Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Why Pray

Prayer has been a topic of conversation lately. I came up with 7 reasons to pray – and two clarifications.

1 Prayer opens me to the direction and flow of the universe

2 Prayer binds my heart to the lives and realities of people in my community

3 Prayer allows me to walk in the paths of those who have gone before me

4 Prayer contributes goodness & intention to the outcome of concern

5 Prayer allows God’s holy spirit to form, inform, and conform me to the divine image

6 Prayer opens moments (occasions) to truth, beauty, and goodness in which the miraculous can happen

7 When we partner with divine will in ways that lead to greater flourishing and both human & non-human prospering we participate in a potentially transformative activity

If will allow me to touch on 2 other aspects (outside this scope) there is an element of phronesis (embody wisdom or enacted knowledge) that the practice of prayer cultivates in us and in our communities. This is of course outside a transactional-interventionist view.

Secondly, there is aspect of ‘habitus’ where we are formed as people (and communities) of character through our participation in this discipline – which (side note) Jesus did & asked us to do.

Enjoy the video below and let me know your thoughts.

Postures of Prayer

This evening we are doing an experiment with postures of prayer.

Prayer is sometimes a verbal thing – trying to get the right words. Other times prayer is a heart thing – trying to make sure your have the right attitude or are in the right mood.

My thinking about prayer changed radically 12 years ago when I encountered Richard Twiss’ work We Dance Our Prayers. His basic point in that the tongue is muscle and words are learned and repeated motions to create certain sounds. Native dances are the same way!

Native dancing ceremony is different than night-club style dancing. In a club it is about the individual feeling and interpreting the music with spontaneous and individualized style and moves. This is often for the purpose of signaling desirability and attractiveness. Which is fine … but when Twiss talks about dancing, me means something different.

Twiss highlights Native ceremonial dance as a communal activity that replicates inherited movements and steps in order to tell a story or bring out a message. It varies according to tribe and song but it has an intentionality and deliberateness that is palpable if you have ever seen it. Here is an example from his Wiconi Living Waters Pow Wow

This is one kind of dancing and there are several others. A powerful example is shown at minute 15 of this presentation

We Dance Our Prayers opened me up from the vary narrow concept of prayer that I had as a charismatic-evangelical who primarily viewed prayer as intercession.

Twiss’ work coupled in my mind and heart with this new realization that the central story of the christian faith is about a body. That christianity is an embodied religion and that I had made it too ‘spiritual’ and other worldly. God intended for the body to be a something more than a mud-suit to temporarily house a ‘soul’ until it was time to ascend to the higher realm. This is more platonism or gnosticism than it is christian.

In the past 12 years my prayer life has changed a lot. Perhaps the biggest change came when I stopped closing my eyes. Randy Woodley first pointed out to me the 2-fold problem with closing your eyes when you pray:

  1. It is nowhere in the Bible
  2. You block out creation

I started praying with my eyes open and opening my eyes to the world that god loves so much. I look around for a tree or the sky or anything that god has made. Once in a while I get stuck in a church building that has literally blocked out all nature and so I have look at a person who’s eyes are closed to see something that god has made!

Which brings me to tonight. I am so excited to do this experiment.

Here is the thing that I hope comes through for people:

  • Our bodies help us pray. The posture creates in us an attitude that changes the way we pray.
  • Our bodies pray for us. This is the big epiphany! If I am kneeling with my hands raised and looking to the heavens … that is a prayer whether I say anything or not.

Talking is one way to pray. Dancing may be a way to pray. Placing your body in different postures is a way to pray.

Here are the postures we will utilize tonight:

Body Prayers


  • Gentle Movement
  • Folded
  • Raised


  •             Bowed
  •             Raised


  •             Closed
  •             Raised


  •             Looking Down
  •             Looking up


  •             Down
  •             Up

I would love to hear about your experience with any of this.

small prayers to a big god

When life gets rough it can have the effect of wearing you down. I’ve heard analogies of sandpaper, being sand-blasted or being caught in a sand-storm. However you phrase it, it seems like the end result (or the silver lining) has something to do with being refined or that the rough edges are smoothed off.

To me, it feels more like being cut down to size or chopped at the knees. It doesn’t always feel like a good thing.

People try to assure me in the end the difficult process will have been worth it. The pain is temporary, the product is what lasts.

