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Fears and Loves
February 14, 2020 | Emily Stroble
Fears and Loves
Do you ever get a twist of anxiety in the pit of your stomach when a loved one is late arriving home on a snowy night? Or, do you feel a sudden jolt in your heart rate when you hear of something troubling happening near a loved one’s house or office? We are often reluctant, even ashamed, to say we are afraid. But often, fear is inspired by an underlying love. Fear is the natural prompting to protect what we treasure. At The Colossian Forum, we help you examine some of those fears to find the love that motivates you. By “fear,” we don’t mean only those feelings connected to immediate danger. Rather, “fear” is shorthand for all the concerns, anxieties, and urges to defend or protect something—those feelings that motivate us to protect our loves. Fear is both the anxiety that a loved one could be hurt and the concern that a political policy might harm our communities. This fear or concern shapes our reactions, emotions, and arguments. Unsurprisingly, our “opponents,” (the people who threaten or disagree with us) are also shaped by these fears and loves. You’ve probably seen this play out with the people you love. Even as I think of some examples I’ve heard lately, I feel my fear engaging, ready to protect what I love. I feel an impulse to construct my own arguments in my mind, ready to fight. You may feel the same urge. Let’s resist it for a moment. Can you see the beloved thing or person behind these arguments? If we throw away this verse and that verse, what is to keep us from discarding the whole Bible? If some of it isn’t true, or we decide it no longer applies, how do we know Christ’s miracles and teachings are true, or that the resurrection is real? If the church speaks nothing but judgment and rejection to the LGBTQ community, we are telling those people—our friends, sons, and daughters—that there is no place for them in the church, in the story of salvation. We are turning away people made in the image of God. We’re commanded to love the least of these—the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. That’s the simplest definition of Christianity you can get, and it should apply to our immigration policy. I can’t vote for someone who isn’t pro-life. I can’t give power to someone who will not protect the lives of unborn children. If you boil these statements down, you can see that they all revolve around a deep love for people and a powerful desire to follow God’s will for the world and their own lives. Often, the “other side” is not maliciously plotting our destruction. Rather, they are frantically trying to protect their own loves and urging us to see the damage we are doing to what they hold dear. If we pause, we might find that we love the same things. Yet, our disagreements arise when we have competing ideas about how to best protect those things or how to prioritize so many precious things when the brokenness of our world requires us to make difficult choices. Our disagreements are not insignificant. We all have a lot at stake. But just imagine how our lives and relationships would be enriched if we could unveil and understand each other’s loves behind our fears. Can you imagine how fruitful a conversation would be if we were disagreeing about the right things, rather than finding new ways to call the other side evil? We might begin to see the humanity of the “other side.” We might become aware of what our fears are prompting us to do. And we may even discover that our “opponents” are trying to love us well, wanting to protect us and our communities from something we haven’t yet seen. We may even be encouraged, edified, and enlightened. Identifying underlying loves can help us see other angles and outcomes we would otherwise be blind to. This practice of pausing in the midst of intense arguments to acknowledge our fears and the loves behind them is a crucial step in The Colossian Way. It alerts us to potential pitfalls in our approach and advocates for the precious and vulnerable (though perhaps hidden) things our brothers and sisters in Christ hold dear. Give it a try the next time you find yourself in a heated situation. As your own heart rate rises, ask: What do you fear you’ll lose if the “other” side wins? What does the other person seem most concerned for? (Ask them if you are understanding them correctly.) What do you hope for? What do they hope for? Do you hope and fear for anything in common or related? We would love to hear what you discover as you try this practice. Share your story with us on social media using the hashtag “#fearsandloves” or by emailing us at info@colossianforum.org. For more on this practice and others, check out our newest Colossian Way curriculum, Political Talk.
Living in a Time between the Times - January/February 2020 Prayer Letter
February 10, 2020 | Michael Gulker
Living in a Time between the Times - January/February 2020 Prayer Letter
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.
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.
