Search

Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today

Tag

Methodist

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/

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.

Statement of Belief (so far)

Transferring my ordination has been an interesting and rewarding process. I was originally ordained more than 16 years ago but my leave of absence has expired and since I am out of relationship with my former denomination (neither serving nor worship with them), I have decided to transfer to the United Methodist Church.

Here is my ‘statement of belief’ so far …

Convey your personal beliefs as a Christian.

I believe that the church is the body of Christ on earth. When Jesus ascended into heaven it was with a promise of a visible return. Jesus promised that we would not be left alone and that another would be sent. Shortly after (roughly 50 days) the Spirit of Christ returned at Pentecost. Holy Spirit power came to the gathered and created the church – not ex nihilo (for this is not how god works) butbringing something new out of that which was.  The new creation was a revolution in religion! God’s presence was no longer contained in one place (like the holy of holies) but the veil had been torn in two and god’s Spirit had come out into the world.

Holy Spirit power and presence is the fulfillment of a long-anticipated prophecy that god would pour out god’s self on women and men from every place and of every generation. They would become witnesses to god’s goodness for every tribe and tongue – to the ends of the earth and to the end of the age. The church then, is inherently both pentecostal and incarnational. She is pentecostal because she is called, birthed, and empowered by Spirit. She is incarnational because the central story of the gospel that she proclaims is that the logos (wisdom of god) became flesh and dwelt among us. God is not distant nor disapproving of humanity – but took on human flesh to heal the brokenness, bridge the divide, forgive the trespass, reconcile the animosity, and model a way to live fully human.

I believe the gospel is simple but that its implications and applications are profound, complex, and consequential. The gospel: is the good news that god loves the whole world and provided for us in Christ something that we cannot provide for ourselves.

The church proclaims this good news, in word and in deed, when she serves those in need, gathers for fellowship and worship, tells her story, examines the scriptures, engages new ideas, confronts injustice in all its forms, and breaks bread together. In the same way that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, the church is both sacred and secular, both holy and enfleshed, both sinners and saints simultaneously. How this can be true is a mystery of grace.

One further mystery is that the church is simultaneously rooted in the past, empowered in the present, and a foretaste of a future kin-dom of new creation.  She is a remnant of the past and a driving force for a proleptic telos of things to come while fully expressed in the context of her current culture.

 

I am a committed Trinitarian who finds the picture of perichoresis (the divine dance) the most beautiful, helpful, poetic, and powerful way of addressing the conception of a transcendent, eternal, divine being that the early churches called the godhead. Christians in this sense are not strictly monotheistic like the other Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Islam, nor are we polytheist like the Greeks and Romans, nor pluralists like so many other traditions.

 

As a contextual theologian, I believe that the church has both a permission and a precedent for this is the model of Jesus and the early churches. The New Testament is, in this sense, a set of tools and case studies of how this work looked in its time and in its place. The assignment is “to say in our language and in our era the kinds of things that they said in their language and in their era”. History has progressed – good and bad – so that our understanding, our cosmology, our metaphysics, and our view of history have been impacted by the two millennia of church and world history. We cannot simply parrot what they said in rote mimicry or in the original languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. The gospel is infinitely translatable and is meant to be contextualized into every language and into every culture in every era.

 

The practices of the church are ancient and have come to us as inherited artifacts. They are both a gift to us (an inheritance) and an assignment. The legacy of christian practices is their embodied nature. Our bodies matter to god as much as our thoughts and beliefs. The embodied nature recognizes the inherent worth of our human existence and sets our experience as a valid location of divine revelation and theological reflection. Phronesis (embodied wisdom) holds an idea that there is a knowledge in our bodies that is accessed by practice and is enacted at a performative register. We have to do the things that we believe and we come to believe and understand the things that we do.

 

The Wesleyan quadrilateral is perhaps the most profound and useful framework that I have ever encountered. The great thing about the quadrilateral is that it improves greatly on the Anglican tripartite formulation or scripture, tradition, and reason by adding a fourth category of ‘experience’. This was a novel innovation of Wesley and the early Methodists that radically transforms the entire paradigm. By adding the fourth category of ‘experience’, in removes belief from the realm of the abstract and speculative and grounds belief in the concrete and located existence of in/carnated human embodiment.

