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Displaying all posts tagged "Conflict".
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.
Not Tame: Narnia and Relationships
September 23, 2019 | Emily Stroble
Not Tame: Narnia and Relationships
“He is not a tame lion. He is not safe, but he is good,” Mr. Beaver says of Aslan the lion in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.   As a child, those words transported me to Beaver Lodge with Lucy, Susan, and Peter, siblings from our world, who stumble into Narnia, a world enchanted in perpetual winter by the evil White Witch. Suddenly, the children realize Edmund, their brother, has snuck away and been captured by the witch. They hurry off to beg for Aslan’s help. The story is, perhaps, the classic Christian allegory. Aslan, the Christ-figure, dies to save sinful Edmund but doesn’t stay dead. Instead, he rises to lead the children in the final battle against the White Witch and her army of monsters. Lewis centers this beautiful story on a broken relationship, spending many pages before we ever see Narnia watching Edmund’s relationships. He makes sure we don’t miss that what Edmund needs to be saved from is not the consequences of one mistake. Rather, Edmund’s character is twisted by cruelty that wrecks his relationships, particularly with his little sister, Lucy. He betrays his siblings for the White Witch’s promises and puts all of Narnia in danger. When Aslan rescues Edmund, his first care is their broken relationship. He returns Edmund to his siblings, saying, “Take your brother and speak no more of what is past.” With this command, Aslan decisively creates something new. The restoration culminates as Edmund fights the White Witch hand-to-hand, a courageous act of repentance and rejection of his old ways. He is mortally wounded. Lucy rushes to his aid, evidencing that Aslan has made their relationship new, empowering them to help each other and do incredible good in the world. Conflict is at the heart of this story, not only in relationships but in the collision of themes. Despite being a children’s story, the narrative is sometimes brutal. Despite Aslan embodying the compassion of Jesus, there is hardly a character who is not afraid of him. Through The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis invites us to imagine God as God describes himself — “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:6-7). In scripture, God’s love is a fearsome thing. Is that, perhaps, why Aslan so captures our hearts and imaginations? More importantly, why is this fierce love, so beautiful and scriptural, so surprising — the stuff of fantasy stories? We Christians often speak of God’s love in our lives and relationships. Yet, when we approach conflict, our best efforts at love tend to devolve into mere listening exercises, chilly tolerance, and a polite status quo. Nothing changes. Nobody changes. In a narrative, not only would that kind of resolution make for a boring story, even written by Lewis, but it’s not at all characteristic of who God declares himself to be and of the kind of work he does.   The kind of love Aslan enacts as he dies on the Stone Table, the kind that recreates Edmund’s and Lucy’s relationship, is world-altering. There is a deep magic, Aslan says, “…that when a willing victim is killed in a traitor’s stead…Death itself works backward.” Aslan’s love creates new hearts, new relationships, new rules for the universe. Aslan doesn’t simply return things to the way they were. No; Edmund repents and is changed from selfish to sacrificial, his strength transformed from bullying to bravery. The Stone Table breaks. Creatures turned to stone by the White Witch awake to life. Godly love is the powerful thing that grows up where the ice of bitterness, apathy, and sin are hacked away, creating real relationships.   Love is speaking truth in courageous vulnerability, knowing those whom we love most are those who most deeply hurt us. Love is a tenacious commitment to the flourishing of our brothers and sisters. When they do wrong, when they fall prey to beautiful lies, we go after them, not content in our own joy and understanding until they share it.   Love is quick and eager to repent, and it fights against our own selfishness and pride. Brave love roars and riots with the power of God’s imagination, the power that since the beginning and forever draws new creation out of darkness and chaos. Brothers and sisters, God is not about a tame work or a frosty peace between “friends.” God is about a deep magic that makes the heavy wheels of death grind backwards. He’s about returning our lost loved ones and leading us, who had hearts of stone, to a love wild in its courage and power. Love is often called a soft, tame thing. It is not. It is lion-like. Do you think love is tame or lion-like? Please share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #nottame.   
The Banner: Practicing the Ministry of Reconciliation - by Michael Gulker
September 16, 2019 | Michael Gulker
The Banner: Practicing the Ministry of Reconciliation - by Michael Gulker
Fear and conflict—and fear of conflict—dominate many of the headlines on our news feeds these days. These conflicts (and conflict avoidance) are ripping apart our nations, denominations, congregations, and even our families. According to a study by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, “The top reasons why people leave a church have to do with not being connected in the church and/or being revolted by gossip and turned away by conflict and strife.” Not being connected. Being revolted. These responses are likely the result of our refusal to engage the many conflicts separating us, or our tendency to engage them badly. We’re tired of it—really tired of it. So how can we do better? Read more...
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.
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.

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