Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today

Shalom Reading Group

Starting this evening at 5:30 PM PST on both Facebook and zoom chat we will be discussing the first three chapters of Randy Woodley’s book “Shalom and the Community of Creation”.

If you would like the Zoom meeting number just email

Or you can watch on FB live

Come and join the conversation!


Change the Past, Present, and Future

I just wrapped up a 3 week series on change with a sermon called “I would prefer not to”.

The first week we asked “Can the past save us?” The answer is ‘no’.

The next week talk about “the Life of the Ages” which is so much more than eternal life. We looked at how Jesus updated present religious practices in his time.

This past week was a 4-layered experiment with responding to change.

The videos are here – you can also listen to the podcast audio if you prefer (below)

Past (can it save us?)

Present (Life of the Ages)

Future (I would prefer not to)

Podcast Audio

Theopoetics of Transition

I had the pleasure of being on the Theopoetics Podcast to talk about my transition away from evangelicalism.

I retired from evangelism early this year but have not really had the chance to debrief that with anyone. My friend Tim reached out to offered me the space to do that publicly.

It was a wonderful experience and we covered a LOT of ground. The 1/4 was about the past but then we moved into the present and the future.

The episode is called Theopoetics of Translation (episode 13)

Please listen and let me know your thoughts. 22382211_1012141218928936_5950252956256749811_o


Can the past save us?

Here are my sermon notes from the past week – video below

Will the past save us ?

I weekly hear well-meaning people romanticize the ‘early church’ or simple primitive

I study this all the time: Books covers

We even have something like this happening in our country right now: red hatIMG_7802

This has been a major theme for me in the past decade

The future of the church is not Europe’s past

We have set sail and are coasting in to uncharted waters.

Look at our institutions:

government is broken with congressional gridlock, banking crisis and scandal (too big to fail bail out of 2008), military spending is exponential but stuck in 2 endless wars because how do you win a war on terror, even religion … just look at our denomination [even the Quakers split last year] the UMC is about to, this is why some people are attracted to converting back to Orthodoxy, or Catholicism, or Anglicanism. It has a fetish appeal. Our seminaries are buckling.

Democracy, Capitalism, Nationalism, Religion.

We live in unprecedented times.

It is incredible and exhilarating and overwhelming to many. You can begin to see why some folks are attracted to going back to the way things were. It would make sense – it would be simpler and easier if we all just settled down and went back to the way things were.

Here is the problem – you can never go back. Because the past isn’t where you remember it was and even if you got there – it simply isn’t there anymore. It is gone. Time moved on

And the past won’t save us. Our future is not to be found in the past. Backward looking and past-oriented systems and mentalities will not prepare us for what is coming.

Things have changed. The landscape is changing. We live in fluid times and a liquid culture. It is time to sell the farm and becomes sailors. We won’t need bigger barns when the tide comes in – it is time to tear down the barns and use the wood to build some boats. We are floating in the new age.

The past will only sink us.

The Danger of ‘Re’ words.Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 4.54.46 PM

But have no fear!  God knows what (S)he is doing! God will get us through! Faith will get us through by God’s grace.

OK – so even if you are not as enthusiastic  as I am about the future, which is fine (not many are) you need to be aware of dangers in romanticizing the imagined past.

SO what do we do?

 Easy – Christianity is built for this! We have an incarnational gospel that is infinitely translatable to any language, culture, and time. God didn’t just work in the past. God is working in the present here and now.

We can bring about a preferable future by partnering with God’s spirit in the present moment. The infinite and timeless God is calling from the future into each moment providing us opportunities to say ‘yes’ and open up potentialities that were not always available in the past. This present moment is pregnant with possibilities for goodness and justice that don’t come embedded with the need to re-create, reinforce, and re-instantiate the layers of racism, sexism, and hierarchy inherent in past systems.

This is one of the unique aspects of Christianity that is different than other religions. We have a built in contextuality and translatability that gives us flexibility. All we have to do is repent and divorce ourselves from the marriage of religion and power – or to release the safety of empire and control.

That is what we are going to talk about next week: why things seem out of control.

For now let just say this: the past won’t save us. The future of faith is better than Europe’s past. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. God is at work in the world by Christ’s spirit. God is wanting and willing to work in and through us here and now. All we have to do is join God is the work that we were built for – and uniquely gifted and graced to do!

Inverse Preaching

The ‘We Make The Road By Walking’ series has been intense and interesting.

I am trying something new. Since everyone is reading the same chapter of the book each week, there is no sense in my just repeating that information or providing a slightly different take to supplement it. That is what I have historically done.

