Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today


January 2011

Churchlandia (portland)

I am fascinated by the culture clash that seems to be generated mostly out of BIG churches.

I was born in Ohio, raised in Chicago, spent 6 years on the Canadian prairies, married a girl from Montana before moving to NY  and then training for ministry in California.

It was in California that I encountered a kind of church I had not really seen before. Some call them mega-churches but I have developed a different name for them, since not all of the churches I am talking about qualify simply based on attendance figures.

After college I lived on the NY-Vermont border for over a decade before moving out to the Pacific NW. Arriving in Portland that first week was a reintroduction to these types of churches.

I call them Castle Churches. They can usually be identified them by three primary factors: Continue reading “Churchlandia (portland)”


>Powerful in a different way

>When it come to power, there is no doubt the something has happened to God.  I contend that it is a different kind of power, most go with other explanations.

I need to say up front here that I believe in ‘more than you can see’.  Admittedly I am not a big fan of the phrase “supernatural” because of the worldview that it comes from (as if the power of prayer was not the most natural thing in the world and the way that Jesus worked with nature and wants us to as well).

I need to say that at the beginning because if you did not know it, there will be points in this blog where someone could think that I do not believe in ‘more than you can see’.

Something about God – or a gap in how the Bible talks about power and what we see in our world –  has changed and there are so many ways that people have attempted to deal with it.

  • Enlightenment liberals often take the line of reasoning that God would never break the rules that God originally set up (such as physics). So the change must have been that the ancients only thought that Jesus walked on water  –  or that they were actually talking allegorically or poetically when they talked about such things.  Bottom Line : in this view those kind of miraculous things don’t happen anymore and probably never did.
  • Charismatic or Pentecostals, obviously, DO believe that miracles and acts of power still do – or can – happen. When they don’t  (and often they don’t) then reasons are looked for: not enough faith, not enough prayer, those who pray are not holy or dedicated enough. Bottom Line: This view says that the world works the same way it did in Bible times and God doesn’t change so if we are not seeing God’s power like they did – it must be on our end.
  • Dispensational folks say that God works differently in different periods in history (called dispensations) and after the Apostolic Age ( in the Book of Acts) we moved into the Church Age and miracles are not a part of our age. Bottom Line: in this view, God can do powerful things, has in the past, and will in the future… just not right now.
  • Even Barth (Karl Barth and those who like him) runs into the problem with a lack of power (like miracles). The explanation that developed in the last half of the 20th century is that because God’s fullest revelation was done in Christ then God has no need to do those kind of things since it was a ‘once for all’ revelation. Bottom Line: in this view the only thing that God would do (like in the Book of Acts) is to validate that original revelation. 
  • There are those voices that talk of the Death of God. You understand why this carried so much weight in the 20th century with the two world wars, atomic bombs, death camps, all the way the Bosnian war and Africa’s post-colonial realities (to name just a few). 

Bottom Line: for both the Barthians and the Death of God crew is that outside of emotional worship services or crusades… it was tough for many people to see how or where God was at. God seemed absent when things mattered most and some were left to reason that this supposedly ‘all powerful being’ either didn’t care, was not as powerful as advertised or was dead.

If you study history you can begin to see that something is definitely different.  Either the Ancients were under false illusions, or it is all some sort of Medieval superstition being exposed or there has been a death of ‘god’ power or  that God is choosing to do something a little different because these are the last days and this is all part of the plan. Whichever one you go with, you have some followup questions to deal with.

Fun Example: 
I love talking with Charismatic-Pentecostal believers who focus on the fact the demons and miracles are still a part of pre-Industrial (non-developed) parts of the world. They point to Africa and South America where stuff still happens like it did in the Book of Acts.
The question I ask is “so do demons lose their power when people have electricity ?”

