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Listening: What’s the Point?
February 20, 2013 | Rob Barrett
Listening: What’s the Point?
When I first joined The Colossian Forum, I encountered the notion that conversation is a good thing, something to be sought and nurtured. But why exactly is conversation good? I let this question simmer on the backburner for a while, taking as a provisional answer that conversation is good because I always have something to learn from others. This is undoubtedly true. I have limited vision; my perspective is distorted; my tiny breadth of experience can’t begin to touch the limitless expanse of reality. By talking with others—even others who have their own limitations and distortions—I can compensate to some degree for my own limitations, because others have insights where I have blind spots. We complement one another. Surely this is true. There is no one from whom I cannot learn. But somehow this rings a little hollow. Isn’t it rather ego-centric? Are the words of others only of value insofar as they help me? Are other people only tools for my own self-improvement? Back in 2010, I attended a lecture by William Tecumseh Fitch on the development of language. The lecture did not focus on the history of the variety of languages, where they came from, why they differ, and so on. Rather, he spoke about the question of language itself. What is it about humans that makes us talkers? Fitch examined the physical requirements of speech, accompanied by entertaining references to talking parrots and Hoover the seal, who spoke with a heavy New England accent. Fitch talked about the necessary grey matter for forming words—and, on the other side, for hearing and understanding the words of others. There is also a necessary depth of social interconnections for the development of shared language. In none of this do humans stick out as uniquely suited for developing language. So what is it about humans that makes us so peculiarly talkative? Fitch pointed to one peculiar trait of humans, which he could only express in German: Mitteilungsbedürfnis. We have a driving need, deep within our being, as irresistible to us as our basic bodily requirements, to express ourselves. We are driven to pour ourselves out to others in words. I remember when our eldest daughter was a year and a half old. She had a remarkable capacity for baby signing. I must admit this whole thing was uncanny for me: the very idea that children have things to say before their mouths and tongues can form the words! When our daughter had a vocabulary of some 20 words or so, she would pore over a picture book, searching with focused passion, scrutinizing each page. She was looking for something, anything, that she could say with one of her signs. Finally she’d find it: an apple, a dog, water, or a baby, and she’d look up at us, make the appropriate sign and say, “Dah!” What a smile and gleam in her eye! She had a driving urge to connect with us and the combination of a “word” and a picture did the job. She was thrilled by the confirmation that she had communicated something from her mind to ours. Mitteilungsbedürfnis. The need to say something that is understood by another. So maybe there’s a value to listening that has nothing to do with learning something. Maybe it is good to listen simply because people need to talk. We all need to connect with other human beings. We need to know, even if only for brief moments, that our being is aligned with another’s. There are things deep within us, not necessarily profound in and of themselves, that we need other people to truly hear. I wonder if this has something to do with the mystery of prayer. After all, why would God listen to us if he already knows what we want, what we’re going to say before we say it (cf. Psalm 139:4)? Maybe the invitation to prayer is God giving us permission to speak with the promise that he will listen. Even if he already knows, we still need to say it. The work of The Colossian Forum centers on developing our capacity to discuss difficult things. I’m finding it is much easier for most people to talk than to listen. Talking comes pretty naturally and maybe it is as necessary for us as breathing. But what’s the point of talking if nobody is really listening? If we’re willing to listen to others we might very well learn something, maybe some very profound somethings. But even if we don’t, I think it might be worthwhile to listen nonetheless. We love strangers because they are people like us, people who need to be heard.
Charity: the Parable of the Good Samaritan
February 19, 2013 | Jeanna Boase
Charity: the Parable of the Good Samaritan
This past weekend, I was able to participate in the Mars Hill Students Collaborative led by Dr. Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL and author of The Jesus Creed. I was struck by the realization that the main virtue TCF aims to embody and practice through our Forums – charity – is synonymous to what McKnight terms the “Jesus Creed.”  Jesus amends the Shema of Judaism in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 by adding Leviticus 19:18, revealing that we are to love God and others. It seems that as Christians, we all too often focus on loving God while failing to love others. Like the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we become the priest and Levite, who pass by the man half dead, in order to remain clean according to the Law. It should be noted that clean and unclean was the great issue dividing Jews and Gentiles from forming the first church as well. We read the early church’s difficulties of bringing these two people groups together and act as if we don’t allow similar divisions to influence our thoughts and behaviors today. How often do we pass by the unclean, the “other”, deceived by our own righteousness and convinced that God loves our traditions, our theology and our motives more? How do we engage with those who have different views from our own, especially on topics such as origins, or the ethical use of technology? Jesus calls us to be like the Samaritan, formed in such a way that we respond with spontaneous charity to those who are in our path. Not only do we need to “love our neighbor” but we are to also love our enemies – those we consider the unclean, the foreigner and the “other.” If as Christians we believe that all things “hold together” in Christ, we do not need to be fearful of the foreigner but embrace the differences we encounter as gifts. TCF aims to face difficult conversations, not to tolerate or conquer, but with the virtue of charity – love of God and others.
