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Colossian Blog

Displaying all posts by Jennifer Vander Molen.
Join the TCF Team!
February 21, 2018 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Join the TCF Team!
If you're inspired by our mission to transform messy situations into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness, have administrative gifts and a strong attention to detail, you might be a great fit for us here at The Colossian Forum. We currently have an opening for a full-time Project and Administrative Coordinator in our Grand Rapids office. The key components of this position include: Communication with internal and external partners Database administration (Salesforce experience is a plus!) Event coordination Financial and office administration You can read more about the responsibilities, qualifications, and how to apply on our jobs page. Applications and cover letters will be accepted through February 28. And yes, we are serious about applicants including a cover letter with the resume.
Forbearance: A Forgotten Virtue
January 24, 2018 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Forbearance: A Forgotten Virtue
As Christians, our toolbox for addressing conflict well is filled with Christian virtues--things like humility, patience, and kindness. These ancient practices of the church are the foundation of how we live out the incarnation and give us hope as we lean into messy situations and transform conflict into opportunity. One of the Christian virtues is forbearance, which is not one of the more well-known virtues. This book review, from our friends at Cardus, is a great introduction to this virtue and how it can be helpful in both addressing conflict productively and living in "productive discomfort". Dusting off a virtue we've forgotten, and need more than ever. by Marilyn McEntyre I don't much like the people I "put up" with, though, I piously tell myself, I'd like to like them. When I'm in the company of people whose views strike me as narrow, obnoxious, ill-informed, or dangerous, I struggle to hang onto some notion of neighbourly love that can quell my impatience and hasty judgments. Aware of how often I face that struggle, and how commonly political and social antagonisms divide churches full of people more or less like me—people with general goodwill and an assortment of strong opinions—I found James Calvin Davis's reflections on forbearance deeply refreshing. They offer exactly the reminders we need of what life in beloved community requires. I imagine it took a certain courage to title the book Forbearance. It's not one of the more celebrated virtues. Indeed, as Davis acknowledges, the word has a slightly dusty, antique ring and is easily confused with condescension, grudging acceptance, or veiled judgment. Or the self-satisfied "putting up with" that completely discredits the one who prides herself on suffering fools, if not gladly, at least without unseemly violence. (See above.) Escaping the centrifugal force of these oppositions requires a force more powerful. But forbearance, we learn as we read these rich reflections on biblical ethics, Christian history, and contemporary church conflicts, is a broad, generous, discerning, wise, complex virtue—arguably foundational for Christian life. "In the practice of forbearance," Davis writes, "Christians do not create unity; we confess it." I paused over that sentence. It offers a timely corrective to one of the more popular and persistent heresies: that somehow the church is a function of human planning and governance rather than a living body whose breath and being come from the one who breathed on the small group of followers he called friends, telling them to "receive the Holy Spirit." "We are one in the Spirit," we sing—not "May we one day become one in the Spirit," though that prayer has its place. The fact of unity and the hope of unity are both real experiences of Christians in community; like so many other truths about the life of faith, they coexist in paradox. But it may be that at this historical moment, we need to be called back to the fact in order to sustain the hope. What unites us is God's own infinitely merciful will. What divides us are digressions and misunderstandings, competing alliances, and political and theological arguments that can be resolved rightly only by a generous, patient, humble, wise, deliberative commitment to continue living with the quarrelsome, myopic lot who are our brothers and sisters, and among whom we must count ourselves. Exhibiting the patience that is the first of the virtues he identifies as facets of forbearance, Davis guides us unhurriedly through reflections on humility, hope, wisdom, faithfulness, and friendship. Forbearance requires and teaches humility; it fosters authentic hope rather than self-interested expectations; in practicing it we develop discernment, which "sees disagreement not as a problem to be solved but as an opportunity for maturation in the faith"; it encourages faithfulness not primarily to tenets or doctrinal specifics but to the pilgrim path we travel in relationship to those members of Christ's body among whom we happen to find ourselves. In that body—the beloved community we know as church—we find friendships that don't arise solely from our predilections and affections, but from deep recognition of what we hold closest and dearest, and in common. Davis's writing is striking in what I would call its pastoral clarity; he writes as to brothers and sisters in faith, acknowledging that he has been privy to and part of the pullings and tuggings as his own church has attempted to work out its salvation, and its positions on public issues, in anxiety and bumbling—which isn't quite the same as fear and trembling. He points the way to the grey area between the icy poles of argument where we are called find our way together, even in a fog of misinformation, misunderstanding, and media wars, reminding us that we need forbearance to "see past the binaries in which most of our ecclesial and civic debates are stuck" because a dismaying range of public media reduce social and moral differences to black and white, either/or alternatives. His wry list of current antagonisms that have run too often to extremes makes its own point about the need for more nuance, discernment, intelligent, gracious listening, and civility: You either hate women or like to kill babies. You are either a hawk or a peacenik. You are either homophobic or a fan of bestiality. You either prefer owls to people or condone raping the environment. You are either a socialist or a one-percent. You are either for law enforcement or for African-American rights. This is what most of our public debate looks like these days. Continue reading the post from Cardus.
