Colossian Blog

Displaying all posts tagged "Conversation".
Lessons in Transparency
July 12, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Lessons in Transparency
Dear Friends, Recently, I’ve been reading Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life, by Rowan Williams. I was immediately struck by Williams’ introductory remarks that pursuing deeper Christian commitment isn’t done by reading books. Rather, it is accomplished “by the daily effort to live in a way that allows Jesus Christ to come through in our lives; we are caught up in the task of showing that what we say is credible.” We serve as effective disciples when we are “transparent to Christ” in our thoughts, speech, and actions. According to Williams, our task is to live in a way that dispels the murkiness obscuring Christ’s presence; thus, empowering us to grow in love of God and neighbor. By being transparent to Christ across time, we slowly become people who live as “credible” disciples—literally giving credence to our words. Our sidesteps and missteps as much as our successes give us daily opportunities to display Christ as his forgiveness and humility permeate our life together. Dave Odom, executive director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, visited us a few weeks ago to facilitate a discussion on TCF’s work and culture. One of our big “a-ha” moments of painful transparency came when he observed that some of our staff (myself included) work as if our mission is a sprint instead of a marathon; this is despite the fact that we know our vision of a Christian community that acts like Christ, especially in the face of conflict, will not be accomplished in a life time. Although we are encouraged daily by stories of transformation, ours is a marathon vision that requires a measured and disciplined pace. When we view our work as a sprint, failing to take time to care for one another and for our partners, we shortcut the “daily effort to live in a way that allows Jesus Christ to come through in our lives.” By failing to care for and appreciate each other in our daily tasks, our mission loses its credibility as our tasks become crass transactions and we lose sight of our longing for God-empowered transformation. Dave challenged us to live into our own mission, to add a few life-giving rhythms to help us sustain our marathon mission of equipping leaders to transform polarizing cultural conflicts into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness. He’s absolutely right. In this way, we model the honesty and consistency we’re calling our Colossian Way group leaders to embody. Our words gain credibility when we practice the rhythm of Godly thinking, speech, and action—including confession and forgiveness—all within a context of worship. Through this manner of living together, trust grows and the opportunity of engaging one another across our differences is made possible in increasingly beautiful ways. Through your faithful prayers and participation with us in this work, you are a vital member of this community of practice—a community that is, according to Williams, “growing in the life that Jesus shares with us, so that we can become signs of life and hope in our world.” I am deeply grateful for your partnership, and I pray that you receive this letter as an act of transparency and a credible gift of Christ’s grace. This post is excerpted from our July prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.
The Unpredictable Practice of Showing Up
May 31, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
The Unpredictable Practice of Showing Up
Today we welcome Jeremy Bork to The Colossian Blog. Jeremy is a 2017 graduate of Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Living into his call to youth ministry and love of creation, he will serve this summer as the Assistant Chaplain at Camp Fowler, an RCA wilderness camp in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. He recently accepted a call to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, and will transition into that role in the fall. He participated in a Colossian Way pilot group earlier this year. Last spring I was asked to participate in a small group at Fellowship Reformed Church to test out and offer feedback for a curriculum that sought to engage church conflict around human sexuality. Without much consideration of what they were asking and what I’d be getting into, I said yes. I would later learn that small yes was a greater yes to The Colossian Way, and that yes would come with a cost. For the next ten weeks I gathered every Thursday with members of Fellowship to listen, wrestle, pray, play, apologize, testify, and give thanks. Resisting the world’s seduction toward division, we showed up, sat around one table, read the same sacred texts, prayed to the One we all follow, told our stories, and shared our visions for the future and present of the church. We chose community over tribe, hospitality over hostility, empathy over judgment, and compassion over fear. The Colossian Way insists that participants speak their truth in love. Both words matter. First, truth: say what you need to say. Don’t water it down to get everyone in the room to agree with you. At best that leads to a superficial, integrity-lacking illusion of unity. Instead speak fully and boldly the truth you need to say. Second, love: speak kindly and compassionately. Never say something to intentionally hurt