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Colossian Blog

Displaying all posts by Emily Stroble.
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.

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