Aug 11

Simply Trust

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tree sprout

Many of you connected to the Apprentice Institute know that I oversee the adult learning program, Apprentice Experience.  It has been an incredible opportunity for me. Not only do I get to work with a fantastic team of deep, Christian people, but I have the

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tree sprout

Many of you connected to the Apprentice Institute know that I oversee the adult learning program, Apprentice Experience.  It has been an incredible opportunity for me. Not only do I get to work with a fantastic team of deep, Christian people, but I have the honor of leading people from all over the world in this 18-month journey in discipleship.  Our pilot group – Community 1 – is made up of twenty-five people.  They are pastors, church staff, para church workers and lay leaders.

As we prepare for our third Gathering in October, we are reading Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant SimplicitySimplicity is about intentionally choosing the engaging, relational life we were meant to live.  These choices allow God’s power to move through us and bless others as we have space to do good.  Suffice to say, it has been making an indelible mark on our hearts and minds.  Each week, we read two chapters, then attempt an experiment with simplicity.

One of the recent experiments asked us to talk with someone we know who lives simply.  I gave some thought to this and decided I was going to talk to a friend from Florida who recently simplified her wardrobe by doing a “clothing capsule.”  The concept is essentially a minimalist approach to clothing.  The idea is nothing new.  It actually dates back to the 70’s, but is making a comeback.  The basic idea is to build a wardrobe with a few high-quality, timeless pieces that mix and match.  You store seasonal clothing and only keep what you wear in your closet.  Each season, you switch to a new capsule, though some pieces will overlap.  The wardrobe is also intended to be built with ethical clothing.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a bit of a “clothes horse.” (Hey – everyone’s got their own vices, right?)  I decided to attempt the clothing capsule after much prayer and thought.  I took everything out of my closet and went through it all.  I hung up what I wear regularly, including shoes.  Then I went through what was left.  I either gave away of donated the rest.  I purged my closet again, only this time, it was really hard.  I picked a couple different items and said goodbye to the rest.  Versatility was the key to what I ended up keeping.

Part of having a capsule is not having all of your clothes in front of you, which can be overwhelming.  For example, my fall/winter wardrobe went in the spare bedroom’s closet, which included coats, sweaters, and long sleeve shirts.

The last step in my transition to simplicity was to stop shopping.  Which isn’t really hard for me since I hate to shop.  But when you get rid of 75% of your clothes, it’s easy to stroll into a store and pick up some new items.  Shopping should only occur when preparing to fill in the gaps for the next season’s capsule.  My summer wardrobe has exactly 40 items.

For me, this process was extremely spiritual.  While I was in seminary, my wife and I did not make very much money.  We were in a season of minimalistic living.  We hung on to what we accumulated in our previous lives because resources were limited.  This process of simplifying my wardrobe revealed something incredibly insightful.  I learned that, over the years, I hung on to clothes out of a lack of trust…with God.  I didn’t trust that I’d have clothes to wear, so I kept them – even though I didn’t wear a lot of it.  By purging my closet, it was an exercise in simplicity and trust.  The experience was very powerful!

Through this process, I also have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the wise words of Jesus, from Matthew 6 (v. 25-34)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

I posted my experiment with simplicity in the online classroom for the Apprentice Experience.  Shortly afterwards, others from Community 1 began posting their experiments.  It was staggering to read how they are living in abundant simplicity.  I asked their permission to share some of their experiences with the entire Apprentice community.  Next week, I’ll post Part 2 of this blog so you can read their stories.


John Carroll oversees the Apprentice Experience, a two-year certification experience in Christian Spiritual Formation for clergy and laity.  With a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary, John brings a unique blend of experience (11 years in corporate recruiting, 4 years in the local church) to the Apprentice Institute.  He is happily married to his wife, Amber, and together they have two children, Aidan and Amelia. In his free time, John enjoys reading, watching football and spending time with family and friends.

For more information about the Apprentice Experience, contact John at john.carroll@apprenticeinstitute.org.

