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Bo Sanders: Public Theology

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Bo Sanders

practical theology, religion & culture

Moving On From SuperNatural

In a recent podcast of the Peacing It All Together Book Discussion Group, a question was asked about moving on from a the concept of the supernatural to a more integrated or indigenous perspective.

From minute 7 to 14 there is a nice discussion about different ways of moving on from this poorly manufactured thought construct.

I come from an evangelical-charismatic perspective in my past where the supernatural was just assumed.  It was almost like a second language that not fluent but fairly versed in. It has taken my 12 years of incremental work to move out of that language and worldview in order  to make room for a more wholistic and (possibly indigenous) perspective.

Here is the steps that I took to (re)orient myself.

1) Jesus did not believe in the supernatural. There is no Jewish concept like ‘spiritual’. It just wasn’t a category for them like it is for us . That division starts for Christianity in the Greco-Roman world (think of Plato’s philosophy) but comes to its height in the European Enlightenment. It is helpful to simply realize that the Bible does not have this word.

2) It has not born good fruit for the past 500 years. This dualism between natural & supernatural have had devastating consequences in the colonial, then industrial, then technological eras. Jesus said that you will know a tree by its fruit and this is bad fruit. Many of the problems we face today are rooted in this kind of binary (either/or) thinking. The church has been complicit in some pretty horrific stuff – partly because it was participating in this natural/supernatural split.

3) See the living world as a revelation of God. It is a valid loci for theological reflection. I am not separate from creation but very much a part of it. I am a narrative mammal – complete with nipples and a belly-button. I both need creation and am called to care for creation because I am a part of creation – from dust I came and dust I shall return.

4) The church messed up by conceding the ‘natural’ to science because the more that science can explain the less we need God. God has gotten smaller and smaller over the past couple centuries. ‘He’ is less powerful than ever before and at this point all ‘He’ can do is give us goosebumps during worship, get us a good parking spot at the mall (?), and speak to our heart when we are feeling bad about ourselves. How it that ‘super’ natural?

We messed up in the western worldview when we conceded the rules of the game to science and said that we would take everything that science or reason can’t explain and call that ‘super’natural. Everything else is natural?   That is why we must re-claim  proclaim that …

5) God’s work is the most natural thing in the world. We have made God into an idol – a ‘being’ who is a lot like us but just different kind if not degree. This is the danger of personification (anthropomorphism) when it goes from being fluid (theo-poetics) and it hardens to become more concrete in doctrinal statements and foundationalism.

The problem is that there is no ‘there’ there. This view is god is both unsatisfying and ultimately impotent. God is not ‘a being’ like we are a being – god is divine being. When we reference God ‘speaking’ is not by pushing air over vocal chords. When we talk about the hand of god we are not being literal. It is a poetic way envisioning or imagining the way in which the divine presence influences and animates all of creation.

I have tried to move toward a more integrated worldview that is holistic and interdependent.

So want to invite you to begin to or continue to deconstruct this terrible thought construct that we have inherited by looking out the window to creation and saying out loud:

 “There is no such thing as the supernatural. God’s work is the most natural thing in the world”.

Please don’t think that this is merely semantics or a rhetorical device. It is a completely different worldview – complete with different ontology, cosmology, and metaphysic. I am not being clever or tricky when I say this stuff. It really is a different way of believing and participating in the world.

So in summary:

  1. Jesus didn’t believe in the supernatural (only the miraculous).
  2. The natural/supernatural split has not born good fruit historically.
  3. Creation is a living thing that God loves and that you are a part of.
  4. The church messed up by conceding the ‘natural’ world and taking the leftovers.
  5. We profess and confess that God’s work is the most natural thing in the world.

Please let me know your thoughts and your questions. I would love to be helpful in your migration to a more integrated and wholistic worldview. I hope that this model helps.

Somebody asked about miracles!

Miraculous is when the result is greater than you would expect from the ‘sum of its parts’. It is an event (in philosophy).
So we say ‘the miracle of child birth’ or ‘the miracle on the Hudson’ when Sully landed that plane.
I still believe in the miracle of healing. It is not predictable or formulaic or even reliable … it is always surprising. BUT it does happen. Medicine can be a part of it, diet is a part of it, rest is a part of it, and prayer can be a part of it.
I can believe in the miraculous without the addition of another super-natural ‘realm’ beyond this one. The super-natural split just comes with so much extra (and unnecessary) baggage.
Keep in mind that the Gospel of John calles them ‘signs & wonders’ … which is much healthier and more helpful.
A sign (in this way of thinking) is a symbol that participates in the reality that it points to. Miracles are signs of the inbreaking Kin-dom.
Communion can be like this for us! It is a symbol (the bread and cup) that participates in the reality that it points to – we all gather around the table as the body of christ – but the bread and cup are not supernatural.