This past Sunday at the Loft, I shared that I pray much smaller prayers than I used to. I used to be very focused on two things:

  1. personal holiness and piety
  2. spiritual warfare in the heavenly realms

The problem that emerged for me is that the gap between little ole’ me and the massive cosmos became too large. I was missing that connective layer between my personal goodness and the ‘principalities and powers’ in spiritual realms. ‘Personal piety’ and ‘spiritual warfare’ are probably fine on their own. For me, however, the gap between them became too wide and I fell through the cracks.

I have never stopped praying – but the way that I pray is a little bit different. I now pray small prayers to a big god.

There is a god and that god – by the very nature of being god – can handle god’s self and take care of the types of things that god would be concerned with. Prayers aren’t so much focused on my goodness or on angels and demons anymore.

Prayer allows me to make my self available to the good things that god has and to align myself with what god might be doing. Aligning myself is done in the hopes that I might be the kind of person that god could use in the world. I ask god’s spirit to examine my orientation, trajectory, and speed as I recalibrate my journey.

I jokingly call these small prayers ‘nuclear prayers’. It is a funny play on words because in a post-holocaust world where we now know that humans have the ability to commit atrocities on a massive scale and to blow up the whole planet … one needs to be a little more humble about one’s prayers and their power.

My prayer life has changed a lot in the last 10 years. I now pray small prayers to a big god.

That is a part of my story … How has your prayer life changed in the past 10 years?


A Prayer for the Children and Trees of Ukraine

News stories about places that you have been feel different from other news stories. Even a short visit can plant of seed of connection that feels like an invested interest when there is a crisis. caption

Several years ago I had the opportunity to go to the Ukraine.  I was teaching a class for a new seminary that was training people for ministry in Ukraine, Georgia, and Russia – as well as outlying regions beyond. As we drove out from Kiev, the director of the seminary told me that where the Seminary is located, Vorzel, has a long history of being considered a place of healing  for people with heart and liver problems as well as general bad health.

Starting in the 1950s, under the Soviet system, people were bused there from all over the region for healing.  Apparently, Soviet scientists who studied the area concluded that it was something about the combination of the pollinating trees that converged in the air. The director explained that decades of scientific tests have proven the healing benefits of the area over and over again.

I suggested to him that maybe this is why it was a good place to have a seminary! The idea of sending people out as ‘the Fragrance of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 2:15) to bring healing to the nations.  Revelation 22 looks forward to a city where trees have a significant role.

 “and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (NIV)

My prayer life has changed a bit in the years since that trip to the Ukraine – but my heart still breaks to think about the pain, stress, fear, and violence happening in that region today.

Here is my prayer this morning. Would you please take a moment and join me in a prayer?

May there be peace for the children 
and for the trees,
healing for the nations. 

Prayer as Poetry of Spirit

As a pastor I get to talk with a lot of people. The issue of prayer comes up more often than any other topic. I think I understand why but when any pattern is this consistent it piques my attention and compels me to dig a little deeper.Dark-Clouds

The problem, of course, isn’t for those for whom prayer is an automatic and assumed activity–nor for those who see no point in it. The problem, and thus the need for conversation, resides in those who are thoughtfully attempting to address how exactly a real God really works in the world.

To use a bowling analogy, there seems to be an illusive sweet spot we want to aim at between two proverbial gutters on either side.

The gutter to the left  is a mechanistic view  that too easily degenerates into prescriptive and formulaic constructs. The universe is not a machine and is not fueled by an individual’s personal piety, sincerity of prayer, amount of prayer, particular words and phrases, or purity of beliefs/doctrine.

The problem with many popular approaches to prayer is exposed when prayer appears not to work because certain outcomes were not achieved or no tangible evidence was produced. The difficulty then is the amount of time and energy one needs to invest to explain why prayer doesn’t always work. The explanations always seem to fall into the same worn ruts  involving God’s sovereignty, will and power. In the end these will always fail because God, after all, is not a machine and faith is not the product of an assembly line or factory.

The gutter to the right  might be called ‘cosmic coincidence’. One of the difficulties to being a person of faith is that it can be impossible to convince someone who wants to be cynical with enough persuasion as to disavow them of their skepticism. Somehow the concept of belief itself is elusive enough and just abstract enough to not provide the traction it takes to overcome the unqualified need for proof.
It is the narrow ground between these two gutters that I am attempting to navigate. I want to throw out a theory and get your feedback on.

