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A Reflection for Easter
April 20, 2019 | Tonya Starlin
A Reflection for Easter
As we celebrate Easter, we invite you to reflect upon this writing by Henri Nouwen.   "From Action to Passion" by Henri Nouwen I was invited to visit a friend who was very sick. He was a man about fifty-three years old who had lived a very active, useful, faithful, creative life. Actually, he was a social activist who had cared deeply for people. When he was fifty he found out he had cancer, and the cancer became more and more severe. When I came to him, he said to me, "Henri, here I am lying in this bed, and I don't even know how to think about being sick. My whole way of thinking about myself is in terms of action, in terms of doing things for people. My life is valuable because I've been able to do many things for many people. And suddenly, here I am, passive, and I can't do anything anymore." And he said to me, "Help me to think about this situation in a new way. Help me to think about my not being able to do anything anymore so I won't be driven to despair. Help me to understand what it means that now all sorts of people are doing things to me over which I have no control." As we talked I realized that he and many others were constantly thinking, "How much can I still do?" Somehow this man had learned to think about himself as a man who was worth only what he was doing. And so when he got sick, his hope seemed to rest on the idea that he might get better and return to what he had been doing. If the spirit of this man was dependent on how much he would still be able to do, what did I have to say to him?... The central word in the story of Jesus' arrest is one I never thought much about. It is "to be handed over." That is what happened in Gethsemane. Jesus was handed over. Some translations say that Jesus was "betrayed," but the Greek says he was "handed over." Judas handed Jesus over (see Mark 14:10). But the remarkable thing is that the same word is used not only for Judas but also for God. God did not spare Jesus, but handed him over to benefit us all (see Romans 8:32). So this word, "to be handed over," plays a central role in the life of Jesus. Indeed, this drama of being handed over divides the life of Jesus radically in two. The first part of Jesus' life is filled with activity. Jesus takes all sorts of initiatives. He speaks; he preaches; he heals; he travels. But immediately after Jesus is handed over, he becomes the one to whom things are being done. He's being arrested; he's being led to the high priest; he's being taken before Pilate; he's being crowned with thorns; he's being nailed on a cross. Things are being done to him over which he has no control. That is the meaning of passion - being the recipient of other people's initiatives. It is important for us to realize that when Jesus says, "It is accomplished," he does not simply mean, "I have done all the things I wanted to do." He also means, "I have allowed things to be done to me that needed to be done to me in order for me to fulfill my vocation." Jesus does not fulfill his vocation in action only but also in passion. He doesn't just fulfill his vocation by doing the things the Father sent him to do, but also by letting things be done to him that the Father allows to be done to him, by receiving other people's initiatives. Passion is a kind of waiting - waiting for what other people are going to do. Jesus went to Jerusalem to announce the good news to the people of that city. And Jesus knew that he was going to put a choice before them: Will you be my disciple, or will you be my executioner? There is no middle ground here. Jesus went to Jerusalem to put people in a situation where they had to say "Yes" or "No." That is the great drama of Jesus' passion: he had to wait upon how people were going to respond. How would they come? To betray him or to follow him? In a way, his agony is not simply the agony of approaching death. It is also the agony of having to wait. All action ends in passion because the response to our action is out of our hands. That is the mystery of work, the mystery of love, the mystery of friendship, the mystery of community - they always involve waiting. And that is the mystery of Jesus' love. God reveals himself in Jesus as the one waits for our response. Precisely in that waiting the intensity of God's love is revealed to us. If God forced us to love, we would not really be lovers. All these insights into Jesus' passion were very important in the discussions with my friend. He realized that after much hard work he had to wait. He came to see that his vocation as a human being would be fulfilled not just in his actions but also in his passion. And together we began to understand that precisely in this waiting the glory of God and our new life both become visible. Precisely when Jesus is being handed over into his passion, he manifests his glory. "Whom do you seek?... I am he" are words that echo all the way back to Moses and the burning bush: "I am the one. I am who I am" (see Exodus 3:1-6). In Gethsemane, the glory of God manifested itself again, and they fell flat on the ground. Then Jesus was handed over. But already in the handing over we see the glory of God who hands himself over to us. God's glory revealed in Jesus embraces passion as well as resurrection. "The Son of Man," Jesus says, "must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him" (John 3:14-15). He is lifted up as a passive victim, so the cross is a