 

Posted in Blog, Soul Training, Spiritural Growth, Uncategorized | Tags: / / /

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May 12

Growing Requires Daring to Look at Who We Really Are

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“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139 1-4; 23-24 (NRSV) I have been an enabler (now recovering) most of my life: I looked

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“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Psalm 139 1-4; 23-24 (NRSV)

I have been an enabler (now recovering) most of my life: I looked for and attracted needy people and proceeded to try to “fix them.”  I felt responsible for other people’s feelings, thoughts, actions, needs, and well-being. I was happiest when I was busily attempting to bring calm to chaotic situations.  I did this even in the face of logic which clearly demonstrated that this behavior was foolhardy and even dangerous and in spite of the objections of my family and friends. Those actions had severe consequences which still affect my life. And all the while I was convinced that this lifestyle was what God was calling me to do.

This behavior controlled my life because I was unable to step outside myself and observe my own behavior. Until a counselor helped me to look at myself and discern the motivation of my actions and reactions, I saw no need to change, although my life was falling apart all around me.

What I am describing here is a lack of consciousness.   Consciousness is “me seeing me seeing” (Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 85).  Consciousness is the awareness that empowers me to:

  • step outside myself
  • discern my behavior
  • choose to change my behavior or go ahead with that behavior

The opposite of consciousness is acting out of instinct or from thoughts and experiences of which we are unaware.  An example of this “unconscious” behavior would be sudden anger or violence that makes us think, “Where in the world did that come from?” or crippling fear that we cannot explain.

When my enabling controlled me, I could/would not see that I was choosing to be manipulated.  I could/would not understand or see that I was taking actions that hurt me as well as the person I was trying to fix.  When I took a young man just released from jail to my home to stay because his parents wouldn’t let him return to their home, I couldn’t see that his parents may have had good reason to keep him away. Being “unconscious” kept me in denial of the dangers of my own behavior.

As I began my spiritual formation journey years later, I discovered that God used that counselor to help me understand and change my behavior, but that the Holy Spirit was the power behind my transformation from someone interested only in codependent relationships to someone who could form and enjoy healthy relationships.  My perception is that consciousness is the conduit the Holy Spirit uses to speak into our lives.  If we are willing to practice stepping out- side of ourselves, the Holy Spirit can guide, comfort, teach, remind, and empower us, as Scripture teaches he will (John 14).

“Consciousness” is an awareness we can learn and practice.  A counselor who was in one of the classes I teach told the group that looking back on our past to see how our parents or grandparents may have influenced our lives is one way of learning to step outside ourselves and become observers. Learning about “false narratives” also gives us a framework to observe and assess our own perceptions of the world.

The spiritual discipline of “detachment” is also a way that we can learn to develop consciousness. Ignatius of Loyola talks about “making use of those things that help bring us closer to God and leaving aside those things that don’t” (In First Principal and Foundation quoted by Margaret Silf in her book Inner Compass).  Silf uses the image of God as a midwife to help us picture what detachment means:

For all of us, our first experience of the pain and promise of detachment was the hour we left our mother’s womb and, screaming with shock,  entered human life on earth.  In the seemingly brutal act of cutting the umbilical cord, which separated us from the prenatal food supply, we were in fact set free to live our own lives.

So it began, and so it continues in the ongoing call to let go of what is not (or is no longer) leading us closer to God, and to choose instead those ways that for us personally lead us closer to him and to the fulfillment of his dream for us.  (Inner Compass, p. 108)

Richard Rohr says that “for properly detached persons . . . . deeper consciousness comes rather naturally.  They discover their own soul – which is their deepest self – and yet have access to a Larger Knowing beyond themselves.”  He goes on to say that when Jesus speaks of “giving us the Spirit,” he is saying he is “sharing his consciousness with us. One whose soul is thus awakened actually has ‘the mind of Christ’ (I Cor. 2 10-16)  (Breathing Under Water, p. 86-87).

Mulling it Over – Take on the discipline of praying this prayer every day.  “Lord, give me a growing spirit of detachment from anything that separates me from you” (Richard Foster).  Pay attention to the effect it has on your willingness to look at yourself from outside yourself.


Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired from work as a Director of Spiritual Formation, she now spends her time writing.  She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.

