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Colossian Blog

Displaying all posts by Michael Gulker.
On Loneliness and Resurrection Moments
June 12, 2018 | Michael Gulker
On Loneliness and Resurrection Moments
A year ago, I wrote a prayer letter in response to a surprising outcome of Christians engaging conflict together in the presence of God as an act of worship. Over and over, leaders trained in The Colossian Way tell us that they’re not only discovering the ability to live faithfully amidst conflict, but also how just being together through conflict reveals a deep and abiding loneliness afflicting their lives.    In a spate of recent news articles triggered by a health report, loneliness is back in the spotlight (see e.g., USA Today, US News & World Report, and Comment). In the report, the physiological effect of loneliness is equated to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness is a disease ravaging our nation, churches, and families. Especially concerning is the reality that the primary victims of loneliness are those most awash in an endless stream of digital communication—our youth.  I was struck by these articles, in part, because just the week prior my wife and I confessed to some of our closest friends that one of our deepest spiritual hurts is indeed loneliness. This seems a strange affliction for two people who constantly feel overwhelmed by endless email, tweets, posts, texts, and phone calls. How can we be lonely amidst all this noise? Loneliness, disease, poverty, sickness. These are not words we associate with America or the American church, but they afflict us nonetheless. We feel vulnerable and silly even saying them out loud. Perhaps we’re not the only ones feeling alone—oddballs who need to get it together. According to Jamie Smith’s Comment editorial: “You are alone. Except there are hundreds of thousands of you. You’re not alone in being lonely—not that that makes you any less lonely. Loneliness—often a factor of social isolation—has become a societal epidemic in late capitalist societies. The Centre for Social Justice provides a succinct snapshot in the United Kingdom, for example:       As many as 800,000 people in England are chronically lonely and many more experience some degree of loneliness. 17 percent of older people interact with family, friends or neighbours less than once a week, while 11 percent do so less than once a month. It is linked to cardiovascular disease, dementia and depression and according to some researchers, its effect on mortality is similar to smoking and worse than obesity. One study revealed that it can increase the risk of an early death by as much as 30 percent. In addition to this there is a strong link between isolation and poverty: having two or more close friends reduces the likelihood of poverty by nearly 20 percent.” So, what’s the relationship between conflict (our fear of it and our incapacity to engage it well) and loneliness? My own experience and the experience of hundreds of Colossian Way participants has been that despite ubiquitous digital communication, we are cut off from communion with those we love because of our fear of getting conflict wrong. Ironically, we are most in need of fellowship and friendship at the very places we are most afraid. Hence, we suffer spiritually, emotionally, and even physically from a poverty of friendship. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Mother Teresa said years ago that, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty—it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” When asked by an American reporter to name the poorest country she’d visited, Mother Teresa responded, “I have been to many countries and seen much poverty and suffering. Everywhere I go people tell me of their hardships and struggles, and ask for help, and I give what I can. But of all the countries I have been to, the poorest one I have been to is America.” Somewhat shocked, the reporter informed Mother Teresa that America was one of the richest countries and questioned how it could be the poorest. “Because”, she replied, “America suffers most from the poverty of loneliness.” Let’s face it, our engagement with conflict as an act of worship won’t fix the world any more than Mother Teresa’s cup of water for the dying. Yet, as captives of hope we believe these small acts testify to a reality bigger and more beautiful than we can imagine. Even though we only see “as through a glass darkly” these little eschatological foretastes of what will be enable us to participate more fully in the deepest truth of the world, in contrast to the endless news cycle of violence and conflict.  We can say this with confidence because we’ve seen the kingdom break forth already through our Lord’s death and resurrection, and in multiple iterations of that resurrection in our own lives of worship and witness. As we risk laying down our lives, or at least our arguments, we become a cup of water to a dying world—marking the inbreaking of the new world. And what better way to quench the thirst for relationship hidden at the core of our deepest conflicts.