Our New Book: All Things Hold Together in Christ
January 17, 2018 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Our New Book: All Things Hold Together in Christ
The Colossian Forum was founded (and our name is rooted) in Colossians 1:17, where Paul points out that "all things hold together in Christ." When we live into this truth and practice Christian virtues, we know that even in the midst of the most hopeless conflict, we can see in a new way how Christ truly holds all things together. This truth is the cornerstone of our new book, All Things Hold Together in Christ: A Conversation on Faith, Science, and Virtue. Conceived by TCF president Michael Gulker and TCF fellow Jamie Smith, this anthology includes foundational readings in theology, philosophy, and science that make our work possible.  It's a fantastic resource to help frame a distinctly Christological engagement with science and culture. Each essay comes from a scholar who exemplifies theology as a practice rooted in the worship of the church, shedding light on how our work at The Colossian Forum has managed to turn conflict into opportunity. These top Christian thinkers show how attending to the formation of virtue through the practices of worship creates the hospitable space we need to deal with difference and disagreement in the body of Christ. Contributors include Robert Barron, Timothy George, Stanley Hauerwas, Alasdair MacIntyre, Mark Noll, and N. T. Wright, among others. All of these essays are an invitation to find resources, inspiration, encouragement, and hope for faithful, creative thinking in the riches of the church's theological heritage and its worship traditions. This is the foundation and frame of The Colossian Way (which is set up as a worship service with a fight in the middle). All Things Hold Together in Christ is available from the publisher for a 40% discount through January 31, 2018.
We Need to Talk about Sex
January 3, 2018 | Jennifer Vander Molen
We Need to Talk about Sex
This post from Chuck DeGroat originally appeared on The Twelve. Like many messy situations we face as Christians, the LGBTQ dialog often leads to places of deep vulnerability that help us live out loving God and loving each other. In this piece, Chuck breaks down the bigger (scary, deep, overwhelming, and vulnerable) discussion of sex in the church.  Pardon the length of this piece, but we really need to talk. It’s become inevitable that I’ll get a call or email once or twice a month asking to consult with a church on an LGBTQ dialogue. Most often, I’m grateful that churches seek to be more informed, engaged and conversant. But this blog is not about the LGBTQ conversation necessarily … it’s the first question I ask when I’m invited in: “How does your church talk about sexuality in general around here?” This is often met with a blank stare. Sometimes there is an honest, “We just don’t.” I might hear about a sermon series on faithful marriage or a small group of men talking about pornography, but that’s about it. We need to talk. What is the state of marriage in your church? I bet it’s not very different than anywhere else. If you’re an evangelical Christian, statistics show that your marriage is less apt to make it than a marriage between atheists. Why aren’t we talking about why this is? Why do we seem more concerned with who sells and buys wedding cakes? I do marriage conferences and I pastored for many years and I’ve counseled hundreds of couples and (I hope I don’t need to convince you) there is great pain in many, many couples in your church. Abuse and unfaithfulness and sometimes plain-old disconnection erode trust, yet many couples in churches tuck their pain away on Sunday morning. Emotional disconnection and sexual dissatisfaction are addressed with coping strategies – a little too much alcohol, a titillating show to watch, the drama of Facebook. We’re prone to hide and our fig-leaved strategies are endless. And (can I say it?) the self-help Christian books with their principles and platitudes don’t seem to touch the depth of pain. Many couples that stay together find a tolerable dance to do to keep the peace. Yes, we need to talk. Single folks in your church are hurting too. They’re not sure at all what to do with their singleness, with cultural and ecclesial expectations around marriage “completing” someone, with their own single sexuality, with their need for intimacy and belonging. Sometimes church is the toughest space to navigate in their week as they watch those