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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.
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.
Recommended Reads: Podcast Edition
July 27, 2016 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Recommended Reads: Podcast Edition
The booming medium of podcasts (digital audio series) provides an excellent way to learn and listen to thought leaders and those with a different life perspective. Whether you listen to podcasts on your commute, while exercising, or at home on a project day, it’s a great way to expand horizons and dig deeper into topics and current events. At The Colossian Forum, two podcasts recently bubbled up as embodying what we do here and how we look at faith, conflict, hospitality, community, and connection. Invisibilia focuses on the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. This podcast from NPR combines storytelling with science, and the current series focuses on transformation. We loved this video from the Flip the Script episode.  It shows what happens when a dinner party flips the script on a robber and offers simple hospitality. You can listen to this episode here, and the entire series is worth a listen. On Being, distributed by PRX and broadcasting since 2001, tackles what it means to be human and how we want to live. The guests are theologians, pastors, authors, and artists who speak reflectively and candidly about what that means in our complex, 21st century life. The host, Krista Tippett, was a guest in May to talk about her new book. The episode is full of insights into why they do what they do, why our faith stories are so vital, and the importance of respectful conversations. You can listen to that episode here. On Being also offers each podcast episode in unedited format, which is enjoyable to listen to the rawness and natural progression of conversation. Recent standout episodes include: Listening as an Act of Love: The founder of StoryCorps talks about the sacred space that emerges when two people share and listen. The Wisdom of Millennials: The thoughts and reasonings of the next generation are beautifully articulated by Nathan Schneider. And a bonus—A Conversation with Music: Music can be deeply personal, but I thoroughly enjoyed singer Carrie Newcomer sharing her songs and poetry. It made me a fan and “I Believe” has a permanent place on my playlist.
Tradition and Innovation
June 29, 2016 | Christopher R. Brewer
Tradition and Innovation
Shortly after arriving at TCF, Michael Gulker suggested that I consider attending the Foundations of Christian Leadership program hosted by Leadership Education at Duke Divinity. This program focuses on the idea of traditioned innovation, which, as the name suggests, has to do with innovating within existing institutions. When I first heard the term “traditioned innovation,” I couldn’t help but think of aggiornamento, an Italian word meaning “a bringing up to date.” The word was used by Pope John XXIII, and is most often associated with the work of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). A rival group reacted against aggiornamento, pushing instead for ressourcement, by which they meant a return to the sources. If the first group’s future orientation emphasized innovation, the second group looked to the past and emphasized tradition. Howard E. Root, who was an Anglican observer at the Council, appropriated this distinction in his 1972 Bampton Lectures, speaking of two kinds of radicalism, one forward-looking and the other backward-looking. In his lectures “The Limits of Radicalism,” Root addressed radicalism and tradition, and more specifically, the death of God theology that had grown from the seeds of 1960s Cambridge radicalism. Root’s concern was that these radicals were obsessed with change, evincing a perpetual anxiety for the future. Root, who was himself a one-time Cambridge radical, wished to distance himself from this particular variety of radicalism, and so advocated a radicalism rooted in tradition. Drawing upon his experience at the Second Vatican Council, Root was practicing traditioned innovation. Why is this history important? Because it offers a backdrop for navigating our current context, one in which we face a host of wicked problems requiring a Root-styled, backward-looking radicalism. Root understood that radicalism (i.e., innovation) is necessary, but that it must be carefully distinguished from reductionism. Theological integrity (i.e., tradition) must be maintained. And yet, in maintaining tradition, we must not treat theology as a “museum subject.” Theology, after all, is not “a subject in the past tense” (Root, “The Limits of Radicalism,” Lecture 2). This led Root, in his final lecture, to conclude: “The limits of radicalism are those which end not in chaos but in the breaking of fresh ground. Let the voices speak. Let the contestants push to those limits they find for themselves. In the end, theology is not its own master. Tradition is not an overlord or a censor. It is there. What will last will last. What will fall away will fall away. Method will unfold itself in the exploration” (Root, “The Limits of Radicalism,” Lecture 8). For Root, the exploration unfolded in a number of interesting contexts, but most relevant here is his participation as a member of the first phase of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). Now in its third phase (2011–present), ARCIC is working through issues related to “fundamental questions regarding the ‘Church as Communion – Local and Universal’, and ‘How in communion the Local and Universal Church comes to discern right ethical teaching’.” (IARCCUM) Unlike the earlier phases that were concerned with comparing beliefs or finding common sources, this third phase – influenced by the Receptive Ecumenism project – is seeking to change the question from “What do the other traditions first need to learn from us?” to “What do we need to learn from them?” They are, in other words, seeking to innovate what was in Root’s time an innovation. TCF is in many respects similar to this exercise in church learning. Standing in a long tradition of intra-Church dialogue, then, we are committed to facilitating dialogue on divisive topics and approaching differing perspectives as Christ-given opportunities to build community, expand knowledge, and deepen faith. Our innovation is a unique combination of conversations that might be represented as follows: Wicked Problems + Christian Virtues = Conflict as Opportunity Making progress on these wicked problems requires a willingness to enter into relationships, risking vulnerability, and refusing competition. It requires, in other words, that we practice the Christian virtues of love, hospitality, patience, etc. The dialogue need not be feared. It can be faced. We can, with God’s help, put hope in practice.
Millennials Pursue Unity: Expanding Our Horizons
June 1, 2016 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Millennials Pursue Unity: Expanding Our Horizons
Rebecca Kates, former intern at The Colossian Forum, wrote a series of blog posts for us about millennials and how they see and pursue unity. Here’s part one, part two, part three, part four, part five and part six of the series. She recently graduated with a masters degree in Theological Studies at Calvin Theological Seminary, and we’re thrilled to share her insights with you. Perfect unity and reconciliation across denominations, political affiliations, nationalities, economic levels and races is beyond our abilities and even our vision as Oscar Romero points out. Still it is the work of God to bring the kingdom and he invites us into the work he is about. Depending on how it is done, being challenged by Christians from different traditions is a great experience. It is an experience that can, at times, be elusive in our society where it is so easy to segregate.  That is why it is so important to seek out opportunities to meet with people who are different from us. The Colossian Forum model of using prayer, worship and discussions to grow in Christian love of God and neighbor while engaging challenging topics is an essential practice in developing an “ecumenical reflex”. A reflex that John Radano describes as “a conscious urge and commitment, despite major problems, to continue the reconstitution of the unity of Christians.” (John A. Radano, “The Future of Our Journey: Issues Facing Ecumenism” in Ecumenical Trends 37, no. 5 (2008): 4/68-10/74.) In the mess and confusion of bringing different traditions together, we have the chance of expanding our horizons. We can do this in many ways and it can be done in a myriad of ways. The first step may be placing ourselves somewhere where we have the chance to encounter the other. Some people might move to a neighborhood where people do not all look the same or live the same way. It might mean a church pastor or priest calling up the church leader of the ministry or church down the street and collaborating on some project to reach out to the neighborhood. It could mean turning off the television and inviting someone you don’t know over to dinner or riding the bus instead of driving. It is important for younger generations to see older generations committed to loving their neighbors and reconciliation across peoples. There are many different areas for the church to pursue unity and reconciliation. Transforming conflicts into opportunities could bring both healing and excitement for many in the church.