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Colossian Blog
January 29, 2019 | Michael Gulker

Imagine: Recovering our Desire to Participate in God’s Holy Life

We live in exciting times—times when the need for the reconciling power of the gospel is blindingly clear. Christendom is in retreat. The church suffers from a brand problem, rooted in its complicity with a divisive culture that it tacitly reflects. Young people, as well as old, are leaving the faith at an unprecedented rate.[1] Yet, there are pockets of beauty, faithfulness, and hope, as hunger for communion, community, and peace is becoming increasingly pronounced.[2]

Pockets of Hope

The work of The Colossian Forum (TCF) is privileged to be situated within these pockets of hope—as well as within the tensions among them. We recognize the depth of our society’s polarization and alienation, while at the same time, seeing that, by the grace of the Holy Spirit present in the body of Christ, the solution has already been given and indeed is embedded in the problem itself. Conflict, at its core, arises from differing desires, and those differences are perceived as threatening. Yet, the Christian tradition from Augustine onward has recognized that desire is always desire for communion—with God and one another. If this is the case (and we think it is), then conflict is that same desire for God and one another gone awry.

How so?

Well, we begin with our confession that humanity is created in the image of the Triune God, whose very life is constituted by self-giving love across three distinct, different persons. The Father gives himself completely to the Son, the Son gives himself back—unto death—to the Father through the Holy Spirit, catching up all creation into the divine and eternal dance of self-giving love and delight. This is ultimately who we are and how the world most truly is.

Harnessing Conflict

But in a world full of brokenness, hurt, and sin, rather than participating in the divine dance of pouring ourselves out through self-giving, our love has become self-protective and self-serving. Rather than experiencing delight and desire across different persons, there is defensiveness, fear, suspicion, and even violence. Yet the very desire powering conflict (all the energy of our desire gone awry) can, by the healing power of the Holy Spirit, be harnessed for our own redemption and the salvation of the world.

The conflicts raging across our society, denominations, churches, and even our families are driven by our deep and abiding desire for communion with God and one another, however distorted that desire has become. And we have, in the words of 2 Peter 1:3, “…been given everything we need for a holy life…”

TCF is an organization tasked with the recovery of the language, imagination, and practices that will help open up believers to the Spirit’s power to reshape our desires, moving us away from the fearful and combative desires of the self-protective “flesh” and toward active participation in God’s own holy life of self-giving love, especially in the face of the conflicts that plague our time.

Built for Communion

To our deep delight, we have found believers and non-believers alike are hungry for this way of being-in-communion-in-the-world. We are made for this. We are ready for this. We are built for communion, and even amidst the intense divisive language we experience in social media and elsewhere, we haven’t forgotten it.

Because of this deep longing, and because of the vision and faithfulness of people like you, TCF has had the privilege of being set aside—given the time and space—to walk with believers, churches, leaders, and Christian organizations from divisiveness to discipleship and to the first fruits of reconciliation. Through almost eight years of research, reading, writing, experimentation, and evaluation, we now have the clearest sense in our history of where we are as an organization and where we need to go next.

And with this emerging clarity, we are embarking on a five-year strategic planning process next month. Envisioning a five-year horizon will insure that near-term planning plots the appropriate trajectory. This is an exciting, yet daunting, time.

[1]Pinetops Foundation reported in 2018 that if the current trends continue, 30-50 million people will have left the church by 2050, never to return.

[2]Google’s NGram tool analyzing word usage across time marks a 46% increase in references to “community” from 1960 to 2000.