another person. Be aware of the effects your words might have on another, and be ready to receive how someone else experiences your truth. During these ten weeks, we tried our best to speak our truths in love, but too often our gentle, West-Michigan-nice fronts walled us from faithfully speaking our convictions. During our last meeting, Brian broke the barrier. He turned to me and shared about how badly he wants to love me but how his traditional convictions about biblical texts that address same-sex behavior haven’t changed. He genuinely wanted to know how his beliefs affected me and what he could tangibly do to make me feel loved. I thanked him for his honesty and responded transparently. I shared about my sincere thankfulness for our friendship and that he loves me best when he listens to my story to understand and not to respond. I also shared that while I would perhaps worship at Fellowship sometime, I would never bring my boyfriend. Our vulnerability opened others in the room to share what they had wanted to for nine weeks. It was sloppy and beautiful. Let’s Talk LGBTQ With current denominational and institutional divisions around beliefs about LGBTQ people, the student counsel at Western Theological Seminary (my very recent alma mater) felt like this was a needed topic to address. Considering I had been at Western for three years without a single public conversation about something that affected me so directly, I felt like this was long overdue. Together we pitched a community conversation to the seminary leadership. Once the event was approved, it only made sense that it would be facilitated by representatives from The Colossian Way, considering they are what we hope to be: a community that creates space for people to willingly, bravely, and hopefully enter into conflict trusting that Christ holds all things together. Their vision is honorable but uncommon: Christian communities that behave like Christ. On Tuesday, April 25, the Student Counsel of Western Theological Seminary hosted a community conversation titled Staying in the Dialogue in the Midst of Difference: Let’s Talk LGBTQ. As a result of student counsel’s organization, Stacey Duensing’s tenacity, and my pestering, the seminary took an important first step: breaking the silence. I was a panelist for the discussion, along with Brian, the pastor of Fellowship and fellow participant of the TCW group the year before. While on the panel, Brian asked if I felt like “The Token Gay” during last year’s pilot. I grinned and spoke my truth: “Absolutely! But it didn’t bother me, because I knew going in that that’s what I would be. It was important enough to me that an actual LGBTQ person was part of the pilot that I was willing to be that person. It also didn’t bother me, because it was only for 90 minutes a week. At the end of our meeting, I could walk away. That has not been true during my three years at Western. I don’t get to walk away. I am the token gay always. As much as I wear my pain-avoidant smile, being me here is exhausting. I hadn’t realized just how depleting seminary has been for me, and I don’t think I’ve completed grasped how long it will take to heal, to be restored, to return to being just Jeremy.” For a moment I was heard, I was seen, I was known. Unlike the countless walks through the halls wondering who affirms my presence and who wishes I wasn’t around, I sat grateful for the chance to name what is true and hopeful that in opening myself others might do likewise. The conversation continued. Rob asked more questions. Brian and I stayed in the dialogue. We listened curiously, shared truthfully, and questioned genuinely. Our words were unscripted yet deeply formed by our love of God our love for one another. Some who attended the community conversation were upset that Brian and I hugged after we shared such blatantly opposing beliefs on the panel. Noticing the power difference between the two of us, they were uncomfortable that our gesture implied all LGBTQ people should be reconciled to their non-affirming elders to the point of physical embrace. While I understand where they are coming from, Brian and I didn’t fabricate a friendship on April 25. We are actually, authentically friends. We drink coffee and talk about church leadership. When we run into each other at the gym, we sacrifice a squat to catch up with one another. We hugged after the panel, because we have a past, we will have a future, and we are grateful for one other in the present, despite all the ways our friendship is complex. I believe in The Colossian Way, because I believe in the way of Jesus. The ideas of The Colossian Way are not new, but they are radical. It is the simple and unpredictable practice of showing up. It is a foretaste – not a glimpse but a first taste – of the life to come where there’s enough, where everyone belongs, where all of life is connected. It’s an invitation to a way of peace, unity, and empathy rooted in the disciplines of Jesus, and saying yes to this lifestyle will come at a cost. For me, it has required bravery, vulnerability, fierce truth telling, and active listening. At times it has been tiring, irritating, and lonely. But it has been worth it. I have felt the Spirit move in surprising ways. I have seen God’s image revealed in unexpected people. I have heard a fuller telling of the good news of God’s love. I have tasted and seen that Christ truly does hold all things together.