A Faith and Science Teaching Resource: Expanding the Promise for STEM Education
March 28, 2018 | Michael Gulker
A Faith and Science Teaching Resource: Expanding the Promise for STEM Education
This post originally appeared on the ACSI blog (Association of Christian Schools International). Thanks to ACSI for the chance to share our passion for faith and science learning! Since the beginning of The Colossian Forum (TCF), we’ve used the conflict between faith and science as an opportunity for virtue formation in the midst of often-heated debate. In Christian schools, this debate takes on added emotional intensity because biblical reliability, historical reality, and human value seem to be in question. It is easier to avoid these pressured conversations altogether or charge into them, guns blazing. Much is at stake when believers engage science in either of these unproductive ways. That is why TCF, along with the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning, launched the Faith and Science Teaching (FAST) Project, which focuses on the productive relationships found at the intersection of faith and science rather than on the polarization that often occurs in Christian schools and faith communities. Faith and Science Teaching (FAST) According to project co-lead and director of Kuyers Institute, David Smith: “Teaching FASTly means allowing both faith and science to remain in play, each with its own integrity, neither canceling out the other” (CEJ, 5). Such an approach expands the conversation, allowing other interesting and fruitful questions to be explored, such as: What are the character qualities needed to be a good scientist, a good colleague, and a good learner? What virtues are involved in doing careful lab work, in measuring and writing accurately, in observing well, and in thinking rigorously? Are any of these related to Christian virtues? If so, how do we grow in them? What about collaboration? Since professional science is usually practiced in teams, what virtues are needed for collaboration and how might we teach them? How much time is given in school to considering ethical issues that arise from scientific practices? How about the impact of science and technology on society? How do applied science and technology fit into faith-framed visions of human flourishing and love of neighbor? Is there anything about how science is taught that leads students to beauty, wonder, and gratitude, rather than just task completion, deadlines, and grades? What kind of relationship between the Bible and science do we implicitly model in the classroom? Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the FAST Project produced a website that offers free faith and science teaching resources, to equip high school teachers to broaden the faith-science conversations beyond Genesis. It guides teachers in the many ways to look at how faith and science intersect. Considering the Intersections of Faith and Science Most often we relate to the intersections of faith and science according to the truth claims each makes about the world and whether the claims conflict or are in harmony. When these claims align, we celebrate the wonders of God’s creative work and our human capacity to explore and understand it. When they don’t seemingly align, Christians often begin from the conviction that since God is the Creator, faith and science cannot, ultimately, conflict. Therefore, any current disputes between the two must be due to human error and sin. This approach encourages a tendency to think that faith and science only interact when they make conflicting claims. It also offers us little remedy for the error or sin that is causing disharmony and provides little help for relating to non-Christians who reject Christianity because it seems to conflict with science. Relating faith and science based on their truth claims is of obvious importance, but there is a larger context that must be considered if we are to do justice to either faith or science, for both are more than sets of propositions about the world. As Christians, our primary calling is to love God and our neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40), and science is one of the many arenas in which we have the opportunity to live this out. Thinking FASTly means relating faith and science not only according to their truth claims, but also as a way of practicing the virtues called for in these “greatest commandments.” The concept of virtue is a rich area to explore. We often think of virtues as moral traits, like humility, patience, or courage. But the term virtue, in its broadest sense, refers more generally to capacities or abilities acquired through repeated practice to accomplish a particular goal. Considering virtue forces us to also think about practices and our motivations. Read the full post on the ACSI blog.
Jesus Invites Us into “the Politics of the Trinity”
March 14, 2018 | Michael Gulker
Jesus Invites Us into “the Politics of the Trinity”
As we reflect on Jesus’ death and resurrection, my thoughts go to his disciples and their wild hopes to reign with the Messiah—hopes grievously dashed on Good Friday. The disciples were as ideologically diverse and divided as we are today, and they wanted power and victory to support their own priorities and agendas. Jesus, in obedience to God and through the power of the Holy Spirit, does something utterly new. He pours out his life for love. Forty days later, those same disciples gather together—hiding, afraid, and probably still divided—and something new happens to them, too. The Holy Spirit comes upon them and empowers them to proclaim and embody the good news. They become united to the cause of Christ. Today, at this particular cultural moment, so many of us are afraid that everything is coming apart. So many of us are arguing to protect what we have, what we believe, and what we love. We all believe, and argue, that ours is the right way and that Jesus is on our side. But Scripture shows us that the life that Jesus offers us is deeper than that. He doesn’t argue ideology or promote one political platform over another. He presents his own politics, and it’s the politics of the Trinity. Rather than power against power, this “politics” is characterized by an eternal and delightful self-giving love. Jesus does not just tell the truth about God’s love—he embodies it. His goal is not to win arguments protecting the truth—rather, he lays down his life so that the world might know and love God. Through self-giving love he demonstrates that he is from God and that he and God are one. He invites us into the eternal and delightful love of the Trinity. The love of the Trinity cannot be stopped by hateful division, fearful darkness—not even death. What if we were to live together that way? What if we were to love each other—love those who disagree with us—that way? What might happen? What new thing might break forth? What good news could we share? I can think of a thousand rebuttals to every one of these questions. Over the past seven years at The Colossian Forum, I’ve heard them all. I’ve thought them all myself. Like Peter, I follow Jesus to the courtyard, but then I turn away. I don’t want to follow where he is going. It seems insane. What good can it do? And I deny. But Jesus doesn’t give up on me. He lets my denial crucify him once again. But my betrayal doesn’t stop the love between Father, Son, and Spirit. I am still invited into the life of the Trinity. Jesus reflects “the politics of the Trinity” when he turns to me and asks, do you love me? Feed my sheep. Do you love your neighbor? Feed my sheep. There are so many lost, fearful sheep right now! So many people are afraid that everything is coming apart. So many of us are fighting to protect what we have, what we believe, and what we love. On Good Friday Jesus demonstrates that he doesn’t need to be defended. The church doesn’t need to be defended. Church doctrine doesn’t need to be defended. We don’t have to be afraid that the truth of the gospel will be lost by those who get it wrong. Rather, we are called to obey, follow Jesus, and lay down our lives and love both our friends and enemies. It’s a hard message—one that’s easy to walk away from through denial or distraction. Ultimately, it’s a message of the self-giving, delightful love of the Trinity—the politics of a new kingdom. My prayer is that together we will begin to embrace and embody this hard but joyful and life-giving message.