I have had some really fun conversations around this!  It is a fascinating place to launch a dialogue. The most interesting response I have ever heard was by one of my best friends who told me that since believers have been binding demons by the power of the Holy Sprit for 2,000 years – that there just are not as many demons on the earth as there used to be.  I asked if they then congregate in places like rural Africa? After that the conversation got wild…

At the end of the day, however, I think that what all these approaches are addressing is more important that how they address it.  What they are addressing is that there is a gap between how the ancients perceived God and talked about power and what we have seen and experienced in our own world.   Something has changed.

Act 2: here is where I am at on this.  I think that we have a bad understanding of power and how it is that God works in the world.  I am not interested in discrediting people of the past – but neither am i interested in dogmatically clinging to a cosmology and meta-physics from a pre-scientific era. I want to deal with the world as it is. Not as I was taught that it should be and not as people used to think that it was… I am interested in an optimistic (hopeful) Christian realism.

I have bought into a school of thought that says God is in the process with us and that reality is relational. It’s interesting that I believe so many of the same things as I used to but that I think so radically differently about them. 

One example is of God’s power. I believe that God is powerful and I also believe that God is at work in the world.  The difference is that I now conceive of God’s power a little differently. I believe that God’s power is non-coercive. It is more seductive than unilateral. God works with what is. This view of power is more persuasive than coercive.

My favorite way of introducing this idea is a story that Marjorie Suchocki tells.

One day the Sun and the Wind were watching a man walk and decided to have a competition. The Wind challenged the Sun to see who could get the hat off of the man’s head. The man was walking and the wind began to blow and blow in an attempt to knock the hat off of the man’s head by sheer force.
The result was that the man placed his hand on his hat and pressed down with all his strength. In fact, the more the wind blew, the more the wind blew the harder the man resisted and worked to keep the hat on his head.
The Sun decided to go a different direction. The Sun was concerned with heloing the man to want to take his hat off – not simply doing it to the man but wanting to work with the man by helping him to desire for his hat to come off.
The Sun began to shine with great intensity and increased the temperature to such a point that the man became uncomfortable with how hot is was and willing reached up with his hand and took the hat off.

If the wind had succeeded – the man would have viewed it as a bad and undesirable thing. He had worked against it and would have tried to correct it.
The sun succeeded and the man perceived it as a good thing and even participate in bringing it about. The man may not have even been aware of the role that the environment played on his desires – thinking that it was his idea all along!

God is not the wind trying to knock the hat off our head with power.

God is the sun, influencing our environment in order to change our desires – so that God is not doing things to us but is working with us to bring about the greater good (also called the will of God).  

Act 3:  Paul Knitter talks about it in terms of the sail on a boat. Our will is not like a motor but an organized cloth that is anchored at strategic points. We put up our sail in order to harness that which is already at work (available). We can not manufacture it. We do not generate it. We do not direct it so much as harness and navigate it.

The everyday implication for these ideas is that we reframe how we talk about God’s power. The idea of the Puppet master pulling strings from behind the curtain and the unilateral coercion are relics of the past.  I just don’t see how we continue with that language in the 21st century.  I prefer to talk about the Weakness of God (1 Cor. 1:15)  [I have blogged about it here].  God’s power is a different sort of power. God is powerful but it is not a unilateral power. It is not a coercive power. It is a persuasive (more seductive) power. It works with our desires and it begins with what is.

This is why I want to speak in ways that reflect the way things are.

Race and Dr. King

I wrote an article for Ethnic Space and Faith (a  project with my friend and mentor Dr. Randy Woodley).

I give four snapshots of racial issues : technology, PHDs, Biblical Archeology, and America’s Prisons.

Then I reflect on Dr. King’s word that written from a Birmingham jail in 1963.  Here is a quote:

The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will.

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

Head over to the site this weekend and I hope that you will post a comment as we honor Dr. King and his message this weekend.

>Friday Follow Up: the death of Job’s God

>What an amazing week of conversations on the Blog, Facebook and email!  Thank you all for your contributions.  I have much to think about.  Next week we will address the nature of Divine Power.