On Silence and Losing Control (A Lenten Reflection)
February 15, 2013 | Daniel Camacho
On Silence and Losing Control (A Lenten Reflection)
Like most students, I didn’t know exactly what I was signing up for when I decided to take a class on St. Thomas Aquinas last spring. We were going to read part of the Summa, specifically focusing on his account of the virtues and vices—that much I knew. Understanding this medieval thinker was probably going to be difficult work—that, I also knew. What I wasn’t expecting was that our professor would have us engage in spiritual disciplines that would expose my weaknesses and challenge me in ways that few classes ever did. Throughout the semester, we practiced spiritual disciplines in tandem with the scheduled reading. During the week that we covered the virtue of charity, we memorized 1 Corinthians 13. When we read about the vice of gluttony, we fasted. When we read what Thomas had to say about the vice of vainglory, we practiced silence. These simple practices changed and illuminated the way in which we experienced the topics we were reading about. Moreover, they nicely reinforced and overlapped with the season of Lent. Each week, we (including the professor, because she was doing the practices also!) kept a journal and recorded the impact that the practices were having on us. I remember the practice of silence being particularly challenging. We had been reading about the vice of vainglory, which is the excessive desire for attention and approval from others. In practicing silence, we didn’t cease talking altogether (on a college campus that would be virtually impossible) but only talked when it was absolutely necessary. When others talked to us, we would do our best to deflect all attention away from ourselves, our desires, our plans etc. Practicing silence made me learn new things about myself. Now that I wasn’t able to talk about myself so much (e.g. complaining about my day, bragging about an accomplishment), I realized how much I was captive to doing that very thing. I liked to show off to others, especially on Facebook. As a philosophy student, I liked to win arguments and get the last word in a debate. More importantly, engaging in this discipline made me realize how little I genuinely listened to others. Conversations seemed so different when I wasn’t in control. I wonder how many of our difficult conversations in the church, such as the one on science and faith, are characterized by our desire to dominate the conversation? Do we spend a sufficient amount of time listening to those we disagree with? Do we always feel the need to get the last word? Lent is a good season to engage in practices that expose the bad habits sometimes hidden within us. These practices are like medicine that helps us on the path of sanctification. I entered my class seeking to master information. I left learning more about my disordered desires and about how that impacted my education and my life.  
Forums: prayer, silence, and listening
February 13, 2013 | Lori Wilson
Forums: prayer, silence, and listening
TCF has just finished conducting forums at two local churches.  The schedule for each looked something like this: Week 1— We introduced TCF and our model of dialogue. Week 2— An evolutionary creationist presented his perspective. Week 3— A young earth creationist presented his perspective. Week 4— We processed and debriefed the content; we also heard the denominational history on issues of faith/science from a pastor or leader in the church. During Weeks 2 and 3, the participants were invited to reflect on what they had learned and what they noticed in themselves as they listened to the presentations.  We hoped to provide an unhurried space for a ‘long and loving interior look at what is real’ (language from Walter Burghardt). Joining in prayer, we could be honest about what might interfere in our expression of unity.  We recognized together that we are on an embodied path to God, sharing a commitment to Christ, sometimes caught up in contentious issues. During the second week, in response to the presentation of a specific viewpoint, one attendee asked some questions in a rather defensive mode.  After a few minutes, I invited the group into silence, and asked, “What did you notice in yourself as you listened to the presentation?”  Right away, the same attendee remarked, “I realize that I always need an answer and that I’m always defending my own point of view. I worry that the truth won’t be known if I don’t talk.”  His honesty struck a chord with all of us. Throughout our time together, we returned often to prayer and silence.  As we made the connection between prayer and difficult conversations, we reoriented our selves and our lives around the heart and mind of Christ.  Coming face-to-face with our own illusions, biases, and assumptions, we found we were able to practice unity in the midst of conflict and to tangibly enact the realization that “in Christ, all things hold together.”
