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Colossian Blog

Displaying all posts by Michael Gulker.
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?
Our Desire for Hope
January 31, 2018 | Michael Gulker
Our Desire for Hope
Our new book, All Things Hold Together in Christ, is more than a collection of essays from leading scholars on the conversation between faith and science. This book gets at the essence of who we are at The Colossian Forum, and the bright hope that shines through even the toughest of conflict. TCF's president, Michael Gulker, shares in this video our desire for hope and helps outline the "more" that people keep asking for.  [embed]https://vimeo.com/245217328[/embed] Our Brand Problem We live in a time when the church, because of it’s endless bickering, has a serious brand problem. The rise of the nones, of those people who identify as spiritual but not religious, not tied to any particular body of believers or historical faith – these are the casualties of the culture wars, of establishment Christianity desperately trying to cling to power. At that brand of Christianity is fragile, fearful, and ugly. As one of my friends likes to say, “The church may be right, but it’s no longer beautiful.” And that’s what people want – they want beauty and not just any beauty, but the beauty of Christ, the beauty of the divine dance across difference that is the Trinity, into whose life we’re invited. So when a new, hopeful possibility comes along, one that confesses, from the outset, that we’ve already been given everything we need to be faithful, that within the Christian faith and tradition already have everything we need to extend that tradition faithfully and beautifully in the present and into the future, people want to dive more deeply into the ideas behind that hope. Our Desire for Hope It's that desire for hope that is really the origin of this anthology  – when you go around saying things like, “the culture conflict you’re most afraid of, or tired of, doesn’t have to be a threat, but it can actually be an opportunity for discipleship and witness, when you tell people that the things they’re most fearful of discussing with the people they most love – those are the places where the gospel shines most brightly” – folks want to know more. Well, this anthology – All Things Hold Together in Christ ­– it is that “more” people have been asking for. So this anthology was our attempt to remember and thank the friends and teachers who helped Jamie and me formulate what became The Colossian Forum. And The Colossian Forum is really just the application of their ideas in the face of the church’s brand problem. The anthology, then, lays out four critical pieces of our response to this dilemma. Creating a Community for the Conversation In part one, Creating a Community for the Conversation, we try to set out to remember who we, as Christians, are and what we’re after. As folks like Rodney Clapp reminds us, the Ekklesia of Christ, we’ve been called out and set aside for a certain kind of public work, and that public work is to practice the politics of Jesus together as his peculiar people – for the world to see. This is otherwise known as “worship.” Our job is not to grasp the strings of power but to testify, by our lives together, to a different form of power put on display at Calvary and remembered every holy week since. Our job is to display a corporate life more interesting than that of Apple or Google or The United States of America – which are all driven by the competing interests of individuals eternally alienated against each other in the contest to secure enough of the world’s resources to escape death and finitude. Well, that game’s played out. It’s not interesting. It’s not beautiful. And it’s been revealed for the sham it is in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus’ life, in the life of the Trinity, there’s no competition, no scarcity, no fear – only the eternal self-giving delight and desire across difference. And when the church sets aside the world’s economy of scarcity and enters into worship, into the gift economy, we get a taste of heaven, a taste of eternity, and we want more. The world wants more. Putting on Christ But getting more, living this life eternal takes practice, or practices, which leads to the second part of the book, Putting on Christ. Following the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and some of his best interpreters, we remember that in the practices of the church we’ve been given everything we need to put on Christ. It takes time, it’s bumpy, messy, ugly, but the practices of the faith invite us to live into Christ’s life, a life of sacrificial love across difference, across distorted desire and damaged souls in ways that lead to healing and life by the refusal to perpetuating the pain and brokenness of the world but letting it end in our flesh, in the flesh of Christ’s body. This is hard and at times painful work, but something amazing happens when we “put on Christ” in these ways, we begin to see the Holy Spirit do new things in our midst, we begin to see new possibilities we couldn’t see before. Come Let Us Reason Together In short, practicing the faith, putting on Christ allows us to enter into and extend a tradition of rationality called Christianity, which leads us to the third part of the anthology, Come Let Us Reason Together. In this section, we get a glimpse of the exciting possibilities of how we might go embody a tradition-based rationality, how, as Robert Barron says it so well, the epistemic priority of Christ changes everything - how we see the world, how we see scripture, how we see tradition as the gift we’ve been waiting for to live faithfully into the future: a gift that calls