Here are the three things that I want to say: 

God is always being incarnated

God is always dying

God is always conquering death

in this sense:  there is a perpetual new life, there is a ongoing crucifixion, and there is constant resurrection.

We are always embodying God. We are forever dying to ourselves. We are continuing to rise (baptized) into a new life.

For the Christian, it is always Christmas, it is always Good Friday and it is always Easter Sunday.

Here are three exchanges I wanted to follow up on:

Dave:  Meister Eckart – “I pray that God would rid me of God”.

Me: This line of reasoning is SOOOOO explosive!

We love it when the Apostle Paul said “through the law I died to the law” in Galatians 2:19
but we may not like it as much as when a John Caputo says “through religion I died to religion” or something similar.

Sara: I’ve been thinking about this idea all day. Was wondering your thoughts on how this play out in our relationships, For instance because Christ died for me and my sins ( including the one where I felt he failed me) Did he not also die for the people in our lives that did not meet our expectations? And because they failed us we hold back our love. (conditional love). God does not conditionally love us so are we suppose to conditionally love other people?

Me: Here is how I would answer this.

1. Jesus died not just FOR our sins but BECAUSE of our sins. We are to blame too.
2. God loves us unconditionally. We are not God. We love conditionally.
3. In Christ (!) we move toward a MORE unconditional capacity to love. We grow, develop and mature in that direction. It is not a destination. It is not a pass/fail assignment. It is not a trick or a test… It is a direction that we move in Christ.

They fail us, we fail God, God forgives us, we forgive them. Let mercy flow, let justice reign, and let kindness ring all around!!

Philip: Gods die, or perhaps more to the point, Gods evolve. The Israelite god does this before our own eyes as we read scripture. But perhaps more interesting is that this evolution takes place in a particular narrative, and only evolves as the people telling the story change. This is interesting to me because it deals less with some ontological change in God and more of a change in us, the storyteller.

That isn’t some lazy excuse like: “god is the same yesterday, today and forever” that’s bull crap. God clearly changes, or at least, when you look at our account of god over a long period of time, you see a character that is not stagnate but incredibly dynamic in how he/she is portrayed. But that’s kind of my point, when we say “that is what God is like” we are using our language, which only makes sense in a certain social context to describe something rather profound. It is inevitable that the character would change as the storyteller changes.
Perhaps if we began to see god as truly “with us”, and not in the “like a best friend” kind of way, but in a way that connects us to god in a real and profound way that blurs the lines of distinction, then that might takes us down a road where our views and descriptions of god are not the process of uncovering the one true god, rather they are the process of expressing the god within and surrounding us (collectively and individually) and the interaction that takes place there.

Thanks Bo for the rich and nuanced take on this issue.
ps. I was talking to a older conservative family member who was shocked that I didn’t think God was in control of everything, because as he said ” it brings me great comfort to know that a tragic event happened for a reason” I replied more or less like this “That view of god doesn’t bring me comfort at all, rather that god makes me mad, if God had a reason for a 5 year old being raped then God is a mad man.” Needless to say that conversation didn’t go over very well.

Me:   Philip, thank you for being so honest and clear. Two things I want to respond to:
– You are right that it is not ‘god’ who changes but it is WE who change and our understanding that evolves. That is important, I have been having amazing conversations all week with people telling me about their previous conception of God dying. NOW – it was not the Living God who died but their understanding of God. 

This is important because we are not saying that “there is no God” but that the former conception of “God is dead”. I say this because I believe that the Son of God died and that many conceptions of God died on that Cross.


- I got in trouble with someone who was talking about “God being in control” of everything, then later was sad about the passing of a friend. I said “Jesus must have been mad at that guy to kill him like that.” They objected. To which i responded “you can’t if both ways”.

I also wrote about this for Football Jesus [link].

Next Tuesday, the post is on Divine Power. This is what I will tackle.