I am attempting ‘inverse preaching’ which is to take the idea and turn it inside out to see if it looks any different … or maybe it falls apart.

So for instance, at the start of the series I took the common thought (often attributed to Augustine) that ‘darkness doesn’t exist, it is simply the absence of light’ and inverted it to ask:

What if there is no such thing as light, but it is only the absence of darkness?

I take common wisdom like ” Jesus loves you” and says Jesus doesn’t love you as an individual – Jesus loves whole groups.

Here are the last 4 sermons (video) but you can always listen to the audio podcast as well [link]

Let me know what you think or if you have any questions.

My Methodist Take

The United Methodist Church had a big meeting for the last 4 days (Special Session of the General Conference) and on the final day, the Traditional Plan (TP) prevailed over 3 others.

The other plans were all preferable to me. The Connectional Plan (CP) was a region-by-region approach. The One Church Plan (OCP) was my favorite and it allowed us to ‘agree to disagree’ but remain in unity. The Simple Plan (SP) was simply to remove language about homosexuality and simply free us to do as God leads.

If this topic seems raw – please forgive us – it was a difficult 4 days.

Here is my take as someone who transferred into the UMC 8 years ago from an evangelical denomination (C&MA) after being raised Free Methodist.

Here are my 4 thoughts – with explanations below:

  1. 11 years ago I believed in the Traditional Plan (TP) that passed today. So there is lots of room for conversation and lots of room for growth with us ALL.
  2. For all intents and purposes, the traditional plan that passed today is basically the Book of Discipline (BoD) that we have been under for the past decades.
  3. We have really good people thinking about this. So I am sure that they are going to find a way forward.
  4. The One Church Plan (OCP) was announced at the end of today’s session as the plan for the Western Jurisdiction.  Aka: nothing changes for us


1) 11 years ago I believed in the Traditional Plan (TP) that passed today. So there is lots of room for conversation and lots of room for growth with us ALL.

I have been working to find ways to unClobber the Bible [Unclobber_One_Page_Cheat_Sheets.] I even wrote an map for my evangelical friends [An Evangelical Support for Same Sex Marriage]

2) For all intents and purposes, the traditional plan that passed today is basically the Book of Discipline (BoD) that we have been under for the past decades.

As difficult as today was … and it was difficult … we knew that some folks think that Christianity is conservative. It is not.

3) We have really good people thinking about this. So I am sure that they are going to find a way forward.

This might be the most important this I ever say: I left my former denomination over the Ordination of Women.  I was working on an internal and Biblical conviction, but it turns out that I was right! The Ordination of Women opens up life and faith for both women and men. My experience and ministry were both incomplete without my sisters in ministry.

I don’t know the way forward. But I know who I will follow forward:

My Bishop Rev. Elaine Stanovsky
My Dist. Superintendent Rev. Erin Martin
My Commission Leader Rev. Donna Pritchard
My teammates:
Rev. Beth Estock
Rev. Julia Nielsen
Rev. Karen Shimer
Rev. Eilidh Lowery
Rev. Becca Farrester
Rev. Karen Ward
Rev. Christy Dirren
Rev. Linda Tucker
Rev. Courtney McHill
Rev. Taylor Gould
Rev. Heather Riggs
Rev. Michelle McKinnon-Young

This is my tribe. These are my people. They will show the way that we should go.

4) The One Church Plan (OCP) was announced at the end of today’s session as the plan for the Western Jurisdiction.  Aka: nothing changes for us

At the 2019 Special Called Session of the General Conference, Rev. Donna Pritchard, chair of the Western Jurisdiction Leadership Team made this statement on behalf of Western Jurisdiction Leadership:

“We have long appreciated the richness of the global diversity of our United Methodist Church and have embraced opportunities to join with you all in the work of making disciples for the transformation of the world. Image 2-26-19 at 6.07 PM

“We also understand the purpose of the Church to be in mission and ministry. Consequently, we in the West have been functioning for years as One Church committed to full inclusion, seeking to be a home for all God’s people.

“Today we acknowledge the fracture of this body, yet we worship a God who tells us that the body of Christ has many parts, all equally valued. Rooted in Wesleyan tradition, grounded in Scripture and committed to mission and ministry, the Western Jurisdiction intends to continue to be one church, fully inclusive and open to all God’s children, across the theological and social spectrum.

We know from experience we are stronger when we live together as progressives, traditionalists and centrists in our Church. Many times during this Conference we have sung or prayed or blessed each other with the reminder that we need each other.”

May the spirit of the living God guide us as we walk forward in faith.

The Angel of History

On the most recent Peacing It All Together (episode 34: Progress) I talked about why I don’t identify as a progressive.

