Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



HomeGrown Christianity Begins Today

I am very excited to announce that 2014 has brought a new Eco-Theology series called “HomeBrewed Grown Christianity” all about-earth care and lovin’ God. It has grown into an 8 part series including a TNT follow-up to the initial run of interviews that begin today.HomegrownLogo_green_rev1

Episode 1: Leah Kostamo Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community   Kindle ($9.99) Paperback ($17.99)  Listen HERE

Episode 2: Matthew Sleeth Serve God Save The Planet , The Gospel According to the Earth & 24/6 about Sabbath. (Kindle $2.99)

Episode 3: Jennifer Butler is part of the new Christian Earthkeeping emphasis at George Fox Seminary. She is co-author of the upcoming book On Earth As In Heaven due out in November.

Episode 4: Randy Woodley with  Shalom and the Community of Creation: an Indigenous Vision  

Episode 5: John Cobb rang the alarm bell back in 1972 and has recently returned to the theme with Spiritual Bankruptcy: a prophetic call to action.

Episode 6: is a special surprise from new Elder Micky Jones and friend.

Episode 7: is specifically food related. How do get food on the table? What issues are related to feeding a family? 

Episode 8: at the the end of each episode, we ask our guest the same 5 questions. Tripp and I are dedicating a TNT to interacting with their answers to the those 5 questions. It will be in the same format that we did the Brueggemann-Fretheim Bible Bash.  

You may also want to pick up Colonialism, Han, and the Transformative Spirit by Grace Ji-Sun Kim. Her HBC interview with Callid was so good that I sort of wish it had been a part of this series!  I hope to return to Dr. Kim’s thoughts to close this initial run.

I attended part of planning meeting yesterday related to next year’s big Whitehead conference. The theme is “Seizing An Alternative: Toward An Ecological Civilization” based on a new essay by John Cobb.  I am greatly inspired about this HomeGrown series and am very aware of the intensity of the situation we are facing.

I hope that you will join us on this audiological journey and that you will chime in on the blogs as they roll out over the next 40 days. 

I want to thank Jesse Turri for the collection of logos for the series. If you have not heard Jesse’s work on the Unfolded podcast (with collaborator Matt Barlow)  you really need to check it out!

Maybe the Mayans were right!

In all of the hub-bub surrounding the Mayan apocalypse that came and went without incident, it was tough to resist the funny one-liner on Facebook and Twitter. We have become so calloused against the doomsday predictions that have fueled the religious airwaves, TV broadcasts and book sales of the last 30 years.

I get that. I came to faith during the cold-war in the heyday of characters like Hal Lidsay, Harold Camping and the Left-Behind phenomenon. Y2K was a bust and everyone was holding on for the December 2012 end of the Mayan calendar.  But I’m afraid that in our hurry to make funny quips we may have missed something important:

This actually could be the end of time.

It is similar the snark-fest regarding the Hostess bankruptcy and the end of Ding-Dongs and Twinkies.  Lost in all of the jokes was the reality of unjust labor practices by the cooperate execs of Hostess who, even at the end when massive layoffs could have been averted, continued to pay themselves ridiculous salaries and bonuses.

Hostess stole money from it’s workers pensions to use for things like operations – the whole while paying millions of dollars in bonuses to it’s 19 executives who were leading it into bankruptcy.

We didn’t address the illegal, and unjust practices of the mis-management, I suspect, because  there were just too many jokes to be made about Twinkies.

It appears that a similar scenario has blinded us to the reality of the Mayan calendar.

Never mind that the Mayans didn’t predict an end-of-the-world on the actual day – only that the calendar ended. 
Never mind how the ancient people may have conceived of the cyclical nature of time.
Never mind the odd fascination that descendants of European colonist have with indigenous artifacts from a genocidally exterminated people.

Jokes about the Mayans provided too many punchlines.

The Mayans were made a joke. 

But, like the Hostess bankruptcy, I wonder if a much bigger issue was ignored in the flurry of Facebook snark and apocalyptic themed parties.

What was lost in all the end-of-the-world banter was a sobering look at the realties that we face as humanity and that, if one had ears to hear, would sound an alarming warning signal that the world as we know is in real crisis.

