X

The Colossian Forum Subscription Form

| Resume a previously saved form
Resume Later

In order to be able to resume this form later, please enter your email and choose a password.

Subscriber Information







Subscriptions

Resources

The Colossian Forum offers free resources to help you transform polarizing cultural conflicts into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness.

Mailing Address







Please enter the required value for your country.

Colossian Blog

Displaying all posts by Emily Stroble.
Praying with the City in View
December 31, 2019 | Emily Stroble
Praying with the City in View
I’ve never experienced peace as acutely than when I visited the tiny town of Assisi, Italy three years ago. The path that winds across the steep hillside behind the city takes hikers through olive groves, which give way to brush and cypress trees that frame a honeycomb of caves. In mid-January, early in the morning, even the light seemed to move gently. I was happy to be outside and excited to be traveling, and I smiled to myself as I made my way up the slope. I found it funny that I should be walking through olive branches in a little forest of peace when, in the village below, I could hardly order coffee in my American accent without receiving quips and comments about the recent 2016 U.S. presidential election. The monastery above Assisi has a remarkable story. Monks still live and worship there, and they always have, despite the rise and fall of the empires, kings, and dictators. The monks come from all over to live in this little cluster of low-ceilinged cells and chapels. As I walked up the hill toward the monastery with my tour group, the monastic life seemed an appealing path. How rich to walk up a mountain to sit in the presence of God and never go back to the noise and confusion of politics and the rest of civil life. As we arrived, a tall monk greeted us warmly. He motioned us out of the wind. He was shyly apologetic for his English, which was clear as a bell against the wind. He spoke softly, telling us the history of the monastery. I don’t remember whether someone asked him about the monastic life or if he was reacting to the curiosity in our faces. He said something to the effect of, “People seem confused about monks. We live apart from the city, it’s true. We devote our time to prayer. But we are not completely severed from the world. We are not ignorant of what is going on. We care deeply for our city. We chose this place to pray here for the city.” He straightened his hunched shoulders and swept a long arm across the valley with its steeples, farms, and domed basilicas. “We live apart from the city to pray with the city in view,” he said. That sentence has echoed in my head ever since. As we all can, I’ve grappled for years with the command to be “in the world and not of it.” And, in the political tension that’s defined the last few years, my uncertainty around what faith calls me to do politically has needled me more urgently. Yet, in all my wrestling, arguing, doubt, and looking for the petition I could sign or the party I could join that would align me with “Christian Politics,” it never occurred to me to pray for anything other than my preferred outcome in an election or vote. I think praying with the city in view is something different from praying for the city. First, when you are apart from the city but keep it in view, it’s easier to remember to which kingdom you belong, and you can care for the city in its proper place as a part of God’s kingdom. When you are in the city, the dramas and concerns of the human world fill your whole field of vision. When we stand apart from the city, we gain some perspective, and our desires align more closely to a sincere prayer of “on earth as it is in Heaven.” Second, the practice of prayer, rather than the desired outcome, becomes our path to closer relationship with God. Rather than getting to God through praying about politics, we become people primarily of prayer who are better formed to face political conflicts. What place should intercession have in our politics? It is a beautiful act of Christ-imitation. And if monastic prayer can inform politics, what other practices might hold us together as we wade through the muck of our most divisive issues, like immigration, recreational marijuana, and who should lead? These are some of the questions we begin with in The Colossian Forum’s Political Talk curriculum, launching in early February. You can visit colossianforum.org/politicaltalk for more information and to pre-order your copy. As we head into a year when politicians and parties will be competing vigorously for our allegiance, and political conversations have the potential to escalate and drive wedges between even longtime friends and close family, I humbly invite you to consider a set-apart posture like the one I learned in Assisi. In 2020, may you pray with the city in view and find hope in the opportunity for reconciliation that our conflicts – no matter their context – offer us.