The other genius aspect of the quadrilateral is that it has a pronounced sequence to it. It begins with scripture because we are never starting from scratch, creating in a vacuum, or making it up as we go. Tradition is next because there is a given-ness to the Christian faith. Like the English language, it comes to us as a gift that we are patterned by before we then come to utilize it to express our true feelings and convictions. We are first acted upon by the tradition/grammar/language and then we use our agency as actors to act within the socially constructed relations of culture. The third category is ‘reason’ because we don’t want a faith that is unreasonable or belief that is unreasoned. Last comes ‘experience’ because all the theory, scripture, and traditional practices in the world is ultimately impotent if it is not a part of our lived experience as a community.

 

Sacraments are enacted symbols. In this way, they are both signs that point to a greater reality and they are performed signifiers that can never fully reveal or contain the antecedent they are attempting to signify. Sacraments are both significant artifacts of the church and they are gifts and graces (charis) that both form and inform our faith and practice.

In this sense sacraments and corporate worship are a parable of the kin-dom. Jesus used parables (not earthly stories with heavenly meanings but earthy stories with heavy meanings) to slide underneath the listener’s defenses in order to interrogate the ‘way things are’ to subvert the unjust status quo and turn upside-down / inside-out the listener’s presumptions about the way things are and the way that God wants them. This is the prophetic ministry of the church – to imagine the world a different way and to image what that looks like to the world around us.

 

I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, and comments.

A Global Table

One of my favorite aspects of being part of the Methodists is the global communion. Tomorrow happens to be global communion Sunday and I can not wait to preach and then invite people to the table.

My angle tomorrow is going to pair two sets of three:

The first level is directional. After Pentecost, the church spread in at least 3 directions:

  • south to Africa
  • east to Asia
  • west to Europe.

The second level is historic. Coming to the communion table:

  • Reaches back through time to connect us with the saints of the past
  • Wraps around the globe to connect us to our global sisters & brothers
  • Propels us into the future of serving the world that god loves so much

Here is a little video I made to promote this Sunday.

I have been thinking about sacraments lately as I transfer my ordination from a non-sacramental denomination (ordinances) to a sacramental one.

Sacraments are enacted symbols. In this way, they are both signs that point to a greater reality and they are performed signifiers that can never fully reveal or contain the antecedent they are attempting to signify.

Sacraments are both significant artifacts of the church and they are gifts and graces (charis) that both form and inform our faith and practice.

In this sense sacraments and corporate worship are a parable of the kin-dom. Jesus used parables (not earthly stories with heavenly meanings but earthy stories with heavy meanings) to slide underneath the listener’s defenses in order to interrogate the ‘way things are’ to subvert the unjust status quo and turn upside-down / inside-out the listener’s presumptions about the way things are and the way that God wants them.

This is the prophetic ministry of the church – to imagine the world a different way and to image what that looks like to the world around us.

I’m really looking forward to preaching this tomorrow.

Life Is About To Change

11 months ago I left my church, left LA, and left social media to come to Portland for a year-long appointment as the visiting professor of theology at the same seminary I had studied at 7 short years before.

It has been an eye-opening year. The seminary has changed a lot in 7 years. Education (higher ed in general and theological ed specifically) has changed a lot in 7 years. I have changed a lot in 7 years.

I had an epiphany of sorts this spring and I reached out to my denominational friends in the Portland area. I let them know that I was interested in getting back in to pastoral ministry and that I would be transferring my ordination to their Methodist denomination. The reception was so warm and so welcoming that I took it as confirmation. The Spirit of God is up to something. I can feel it. 

Fast forward 3 months and I am just weeks away from being appointed to a church in SW Portland. I am beyond excited. The church is small and in need of revitalization, but the thing that it has going for it is that the congregation cares about things that matter and they serve their community. That is an exciting point to build on.