I fear that like the proverbial frog in a kettle, that we have slowly adjusted and grown comfortable in rising temperature of the water and have failed to acknowledge that things might soon boil over.

Just take three areas

  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Military Tensions

Long ago, I left-behind the reading of Revelation that causes so many to live in fear of an impending catastrophe. But I’m not sure that people of faith can afford to grow comfortable thinking that the world we see is in it’s final form. Capitalism, Democracy and Nation-States are assumed to be the as-is realities on the planet.

 Zizek is oft-quoted as saying Christians are fascinated with the end of the world because it is easier to imagine life ceasing to exist on planet earth than it is for Christians to imagine an economy after capitalism.

 Global capitalism has bankrupted itself. The European Union (with countries like Greece and Spain) is in real trouble. The American economy is being exposed with its massive debts and downgraded dollar. China has mixed capitalism in with a form of communism – and a massive population – in a way that leaves most experts baffled.

 The environment is being degridated. It is conceivable that our ground water could be toxified, our warming oceans could cause extinction of the seafood we eat, and our thirst for easy energy (what the Frack are we doing?) could have repercussions that would make the planet uninhabitable for the human species.*

 That is all before nuclear fallout. Tensions is the middle east, America’s admittedly endless war on terror, and desperate global disparity are now more consequential than ever.**

It one takes the failing global economy, the toxification of the environment and the realities of perpetual war – maybe the Mayans weren’t wrong after all.

Maybe we have moved into the end of time.


* The practice of ‘mountian-top’ removal in places like West Virginia coal is instructive about environmental impacts.
** The Isreal-Palestine conflict and America’s role are especially illuminating.

Diana Butler Bass and those non-human animals

Earlier this month I got to sit down with Diana Butler Bass and ask her about everything from her new book’s title Christianity After Religion to the Methodist tradition and why Evangelical young people are 30 years behind.

It was a blast! [you can hear the audio here]

At the end of the hour, the last question was put forward by Darcy who asked about something Diana had alluded to in the Methodist question. Butler Bass had said that the early Methodist had historically A) ministered to the fringes and B) gone to the frontiers.

It was the fringes and the frontiers that Darcy wanted to know about. Only, she was not asking about the past. She wanted to know about the present.

 Who are on the fringes today and where is the frontier for us?

This is possibly the best question I have heard asked at one of our live events. 

Diana didn’t flinch. She outlined three such scenarios that would qualify:

The first was in the realm of sexuality.
The second was in the realm of pluralism.
The third dealt with our environment.

  •  In sexuality she articulated issues related to the transgendered community. This did not surprise me. In the LGBT formulation, T (transgendered) is the the one the raises eyebrows. Now, because I am came to this conversation through a friend who was doing Queer theology, I had initially taken the LGBTQ as a 5-part alliance. I did not realize how difficult the T can be (not to mention the Q) until I starting asking question and listening to stories. I quickly became aware of the complexities and complications involved.

In the two weeks since Diana’s answer I have had several conversation about her take and I have realized how much conversation has yet to be had. May God give us grace as we learn from each other.

  •  In religion she mentioned learning from Hindu friends. As a student at Claremont School of Theology I am very invested in and more than on board with the idea of inter-religious learning. Yesterday was my day off and so I (as Christian) headed to a Jewish bakery to  sit and listen to an audio recording I had about diversity within Islam.

I am always shocked at how much I don’t know and how much beauty there is within each tradition. May God give us grace as we learn from each other.

  •  In issues of environment and ecology, I like to think of myself as up to speed. This is a subject I have really investigated and as someone mentored by Randy Woodley (his new book Shalom and the Kingdom of Creation was just released and he will be on the podcast next week) I was tracking with her when she talked about non-human animals [I often allude to Nipples & Belly Buttons in this regard].

It should not have been surprising to me that with the release of the video of our conversation that she came under some suspicion by a group called IRB  (Institute on Religion and Democracy) as well as others for  her views on non-human animals.

From the blog Juicy Ecumenism here is the end of Diana’s answer and their commentary:

“Non-human animals and their experience of our environment of the divine are a place that human animals need to listen in order to create more full understanding of God’s creation. […] They don’t have voices like humans do, but isn’t that part of my prejudice?”

