Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Consider the Crows

One tradition I really like surrounding communion, is that you never throw the bread in the trash or pour the cup down the drain.

Once the bread and cup have been blessed, you are supposed to return them to earth from which they came.

I love this imagery. It helps me to think about the grain that became the flour for the loaf and to think about the vines rooted in the earth that brought forth the grapes.

I do this, not in a superstitious way, but in an earth-honoring way.

This month something cool happened. As I was walking the elements out to the garden, I noticed a large group of crows in the trees all around me. They seemed very intent on what I was up to.

No sooner had I scattered the bread around the yard and retreated to the building, they descended in mass.

It brought a big smile to my face. I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ famous lesson that says “consider the birds of the air …” (Matthew 6:26)  They don’t sow or reap and yet God provides for them.


I was at an event yesterday where the opening meditation was supposed to be something about how nature teaches us to trust and that by connecting with nature we come back into balance.

I kept thinking about the crows. I am grateful that we have traditions built into our practices that point us back outside, that don’t allow us to sit inside and to waste time and material.

I like that spiritual practices ask something more of us.

My prayer for you today is that the falling leaves, shorter days, and cooler nights would awaken something in you – make you aware of something. Consider the crows …

Trinity of Belief

There are 3 elements of belief that overlap and interact to form what we generally refer to as ‘faith’.

I am fascinated with how these layers stack up and both empower the other layers but also limit the options of each other.

The 3 elements are:

  • narratives (story)
  • practices (action)
  • relationships (connection)

Narratives are powerful because the stories that we tell ourselves – or the stories that we are told and buy in to – frame our actions and give direction to our relationships.

Each of us live in a story.

Practices are important because ideas don’t just remain ‘theories’, they translate into actions, habits, and ultimately practices. Some of these are intentional, others are by default. Regardless, they reinforce the story that we live into and they connect us with others who become our community.

Relationships are vital because we are essentially (and fundamentally) social creatures. There is not one aspect of human existence that isn’t relational. We are born into a family of origin, and even the words we use to form our own thoughts are given to us. In fact, who we are connected to defines us as much as anything else and determines what we are allowed to believe or not allowed to believe.

  • Our stories frame our experiences and inspire our actions.
  • Our practices em/body and en/act our beliefs and ideas.
  • Our relationships connect us to a web of meaning and creates community.

It is the interplay between these 3 elements and specifically the spot where they overlap that has become my fascination.

Here is a short video – let me know your thoughts.

The reason that I call it the ‘trinity’ of belief is because each of the 3 elements can correspond to a ‘person’ in the Christian trinity: the story of God (the Bible is primarily narrative), Christian practices are founded in the incarnation and embodies presence, the Spirit is how we all connect to one another (community).

When does your morning begin?

“When does your morning begin?” is our opening question in Sacred Everyday.

Depending on work, kids, and age – that answer probably has an ‘AM’ behind it. For me, 5am seems early but 8am seems a luxury.

What if you were to adopt an ancient Jewish perspective that your day actually begins at sundown the evening before?

This is my challenge this week!


Today is Monday and I asked myself on Sunday (yesterday) “What do I want my Monday to look like?” and then I prepared for it as the sun set last night.

I will do the same tonight. I have a long day Tuesday so instead of ‘vegging out’ and filling up this evening, I am going to get prepared. I will lay out my clothes (not my normal practice), turn off my electronics, watch what I eat and drink, and do something to calm myself (like stretching) so that I have the best chance of sleeping.

I would like to invite you to try this practice with me. Let’s see if it makes a difference in your week.


If you are not ready for that, I also found a cool morning practice.  Keep a bowl of water by your bed, bathroom mirror, or beside your kitchen stove.  (You may to cover it with a cloth or pour a new one each morning).

Then first thing in the morning – before anything else (or while the water is heating for coffee and tea) – place three fingers in the water (to symbolize the trinity) and touch it to your forehead.  Remember your baptism.


