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Colossian Blog

Displaying all posts tagged "Community".
Join the TCF Team!
February 21, 2018 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Join the TCF Team!
If you're inspired by our mission to transform messy situations into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness, have administrative gifts and a strong attention to detail, you might be a great fit for us here at The Colossian Forum. We currently have an opening for a full-time Project and Administrative Coordinator in our Grand Rapids office. The key components of this position include: Communication with internal and external partners Database administration (Salesforce experience is a plus!) Event coordination Financial and office administration You can read more about the responsibilities, qualifications, and how to apply on our jobs page. Applications and cover letters will be accepted through February 28. And yes, we are serious about applicants including a cover letter with the resume.
The Magic of Entering Another's World
February 7, 2018 | Rob Barrett
The Magic of Entering Another's World
One prospective Colossian Forum participant put it this way: “What will we do after I say my piece, he says I’m wrong, then he says his piece and I say he’s wrong?” Nobody wants to repeat the same, tired arguments yet again. Or worse, what about when there is absolutely nothing to talk about? “Evolution is established reality so stop saying it isn’t.” “The Bible clearly says homosexual activity is evil so I’m not listening.” End of story. No more discussion. What then? Beyond deadlocked arguments, these are seemingly inescapable mires of incomprehensibility. But we serve the Lord who demolishes dividing walls (Ephesians 2:14). Crossing the rubble of the demolition begins by desiring to see things—if even for a moment—through the other’s eyes. Or even to feel the weight of what so convinces the other. This moves toward the truth. It is the way of Jesus, who walked alongside Pharisees, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He brought them life where they were without leaving them there. Jesus invited people into His world by painting pictures of His kingdom that made sense in their world. Entering another’s world demands firm rootedness in my own. “Open-mindedness” to others is not intellectual laziness or confusion but sets me aside for a moment to care for another. And so we imitate Christ: “Value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Talking in Colossian Forums isn’t just about transferring information. It’s about visiting strange, new worlds where we kindle shared desire for truth, shared yearning for friendship and shared devotion to Jesus. Since these things are far beyond our grasp, we ask for God’s help…together. “Please open my brother’s eyes…and my heart,” we sometimes beg. Only then can we voice our frustration: “How can you think the way you do?” An honest question seeking an honest answer. Now we’re talking. There’s no magic for entering another’s world. It’s like any new friendship. We ask each other’s story. “How did you come to faith? What kind of church shaped you? When have you doubted? How have you suffered?” We talk about what we fear will go wrong if the other side wins. We talk about why we think the other is damaging the church and what we admire about each other. We pray for each other. And, yes, we talk about the complex questions and challenges that divide us. After we talk, we need to return to prayer. We give thanks for being drawn closer to God and one another. We repent of how we’ve wronged God and one another. We voice our hope that He will continue to hold all things together (Colossians 1:17). It’s hardly rocket science, but that’s the kind of talking across difference that keeps drawing us back for more.
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. 
We Need to Talk about Sex
January 3, 2018 | Jennifer Vander Molen
We Need to Talk about Sex
This post from Chuck DeGroat originally appeared on The Twelve. Like many messy situations we face as Christians, the LGBTQ dialog often leads to places of deep vulnerability that help us live out loving God and loving each other. In this piece, Chuck breaks down the bigger (scary, deep, overwhelming, and vulnerable) discussion of sex in the church.  Pardon the length of this piece, but we really need to talk. It’s become inevitable that I’ll get a call or email once or twice a month asking to consult with a church on an LGBTQ dialogue. Most often, I’m grateful that churches seek to be more informed, engaged and conversant. But this blog is not about the LGBTQ conversation necessarily … it’s the first question I ask when I’m invited in: “How does your church talk about sexuality in general around here?” This is often met with a blank stare. Sometimes there is an honest, “We just don’t.” I might hear about a sermon series on faithful marriage or a small group of men talking about pornography, but that’s about it. We need to talk. What is the state of marriage in your church? I bet it’s not very different than anywhere else. If you’re an evangelical Christian, statistics show that your marriage is less apt to make it than a marriage between atheists. Why aren’t we talking about why this is? Why do we seem more concerned with who sells and buys wedding cakes? I do marriage conferences and I pastored for many years and I’ve counseled hundreds of couples and (I hope I don’t need to convince you) there is great pain in many, many couples in your church. Abuse and unfaithfulness and sometimes plain-old