us to become a gift in return, participating in and extending the faith in the face of our present difficulties in ways that smell like Jesus. All Things Hold Together in Christ Part four, All Things Hold Together in Christ, is an exploration of what a tradition based rationality might look like in one major conversation of our day, the conversation between faith and science. If all things hold together in Christ, faith and science can’t ultimately be competing forces but rather, as Mark Noll says, science is the embodiment of our human response to God’s invitation to come and see that he is good. Yet our modes of investigation, habits of objectification and commodification that easily abuse that gracious invitation need to be checked against the character of Christ. This can only be done by a people gathered together, putting on Christ, reasoning from Christ and for Christ and through Christ in the fearless confidence that all things already hold together in Christ. We of all people are freed to pursue the truth of the world without fear because that pursuit is the pursuit of our lover, our heart’s deepest desire. This anthology is an attempt to share just a bit of how we’ve been blessed by those who have gone before us in this same pursuit. I hope it’s a blessing to others as well. All Things Hold Together is published by Baker Academic, and is 40% off through the end of today. 
Sharing the Light of Christ in the Darkness
January 11, 2018 | Michael Gulker
Sharing the Light of Christ in the Darkness
As I write this, the brilliant white Michigan snow reflects some rather unusual winter sunshine. It seems an appropriate reflection of Epiphany, the celebration of the "manifesting" of Christ's light to all the world. This light “shines forth” so that all the world can join us in singing, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her praise." The epiphany of God with us is always cause for praise and thanksgiving. Some days it seems easy to celebrate the light of Christ. But others, not so much. It seems that despite the brightness of winter, our world darkens. Wars and rumors of wars make the headlines every day. Wars between nations, political parties, news corporations, the sexes—to name a few. It seems a long way from the pastoral scene in Luke’s gospel of the Magi bringing their gifts from afar to bow at the feet of our infant Savior. The real-life context of this beautiful passage is filled with the political intrigue and brutal machinations that led to the slaughter of the innocents. The authors of the gospels were likely far less naïve than we are about the harsh realities of the world. That's a helpful reminder when my cynicism darkens my light. The disciples prayed the psalms, reminding us that while the nations rage, the Lord is King. But where is that kingdom made manifest? Where is praise breaking out? If the church is the body of Christ, then surely it ought to be the place where the light of Christ shines brightly in this dark age, right? But what if the church is as divided as the country and the world? What then? Is darkness overshadowing the light? A people walking in darkness have seen a great light. A light has dawned on those living in the shadow of death and has overcome the darkness. It's an odd thing, to be both the reflection of Christ's light AND an utter failure. Why doesn’t the light flicker? Why doesn’t our sin, the sin of God's chosen people, overwhelm the light? Perhaps it's because the light of Christ's victory shines brightest in his refusal to abandon us even when we refuse to receive him. In fact, it's through the utter rejection of Christ by the world and his people that God reveals the complete inability of anything in creation to alter his love for us. No authority, no power, no nuclear arsenal or conventional army will turn aside God's love for us. The light of Christ's love shines in our darkest places, our most profound divisions, and invites us to follow him in manifesting the love of God for the world in ways that lead the world to break out in praise. But what could this possibly mean today? Well, here's an idea. What if, as the body of Christ, we lived together across the differences and divides that the world can't seem to bridge? What if, in our shared life together, we could "manifest" the reconciliation of heaven and earth toward those opposite us on the left/right continuum? Right here, right now. What if all the strife and division and darkness were backdrops for the light of the gospel to shine brightly today? Ironically, most of us are already bridging divides. But we hardly acknowledge it, let alone, proclaim it. Just this Sunday, I received communion with folks well to the left and right of me; folks living in communion with each other in the name of Jesus. It was even on a day when the sermon was the first of four on immigration! Where else does that happen? We've lost our theological imagination, and we're missing the miracles right in front of our noses. While we're busy getting it wrong, God is in our midst getting it right. He is continually forgiving us and saving us, for which we can give thanks! One of the most delightful things that happens to us at TCF is that folks tell us that our mere existence is an encouragement. The simple reminder that "All things hold together in Christ" is enough to manifest just a little bit of epiphany light to the world. That's not a testament to us, but rather to the hope within believers—a hope that is often forgotten. So, this Epiphany, I want to thank you for making TCF a little reminder of hope in our world. Every prayer, every encouraging email, and every donation makes possible the manifestation of the hope and light of Christ in this dark, divided world. Thank you.