I don’t like to bring up the slippery slope, but the mud’s looking pretty slick from here.

What IS surprising to me is that – of her three answers about the fringes and frontiers – that seemed to be the least inflammatory of the three answers!

In my humble opinion, her pluralism answer and her sexuality answer were FAR more daring – and challenging! The only thing that I can figure is that some Christians have so bought into the Cartesian dualism regarding humans that both Transgendered and Hindu folks are completely off their radar screen … but don’t you DARE say what you said about listening to non-human animals.

I was prepared to defend Diana Butler Bass after our show – she said some daring things –  I just didn’t think that it would be on the issue of creation-care over sexuality and pluralism.

This contemporary religious environment will never cease to surprise me.

Savage Monkeys Won’t Save the Planet – why would they?

Two disclaimers up front:

  1. I originally posted this at HBC and it was not received so well. Which is fine, and I wrote a follow up that you can read [here] which is much more hopeful. 
  2. I do not expect anyone to like this or agree with this. I am simply put it out there for conversation.

The Summer philosophy group that I am a part of is reading The Faith of the Faithless by Simon Critchley. It is an wild, tour-de-force type of work that spans genres and categories. This past week it broached something that touched a nerve for me.

 The most extreme expression of human arrogance… is the idea that human beings can save the planet from environmental destruction. Because they are killer apes, that is, by virtue of a naturalized version of original sin that tends them towards wickedness and violence, human beings cannot redeem their environment.

Furthermore, the earth doesn’t need saving… The earth is suffering from disseminated primatemaia, a plague of people. Homo rapiens is ravaging the planet like a filthy pest that has infested a dilapidated but once beautiful mansion. In 1600 the human population was about half a billion. In the 1990’s it increased by the same amount.
This plague cannot be solved by the very species who are the efficient cause of the problem … When the earth is done with humans, it will recover and human civilization will be forgotten. Life will on on, but without us. Global warming is simply one of many fevers that the earth has suffered during its history. It will recover, but we won’t because we can’t.  – p. 110

This reminded me something that an old podcast interview with Michael Dowd first awakened me to. Dowd is the author of Thank God for Evolution and he has an incredible knack for articulating his unique perspective.

Dowd talks about the power of participating in a narrative. His assertion is that we are participating in the wrong narrative! If we think that humans are the crown achievement of a project that began about 10,000 years ago and was finished in a 6 day period … a project that humans were give dominion over – then we live one way. [often this dominion is mis-interpreted as domination and has resulted in everything from unchecked capitalism to environmental policies such as “drill baby drill” for instance

Dowd has this theory that humans who living under this narrative are participating in the earth as a cancer does in the body. Cancer is a biological part of the body. It is made up of the same matter that comprise the body that hosts it. But cancer is under the impression that the body that hosts it is a rival to be overcome and defeated. The cancer cells rally together to take over the body. They eventually multiply and expand to the point they endanger the very body that not only gave rise to it but that sustains it.

Ever since the Enlightenment and Descartes’ dualism, a certain set of the human population has believed that while humans are biologically mammals that they are not animals. Continuing on that while we originally were apart of the earth, we are above the earth. We are different than the rest of creation. While we came from the earth – from dust we came – we are not dependent on the earth for our very life. [I touched on this at my own blog in Nipples and Bellybuttons and the Imago dei ]

Because christian humans live by the wrong narrative, we behave as a cancer on the planet. In increasing size and exponential growth we consume at greater and greater levels, consuming the very body that gives host to our existence. At some point, the cancer ends up compromising the functions (organs) that give life to the organism in which it lives. Death ensues. We are not worried about because we think Jesus is coming back soon – it is the end times after all (a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever I saw one). *

Humans that are not willing to engage the ideas of emergence and evolution are living by a cancerous narrative that will extinguish the very host that gives it life. Humans that have a short view of history and a high view of their place in the created order behave in ways that are inherently cancerous to the ecosystems that support and sustain them.

 If we don’t wake up and acknowledge that we have been living by a false narrative we will eventually (sooner or later) overtake the host body’s capacity to renew itself and continue to survive and prosper. This 6 day – 10,000 year old narrative is resulting in a cancerous attitude that is killing the planet.