sign of desolation. And he is lifted up in glory, so the cross becomes at the same time a sign of hope. Suddenly we realize that the glory of God, the divinity of God, bursts through in Jesus' passion precisely when he is most victimized. So new life becomes visible not only in the resurrection on the third day, but already in the passion, in the being handed over. Why? Because it is in the passion that the fullness of God's love shines through. It is supremely a waiting love, a love that does not seek control. When we allow ourselves to feel fully how we are being acted upon, we can come in touch with a new life that we were not even aware was there. This was the question my sick friend and I talked about constantly. Could he taste the new life in the midst of his passion? Could he see that in his being acted upon by the hospital staff he was already being prepared for a deeper love? It was a love that had been underneath all the action, but he had not tasted it fully. So together we began to see that in the midst of our suffering and passion, in the midst of our waiting, we can already experience the resurrection. Imagine how important that message is for people in our world. If it is true that God in Jesus Christ is waiting for our response to divine love, then we can discover a whole new perspective on how to wait in life. We can learn to be obedient people who do not always try to go back to the action but who recognize the fulfillment of our deepest humanity in passion, in waiting. If we can do this, I am convinced that we will come in touch with the glory of God and our own new life. Then our service to others will include our helping them see the glory breaking through, not only where they are active but also where they are being acted upon. Henri Nouwen, “From Action to Passion,” from “A Spirituality of Waiting” by Henri J. M. Nouwen, in The Weavings Reader, ed. by John Mogabgab. Copyright 1993 by The Upper Room. Used by permission. NOTE: RECUPERATED FROM THE NOW-DEFUNCT http://www.bruderhof.com/articles/FromAction.htm USING THE INTERNET ARCHIVE WAYBACK MACHINE.
Gathering: Accepting God’s Intimate Invitation
April 15, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Gathering: Accepting God’s Intimate Invitation
We’re losing our ability to gather as Christians. In our polarized culture of contempt, rather than gathering in person, in unity, and around our faith, we do so in echo chambers along racial, socio-economic, and political lines. And from our preferred news and social media outlets, we’re continually bombarded by messages—both subtle and overt—that compel us to fight for our side and to isolate ourselves from opposing views, making it easy to compromise our morals and our faith in order to win. Personally, I experience this daily. I have to fight the temptation every morning to check my news feed first thing rather than rest in God’s word. I feel a constant pull to see if my people won—a pull to feed my addictions to those ideologues whose views align with mine. But when I take a moment to remember God’s intimate invitation to gather—around his word and with others outside my echo chambers—it changes the tone for my day. This year, The Colossian Forum is exploring the nuances of gathering, including illuminating our struggles with it and how we can overcome the obstacles that prevent us from deepening our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ who look, sound, and vote differently from us.     Gathering in the name of Jesus rather than in the name of our favorite media outlet starts us on a firm path to participate in God’s love when we disagree. While we are free to choose Fox News or CNN instead, there is a high price when we do. The missed opportunity may seem imperceptible in the moment, but over time, we lose our ability to gather in Jesus’ name. And when that happens, we lose our way. We lose the chance to participate in God’s reconciling narrative in the world. We lose our ability to imagine how our lives intersect with God’s and how God has given us each other as gifts to learn to love as he loves, even if it’s costly. And unless we gather a variety of voices—male and female, young and old, black and white and everything in between—we miss out on the multiplicity of gifts that reflect the multifaceted nature of God’s infinite glory. Accepting God’s invitation gives us the opportunity to participate in a different news story, and—for once—it’s Good News. It allows us to uncover the story of God and live more fully into it—into the conflicts and into the complicated but rich joy of our shared life together. It’s when we gather amidst the messy realities of our communal life—and keep gathering—that we find ourselves participating in God’s self-giving love in and to the world. Every time we assemble in the name of Jesus, we’re reminded of who we are and where we’re headed. It grounds us in our shared faith. We’re reconstituted from being creatures of the left or the right into being part of the new creation—the people of God. When we gather in our brokenness, the Spirit transforms us. And when we gather in our difference, yet as one in our worship of God, the more deeply we experience and reflect Christ. We may be susceptible to adopting the trappings of other identities that have been pushed on us, but our primary goal as Christians is to gather as the people of God. Instead of engaging, as the wider culture does, primarily as members of the left or the right, let’s engage first and foremost as members of the