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Uncovering the Beauty of Christ in a Messy World - A Journey toward Hope
March 15, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Uncovering the Beauty of Christ in a Messy World - A Journey toward Hope
February proved to be an especially painful month, watching so many profound, encumbered church conflicts play out on a global stage. The Catholic Church and the United Methodist Church held global summits on sexual abuse, and faith and sexual orientation, respectively. And the Southern Baptist Convention convened to decide the fate of churches accused of covering up widespread sexual abuse. While the illumination of these issues is essential, the path toward hope and reconciliation for all involved seems dim and rife with deep division. As we pray for all those involved and mourn victims’ sufferings, we also pray that churches around the world can, by God’s grace, get better at engaging these conflicts in ways that reflect Christ. A Community that Acts Christian At The Colossian Forum, it is our deepest desire to remind churches of a rich, beautiful vision of unity in Christ and to foster a community that acts Christian, especially in the face of conflict. I know this is possible. I know because I’ve seen it. This beauty was pervasive — palpable even — at our first public conference, Moving from Fear to Hope: Christian Practices for Polarized Times. We’d hoped the event would create awareness of the gift of conflict as a God-given opportunity for spiritual growth. We also hoped to foster a Community of Practice that would fuel ongoing personal and church culture transformation. But we discovered much more. The enthusiasm and encouragement of our participants revealed an acute, gaping hunger for a more attractive way to live in this fragmented and fearful world. And more than that, we actively shared in the hope-giving wisdom within the Christian tradition which can help us live out that beauty. Christ's Beauty in Ordinary Places Yet, we’re also learning that we can’t always expect beauty to show up in some revolutionary way, because, so often, it’s radically ordinary. It shows up in pedestrian practices — those daily rituals of relating to one another that we tend to take for granted. This is why much of our conference was dedicated to introducing one particular set of very ordinary practices that we call The Colossian Way.  The Colossian Way isn’t rocket science. It’s just our way of engaging conflict as an act of worship instead of an act of war. We do this by reminding ourselves that when we as Christians gather in the name of Jesus, we’re doing something markedly different than the rest of the world. When we gather in Jesus’ name, our primary job isn’t to make sure our side wins—because Jesus has already won. It isn’t to make things come out right in the end—they already have, and will, but not because of us. It isn’t even up to us to make sure that God is glorified. After all, we can’t glorify God unless the Spirit moves among us.  Instead, when we gather in the name of Jesus, our only goal is to practice Jesus’ own way of life in the manner in which we relate to each other. Traditionally, we practice breaking bread together, we practice sharing the cup, we practice hearing his Word — all in remembrance of what Christ has already done for us through his sacrificial love. And because of this, we now have the privilege of doing this for one another. It is in the midst of these practices that we open up a space within ourselves for the Holy Spirit to do a new thing — to transform us, who were divided, into the image of Christ for the sake of the world. Beauty in Transformation I was honored to hear of one such transformation a few years ago from one of our Colossian Way participants. After completing the 10-week journey, a woman found herself caring for her ex-husband’s aging parents because in addition to abandoning her, he also had abandoned them. When her ex-father-in-law became ill, she was there. When he needed Hospice care and eventually passed away, she was there. When her ex-mother-in-law later also became ill and needed care, she was there. One day, her ex-mother-in-law asked her why she chose to care for them. The woman explained that her experience with The Colossian Way had opened up space in her heart to hear the Spirit’s call and to ask the question, “What does love require of me?” Instead of being revengeful and right, she chose to lay down her life and take up selfless love that is reflective of Christ. It is this kind of story that fuels me and leads me to return to the simple, beautiful practices of our faith, especially amidst conflict. A Journey toward Hope God has already given us everything we need to be faithful right in the heart of conflict, and yet (surprise!), we didn’t quite achieve world peace in our single, three-day conference last fall. But we did scratch the surface of an intriguing possibility. Now, we need to practice. Fortunately, no—providentially—for us, our world, our churches, and our families give us all the opportunities we’ll ever need to get that practice! If we begin to live into a set of ordinary practices like The Colossian Way, we join a story started long ago—a story forming within us the right fears and the right hopes, and opening us to the call of the Spirit. But moving into the beauty of Christ right in the heart of conflict isn’t a one-time affair. It’s a journey toward hope.  That’s why we’re entitling this year’s conference—Gather, Practice, Witness: A Journey toward Hope. It will take place September 12-14 at the Prince Conference Center on the Calvin College campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Between now and then, we will be thinking, writing, inviting, and crafting workshops along these lines to empower individuals, leaders, pastors, parents, business people, students, and scholars to gather in the name of Jesus, to practice loving each other across difference, and to witness the body of Christ built up and give witness to the deepest desire and reality of the world. Gather, Practice, Witness are at the heart of The Colossian Way. I invite you to join us along this journey toward a better way of living together—a journey toward hope. 
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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