Upcoming Event: Evolution and the Fall Panel Discussion
May 9, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Upcoming Event: Evolution and the Fall Panel Discussion
If there was no historical Adam, what happens to the doctrine of the Fall? How does the evidence for evolution change our understanding of the origin of sin—and does it even matter for Christians in their everyday lives? If you're in the Grand Rapids area, join us on May 11th at 6:30pm for a panel discussion hosted by Eerdmans Bookstore and The Colossian Forum. The discussion will center on the new book Evolution and the Fall and its implications for Christian education and discipleship. Our panelists will be James K. A. Smith from Calvin College, Michael Gulker from TCF, Pastor Ken Lucas from Crossroads Bible Church, and Rev. Dr. Stephen Holmgren from Grace Episcopal Church. If you attend, you can purchase a discounted copy of Evolution and the Fall. We will provide a free gift with each purchase of the book at this event. For more information, visit this event page. Hope to see you there!
A Striking, Intelligent, and Respectful Dialog
April 26, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
A Striking, Intelligent, and Respectful Dialog
Last fall, we participated in an event at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, MI, called Beyond the Creation Wars. It featured talks on origins from our partners Darrel Falk and Todd Wood as well as expanded conversation about their journey together in friendship. We stumbled on this blog post written by Andrews student Mykhaylo Malakhov. He talks about the event, how it shaped him as a scientist, and how it embodied what universities stand for: Here was a roomful of scholars who hold vastly different views on a very controversial issue, yet they were engaging in intelligent, respectful dialogue, viewing each other as both real scientists and real Christians. To me, this was striking. All too often controversial issues such as origins are either approached through a debate format where each side tries to prove the other wrong or through an ecumenical, let's-forget-our-differences-and-focus-on-Jesus approach. It is either a battle to determine who is right or an utter disregard for truth as if it doesn't matter what we believe as long as we can agree on something. I always found both approaches unsatisfactory. The debate approach leads to anger and division, and both sides leave even more determined to keep fighting for their preconceived opinions. I cannot agree with the ecumenical approach either, because being a scientist myself I cannot say that it does not matter what one believes. Either 2+2=4 or it doesn't. Either a theorem is true or it isn’t. Either the earth is young or it is old. To set aside all controversial issues, especially ones as fundamental as the question of origins, would be to commit intellectual suicide. In other words, neither one of these approaches leads to any progress. Neither one leads its participants to a fuller and more accurate understanding of the world, and neither one will ever lead to a knowledge of truth. The Andrews Autumn Conference on Religion and Science, however, took an entirely different path. All attendees acknowledged that truth does matter, yet all agreed to seek that truth together in an open-minded approach where we not only respect each other, but sincerely acknowledge that each of us is a legitimate scientist and a sincere Christian. You can read the entire post here. Thanks for your insight, Mykhaylo!