body of Christ, people created in the image of God and expecting to find the image of God in the other. If we do this, if we follow Jesus when we gather, especially with those with whom we disagree, new creation bursts forth. And instead of running from the church when conflicts emerge, people will run to it—drawn by the beauty of Christ made manifest in our imperfect but persistent life together. This is our opportunity. And it is my prayer that you find ways to step into it. Gathering is at the heart of The Colossian Way, a spiritual discipline that enables Christians to engage conflict and difference as a catalyst for growth in faith and witness. The Colossian Way creates worship-filled spaces for Christ-honoring engagement on the most divisive topics. Gathering is also part of the theme for our 2019 Annual Conference. We believe that in order to live together well in ways that reflect the beauty of Christ, we need both to recognize our diminished view of gathering and to work toward a fuller experience of gathering—filled with grace and truth. We invite you to join us and others seeking a community committed to love of God and neighbor. It is our hope that this event will provide you the space and encouragement to accept God’s intimate invitation. We also invite you to share your experiences with gathering, whether negative or positive. Please visit colossianforum.org/stories to do so.
Applying Faithful Imagination to Life's Hardest Problems
April 5, 2019 | Clint Westbrook
Applying Faithful Imagination to Life's Hardest Problems
My friend Jake* had snot running down his face. The kind that comes with a good cry, or, in this case, a bad cry. Jake had been struggling with depression for a few years, and he was having a breakdown in front of his parents and his then-girlfriend, Anna. This particular bout of depression was especially dark, leading Jake to say some scary things—things that make loved ones worry about the future.  Jake's snot kept running, mixing with his tears. Anna had been a force for good in Jake’s life, but she couldn’t always pull him back from the ledge; anyone who loves someone with depression knows the feeling. So, in that moment, she did what anyone would do: she reached over and spread Jake’s snot all over his face.  That’s right. In Jake’s deepest despair, Anna decided that what he really needed was to have his snot smeared from his lip to his eyebrows. Unconventional, to say the least, but the mood immediately shifted. Jake burst out laughing. His family laughed, and Anna (I’m sure) breathed a deep sigh of relief. In that moment, Anna had made the perfect move. It wasn’t a cure for the deep-seated depression, but it was just the right thing, at just the right time. And it gave Jake the breath of air that he desperately needed. It made no sense in the moment, but, looking back through an informed lens, it makes all the sense in the world.  At The Colossian Forum, we would call that a moment of faithful imagination. It is our deeply held belief that the moments where we feel most helpless—moments of conflict in dealing with the deepest hurts and the hardest questions—are the moments where we most need the abiding power of the Holy Spirit to provide us with the tools to bring reconciliation. The tools to imagine new ways to be obedient, especially when it's most difficult. Faithful imagination asks the God of the universe to show up—right here and right now—to give us something we don’t have on our own: a way forward. We need to love our brothers and sisters while speaking the truth of the Bible; we need to comfort those who are hurting when we don’t have answers; we need to reflect light in darkness when we don’t have words; and we need to know that God is giving us the tools we need to do it all well.  But how? There is no easy answer—no silver bullet. Instead, there is the power of the Gospel to transform us into the kinds of people who can bring a new imagination into the most difficult problems. Jesus Christ lived on this earth, in human form, living a perfect life. Life was no simpler then. And yet Christ did something for us that would change the course of history by submitting himself to be crucified for us. To die, to be buried, and to rise again to give us eternal life with him. We, as Christians, believe in that momentous act as the most important one in history.  We also believe that it means something today. It empowers us, through the Holy Spirit, to cultivate imaginative ways to navigate the most difficult problems we face. The power of the resurrection isn’t confined to one day 2,000 years ago, and it doesn’t start and stop on Sunday mornings. The power of the resurrection makes a difference today. Right here, right now.  The Colossian Forum’s mission is to provide some of the tools and practices that help to form us into the kinds of Christians who can bring Gospel-centered imagination to the most difficult problems—to form us into the kinds of souls who ask the Holy Spirit for just the right thing at just the right time. Even when that means an unexpected move to bring a loved one out of the deepest despair. It worked for Jake and Anna. As it turns out, they are now married and have two beautiful kids, adding plenty of runny noses to the family.  If you would like to learn more about The Colossian Forum, attend an event, or sign up for our small-group leader training, we would love to connect. Get more information here, and stay connected with us here. *This story is true, but the names have been changed. 