smiling couples embrace their children. Often, our only advice to singles is “Don’t have sex before you’re married.” Perhaps we’ll create a “Single’s Ministry” for them. But, their questions are bigger than this. As one late 30’s single woman said to me, “Am I supposed to neatly tuck away my longing for sexual connection like a nun?” I discussed this with a pastor and asked him recently, “What would it look like for your church to have an honest conversation about masturbation?” He blushed a bit and said with a chuckle, “Justification. Sanctification. But no, not masturbation.” We default to humor when we’re uncomfortable. Let’s talk. Let’s talk about your middle and high schoolers. Are we naming the questions and realities they are facing? The Bible seems more honest about teenage lust than most pastors. That erotic tale tucked away in the middle of your Bible is a sexually-charged journey of two young teenagers, exploring their bodies, awakening to their desires. That’ll preach. Or maybe not. When I preached Song of Solomon years ago in an evening service, I invited parents of middle and high schoolers. They came the first week, but many didn’t come back. It hits too close to home. What kind of conversation about sexuality is your church engaging in? It’s easy to talk about “those people,” you know…those people you’ve never met or don’t think attend your church. It’s easy to talk about the “LGBTQ issue,” depersonalizing it as a “topic.” But as I say to many pastors – maybe we should start with you. Maybe we should name the very real, on-the-ground realities that everyone in your church faces before going down the path of talking about “those people.” Maybe the “other” we need to face is the “other within,” our cut off shadow-selves that lurk in secret and fear being found out. Maybe cultivating greater honesty and self-compassion in a context of cross-centered grace is necessary before we start talking about someone else’s life. Maybe we should name things. Maybe we should name the elephant in the room – the reality that mental health professionals like me now assume people are addicted to porn. It’s not the exception, it’s the norm. Yes, men who’ve been formed in the sexualized liturgy of our culture are stuffing the shame and pretending to be ok when it’s not ok. But, this may be a shocker. Women are looking at porn too. And for many women (take a deep breath before continuing to read…) same-sex images and stories are most provocative. Can I name that on The Twelve? Is it ok to tell our secrets, fellow Christians? Can I tell how many women and men have said to me, “I started experimenting a bit in middle school – looking at images, masturbating – but no one ever talked about this, not my parents, not my school, not my youth group, and never, ever my pastor.” And perhaps now it’s time to take seriously what #MeToo and #ChurchToo is highlighting – that sexual harassment and abuse are right here, right now realities in your church, among your people. That men have too long blamed women and what they do or wear instead of doing honest work. The church has too-long been a context where men can groom and prey on women. That many men, even accomplished men with degrees and titles like me, are stuck emotionally at 12 years old. That women are tired of living in a world of immature boys led by a President who confesses that when it comes to assaulting a woman he just can’t help himself. That misogyny is the cultural water we swim in. That churches don’t really know how to invite men to do the important emotional work necessary to grow up. That there are few if any, wise sages and elders to mentor us. That this isn’t a conservative or liberal issue, it’s not about Hollywood or DC, it’s not about being a traditional or progressive Christian – it’s about all of us – as news reports are reminding us every day. A personal story. I’ve told the story elsewhere about how I hit an emotional wall in seminary and jumped into an MA Counseling program at the seminary. Like many, I hoped for a quick and painless cure for my anxiety and depression. But in that community of honest peers and teachers, I learned what John Calvin surely must have meant by “self-knowledge” – my awareness of my arrogance, abusiveness, and emotional/relational unintelligence came into full view. One particularly important moment was on an evening I was counseling a young woman in her early twenties. She had the kind of timeless, simple beauty that made my heart start beating fast just