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Our Blog
January 24, 2018 | Jennifer Vander Molen

Forbearance: A Forgotten Virtue

As Christians, our toolbox for addressing conflict well is filled with Christian virtues–things like humility, patience, and kindness. These ancient practices of the church are the foundation of how we live out the incarnation and give us hope as we lean into messy situations and transform conflict into opportunity.

One of the Christian virtues is forbearance, which is not one of the more well-known virtues. This book review, from our friends at Cardus, is a great introduction to this virtue and how it can be helpful in both addressing conflict productively and living in “productive discomfort”.

Dusting off a virtue we’ve forgotten, and need more than ever.

by Marilyn McEntyre

I don’t much like the people I “put up” with, though, I piously tell myself, I’d like to like them. When I’m in the company of people whose views strike me as narrow, obnoxious, ill-informed, or dangerous, I struggle to hang onto some notion of neighbourly love that can quell my impatience and hasty judgments. Aware of how often I face that struggle, and how commonly political and social antagonisms divide churches full of people more or less like me—people with general goodwill and an assortment of strong opinions—I found James Calvin Davis’s reflections on forbearance deeply refreshing. They offer exactly the reminders we need of what life in beloved community requires.

I imagine it took a certain courage to title the book Forbearance. It’s not one of the more celebrated virtues. Indeed, as Davis acknowledges, the word has a slightly dusty, antique ring and is easily confused with condescension, grudging acceptance, or veiled judgment. Or the self-satisfied “putting up with” that completely discredits the one who prides herself on suffering fools, if not gladly, at least without unseemly violence. (See above.)

Escaping the centrifugal force of these oppositions requires a force more powerful.

But forbearance, we learn as we read these rich reflections on biblical ethics, Christian history, and contemporary church conflicts, is a broad, generous, discerning, wise, complex virtue—arguably foundational for Christian life. “In the practice of forbearance,” Davis writes, “Christians do not create unity; we confess it.” I paused over that sentence. It offers a timely corrective to one of the more popular and persistent heresies: that somehow the church is a function of human planning and governance rather than a living body whose breath and being come from the one who breathed on the small group of followers he called friends, telling them to “receive the Holy Spirit.”

“We are one in the Spirit,” we sing—not “May we one day become one in the Spirit,” though that prayer has its place. The fact of unity and the hope of unity are both real experiences of Christians in community; like so many other truths about the life of faith, they coexist in paradox. But it may be that at this historical moment, we need to be called back to the fact in order to sustain the hope. What unites us is God’s own infinitely merciful will. What divides us are digressions and misunderstandings, competing alliances, and political and theological arguments that can be resolved rightly only by a generous, patient, humble, wise, deliberative commitment to continue living with the quarrelsome, myopic lot who are our brothers and sisters, and among whom we must count ourselves.

Exhibiting the patience that is the first of the virtues he identifies as facets of forbearance, Davis guides us unhurriedly through reflections on humility, hope, wisdom, faithfulness, and friendship. Forbearance requires and teaches humility; it fosters authentic hope rather than self-interested expectations; in practicing it we develop discernment, which “sees disagreement not as a problem to be solved but as an opportunity for maturation in the faith”; it encourages faithfulness not primarily to tenets or doctrinal specifics but to the pilgrim path we travel in relationship to those members of Christ’s body among whom we happen to find ourselves. In that body—the beloved community we know as church—we find friendships that don’t arise solely from our predilections and affections, but from deep recognition of what we hold closest and dearest, and in common.

Davis’s writing is striking in what I would call its pastoral clarity; he writes as to brothers and sisters in faith, acknowledging that he has been privy to and part of the pullings and tuggings as his own church has attempted to work out its salvation, and its positions on public issues, in anxiety and bumbling—which isn’t quite the same as fear and trembling. He points the way to the grey area between the icy poles of argument where we are called find our way together, even in a fog of misinformation, misunderstanding, and media wars, reminding us that we need forbearance to “see past the binaries in which most of our ecclesial and civic debates are stuck” because a dismaying range of public media reduce social and moral differences to black and white, either/or alternatives. His wry list of current antagonisms that have run too often to extremes makes its own point about the need for more nuance, discernment, intelligent, gracious listening, and civility:

You either hate women or like to kill babies. You are either a hawk or a peacenik. You are either homophobic or a fan of bestiality. You either prefer owls to people or condone raping the environment. You are either a socialist or a one-percent. You are either for law enforcement or for African-American rights. This is what most of our public debate looks like these days.

Continue reading the post from Cardus.