Different Kinds of Books

The 100 top selling Christian books of 2010 came out. It is an interesting list.
It triggered some thoughts in me.

When I was a pastor, I used to joke that despite your best intentions and regardless of what you learned in college, much of what comes across your desk and occupies your time is answering two questions:

  1. How do we get more people? and
  2. How do we get those people to give more money?

That may sound cynical but much of the time I was even suspicious of other young pastors who were rabid about doctrine Continue reading “Different Kinds of Books”

>Crucifying Job’s God

>Act 1: Crucifixion is topic that has been written about for centuries. The first 500 years of Christianity were contentious on this issue and 500 years ago it became the source of a major schism between the Protestants and the Catholics. It is currently being hotly debated again – in the publishing industry, on blogs, and in pulpits.

If you look it up you will find everything from ancient Penal Substitution theories to modern Bloodless theories.
You will find Forensic theories, Governmental theories, Satisfaction theories, Recapitulation theories and everything in between.

They will have names like Christus Victor or Ransom Theory.  But one thing that they will all agree on is twofold:

  1. something divinely significant happened on the cross
  2. Jesus impacted both humanity and eternity by what happened on the cross

I hate that there is so much division and venomous aggression from those in one camp toward those in another.  I do not think that it cast Jesus in the best light nor does it bring Jesus the type of exalted glory that should come by looking at this subject!

I really like how Larry Shelton comes at this. In his book Cross and Covenant he surveys them all and suggests using the analogy of golf clubs. If each of these views is seen – not as the totality of truth – but, as an angle or perspective that is useful in certain situations for a specific purpose. I like this a lot.  The idea of gleaning meaning from a collection of metaphors is pretty sweet.

Of course, if you have a collection of golf clubs you are going to need an organizing principle – a golf bag if you will. Here lies the brilliance of his approach: Shelton says that the collecting concept is Covenant. Covenant is relational and it runs from the front to the back of our religion.

Act 2: Here is where I am at on this.

The crucifixion means a great deal to me, as it does to many. To me, the incarnation, the teaching and model of Jesus’ life, the crucifixion, and the resurrection   are the four things that form the core of the Gospel web. Pentecost and the coming of the Comforter launch us into the Acts of the Apostles and the rest of church history.  The importance of the crucifixion would not get much disagreement. What we think happened there, however, would.

Here is the question that I think exposes it. This is the the litmus test that brings it to the surface: where was God on Good Friday?  When you envision the Passion Play, what role have you cast God in?

Let me tell you the three most common answers:

  1. God is off the stage. God has abandoned Jesus and has pulled back from him in his suffering. 
  2. God is with the Romans. God is punishing Jesus for the sins of the world, taking out his wrath. 
  3. God is with Jesus. God was in Christ is a unique way and therefor God suffered with Jesus. This is what Jurgen Multmann calls the Crucified God. The God part of Jesus suffered and died, not just the human part of Jesus. 

I do not believe that God abandoned Jesus or that only the human part of Jesus died.
I do not believe that God was on the side of the Romans. Jesus suffered and died unjustly and God was with him on that cross.
I do not believe in the Puppet Master God who is pulling the strings behind that curtain and causing things to happen to punish us or hurt us or destroy us.

This is why we need to be careful about reading that into Psalm 22 ‘my god my god why have you abandoned me.’  It does not mean that God DID abandon Jesus, but that the separation of sin (a broken relationship) felt that way.

This becomes important when we go through tough times, are assaulted or insulted, and suffer unjustly. Where is God in that moment?
The truth is that God is with you. God is suffering with you. God has not abandoned you and God is not punishing you.
A) God is with you.   B) God, in Christ, knows what you are going through  C) Jesus paid that price and now nothing can separate you from the Love of God.

This is where most people who are into Relational Religion would stop.   
I am going to go one step further.