as soon as I saw her. A neuro-chemical sexual cocktail coursed through my body, but I had to ignore it because I was a good Christian guy, I was her therapist, and we had a session to do. I sat with her for 50 minutes, asking questions about her life and interests. We found common ground and laughed. Behind the observation window sat my female supervisor and several female classmates observing my magic. When we were done, she smiled and I smiled and she asked for a hug. I made my way back to my supervisor’s office to debrief, expecting them to congratulate me on a life-changing session. “How do you think that went?” my supervisor asked. She had a kind of wry smile as she asked it. Have you seen that wry smile on a therapist? It’s generally not a good sign. “Really good,” I said. “I think we built a lot trust today. I think she feels very comfortable with me. I think we’re doing good work.” I was already starting to master therapist jargon. My supervisor sat quietly for just a moment. Her wry smile disappeared. She looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Well, oh, ok, if you call flirting for 50 minutes a good counseling session then I guess so.” She asked my female peers if they agreed. I recall their faces, mixed with anxiety and anger. Each one nodded. Then my defenses went up. I battled for a few minutes, but before long my supervisor was making connections in my life that only a Jedi-therapist like her could make. And then she said, “I wonder how your wife experiences being married to an emotional 12-year-old?” I learned in that two years to name things that I never, ever dared imagine I’d say out loud. I learned to repent. I learned to grieve. I began to see women, and be seen. I sometimes felt like my shame was the grave I’d be buried in, and at other times experienced the joy of being known in a way I’d never experienced before. Coming out of hiding, the game we played in our marriage couldn’t last – and so what we thought we were had to die, just 4 years in. The next few years were filled with pain as my wife took her own journey. But from the ashes, something new and honest could be born. Jesus writes redemption stories that require crucifixion along the way. We need to talk, friends. We need to come out of hiding. We need to tell our secrets. Let me end it with this: A few years ago, I got the call and question, like I often do – “Will you help us talk through this LGBTQ issue?” I met with the pastor and we had the bigger conversation about engaging sexuality, intimacy, shame, pornography, misogyny, abuse, and more. It was a full and deep conversation, and he walked away fairly overwhelmed. I didn’t hear back for some time. When I did see him at an event a year later, he asked for a few minutes to catch up. He told me that he decided to get therapy after speaking with me. Tears welled up as he talked about years of porn addiction and marital dissatisfaction. He told me that before he could engage any kind of conversation about someone else’s life that he needed to face his own. His own inner work prompted a larger conversation among the leadership team, most of whom seemed compelled by their pastor’s transformation and longed for their own. He told me that he couldn’t imagine engaging any conversation on sexuality from the place where he was previously. “Chuck, I was clueless about my own stuff. Now I can engage others with empathy and curiosity. Facing my own brokenness allows me to see another human being as human, as a person with pain, with a story, in need of Jesus.” Church, we’ve got work to do. All of us. The work of inner transformation is vital, not as an excuse to avoid the hard conversations but precisely because we must have hard conversations as mature adults. If our political culture has taught us anything in the past year, perhaps it has taught us that character matters, that growing in emotional health and intelligence is critical for leadership, that empathy for another requires us to grow in empathy for our own splintered selves, broken as they are. Perhaps we’ve learned that we can never, ever love the “other” if we don’t love what is “other” about us. Jesus can handle our brokenness. Jesus can handle our hard conversations. Jesus can meet us in places of disruption. Jesus can love what is “other” in us. Jesus can’t meet us when we’re hiding. It’s time to talk. Chuck DeGroat teaches Pastoral Care at Western Theological Seminary. He is a longtime pastor and therapist and has authored four books.