Waiting Expectantly for What the World Overlooks
December 27, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Waiting Expectantly for What the World Overlooks
All too often, hope leaks from our souls, allowing despair to settle in and take residence. Oh, it’s not enough to set off alarms, and we’re more than capable of burying it under the rush of holiday shopping. But despair’s cumulative effect erodes our faith, leaving us at the mercy of nagging fears and silencing our witness to the reconciling power of Christ. As the anxieties of our culture, as well as our limits, press on us, fear propels us further into isolation or hostility. Either response belies the hope that the apostle Paul writes about in Romans 5:5: “and hope doesn’t disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” The Holy Spirit replenishes hope, empowering us to live patient, faithful lives in these complicated times. Because I feel these pressures too, I’ve been thinking and writing about hope, fear, and the Holy Spirit over the last few months. Adopting virtues such as humility, patience, kindness, and forbearance—to name a few—is impossible without the Holy Spirit. I know this through my own hard experience with my own failures. We really are powerless to effect change ourselves. That’s why the mission of The Colossian Forum—to transform conflict into an opportunity for spiritual growth and witness—is ridiculously audacious. Audacious in the “fearless” sense: boldly admitting that the sheer impossibility of unity-despite-our-difference—without God’s loving Spirit poured out. This Advent season begs us to reflect on such things as hope, fear, love, powerlessness, and the audacity of the gospel we’re called to patiently proclaim and embody, however seemingly small and insignificant our actions seem. Cutting through the cultural hype, we struggle to recall that angels provided the only fanfare to the desperate, obscure circumstance of an ordinary couple. Only a gaggle of shepherds and a few errant wise men witnessed the glory of Immanuel’s birth. Advent teaches us to wait expectantly for what the world overlooks. As I reflect on the 2017 launch of The Colossian Way small group experience, we catch these little glimpses of transformation—glimpses easily overlooked. Pastors encouraged to stay the course. Family members continuing to communicate in the midst of pain. Denominations convening difficult but honest conversations, knowing that the process could be a long one. Patience and curiosity in the middle of intergenerational dialogue. Fear acquiescing to hope. We are moving steadily toward our “audacious” goal of training 200 leaders and 1,200 participants in The Colossian Way, with 2018 promising to take us halfway there. I invite you to journey with us toward hope. Together, through your partnership in prayer, involvement, and generosity, we can glory in what the noisy world overlooks—Christians cultivating daily faithfulness in the midst of wrenching polarization, division, and conflict. I invite you to journey with us—reading, learning, conversing, praying, and giving—as we grow to love God and each other more.
