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Colossian Blog
November 8, 2017 | Michael Gulker

Consumption and Conflict Avoidance

Well, friends, it’s November. Fall colors. Crisp, cool air. Football. Family. Thanksgiving. And yes, Black Friday. The shopping season is upon us once again, calling us all to order our time and schedules to the rhythms of super sales and dynamite deals, hurtling us toward Christmas at breakneck speed. How is it that Thanksgiving—memorializing a surprising friendship that significantly aided the tenuous survival of the Plymouth Plantation—is now seen as the launch of the shopping season?

Perhaps shopping provides a welcome distraction from all the underlying family tensions that the Thanksgiving season inevitably raises. It’s now common when discussing holiday plans to hear friends worry about how they will get through those pressures unscathed. SNL hilariously memorialized these tensions when a family, hopelessly mired in ideological warfare, is rescued by their common love for Adele’s hit song “Hello.”

I think there’s a significant link here between conflict and consumption – be it of gluttonous quantities of food, Black Friday specials, or Adele’s trendy tunes. On the surface, these distractions save us from dealing with the deep divides we most fear. While we are filling our stomachs, schedules, and credit cards, our lives are marked with a scarcity of love and life-giving relationships. We live fearful and shallow lives, unable to discuss the things we care about most. Beneath this lies the Nietzschean presumption that the core of the world is conflict, not communion.

As original a thinker as Nietzsche was, his perspective was hardly new. Augustine engages the problem in relation to the Roman Empire. The Pax Romana (peace of Rome) mercilessly suppressed dissent through fear and violence. Rome determined the shape of life for Augustine’s known world, structuring time (July for Julius, August for Augustus), family (the gods’ love patronage), and forms of fellowship (Colosseum for blood sport anyone?).

In his work, The City of God, Augustine describes the world not as determined by the coercive power of Rome but as two cities, or two stories played out simultaneously. The old story of fear, conflict, and death, was the City of Man controlled by the narrative of sin and human fallibility (fallen-ness?). But Augustine saw a hope-filled tale; the City of God upstaging the Roman City of Man. Two cities. Two cultures. Two understandings of one world. These cities overlapped and competed against each other. But the fate of each city was already sealed hundreds of years earlier, by a backwater prophet from a backwater province, supposedly crushed under the Pax Romana.

Problem was, he didn’t stay dead. And in his resurrection, we see the City of Man’s principalities and powers destroyed; death dethroned; fear and conflict defeated. They no longer have the last word. In the resurrected Christ, we see a foretaste of what’s to come – the reason for the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:15).

Yet, there are still two storylines playing out and we live with a foot in both worlds. Jesus shows us the trajectory of the new narrative from within the old. He’s grafted us into his people. He’s made Israel’s story our story. In fact, he’s grafted us into himself, as part of his very own body. And as his body, our lives are ordered by new time toward a future full of hope. We’ve also been given a new calendar (the liturgical calendar) by which to order our lives around his birth, life, death, resurrection, and gift of his Spirit. We’ve been adopted into a new family (the church) and offered new forms of fellowship through worship, the sacraments, sacred celebrations.

Our new family calendar culminates not in Thanksgiving and the shopping season but in a celebration of Christ the King Sunday (Google it), a celebration of Christ’s Kingship over all creation. As God’s people, we celebrate the victorious City of God right in the middle of the City of Man. Together, as his body, we celebrate Christ’s ultimate victory over fear, conflict, sin, and death, and the vindication of hope, communion, life, and love. And we get to be a part of it! But we don’t do alone. We can only live in liturgical time, Christ’s time, as we order our lives to Christ’s life together. As one, we celebrate by confessing and believing that Jesus Christ is Lord and our conflicts are overcome. Although, we still live with a foot in both worlds.

I invite you to live primarily as citizens of the City of God—citizens who have been reconciled to God and one another through Christ’s victory. And as you celebrate the rituals of Thanksgiving Thursday, remember that first there was Christ the King Sunday. Worship and reconciliation replace consumption and conflict avoidance.

Suggested Posts
When is the Gospel "Fake News"?
February 15, 2018 | Michael Gulker
When is the Gospel "Fake News"?
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?
The Magic of Entering Another's World
February 7, 2018 | Rob Barrett
The Magic of Entering Another's World
One prospective Colossian Forum participant put it this way: “What will we do after I say my piece, he says I’m wrong, then he says his piece and I say he’s wrong?” Nobody wants to repeat the same, tired arguments yet again. Or worse, what about when there is absolutely nothing to talk about? “Evolution is established reality so stop saying it isn’t.” “The Bible clearly says homosexual activity is evil so I’m not listening.” End of story. No more discussion. What then? Beyond deadlocked arguments, these are seemingly inescapable mires of incomprehensibility. But we serve the Lord who demolishes dividing walls (Ephesians 2:14). Crossing the rubble of the demolition begins by desiring to see things—if even for a moment—through the other’s eyes. Or even to feel the weight of what so convinces the other. This moves toward the truth. It is the way of Jesus, who walked alongside Pharisees, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He brought them life where they were without leaving them there. Jesus invited people into His world by painting pictures of His kingdom that made sense in their world. Entering another’s world demands firm rootedness in my own. “Open-mindedness” to others is not intellectual laziness or confusion but sets me aside for a moment to care for another. And so we imitate Christ: “Value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Talking in Colossian Forums isn’t just about transferring information. It’s about visiting strange, new worlds where we kindle shared desire for truth, shared yearning for friendship and shared devotion to Jesus. Since these things are far beyond our grasp, we ask for God’s help…together. “Please open my brother’s eyes…and my heart,” we sometimes beg. Only then can we voice our frustration: “How can you think the way you do?” An honest question seeking an honest answer. Now we’re talking. There’s no magic for entering another’s world. It’s like any new friendship. We ask each other’s story. “How did you come to faith? What kind of church shaped you? When have you doubted? How have you suffered?” We talk about what we fear will go wrong if the other side wins. We talk about why we think the other is damaging the church and what we admire about each other. We pray for each other. And, yes, we talk about the complex questions and challenges that divide us. After we talk, we need to return to prayer. We give thanks for being drawn closer to God and one another. We repent of how we’ve wronged God and one another. We voice our hope that He will continue to hold all things together (Colossians 1:17). It’s hardly rocket science, but that’s the kind of talking across difference that keeps drawing us back for more.