Aug 24

Simply Trust – Part II

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Last week, I blogged about my experiment with simplicity.  I was very powerful for me to use Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant Simplicity, to de-clutter a particular area of my life that really needed help.  Participants in Community 1 of the Apprentice Experience granted me permission

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Last week, I blogged about my experiment with simplicity.  I was very powerful for me to use Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant Simplicity, to de-clutter a particular area of my life that really needed help.  Participants in Community 1 of the Apprentice Experience granted me permission to share some of their experiences with the entire Apprentice community.

In Part 2 of this blog, I will share their experiments with simplicity.  Perhaps their stories will provide some motivation, inspiration or some insight as to how God is working in their lives as they journey through the Apprentice Experience.

Here are just a few entries:

Participant 1-

“One way I am ‘un-cluttering’ this week is cleaning out my Inbox so that I can see all of them on one page- only keeping the essentials ones that remind me that I need to respond in some way, and unsubscribing from some of the emails I was getting that only distract me (TravelZoo, Groupon, etc).  Life with Jesus is better than any ‘deal’ the internet has to offer!”

Participant 2-

“On page 8 of Jan’s book, Abundant Simplicity, she writes, ‘Simplicity is not a discipline itself but a way of being. It is letting go of things others consider normal. It is an “inward reality of single-hearted focus upon God and God’s kingdom, which results in an outward lifestyle of modesty.’

 Simple thus isn’t the goal. I know of people who live frugally and who are about as far from God as one can be. Frugal can be a symptom of faithlessness. Rather simple is a means, when appropriately employed, to enable us to remove the obstacles that keep us from that ‘inward reality of a single-hearted focus upon God.’ I find that when I remove the clutter whether of things and/or the mental clutter that congests my soul’s lungs then I can breathe more deeply of the Spirit and can consequently experience a fuller reality of God’s presence.

 The accumulation of things hasn’t really been so much of a problem for me as I grow older as much as the things that add to the mental clutter of my mind. When that happens then the things start to own me rather than me owning them. The thing that tries to own me the most and does the most to clutter up my mind is the television and in a close second are the social media devices.

 I confessed recently in a sermon to my congregation that I contemplated canceling my cable service. But, after further consideration, I thought that might be a rash decision. The cable television isn’t bad nor the social media devices. They are only harmful when they start to own us and redirect our focus farther from God. So my spiritual discipline for this month is to first become aware of the routines that own me e.g., plopping automatically down in front and the TV and allowing the ‘Sirens’ of the flat screen to draw me into the rocks of spiritual despair. Secondly, once I recognize the harmful routines, I will turn to listen to the Spirit’s call and allow God to own me so that my soul can breathe more deeply of God’s goodness. In my confession to my congregation, I promised to keep them update on my progress. I think there might be some others in my congregation practicing this spiritual discipline of abstinence as Jan calls it.”

Participant 3-

“Abstinence has been with ease as I have matured.  I have found I do not buy ‘things’ as when I was younger. Yes I lack the desire but God has given me much more to replace than having those things.  My taste in food has gotten simpler, fresher, colorful with less of it.  However, If you ask me to give up chocolate or wine then I will find a struggle and an obvious discipline for me to venture.  Living on a ranch can lend to a collection of nuts and bolts ‘just in case’ you need one.  My eyes appreciate simple lines and cleanliness.  It takes some work to keep a landscape free of clutter in your home or outside.   As I walk along a creek near our house I have the choice to see all the deadfall that needs cleaning up or how nature runs its course with decay.  There was a great horn owl on a dead tree along on drive just last night.  I stopped the car so we could watch as the bird took off in a swoosh.  My husband said ‘That is why I want to leave the dead tree there.’  Jim Smith said in our last gathering that some people actually prefer manmade beauty perhaps more than even nature.  I agreed for a while.  Nature does not always have the cleanest lines but the whole picture cannot be replicated.  The chaos and the simple lie side by side.  I can see the beauty in the chaos while watching the center of a storm.  I can see beauty in decay while watching the birds in dead trees.  It is an ongoing process to keep the clutter down and oh how sweet it is when I am finally there, in glimpses.”

Participant 4-

“One thing that stood out in chapter 2 was that one can LEARN to be content. That is a very encouraging thing.  I don’t have to just wait for contentment to wash over me or do without it.  It’s not a disposition that, if I’m not born with it, I’m out of luck.  If it is something that can be learned, then it is within my reach. All kinds of things can be learned.  In a psychology class, I heard about a study in which rats became more creative after researchers reinforced them when they tried novel behaviors.  They said the rats learned creativity.  I also heard that the secret to being patient was to find something else to do in the meantime, and voila, I learned patience.  I think learning contentment is similar.  Focusing on what I do have instead of what I don’t, focusing on what really matters instead of what is here today and gone tomorrow.  As with all learning, the more I practice the more it becomes an automatic habit.”