disconnection erode trust, yet many couples in churches tuck their pain away on Sunday morning. Emotional disconnection and sexual dissatisfaction are addressed with coping strategies – a little too much alcohol, a titillating show to watch, the drama of Facebook. We’re prone to hide and our fig-leaved strategies are endless. And (can I say it?) the self-help Christian books with their principles and platitudes don’t seem to touch the depth of pain. Many couples that stay together find a tolerable dance to do to keep the peace. Yes, we need to talk. Single folks in your church are hurting too. They’re not sure at all what to do with their singleness, with cultural and ecclesial expectations around marriage “completing” someone, with their own single sexuality, with their need for intimacy and belonging. Sometimes church is the toughest space to navigate in their week as they watch those smiling couples embrace their children. Often, our only advice to singles is “Don’t have sex before you’re married.” Perhaps we’ll create a “Single’s Ministry” for them. But, their questions are bigger than this. As one late 30’s single woman said to me, “Am I supposed to neatly tuck away my longing for sexual connection like a nun?” I discussed this with a pastor and asked him recently, “What would it look like for your church to have an honest conversation about masturbation?” He blushed a bit and said with a chuckle, “Justification. Sanctification. But no, not masturbation.” We default to humor when we’re uncomfortable. Let’s talk. Let’s talk about your middle and high schoolers. Are we naming the questions and realities they are facing? The Bible seems more honest about teenage lust than most pastors. That erotic tale tucked away in the middle of your Bible is a sexually-charged journey of two young teenagers, exploring their bodies, awakening to their desires. That’ll preach. Or maybe not. When I preached Song of Solomon years ago in an evening service, I invited parents of middle and high schoolers. They came the first week, but many didn’t come back. It hits too close to home. What kind of conversation about sexuality is your church engaging in? It’s easy to talk about “those people,” you know…those people you’ve never met or don’t think attend your church. It’s easy to talk about the “LGBTQ issue,” depersonalizing it as a “topic.” But as I say to many pastors – maybe we should start with you. Maybe we should name the very real, on-the-ground realities that everyone in your church faces before going down the path of talking about “those people.” Maybe the “other” we need to face is the “other within,” our cut off shadow-selves that lurk in secret and fear being found out. Maybe cultivating greater honesty and self-compassion in a context of cross-centered grace is necessary before we start talking about someone else’s life. Maybe we should name things. Maybe we should name the elephant in the room – the reality that mental health professionals like me now assume people are addicted to porn. It’s not the exception, it’s the norm. Yes, men who’ve been formed in the sexualized liturgy of our culture are stuffing the shame and pretending to be ok when it’s not ok. But, this may be a shocker. Women are looking at porn too. And for many women (take a deep breath before continuing to read…) same-sex images and stories are most provocative. Can I name that on The Twelve? Is it ok to tell our secrets, fellow Christians? Can I tell how many women and men have said to me, “I started experimenting a bit in middle school – looking at images, masturbating – but no one ever talked about this, not my parents, not my school, not my youth group, and never, ever my pastor.” And perhaps now it’s time to take seriously what #MeToo and #ChurchToo is highlighting – that sexual harassment and abuse are right here, right now realities in your church, among your people. That men have too long blamed women and what they do or wear instead of doing honest work. The church has too-long been a context where men can groom and prey on women. That many men, even accomplished men with degrees and titles like me, are stuck emotionally at 12 years old. That women are tired of living in a world of immature boys led by a President who confesses that when it comes to assaulting a woman he just can’t help himself. That misogyny is the cultural water we swim in. That churches don’t really know how to invite men to do the important emotional work necessary to grow up. That there are few if any, wise sages and elders to mentor us. That this isn’t a conservative or liberal issue, it’s not about Hollywood or DC, it’s not about being a traditional or progressive Christian – it’s about all of us – as news reports are reminding us every day. A personal story. I’ve told the story elsewhere about how I hit an emotional wall in seminary and jumped into an MA Counseling program at the seminary. Like many, I hoped for a quick and painless cure for my anxiety and depression. But in that community of honest peers and teachers, I learned what John Calvin surely must have meant by “self-knowledge” – my awareness of my arrogance, abusiveness, and emotional/relational unintelligence came into full view. One particularly important moment was on an evening I was counseling a young woman in her early twenties. She had the kind of timeless, simple beauty that made my heart start beating fast just as soon as I saw her. A neuro-chemical sexual cocktail coursed through my body, but I had to ignore it because I was a good Christian guy, I was her therapist, and we had a session to do. I sat with her for 50 