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March 2, 2020 | Michael Gulker

Politics in the Cities of God and Man – A Guide to Dual Citizenship

Mike is a pastor. The church he’s served for over 16 years sits downtown, a traditional steeple among the skyscrapers. Recently, Mike told us he’s seen a change in his congregation.

“During my time as a pastor, my prayers haven’t changed,” he said. “However, recently, I’ve been getting people suggesting that those prayers have become political.”

So what makes a prayer political? Aren’t we called to pray for our world, our leaders, our communities, and God’s will on earth? Is a political prayer a bad thing?

Navigating the intersection of faith and politics has become increasingly difficult. We claim we don’t want to hear politics from the pulpit while professing that our faith should apply to every area of our life. In reality, we often allow our politics to overrule our faith.

All too eager to capitalize on this, pundits on the right and left work to shape our desire (their business model depends upon it). They tell us how to vote, how to act. We get caught up in the political dramas that surround us, allowing FOX or CNN to guide our thinking, make or break our relationships, and dictate whether we should be hopeful or afraid as we look to the future.

The Church is not immune, often dividing along these same fault lines.

People who believe the same Gospel come to bitterly opposed conclusions on how to live it out. Christians on both sides can be quick to answer, “Well, what they are doing isn’t the Gospel.” But what we often mean is that what they are doing opposes our political ideology – even though it might be dressed up in theological drag.

We’re hardly the first Christians to encounter these conflicts. In the fifth century, in his book City of God, Augustine wrestled with the conflict between human and Kingdom politics—alternate ways of being in the world, represented by what he calls the “City of Man” and the “City of God.” His central insight is that these two cities share one geographic space, like two dramas playing out on the same stage, each competing for our attention and allegiance. And each works to win us over by shaping our desires and directing our practices.

Today, the ideologies of right and left together make up the City of Man, which offers us the same formative practices – constant media consumption, increasingly polarized thought and rhetoric, the endless fortification of our echo chambers, and the dehumanization of those we fear on the other side.

You know what this is like. Haven’t you noticed that once you start watching the news or scrolling through social media, you have an increased appetite for it? Soon, in the City of Man, all we can see around us is conflict and threat, our most cherished loves besieged by the terrifying other.

Augustine is clear; there is no room for compromise between the two cities. Instead, The City of God offers more than we imagined—more grace, truth, life, and hope. This is because the City of God is more real than the City of Man, which is passing away, inevitably headed toward destruction as it devours itself. 

We are called, not to a life somewhere between, but of one beyond right and left – in a future that is becoming present through our obedience to our King. We are called to make the City of God visible amidst of the City of Man. The Good News of the Gospel shows us how. Jesus calls us to practices for occupying that shared space and for living out the story of God as an alternative to what we find in the endless cycle of bad news.

These practices can and will reshape our loves to desire the City of God. For example, Augustine sought to correct his malformed desires by practicing new ways of using his free time. He stopped going to the coliseum because the games trained his desire to love death instead of life.

We can make similar, intentional moves. What is our modern-day coliseum? Where are our desires being malformed? To answer that, we should start with basic Christian practices that Jesus gave us. Things like the practice of worship—prayer, singing, spending time alone with our Father, listening for his voice, and perhaps meditating on scripture at least twice as long as we meditate on our newsfeeds.

What else can we do? Our new Colossian Way curriculum, Political Talk, is designed to be a starting point—a guide for this dual citizenship, if you will. Will you join us? Learn more and order resources at colossianforum.org/PoliticalTalk.

