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Colossian Blog
July 25, 2018 | Michael Gulker

Recovering Our (Theological) Imagination: A Call to Hope


My work provides me near-daily occasion to interact with thoughtful, passionate, and culturally engaged Christians. Whether I’m talking with pastors or leaders regarding concrete relational challenges generated by our political climate, wrestling with scholars or public intellectuals on more abstract questions of engaging post-Christian culture faithfully, or just executing the quotidian tasks of The Colossian Forum with my rather extraordinary co-workers, I’m perpetually immersed in fascinating questions of how to authentically live out our faith in today’s culture. 

 
Yet, there’s a shadow side to this work. Despite their energetic engagement with culture, many folks with whom I interact are plagued by doubt and fear. And despite enthusiastic involvement with The Colossian Forum, some friends candidly share, “You know, ‘all things holding together in Christ’—I’m not feeling it. I’m not seeing it. I’m not sure it’s real.” And they may continue: “I love Jesus, and I love the church, but I’m not sure I belong in the Christian world anymore. I don’t know where I belong.” These comments aren’t from disillusioned youth expressing a faddish critique of religion. Rather, they’re from . . .
      ~ mature, long-suffering Christians who hurt because today’s political           and religious divisions cut them off from conversations with those               they love; 
      ~ parents wrestling with the fear that their kids may leave the faith;
      ~ pastors questioning whether or not the church really is the body of             Christ given all the senseless polemics ripping their congregation or           denomination apart; and
      ~ young people pondering their identification with religious                             institutions that mirror the secular culture. 

As theologian Rich Mouw aptly remarked in a recent conversation, “Zombie movies and dystopian future flicks seem more pertinent to life than the Gospel.” We’re woefully short on hope these days. The future feels dark. What do we make of this? And what do we have to show for all our effort to pass on the faith to those we love? Scripture exhorts us to “give reason for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15),” yet we are short on hope.
 
Hope doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s not an act of will. Nor is it merely an optimistic view of the future, the fruit of a cheery disposition. Instead, our shared hope ought to be the natural outcome of our faith in what Christ accomplished for us in the past. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection reveal the depth and power of God’s love—a love that overcomes every barrier between heaven and earth, you and me, and the ultimate obstacles of sin and death. By faith, this reality gives us hope. While we were yet sinners (and, as such, enemies of God) Christ died for us. This is our reason to hope. 
 
And because of this hope, rooted in God’s faithfulness, we are freed from sin and the fear of death. We are freed to love others sacrificially, as Christ. “Now these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) 
 
Given this heritage of sacrificial love, why do we lose hope? Let me try out an idea on you, and I’d love to hear your reaction. 
 
We’re called to imitate Jesus’ self-giving love. We’re called to pick up our cross and follow his example by loving our enemies. What if we don’t? What if we refuse? What if we’ve lost our theological imagination for imitating Christ’s sacrificial love? What if we’ve forgotten all the practical ways we could embody self-giving love in our culture?
 
Could it be that our failure of hope—to be a hopeful people—is related to a failure of theological imagination? Perhaps it is a failure of practical wisdom on how to embody hope. Or, even worse, a stark refusal to love sacrificially, especially across political and cultural disagreements.
 
While we were yet sinners—while we were yet Republicans or Democrats—Christ died for us. 
 
Will we avoid risk and love only those who agree with us? 
 
This is what FOX and CNN offer us. If we lose our theological imagination we will imitate the broader culture by erecting barriers that Christ has already demolished. If we erroneously believe that ideological agreement is the condition for fellowship, then despair and division will be our heritage.
 
Hope is rooted in God’s faithfulness revealed through Christ’s sacrificial love. How will others experience resurrection hope if we don’t follow Christ by shouldering our cross and loving others sacrificially?
 
I welcome your thoughts around this topic of deep division, sacrificial love, and our longing for hope. I look forward to engaging with your responses in the upcoming part two of my musings on hope in a divided world.