“Why is everyone struggling so much?” An Advent reflection
December 6, 2017 | Michael Gulker
“Why is everyone struggling so much?” An Advent reflection
Not long ago, my 13-year-old son Sam and I were attending our little Mennonite house church that we love so dearly. It wasn’t an easy Sunday. Nearly all of us, for a variety of reasons, were hurting pretty deeply—family struggles, concern for the gravely ill, loved ones who, for one reason or another, are no longer a part of us. People shared their pain so openly that Sam wondered aloud to me about it. He identified both with the struggles of others and his struggling teenage self, saying, “Why is everyone struggling so much? Why do we all go to church if it just means suffering?” While that is not the line of logic my years of theological conditioning provide me, on the surface it’s a pretty valid conclusion. Why do we bind ourselves to broken and suffering people? On our drive home, we were surrounded by billboards depicting happy, healthy, sexy people. Why not identify with them—the winners? Their super white smiles sure seem more convincing than our tears. Why can’t the faith be more obviously right? More visibly true? Why doesn’t God prove his Godhood to the world? I don’t have adequate answers to satisfy a teenage boy who is suffering from the terrors of adolescence. All I’ve got is Advent, and a God who didn’t come down in an undeniable blaze of glory but as a baby born amid scandal, political intrigue, suffering, and the slaughter of the innocents. The eternal Word of God, Logos of Creation, Wisdom of the Ages came enfleshed as an infant Jew, freely identifying himself with a broken, corrupt, suffering people. As with any word, this Word incarnate is eminently deniable, vulnerably open to multiple interpretations—not to mention murder. What are we to make of this? In his brilliant work on Dostoyevsky, Rowan Williams reflects on the theological nature of language and how Dostoyevsky “sees language itself as the indisputable marker of freedom: confronted with what seeks to close down exchange or conflict, we discover we can always say more.” Part of the freedom of being able to “say more” when we are confronted with Jesus—the Word of God—is that we can say more and deny its validity. Christ comes to us vulnerable, “unable to compel [us] since compulsion would make it impossible for the creator to appear as the creator of freedom.” This means that the “credibility of faith is in its freedom to let itself be judged and to grow. In the nature of the case, there will be no unanswerable demonstrations … apart from Christ.” Are there no unanswerable demonstrations apart from Christ? Because that’s exactly what I want most! I long for something provable, repeatable, tangible, undeniable. I want to be able to point to “something” and compel others to accept without having to embody it myself. I want to indisputably possess “something” without having to become like Jesus. But what we get is Christ’s hard-to-believe faith in the goodness of the Father. All done in the face of his betrayal and death—in the goodness and freedom of creation, just as that same freedom would be used to crush the one through whom it was made (John 1:3). Of course, living on the other side of Easter, we see that Jesus’ faith is vindicated in his resurrection and the lifting up of his name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9). Sam’s very correct intuition reveals this: our death is still before us, even if our resurrection is assured. I desperately want God to speak a word that would spare me from the vulnerability of death and the nearly unbearable freedom to live life in light of our certain death. Sam’s desire is my own—to avoid the suffering that comes to us because of the freedom we’ve been given and often misused. We’d rather buy into another false promise of billboard happiness with shiny, white-toothed smiles. We believe these false words—the false certainties that cause us to forfeit our birthright as children and heirs of the King and the freedom that comes with it—all for a cup of soup. It’s the cause of our suffering in the first place. It seems that only a few saints have not sold their birthright (said an isolated and depressed Elijah before God revealed that there were 7,000 such saints). But in our little house church, as in so many small and humble Christian fellowships across the ages, the birthright of the Kingdom has not been sold. Believers join their Savior in suffering the hurts of the world, in ways small and large. They do not shy away. They suffer the uncertainty of freedom. They participate in the passion of Christ, holding on to a sure knowledge of God’s goodness while uncertain about almost everything else. They aren’t sexy. They aren’t likely to be on billboards. When the Lamb who opens the scroll reveals what has mattered in the history of humanity, their names will be called out. And as John Howard Yoder, another incredibly broken believer, once said, history isn’t moved forward by cause and effect, manipulated by the powerful, but by the cross and resurrection of Christ and those who bear it. A deniable thesis to be sure, uttered by an eminently deniable human being. Quite frankly, there’s no place I’d rather be. No other people I’d rather be with, than with Christ and his broken, struggling body.
Consumption and Conflict Avoidance
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.