My theory is that both the beauty and the power of prayer–and subsequently God’s work in the world– resides in the fact that God’s power is a low-level signal  being broadcast in the world on a weak enough frequency that two things happen:

  1. the transmission is subtle enough that those who wish to tune it out are capable of doing so. God’s work is not so obvious or overpowering that one is accosted by its blatant effects and thus would have to be in denial not to see it. The work of God in his gentle,  subtle, hidden, elusive at times and, as Jack Caputo says ‘weak’.
  2. at the same time, however, the work of God in the world is just consistent enough as to allow some to codify it and become prescriptive as to the optimal way to pray. Prayer works just enough of the time for just enough of the population for people to come up with formulas as to its power and how to tap into that.

Prayer is like poetry in this sense. Neither is so predictable as to allow themselves to be reduced down to a formula that can be perfected with simple repetition.

but at the same time–both poetry and prayer carry enough consistency to allow for them to be thought of as persuasive.

This is the beauty of prayer for me. am not praying to an interventionist God behind some supernatural veil asking for that Almighty but temperamental  being to puncture the membrane of the natural world and act in a coercive way.  The ancient images of God as warrior, puppet master or unseen mover don’t stand up to any level of scrutiny after the 20th century.

We know then what prayer isn’t… So what is it?

Prayer is the partnering of an open heart to participate with a God who is broadcasting a weak signal in the world  and which provides to every moment positive possibilities for every living thing  to bring about a greater good and beautiful flourishing.  As we participate in those positive possibilities we open up greater and more abundant possibilities in subsequent moments. As we resist the potential opportunities provided in the weak signal, we close down and crush possibilities for more abundant flourishing and beauty down the road.

In this way we acknowledge that prayer has just enough going on within it that those who prefer the formulaic or even mechanistic approaches of the past will continue to have just enough data to remain insistent. We also acknowledge that prayer will continue to be just elusive enough that those who wish to tune out the signal that is being broadcast by the divine to feel justified in doing so.

Prayer is the poetry of Spirit. It is not a math formula, a building blueprint, an assembly-line product or a battle plan. Nor is prayer a Christian form of meditation simply useful for aligning one’s heart and mind to the current running in the stream of the universe.

Prayer is a participation in an invitation to partnership that is being broadcast on a weak frequency in the world.



I would love to hear your thoughts on this … I just have two requests:

  • Be careful using personal (private) experiences like speaking in tongues or being slain in the spirit as irrefutable evidence of the former ways of understanding that I am attempting to move us on from.
  • Don’t talk to me about miracles in S. America, Africa or Asia unless you are from those regions please. I will explain why I make this request in a post next week. 


Its a Sign! God talk and stuff that matters

Two odd things have converged in my little pastoral office lately – both involve signs and they both impact how we think about God.

The first is that I was given a little daily calendar with actual church sign messages. They range from clever (rarely) to cheesy and all the way to painful.

 Sign #1 says “Twenty-four-hour lifeguard on duty – see John 3:16”

 Sign #2 says “God has not gone on vacation and left you in charge.” 

They are interesting, though different, but for similar reasons.

Sign #1 implies the God is always on the job – an all-the-time life guard. That is not the odd part (odd as it may be). The odd part is that it references John 3:16. Now, anyone who know that passage knows that it is about something very specific. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” So the ‘life guard’ is not watching over your actual life but an eternal life that you can have IF you believe in him.

That is an odd type of ‘life’ guard. It’s not really a promise to guard your life… it is a pledge to provide you another life after this life if you do certain things.

Sign #2 is sort of the opposite message. It says that God is not all the far away and you should not act like you are in charge of how things go. The implication is that God is very present and in some way directing or dictating how things go … even if it is loosely and absentee enough that you could be under the impression that you should take up action and do something.

 These Church signs kind of confuse me and I get turned around about what I am suppose to do and believe. 

 On a different note: we had a new visitor to our church a couple of weeks ago and they came back the next week.  On their third week they told us that on their first week they know that they had found the right church. They had gotten ‘a sign’ that they were in the right place for them.