Participant 5-

“I have been a blacksmith in the past. I love it, the smell of the coal smoke, the way the steel glows in the heat of the fire, the way it moves when I hit it with a hammer.  Literally hundreds of fantastic memories of working in front of men and boys at Royal Rangers camps.  However, I have not had my forge lit in 5 or 6 years. I owned a 281lb anvil, a 150lb vise, a huge 24 by 26 tray forge and dozens of hammers, tongs and tools.  As God was changing my life and preparing me for ministry, one thing that He was really working on was my attachment to stuff.  Even without the physical stuff the memories were still with me.  So…I simplified, I kept a small forge and anvil to play with when I come back to that hobby.  I sold or gave away most of my big tools and grinders.  And you know what?  Life is simpler!”

As you can see, people in the Apprentice Experience have been grappling with the concept of simplicity and have experienced some major revelations.  It will be interesting to witness the ways they experience God in the midst of all of this as we prepare for our next gathering.

Experiments with Simplicity

I’d like to encourage you to experiment with simplicity this week.  Perhaps you can try one or all of these:

  1. Talk to someone who lives simply. Ask them what they’ve learned through simplicity.
  1. Ask someone you trust to suggest what “weights” you need to lay aside. Don’t answer that person immediately.  Think about what he or she said.
  1. Journal about this question: “What do you want?” First write down what you think you want.  Then, ask God to help you search yourself as you look at things such as your calendar and spending records.  Also, consider your thought energy – What do you spend a lot of time thinking about?

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.

 

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Oct 06

A Good and Beautiful Life: St. Francis (1182-1226)

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Part of an occasional series in which we remember apprentices of Jesus and members of the body of Christ who have paved the way for us. They offer us a model for following Christ in a variety of ways and settings. If your church offered

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Part of an occasional series in which we remember apprentices of Jesus and members of the body of Christ who have paved the way for us. They offer us a model for following Christ in a variety of ways and settings.

If your church offered a “Blessing of the Animals” service recently, then you were unknowingly honoring St. Francis (or at least hearing about it). Most of the church remembers Francis (Patron Saint of Animals) on Oct. 4th.

One well known story portrays Francis, upon noting the reverence of a flock of birds and taking pleasure in the way they bowed their heads he began to preach to them. Francis praised God the Creator for the splendor of creation he witnessed in these birds.

But Francis was not born with this habit of praise. Born to a wealthy family in Assisi, Italy in 1182, Giovanni Francesco di Pietro di Bernadone was more accustomed to the splendor of wealth than creation.

Francis of Assisi, Cimabue

**Francis of Assisi, Cimabue

Bonaventure recounts the story when Francis happened upon a leper just outside of Assisi. Francis was put off at the sight of the leper initially, but had a change of heart and ran to kiss the man. Once he got back on his horse, Francis looked for the man, but saw no one. Bonaventure writes of the experience, “Filled with wonder and joy, he began devoutly to sing God’s praises, resolving from this always to strive to do greater things in the future” (189).†

From that point on, Francis sought out solitude and prayer in order to fulfill Jesus’ words, “If you wish to come after me, deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).

While praying in an old church–San Damiano–Francis heard a voice three times say, “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling completely into ruin” (191).†

Francis offered the wealth of his father to the priest for the rebuilding of the crumbling church, but the priest rejected it for fear of Francis’ parents. Finally, Francis renounced his father’s riches and possessions, down to the clothes on his back.

Francis was given a simple robe and he began to beg for money to rebuild the crumbling walls of San Damiano. By his work and humble example, Francis started an order of Mendicants (beggars) known as the Franciscans, “who like birds, possess nothing of their own in this world and commit themselves entirely to the Providence of God” (299).‡

Francis and his followers lived out Christ’s words:

27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:27-34)

So, Francis learned from Creation and was grateful for God’s goodness and provision in creation. Imitating Christ was foremost in Francis’ life and practice, his total commitment to this goal offered a compelling witness to all whom he encountered (whether they followed him or not).

“Thus the servant of the Most High King (Francis)
was left naked
so that he might follow
his naked crucified Lord, whom he loved.
Thus the cross strengthened him
to entrust his soul
to the wood of salvation
that would save him from the shipwreck of the world” (194).†

A prayer attributed to St. Francis:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is
hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where
there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where
there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where
there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to
be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is
in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we
are born to eternal life. Amen. (BCP)

†St. Bonaventure, The Little Flowers of St. Francis, translated by Ewert Cousins (NY: Paulist Press, 1978)

‡ The Little Flowers of St. Francis in Devotional Classics Revised and Expanded, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith (NY: HarperCollins, 2005)

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Mar 17

A Good and Beautiful Life: St. Patrick

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Celtic Style cross at hill of Tara-Ireland

Part of an occasional series in which we remember apprentices of Jesus and members of the body of Christ who have paved the way for us. They offer us a model for following Christ in a variety of ways and settings. Are you wearing green

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Celtic Style cross at hill of Tara-Ireland

Part of an occasional series in which we remember apprentices of Jesus and members of the body of Christ who have paved the way for us. They offer us a model for following Christ in a variety of ways and settings.