Suggested Posts
Lent and the Rhythm of Faith
February 26, 2020 | Emily Stroble
Lent and the Rhythm of Faith
Today, in celebration of Ash Wednesday, Christians around the world received a smudge of ash on their forehead in the shape of the cross as a sign of their repentance and redemption. This external representation of our salvation, however simple, feels comforting—grounding. Lent, the 40 days of repentance and preparation in the Church calendar that begin on Ash Wednesday and lead up to Easter, literally grounds us. A phrase you will likely hear in an Ash Wednesday service is, “dust you are, and to dust you will return.” The ash reminds us that we are sinful, mortal people living in a broken world. The cross reminds us that we are redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus. Today, these beliefs are on display for everyone to see. Lent also reminds me that my faith should constantly be apparent in my life every day, shaping who I am and what I do. One of the best ways to continue that process of shaping is to practice ways of living out my faith. Of course, getting better at something—including getting better at living out my faith—requires practice. That’s why Christian practices are central to Lent and to The Colossian Way. My piano teacher used to say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes more of whatever you practice. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” She also told me to “build muscle memory.” It’s amazing; once you play a song many times, you don’t have to remember every single note. Your fingers just know what comes next. I rarely play anymore, but songs still come out of my fingers when I sit down at a keyboard. Their rhythms are part of me. Christian practices help build spiritual muscle memory. If a pianist practices a sonata, that is what their fingers will play in concert, even if they are nervous. If we practice grace or speaking the truth, that is what we will do, even under the pressure of conflict. Heather, a pastor who has led many Colossian Way groups, talks about how practice, particularly lament—which is part of every Colossian Way session—teaches us the rhythms of faith. Lament and Lent, Heather says, “help us voice our pain. Lament comes straight out of scripture, and it shows us the pattern of telling God about the brokenness in our world.” The rhythm of lament also gives us hope in the midst of sorrow because, as Heather puts it, “There is always an ‘and yet’ to a lament—‘And yet, God is with us.’ We know we won’t lament or be in Lent forever. We will get to Easter. And we will celebrate.” We believe that God hears our prayers, cares about our pain, is redeeming us and our world, and that “In Christ, all things hold together.” Practice gets those rhythms of faith and scriptural truths “into our bones,” as Heather says, and committed to muscle memory. We know Easter comes after Ash Wednesday, and that hope comes after lament, even when we feel hopeless, because we’ve practiced it. That’s how the song of the Gospel goes. These practices and rhythms of faith give us strength and guide our actions when we grow weary and uncertain. Lament gives us words for our pain. Repentance gives us peace from our guilt. The Colossian Way gives us paths through scripture for our conflicts. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul speaks of a “thorn in his flesh.” Scholars wonder if this is a sin Paul is repenting for, or if he is lamenting physical pain or another consequence of our broken world. In either case, God’s words to Paul have encouraged generations of Christians: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” God writes the signs of his perfect love in the dust of our lives. His strength shapes our habits and actions as he breaths his life into us. Over the next 40 days of Lent, we joyously invite you to explore practices of faith with us. We will share more stories like Heather’s and ideas for Lenten practices from our staff and members of our Colossian Way family. And if you have built spiritual muscle memory or discovered new rhythms of faith through the practices of The Colossian Way, whether in conversations with staff, workshops, leader training, or resources, we invite you to join us in raising $7,000 during the 40 days of Lent to cover the costs to train 40 Colossian Way Leaders. All donations will support costs registration fees don’t cover—costs like hospitality at training, Leader resources and materials, and coaching and mentoring before, during, and after Leaders run small groups. Well-equipped Colossian Way Leaders are vital to building up churches and communities to gain the muscle memory to engage conflict in the strength of their redemption. Learn more about supporting Leaders here, and give online here.
Reclaiming Jesus
February 14, 2019 | Gene Miyamoto
Reclaiming Jesus
“The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Wicked Problems The “Wicked Problem” of today’s political climate can present us a wonderful, if challenging, opportunity for polarized Christians and churches to gather as one body. It gives us the chance to face our conflict and brokenness, learn through the Spirit to lovingly “fight” well together and to become stronger; to be held together in Christ (Colossians 1:17) and known as Christ’s disciples through our love of one another (John 13:35).  Reclaiming Jesus is a letter from a group of Christian leaders acting upon their conscience, coram deo, posting six theses that affirm what they believe and what they reject, specifically related to several pivotal issues that are driving separation across our society. In the letter, they denounce racism, particularly white supremacy; oppression and abuse of women; abandonment of the vulnerable, the poor, immigrants and refugees; normalization of lying and the undermining of the public accountability to truth; autocratic and authoritarian rule; and xenophobic ethnic nationalism. Their declaration calls to churches for a process of prayer, discernment and turning away from complicity in politics that undermines the theology of being seen as disciples of Christ through love for one another. The authors repudiate “those at the highest levels of political leadership” who incite such behaviors, implying but without naming President Trump.  Critics of this statement, such as the author of the 6/10/18 The Washington Times’ op-ed, “Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing,” focus primarily on hyperbolic criticism of the “Reclaiming Jesus” authors, rather than offering biblical exegesis illuminating counter-points.  Choose Loving Engagement Over Rhetoric But rhetoric isn’t the point. Rather than trying to convince the other to come over to our side or engaging in a vitriolic argument that simply drives us further apart, we have the opportunity to change the conversation. We can recognize these kinds of opinion differences – these conflicts – as Christ-given possibilities to offer a new way to approach our disagreements.    In this case, both sides are equally impassioned, equally committed to revealing the “truth.” It is precisely, squarely within the realm of disagreement between two sides such as these where we have the chance to deepen our relationships with God and one another. For the pastors, local churches and young people watching and waiting to see what liturgical leaders will say and do in response to this, and other arguments, that are playing out on the national stage, be encouraged. Because polarized Christians who gather and lovingly engage and learn well together as one body held together in Christ provides a wonderful opportunity for leadership and discipleship.  Let’s defy Dr. King’s observation. Let’s join our voices to create a beautiful sound, change the way we argue, and both lift up and restore the church and its people.

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