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Culture: The Beautiful Things We Hope For
November 22, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Culture: The Beautiful Things We Hope For
Each Colossian Way small group session opens with the group remembering why they're here and acknowledging God's presence. Messy situations, difficult subjects, polarizing conversations, and paralyzing conflict can all draw us into lives of deeper faithfulness to God. Success in the small groups can be measured by if we grew in love of God and love of neighbor through the course of the ten weeks together. These important tenets are also key parts of the internal culture at The Colossian Forum. We practice opening the day with morning prayer as a staff team, which helps us remember why we're here and acknowledge God's presence together. But prayer and meetings aren't the only components of a strong organizational culture. Here's a peek inside the curtain of what makes TCF tick in our organizational culture. Intentionally strengthening the organizational culture is an important priority as The Colossian Forum continues to grow. We developed the TCF Attitude to touch on the key aspects of our culture: a hungry spirit, humble heart, and being people of joy. We want to be a team that embodies a sensitive, efficient, innovative, and enjoyable workplace. Hungry Spirit Exhibiting a hungry spirit indicates the desire to grow more deeply into the image of Christ by pursuing excellence and a strong commitment to our mission of conflict as opportunity. We see the divisive issues we engage in as places where the church can do better and we're hungry to make that happen. A hungry spirit also involves displaying an urgent desire to manifest Christ's peace in the world. We actively seek to be the best in what we do and engage in responsible risk-taking. TCF is hungry to do more, learn more, and broaden the scope of our mission. The shadow side of that hunger is the high pressure and toll on relationships. It can be easy to become discouraged, be hungry for things we haven't been given, and demanding God to do things that fit in our agenda. Humble Heart Alongside a hungry spirit lies a humble heart, which means that at TCF embodies Mark 12:30-31 by exhibiting a love of God and love of neighbor. We delight in the different gifts and desires God's put on our team, and work hard to embody our mission of conflict as opportunity. A humble heart is also respectful, disciplined, and respectful. We genuinely care for one another and humbly submit to the mission of The Colossian Forum. We also recognize that we don't have all the answers and happily connect with partners who can help us broaden and implement our thoughts, worldview, and mission. Sometimes it's hard to have a humble heart when pursuing excellence and having a fear of failure. Often it's easy to rely on pride and control instead of submitting to the Lord in humility. People of Joy Underlying the hungry spirit and humble heart is that at our core, we are people of joy who truly delight in God and each other. We embrace the staff team family and have great hope that we can live into our remarkable mission. We do our best to not take ourselves too seriously--after all, it's God's world, not ours. Our team also works to maintain perspective and engage in healthy spiritual practices. It's a true joy to celebrate God's work in us through both successes and failures. Even the most joyful among us can struggle with fear of failure and the pressures of overwork, and it's no different at TCF. It's hard to accommodate the time for celebration and joy with the expectation of task completion. It's a balance to incorporate joy into our work life, but one we're committed to integrating better. It's easy to forget that how we act comes under our service to Christ and that we are living this out as Christians. We hope this glimpse into the hopes and fears behind how we work at The Colossian Forum helps point to the beautiful things we hope for.
The Joy of the Inner-Directed Life
November 15, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
The Joy of the Inner-Directed Life
Lou Huesmann is the senior pastor at Grace Long Beach, which recently went through The Colossian Way training. He shared this excellent reflection and an article from Rabbi Sacks with us. Thanks, Lou!   Is character strictly personal, or does culture have a part to play? In other words, does when and where you live make a difference to the kind of person you become? These questions are raised by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in a recent reflection on the classic book from 1950, The Lonely Crowd. The book's two sociologist authors develop the idea that particular kinds of historical circumstances give rise to particular kinds of people. In reflecting on The Lonely Crowd, Rabbi Sacks argues for the recovery of an "inner-directed" people for the sake of the world. In a culture largely comprised of "other-directed" individuals who find their direction in life from contemporary culture and winning the approval of others, the work of The Colossian Forum is vital. The Colossian Forum is providing groundbreaking training that has the potential to change not simply individuals but also the larger culture through its emphasis on developing the acquisition of virtues and practices that mark an "inner-directed" person. It's this inner-directedness that provides the security and courage to be different and the confidence to build a better, more life-giving future. Inner-Directedness, by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. If you see something that sparks a connection with TCF's mission, we'd love to hear from you!
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.