Posted in A Good and Beautiful Life, Blog, Narrative, Soul Training, Spiritural Growth | Tags: / / / / / / / / /

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Mar 13

Cultivating Wonder

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“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.”  Psalm 65:8 (NIV) In his book Eyes Remade for Wonder, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner tells the story of a four-year old girl and her grandmother who

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“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.”  Psalm 65:8 (NIV)

In his book Eyes Remade for Wonder, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner tells the story of a four-year old girl and her grandmother who were together on a summer afternoon. The grandmother was reading while the girl played on the floor nearby. Suddenly there was a crack of thunder and a torrential rain.  And then, as quickly as it came, it was gone. The girl got up and looked out the window and spotted the stripes of a rainbow against a patch of blue sky. “Grandma,” she asked, “who made that?”

Do you envy that child? Like most children, her world is still full of awe and wonder. What about you? Do you live in wonder?  Or do you move through your world without really seeing – until a clap of thunder wakes you up?

Are you filled with wonder when a baby smiles back at you?  When a choir and orchestra fill a sanctuary with glorious music? When sunlight slants through a forest? When a perfect sentence ends a mesmerizing book? When birds serenade each other a sunrise? When a dancer gracefully floats across the stage? When children giggle? When aromas of a Thanksgiving meal waft through a warm kitchen? When frost traces delicate filigree across your window pane?

Psalm 65: 8 says that God has filled the world with wonder to invite our joyful praises.  Eugene Peterson puts it this way in The Message: “Dawn and dusk take turns calling, ‘Come and worship.’” We are called to live in wonder because wonder trains our souls for worship. A sense of awe and reverence for everything around us prompts us to reverence the Creator of it all.  Wonder makes us humble. It takes us outside of our petty existences and puts us in touch with presence of God.

In their book Awaken Your Senses, J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Booram describe how using our “whole” brain nurtures our experience of life, including our sense of wonder:  “Our left brain, which is the logical and concrete center of our thinking, uses words to understand and interpret experiences.  However, the left brain cannot experience – God or anything else.  The left brain takes meaning from our experiences; the right brain does the experiencing.  The right brain, the creative and intuitive center of our thinking communicates through images, not words. By image, we mean anything you envision through one or more of your senses.”

 They go on to say that our “senses are involved in faith development.” Most of us know this intuitively: sunrise and sunsets, bubbling creeks or waves lapping on the shore, the aroma of pine trees – these move us into spiritual experiences – without words. In a world of word after word after word (texting, e-mailing, newspapers, blogs, instant messaging, even phone calls and voicemails – which are, after all words), we long for these sensual (as in using our senses) experiences without even understanding why.

In the 21st century, if we seek to experience God in the present moment, we need to foster awareness of the experiences our senses can give us. Perhaps we can do that by offering our senses to the Holy Spirit. We need to intentionally cultivate an attitude of wonder and awe. Perhaps we can do that by slowing down, creating margin, creating a different rhythm to our lives. We need to seek the sacramental nature of every moment.  Perhaps we can do that by digging deep for our long-lost childlike response to the universe. Perhaps then, when we see a rainbow, our first reaction will be to fall on our knees (metaphorically or even literally) and shout “God made that!”

MULLING IT OVER:  Read Eugene Peterson’s poetic and joy-filled vision of Psalm 65 below. Is this the way you see the world? How can you turn everything you see into an object of wonder?

Far and wide they’ll come to a stop,
they’ll stare in awe, in wonder.
Dawn and dusk take turns
calling, “Come and worship.”

Oh, visit the earth; ask her to join the dance!
Deck her out in spring showers,
fill the God-River with living water.
Paint the wheat fields golden.
Creation was made for this!
Drench the plowed fields,
soak the dirt clods
with rainfall as harrow and rake
bring her to blossom and fruit.
Snow-crown the peaks with splendor,
scatter rose petals down your paths,
All through the wild meadows, rose petals.

Set the hills to dancing,
Dress the canyon walls with live sheep,
a drape of flax across the valleys.
Let them shout, and shout, and shout!
Oh, oh, let them sing!

Psalm 65:8-13 (MSG)

 


Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired, she now spends her time writing.  She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.