Uncovering the Beauty of Christ in a Messy World - A Journey toward Hope
March 15, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Uncovering the Beauty of Christ in a Messy World - A Journey toward Hope
February proved to be an especially painful month, watching so many profound, encumbered church conflicts play out on a global stage. The Catholic Church and the United Methodist Church held global summits on sexual abuse, and faith and sexual orientation, respectively. And the Southern Baptist Convention convened to decide the fate of churches accused of covering up widespread sexual abuse. While the illumination of these issues is essential, the path toward hope and reconciliation for all involved seems dim and rife with deep division. As we pray for all those involved and mourn victims’ sufferings, we also pray that churches around the world can, by God’s grace, get better at engaging these conflicts in ways that reflect Christ. A Community that Acts Christian At The Colossian Forum, it is our deepest desire to remind churches of a rich, beautiful vision of unity in Christ and to foster a community that acts Christian, especially in the face of conflict. I know this is possible. I know because I’ve seen it. This beauty was pervasive — palpable even — at our first public conference, Moving from Fear to Hope: Christian Practices for Polarized Times. We’d hoped the event would create awareness of the gift of conflict as a God-given opportunity for spiritual growth. We also hoped to foster a Community of Practice that would fuel ongoing personal and church culture transformation. But we discovered much more. The enthusiasm and encouragement of our participants revealed an acute, gaping hunger for a more attractive way to live in this fragmented and fearful world. And more than that, we actively shared in the hope-giving wisdom within the Christian tradition which can help us live out that beauty. Christ's Beauty in Ordinary Places Yet, we’re also learning that we can’t always expect beauty to show up in some revolutionary way, because, so often, it’s radically ordinary. It shows up in pedestrian practices — those daily rituals of relating to one another that we tend to take for granted. This is why much of our conference was dedicated to introducing one particular set of very ordinary practices that we call The Colossian Way.  The Colossian Way isn’t rocket science. It’s just our way of engaging conflict as an act of worship instead of an act of war. We do this by reminding ourselves that when we as Christians gather in the name of Jesus, we’re doing something markedly different than the rest of the world. When we gather in Jesus’ name, our primary job isn’t to make sure our side wins—because Jesus has already won. It isn’t to make things come out right in the end—they already have, and will, but not because of us. It isn’t even up to us to make sure that God is glorified. After all, we can’t glorify God unless the Spirit moves among us.  Instead, when we gather in the name of Jesus, our only goal is to practice Jesus’ own way of life in the manner in which we relate to each other. Traditionally, we practice breaking bread together, we practice sharing the cup, we practice hearing his Word — all in remembrance of what Christ has already done for us through his sacrificial love. And because of this, we now have the privilege of doing this for one another. It is in the midst of these practices that we open up a space within ourselves for the Holy Spirit to do a new thing — to transform us, who were divided, into the image of Christ for the sake of the world. Beauty in Transformation I was honored to hear of one such transformation a few years ago from one of our Colossian Way participants. After completing the 10-week journey, a woman found herself caring for her ex-husband’s aging parents because in addition to abandoning her, he also had abandoned them. When her ex-father-in-law became ill, she was there. When he needed Hospice care and eventually passed away, she was there. When her ex-mother-in-law later also became ill and needed care, she was there. One day, her ex-mother-in-law asked her why she chose to care for them. The woman explained that her experience with The Colossian Way had opened up space in her heart to hear the Spirit’s call and to ask the question, “What does love require of me?” Instead of being revengeful and right, she chose to lay down her life and take up selfless love that is reflective of Christ. It is this kind of story that fuels me and leads me to return to the simple, beautiful practices of our faith, especially amidst conflict. A Journey