It may also help to say part or all of the following confession:

I am born again today

I am born of water and spirit into my new life

Today is a new day

Today is a divine day

I am beloved   (of my Father/Mother)

These two practices are invitations to see your every day as sacred and full of possibility. The goal of today is not to survive. The goal of today is shine with the divine in the midst of the ordinary. You have a light within – nurture it and let it shine.

Follow the whole series here:

Embodied Wisdom Enacted Knowledge

You have a wisdom deep inside of you that you might not even know how to access.

I want to introduce (or remind) you to an amazing concept: phronesis

Here is a ‘7 min sermon’ on the idea and a short explanation below.

I love this concept so much.

An interesting way to access it is by using the famous formulation of:

  • known knowns (things we know that we know)
  • known unknowns (things we know that we don’t know)
  • unknown unknowns (things we don’t know that we don’t know)

Then Zizek reminds us that the 4th quadrant would be “unknown knowns”!!

There are things that we don’t even know that we know … and this is why we need to know about phronesis.

Another way of approaching the idea is to focus on the kind of knowledge that is produced:

  • phronesis (practical wisdom) in contrast to the modern fascination with
  • theoria (theoretical knowledge and thinking) or
  • techne (technical knowledge and thinking)

A helpful analogy can be found in learning to play a musical instrument:

“Playing the flute, Aristotle observes, has value and fulfills its purpose well before the music stops. This is especially the case with ethical conduct and political activity, an ongoing process of deliberation that requires practical wisdom (phronesis). In contrast, (he) viewed building a house as poiesis— satisfactory only when the construction process is complete.” [1]

Unfortunately, after Aristotle poiesis got subsumed into praxis and was reduced into the binary that we have inherited today in the classic split between theory and practice. The final, and perhaps most popular, of these concepts is habitus.

The habits of faith form a character in you through repetition and spiritual practice.

You have a wisdom down inside of you.
It operates on a lower register than your immediate thoughts.
It is not just head knowledge.
It is deep inside of you – down in your bones.
Learn to trust your gut and follow your heart.

[1] Cahalan and Mikoski, Opening the Field of Practical Theology, 305.

Practicing Faith

I’m in an interesting phase of life and faith. My year of being a theology professor is over and I have many reflections that I am processing – both about evangelicalism and about the academy.

Now I am pastoring again, but this time in a wildly liberal post-christian context where I am attempting to do at least two things at the same time:

  1. reach out to non-believing and post-evangelical folks in a compelling way with an invitation to a mature, complex, nuanced approach to faith.
  2. cultivate a vibrant and vital faith in my current congregation.

Focusing on these two things has resulted in a re/turn to two elements that have been dominating my thoughts: the body and the bible.

Below is a post about bodies that I wrote to prepare for church this past Sunday. The person who leads our ‘spiritual practices’ ministry was at the table as my conversation partner.  Later today I will send one about the bible that I could use some help with.

Our bodies matter.  Bodies are key for what gets called spirituality in general and specifically bodies matter in christian worship.

Many people have not thought about it directly but the central story of the entire christian faith is the Christmas story – as story about god becoming embodied. The word (wisdom of god) became flesh and dwelt among us. 

Unfortunately for many in the 19th and 20th century, religion and faith became about what you believe and what you think. It became a mental or intellectual enterprise. For others, religion became about feelings and experience – it changed into a purely heart thing.

The good news is that both the brain and the heart are part of the body!  This is wonderful because when we talk about ‘practices of faith’ or ’embodied belief’ it does not discount the head and the heart ~ it includes and transcends them.

Faith is a whole body activity.

Our bodies matter. They matter to our experience of being human and they matter to our expression of faith.

Our bodies matter to God ~ and the divine is embodied in our practices of faith.

In fact, as Methodists our entire history is built around a series of these embodied practices called ‘methods’. It is literally where we got our name from! Now unfortunately, much of this has been lost over time. It is time to have a conversation about why bodies matter and why the practices of faith are not just a head or a heart issue but a full-bodied experience.


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