minutes, asking questions about her life and interests. We found common ground and laughed. Behind the observation window sat my female supervisor and several female classmates observing my magic. When we were done, she smiled and I smiled and she asked for a hug. I made my way back to my supervisor’s office to debrief, expecting them to congratulate me on a life-changing session. “How do you think that went?” my supervisor asked. She had a kind of wry smile as she asked it. Have you seen that wry smile on a therapist? It’s generally not a good sign. “Really good,” I said. “I think we built a lot trust today. I think she feels very comfortable with me. I think we’re doing good work.” I was already starting to master therapist jargon. My supervisor sat quietly for just a moment. Her wry smile disappeared. She looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Well, oh, ok, if you call flirting for 50 minutes a good counseling session then I guess so.” She asked my female peers if they agreed. I recall their faces, mixed with anxiety and anger. Each one nodded. Then my defenses went up. I battled for a few minutes, but before long my supervisor was making connections in my life that only a Jedi-therapist like her could make. And then she said, “I wonder how your wife experiences being married to an emotional 12-year-old?” I learned in that two years to name things that I never, ever dared imagine I’d say out loud. I learned to repent. I learned to grieve. I began to see women, and be seen. I sometimes felt like my shame was the grave I’d be buried in, and at other times experienced the joy of being known in a way I’d never experienced before. Coming out of hiding, the game we played in our marriage couldn’t last – and so what we thought we were had to die, just 4 years in. The next few years were filled with pain as my wife took her own journey. But from the ashes, something new and honest could be born. Jesus writes redemption stories that require crucifixion along the way. We need to talk, friends. We need to come out of hiding. We need to tell our secrets. Let me end it with this: A few years ago, I got the call and question, like I often do – “Will you help us talk through this LGBTQ issue?” I met with the pastor and we had the bigger conversation about engaging sexuality, intimacy, shame, pornography, misogyny, abuse, and more. It was a full and deep conversation, and he walked away fairly overwhelmed. I didn’t hear back for some time. When I did see him at an event a year later, he asked for a few minutes to catch up. He told me that he decided to get therapy after speaking with me. Tears welled up as he talked about years of porn addiction and marital dissatisfaction. He told me that before he could engage any kind of conversation about someone else’s life that he needed to face his own. His own inner work prompted a larger conversation among the leadership team, most of whom seemed compelled by their pastor’s transformation and longed for their own. He told me that he couldn’t imagine engaging any conversation on sexuality from the place where he was previously. “Chuck, I was clueless about my own stuff. Now I can engage others with empathy and curiosity. Facing my own brokenness allows me to see another human being as human, as a person with pain, with a story, in need of Jesus.” Church, we’ve got work to do. All of us. The work of inner transformation is vital, not as an excuse to avoid the hard conversations but precisely because we must have hard conversations as mature adults. If our political culture has taught us anything in the past year, perhaps it has taught us that character matters, that growing in emotional health and intelligence is critical for leadership, that empathy for another requires us to grow in empathy for our own splintered selves, broken as they are. Perhaps we’ve learned that we can never, ever love the “other” if we don’t love what is “other” about us. Jesus can handle our brokenness. Jesus can handle our hard conversations. Jesus can meet us in places of disruption. Jesus can love what is “other” in us. Jesus can’t meet us when we’re hiding. It’s time to talk. Chuck DeGroat teaches Pastoral Care at Western Theological Seminary. He is a longtime pastor and therapist and has authored four books.
“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.
#GivingTuesday Success -- Thank You!
November 29, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
#GivingTuesday Success -- Thank You!
In the midst of all the noise this holiday season, we want to thank you for your ongoing investment in The Colossian Forum’s transformational mission. You understand both the challenge and the promise of Colossians 1:17 that “all things hold together in Christ”—even Christ’s body, the church. You faithfully pray, volunteer, provide expertise, and give, and we are deeply grateful! Yesterday, we participated in #GivingTuesday, an annual day of charitable giving that piggybacks on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. We deeply appreciate the many prayers, gifts, and investment in us over the past year. We know that it’s hard to be hopeful during times of deepening cultural division when conflict threatens to fracture our closest relationships. Our mission is to equip the church with resources and practices to bridge the divides that polarize and paralyze us. We believe these wrenching conflicts provide an opportunity for the hope and healing we long for. Thanks for being part of the journey. May our unity in the midst of difference be a testimony to the wholeness and holiness of our Triune God.