Spaghetti, Tools, and Broken Bones
November 27, 2019 | Emily Stroble
Spaghetti, Tools, and Broken Bones
Believe it or not, uncooked spaghetti is an important tool. One of the more unconventional uses for this common pasta is to reach under plaster casts to scratch a pesky itch. If you’ve never had a broken bone, just know that, inevitably, skin under a cast begins to itch. And there is nothing you can do about it. You can’t get inside the cast. You can’t take the cast off. Spaghetti, as strange or silly it sounds, is the best solution. It’s long enough, thin enough, and just strong enough to reach under the cast. It’s the perfect tool. It’s all too easy to forget that healing can be uncomfortable. This is as true of churches and relationships as it is of broken bones. Forgiveness—both that Christ gives us and that we give others—can feel like a cast, holding us together in uncomfortable moments and relationships as we heal. Forgiveness forces us to be with the God or people from whom we had been separated. Being held together isn’t always fun. But forgiveness follows confession and is a powerful, transformative expression of our commitment to and oneness in Christ. It calls us to communion, even with those who hurt us, in the midst of conflicts so often characterized by selfishness, pride, and hate. The Colossian Way embraces the itchy aspects of healing—the difficult conversations, the vulnerability, the confessions, the self-examination, and the truths that make us squirm. You, in joining in the work of The Colossian Forum, have bravely chosen to work faithfully in the heart of the fractures of the church. Because, just as a broken arm or leg is nearly useless, the brokenness of the Church hobbles our Kingdom work and damages our witness. Your gifts help pastors and Christian leaders like Henry Kranenburg, the pastor of West End Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, Canada, hold together the difficult moments of healing with the cast of forgiveness. Henry’s congregation is engaging issues of sexuality, and The Colossian Way has been a source of encouragement. “I don’t think we have a strong record of working hard to be one [Church],” Henry reflected. “We work harder to define what divides us than what unites us. How do we honor that oneness [in Christ], recognizing that we are not all on the same page?” While looking for resources for his church, Henry attended a local TCF event and was inspired to learn more. Afterward, a generous donor provided several scholarships to TCF’s Annual Conference 2019 for pastors. Henry was one of the recipients and shared how important financial support is to empowering pastors to guide their congregations through conflicts. “It is not just saving a pastor or a church some dollars,” Henry explained. “[It’s] a stimulus to help them think in a way they haven’t before. [Scholarships] become part of an invitation. I might not have gone [to the Conference] without that invitation and missed more than I realized.”   Now, Henry has begun using The Colossian Way, not only in his congregation, but beyond, in his classis, the regional governing body for his denomination. He has seen the focus in his church shift toward the vision of the Church Jesus prays for in John 17:11, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” You, our donors, are doing “spaghetti work”—giving pastors like Henry the tools to reach into these difficult, itchy places, where we are held together in the forgiveness of Christ. Because of your kindness and faithfulness, a more beautiful Christian witness extends farther—from pastors, to churches, to communities. Next week, on December 3, The Colossian Forum will with participate in Giving Tuesday, an international movement of generosity, hope, and celebration that invites people to give small donations, often just $5, to organizations they already love, and discover new ways to make a difference, too. By reaching out to friends and family through social media, email, and in-person, you can ignite a brighter light in the Church. Would you be willing to spread the word about The Colossian Forum? Share your stories with TCF’s hashtag #ForgivingTuesday! Keep an eye out for special video content, stories, and posts on December 3! All gifts we receive on Giving Tuesday will be matched by a generous donor up to $25,000. If you’d like more information on Giving Tuesday and how to get involved, please email us at info@colossianforum.org. If you’d like to give a gift to equip leaders engaging conflict in their churches and communities, explore colossianforum.org/give.
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.   
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.
“So, What Do You Do?” — Meditations from the Dentist’s Chair
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.

601 Fifth St. NW, Suite #101
Grand Rapids, MI 49504

(616) 328-6016

info@colossianforum.org