Let me throw out 2 ideas: 

  1. Is it possible that the “Job view” of God (from the Old Testament) was suppose to die on the Cross. That conception of God began to die when God became a man and “it was finished” when God gave his life – unjustly – for us.  It is not only that Jesus died FOR our sins but also that he died BECAUSE of our sins. 
  2. If one reads Romans 8 as : God works for the good with those who love God and are called.   It is NOT that God cause the THINGS to work for us.  It is GOD who works with us for the good.  This allows us to leave behind the obsession that ‘everything happens for a reason.’

Here is why I am saying this:  When someone wins a football game and thanks God, and when someone drops a touchdown and blames God (on Twitter)…is it possible that neither is God’s doing?

This view of God was suppose to die on the cross. God had not abandoned Jesus. God was not on the side of the Romans. God was with Jesus in his suffering.

Here is why this is important:
A) if we use the old dualism (which I do not like) then it is tough to make the case that ‘god’ is all loving AND all powerful. If ‘he’ is loving then ‘he’ is not all powerful and if ‘he’ is all powerful then ‘he’ is not all loving. These old dualism are a trap! that is why it becomes impossible (under Greek metaphysics) for the Incarnation to happen  IF god is THAT transcendent then it becomes impossible to be incarnate or immanent and thus we chalk it up to “mystery”.

B) This idea of God being ‘in control’ … it that like “sovereign”? Because a King is sovereign but not IN CONTROL of all that goes on in his kingdom…

C) So the reason that I say Job’s god dies on the the cross – actually I have been writing a big essay on that – but here are my quick thoughts (5 of them)
#1 God does not cause people to catch or drop touchdowns. That is not what God does. God is not pulling the strings behind the scenes.
#2 God is not doing things TO people. This idea is dead. God partners with or calls to – this is not coercive but is instead persuasive – it is more seductive than dominant.
#3 The idea that God is making deals with the devil to make people (like Job) cry “uncle” dies with Christ on the cross. Jesus died unjustly!! which leads to …
#4 not everything happens “for a reason” Jesus did not only die FOR our sins but BECAUSE of our sins. We have to get rid of this obsession of ‘everything happens for a reason’. It doesn’t. Unless you mean sin, that explains somethings. But stop blaming God.
#5 WWII: The Christian Germans and the non-Christian Japanese make it impossible to draw clean lines between the “Good guys” and “Bad guys”. Victims and oppressors got all messed up in the 20th century. The Christian Orthodox Serbians in the Bosnian war would be more contemporary example.

Act 3: I was introduced to an idea on this topic that was brand new to me. I was listening to a presentation a while ago and something jumped out woke me up. The presenter said that the crucifixion not just opens a way for God to forgive us – but for us to forgive God.  Essentially saying that once Jesus unjustly endures what he does in the flesh, that humanity can not be angry at God for the injustices of life and the cruelty of existence.

God died for us. We can forgive God for not rescuing us from harm, for not stopping assaults, and for not preventing genocide and other atrocities. Jesus is a victim of injustice. Jesus was killed unjustly by the military powers of a foreign occupier.

In that moment of violence, God is not with the strong. God is with the weak and those that have been victimized. Just as in the Exodus story, God is not with the Pharaoh, God is with the slave. But this time… God is the victim. Jesus died unjustly.

This opens the door – not only for God to forgive us – but for us to forgive God.

Final Thoughts: I know the idea of forgiving God may rub some people the wrong. Others may get upset by the idea of a concept of God dying. I have gotten in trouble over the years on the podcast for saying that Jerry Falwell’s god is dead.

Try to think of it this way: Gods die all the time. No one worships Thor or Zeus anymore.  At least Job’s god died for a good cause!  Jesus opened the door for us to have a new relationship with God. This is not the Puppet-Master God, this is God as Parent Perfect and loving friend. Then, we were given the gift of Holy Spirit – that Christ could abide with us always.  I don’t know why christian keep trying to save the old God’s life and keep the Job concept around on Life Support.  We should just let that concept of God die it’s natural death (for Christ’s sake). Or, if we really wanted to, we could be more proactive and put it out of it’s misery by crucifying it … the final nail in the coffin as they say.

