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Colossian Blog
December 20, 2017 | Rob Barrett

Re-shaping and Re-forming Through Conflict

Q: How can a conflict be a place of Christian formation?

A: While most people see a divisive issue as a problem to overcome, at The Colossian Forum we see such conflicts as places of growth.

Conflict shines light on our souls. When pressures mount, our character becomes apparent. Some of what we see is disappointing, as when we protect ourselves more than our vulnerable neighbor. On the other hand, when humility emerges under pressure, it is humility indeed. But beyond learning about ourselves, conflicts are classrooms for learning new habits. Messy conflicts are more than problems to be solved. They place us on the brink of being more deeply formed as Christians.

Unfortunately, we have been deeply formed by our polarized culture. The 24-hour news cycle teaches us that there are two ways of seeing the world: a right way and a wrong way, and that both can be summarized in a tweet. Our constant consumption of news, of arguments, information, facts, and stats from our channel of choice plays to our belief that if we can just deploy the right information with enough flair, the world will be forced to see things our way.

But then we discover (over and over again) that this doesn’t work. The other side always has a counterargument. We get frustrated and begin thinking of them as willfully naïve, stupid, or just plain evil. Each time the news cycle goes around, we are tempted to increasing viciousness. Our capacity for living according to Christ’s pattern grows weaker and weaker.

But there’s always a God-pleasing way forward for Christians. When we recognize our malformation, we have the opportunity to seek God’s gracious work that will re-form us into the shape we were intended to be. And we have a role in this reshaping work. Christians have always recognized that “getting saved” is only the beginning of growing in faithfulness. Walking this road of formation, of discipleship, is a central mark of the Christian life.

Our formation as disciples proceeds best if it flows out of more than good intentions. Christians have generally understood certain practices to build good Christian character. Prayer, Bible reading, receiving the Lord’s Supper, hymn singing, giving to those in need: such traditional practices form Christians (by God’s grace) into people who are patient, humble, truthful, and loving.

These basic Christian practices can be helpfully complemented by additional practices that are particularly suited for responding to the cultural pressures of the age. The Colossian Way is a practice of engaging a challenging topic while simultaneously pursuing obedience and faithfulness to Christ. Such a practice channels the pressure and energy around a “hot topic” into constructive spiritual formation. At the same time, good formation is the best pathway for solving the problem before us.