Suggested Posts
Giving Testimony to Our Unity in Christ
June 29, 2018 | Michael Gulker
Giving Testimony to Our Unity in Christ
Just as the fall football season launches, we at The Colossian Forum will be hosting our first annual conference at the Haworth Conference Center in Holland, MI, September 20-22. Can a theologically rich conference compete with our national obsession? We believe It can, especially when its theme—Moving from Fear to Hope—addresses the mounting cynicism and despair within our shared public life, overflowing into our closest relationships and faith communities. Scripture speaks of “the hope we have within us” (I Peter 3:15), but at times hope’s pulse is faint amid cultural wrangling and confusion and difficult personal interactions.  So, let’s stir up the hope within us. We invite you to join us for two days as we engage together in the practices of our faith that fuel hope and enable us as Christians to live beautifully and faithfully together. Let’s rediscover a simpler, more profound, discipleship that recreates a Spirit-empowered community that acts like Jesus in the face of post-Christian complexity and conflict. Consider the following reasons to attend our Colossian Forum Conference in September. Grow a deeper understanding of “conflict as opportunity for spiritual growth and witness” Discover a fresh approach for engaging divisive issues within your church or faith community Learn practical skills from others following this new mode of discipleship Engage in joint worship that returns you to the heart of the gospel Renew your vision of hope—a vision built on Jesus Christ alone Take part in a two-hour Politics Forum, where Christian thought leaders will guide our reflections on current political divisions Perhaps the most compelling reason to attend is the conviction that, as believers, we must be of all things, “reconciling people.” Stanley Hauerwas says it so well:  “That conflict is part and parcel of Christian unity means that the unity of the church is not a unity based on agreements, but rather one that assumes disagreements should not lead to division but rather should be a testimony to the existence of a reconciling people.”* While September 20th seems a summer away, our early registration discount will disappear, June 30th.  Venue size limits attendance, so we encourage you to commit now before seasonal activities intervene. Register now for a discounted $125 fee for this two-day experience that includes four meals and an opening reception. Student discounts (50%)  and scholarships are available. Our speaker lineup—including workshop presenters—is not to be missed.  Dr. Richard Mouw, President Emeritus of Fuller Seminary will be both speaking from his personal commitment to pursue peace and the unity we have in Christ. Dr. Mouw emphasizes the “spirituality” that must undergird our efforts toward unity—spiritual traits such as empathy, curiosity, teachability, and humility. How we cultivate these traits through Christian practices is a significant focus of content provided by our gifted cadre of speakers:  Jenell Paris, Messiah College; Mwenda Ntarangwi, Nairobi, Kenya; Michael Gulker and Rob Barrett, The Colossian Forum.  Workshop presenters include Rebecca DeYoung, Calvin College; James Calvin Davis, Middlebury College;  Chris DeVos, The Colossian Forum; Joe Liechty, Goshen College; Trisha Taylor, Counselor; Parisa Parsa, Essential Partners.   Centered strategically within the conference is our Public Forum, Political Division: Moving Toward Hope held nearby at 14th Street Christian Reformed Church. For two hours, the public will join us for this timely conversation.                         You will enjoy Michigan in the fall. Haworth Conference Center is on the campus of Hope College and within a winning football pass to fantastic dining and shopping in Downtown Holland. If you need lodging, we’ve arranged special rates at three local hotels, including Haworth. We look forward to welcoming you in September! Questions? Please email or call  616-328-6016.  * Hauerwas, Approaching the End, p109, as quoted in Forbearance by James Calvin Davis, p17
On Loneliness and Resurrection Moments
June 12, 2018 | Michael Gulker
On Loneliness and Resurrection Moments
A year ago, I wrote a prayer letter in response to a surprising outcome of Christians engaging conflict together in the presence of God as an act of worship. Over and over, leaders trained in The Colossian Way tell us that they’re not only discovering the ability to live faithfully amidst conflict, but also how just being together through conflict reveals a deep and abiding loneliness afflicting their lives.    In a spate of recent news articles triggered by a health report, loneliness is back in the spotlight (see e.g., USA Today, US News & World Report, and Comment). In the report, the physiological effect of loneliness is equated to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness is a disease ravaging our nation, churches, and families. Especially concerning is the reality that the primary victims of loneliness are those most awash in an endless stream of digital communication—our youth.  I was struck by these articles, in part, because just the week prior my wife and I confessed to some of our closest friends that one of our deepest spiritual hurts is indeed loneliness. This seems a strange affliction for two people who constantly feel overwhelmed by endless email, tweets, posts, texts, and phone calls. How can we be lonely amidst all this noise? Loneliness, disease, poverty, sickness. These are not words we associate with America or the American church, but they afflict us nonetheless. We feel vulnerable and silly even saying them out loud. Perhaps we’re not the only ones feeling alone—oddballs who need to get it together. According to Jamie Smith’s Comment editorial: “You are alone. Except there are hundreds of thousands of you. You’re not alone in being lonely—not that that makes you any less lonely. Loneliness—often a factor of social isolation—has become a societal epidemic in late capitalist societies. The Centre for Social Justice provides a succinct snapshot in the United Kingdom, for example:       As many as 800,000 people in England are chronically lonely and many more experience some degree of loneliness. 17 percent of older people interact with family, friends or neighbours less than once a week, while 11 percent do so less than once a month. It is linked to cardiovascular disease, dementia and depression and according to some researchers, its effect on mortality is similar to smoking and worse than obesity. One study revealed that it can increase the risk of an early death by as much as 30 percent. In addition to this there is a strong link between isolation and poverty: having two or more close friends reduces the likelihood of poverty by nearly 20 percent.” So, what’s the relationship between conflict (our fear of it and our incapacity to engage it well) and loneliness? My own experience and the experience of hundreds of Colossian Way participants has been that despite ubiquitous digital communication, we are cut off from communion with those we love because of our fear of getting conflict wrong. Ironically, we are most in need of fellowship and friendship at the very places we are most afraid. Hence, we suffer spiritually, emotionally, and even physically from a poverty of friendship. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Mother Teresa said years ago that, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty—it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” When asked by an American reporter to name the poorest country she’d visited, Mother Teresa responded, “I have been to many countries and seen much poverty and suffering. Everywhere I go people tell me of their hardships and struggles, and ask for help, and I give what I can. But of all the countries I have been to, the poorest one I have been to is America.” Somewhat shocked, the reporter informed Mother Teresa that America was one of the richest countries and questioned how it could be the poorest. “Because”, she replied, “America suffers most from the poverty of loneliness.” Let’s face it, our engagement with conflict as an act of worship won’t fix the world any more than Mother Teresa’s cup of water for the dying. Yet, as captives of hope we believe these small acts testify to a reality bigger and more beautiful than we can imagine. Even though we only see “as through a glass darkly” these little eschatological foretastes of what will be enable us to participate more fully in the deepest truth of the world, in contrast to the endless news cycle of violence and conflict.  We can say this with confidence because we’ve seen the kingdom break forth already through our Lord’s death and resurrection, and in multiple iterations of that resurrection in our own lives of worship and witness. As we risk laying down our lives, or at least our arguments, we become a cup of water to a dying world—marking the inbreaking of the new world. And what better way to quench the thirst for relationship hidden at the core of our deepest conflicts.