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Navigating The Hard Family Conversations After An Election
November 16, 2016 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Navigating The Hard Family Conversations After An Election
Our contentious and polarizing presidential election is over, and emotions range from angry and hurt to thankful and gratified. You might be wondering how to be in community with people in your church, your circle of friends, and your family who voted differently than you. We encourage you to find a measure of hope in the ancient Christian virtues, and to join us in making prayer our first response. You've likely found yourself in the middle of some tough conversations during the past week. With the holidays coming up, the potential for messy situations magnifies. Dr. Chuck DeGroat of Western Theological Seminary wrote this practical how-to about navigating fraught family situations this holiday season. It's full of practical wisdom and reflection challenges that line up with The Colossian Forum's vision of Christian communities that behave like Christ in the middle of tough cultural conflict. Thanks for sharing this with us, Chuck. Navigating The Hard Family Conversations After An Election by Chuck DeGroat “How in the world do I do Thanksgiving this year?” my friend asks, with tears in her eyes. Can you relate? No matter the election result a week ago, family conversations were sure to be tense. After the many really wise blogs on The Twelve this week, I’ve been asked by friends and students to offer something practical. I’m not much for how-to’s, but I’ll do my best to provide some navigational tools for you. Forgive me, in advance, if this post is a bit longer than usual. Honoring and Hating Mother and Father There are many fascinating apparent contradictions in Scripture. How about this one? In Exodus 20, we’re called to honor our mother and father. Yet in Matthew 12, Jesus asks, “Who is my mother/brothers?” In Luke 14 he makes hating our family a prerequisite for discipleship. To honor our parents is to see them as God’s image-bearers uniquely bonded to us as kin. We do not easily dismiss a relationship with a family member (I’m never, ever coming to Thanksgiving with you again!) like we may a work acquaintance. However, while honor implies respect as a kin and image-bearer, it does not require agreement. Moreover, it absolutely does not mean submitting to abuse of any kind. Perhaps this is why Jesus makes his case so forcefully. In Christ, a new family/community is being formed (Galatians 3, Ephesians 2). Those invited to the table in this new Kingdom/family don’t have the time for intramural family disputes. They are the poor in Spirit, the weak, the lonely, the marginalized. They are the refugee family in your community, the Muslim family in your cloistered white neighborhood, the blue collar rust belt family feeling left behind. Read the rest of Chuck's post on The Twelve.
God is in Charge. Kings and Governments are Not.
November 8, 2016 | Michael Gulker
God is in Charge. Kings and Governments are Not.
Dear Friends, Tensions are high this Election Day. It seems like most of our country is gripped by anxiety and fear as this election cycle reaches its climax. We are more divided than ever. How should a Christian act in the midst of such upheaval? While listening to a recent sermon, I was reminded that the prophet Daniel served under eight kings while he and the Jews were held captive in Babylon. During those 70-plus years, he served some relatively good kings as well as some really bad kings. The one constant in Daniel’s life throughout this period of captivity was this: He prayed. He prayed three times a day. Every day, he prayed. When people plotted, he prayed. When he was thrown into the lion’s den, he prayed. When his friends were locked in a fiery furnace, he prayed.  Praying gave him unusual insight into the nature of things. Praying gave him an “excellent spirit” that drew people to him throughout the rise and fall of kings and empires. Prayer reminded Daniel that God is in charge. Kings and governments are not. Whatever the results of this election, we are invited to pray—for our new and returning leaders, for our common life together, and for ourselves. Let’s follow Daniel’s lead by growing a regular practice of prayer. In this season, it may look like taking short pauses to talk with the Lord when you feel anxious or worried about the election (or your long to-do list, or a sudden financial crisis, or a difficult health situation). When our first response is prayer, it re-orients us toward God. In the presence of the Lord, our souls quiet and the busyness, worry, and anxiety subside. Join us here at The Colossian Forum as we make prayer our practice in anxious times and divisive situations. This post is excerpted from our November prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.  