Are you wearing green today? If not, have you been pinched, yet? Between shamrocks, green attire, and dyeing of liquids from rivers to beer, Patrick’s remembrance is one of the more lively of any saint or figure in church history.800px-Chicago_River_dyed_green,_focus_on_river--public domain

It’s difficult to separate truth from myth with Patrick’s legacy, but most people agree:

  • Patrick was born in Britain (around 390)
  • Around the age of sixteen, Patrick was kidnapped and enslaved in Ireland
  • He had a conversion experience during his time as a slave, and once free, he began the path to priesthood
  • Once ordained, Patrick returned to Ireland and spent the rest of his life preaching and spreading the Christian faith across the island

Whether or not any of the folklore that has grown up around Patrick is true, the fact that he returned to preach and minister in the place where he was enslaved is a testament to power of God’s grace and call.

In the words of The Lorica (or “St. Patrick’s breastplate):

I arise today
Through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

St. Patrick--St. Benins Church Window--Ireland

**St. Patrick–St. Benins Church Window–Ireland–Andreas F. Borchert–CC 2.0

Patrick’s life work was done in the strength of God, not his own. So, whether you’re Irish, want to be Irish, or just enjoy the festivities, may Patrick’s good and beautiful example of reliance on God and faithfulness to God’s call encourage you today.

A prayer for the day:

Almighty God, who in your providence chose your servant Patrick to be the apostle of the Irish people, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of you: Grant us so to walk in that light, that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.

If you’d like to read the full Lorica (including “Christ be with me, Christ within me…”), check out the Mission of St. Clare.

 

 

**Featured Image Photo Credit: Celtic Style Cross at Hill of Tara by teamaskins / CC SA 2.0

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Feb 27

A Good and Beautiful Life: George Herbert

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Part of an occasional series in which we remember apprentices of Jesus and members of the body of Christ who have paved the way for us. They offer us a model for following Christ in a variety of ways and settings. George Herbert (1593-1633) did

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Part of an occasional series in which we remember apprentices of Jesus and members of the body of Christ who have paved the way for us. They offer us a model for following Christ in a variety of ways and settings.

George Herbert (1593-1633) did not set out to become a noted poet or literary figure. After an initial desire to serve in the Church of England, Herbert turned his vocational vision to service in the court and government.

At Cambridge, Herbert quickly moved up the ranks, earning his B.A., M.A. and later becoming university orator (spokesperson). This very public position allowed him to easily transition to being a member of Parliament.

While in Parliament, Herbert wrestled with the disconnect between his work and the praise of God. So, he returned to his original vocational goal to serve in the church. Herbert began the ordination process in 1626 and later served the parish of St. Andrews in Bemerton (pictured).

Herbert ministered to his local congregation through visitation and leading morning and evening prayer. Herbert wrote a number of poems, which are highly devotional and offer the reader a glimpse into his reflections on life with God. Herbert died of tuberculosis at the age of 40 in 1633.

A poem for the day:   Love (III)

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
          Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
          From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
          If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
          Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
          I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
          Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
          Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
          My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
          So I did sit and eat.

A prayer for the day:

Our God and King, who called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls, a poet, and a priest in your temple: Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to perform the tasks you give us to do, knowing that nothing is menial or common that is done for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

More reading on the life of George Herbert.

**Featured Image photo credit: St. Andrews Old Church Bemerton by nick macneill / CC SA 2.0

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Feb 13

A Good and Beautiful Life: Absalom Jones

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Absalom Jones

Part of an occasional series in which we remember apprentices of Jesus and members of the body of Christ who have paved the way for us. They offer us a model for following Christ in a variety of ways and settings. Absalom Jones (1746-1818) walked

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Absalom Jones

Part of an occasional series in which we remember apprentices of Jesus and members of the body of Christ who have paved the way for us. They offer us a model for following Christ in a variety of ways and settings.

Absalom Jones (1746-1818) walked out of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church (where he served as a lay preacher) in Philadelphia in 1786, when he was told black worshipers would be forced to sit in the balcony during Sunday worship.

Along with Richard Allen, Jones founded The African Church, which later became The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. Jones was ordained the first African American Episcopal Priest in 1802.

Jones was a staunch opponent of slavery in the United States and petitioned congress on the topic throughout his life.

Jones believed God was active not only in the life of Israel in the Old Testament, but in the lives of African Americans in the U.S. in his own day. An excerpt from his Thanksgiving Sermon, celebrating the end of legal importation of slaves to the United States:

“The history of the world shows us, that the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage, is not the only instance, in which it has pleased God to appear in behalf of oppressed and distressed nations, as the deliverer of the innocent, and of those who call upon his name. He is as unchangeable in his nature and character, as he is in his wisdom and power. The great and blessed event, which we have this day met to celebrate, is a striking proof, that the God of heaven and earth is the same, yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. Yes, my brethren, the nations from which most of us have descended, and the country in which some of us were born, have been visited by the tender mercy of the Common Father of the human race.”

May we follow Absalom Jones’ example of standing against injustice in whatever form we find it.

Prayer for the day:

Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
More information at Antislavery Literature.

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