  • If Critchley is right, then we as killer apes can not save the planet – in fact we wouldn’t even care.
  • If Dowd is correct, we wouldn’t even try because we thought we didn’t need to. We would be living by a different narrative.

* The book of Revelation is a political commentary on Roman politics of the first three centuries written in the form of apocalyptic literature. 

the Death of the Liberals is killing us

In chapter 1 of his book Death of Liberal Class, Chris Hedges sketches both the height of the Liberal era in the 19th century and its cataclysmic implosion with the arrival of World War in the 20th. The disillusionment of human evil, aggression, and suffering deflated the optimism of innate human goodness and inevitable progress that Liberalism is founded upon.
To understand the profound impact of Liberalism’s demise, it helps to make sure one understands the difference between Classical Liberalism and it’s contemporary milquetoast descent that slinks around in straw-man form on our 24 hours news cycle.
Hedges explains (pp. 6-7) “Classical liberalism was formulated largely as a response to the dissolution of feudalism and church authoritarianism. … (It) has, the philosopher John Gray writes, four principle features, or perspectives, which give it a recognizable identity. It is :

  • individualist, in that it asserts the moral primacy of the person against any collectivity;
  • egalitarian, in that it confers on all human beings the same basic moral status;
  • universalist, affirming the moral unity of the species;
  • and meliorist, in that it asserts the openended improvability, by use of critical reason, of human life

Both John Cobb (Mainline)  and Clayton Crockett (Radical Political Theology) use very similar formulations in their recent Homebrewed  podcasts. Cobb, by focusing on the demise of the Mainline and Crockett, by focusing on the Evangelical and Religious Right, articulate the monumental shift in the religious-political landscape in the past century.
The Mainline denominations are in a collapse narrative and it makes perfect sense why when one examines both the way liberal thought partnered with power in the 20th Century and the way that conducted itself (largely) within the shifting landscape of post-war realities at home and globalization abroad.

“In a traditional democracy, the liberal class functions as a safety valve. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible. It offers hope for change and proposes gradual steps toward greater equality. It endows the state and the mechanisms of power with virtue. It also serves as an attack dog that discredits radical social movements, making the liberal class a useful component within the power elite. But the assault by the corporate state on the democratic state has claimed the liberal class as one of its victims…
The inability of the liberal class to acknowledge that corporations have wrested power from the hands of citizens, that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty have become irrelevant, and that the phrase consent of the governed is meaningless, has left it speaking and acting in ways that no longer correspond to reality. It has lent its voice to hollow acts of political theater, and the pretense that democratic debate and choice continue to exist.”  (pp. 9-10)

We talked yesterday about the fictitious nature of the supposed Left-Right spectrum.  For those of us who participate in christ centered communities and organizations, what does this mean?  While incomplete, here is my little experiment to come up with a game-plan for a start.

  1. We stop using the label ‘Liberal’ generically for anything that is not Conservative… especially to be dismissive.  Liberal is a very specific ethical  framework and it takes quite a commitment to liberal. It is not a default position.
  2. We disavow the left-right , conservative-liberal split as farcical. It doesn’t exist. Obama is a Centrist Democrat. Romney is a Centrist Republican. Any idea that Obama is a radical is ridiculous.* We repent of lazy language & thought.
  3. We wake up as the church that the role the Liberals used to play in the system does not function. There is no moderating or buffering presence to bring a corrective to the system. Thus, participating in the system as-it-now-exists will not fix the system. The corporate hold over every aspect of our political system is pervasive.
  4. We step up as the church in the revelation that government is not going to fulfill the expectation to
  • bring good news to the poor (Economy)
  • restore sight to the blind (Medical)
  • release to the captive  (Legal)
  • lift up the broken hearted (Compassion)

The church can do these things! We have deferred to the political system for too long. We have outsourced our responsibility to society but now live with the remains of the bloated carcass Christendom. With the death of the liberal class resistance to corporate rule and unchecked consumerism is impotent. The Citizen’s United ruling is just one step on long trail … but we know where it leads.
There are churches in every community and there may be no greater existing potential than us! **  I know it sounds dreamy, but in the rest of this series I want to flesh it out. By the end, it might not seem as far-fetched as it does right now.
– Bo Sanders
*Wall Street campaign funding, legalizing assassination, and Guantanamo Bay are your first 3 hints.
**  The danger of course is that we keep voting based on two issues while turning a blind eye to  corporate rule, environmental deregulation, and perpetual war.