Life in Formation: Spiritual Formation 101
November 1, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Life in Formation: Spiritual Formation 101
We tend to think that more information will solve our problems. But you can’t read up on marathons and then go out and run 26 miles without training. Likewise, we can’t expect to live a Christ-shaped life without engaging in discipleship. At The Colossian Forum, we’re helping people move beyond stockpiling information to intentionally allowing God’s spirit to form them, especially in pressured situations. Godly formation is a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It occurs when we allow the Spirit to guide what we participate in and how we participate. Through practice, we can grow to be more like Christ. Living an unintentional life is much like shifting your car into drive and allowing it to steer itself. You’ll still go in a direction, but probably not a good one! How do we practice spiritual formation? Start by examining the practices you already inhabit. Are they moving you in the right direction—to a deeper love of God and neighbor? Are you displaying the fruit of the Spirit in everyday situations? Are you living a life worthy of the call you’ve been given in Christ? Next, consider if a few of your current activities or habits can be altered, re-directed, or replaced in order to steer your spirit in a more life-giving direction. Wake up and visit a prayer website or read Scripture instead of immediately scrolling through your newsfeed. Or begin the day in prayer, asking God to set your priorities instead of looking through your to-do list or calendar. Intentional Christ-forming practices also ready you for times of conflict. Rather than marshaling your well-honed argument or information arsenal to win against your neighbor, ask what it would take to bring this person one step closer to God. We believe the church can be more beautiful—not only for us in the church but also for the watching world. We long for something better for ourselves and for our Christian communities. That “something better” is the goal of Christ-empowered formation. What about you? What are some ongoing God-centered routines, traditions, and habits in your life? How do they nurture your spiritual sensitivity and growth? What do they look like day-to-day? Let us know; we'd love to hear about it!
The Dying Art of Disagreement
October 25, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
The Dying Art of Disagreement
This is the text of a lecture from New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, delivered at the Lowy Institute Media Award dinner in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday, Sept. 23. The award recognizes excellence in Australian foreign affairs journalism.  To say the words, “I agree” — whether it’s agreeing to join an organization, or submit to a political authority, or subscribe to a religious faith — may be the basis of every community. But to say, I disagree; I refuse; you’re wrong; etiam si omnes — ego non — these are the words that define our individuality, give us our freedom, enjoin our tolerance, enlarge our perspectives, seize our attention, energize our progress, make our democracies real, and give hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere. Galileo and Darwin; Mandela, Havel, and Liu Xiaobo; Rosa Parks and Natan Sharansky — such are the ranks of those who disagree. And the problem, as I see it, is that we’re failing at the task. This is a puzzle. At least as far as far as the United States is concerned, Americans have rarely disagreed more in recent decades. We disagree about racial issues, bathroom policies, health care laws, and, of course, the 45th president. We express our disagreements in radio and cable TV rants in ways that are increasingly virulent; street and campus protests that are increasingly violent; and personal conversations that are increasingly embittering. This is yet another age in which we judge one another morally depending on where we stand politically. Nor is this just an impression of the moment. Extensive survey data show that Republicans are much more right-leaning than they were twenty years ago, Democrats much more left-leaning, and both sides much more likely to see the other as a mortal threat to the nation’s welfare. The polarization is geographic, as more people live in states and communities where their neighbors are much likelier to share their politics. The polarization is personal: Fully 50 percent of Republicans would not want their child to marry a Democrat, and nearly a third of Democrats return the sentiment. Interparty marriage has taken the place of interracial marriage as a family taboo. Finally the polarization is electronic and digital, as Americans increasingly inhabit the filter bubbles of news and social media that correspond to their ideological affinities. We no longer just have our own opinions. We also have our separate “facts,” often the result of what different media outlets consider newsworthy. In the last election, fully 40 percent of Trump voters named Fox News as their chief source of news. It’s usually the case that the more we do something, the better we are at it. Instead, we’re like Casanovas in reverse: the more we do it, the worse we’re at it. Our disagreements may frequently hoarsen our voices, but they rarely sharpen our thinking, much less change our minds. It behooves us to wonder why. Read the rest of this lecture on The New York Times' website. 