Transcend Transform Transgress

Something a little different today: here is a reflection that I wrote and below is the video of me trying to present it on the live-stream Sunday morning (with limited success).

I would love to hear your thoughts.

There is a wonderful and often quoted passage in Galatians chpt 3 that I wanted to flesh out a little today.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

It is important to understand what Paul is saying here and what the possible implications are for us in the 21st century – since this verse has sometimes been used in a harmful way.

In the first century that Paul was writing in, there were 3 divisions of identity (if you will) and this passage addresses them all.

  • Political
  • Personal
  • Religious

Paul is saying that in Christ these divisions are ruptured or transcended. In the political realm, slave and free would have had very different lives. In the personal (gendered) realm, males and females would have completely different rights and obligations. Life would have looked very different. In the religious realm, Jews and Greeks were vastly different categories – especially under Roman religion regulations.

What Paul is saying is that in Christ those categories are complicated, called into question, and transgressed.

It is not that those categories ceased to be or ceased to be important. It is that they no longer were totalizing. They lost their power to be ultimately determinative. They did not completely define or confine you.

This is an amazing implication of the gospel – the good news of life in Christ. You were not the categories that you were born into and that society placed upon you. There was now something else about that transcended those external categories and transformed who you are in the world.

You might be able to say in our day: there is no republican or democrat, no gay and straight, no citizen and immigrant.

This is a very transgressive thing to say! It violates the very categories that we have set up for sorting out who is us and who is them.

Now here is the important part: those categories still exist. It is just that they don’t define us, limit us, contain us, and restrain us.

Transgressive issues can be very powerful. They call into question the entire structure of the inherited system and undermine (or subvert) the very way that we categorize society.

This is why I prefer to talk about transform instead of reform. It is not enough to us and we need to transcend these limitations in divisions. The danger is that we will come in times of great tension and social upheaval, redress when we should transgress.

Those are my words for the day:

  • Transform
  • Transcend
  • Transgress

I have been fascinated over the last several years to watch and listen to the heated debate around bathrooms and who gets to use which bathroom. As somebody who lives between two established communities having been raised Evangelical but now operating in Progressive circles, I have been astounded at the amount of attention and contention that issues of Trans people has received.

In the LGBTQAI+ formulation the T is only 1/8 of the signifier. It is notable that when looking at the millions of people who would identify by this series of signifiers that percentage wise trans people are a microscopic percentage. Not even one percent – a fraction of one percent. And yet, in the social imagination, their presence has drawn overwhelming amount of attention.

This is the power of the transgressive category. The presence of the ‘other’ calls into question the entire system, the whole configuration. It is one thing to be gay or straight, male or female– That’s contentious or confusing is the debate surrounding those to be –it is another thing to call the entire concept of genderization into question.

We live in very contentious times where any issue can you become instantly aggravated an divisive. I have been amazed at the outsized amount of attention that this issues who can use which bathroom has received in both my current liberal circles and in the evangelical circles that I get to visit. There is something very telling about the disproportionate amount of attention that this issue has drawn.

It is telling. And it is a good thing because it questions or interrogates the entire structure. And the structure needs to be examined!

I became aware of how big of a problem our gendered categories were when I moved to LA and I inadvertently picked up some new hand motions. Apparently they were a little too feminine for a large man to be using and people would point it  out to me. When someone would say that they were not very manly, I would protest by saying, “no. I am a man who uses these hand motions–that makes them manly”.

We also categorize colors by gender. It is interesting to know that 100 years ago pink and blue were used in the exact opposite way for baby boys and girls as they are now. In fact both the yellow and purple were acceptable. It was not until the first color addition of the Sears Roebuck catalog in the early 1920s that our current pink and blue category was formalized.

I recently read a story that my friend posted on social media about being confronted by somebody because her male dog had a purple harness.

Listen, if hand motions and colors and dog harnesses can be gendered then the entire enterprise needs to be called into question.

Our gender categories are too overly determined and totalized.

So that brings us back to our text. It is not that there is no such thing as a male and female, Republican and Democrat, citizen and immigrant… it’s that there is a category which transcends, transforms, and transgresses our understanding inherited categories.

I might say to you today that in Christ your identity it’s so much bigger then any of those external signifiers that society places upon you. It doesn’t mean that we are no longer males or females, that we are not Black and white and Asian And Native American, that we are neither gay nor straight–we continue to be all of those things. It’s that they are not final or total in their capacities to define us and divide us.