This post is the beginning of a new series and was co-posted on Homebrewed Christianity.

Two Trolls and a Bridge (part 2 of 3)

In part one I mentioned that there are two trolls that guard the bridge to a new way. I named them as Colonial Christianity and Environmental Dualism. Of the many issues facing us, let me tell why I recognized those two.

In 1421 Chinese ships landed on the Pacific coast of what we know as North America. Last year in Postcolonial class, my prof asked us a series of questions that began with “Why didn’t they stay and colonize? What was different from what especially the Spanish would do a century later?

I spent the semester, as we read Said, de las Casas, and all those who follow them looking for a common theme that could provide a interpretive key. I kept noticing that there was secondary mechanism behind the machine of Colonial power.

Throughout history there have been Empires and that, by definition, comes with  a conquest narrative. Even in our own Bible we see that group like Assyria, the Babylonians Greeks, and Romans swept through Israel. Israel itself had the Canaanite conquest narrative. Not to mention that China was an empire that conquered and subjugated the areas and nations around them. There is nothing new about either empire or conquest.

But this is not that. There is something else going on in the Colonial era that led the British, French, Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish to expand and extend that impulse to an exponential degree. It is so inflamed and exaggerated that some explanation must be provided as to difference that we see in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries.

Technology is insufficient as an explanation. Guns and horses certainly explain some of atrocities we see with the Conquistadores but that is merely wood for the framework. There was a fuel that made it so flammable and destructive. What fueled the Colonial drive was a specific brand of Christianity.

I think that needs to be pointed out. It must be acknowledged for two reasons:

  1. It is still with us
  2. its unquestioned giveness allows it to remain in power but in a far more sinister way – in secret assumption.

Colonial Christianity remains – not just as a residue – but as an unquestioned operating system and that is both an ongoing danger to our planet’s existence (war, environment, economy, etc) but also to the very integrity of the Gospel message that it purports to contain.

Nipples and Bellybuttons

One of the most powerful things that the Western mind inherited comes from the thought of Renee Descartes – it is a Cartesian dualism between the mind and the physical body. On the surface it does not look so danderous – but it morphs and attches itself to other really valuable things. One mutant offspring begins to distinguish between humans and everything else. This fits great into Colonial Christianity. The result is that we think we are exceptional.

Humans are mammals – notice the presence of nipples and bellybuttons – while many Christians  recognize the similarities they refused to acknowledge that humans are mammals (and then are confused by our sexual desires and habits).

This exceptional dualism shows up in all sorts of places! In the study of religion, even if we acknowledge that other religions grew UP from communities and are expressions of their various locations … Christianity is held to be an exception to that. It came DOWN from Heaven and would be the same truth regardless of its historical embeddedness in the Ancient Near East.

Exceptionalism is an ongoing mentality today. It affects so many areas.  [by the way, Randy Woodley wrote a great piece on political exceptionalism here]

In my opinion – beside the possible exception of modern war – there is no area where exceptional thinking is more deadly than the environment. From dust we came – as humans we are made up and sustained by what comes from the soil, the water, and the air.

We must repent of of this exceptional dualism and confess that while we are unique on the earth – we are not exceptions to it and in fact we are integral parts of it and completely dependent upon it.

When you put these two monsters of Colonial Christianity and Environmental Dualism together, you may be able to see why I think that they are the Trolls blocking the bridge to a new way.

Tomorrow I will attempt to articulate what waits on the other side of the bridge. The simple fact is that we can’t go back. We can’t undo Colonization. We aren’t going back to family farms. We can’t refreeze the polar ice caps or re-create the Glaciers in Glacier National Park.  As they say ‘we shall not pass this way again’.  But I think that there is a different way of being in the world that holds hope for us.


originally posted at the Ethnic Space blog

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