formula for salvation. The requirements to fulfill the contract. But I am trying to say that you can’t read the letters of Paul like a contract – dissecting each phrase, parsing each clause of the contract.

Just like we have to be careful with Enlightenment individualism and consumer spirituality , we have careful of this view of language and texts. They need to be interpreted through the lens that they were written in.

What is Hermeneutics ?

The definition is simply the study of different ways that texts are interpreted. It looks at the relationship between the author , the text and the reader. Many christian that I have met and talked to have never heard of this word. That really piqued my interest so I looked into it. It turns out that many Christians do not know that there are different ways of looking at a text. Many believers do not know that they are interpreting. I have been told over and over again “I just read the Bible literally”

I said before [link] that no one reads the Bible literally. Even if they say they do, a simple couple of questions and that gets exposed.

All texts need to be interpreted. Some as Poetry, some as history, some as parable, some as prophecy , some as Apocalypse, etc.

So this is why I wanted to bring it up. If we are all interpreting but we don’t acknowledge that we are interpreting… then it is either happening sub-consciously or we are so comfortable with our interpretive devices that it is happening by default or we are deceiving ourselves insisting that nothing is going on but a plain reading of the text.

You have to factor in TheoPoetics

Sometimes we just need to factor in that there are ways we talk about God. This is just a natural implication of using language to do something as amazing and vast at trying to describe transcendent reality and mystical experience.

It could be something as simple as when a child says ‘Jesus lives in my heart’. That is theopoetics. It’s simply the way we talk about God. It doesn’t need to be critiqued and measured in a exacting way. We know that the resurrected Christ didn’t shrink down and multiply himself then move into each person’s cardiac valve. It is a way of talking about God. It’s how we use language.

When Jesus says ‘on this rock I will build my church’ he was not speaking about a piece of granite nor of building a church building. It is a way of talking. The thing is – and this is important – I am not being dismissive by saying this as if the use of poetics means that things don’t carry weight or that they ultimately don’t mean anything.

Jesus was saying that there is something that is foundational and that he is responsible for the activity and entity that is called the church.

When the child says “Jesus lives in my heart” , just because it doesn’t mean that the actual Jesus doesn’t live in her actual heart, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t mean anything. She is talking about the Spirit of Christ indwelling that central place of passion and purpose. That means something! It’s just that the language in inexact. But this is the nature of language.

Actually – this is not a problem at all. If we give each other space and grace and acknowledge that hermeneutics and theopoetics play a role in our religious life and use of the Bible. The problem comes when we think and demand that language work a different way. When we insist that language be exacting and mathematical (this word = this exact definition) we get frustrated like the Pharisees did with Jesus as they demanded specifics and he told them stories!

“Who is my neighbor – the guy two doors down or three doors down?” he was asked. That reminds me of a story about a Samaritan… “When exactly do you rise up and restore Israel as a King?” he was asked. The Farmer sows seed…

Even when Jesus did use numbers he used them with a certain amount of absurdum or hyperbole. “How may times should I forgive my brother – 3 or 4? I mean I can’t just let him walk all over me and do the same thing over and over.” Jesus could have done the clever Rabbinic thing and added the two together and said 7. And that would have been unimaginable and challenging for them! That would have been surprising and prodigal (extravagant). But he does something incredible – he doesn’t just go up incrementally with addition – he goes exponential with multiplication! 70 times 7 !

This understanding of theopoetics is helpful to me. So that when Jesus says ‘if a part of your body causes you to stumble, cut it off.’ Just because he doesn’t mean ‘CUT IT OFF’ doesn’t mean that he doesn’t mean anything.

Just because a beast with 10 heads does not rise up out of the sea literally – doesn’t mean that the passage doesn’t mean anything!

Just because God isn’t actually a shepherd – doesn’t mean that God isn’t LIKE a shepherd. This is the same for ‘Father’ or ‘Rock’ or that ‘he hinds me under his wings’. These are Theopetics. They are the way that we talk about God. It is not exacting language, it is not mathematical or representative. It is expressive. It is expressing something deeper.

That is why I don’t get to hung up on Jesus saying ‘this is my body and this is my blood’. Like if I hold up a picture and say that ‘this is my wife’. It is not actually my wife. It is not representative – it is reflective. It reflects her. Now by saying this I am not saying that the ‘Lord’s Supper’ , just because the bread is not actually his flesh and the cup does not literally contain his blood, that it does not mean anything. It means something. But that something requires interpretation.

Like a child saying ‘Jesus lives in my heart’ – just because it doesn’t mean that literally doesn’t mean that it doesn’t mean anything. It means a lot! It is deep and profound … and that is why we use Theopoetics.

For the Podcast of this click [here]

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