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Colossian Blog
April 15, 2019 | Michael Gulker

Gathering: Accepting God’s Intimate Invitation

We’re losing our ability to gather as Christians. In our polarized culture of contempt, rather than gathering in person, in unity, and around our faith, we do so in echo chambers along racial, socio-economic, and political lines. And from our preferred news and social media outlets, we’re continually bombarded by messages—both subtle and overt—that compel us to fight for our side and to isolate ourselves from opposing views, making it easy to compromise our morals and our faith in order to win.

Personally, I experience this daily. I have to fight the temptation every morning to check my news feed first thing rather than rest in God’s word. I feel a constant pull to see if my people won—a pull to feed my addictions to those ideologues whose views align with mine. But when I take a moment to remember God’s intimate invitation to gather—around his word and with others outside my echo chambers—it changes the tone for my day.

This year, The Colossian Forum is exploring the nuances of gathering, including illuminating our struggles with it and how we can overcome the obstacles that prevent us from deepening our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ who look, sound, and vote differently from us.    

Gathering in the name of Jesus rather than in the name of our favorite media outlet starts us on a firm path to participate in God’s love when we disagree. While we are free to choose Fox News or CNN instead, there is a high price when we do. The missed opportunity may seem imperceptible in the moment, but over time, we lose our ability to gather in Jesus’ name. And when that happens, we lose our way. We lose the chance to participate in God’s reconciling narrative in the world. We lose our ability to imagine how our lives intersect with God’s and how God has given us each other as gifts to learn to love as he loves, even if it’s costly. And unless we gather a variety of voices—male and female, young and old, black and white and everything in between—we miss out on the multiplicity of gifts that reflect the multifaceted nature of God’s infinite glory.

Accepting God’s invitation gives us the opportunity to participate in a different news story, and—for once—it’s Good News. It allows us to uncover the story of God and live more fully into it—into the conflicts and into the complicated but rich joy of our shared life together. It’s when we gather amidst the messy realities of our communal life—and keep gathering—that we find ourselves participating in God’s self-giving love in and to the world.

Every time we assemble in the name of Jesus, we’re reminded of who we are and where we’re headed. It grounds us in our shared faith. We’re reconstituted from being creatures of the left or the right into being part of the new creation—the people of God. When we gather in our brokenness, the Spirit transforms us. And when we gather in our difference, yet as one in our worship of God, the more deeply we experience and reflect Christ.

We may be susceptible to adopting the trappings of other identities that have been pushed on us, but our primary goal as Christians is to gather as the people of God. Instead of engaging, as the wider culture does, primarily as members of the left or the right, let’s engage first and foremost as members of the body of Christ, people created in the image of God and expecting to find the image of God in the other.

If we do this, if we follow Jesus when we gather, especially with those with whom we disagree, new creation bursts forth. And instead of running from the church when conflicts emerge, people will run to it—drawn by the beauty of Christ made manifest in our imperfect but persistent life together. This is our opportunity. And it is my prayer that you find ways to step into it.

Gathering is at the heart of The Colossian Way, a spiritual discipline that enables Christians to engage conflict and difference as a catalyst for growth in faith and witness. The Colossian Way creates worship-filled spaces for Christ-honoring engagement on the most divisive topics.

Gathering is also part of the theme for our 2019 Annual Conference. We believe that in order to live together well in ways that reflect the beauty of Christ, we need both to recognize our diminished view of gathering and to work toward a fuller experience of gathering—filled with grace and truth. We invite you to join us and others seeking a community committed to love of God and neighbor. It is our hope that this event will provide you the space and encouragement to accept God’s intimate invitation.

We also invite you to share your experiences with gathering, whether negative or positive. Please visit colossianforum.org/stories to do so.

