Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today

I Passed My Qual Exams!

I am so grateful to be able to announce that I have passes my qualifying exams and am officially ABD as they say (all but dissertation). This has been an incredible journey and this last year has really challenged me in new ways. I have learned some valuable lessons along the way.

I also wanted to let you know that I will be returning to the blogosphere – but with a little twist. I’m going to be shifting my emphasis from ‘navigating between the everyday and theology’ to a ‘public theology’. David Tracy talked about theology having three publics: the church, the academy, and the culture. I am going to experiment with rotating between these 3 areas of focus and labeling each post accordingly.

I think that this rotation will add an interesting texture to the conversation here. I am excited to be back and look forward to returning to a dialogue that I have missed greatly.

-Bo Sanders

I totally get the Trump thing

I totally get the Trump thing.

Several years ago I read a book about people’s frustration with Washington and politics in general. The guy who wrote it is further out than Bernie Sanders. His name is Chris Hedges and the book is called ‘The Death of the Liberal Class’. It is an autopsy on our broken American system that explored the discouragement, anger and alienation that so many feel.

The past decade of congressional gridlock, filibusters over the debt ceiling, threats to shutdown the government and the citizen’s united ruling/’corporations are people’ debacle has been enough to discourage even someone like me who is only marginally political.

I have watch with great discomfort as the Tea Party has emerged chanting ‘we want our country back’ and I have been forced to learn what gerrymandering is. I get agitated when voting rights a repealed and am horrified when birther conspiracies and anti-Muslim sentiments are loudly broadcast.

I was one of those snobby-onlookers who chuckled at Trump’s opening escalator decent to his announcement with its Toby Keith style rhetoric and actors hired to fill out the ‘crowd’. It was not long before I came to realize that this was not your regular publicity stunt. There was something different about this one – even from the bombastic and inflammatory style of precursors like Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin.

Keep in mind that on a good day I have to be careful not to pull a muscle rolling my eyes at staged theatrics and choreographed spectacle. I don’t have cable. I refuse to watch ‘reality TV’. I buy my organic-free range groceries at Sprouts. I bike to work most days. I brag about how long it has been since I shopped at Wal-Mart or ate at McDonalds. I listen to Democracy Now as I brew my single-region fair-trade coffee in a french-press.

I’m that guy.

I am also a public theologian with a propensity toward cultural criticism however. Last week I posted a 10 min video where I proposed that we live up against the end. I don’t mean ‘the end of the world’ or the End Times in a Left-Behind rapturous sort of way. I mean the end of this current configuration.

We are up against the end of some significant categories:

  • Economy – global markets and unregulated capitalism.
  • Political – democracy in both domestic and foreign policy manifestations.
  • War – the ‘wars’ on terror, drugs and Christmas are but 3 examples of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.
  • Environment – Views of natural ‘resources’ of the earth impact both water and air.
  • Media – Movies, music, TV, art and internet can be weapons of mass-distraction at best and empty repetitions of imitation and stimulation (simulacra) at worst.

It is no surprise to me that we are in the moment of Trump. He is the perfect fusion of 3 significant areas: politics, economy, and entertainment. He is a billionaire media-personality who is largely funding his own campaign as an irreverent trash-talking outsider.

That equation makes perfect sense to me. It terrifies me but at least the trajectory lines up!

Take equal parts reality TV, Palin/Tea Party, Citizens United, anti-Obama backlash and the war on terror … stir it up and pour it over a healthy dose of frustration about ‘political correctness’ (aka being able to say what you want about people of other religions, races or sexualities) and serve it hot.

If you are interested in talking about a spent society and our cultural exhaustion, I would encourage you to watch the 10 min video and let me know what you think.

Seen through this lens, the Trump phenomenon makes total sense. He is not a ‘sign of the end’ but just one prominent symptom of a sickness hanging in the air.

the end



Echo of the End

We live up against The End. Not the end of the world or the End Times … just The End. The economy (capitalism), democracy, media and war are now empty echos of former expressions.
The church is always trying to reform, revive and redeem an echo of an ancient broadcast.
The current configuration is insufficient for the contemporary situation.