Christ the King, King Over Everything
December 13, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Christ the King, King Over Everything
This month's prayer letter talked about our death before us, even when our resurrection is secure. Our world is full of struggle right now, and Advent reminds us that we join the suffering of our Savior, in both big and small ways. The "small house church" mentioned in the letter is Kalamazoo Mennonite Fellowship, and Pastor Will Fitzgerald gave us permission to post this sermon from Christ the King Sunday, November 26. We hope you enjoy a moment of hope and reassurance from this Gospel message today. Ephesians 1:15-23 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. This passage is from the first letter of Paul to the church in Ephesus, and he has heard good things about them. This is what he has heard: they have true faith in Jesus, and they show love to others, especially those in the church in need. Every time Paul thinks of them, he gives God thanks for them. I think we know what that’s like. Whenever I think about our former member, Elisha, it brings a smile to my face, and I often thank God. Who are people like that for you? Paul does something else for them: he prays for them. There are many things you can pray for someone, and many reasons why you think God will answer your prayer. In Paul’s case, he knows God can answer his prayer because God the Father was so powerful that he took a dead Jesus and raised him from death into a position of power – the position of power, seated at the Father’s right hand. He declared Christ to be king, king over everything. Christ is king over every “rule and authority and power and dominion.” That means Christ is king over the United States government, over the Democratic and Republican parties, over the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), over the armed forces. Christ is King over our bosses and the companies we work for. Christ is King over our parents and spouses and children. Christ is king over systems of addiction and every system of oppression. If there is something we truly need, none of these powerful things will get in the way of our achieving it through our powerful God. It may not come right away, but it will come in God’s own time. What are things that you feel powerless over? How can knowing that God is more powerful than whatever has you in its grip help you? Christ is also king over “every name that is named.” If it has a name, Christ is king over it. Christ is king over Donald J. Trump. Christ is king over every president and leader in the world. Christ is king over cancer and every disease. Christ is king over sadness and failure, and every moral lack. Christ is king over the devil and sin and hell and death. What could you name that frightens or threatens you? How does your obedience to Christ the King give you courage and strength? Paul finishes this section by saying that Christ the king orders everything for the sake of his body, which is the church. We are filled with Christ, who fills everything. And so, a bit, it comes full circle. Paul goes down this path because he remembered the faith of the believers at Ephesus, and how they loved other people. This is how Christ seems to be filling out the church: by making it full of faith and full of love. One of the ways we can think about becoming can be the “good sheep” that Ezekiel and Jesus talk about is exactly this: to increase in our trust of Jesus and to continue to love the people around us. It’s as simple and as hard as that. In closing let me ask these questions again: What things do you feel powerless over, that Christ, nonetheless, is king over? How does this change how you act or feel? What things can you name that frighten or threaten you? How does Christ the King give you courage and strength? How can this week be full of the “fullness of Christ” as you love others and increase your faith in him?
#GivingTuesday Success -- Thank You!
November 29, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
#GivingTuesday Success -- Thank You!
In the midst of all the noise this holiday season, we want to thank you for your ongoing investment in The Colossian Forum’s transformational mission. You understand both the challenge and the promise of Colossians 1:17 that “all things hold together in Christ”—even Christ’s body, the church. You faithfully pray, volunteer, provide expertise, and give, and we are deeply grateful! Yesterday, we participated in #GivingTuesday, an annual day of charitable giving that piggybacks on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. We deeply appreciate the many prayers, gifts, and investment in us over the past year. We know that it’s hard to be hopeful during times of deepening cultural division when conflict threatens to fracture our closest relationships. Our mission is to equip the church with resources and practices to bridge the divides that polarize and paralyze us. We believe these wrenching conflicts provide an opportunity for the hope and healing we long for. Thanks for being part of the journey. May our unity in the midst of difference be a testimony to the wholeness and holiness of our Triune God.