There is something much bigger about Life in Christ (the gospel) that subverts, undermines, and interrogates the ways that the world has been divided up for us and changes the ways that we are called to participate in the world.

The Church of Us vs Them recap

If you are looking for something to watch (or listen to), we have been having a blast in Sunday School.

We are going through the book “The Church of Us vs Them” and it has been really challenging.

 The Church of Us vs Them week 5 recap

Enjoy the video below or listen to the audio podcast here https://vermonthillsumc.org/podcast/us-vs-them-week-5-recap/

Social but not Spiritual Distancing

I hope that are able to connect with you community during this time. If you need some encouragement, I want to let you know what I am telling my local congregation.  Please feel free to join in.

It is important during this time of social distancing that we stay spiritually connected.

Join us this Sunday at 10:30 am for our  Words Make Worlds series.

Or tune in on our Youtube channel or FB live from 10:45-11:15 for part of the service (and the message)

Then on March 22 and 29  we will be digital only. A liturgy will be provided so you can follow along at home and participate on Zoom (download the app)   Time for #DigitalChurch.  This will be our meeting room [link]

This week’s word: Either / Or

Our topic will be about how faith transcends, transgresses, and trans-forms our society

I hope that you will join us online. Please email me at VHUMCpastor@gmail.com with any questions

 

 

 

Book Idea: ABC Topics and Feedback

Now that my book with Randy Woodley is out, I have time to work on a couple of projects that have been on the back-burner.

My main focus is the ABC’s of Contemporary Theology. This started as a series of blog-posts more than 5 years ago. Since then, I have taught it 3 times in 3 entirely different contexts.

I have an editor friend who is going to help me write it and an artist friend who is going to help me illustrate it. I hope that a publisher will want to pick it up, but I am prepared to make it an E-book if I need to.

Here is what I could use some help with: how do these topics sound? Each topic has at least one sub-topic that informs it. I have paired them to form one theme.

Is there anything you would add to this roster of topics in contemporary theology?

The ABCs of Contemporary Theology

Intro: the Surplus of Meaning and our contemporary situation

A is for Atonement (also Adiaphora and Apophatic)

B is for Baptism (and the Body) more than a metaphor embodied phronesis

C is for Christology  (and Constructive Theology )

D is for Deconstruction  (and Death of God)

E is for Empire (and Evangelical)

F is for Fideism (and Feminist)

G is for Genre (and Globalization)

H is for Hermeneutics (also Heaven and Hell)

I is for Infallible, Inerrant, Impassible and Immutable

J is for Justification (and Justice)

K is for Kenosis (and the Kingdom)

L is for Liberation (and Logos)

M is for Metaphor (and Metaphysics)

N is for Neoplatonism (and Narrative)

O is for Open & Relational (also Orthodox)

P is for Perichoresis (and Post-Colonial)

Q is for Quest for the Historical Jesus (and Queer Theology)

R is for Revelation (and words that begin with ‘Re’)

S is for Salvation (and Second Naivete)

T is for Theopoetics (and Technology)

U is for Universalism (and Ultimate Concern)

V is for Vatican II (and Voluntarism)

W is for the Word of God (and the Wesleyan Quad)

X is for X-ray (and Xenophobia)

Y is for Y2K (and Youth Ministry)

Z is for Zebra (and Zionism)

 

Any additions? Any changes?

Thank you so much for your feedback and help with this.

 

 

 

 

Decolonizing Evangelicalism Book

It finally happened. I became an author. CASCADE_Template

I am so excited to tell you that the book came out today.

It has been such an honor to write this book in conversation with my mentor and friend Randy Woodley. The title is, “Decolonizing Evangelicalism: An 11:59 pm Conversation” published by Wipf & Stock.

It retails for $19. Right now, you can get it from Wipf & Stock at $15.20, in a week you can get it on Amazon and in a few weeks you can get it from us….in four weeks the hardback version comes out at $39.00. Get ready…

“This book is not for the faint of heart. Fasten your seatbelt and engage in a humble theological conversation which will draw you closer to Jesus as he ‘exposes truth and nurtures life.”

—Terry McGonigal, Director of Church Engagement, Whitworth University

I really can’t express how excited I am.  Please stay tuned both here and at the Peacing It All Together podcast that I do with Randy for the beginning of an timely conversation.

Some Resources For Early 2020

Wanted to let you know about two resources I am really enjoying.

The first is a Lenten Devotional by my mentor and friend Randy Woodley called, “Drawing Closer to Creator & Creation: An Indigenous Journey Through Lent”.