Why Some Christian Schools Are Teaching Evolution
October 18, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Why Some Christian Schools Are Teaching Evolution
One of the reasons Jim Klima sent his son to Front Range Christian School (FRCS) in Littleton, Colorado, is that he knew the school taught that God created the earth in six days. After his son attended a symposium offered by the school where a proponent of evolution explained his views to students, Klima attended a follow-up session later that evening. “We had an interesting discussion over dinner,” he laughed. Why would a Christian school that holds to a young-earth creationist point-of-view invite an evolutionist to address its students? “It’s foundational to who we are,” explained FRCS head of school, David Cooper. “Yes, we’re a young-earth creationist school, but if we’re going create Christian scholars who will be respected and heard, they’ve got to be able to engage in the scientific dialogue with meaningful knowledge. At the same time, we also want our students to learn how to discuss sensitive issues in a way that honors Christ.” To that end, FRCS partnered with us at The Colossian Forum and offered a day-long Symposium on Origins featuring two scientists: Dr. Todd Wood, a young-earth creationist and Dr. Darrel Falk, who believes God used evolution to create the earth. “We want our community to be able to speak their convictions with boldness and courage, but also be able to hold love as part of the process too,” Kevin Taylor, director of the school’s Veritas et Caritas Institute and a Spanish teacher said. “When the world looks at the church, I’d like them to see it appealing because we behave virtuously and civilly in a world so polarized.” Why Teach Evolution? Many Christian schools embrace young-earth creationism, likely for the same reason as Klima: they want an alternative to the evolution that is being taught in public schools. However, when those Christian-school students graduate and head off to college—even to some Christian colleges—they are expected to have at least a rudimentary understanding of evolution. Christian colleges such as Calvin College, Taylor University, Spring Arbor University, Seattle Pacific University, Point Loma Nazarene University, Samford University, and others generally teach from an evolutionary perspective in their science departments, as do virtually all non-religious affiliated colleges and universities. Introducing evolution to Christian-school students is not without its challenges. Head of school Cooper acknowledges resistance from some parents. “We ask them to be patient, to trust us, but I know it’s difficult for some,” he said. Teachers also approach it with mixed feelings. Leslie Bloomquist, who teaches advanced placement biology at FRCS, covers a large unit on evolution with her ninth-graders. “If I didn’t, my students would have a very hard time taking their standardized tests required by the state because there’s just so much evolution on those tests. But I don’t feel real comfortable teaching it.” Though not every state includes questions about evolution on their mandatory student assessments, an increasing number do. In a 2005 questionnaire sent by Education Week to twenty-two states, seventeen reported at least one question on their tests specifically mentioned evolution—some tests had as many as seven questions about evolution. How Do We Have This Conversation? At the FRCS symposium, approximately 250 middle and high-school students listened to Wood and Falk explain their views on origins and then question each other. Students also met in small groups to share their own thoughts on science and faith and interact with the scientists. “There’s definitely disagreement on this topic among the students here,” eleventh-grader Carissa Van Donselaar explained. “This event has helped us learn how to talk about our opinions without fighting each other, and that’s so important because the image that non-believers have of Christians is that we’re always fighting over something.” Both Wood and Falk have been meeting privately for the past three years with The Colossian Forum, putting to test the ministry’s belief that “all things hold together in Christ.” Both believe the other is not only wrong, but harming the church as they promote their respective views of origins. “Todd believes my views could lead students away from faith, while I believe the young-earth creationist view makes it easy for scientists to dismiss the Christian faith altogether, and we really need a Christian presence in the larger scientific community,” Falk explained. “It has not always been easy because, in a way, Darrel Falk is a mortal enemy of creationism,” noted Wood. “In fact, sometimes our discussion gets quite heated, but we’ve been able to have these difficult conversations and still remain friends.” Both credit TCF for providing a God-honoring process for dealing with conflict. “Our role is simply to remind them what they already believe, which is that the gospel is relevant and powerful—especially where there’s conflict,” Michael Gulker, president of TCF, said. “Rather than being a threat to the faith, conflict actually gives us an opportunity to let the gospel work in us and in our culture in ways the culture can no longer imagine. In doing so, we have the opportunity to witness to the reconciling power of the Prince of Peace. It’s great to be able to show the next generation of Christians that it’s possible to contend for what you believe in a way that honors Christ.” How Can We Utilize These Resources? teachFASTly.com is a faith and science teaching resource curated by TCF and Kuyers Institute. Faith and Science Teaching (FAST) helps equip high school teachers to engage big questions around faith and science with confidence and creativity. FAST aims to use the way young people consider these big questions as occasions to press into Christian virtue. The teachFASTly.com site is filled with a large collection of teaching activities, training materials, background essays, book reviews, and more. Where faith and science are so often seen as a source of conflict, FAST creates a space in which teachers and students are invited to engage them as a fruitful opportunity to learn and grow. FAST explores hard questions with integrity, encouraging the very best teaching practices within the context of Christian faithfulness. We hope teachFASTly is a great asset to teach science well in a Christian context.