Clowns at every Circus

I wrote this as part of another project, but I wanted to post it here in prep for something that I will soon be up to .

I exist in a mixed environment – spiritually speaking. It is progressive (not a capital P) and also includes many people who have  ‘emerged’ (not capital E) from a predominately evangelical-protestant-with charismatic leanings type heritage. I also have many friends and conversation partners who would still identify as conservative, reformed, or some other type of evangelical.

In my circles I have always assumed and heard that when public characters like  Jerry Falwell sounded off on Hurricane Katrina being a punishment from God for the people of New Orleans – that most people rolled their eyes and knew that his was such a marginal expression that he should not be taken seriously.

or when Franklin Graham said that Islam (as if it were one thing) is a terrible religion filled with hate – that people knew he was not a spokesman for  Christians (as if we are just one thing).

or when Mark Driscoll  says that he could never worship a Jesus that he could beat up – that it carried about as much weight as a WWF wrestler mouthing off in order to get pumped up before a match, pulsing with vibrato and testosterone.

But apparently that is not the case. Continue reading “Clowns at every Circus”

Peter Rollins – a prophet?

I get asked a lot of fun questions. Most come in from my podcast and – I love it. Here is one that I got this week and I thought it would be fun to post part of my answer and see what we see.  Peter Rollins is author of How (Not) to Speak of God, the Orthodox Heretic  and the Fidelity of Betrayal [link]. he is also really cool, has a tough Irish accent,  and makes great videos.

Here is the question from my friend: I wanted to get your thoughts on Peter Rollins. I’ve been reading his stuff, and I listened in on his webinar a few nights ago and not sure where I stand yet with it. I know that you are much further along with the post-modern thought. What’s your take with him…Just thought I’d get your thoughts on it…

Here is my answer: Peter Rollins is a poet.  Not a prophet.  Not a priest. Not a professor… and not a theologian. Continue reading “Peter Rollins – a prophet?”

>Communing thoughts

>This week we start a new series for the New Year.  Each week will be broken into 3 acts.
Act 1 will look toward a Big Tent Christianity perspective.
Act 2 will outline where I am currently at on the issue.
Act 3 will introduce a new idea that I got from somewhere else.

Act 1: Sometimes it is good and helpful just to know that there are other perspectives out there and to know what those perspectives are. Here are four quick snapshots of the historical landscape (as I currently understand it).

Transubstantiation is the famous catholic position. The belief is that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ – which still remains bread and wine**. This may seem confusing or like a contradiction to some but those who hold this position are comfortable with “mystery”.  It is the same way that they believe in Jesus being fully God and fully man at the same time… it is mystery. The same would go for Mary (Jesus’ mother) being a perpetual virgin and also exalted mother.
      ** late edition: it turns out that most catholic thinkers hold to a more historic position whereby it does not remain bread and wine but only appears to. Here is a link to an explanatory note about the physics debate. I hope my confusion can be forgiven – it is a very elaborate topic even for those within the fold. **

Consubstantiation is the Lutheran position. The concern is not that anything happens to change the bread and wine but that Christ’s “real presence” is in and around the elements. The important part of this idea – and related ideas – is that something special happens in this meal and that is why you have to be careful with WHO is allowed to take it and also who is allowed to SERVE it (often called sacerdotal).
     * my friend Dave S. (who holds something like this view) says that something does happen to the elements but that the bread and wine are now mysteriously not just bread and wine.*

Both ‘Tran’ and ‘Con’ would hold to the idea that communion is a  “means of grace”. That  the grace of God comes to you in a unique or special way through eating these special elements.