This story is not the interesting part. The interesting part is the reaction that multiple people have had to that story. It turns out that not everyone believes in signs.

The two most common pieces of feedback that I got can be categorized as follows:

  • “There is no such thing as signs as if God were leaving us a trail of lucky charms as we walked trough the woods leading us to the end of the magical rainbow”.

As a person studying the discipline of Practical Theology in dialogue with process thought and a pastor of 18 years, this hurts my heart. I believe in the presence of God’s Spirit in the world. Just because we don’t want to be superstitious … do we leave no room for God to work?

  •  “Of course they did! If you loved a certain hymn and you visited a church who sang that hymn  – you would say “this place values what I value” and take it as a ‘sign’ that you were in the right place”.

As a person who dabbles with post-liberal ideas about the way that language works and  who has flirted with Caputo’s concept of Theo-poetics … this intrigues me.

I should mention:  This is actually part 3 in a loose series this week. Part 1 was “Waiting for Superman: the problem with Christopher Reeve”. Part 2 was “The Pornography of Fundamentalism”. 

 Why bring up the church signs and the person who thinks they got a sign that they were at the right church?   Why tie it into the problem with Superman and the pornography of fundamentalism?

The reason is quiet simple.

 What we believe about God really matters. Our conception of the divine reality actually influences ( but not determines) how we live and how we treat other people. It is not superfluous or superficial. It is consequential at the deepest levels. Our construction of that which is of ultimate concern impacts almost everything that we think, do and feel.

 As bad as church signs can fail – and as disparate as opinions on ‘getting a sign’ may be … this stuff matters. 

What we think about God, how we conceptualize the divine reality and how we converse with others who walk a different path than we do really does impact how we participate in the world.

That is why I am so passionate about Jesus and what that life reveals about the nature and person of God. This is why I try to come at this from so many angels and in so many different ways. I am under the impression that what we believe actually makes a difference in this life and matters for eternity.

You can see then why cheesy church signs and personal projections are worth addressing. They are not inconsequential nor are they insignificant. These things matter.  That is why the problem of waiting for Superman and pornography of fundamentalism are worth addressing.

-by Bo Sanders  

Job, the Gospel and Tebow

I love the controversy that surrounded Tim Tebow – I just hate what his fan do with his success.   It is irresponsible and un-Biblical.

I have said before that I respect Tim and that he does not think God helps the Broncos win football games.

Why I love Tim: He works incredibly hard, has an amazing energy, lives out his faith, and serves orphans. This guy is incredible!

Why I hate his success: If you are in the NFL, you are gifted. Every player is extraordinarily talented … and I think that those talents come for God. I would prefer if we said that every player was blessed by God –  some acknowledge it and some are quite vocal about.

The assertion that God blesses one player more than another is where I run into the problem: that God is picking and choosing this person over that one – and interfering in this moment but not that one is a view of God that is irresponsible and indefensible.
 I will go as far as to say that it is somewhere between superstition and missing the entire point of Jesus’ life and message. This certainly is not a Christian view of God.

Last week, my partner at Homebrewed – Tripp had a blog posted by Rachel Held Evans where he said that God was not omnipotent and that the future is not determined. In the TNT podcast that followed that, Tripp and I talk about the line of reasoning that some people took in not only their objection to Tripp’s note but came to the defense of an omnipotent conception of God . Some people just came out and said “the book of Job shows that God is omnipotent”. This is a terrifying sentence to hear from a Christian.

There are three things about Job that need to be clear:

  • It is not a newspaper report. It is a dramatic presentation (broken into distinct acts).
  • That God rewards those who do right and love God and punishes those who disobey and turn away from God … is exactly what the book of Job is written against. That is against the narrative of Job’s life story at the beginning and against what God says at the end.
  • Christians believe that Jesus lived a perfect life – and was brutally murdered. I see that as the Death of Job’s God. That old concept of God died on the Cross.

So the Bible Continue reading “Job, the Gospel and Tebow”

trying to making sense of the miraculous

This is a re-post from a blog that I did at Homebrewed Christianity. I wanted to display here in preparation for a series of upcoming posts.  [ I have started putting posts with big words over there and more everyday stuff over here – it seems to be working]  Thank you all for your great feedback and thoughts!