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What an odd time it is for churches. Our routine practices have been suspended, while our suspicions, anxiety, paranoia, and fear reach unprecedented proportions. As vanguard tulips poke their courageous leaves through the Michigan winter soil, an insidious coronavirus threatens our ability to gather, a central Christian practice at The Colossian Forum. We may not be able to gather for our daily 9 a.m. prayer practice in person, but as you can see in this picture, we did our best this morning and will continue to pray together via video chat! The interruption in our routines – our rituals – is unsettling. Even though the tulips will still blossom in their time, it feels like nature itself has been disrupted - families postponing spring break trips, St. Patrick’s Day socially distanced, and even Easter worship services up in the air! Widespread uncertainty and decisions about the best response to the crisis are causing tension in many circles. 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The Colossian Way aims at three goals: gather Christians together, practice loving God and one another while engaging a difficult challenge, and witness the body of Christ built up. In this particular moment, we may have to innovate on the “gather” piece—as Christians have for centuries before us under other forms of separation. But we can still practice and witness. Practicing love for God and one another while engaging this pandemic challenge illuminates places where we can exercise all of our Christian muscles. Phone calls to those who are shut-in, food deliveries, and school lunch program and financial donations all seem like low-hanging spiritual fruit for us. And social isolation gives us a wonderful opportunity to continue personal practices that foster spiritual growth and equip us to embody the hope and light that so many need right now. Discipleship is about living faithful lives right in the middle of all those fears, even the most daunting ones. 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At the end of every Colossian Way session, we offer to one another and to God words of praise, lament, and hope. Realizing that every gathering is incomplete until we’re in the Kingdom of God, we lift up any words of praise for what we see in ourselves and the world, words of lament for what is wrong or missing, and words of hope for God to bring renewal. As you go about these days, we invite you to join us and offer your own words of praise, lament, and hope. Please email them to me at cdevos@colossianforum.org, or share them on social media using #TCFpraise, #TCFlament, or #TCFhope. And let us remember that Jesus is faithful, that God raised him from the dead, and that we are witnesses of these things by the Holy Spirit’s power. This may be an odd time for us and presents a challenge to who we know we are (Christ’s) and what we have to offer a world consumed by tension, fear, and worry. It is also a shining moment for us to model a faithful pathway through this moment and to live into the words of Hebrews 12: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.
Living in a Time between the Times - January/February 2020 Prayer Letter
February 10, 2020 | Michael Gulker
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As our country wades through an impeachment process and we enter yet another election season, it’s easy for Christians to lose our storyline. We know this but often feel stuck. What choice do we have? We can’t just pretend the choice between left and right doesn’t exist, can we? Perhaps it’s helpful to remember that we’re hardly the first Christians to be caught up in the drama of state politics. Way back in the fifth century, in his book The City of God, Augustine wrestled with the confusion created by being dual citizens, members of both the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of God. I hope you enjoy this video, in which we explore how we can apply Augustine’s lessons to our own politically divisive moment.  [embed]https://vimeo.com/389767996[/embed] Please join us in giving thanks for: Our new Administrative Assistant, Lexi Jones. Lexi also serves as an ordained pastor at Takeover Church, where she is the part-time children’s pastor. She is also a bowler who has competed on the national level, and she coaches bowling at Jenison High School and Cornerstone University. She graduated from Calvin University, where she studied English Writing, with minors in English as a Second Language and Congregational and Ministry Studies, with emphases in Youth Ministry and Missions. Calvin University showcasing our friends Darrel Falk and Todd Wood in a January Series presentation, Moving beyond Labels to a Christian Dialogue about Creation and Evolution. Over 3,000 people were able to hear the compelling story of these men, two scientists who deeply disagree on the topic of origins, share a common faith in Jesus Christ, and began a sometimes-painful journey to explore how they can remain in Christian fellowship when each thinks the other is harming the church. Watch here. To Explore our book capturing their story, The Fool and the Heretic. Your faithful generosity and visionary heart for your churches and communities in helping us meet and exceed both our $25,000 year-end matching gift and the additional $10,000 matching challenge, resulting in over $75,000 of support for congregations and communities in crisis and conflict. Thank you for coming alongside your brothers and sisters in Christ.  The completion of our Political Talk small group curriculum, now available. At a time when Christians are hungry for new ways to overcome division and forge fruitful lives together, we pray this new Colossian Way curriculum gives them the tools they need to navigate political differences faithfully. Eight groups will be running Political Talk in our Spring 2020 Cohort. To order a copy of the curriculum or to bring Political Talk to your church, please contact us at tcw@colossianforum.org. The fulfillment of a significant three-year grant. Since 2017, we have partnered with Templeton Religion Trust to develop and launch our new mode of conflict engagement, The Colossian Way. We began with a pilot program of Leader Training and small-group curricula, which has now expanded to four topical curricula: Origins; Sexuality; Political Talk; and Women and Men in God’s Image (coming in 2021). Through this grant project, we have engaged over 11,000 people with our mission and, of these, over 1,000 people have participated in small groups, resulting in over 28,000 hours of formation in The Colossian Way method of conflict engagement. Jenell Paris and her tireless, faithful work on our Colossian Way curriculum, Women and Men in God’s Image, forthcoming in early 2021. We are so grateful for her friendship, wisdom, and commitment to the work of reconciliation. Please join us in praying for the following: The United Methodist Church and others who are divided. We pray that all those impacted will find ways to engage these conflicts faithfully. The 18 churches and schools that are preparing to run Colossian Way groups in our Spring 2020 Cohort. We pray their experience blesses them and renews their hope and confidence in their faith as a resource to navigate our most complex disagreements. If you’re interested in taking up The Colossian Way in your community, consider joining us at our next Leader Training in Grand Rapids, MI May 7-9, 2020. Our Board of Directors as they meet in February and continue to guide The Colossian Forum into new territory and endeavors in 2020 and beyond.

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