Everything We Need
April 5, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Everything We Need
Dear Friends, As Christians, we take it on faith that God has already given us everything we need to be faithful. Yet, we can’t help but wonder how this plays out as our churches shrink and age, our public influence declines, and we are every bit as divided as the surrounding culture—or more so. What does “everything we need” look like when tensions are high, when you feel strongly about a particular topic and are absolutely certain “they” have it completely wrong? Especially when that “they” includes friends, a spouse, children, or parents? In this world, we don’t always get what we want. Neither did Jesus: “Take this cup from me.” But we do get what we need: “Thy will be done.” And what we need to heal our fractured communities and lives is what we already have in abundance—opportunities to lay down our lives for those with whom we disagree as the means by which we learn to trust that the goodness of the Father is enough. Recently, I had the privilege of experiencing this “everything we need” up close through The Colossian Way. We thought we had gathered to talk about sexuality and marriage, but what we discovered was deep and abiding loneliness: loneliness of a sexual minority, loneliness of someone long widowed, loneliness of a divorcee, loneliness of a happily married man, loneliness of a woman who feared rejection if people knew what she “really” thought. We all had different thoughts about marriage, yet we shared a longing for communion and fellowship that won’t be fulfilled this side of heaven. In fact, we found that much of our disagreements about marriage were driven by our fears of loneliness. But in sharing that loneliness we found a fellowship with God and one another that was enough, a foretaste, a brief transfiguration of our lives giving us a glimpse of what will be. Perhaps more challengingly, God also revealed that he isn’t going to resolve our disagreements for us. Rather, by giving us these irresolvable dilemmas, he’s revealed our idolatrous fixation on what we want: certainty, resolution, security—all without having to lay down our lives. But we don’t get what we want. What we get is the call to participate in Christ’s own sacrificial love so that we and the world may know that he is Lord. Friends, it’s my prayer that this story will remind you of what you already know: the reconciling power of the gospel is everything we need. When we encounter the true and living God in these vulnerable spaces, when we have our lives transfigured by loving as Christ loves, this is when we realize afresh the secret of contentment: the gospel is TRUE! We rediscover in those moments that what we need has been there in front of us all along—the broken body of Christ, given for us. Thanks be to God! This post is excerpted from our April prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.
Leaning Into the Messy Togetherness
March 8, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Leaning Into the Messy Togetherness
During our second pilot of The Colossian Way, I’ve had the unique privilege of participating in one group, leading another, and coaching leaders of two other groups. I relish this time with fellow believers and participants in The Colossian Way. In one session, we opened with a reflection on Ephesians 4.After describing all Christ has done for us in the preceding chapters, Paul urges us in this chapter to live worthy of our calling by taking up humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance in order to maintain our unity. Our group discussed these virtues fruitfully and then committed to practice them together. Soon after, we watched a video on the sexuality topic which voiced a viewpoint completely opposite to some of our participants. One member of the group took offense. She was frustrated with the viewpoint, felt it as an attack, and understandably wanted some time to process and respond. My temperature immediately went up. Couldn’t this group member listen to the speaker rather than attack? What about our recent commitment to express humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance? Like a protective parent, I immediately rushed to the defense of The Colossian Way program. In my hasty approach, I displayed none of the fruit of the Spirit we had just discussed. Fortunately for me, the leaders of the group had cooler heads, and they diffused the situation by gently asking questions: “Do we need to decide if he’s right or wrong? Or can we just try to hear him? Do we need to defend him or argue against him? What might humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance look like for us here tonight, together?” Talk about a “come to Jesus” moment. This is why we can’t do this alone. Yet, I fear that most participants entering The Colossian Way will look to avoid the messy togetherness. Instead, they will begin the experience with the false expectation they’re going to delve deeply into the mysteries of human sexuality and scriptural interpretation, and argue their way through to a commonly held answer. But fully engaging a topic as complex as sexual identity in ten weeks is a fantasy that will derail what’s supposed to be happening: growing a Christian community that acts like Christ in the midst of tough cultural conflicts. Then again, my own fears about how the program might fail may also derail what’s supposed to be happening! There are many ways we can fail in these conversations. But in the very act of joining together and bumping up against each other’s folly, every failure has the potential to be a moment of grace, a moment of insight, a moment to encounter God’s reconciling power and love for us right in the middle of our muddle. I am so grateful for those wise souls who are able, in that messy middle, to see Jesus and point us to him. What a joy to be with such folks. And as our work moves beyond the pilot phase and launches this May in churches across the country, I yearn to see how God works in others to take up this vision of a Christian community that acts like Christ, especially during these times of conflict and polarization. We might just come to realize how desperately we, and our world, need the other in the midst of community to cultivate the virtues of humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. We covet your prayers as we move into this new phase of our mission at The Colossian Forum. This post is excerpted from our March prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.