Daily Practices for You to Implement Today
November 2, 2016 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Daily Practices for You to Implement Today
Our formula for The Colossian Way experience is Wicked Problems + Christian Virtues = Conflict as Opportunity. What that means is when we are faced with tough, unsolvable, deep cultural issues (things like poverty, racism, human origins, sexuality), we must practice the ancient virtues taught by the church. The virtues are things like worship, prayer, humility, kindness, and patience. Often this is the opposite of our natural instincts when faced with conflict. It's called the Fight or Flight Response for a reason, and loving God and our neighbor is not what we are doing while fighting or hiding from conflict. How do we get better? Cultivating these virtues is as simple as working at it. If you want to speak another language, you practice by conducting conversations in that language. If you want to build strength in your body, you practice consistent weight and cardiovascular training. If you want to lose weight, you practice by consuming less calories than you burn. If you want to strengthen your prayer life, you practice turning to prayer regularly. In that spirit, here are 10 very practice-able things you can do. It centers around strengthening character and all of these are something you can put into practice today. Pick one, commit to it, and see how your world opens up. Thanks to our friends at Let it Ripple Film Studio for the list, which they compiled with their partners at a Character Day Partner Summit. 10 Daily Practices to Strengthen Character Every night before bed, think of three moments or people you are grateful for. #Gratitude Identify your top three strengths and find ways to bring them into your life in new ways. #Character Identify one strength you want to develop and make a list of practices you can do each day to strengthen it. #Perspective #Perseverance Think of people you see everyday but don’t know personally — find out their name and something about them. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. #Empathy #Curiosity Next time you’re in a group setting, if you’re a shy person, try to raise your hand or speak first; if you’re a vocal person, let others speak first. #Humility #Courage Recognize character strengths in others and compliment them regularly. #gratitude #Perspective #Empathy Think of one of your heroes and identify the strengths you admire in them #Leadership If you have an email that is stressing you out, sleep on it before you send #Self-control Recognize teachable moments in real life and on screen and identify what strengths they exercise. #SocialIntelligence Ask people for permission to post (PTP) before sharing their photo online. #Kindness #Self-Control
Applying Ancient Practices to Contemporary Topics
October 26, 2016 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Applying Ancient Practices to Contemporary Topics
Here at The Colossian Forum, we're always looking for ways to apply practices (things like humility, patience, and kindness) as tools to help us better address the messy cultural situations facing the church. This article from Faith & Leadership talks about how the ancients of our faith have wisdom to help our church and ministry situations today. Enjoy! I urged my students to use their imaginations as I handed out pages of John Cassian’s conversations with the monks of Egypt. “It’s an experiment,” I said. “You’ve never read the desert fathers this way.” I was asking these doctor of ministry students to use the fifth-century text to shed light on our topic: practicing communal discernment. They were skeptical. Many of these students were pastors of congregations locked in conflict, anxious about decline and struggling to navigate the whitewater of change. Many had engaged in the familiar contemporary approaches to solving these problems: crafting vision statements, articulating stretch goals and drafting strategic plans. As useful as those are, though, I think what’s more critical is whether communities can discern, whether we can notice and respond to how God is present among us and in our world. For that, I suspected the ancients might have wisdom for churches today. Read more of this article from Faith & Leadership.
Formed Through the Crucible of Conflict
October 12, 2016 | Michael Gulker
Formed Through the Crucible of Conflict
Our president, Michael Gulker, wrote an article for the recent CSE (Christian School Education) magazine about finding our way through conflict when teaching about faith and science. Enjoy! We had gathered in hopes of using tough, complex conversations like evolution as occasions to deepen faith and witness to the truth that all things hold together in Christ (Colossians 1:17). But things sure didn't feel like they were holding together as we factionalized into two groups--those insisting on the authority of Scripture and those insisting on the need to take science seriously and teach it with integrity. Things had started so well. We began the two-day retreat in prayer and worship, meditating on Mary's annunciation in Luke 1, reflecting on what it might mean for Christ to be born in us in the midst of a pressured conversation like evolution. Later, we read Psalm 22, the opening line of which Jesus quoted from the cross--"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" How are we to act when we, who have been given authority for both the intellectual and spiritual formation of our students, come face-to-face with challenging conversations that threaten to call our own faith into question? How are we to balance our teaching authority and our confidence in Scripture with openness and vulnerability to new learning? And what, in our culture, did students need to see most--a tidy answer or a faithful question to a God whom we can trust to see things through even we we can't? You can read the rest of the article from CSE here.
Certainty Isn't the Point
October 4, 2016 | Michael Gulker
Certainty Isn't the Point
Dear Friends, As you may recall, we’ve recently finished our first pilot of The Colossian Way. Since that time, we’ve been diligently compiling feedback from leaders, participants, and expert reviewers. We’re keen to make certain that what we share with our partners in this next revision be a deep and rich experience for Christian communities seeking to hold truth and love together in the midst of conflict. Thankfully, even in our striving, we have friends like you who remind us that true faithfulness lies beyond our attempts to achieve certainty in our work. Recently Rob Barrett, the primary author of The Colossian Way participant guide, stepped away from the piles of feedback and revision planning to spend an evening with one of our pilot group leaders. As they sat together on her front porch enjoying the sounds and smells of summer, Rob saw first-hand how deeply committed she was to her community as neighbors stopped in throughout the evening to share bits of their lives including their fears and hopes. Interspersed throughout these visits, this leader reflected on how she and her group experienced The Colossian Way—their ups and downs, their joys and sorrows, their delights and frustrations with the process itself. The future of this leader’s church community is uncertain and she was clear that The Colossian Way didn’t change that. Yet, she continues to pray for us and is eager to see how she can be involved in the next steps of The Colossian Way experience. Faithfulness to her community isn’t measured by certainty, but by friendship amidst uncertainty. How deeply grateful we are for her friendship and this timely reminder. We can so quickly forget that certainty isn’t the point as we follow Jesus in this polarized culture. Yes, we want to work hard to hone The Colossian Way, but even this effort won’t guarantee its success. Thankfully, our success has already been accomplished in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Now the Lord is inviting us to participate in his certain success by laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters while they (and we) are yet sinners, even when the shape of our future together is uncertain. What does that look like? For starters, each day we have the choice of putting tasks first or laying down our lives (starting with our precious productivity time) for those whom Christ has given us. I’m the first to admit that it’s tough to break free of the to-do list to offer significant time to folks who don’t move my personal or professional projects toward certain success (pray for me!). But if we take seriously The Great Commandment, it’s clear that success, in its deepest and most certain sense, means: (1) loving God and (2) loving our neighbor. I encourage you to be open to the Spirit’s prompting to lay down just a little bit of your life this month (yes, in the midst of the new routines and rhythms of autumn) for that person of whom you are just a little uncertain. This post is excerpted from our October prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.