toward Hope God has already given us everything we need to be faithful right in the heart of conflict, and yet (surprise!), we didn’t quite achieve world peace in our single, three-day conference last fall. But we did scratch the surface of an intriguing possibility. Now, we need to practice. Fortunately, no—providentially—for us, our world, our churches, and our families give us all the opportunities we’ll ever need to get that practice! If we begin to live into a set of ordinary practices like The Colossian Way, we join a story started long ago—a story forming within us the right fears and the right hopes, and opening us to the call of the Spirit. But moving into the beauty of Christ right in the heart of conflict isn’t a one-time affair. It’s a journey toward hope.  That’s why we’re entitling this year’s conference—Gather, Practice, Witness: A Journey toward Hope. It will take place September 12-14 at the Prince Conference Center on the Calvin College campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Between now and then, we will be thinking, writing, inviting, and crafting workshops along these lines to empower individuals, leaders, pastors, parents, business people, students, and scholars to gather in the name of Jesus, to practice loving each other across difference, and to witness the body of Christ built up and give witness to the deepest desire and reality of the world. Gather, Practice, Witness are at the heart of The Colossian Way. I invite you to join us along this journey toward a better way of living together—a journey toward hope. 
Reclaiming Jesus
February 14, 2019 | Gene Miyamoto
Reclaiming Jesus
“The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Wicked Problems The “Wicked Problem” of today’s political climate can present us a wonderful, if challenging, opportunity for polarized Christians and churches to gather as one body. It gives us the chance to face our conflict and brokenness, learn through the Spirit to lovingly “fight” well together and to become stronger; to be held together in Christ (Colossians 1:17) and known as Christ’s disciples through our love of one another (John 13:35).  Reclaiming Jesus is a letter from a group of Christian leaders acting upon their conscience, coram deo, posting six theses that affirm what they believe and what they reject, specifically related to several pivotal issues that are driving separation across our society. In the letter, they denounce racism, particularly white supremacy; oppression and abuse of women; abandonment of the vulnerable, the poor, immigrants and refugees; normalization of lying and the undermining of the public accountability to truth; autocratic and authoritarian rule; and xenophobic ethnic nationalism. Their declaration calls to churches for a process of prayer, discernment and turning away from complicity in politics that undermines the theology of being seen as disciples of Christ through love for one another. The authors repudiate “those at the highest levels of political leadership” who incite such behaviors, implying but without naming President Trump.  Critics of this statement, such as the author of the 6/10/18 The Washington Times’ op-ed, “Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing,” focus primarily on hyperbolic criticism of the “Reclaiming Jesus” authors, rather than offering biblical exegesis illuminating counter-points.  Choose Loving Engagement Over Rhetoric But rhetoric isn’t the point. Rather than trying to convince the other to come over to our side or engaging in a vitriolic argument that simply drives us further apart, we have the opportunity to change the conversation. We can recognize these kinds of opinion differences – these conflicts – as Christ-given possibilities to offer a new way to approach our disagreements.    In this case, both sides are equally impassioned, equally committed to revealing the “truth.” It is precisely, squarely within the realm of disagreement between two sides such as these where we have the chance to deepen our relationships with God and one another. For the pastors, local churches and young people watching and waiting to see what liturgical leaders will say and do in response to this, and other arguments, that are playing out on the national stage, be encouraged. Because polarized Christians who gather and lovingly engage and learn well together as one body held together in Christ provides a wonderful opportunity for leadership and discipleship.  Let’s defy Dr. King’s observation. Let’s join our voices to create a beautiful sound, change the way we argue, and both lift up and restore the church and its people.