The two issues that occupy my imagination right now (before I start) are:

  1. Transitioning the Sunday gathering to a more conversational engagement and transforming the sanctuary to a more versatile space. I have this vision to hybrid the two excellent models from the church in LA into one dynamic experience that incorporates liturgical elements, embodied practices, and critical conversations.
  2. Reaching out to new people with an invitation to a truly different kind of church environment. I have been ‘workshopping’ some ideas with the post-evangelical folks that I know to see what they think of the plan. Early feedback is good.

So I am inheriting this wonderful older congregation, a cool but outdated building, the wisdom from my experience in LA, and a mandate for change & growth from my denominational leadership. That is an electric combination.

Add that to a year of reflection and rest and I am just about busting at the seems to get started.

Thank you for your support this past year and for your prayers in the months to come. I get appointed June 20th and then officially begin in July. I can’t wait to partner with this congregation to reach out to our neighborhood and see what God might do with us.Bo sketch sm

Apple Updates & the Church

I have been thinking about the church and technology a lot lately. Part of it comes from planning to update a sanctuary constructed in 1951. Some of it has to do with recruiting a team to handle all the tech stuff at ‘church plant’. A bit of it came from the odd analogy that was used repeatedly about the ‘glitches’ related to the initial launch of the Affordable Health Care Act website and all of the sigh-up problems. People, including the President, said “yeah but even Apple has glitches when it first launches a product”.

An inexact comparison to be sure.

One of the questions that we are asking at the Loft LA, as we enter into our second year, is:

“What does it mean to use the Ancient-Future model of church in West LA?”17-85-BE3-134-08.0006-John Wesley

We come out of a United Methodist Church – which is a classic and beautiful expression of the Mainline tradition of Protestant Christianity.  The Loft is attempting to reclaim and hold onto the best of that inherited tradition … while at the same time engaging the culture around us in way that is contemporary and appropriate.
I’ll confess. It is a tricky section of water to navigate.

To use my favorite bowling analogy, there are gutters on each side that you want to avoid.
On the one side, you have a temptation to cater to the culture and concede so much of the Christian tradition that you have basically assimilated to the surrounding culture that you are nearly indistinguishable from it! This can happen in patterns of consumption, political views, sexuality, financial matters, or any other number of areas.

On the other side, you have the assumption that the inherited tradition, the given forms, are inherently relevant and effective in every place and in ever time since they were divinely delivered and historically proven. What this impulse to conserve leads to is reification of some previous era or expression of church that was culturally appropriate by which has since expired in its effectiveness in doing so. For a group whose gospel is, at its core, about incarnation … this is unacceptable.

This is why we think that the ‘Ancient-Future model’ of church is the best way forward for a young community.
Here is a short video about my recent experience with an old Apple TV that was given to me and why it triggered some thoughts about christian community for me.

Apple Updates and the Church from Bo Sanders on Vimeo.

In technology, when you fall enough behind on your updates, you can actually trap yourself with the inability to update. This is the definition of irrelevant. The christian spirituality that is employed in much of the North American church may be in this kind of danger. I am nervous that we are looking to get resources (updates) from sources (servers) that don’t exist anymore.

We are looking for solutions in things that don’t exist anymore.

The danger, for a religion that is at its core incarnation, is that the inability to be conversant with the surrounding culture in the epitome of irrelevance.

__________

Ancient-Future is a model that was popularized by Robert Webber before he changed his emphasis, focus and tone at the end of his life. His books on Faith, Worship, Evangelism and Time are supremely helpful and informative. 

My quoting him does not imply a wholesale endorsement of all of his works or thoughts. 

People Do Change Their Minds

Recently I was reading an article by Richard A. Muller called “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic” in the NY Times. Muller is a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author of “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines.” Muller begins by saying:

Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

Muller ends by saying:

 Science is that narrow realm of knowledge that, in principle, is universally accepted. I embarked on this analysis to answer questions that, to my mind, had not been answered. I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.