Suggested Posts
Refusing to Separate – Post-Conference Reflections
October 16, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Refusing to Separate – Post-Conference Reflections
Last year, our Annual Conference brought together Christians desperate to find ways to move from fear to hope in polarized times. A year later, it’s no surprise we find the world still divided, ourselves still held captive by our political and cultural ideologies and still struggling to remember the promise of the gospel. These are the challenges of our time. But as Christians, we know the Holy Spirit is calling forth something new in Christ’s resurrection, and at The Colossian Forum, we’re eager to participate in it. We’re in for the long journey—a journey toward hope. Last month, at our second Annual Conference, we spent three days traveling that journey with experts and friends from around the world. As you’ll see from the presentations of our remarkable plenary and workshop speakers, we journeyed through The Colossian Way, gathering in the name of Jesus, practicing engaging our deepest conflicts with receptivity to the Holy Spirit and to one another, and witnessing what new thing God is doing in our midst. We gathered across deep disagreement—as brothers and sisters, Republicans and Democrats, activists and businesspeople, pastors and laypeople, students and senior citizens. We practiced worshipping together in the face of conflict, which is present “…where two or three gather in my name…” (Mt. 18:20). And we witnessed the body of Christ flourish. Gather Dr. Robert Chao Romero helped us remember that great eschatological vision of all nations and all peoples gathered before the throne of God and the Lamb, proclaiming in every language and through every culture the manifold glory of God’s beauty. But he also shared the hurt of the Brown Church, of the American-Hispanic community, at the demeaning of their ethnic brothers and sisters. He helped us name the very real barriers this hurt creates to gathering together in the name of Jesus. Through his gentle hospitality and receptivity to us, he called us to repent of our ideologies and false allegiances. He reminded us that while we are not practiced at listening to the unique cultural honor and treasure of those who come from places different from our own, we can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, learn to listen to one another across difference and hurt. He helped us see that to hope honestly, we must hear these voices. He reminded us that Christ has already torn down the dividing wall and that we are family. Practice Dr. Ruth Haley Barton ushered us through the next steps in our journey. She reminded us that unless we develop intentional practices to welcome the Holy Spirit into our conflicts, true reconciliation will remain beyond our reach. She introduced practices uniquely suited to our polarized times and challenged us to leave behind the secular, Spirit-starved ways of engaging difference, where self-protection and suspicion prevent us from becoming vulnerable to the Holy Spirit and one another. When we welcome the work of the Spirit, we can imagine our lives together as one in Christ, even across our differences, and experience a new thing being done in our midst—between Chinese and Congolese Christians, Trump defenders and haters, border wall opposers and supporters, persecutors and persecuted.   Witness Then Dr. Bungishabaku Katho challenged us to be honest about the nature of our witness. He shared a story of Buta Seminary, the only school in Burundi where students from both Hutu and Tutsi ethnicities lived together amidst horrific civil war and genocide. In 1997, after several years of living through tribal hatred and violence, a Hutu militia group attacked the school. Three times, the commander ordered the students to separate by tribe. Three times, they refused. After the third refusal, the commander opened fire in reckless slaughter, murdering over 40 students. One wounded boy ran to find the rector and proclaimed just before he died, “Father, we have won. They told us to separate, and we refused. We have won.”   Because of their brave witness, this horrific event became the building block for healing and the reconstitution of the Burundi government. These martyrs, these witnesses, have become a wellspring of national unity. Officials and citizens alike regularly visit their gravesite. Their courage and sacrifice redefine what it means to win. To be faithful witnesses—to win—we must become weak, vulnerable to one another and the world. It can be costly—even deadly. This is the way of Christ on the cross. Our opportunity to witness to the resurrection begins when we’re willing to lay down our lives, rather than be separated, as the boys in Butu did. How are we to stand and reject our imposed, worldly loyalties as these martyrs did? Answering this question is beyond the minds of mortals, for only by the power of the Spirit can we proclaim Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, to be Lord, and follow him. And following him begins with repentance, with recovering our imagination as to how we might belong to God’s kingdom more absolutely than to the tribes into which we’re born or adopted. Robert reminded us that even in our context of division, the river of life that conquers all sin and death flows from throne of the Lamb. And it leads to the tree of life, the leaves of which God has given for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22). With a view from heaven, a view given for the healing of our country, we’re being invited into this story—just as the Hutu and Tutsi students’ story began the healing of Burundi. If we don’t participate in this story—in God’s grand work—we risk becoming the walking dead, ideological captives of the left and the right. Our conference speakers reminded us how to live into this story. As long-time TCF friend and partner Dr. Joe Liechty reflected after listening to Dr. Katho, “I’ve been present to hear the latest chapter of the New Testament, the epistle from the apostle Katho to the church in North America.” Moving toward this hope of healing, the TCF community will continue to gather, practice, and witness, opening ourselves to God and one another, to voices we might not normally encounter. Because we cannot, from within our own echo chambers, overcome the polarization that has us by the throat. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be a part of a new thing and live into a space beyond enemies[1], where all things hold together in Christ. We humbly invite you to join us. Together, we can reflect Christ’s shining light by refusing the idolatry of the left and the right, remembering what it means to win, and refusing to be separated. [1] Fitch, D. (2019). The Church of Us vs. Them: Freedom from a Faith the Feeds on Making Enemies. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press. Excerpt available at http://cdn.bakerpublishinggroup.com/processed/book-resources/files/Excerpt_Fitch_Short.pdf?1561576116.
Not Tame: Narnia and Relationships
September 23, 2019 | Emily Stroble
Not Tame: Narnia and Relationships
“He is not a tame lion. He is not safe, but he is good,” Mr. Beaver says of Aslan the lion in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.   As a child, those words transported me to Beaver Lodge with Lucy, Susan, and Peter, siblings from our world, who stumble into Narnia, a world enchanted in perpetual winter by the evil White Witch. Suddenly, the children realize Edmund, their brother, has snuck away and been captured by the witch. They hurry off to beg for Aslan’s help. The story is, perhaps, the classic Christian allegory. Aslan, the Christ-figure, dies to save sinful Edmund but doesn’t stay dead. Instead, he rises to lead the children in the final battle against the White Witch and her army of monsters. Lewis centers this beautiful story on a broken relationship, spending many pages before we ever see Narnia watching Edmund’s relationships. He makes sure we don’t miss that what Edmund needs to be saved from is not the consequences of one mistake. Rather, Edmund’s character is twisted by cruelty that wrecks his relationships, particularly with his little sister, Lucy. He betrays his siblings for the White Witch’s promises and puts all of Narnia in danger. When Aslan rescues Edmund, his first care is their broken relationship. He returns Edmund to his siblings, saying, “Take your brother and speak no more of what is past.” With this command, Aslan decisively creates something new. The restoration culminates as Edmund fights the White Witch hand-to-hand, a courageous act of repentance and rejection of his old ways. He is mortally wounded. Lucy rushes to his aid, evidencing that Aslan has made their relationship new, empowering them to help each other and do incredible good in the world. Conflict is at the heart of this story, not only in relationships but in the collision of themes. Despite being a children’s story, the narrative is sometimes brutal. Despite Aslan embodying the compassion of Jesus, there is hardly a character who is not afraid of him. Through The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis invites us to imagine God as God describes himself — “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:6-7). In scripture, God’s love is a fearsome thing. Is that, perhaps, why Aslan so captures our hearts and imaginations? More importantly, why is this fierce love, so beautiful and scriptural, so surprising — the stuff of fantasy stories? We Christians often speak of God’s love in our lives and relationships. Yet, when we approach conflict, our best efforts at love tend to devolve into mere listening exercises, chilly tolerance, and a polite status quo. Nothing changes. Nobody changes. In a narrative, not only would that kind of resolution make for a boring story, even written by Lewis, but it’s not at all characteristic of who God declares himself to be and of the kind of work he does.   The kind of love Aslan enacts as he dies on the Stone Table, the kind that recreates Edmund’s and Lucy’s relationship, is world-altering. There is a deep magic, Aslan says, “…that when a willing victim is killed in a traitor’s stead…Death itself works backward.” Aslan’s love creates new hearts, new relationships, new rules for the universe. Aslan doesn’t simply return things to the way they were. No; Edmund repents and is changed from selfish to sacrificial, his strength transformed from bullying to bravery. The Stone Table breaks. Creatures turned to stone by the White Witch awake to life. Godly love is the powerful thing that grows up where the ice of bitterness, apathy, and sin are hacked away, creating real relationships.   Love is speaking truth in courageous vulnerability, knowing those whom we love most are those who most deeply hurt us. Love is a tenacious commitment to the flourishing of our brothers and sisters. When they do wrong, when they fall prey to beautiful lies, we go after them, not content in our own joy and understanding until they share it.   Love is quick and eager to repent, and it fights against our own selfishness and pride. Brave love roars and riots with the power of God’s imagination, the power that since the beginning and forever draws new creation out of darkness and chaos. Brothers and sisters, God is not about a tame work or a frosty peace between “friends.” God is about a deep magic that makes the heavy wheels of death grind backwards. He’s about returning our lost loved ones and leading us, who had hearts of stone, to a love wild in its courage and power. Love is often called a soft, tame thing. It is not. It is lion-like. Do you think love is tame or lion-like? Please share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #nottame.   

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