Screen Shot 2020-02-27 at 8.31.16 AM

It was edited by Joshua Grace and Erna Kim Hackett into daily readings that go along with a weekly theme.  Download the PDF here https://www.eloheh.org

The other resource is a podcast tribute to Richard Twiss that Randy and I did to honor him on the seventh anniversary of his passing. I was able to splice some of our memories of Richard in with a presentation that did in 2009. I really want you to hear his voice.

Listen to it on Peacing It All Together and come join the discussion of Richard’s book “Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys” on March 11 (Tuesday at 5:30 pm).

Embracing Cynicism

It may be time to embrace cynicism.

Our cultural moment may be calling for it.

Several years ago I was part of a leadership development cohort of young people and on the final day before they sent us back to the places that we came from all over the globe the leader encourage us to stop working on our weaknesses.

It really caught my attention because up to that point I been under the impression that my primary job was to become a well-rounded person and leader into bring up my weakest areas so it would’ve matched everything else. He said “no, put almost all of your energy into you area of strength – the thing that makes you unique only work on your weakness to the degree that it would disqualify you from ministry or cripple your leadership take away your credibility”.

Don’t work on your weakness – put all your energy into your strength – only work on your weakness enough that it does not cripple you or disqualify you from leadership.

I’ve always thought that was an interesting idea and I logged it in the back of my head carrying around all of these years and once in a while I see something and I think this calls for that I was recently out of the news cycle in the political arena for several weeks due to illness and then work stuff and then caring for family and so I was out of the loop and coming back into it has been rough.

It has been really eye-opening and I’ve noticed that when people are cynical or critical that sometimes they have an internal message that the cynical suspicion is something negative to be resisted.

I want to consider today that it might actually be the perfect time to be cynical.

A couple of years ago my friend Tad DeLay wrote a book called “The Cynic and the Fool”and I was in conversation with him around that time.  I’ve noticed that it is not healthy to define yourself by what you’re not!  There’s no fruit in that. There’s nothing nourishing about defining yourself in contrast to somebody else or some other group

What I am saying is that because of how we participate in our society – especially in the media age (the Society of Spectacle is one of my favorite books) – that we are conditioned, trained, and well-practiced at being cynical. It helps us not be so vulnerable and susceptible to the stunts and lies that are constantly put in front of us.

Embrace the cynicism to the degree that it compels you toward action.  

So that’s my encouragement for today that that maybe this isn’t something to be resisted and that maybe it’s entirely appropriate for our moment and that it’s not a negative thing.

Maybe a little cynicism isn’t the worst thing in the world – especially if Zizek is right and the light at the end of the tunnel is another oncoming train.

Why Us vs Them

I am preparing to lead a 3-month book discussion of The Church of Us vs. Them by David Fitch for the adult Sunday school at my church.

My plan is to pair the chapter in the book with a different book, school of thought, or historical movement. Some of these include The Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen, The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas, and the Anabaptist tradition.

Here are the 7 conversations that I hope will come up in the next 3 months:

  1. The church is supposed to be an alternative way of life – a prophetic and subversive witness to the world – that critiques the ways of the world and provides an alternative way of being in the world. She works best as a minority position within the larger culture and is not designed to be in charge or in control of culture.
  2. Neither the Republican or Democratic party can fix the problem of society. The Democrat and Republican parties are two sides of the same flawed coin. They are not the solution to the problem – they are manifestations of the problem.
  3. The church is not a middle way between these two camps (compromise) but it supposed to be a third way (alternative) to their ways. What we call ‘the church’ is so saturated with both Empire and consumerism that it is completely impotent to confront the ‘powers-that-be’ – which crucified the Prince of Peace (as a scapegoat) – and these powers continue to make life worse for most of humanity.
  4. The American ‘church’ is in bed with the systems of this world that reinforce racism, sexism, poverty, and militarism – 3 of those 4 things Martin Luther King Jr. called the ‘triplets of evil’.
  5. There is a way of living, which Jesus modeled for us and taught about, that leads out of the muck-and-mire we find ourselves in and opens up the hopes and potential of a different way of being in the world. That is the good news of the gospel (evangel).
  6. The church has the potential (capacity) to be the most beautiful and profound vehicle (venue) for unleashing human flourishing and peace. She does this by resisting evil, acting in love, and advocating for those who are vulnerable or on the margins.
  7. The kingdom (or kin-dom) of God is actually within reach but the church has compromised and been corrupted by being in alliance with Empire and the systems of this world. What we call ‘church’ is a shadow of what is supposed to be. Us vs. Them thinking is a symptom of that disease.

Here is a quick video (5 min) to introduce the topics:

Let me know your thoughts, questions, and concerns.

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