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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.

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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