When is the Gospel "Fake News"?
February 15, 2018 | Michael Gulker
When is the Gospel "Fake News"?
We’re constantly bombarded by divisiveness within our daily news—the right calling the left “fake news,” the left dismissing the “news” of the right through quiet (or not so quiet) condescension. Whatever the case, neither hardly qualifies as news. It’s stale and unimaginative culture war posturing where everyone seems perennially angry. Yet underneath all the anger lays deep fear—fear that our world, our culture, our church, our family—everything—is tearing apart. But God calls his people to bring “Good News” of great joy. We are the euangélion of Jesus Christ—eu means “good” and ángelos means “messenger.” Believers are meant to be like angels bringing good news of what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do in the world. We should be the least fearful of all people because we believe in Jesus, who was born to fulfill “the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:73-75) So, we must ask, “Is the story of our life in Christ good news or fake news?” Well, a couple of questions. First, are we doing and saying anything new? Second, does it embody the good? A quick glance at the way churches are mimicking the surrounding culture through bickering and partisanship, belies the notion that their posture in the world is either new or good. The church seems more a cliché of culture than a contrast to it. What makes this even more problematic is our claim to follow the Prince of Peace. If we are divisive and fearful then we’re not only cliché but hypocritically cliché. Doubly boring. Doubly bad. This sort of “gospel” is fake news, hardly worth the bits and bytes it’s communicated over. So, where’s the good news we long for and why are we having such a hard time embodying it in ways that are either new or good? Where is our confidence in our Risen Lord who has conquered division and death? What would it mean for you and I to have a renewed vision of the gospel as truly good news and to become confident messengers of its transforming power? So much of our imagination is now captured by the right or the left that it’s hard to think outside of these culturally prescribed categories. Perhaps that’s why it took a 500-year-old painting to jolt my imagination. I don’t remember where I ran across it, but there I was, confronted with DaVinci’s famous painting of The Last Supper. His masterpiece depicts a microcosm of God’s people past and present. And it struck me that all of the radical political and ideological differences (and inherent conflicts) of our own culture are represented by those gathered around that table. The disciples seated to the right and left of Jesus were as ideologically diverse and divided as we are today. A fractious bunch of infighters all vying for a slice of the new kingdom, whatever it might look like. Were the zealots arguing for insurrection against the damnable religious mainstream in cahoots with the deep state? Were the tax collectors and moderates more confident in the goods of compromise and stability in the market? Who knows? But it’s not hard to imagine them all claiming that God was on their side. Hardly news. It’s an old, stale story. So, who did Jesus side with? Right or left? Conservative or Liberal? Moderate or Revolutionary? Or did he opt for something more inclusive like a lowest-common-denominator faith where everyone should just get along? None of these options seem to fit. But when the pressure mounted, Christ died for each disciple while they were fleeing, cowering, or denying him—while they were “yet sinners.” I wonder how long they continued arguing with and blaming each other for the way things went wrong? Jesus doesn’t argue ideology with them. He doesn’t take up one political platform over against another. He interjects his own politics, the politics of the Trinity—a politics characterized by an eternal delightful self-giving love. This love can’t be stopped by any division, fearful darkness, or death. Jesus goes forward, not just telling the truth about God’s love, but embodying it. He does not win arguments. Rather, he lays down his life so the world will know the love of God. He displays the life he has with the Father and invites us into that life. I wonder, might Lent be the place for us to give up our well-reasoned and tightly-held ideologies for the sacrificial love of the other we so disdain? Wouldn’t that be good news?