Culture Wars: An Old Hope (Epistle to Diognetus)
February 8, 2013 | Daniel Camacho
Culture Wars: An Old Hope (Epistle to Diognetus)
Sometimes it is helpful to look back at the "great cloud of witnesses" (Heb. 12:1) in order to expand our imagination of what faithful living looks like. What follows is an excerpt from a 2nd century letter describing how Christians live in the world:  For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs. For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practice an extraordinary kind of life. Nor again do they possess any invention discovered by any intelligence or study of ingenious men, nor are they masters of any human dogma as some are. But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvelous, and confessedly contradicts expectation. They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like all other men and they beget children; but they do not cast away their offspring. They have their meals in common, but not their wives. They find themselves in the flesh, and yet they live not after the flesh. Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, and they surpass the laws in their own lives. They love all men, and they are persecuted by all. They are ignored, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, and yet they are endued with life. They are in beggary, and yet they make many rich. They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things. They are dishonored, and yet they are glorified in their dishonor. They are evil spoken of, and yet they are vindicated. They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect. Doing good they are punished as evil-doers; being punished they rejoice, as if they were thereby quickened by life. War is waged against them as aliens by the Jews, and persecution is carried on against them by the Greeks, and yet those that hate them cannot tell the reason of their hostility. -Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, Chapter 5 The Epistle to Diognetus is a classic text on Christian cultural engagement. In sketching out the nature of Christian citizenship, it captures what I’ve been trying to describe as the politics of our worship. Although this epistle is an extra-biblical account of how early Christians lived, it can, nevertheless, serve as an important guide for us today. Ultimately, it can be seen as a concrete attempt to live out Hebrews 13:14, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” At TCF, we believe that our questions of faith and science are intimately linked to our posture of cultural engagement. As our manifesto explains, it makes a huge difference whether we are engaging these questions primarily out of a concern for the unity of the church’s witness or primarily out of a desire to push a culture war agenda. “They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect.” These words stand as a reminder to us, as Christians, that “the peace of Christ is simply more interesting than what the culture wars have to offer.”  
Hope: the end and the beginning
February 7, 2013 | Michael Gulker
Hope: the end and the beginning
This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to hear a terrific sermon on hope, drawing from 1 Peter 1:13-16.  The pastor quoted the recent movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in which the comically terrible circumstances of the protagonists are constantly put into perspective by the hotel manager who continues to proclaim “Everything will be ok in the end.  If things aren’t ok, then we aren’t at the end!” This simple message of hope struck a deep chord in me – hope is what TCF is all about – hope that we can become a kind of people that enter the most difficult conversations such that the beauty of Christ is revealed to the world.  We have hope in the end because of our beginning:  “In the beginning was the Word.”  Christ - not the big bang, not survival of the fittest - is our origin and our destination, our Alpha and Omega.  We have our origin in the love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which God freely shares with us through creation. If our beginning is in the love of God in Christ, then we must not conform to the evil desires of this world but to our end in Christ who is true.  Yet living between the beginning and the end and in the brokenness of sin requires obedience; it requires practice.  Despite our sin, Christ invites us to participate in his life of self-giving love, confession, forgiveness, common worship and prayer.  To quote the Sunday sermon again, these practices are like a plaster cast, forming our broken bodies into the image of Christ.   The Colossian Forum practices these disciplines of worship, prayer, confession and forgiveness precisely at the points of brokenness and division between Christians that so badly damage our witness of Christ to the world.  In doing so we hope to show the beauty of Christ’s reconciling power in places where the world can only imagine ugliness and conflict.  We invite you to hope with us and pray this hope into reality! [div id="blockquote"]Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy.  1 Peter 1:13-16[end-div]   This piece was originally written for TCF's February prayer e-letter.  If you'd like to receive our prayer letter directly, please send your email address to admin@colossianforum.org  to subscribe.  Thank you for your partnership!