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Colossian Blog
February 8, 2017 | Michael Gulker

Becoming a People of Truth

Having spent three days drinking weak hotel coffee, my friend and I are eager for a strong cup of joe. Finding a coffee shop in the airport, we place our orders. While waiting, my friend inquires of the barista her country of origin. The barista smiles tentatively and responds in her rich African accent, “I’m sorry, what did you ask?” My friend asks again, this time with a smile, and she replies, “Ethiopia.” “How long have you been in the U.S.?” “A year,” she responds. “And has it been a good year?” “Mostly, yes,” she says. “Well, thanks for the coffee … and welcome to America.”

A small, seemingly meaningless act of kindness in an unkind and uncaring world can be, rightly understood, a remarkable act of defiance—an embodiment and foretaste of the hope we all long for. I wonder if our barista trusted that small kindness. Or if, in the midst of our political situation and the TV news playing behind her head, these questions only register as threats.

The next night, back home in my church small group, one member hesitantly offers a prayer for the immigrants caught in limbo. The room goes quiet. Should someone else pray for national security? Have we broken protocol? No one knows the answer, but we all feel the fragmentation of our divided body, right there in our living room. The left fears the right; the right fears the left.

Yet both the left and right agree the world would be better off if their team was more firmly in control. Small acts of kindness and glimpses of hope are harder when so much seems to be at stake.

How did we get to this point? And where to do we go from here?

Recently, theologian Tom Wright shared a talk focused on speaking truth to power (which sounds so noble, but truthfully I’d settle for being able to speak truth to my small group). Fortunately, his talk also captured how we become a people of the truth and how to discover the lies that speak through us. To do that, we have to expose the idolatry that has set up shop in many of our own living rooms. Let me quote Wright, who says it better than most. At the heart of the biblical story:

Creation itself is understood as a kind of Temple, a heaven-and-earth duality, where humans function as the “image-bearers” in the cosmic Temple, part of earth yet reflecting the life and love of heaven. This is how creation was designed to function and flourish: under the stewardship of the image-bearers … Called to responsibility and authority within and over the creation, humans have turned their vocation upside down, giving worship and allegiance to forces and powers within creation itself. The name for this is idolatry. The result is slavery and finally death … We humans have thus, by abrogating our own vocation, handed our power and authority to nondivine and nonhuman forces, which have then run rampant, spoiling human lives, ravaging the beautiful creation, and doing their best to turn God’s world into a hell (and hence into a place from which people might want to escape).
Wright, N.T (2016). The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. New York, NY: HarperOne.

I find that hell has invaded my living room. And I’ve opened the door to it by putting the nation (specifically, one political party of the nation) in the place where Christ belongs. I’m guessing I’m not alone. I’d invite us all during this time of fragmentation, anger, and misunderstanding, to pray for clarity about our idolatry, and see if restoring Christ to the center gives us just enough imagination for one small act of kindness—especially in the middle of our living rooms.

This post is excerpted from our February prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below.

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We’re constantly bombarded by divisiveness within our daily news—the right calling the left “fake news,” the left dismissing the “news” of the right through quiet (or not so quiet) condescension. Whatever the case, neither hardly qualifies as news. It’s stale and unimaginative culture war posturing where everyone seems perennially angry. Yet underneath all the anger lays deep fear—fear that our world, our culture, our church, our family—everything—is tearing apart. But God calls his people to bring “Good News” of great joy. We are the euangélion of Jesus Christ—eu means “good” and ángelos means “messenger.” Believers are meant to be like angels bringing good news of what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do in the world. We should be the least fearful of all people because we believe in Jesus, who was born to fulfill “the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:73-75) So, we must ask, “Is the story of our life in Christ good news or fake news?” Well, a couple of questions. First, are we doing and saying anything new? Second, does it embody the good? A quick glance at the way churches are mimicking the surrounding culture through bickering and partisanship, belies the notion that their posture in the world is either new or good. The church seems more a cliché of culture than a contrast to it. What makes this even more problematic is our claim to follow the Prince of Peace. If we are divisive and fearful then we’re not only cliché but hypocritically cliché. Doubly boring. Doubly bad. This sort of “gospel” is fake news, hardly worth the bits and bytes it’s communicated over. So, where’s the good news we long for and why are we having such a hard time embodying it in ways that are either new or good? Where is our confidence in our Risen Lord who has conquered division and death? What would it mean for you and I to have a renewed vision of the gospel as truly good news and to become confident messengers of its transforming power? So much of our imagination is now captured by the right or the left that it’s hard to think outside of these culturally prescribed categories. Perhaps that’s why it took a 500-year-old painting to jolt my imagination. I don’t remember where I ran across it, but there I was, confronted with DaVinci’s famous painting of The Last Supper. His masterpiece depicts a microcosm of God’s people past and present. And it struck me that all of the radical political and ideological differences (and inherent conflicts) of our own culture are represented by those gathered around that table. The disciples seated to the right and left of Jesus were as ideologically diverse and divided as we are today. A fractious bunch of infighters all vying for a slice of the new kingdom, whatever it might look like. Were the zealots arguing for insurrection against the damnable religious mainstream in cahoots with the deep state? Were the tax collectors and moderates more confident in the goods of compromise and stability in the market? Who knows? But it’s not hard to imagine them all claiming that God was on their side. Hardly news. It’s an old, stale story. So, who did Jesus side with? Right or left? Conservative or Liberal? Moderate or Revolutionary? Or did he opt for something more inclusive like a lowest-common-denominator faith where everyone should just get along? None of these options seem to fit. But when the pressure mounted, Christ died for each disciple while they were fleeing, cowering, or denying him—while they were “yet sinners.” I wonder how long they continued arguing with and blaming each other for the way things went wrong? Jesus doesn’t argue ideology with them. He doesn’t take up one political platform over against another. He interjects his own politics, the politics of the Trinity—a politics characterized by an eternal delightful self-giving love. This love can’t be stopped by any division, fearful darkness, or death. Jesus goes forward, not just telling the truth about God’s love, but embodying it. He does not win arguments. Rather, he lays down his life so the world will know the love of God. He displays the life he has with the Father and invites us into that life. I wonder, might Lent be the place for us to give up our well-reasoned and tightly-held ideologies for the sacrificial love of the other we so disdain? Wouldn’t that be good news?