A third perspective on this ceremony holds that the meal is a Symbol. This is what I grew up with. The idea is that the meal is a Sacrament (meaning that we use concrete things to represent spiritual or abstract ideas) and that the bread is just bread but that it represents (symbolically) the meaning that Christ gave to it at the Last Supper.

The fourth snapshot is of the Quakers. This group holds the communion meal in such high respect that they don’t celebrate it!  They hold that since the spiritual body of Christ (the church) is so fractured, that it would be unimaginable (and maybe blasphemous) to participate in a ceremony that exalted the body of Christ broken that we “may be one” (as Jesus prayed in John 17).

All four of these groups would be ‘sacramental’ at one level or another – seeing them as ‘outward signs of an inward truth’ or some other formulation. Some refer only to the first two ( Tran and Con) as sacramental since they have a “high” view of the sacraments and then others would be seem as only symbol or ceremony.

Act 2: I grew up with the Symbol understanding and that has always been the way that I have participated in communion.  I am still primarily there but with a few modifications : one in the positive and one in the negative.

In the negative, I do not believe it to be a “means of grace”. I think that the grace of God will come to you just fine without a special meal of special elements. I do not believe in that sort of meta-physics anymore. I think the presence of Christ is the same during that meal in a church building as it is having coffee with a friend. I love taking communion at church! I just don’t think that it is a means of God’s grace nor that Christ’s presence is thicker there and then than it is at any other time or place.

Some may think that this seems very unreligious but actually it is very religious! I think that the presence of Christ is with us every time we break bread with someone (this is my positive change). Every time you sit across the table from an “other” you are reconciling in Jesus’ name and bridging the gap – this is the ongoing ministry of Christ through you! And the important thing is that Jesus is just as present when you have lunch with your co-workers and a pint with your mates as Jesus is at church when the bread and cup are up front!   Jesus is with you all the time.  For me, it does not get much more religious than that.

Act 3: Richard Kearney proposes the idea that the early church was so focused on substance and status (which were very important to establish in those early centuries) that it may have missed something vital in the teaching of Christ. By over focusing on whether the bread became the body and blood of Christ,  it missed something possibly even more profound. Christ’s body became the bread.

The implication for this is that Jesus is saying “what they are going to do to me, do not do this to others”. That the big deal with communion is not whether the bread becomes the body, but that Christ’s body becomes the bread. Jesus is saying eat together–I have given my life for every one so that no one needs to be killed like this in God’s name.

The everyday theology application:  Communion  is not about ceremony and ritual during a worship service at a grandiose cathedral owned by the religious establishment, served by professional clergy and robed priests to those who have been approved and indoctrinated.  Communion is a meal that those who love Jesus and live in Christ’s way share with those who are both near and far from the church.

When we break bread together, that is communion.  It is not so much about whether the bread becomes the body, but that Christ’s body has become bread. No one is to be killed because of their opinion or belief about God–for Christ’s sake!  This is the exact reason that Jesus changed that famous Jewish Passover ceremony for his followers.  Within 300 years of Christ’s death and resurrection, we were back to religious ritual, robed priests, militarized religion, and violence done in God’s name. People being killed over this continued into the 1800’s.

 I am comfortable going out on the limb and saying A)  it’s almost as if Jesus never came.  The only thing that changed was who was doing the violence.  Now they did the violence in Jesus name instead of some other god’s name. B)  this is not what Jesus wanted.

Here is the thing: 
 I am for a Big Tent Christianity. So I want to break bread with those who believe that the bread becomes the body, with those that believe that Christ’s presence is with the bread, and with those – like me-  who see it as a beautiful symbol and metaphor.

 Do I believe that in the age of physics that it is silly to say that the bread becomes the body? No – it is consistent with a historical position.
In a post-Christendom world is it tenable to have a “means of grace” controlled by religious professional and distributed to only the approved members? No.

But I do think that it’s tenable for us to continue to participate in the metaphor if the body becomes bread – it is a symbol of sacrifice and reconciliation that anyone is free to participate in no matter what they believe about it.

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