  • Progress is not inevitable
  • What we call progress is not always progress
  • There is a shadow side to the light of ‘progress’
  • Progress often has unintended side-effects that a create greater capacity for tragedy and devastation.  This can be economic, environmental, or societal.

I talked to Randy about Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History. He says:

His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back his turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. The storm is what we call progress.
On the wiki page critic British critic Terry Eagleton, a sophisticated and politically engaged interpreter of Benjamin , for instance, wrote: “In one of his shrewdest sayings, Benjamin remarked that what drives men and women to revolt against injustice is not dreams of liberated grandchildren, but memories of enslaved ancestors. It is by turning our gaze to the horrors of the past, in the hope that we will not thereby be turned to stone, that we are impelled to move forward.” 
Please listen to the episode and join the conversation on the FB page
My friend John E wrote me:
I was ponding how one might respond to the Angel of History. One might decide that life is futile or that since the world sucks one should just grab what they can for themselves and to hell with the rest, neither of which I believe. Last night Jeff Goldblum was on Late Night with Steven Colbert. Steven reminded him that when Jeff was last on his show (November 8,2016) Jeff had said that he would not let the election dis-inspire him. So he asked, “How does Jeff Goldblum stay inspired?” Jeff shared this quote:

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to the future generations.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

That sounded like a pretty good response to the Angel of History. -John
I would love your thoughts.

Interactive Church

Church 2.0, Church in the round or Interactive Church is my favorite topic and in the past 5 years I have had the great joy of presenting the idea to large and small groups all over the place.

The two most common initial concerns seem to be

  • A) how do you facilitate the conversation part?
  • B) what about the liturgy?

The conversation part is easy once you get the hang of it. There are lots of little tricks that help keep people on track and to make those small groups of 3-6 people a dynamic engagement.

I have created a page on my church website for those who are interesting in updating and innovating their Sunday morning gatherings.  “questions” is the bottom video

The liturgy questions, I have figured out, is easily explained by simply showing people our worship guide from the previous week. Once they see that it has a flow and an order – that is is not a chaotic free for all – they get how the different elements come together.

I thought it would be good post this week’s Order of Service to give you a taste.  The sermon is a version of my ‘pep talk’ Be Bold – it probably wont work anyway


*Call to Worship
*Song: “The Potter’s Hand”

*Morning Prayer

*Passing of the Peace  Please greet someone new and refill your coffee or tea

Choir Anthem

Pennies From Heaven (offering) We collect spare change to support Neighborhood House

Song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” Hymn #211 (v 1,2)

Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-9
Homily: Be Bold, Bullies are Not Subtle

Prayers of the People

*Song: “Doxology”



*Song: “Instruments of Peace”



So you can see that it is basically a mainline liturgical service with ONE BIG difference: the main event is the conversation and not the sermon.

Tomorrow we are using the ‘Talk Back’ style of questions where people first talk in groups of 3-6 about the homily topic (be bold) and then I will go around the room with a cordless mic asking if anyone would like share what their group talked about. This is an emergent component where the smaller conversations give rise to the larger expression. It is unscripted while at the same time directed by the topic. It is not determined  but it is also not a ‘talk about whatever you want’.

It is real. It is live. It is vulnerable. It is electric.

I love doing church this way. I always learn so much from the congregation. They bring such interesting insights, perspectives, experiences, and challenges. This is why it is important to have diversity in the room: different generations, relationship histories, genders, sexual orientations, race, economic and education levels, and religious backgrounds.

Let me know if you have questions, clarifications, concerns, etc. I will let you know how it goes tomorrow. 

Hope They Serve Tacos In Hell (and other updates)

2019 is off to an frantic start so I wanted to give you an update about some fun I have been having.

At Vermont Hills I am enjoying a new sermon series.  Two weeks ago was “God Loves Groups” about how the gospel has to be more than getting one small part of you (as an individual) to a good place after you die. That is too small a gospel.

This past week was about how the concept of ‘Hell’ functions in our psyche and how we need to take the sting out of this hellish idea. (Video below)

Peacing It All Together podcast comes out every Monday. This past week Randy and I talked about being a good ‘ally’ on Ally: Do’s and Don’ts

Progressive Bible Study (now called imBible Study) just finished the book of Ruth so Katie and recorded a Ruth Recap podcast that was a LOT of fun.

Sunday School (no called Brain Storming w/ Bo) is going through the alphabet. D is for Demythologize was a good podcast. E is for Emergence (and ecclesiology) comes out tomorrow.  This Sunday is G is for Gay Christians where we are going to unClobber the Bible.

Let me know you thoughts. I would love to hear your comments, concerns, and questions.

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