Here is 10 min video introduction – an Invitation to Innovation

Fake/Real part 1

In my studies I have found an amazing line of concern/critique of our media saturated consumer society. In the coming months I will be talking about some of the implications for the spiritual life of our faith communities.

In this video I introduce some of the ideas and frameworks that will punctuate this theme. I am also employing this theme for the conversations at the church I help facilitate (the Loft LA) in our Sunday gatherings this month.

Let me know what you think or any additional topics you would like to address.


Just in case you are interested, here is a short invitation to the series (on Vimeo)


Image Is Everything from Bo Sanders on Vimeo.

3rd Way not Middle Way: bust the binary

Dualism offers us binary options that must be challenged. Evolution & Creation, Male & Female, Church & World, Jihad & McWorld, East & West, Think & Do etc.
This short video is in response to requests for alternatives to the either/or frame work that we have inherited.

Church Present and (near) Future

In this short video I speculate about some trends of the N. American church. I would love to hear your feedback and if you want any of the concepts expanded upon.

This is a summary of a multi-day presentation.

Real Fake HyperReal Cynicism

It can be difficult navigating our hyperreal, liquid, fluid digital culture with any amount of discernment and sincerity. Disney Land is plastic and fabricated while branding itself the ‘happiest place on earth’.

Vampires, Zombies, Super Heroes and demonic exorcisms populate our movie theaters. Comedians are great at doing caricatures of TV preachers and faith healers. Surely there is something real somewhere in all of this.

In this 10 min video I use Rumsfeld’s ‘Known Unknowns’ as a model (and Zizek’s addition) to propose an idea about the Real/Real, Fake/Real, Real/Fake and Fake/Fake.

I’m working off of Jean Baudrillard and Umberto Eco in looking at the hyperreal.

Let me know what you think!

Halloween is a watered-down substitute for something we actually need

Halloween is a watered-down substitute for something we actually need.

Unfortunately it is a heavily diluted version of what it could be. This is tragic because our culture is in deep need of a formidable challenge to the systems of oppression and marginalization. The old notion of Carnival was a least a vacation from the repetition and redundancy of the status quo. Carnival was a suspension of social norms and expectations. It provided an opportunity to examine and challenge ‘the way things are’ and to turn upside-down the domination of the established order.

The problem is that Halloween has become nothing more than a distraction from the way things are. Instead of wetting our appetite and creating a desire for something greater – we are easily satisfied with mass-produced candy and slightly risqué costumes.

Our costumes and rituals bring us closer to reinforcing problematic gender stereotypes than they do to challenging us in reexamining our assumptions about sexuality within the essentialist binary understandings that we have inherited.

We miss the opportunity to boycott the drunken capitalist system and its insatiable market driven orgy of perpetual consumerism. Instead, we reinforce the very system of marketing and goods that daily bombards us with commercials of manufactured desire and unrelenting need.

It’s not that I don’t like Halloween, it’s just that it makes me sad to think about what it could be and to know what it has been distilled from. I wish that it was an intensified version of what Carnival points toward, rather than this – a compromised and impotent cartoony descendant that actually reinforces that very structures and institutions we need to challenge.

Anyway – those are my thoughts during a quick study break from exam prep … now back to the books.

The Kin-dom Strikes Back

Kin-dom thinking is so different from the ‘kingdoms of this world’ that it calls into question translating what Jesus was talking about as ‘the Kingdom’.
‘Kingdom’ has been compromised and corrupted through the centuries.

Kin-dom is not top-down, unilateral or coercive. We are the children of God who have been adopted into God’s family (Romans 8:15 & Galatians 3:26).

This is a follow up to a previous post ‘There is no Kingdom of God’ [link] as there was some interest in more details about what the shift might look like.

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