Imagine: Recovering our Desire to Participate in God’s Holy Life
January 29, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Imagine: Recovering our Desire to Participate in God’s Holy Life
We live in exciting times—times when the need for the reconciling power of the gospel is blindingly clear. Christendom is in retreat. The church suffers from a brand problem, rooted in its complicity with a divisive culture that it tacitly reflects. Young people, as well as old, are leaving the faith at an unprecedented rate.[1] Yet, there are pockets of beauty, faithfulness, and hope, as hunger for communion, community, and peace is becoming increasingly pronounced.[2] Pockets of Hope The work of The Colossian Forum (TCF) is privileged to be situated within these pockets of hope—as well as within the tensions among them. We recognize the depth of our society’s polarization and alienation, while at the same time, seeing that, by the grace of the Holy Spirit present in the body of Christ, the solution has already been given and indeed is embedded in the problem itself. Conflict, at its core, arises from differing desires, and those differences are perceived as threatening. Yet, the Christian tradition from Augustine onward has recognized that desire is always desire for communion—with God and one another. If this is the case (and we think it is), then conflict is that same desire for God and one another gone awry. How so? Well, we begin with our confession that humanity is created in the image of the Triune God, whose very life is constituted by self-giving love across three distinct, different persons. The Father gives himself completely to the Son, the Son gives himself back—unto death—to the Father through the Holy Spirit, catching up all creation into the divine and eternal dance of self-giving love and delight. This is ultimately who we are and how the world most truly is. Harnessing Conflict But in a world full of brokenness, hurt, and sin, rather than participating in the divine dance of pouring ourselves out through self-giving, our love has become self-protective and self-serving. Rather than experiencing delight and desire across different persons, there is defensiveness, fear, suspicion, and even violence. Yet the very desire powering conflict (all the energy of our desire gone awry) can, by the healing power of the Holy Spirit, be harnessed for our own redemption and the salvation of the world. The conflicts raging across our society, denominations, churches, and even our families are driven by our deep and abiding desire for communion with God and one another, however distorted that desire has become. And we have, in the words of 2 Peter 1:3, “…been given everything we need for a holy life...” TCF is an organization tasked with the recovery of the language, imagination, and practices that will help open up believers to the Spirit’s power to reshape our desires, moving us away from the fearful and combative desires of the self-protective “flesh” and toward active participation in God’s own holy life of self-giving love, especially in the face of the conflicts that plague our time. Built for Communion To our deep delight, we have found believers and non-believers alike are hungry for this way of being-in-communion-in-the-world. We are made for this. We are ready for this. We are built for communion, and even amidst the intense divisive language we experience in social media and elsewhere, we haven’t forgotten it. Because of this deep longing, and because of the vision and faithfulness of people like you, TCF has had the privilege of being set aside—given the time and space—to walk with believers, churches, leaders, and Christian organizations from divisiveness to discipleship and to the first fruits of reconciliation. Through almost eight years of research, reading, writing, experimentation, and evaluation, we now have the clearest sense in our history of where we are as an organization and where we need to go next. And with this emerging clarity, we are embarking on a five-year strategic planning process next month. Envisioning a five-year horizon will insure that near-term planning plots the appropriate trajectory. This is an exciting, yet daunting, time. [1]Pinetops Foundation reported in 2018 that if the current trends continue, 30-50 million people will have left the church by 2050, never to return. [2]Google’s NGram tool analyzing word usage across time marks a 46% increase in references to “community” from 1960 to 2000.

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