This made my think back to an article that I had read a month ago by Kevin DeYoung entitled “Why No Denomination Will Survive the Homosexuality Crisis”. DeYoung basically says that we are all talking past each other and that there is no way that conservatives, liberals and those want a compromise can ever get along or agree.

His conclusion is:

 “My plea is for these denominations to make a definitive stand. Make it right, left, or center, but make one and make it clearly. Insist that member churches and pastors hold to this position. And then graciously open a big door for any pastor or church who cannot live in this theological space to exit with their dignity, their time, and their property. Because sometimes the best way to preserve unity is to admit that we don’t have it.”

 I feel for DeYoung. He is in a tough ecclesiastic place. But … I have to respectfully disagree. After all, people do change their minds. 

Here is the odd part of this conversation: Things are not static. People are not givens, and views are not set in stone. Things change.

Now there is a caveat.

What I would want to bring to attention is that in both the issue of climate change and homosexuality (and I would add emergent evolution) the migration is not symmetrical. The movement is predominately one way traffic.

I don’t think that the issue of LGBT rights is as much of a forgone conclusion as some others. I do not think that it as inevitable as I often hear. I think that there is a lot of hard work ahead to educate, to protect and to actually legislate.

But here is why I am hopeful. Having a friend who is gay is how so many young people report changing their minds on the issue. It’s amazing – knowing someone who is gay, being a friend is a powerful influence. That element paired with advancements in science bringing greater explanation are major reasons for hope.

People who grow up in Bible believing churches, have a gay friend and figure out the need to read the Bible different on that issue. But rarely does the migration happen the other way. Somebody is ok with their gay friends, then reads the Bible and says “hey I think that this 3,000 year old understanding of sexuality is more accurate than what scientist, sociologist, and psychologist are telling us today.”

That is why I am hopeful. Not because it is inevitable. Not because ‘gay is the new black’. No – I am hopeful because the movement is almost exclusively one way traffic and because having a friend can be such a powerful influence.

In both climate change and evolution – people do change their minds. Mostly based on science. But in the realm of human relationship, there is nothing like a friend.*

So I would like speak against Mr. DeYoung’s proposal and put forward a counter-proposal:

I make a motion that we give it time. That was don’t initiate a parting of the ways. That we live in the uncomfortable tension and let God sort it out as God’s Spirit works within us, among us, and all around us. That we acknowledge the plurality of perspectives and we don’t make this a terminal issue to the relationship. 

Can I get a second? 

-Bo

*p.s. I know that somebody is going to come on and post that there is someone at their church who ‘wants out of the gay life style’ and that reinforced their previously held view.  The thing is that within the construct of a church culture where one is told to ‘pray away the gay’ (to use a common phrase) is it the same kind of friendship I am talking about. If you are the ‘healthy’ or normal one and you are wanting to change them … it’s not exactly a symmetrical mutuality.  When someone is under shame from the institutional frameworks of the church, they are not free to be the kind of friend who is most likely to change one’s mind.

Training Imams, Rabbis, and Pastors at Claremont Lincoln University

Today the new University Project announced it’s official name – Claremont Lincoln University. You can read about the background story of the name here.

As a Claremont student, I am invested in the future of the project. I had desired to come to the School of Theology for a while but that was considerably amplified with the announcement of the project [read the Time Magazine article here] to train Imams, Rabbis and Pastors in close quarters and in close contact.

There are two things that I am especially excited about and a third that I am concerned about:

  • There has been a lot of talk around training Imams. I have been following several conversations about the domestic training of those who will serve in U.S. Islamic communities. Historically, the first wave was bringing over foreign trained Imams to serve in the American context. That had inherent limitations. The second wave was to send American candidates for foreign training. The challenge was then to translate the training into a context that was significantly different than the training environment.

Imams in the U.S. are asked to provide services and play roles that are unique to the North American context. Imams are asked – not just to be experts in theology and textual interpretation – but serve as social workers, counselors, and all sorts of other roles that are not traditionally in the job description or accounted for in the training they may receive. The Islamic Center of Southern California and Claremont Lincoln University will address these concerns in a uniquely particular way.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