Our Desire for Hope
January 31, 2018 | Michael Gulker
Our Desire for Hope
Our new book, All Things Hold Together in Christ, is more than a collection of essays from leading scholars on the conversation between faith and science. This book gets at the essence of who we are at The Colossian Forum, and the bright hope that shines through even the toughest of conflict. TCF's president, Michael Gulker, shares in this video our desire for hope and helps outline the "more" that people keep asking for.  [embed]https://vimeo.com/245217328[/embed] Our Brand Problem We live in a time when the church, because of it’s endless bickering, has a serious brand problem. The rise of the nones, of those people who identify as spiritual but not religious, not tied to any particular body of believers or historical faith – these are the casualties of the culture wars, of establishment Christianity desperately trying to cling to power. At that brand of Christianity is fragile, fearful, and ugly. As one of my friends likes to say, “The church may be right, but it’s no longer beautiful.” And that’s what people want – they want beauty and not just any beauty, but the beauty of Christ, the beauty of the divine dance across difference that is the Trinity, into whose life we’re invited. So when a new, hopeful possibility comes along, one that confesses, from the outset, that we’ve already been given everything we need to be faithful, that within the Christian faith and tradition already have everything we need to extend that tradition faithfully and beautifully in the present and into the future, people want to dive more deeply into the ideas behind that hope. Our Desire for Hope It's that desire for hope that is really the origin of this anthology  – when you go around saying things like, “the culture conflict you’re most afraid of, or tired of, doesn’t have to be a threat, but it can actually be an opportunity for discipleship and witness, when you tell people that the things they’re most fearful of discussing with the people they most love – those are the places where the gospel shines most brightly” – folks want to know more. Well, this anthology – All Things Hold Together in Christ ­– it is that “more” people have been asking for. So this anthology was our attempt to remember and thank the friends and teachers who helped Jamie and me formulate what became The Colossian Forum. And The Colossian Forum is really just the application of their ideas in the face of the church’s brand problem. The anthology, then, lays out four critical pieces of our response to this dilemma. Creating a Community for the Conversation In part one, Creating a Community for the Conversation, we try to set out to remember who we, as Christians, are and what we’re after. As folks like Rodney Clapp reminds us, the Ekklesia of Christ, we’ve been called out and set aside for a certain kind of public work, and that public work is to practice the politics of Jesus together as his peculiar people – for the world to see. This is otherwise known as “worship.” Our job is not to grasp the strings of power but to testify, by our lives together, to a different form of power put on display at Calvary and remembered every holy week since. Our job is to display a corporate life more interesting than that of Apple or Google or The United States of America – which are all driven by the competing interests of individuals eternally alienated against each other in the contest to secure enough of the world’s resources to escape death and finitude. Well, that game’s played out. It’s not interesting. It’s not beautiful. And it’s been revealed for the sham it is in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus’ life, in the life of the Trinity, there’s no competition, no scarcity, no fear – only the eternal self-giving delight and desire across difference. And when the church sets aside the world’s economy of scarcity and enters into worship, into the gift economy, we get a taste of heaven, a taste of eternity, and we want more. The world wants more. Putting on Christ But getting more, living this life eternal takes practice, or practices, which leads to the second part of the book, Putting on Christ. Following the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and some of his best interpreters, we remember that in the practices of the church we’ve been given everything we need to put on Christ. It takes time, it’s bumpy, messy, ugly, but the practices of the faith invite us to live into Christ’s life, a life of sacrificial love across difference, across distorted desire and damaged souls in ways that lead to healing and life by the refusal to perpetuating the pain and brokenness of the world but letting it end in our flesh, in the flesh of Christ’s body. This is hard and at times painful work, but something amazing happens when we “put on Christ” in these ways, we begin to see the Holy Spirit do new things in our midst, we begin to see new possibilities we couldn’t see before. Come Let Us Reason Together In short, practicing the faith, putting on Christ allows us to enter into and extend a tradition of rationality called Christianity, which leads us to the third part of the anthology, Come Let Us Reason Together. In this section, we get a glimpse of the exciting possibilities of how we might go embody a tradition-based rationality, how, as Robert Barron says it so well, the epistemic priority of Christ changes everything - how we see the world, how we see scripture, how we see tradition as the gift we’ve been waiting for to live faithfully into the future: a gift that calls us to become a gift in return, participating in and extending the faith in the face of our present difficulties in ways that smell like Jesus. All Things Hold Together in Christ Part four, All Things Hold Together in Christ, is an exploration of what a tradition based rationality might look like in one major conversation of our day, the conversation between faith and science. If all things hold together in Christ, faith and science can’t ultimately be competing forces but rather, as Mark Noll says, science is the embodiment of our human response to God’s invitation to come and see that he is good. Yet our modes of investigation, habits of objectification and commodification that easily abuse that gracious invitation need to be checked against the character of Christ. This can only be done by a people gathered together, putting on Christ, reasoning from Christ and for Christ and through Christ in the fearless confidence that all things already hold together in Christ. We of all people are freed to pursue the truth of the world without fear because that pursuit is the pursuit of our lover, our heart’s deepest desire. This anthology is an attempt to share just a bit of how we’ve been blessed by those who have gone before us in this same pursuit. I hope it’s a blessing to others as well. All Things Hold Together is published by Baker Academic, and is 40% off through the end of today. 