Suggested Posts
Spiritual Homelessness
August 19, 2019 | Emily Stroble
Spiritual Homelessness
We call church our spiritual home, the family of God. It’s a beautiful image—people gathered together, caring for each other, celebrating holidays, sharing food…. In many ways, the Church is meant to be the house our lives happen in, a place that shapes and shares in our happiness and hardships, our major life events. We gather around the home-y activity of Communion to share a meal and receive life and nourishment from the same Source. The Colossian Way, in many ways, attempts to do church like that—we gather as brothers and sisters, practice our traditions of faith, invite our neighbors in through our witness. Unfortunately, The Colossian Way exists in the first place because this is what we want church to be, not what church is. It’s troubling that people are leaving the Church, to some degree because it has become more a battleground than a home, leaving our witness deeply broken and many adrift in spiritual homelessness. We blame lack of relevance, but perhaps the way we deal with conflict is part of the problem. After all, our approach to conflict is crucial to our witness. And churches, like families, often seem to take one of two paths when it comes to disagreements. We all know a family, or a family member, whose approach to conflict is to just not talk about the issues that cause strife. Similarly, in church, we sometimes avoid the hard questions, electing to focus only on “salvation issues.” On the other hand, some families commit to discussing rigorously (or arguing about) the issue until they reach an answer. In churches, however, the fierce conflict and eventual adoption of a church position on an issue often grieves and alienates members of the body. But salvation only begins with acknowledging our sin and believing in the redemption achieved in Jesus’ death and resurrection. “Salvation issues,” then, include every way our new life in Christ shapes how we act in the world. Salvation is the transformation of our motives, mindset, character; it’s a new way, a new place we inhabit. It’s at work in us, an ongoing, lived-in process of whole-life, whole-community, whole-world renovation. Most of us wouldn’t abandon a house every time a drain clogged, or even when we had to replace the roof. Some of us consider renovation a hobby. How is it that we are more committed to piles of sticks and bricks than our spiritual home? Is it because people are harder to work with than plumbing? Maybe. Maybe it is easier to see faith as a stamped passport to heaven we carry, rather than a house, a continual process of growth and restoration. Maybe it is easier to see church as an established, inflexible thing we either take or leave rather than something we have to work constantly to build, fix, and clean. And it is a lot of hard work to keep questing after God, adding on to our understanding, tearing out the rotting pieces, humbly and diligently embracing our brothers and sisters who disagree, drawing future plans together, hosting our neighbors in the world with generosity. But if we wait on doing hospitality until the décor is perfect and we have mastered whatever the spiritual equivalent of a soufflé is, we’ll never invite anyone in, and we will continue to drive people away. Thankfully, God doesn’t ask us to do it by ourselves. We have a family. Come home. The Bread of Life is on the table. Let’s build up the Church together.
He Wanted to Justify Himself
July 31, 2019 | Emily Stroble
He Wanted to Justify Himself
“There are no stupid questions.” Supposedly. But I’ve definitely humiliated myself by asking them. It feels awful, doesn’t it? We so prize intelligence that the vulnerability of being seen as wrong or foolish hits us right in the dignity.  In those moments, I find The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is a relatable, comforting passage for me and my bruised ego; and I recently discovered something new in the familiar story.  The story goes: An expert in the law stands up out of the crowd Jesus is teaching. “Teacher,” he says, as everyone turns to look at him, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is the big question. A subject of deep philosophical thought. This Jesus was known to be something of a radical. Would he contradict scripture? Would he demand some great act of devotion? Would he say there was no such thing as eternal life at all? I imagine the scholar was ready to argue with his references and his examples. Or maybe he was ready to prove his righteous fervor by adopting whatever Jesus said, regardless of risk or cost. “What does the law say?” Jesus asks. Is this a trick question? Everyone knows the answer, especially the expert in the law. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live,” says Jesus simply. Scripture says the scholar “Wanted to justify himself…” Wouldn’t you? All these people had just watched this scholar ask an old question and receive the obvious answer. Do they think he is uneducated? Or, perhaps worse, stupid? Jesus doesn’t seem impressed with this man’s credentials and “deep questions.” So, the scholar feels he has to say something to salvage his dignity.  “Who is my neighbor?” He blurts out. Jesus responds with the familiar story of The Good Samaritan: A man was attacked on the road by robbers and left for dead. A priest and a Levite walk by without helping, but a Samaritan—a person Israelites thought sinful, sacrilegious, stupid—stops. He tends the filthy, bleeding man, carries him to an inn, pays for his care.  “Who is the man’s neighbor?” Jesus asks the scholar. “The one who showed mercy to him,” the scholar replies. In this moment, Jesus shows the scholar such mercy. He doesn’t shame him or demand eloquent, scholarly argument—because this conversation is about eternal life, not about testing or proving this man’s intelligence. The message we usually take from this story to love our neighbors. But I had never noticed that little sentence, “He wanted to justify himself,” before. Maybe the meaning in our Christian lives and witness goes beyond our usual interpretation. We’ve probably all been told that the best Christian witness is to love everyone—friend, neighbor, and enemy. It’s the “preach the gospel, use words if necessary” approach. We can read the Good Samaritan as an example of that, but I wonder if our acts of love sometimes become, not witnesses to God’s grace, but a declaration of, “Look how holy I am! I can love even you.” When Jesus asks, “Who is the man’s neighbor?”, he is echoing the expert’s question of “Who is my neighbor?” The answer is “the one who showed him mercy.” Our neighbors are not just those we show mercy to, but those who show mercy to us. The Samaritan, in a modern setting, would be the activist for the opposite political party, or the pastor from that denomination, the one so wrong about God it verges on heresy. It is a hard and wondrous thing to love people who hate us and work to bind up their wounds; it is a whole other miracle to be the beaten one and accept mercy from our “enemy.” Needing mercy, not having the right answer, admitting hurt are places of weakness. What would it look like to give up our need to justify our arguments and instead trust that our brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of how deep our disagreements, sincerely desired our healing? What if we sincerely desired theirs? If we did, our conflicts would certainly be radically different from the arguments we see in the world today. It comes down to the purpose of our conversations and the attitude of our hearts. If we want to be right and justify ourselves, we will have to be on our guard with everyone; if what we really want is eternal life, we can receive however many foolish questions and acts of mercy it takes to get us there.

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