The Vulnerability of God
December 24, 2019 | Chris De Vos
The Vulnerability of God
Upon being born, a baby presents problems—problems that seem so manageable during the nine months of pregnancy. Rude cries for food in the night, raw soiling of blankets throughout the day, and utter dependency upon us in each passing moment drain our energy and, for some, test the limits of our patience. Although we are programmed to respond a certain way when a baby smiles (a gesture that releases pleasant chemicals into our central nervous systems), her piercing cries have the power to render nothing short of sheer frustration from the best of us. For me, it was the daily, unrelenting dependence upon my wife and me that led me to wonder what we were thinking when we decided to have a child. Well, we thought about the future. About the future of this world. After all, there is no future without babies. As grandparents now, we see this even more profoundly. I wonder whether Mary and Joseph had similar reflections. After all, the birth of Christ was always about the future. From the moment Adam and Eve acted in self-defiance against God’s wishes, the future of creation itself was in question. God spoke of the future when blessing the nations through Abraham, when establishing a throne for David, and when anointing a suffering servant king that Isaiah foretold. The future of everything hinged upon God’s decision to conceive a child in Mary. The logistics of all this have produced stretch marks in the minds of the best thinkers in history, and many have rejected the reality or deconstructed its power.  But the message proclaimed in Christ’s birth begins with the reality of God, incarnate in a baby. God, emptied, to some extent, of God’s pure divinity, born as any human baby is born – to a woman crying out in labor and a father pained by the agony in his wife‘s face. A child, smeared with bluish-white goo, wiped perhaps by a rough muslin rag and washed while breathing in his first breath of air. A couple questioning the sense of having a child in this world, let alone one with such strange prophecies about it. God took a chance at the right time, we’re told. But it all seems so full of vulnerability, ready to fall apart at any moment. Salvation depended on Joseph and Mary trusting in God’s idea of the future. The whole plan rested upon those two parents and their openness to the possibility of Jesus -- “God with us.” And to a great extent, the future still does. My theological muscles are not strong enough to understand the fine points of human-divine natures co-mingling in the person of Jesus, but I do believe it and believe that Jesus’ birth is our greatest hope for the future. For to deny it, or turn from it, or go about life as if it didn’t happen means to turn life over to ourselves. It means to say that God never has come to live in our skin. That God is distant, uninvolved. It means to say that God does not exist, or if he does, he does not understand us. To trust in this story is to keep the door open for new possibilities for the future, despite our fears, doubts, weaknesses, and divisions. To believe this story is to accept vulnerability as the starting point for new life. In our cultural moment, in which we’re so deeply polarized, this hope for renewal and reconciliation is more meaningful to me than ever. At Christmas, we reverently and joyfully remember that the vulnerability of God leads to the viability of a renewed creation – a new you, a new me, and a new relationship, even with our enemies!
Advent Greetings - November/December Prayer Letter
December 2, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Advent Greetings - November/December Prayer Letter
Advent greetings from The Colossian Forum! Since Advent is the celebration of the incarnation of Christ, we thought we would try something slightly more incarnational than our usual email prayer letter. We hope you enjoy this experiment and the video. As always, we welcome your feedback. Please email me at mgulker@colossianforum.org with your comments, suggestions or questions.  https://vimeo.com/376447032 Please join us at The Colossian Forum in giving thanks for: · You. As we come to the end of 2019, we are so grateful for our partners, participants, Leaders, and supporters, who make our work not only possible but joyful. Thanks to your steadfast commitment and support, we’ve been able to share the gifts of hope and healing with more people than we ever imagined through The Colossian Way. This year, 115 people have become Colossian Way Leaders, and 29 TCW groups have occurred, representing nearly 350 participants. In our Fall Cohort alone, 144 people are running groups (12 on Sexuality). We couldn’t be more thankful for or encouraged by this engagement!    · Linda Gulker and Christine Pohl, who have volunteered to help us expand our reach on Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday is an international movement of generosity, hope, and celebration that invites people to give small donations to organizations they already love. To get involved, please contact Emily Stroble at estroble@colossianforum.org.  · A diverse, well-attended Colossian Way Leader Training last month. Christians from all over the country blessed us with their rich stories of personal and spiritual conflict that led them to TCF. We pray they returned home feeling encouraged and empowered to help their churches become places of reconciliation.   · The opportunity to gather with many of you at our upcoming annual Christmas celebration on Dec. 12. We pray our time together blesses you as it will surely bless us. If you haven’t registered already, please RSVP by Dec. 5th. This month, please join us in praying for the following: · God’s wisdom and guidance as we work strategically to expanding our offerings. · A fruitful experience for those participating in upcoming pilot Leader Training and small groups for our forthcoming Colossian Way series on gender. Their feedback will be essential as we shape the final curriculum. · A productive Giving Tuesday on December 3. Please watch your inbox, our website and TCF social media channels for special video content, stories, and posts. We invite you to share your stories of impact and generosity with TCF’s hashtag, #ForgivingTuesday! · Our many friends who faithfully offer their gifts toward our work. We have been uniquely blessed with a $25,000 matching gift to double the amount and impact of donations received before December 31. Each gift supports training leaders in the U.S. and beyond and builds a clearer picture of TCF’s future work in the Church. Please join us in praying for God’s continued sustainment and growth of this vision. If you would like to participate in the match, please visit www.colossianforum.org/give. Should you have questions, please contact Emily Stroble at estroble@colossianforum.org.  · Broad awareness for our Political Talk curriculum as we work toward launching our Political Talk curriculum in an election year. We pray it will guide churches nationwide toward hope in a polarized world. Upcoming Events: · Please join us Thursday, December 12th from 5 - 8 p.m. for our annual Christmas Celebration! We invite you for fellowship and to receive a “first taste” activity from our Political Talk curriculum launching soon to churches around the country. To help us gauge catering needs, please RSVP by Dec. 5th.   · The January Series: Moving Beyond Labels to a Christian Dialogue about Creation and Evolution with Todd Charles Wood & Darrel R. Falk. Please join these gentlemen, the authors of our latest book, The Fool and the Heretic, on January 9 as they discuss their unique, Christ-filled journey to love and friendship amid deep disagreement. TCF’s Dr. Rob Barrett will moderate the session. We hope you can join us onsite, at any one of 50+ remote sites, or online for LIVE audio streaming! Be sure to stop by our table as well. We'd love to hear about any conflicts your church is facing. Admission is free. Thank you for your faithful prayers. We are comforted and encouraged by your ongoing partnership in prayer.  It would be our privilege to lift up your needs and praises as we gather each morning for prayer.  Please take a moment to email us any intercessions or thanksgivings at info@colossianforum.org.
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.

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