Sharing the Light of Christ in the Darkness
January 11, 2018 | Michael Gulker
Sharing the Light of Christ in the Darkness
As I write this, the brilliant white Michigan snow reflects some rather unusual winter sunshine. It seems an appropriate reflection of Epiphany, the celebration of the "manifesting" of Christ's light to all the world. This light “shines forth” so that all the world can join us in singing, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her praise." The epiphany of God with us is always cause for praise and thanksgiving. Some days it seems easy to celebrate the light of Christ. But others, not so much. It seems that despite the brightness of winter, our world darkens. Wars and rumors of wars make the headlines every day. Wars between nations, political parties, news corporations, the sexes—to name a few. It seems a long way from the pastoral scene in Luke’s gospel of the Magi bringing their gifts from afar to bow at the feet of our infant Savior. The real-life context of this beautiful passage is filled with the political intrigue and brutal machinations that led to the slaughter of the innocents. The authors of the gospels were likely far less naïve than we are about the harsh realities of the world. That's a helpful reminder when my cynicism darkens my light. The disciples prayed the psalms, reminding us that while the nations rage, the Lord is King. But where is that kingdom made manifest? Where is praise breaking out? If the church is the body of Christ, then surely it ought to be the place where the light of Christ shines brightly in this dark age, right? But what if the church is as divided as the country and the world? What then? Is darkness overshadowing the light? A people walking in darkness have seen a great light. A light has dawned on those living in the shadow of death and has overcome the darkness. It's an odd thing, to be both the reflection of Christ's light AND an utter failure. Why doesn’t the light flicker? Why doesn’t our sin, the sin of God's chosen people, overwhelm the light? Perhaps it's because the light of Christ's victory shines brightest in his refusal to abandon us even when we refuse to receive him. In fact, it's through the utter rejection of Christ by the world and his people that God reveals the complete inability of anything in creation to alter his love for us. No authority, no power, no nuclear arsenal or conventional army will turn aside God's love for us. The light of Christ's love shines in our darkest places, our most profound divisions, and invites us to follow him in manifesting the love of God for the world in ways that lead the world to break out in praise. But what could this possibly mean today? Well, here's an idea. What if, as the body of Christ, we lived together across the differences and divides that the world can't seem to bridge? What if, in our shared life together, we could "manifest" the reconciliation of heaven and earth toward those opposite us on the left/right continuum? Right here, right now. What if all the strife and division and darkness were backdrops for the light of the gospel to shine brightly today? Ironically, most of us are already bridging divides. But we hardly acknowledge it, let alone, proclaim it. Just this Sunday, I received communion with folks well to the left and right of me; folks living in communion with each other in the name of Jesus. It was even on a day when the sermon was the first of four on immigration! Where else does that happen? We've lost our theological imagination, and we're missing the miracles right in front of our noses. While we're busy getting it wrong, God is in our midst getting it right. He is continually forgiving us and saving us, for which we can give thanks! One of the most delightful things that happens to us at TCF is that folks tell us that our mere existence is an encouragement. The simple reminder that "All things hold together in Christ" is enough to manifest just a little bit of epiphany light to the world. That's not a testament to us, but rather to the hope within believers—a hope that is often forgotten. So, this Epiphany, I want to thank you for making TCF a little reminder of hope in our world. Every prayer, every encouraging email, and every donation makes possible the manifestation of the hope and light of Christ in this dark, divided world. Thank you.