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Jan 30

One in Whom Christ Dwells

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The Good and Beautiful God Conference by Apprentice Institute

“Craig is one of the people who took part in the experiment in developing a curriculum for Christlikeness. After being involved in an apprentice group, Craig began to notice some real changes in his life in the way he behaved toward his family, friends and

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The Good and Beautiful God Conference by Apprentice Institute

“Craig is one of the people who took part in the experiment in developing a curriculum for Christlikeness. After being involved in an apprentice group, Craig began to notice some real changes in his life in the way he behaved toward his family, friends and coworkers. He is a zoo architect, which requires him to travel a lot. One day he and his business colleague were flying back to the United States from Germany when they got stuck in the Atlanta airport and were told their flight home would be delayed several hours. Those several hours passed, and a few hours more, and then finally they were told the flight had been cancelled. The delay meant that there were no options to get home that night, and they would have to spend the night in Atlanta.

The anger level in the concourse was reaching a fever pitch. All of the passengers were forced into a long line to rebook their flights. Craig and his business partner stood in line and watched as each person spoke harshly to the young woman who was trying to help them. When it was Craig’s turn, he looked at the young woman, smiled and said, “I promise I am not going to be mean to you.” Her countenance softened, and she said softly, “Thank you.” Their exchange was pleasant, and he got their flights booked for the next day.

As they walked down the concourse, Craig was smiling despite the disappointment. His business partner had been watching him. He said, “Craig, I have known you for a long time. A year ago you would have been enraged by what we went through today, and you would have lit into that woman at the counter.”  Craig said, “You know what, you’re right. But I have changed. I know who I am, and I know where I am. I am a person in whom Christ dwells, and I live in the kingdom of a God who loves me and is caring for me. I’m frustrated, but I’m still at peace. We’ll get home tomorrow. There’s nothing for us to do. Anger doesn’t help anything. I figure we might as well enjoy this unexpected turn of events.”

His friend just shook his head in amazement. “I’m not sure what you’ve been eating or drinking, but you have really changed.”

It was what Craig had been doing and thinking for the last year that brought about the change. Craig had followed his desire to become a different kind of person by signing up for the apprentice group and training for transformation. Craig was not alone. His desire to do the work, and the changes he experienced as a result, occurred only because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Not by his own willpower.

 

Dr. James Bryan Smith (M.Div., Yale University Divinity School; DMin Fuller Seminary) is the Executive Director of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith is currently a theology professor at Friends University, in Wichita, Kansas, and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. He is the author of eight books, most notably The Apprentice Series (InterVarsity Press), which continue to shape the work of the Apprentice Institute. 

Taken from The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith. Copyright(c) 2009 by James Bryan Smith. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com

Posted in A Good and Beautiful Life, Apprenticeship, Blog, Identity, Soul Training, Uncategorized | Tags: / / / / / / /

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Jan 23

The Rhythm of Jesus

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“Jesus gives us the best example of a well-paced life. In the Gospels we see Jesus retreating to be alone (nine times in the Gospel of Luke alone). Jesus lives his life in perfect rhythm, the proper tempo, at all times. He will not be

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“Jesus gives us the best example of a well-paced life. In the Gospels we see Jesus retreating to be alone (nine times in the Gospel of Luke alone). Jesus lives his life in perfect rhythm, the proper tempo, at all times. He will not be rushed. He never does anything in haste. I love this passage in Mark’s Gospel:

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. (Mark 1:35-39)

Notice the balance of contemplation and action, or, in the words of John Wesley, “piety and mercy.” Before dawn Jesus goes off to a quiet place to pray. He spends time alone with his heavenly Abba. But his disciples panic when they discover Jesus is missing, especially in light of all the work that must be done. “Where have you been?” asks Peter. Jesus simply responds, “Let’s go.” Without hesitation he proclaims the good news of the available kingdom, and demonstrates its power through signs and wonders. See the perfect balance? He rests and recreates, yet he also works and serves.

Jesus’ identity was deepened in periods of silence and solitude, in time alone with his heavenly Father. That was his secret to balancing contemplation and action, rest and labor. He knew who he was. And for those of us “in whom Christ dwells,” the rhythm should be the same. As we spend time in quiet and rest and contemplation, sitting at the feet of Jesus, we gain strength to act in wisdom in the hustle and bustle of a busy world. In slowing down we can hear the Spirit whisper that we are loved, and then we begin to reflect the glory of the Christ who is within us. We become the kind of people this frazzled and frightened world most needs.”

 

How do you avoid or resist silence and solitude? Why do you avoid it?

 

Taken from The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith. Copyright(c) 2009 by James Bryan Smith. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com

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