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Colossian Blog
July 10, 2019 | Emily Stroble

“So, What Do You Do?” — Meditations from the Dentist’s Chair

I’ve been thinking about the dentist. You know, the sour-tastelessness of cotton balls, the awkwardness of having a numb mouth full of other people’s fingers, various sharp implements, and a small vacuum cleaner, and being asked a question?

The question never has a “yes” or “no” answer (I’ve a suspicion that SAT prompts are written by dentists). It’s usually something like: “So, what do you do?”

I’ve been having a hard time describing my job, even outside of the dentist chair.

It’s funny because I probably know a hundred words for “communications.” Yet, when someone asks me what I do, I’m tempted to go for the short, easy answer:

“I do communications for a local non-profit.”

I was convicted recently, when the person I was speaking with responded, “Oh wow, non-profits! You’re a good person.”

She meant it as a compliment. I felt pride, and then a twinge of guilt. Ironically, I’d failed at my literal job description: communicating the mission of The Colossian Forum. Instead, I’d emphasized me. And generalized everything else.

How often do we cut the tricky words right out of our conversations? It’s easy just to state my opinion or give generalized, safe answers, rather than engage with the complexity of human experiences and wrestle with the “whys” of what we believe. It might protect my feelings, my security in my own correctness, but a conversation where I state my opinion and you state yours in the most general and least prickly words possible isn’t a conversation; it’s barely small talk.

Good communication, on the other hand, carries concepts and meaning from one mind to another. If I receive and understand what you really mean, your words have been good transport for your thoughts, like a sturdy envelope or a strong Wi-Fi connection.

I love being a “word person,” but finding the right words to carry my meaning is a humbling experience.

Initially, I introduced The Colossian Forum as:

A non-profit which reconciles churches in conflict.

But this implied to some people that TCF works in personal disputes, rather than deep societal and philosophical divisions that touch every member of the Christian community.

But the truth is, we have made a lot of arguments in the church fiercely personal. If our opinion is critiqued, we feel our dignity has been attacked. If we have the better argument, we think it means we’re smarter, better Christians, and we urgently put down our brothers and sisters to prove our superiority. It’s still all about us, not Christ.

So, I developed this second attempt at explaining TCF:

It’s a Christian non-profit which helps people reclaim conflicts—like faith and science, sexuality, and politics—by focusing on Christ’s redemptive love.

But those words aren’t quite right either. “Reclaim” has a territorial sound, and we have been so entrenched in a mindset of warfare that the fear and anger are reflexive. Some people physically recoil from me when I mention “origins, sexuality, and politics.” It hurts.

Never mind finding a “solution” or “resolution.” Is there any way to overcome the emotional fallout of the debate? Any salve for the burned relationships and festering bitterness? Any way to stanch the hemorrhage of people leaving the church?

As Christians, we end up finally numb to the pain and avoidant, or mouths full of sharp arguments. And, like my dentist, the world is asking, “So, what do you do?”

I truly believe we have to become better Word people.

John, in his Gospel, calls Jesus “the Word.” In a way, Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection are the ultimate acts of good communication. Jesus is the Word which carries God to us, into our understanding, into our lives. Jesus shows us who God is and what God does: God heals. God reconciles. God loves.

Jesus says over and over again that he came to express God’s law and love, not his own independent will, wants, or opinions. If we imitate Jesus, it’s not about us anymore, either. We speak, like Jesus, to carry the Word of God to those around us.

At TCF, we work on this good communication, on being better witnesses to the reconciliation, love, and hope God calls us to through our unity in Christ and our community with each other.  

If you feel called to be Word people with us, we invite you to connect with us. Peruse resources that might be useful to you and your faith community, subscribe to our blog, or attend an event. Or, sign up for training to become a Colossian Way Leader and help your faith community become a place of reconciliation. Get more information or register here.

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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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