In his book Process Theology: a basic introduction , C. Robert Mesle says:

“the miracle of birth” is a wise phrase, pointing us toward a healthy theology of miracles. Birth is not supernatural. It involves no intervention violating natural processes. We know a tremendous amount about reproduction and may one day be able to create life in laboratories. Yet for all that, we still feel, and speak of, the miracle of birth…
Miracles become problems when we think of them as demonstrating divine power to intervene in the world however God wishes. The problems are not merely scientific, but also theological and moral. Nothing challenges the goodness of God or the justice of the universe more than the stark randomness of such alleged “miracles”.

That is an interesting way to think about the subject, but I want to make an important distinction between supernatural and miraculous.  The Miraculous can be seen several ways – as something that surprises us, outside our expectations; as something that is amazing; like the miracle of birth, something that is statistically improbable , like landing a Airplane on the Hudson River; or religiously as something that only divine help could account for.

There are several reasons why I think that this topic is SO important:
I can not tell you how often someone says something about how God directed them to take a specific road or a route that avoided an accident.

  • Did god tell everyone and they just were not listening?
  • Did god only tell those whom love god?
  • Does god monitor all traffic patters and why would god be so concerned with getting you  home on time but so unconcerned with children being abused and people going hungry?

People often get defensive and say “In a worship service I saw/experienced  _____. Are you trying to tell me that did not happen?”  No. I absolutely believe you that it happened. What I am saying is that maybe the explanation provided in the worship service was not the whole story of why the phenomenon happened (people being slain in the spirit, etc).
I want to be clear about something: I believe in prophetic words. I have told people things that I could not have known in my own power – including twice that I have described pictures that hang in their homes, homes that I had never been to.
I absolutely believe that the Lord could ‘lead’ you to call someone who needs a call ‘at that exact moment”.

So keep that in mind when I say that we need to revisit our frameworks around the miraculous and we definitely need to abandon the whole ‘super’ natural worldview. It does not hold together under even the slightest examination in the 21st century. Continue reading “trying to making sense of the miraculous”

Moving Mountians

I was reminded again in my morning reading of the beauty of following Jesus. It’s something that is never far from my mind but which is always bursting through the crust of everyday life with new freshness like a blooming tulip in the Spring while the landscape all around it is still gray and brown with dirty snow unmelted in the shady edges.

I am also painfully aware of the presence of something quite different when I read the words of Jesus: a gap.  I am stabbed by the realization that Jesus not only spoke a different language than me but that he used words very differently than I was taught to.

Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. Matthew 21:21  NLT

I was taught to be literal. I was told Jesus was actually saying that if you had enough faith you could do anything! Nothing was impossible. I had, coincidentally, never heard the world ‘hyperbole’ before.

Now it seems so clear. Jesus spoke in parables and Jesus spoke parabolically. He was not a philosopher or a scientist in our modern sense. I have blogged recently about a better way to read the Bible and I think that this fits in with that.

Jesus was not telling us that we could rearrange the topography of our region. He was not telling us that we could reorganize our geological and geographical surroundings.

I feel bad for anyone who has prayed about something – or even ‘claimed’ something – and thinks that it is their fault that it didn’t happen because they didn’t have enough faith. I am horrified that we have taught people to read the Bible this way. In trying to be exacting and literal – in an enlightenment/ modern sort of way – we have warped the message of the Bible to be something that it was never meant to be.

It’s a tough one. Whenever I tell people that Jesus did not mean that we would literally move mountains with just a little bit of faith, one of two reactions happens.

  • they tell me a story about this one time that some people they never met in place they have never been did it.
  • they say something about taking the Bible literally and how I am making it allegory.

The second one really gets me. Because parable is not allegory. Allegory would be like taking the story about the widow who used three cups of flour to make bread and asserting that the three cups of flour represent the three continents that the apostles would take Jesus’ message to: Asia, Africa and Europe.

Allegory is very elaborate. Reading the Bible poetically, prophetically or parabolically makes in simpler – not more elaborate.

I used the example of a person finding out that there is no Santa Clause and the Jesus was not born on December 25th and concluding that Christmas, if it is not literal, has no meaning. They, of course, would be wrong.

So it is with casting mountains into seas by faith. Jesus was using hyperbole to make a point. That does not steal from it meaning, it points like a sign to the real meaning.

Next time: beyond allegory

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