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.

 

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Jun 04

Becoming a Wounded Healer – Part 1

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“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.  You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,  so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give

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“Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”

Psalm 30: 5b; 11-12 (NRSV)

What does the word broken call to your mind?  Plates, mirrors, and windows?  Promises?  A world record? Bones and fingernails and noses?  Hearts, spirits – yes, even people can be broken.

How do we come to be broken? We may have been hurt, injured, or suffered loss. We may have sinned greatly and become weighed down by guilt and shame. We may have been in a relationship or situation that has shattered our illusions or betrayed our trust.  A truly broken person has come to the end of himself or herself.

Richard Rohr has commented, “Would any of us even learn to love at all if it was not demanded of us, taken from us, and called forth by human tears and earthly tragedy? Is suffering necessary to teach us how to love and care for one another?” (Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 123)   Rohr brings an important fact of life to our attention. When everything is rolling along well in our lives, we can believe that we are in control. We know what to do.  We don’t need to share our lives or steep in the wisdom of others. We feel no need to stop, look around, or attempt to make sense of anything.

But once grief or pain or betrayal or obstacles enter our lives, we are brought up short. Life is no longer fair – let alone rosy. We begin the journey of catching our breath, looking up, and trying to understand.  We try to make sense of our suffering. We may drop to our knees for the first time in our lives.

The pages of the book of Psalms spill over with the cries of the hurt and broken.  However, the Psalmists also teach us that joy may indeed come with the morning and through our mourning.  We can recycle those experiences and become wounded healers. We can love and care for another, speaking into his or her life through our own experience.

All of us are wounded in some way, but we do not all become healers. “Hurt people hurt people” is a cliché, but it is also true. If we do not work through our suffering with the help of the Holy Spirit, we cannot be a healing presence in the church or in the world.  Our helping will be tainted by our own unredeemed suffering.  We will be at risk of hurting others because the fruits of our spirit will be bitterness, anger, control, frustration, fear, judgmentalism, resentment, blame, criticism, cynicism, hatred, retreat, withdrawal or flight. Those of us who have been wounded and do open our suffering to the healing love of God can be of benefit to others because love, compassion, empathy, serenity, joy, and hope will flow from our lives.

Each of us is deeply wounded not only by life’s experience but also because we carry the taint of sin. The Church is a gathering place for the wounded.  But not all wounded find healing there. That is why churches can become the most vicious places on earth. And it may why the unchurched say that they will never darken the door of a church because it is filled with “hypocrites.”

Perhaps we look like hypocrites because we are still wounded. We invite those who do not know Jesus to find healing in our sanctuaries, but we don’t want to acknowledge that many of us already sitting in those sanctuaries have not allowed that Jesus to heal us. Even worse, most of us would not be willing even to consider that we were part of the wounded and unhealed.

Henri Nouwen brought awareness of the term “wounded healers” in his book of the same name. Nouwen is speaking here about professional ministers. I am enlarging that term to “Christ followers.”  Nouwen says:

A minister [Christ follower] is called to recognize the sufferings . . .in his own heart and make that recognition the starting point of his service. . . .  His [or her] service will not be received as authentic un-less it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which he [she] speaks” (Can You Drink the Cup?, p. 59).

Until churches believe this and make it their mission to become authentic healers, hurt people will continue to hurt people.  And the suffering Wounded Healer will suffer more as he watches our unwillingness to recycle our wounds harm his Church.

Moving from wounded soul to wounded healer takes hard work. In his foreword to John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping, Caring for the Most Important Part of You, Henry Cloud quotes a psychologist who reports that his long-time patient Maddie “still has no interest in having an interior life (p. 10).   This dilemma faces many Christians. We say we want to grow. We say we want to be healed of our grief or anger or fear. But we choose not to do the work of looking at our thoughts, attitudes, behaviors or beliefs. “Having an interior life” is an absolute necessity if we are to redeem our pain and suffering and recycle it for good.

Richard Rohr’s final encouragement for the healing of wounds is that “with Jesus, we find the power to hold the pain of life until it transforms us” (Breathing Under Water, p. 68). God is the great Alchemist. God can create light out of darkness – but only if we cooperate.

MULLING IT OVER:  Remember an experience of conflict in your church.  How much of it could have been avoided if each person participating was not just wounded but a wounded healer?

How can you offer your wounds for the healing of others?


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.

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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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Feb 03

Living in a Posture of Surrender

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“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat.  I am.”  (MSG) Mark 8:34     Who doesn’t want to be in the driver’s seat? The driver controls where we go, when we stop, how we

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“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead.

You’re not in the driver’s seat.  I am.”  (MSG)

Mark 8:34

 

 

Who doesn’t want to be in the driver’s seat? The driver controls where we go, when we stop, how we get there, what radio station we listen to, whether the heat is turned up or down. Don’t we all wish we were sitting in the driver’s seat so everything can go our way?

Unfortunately, the eagerness to be in control is the bane of every follower of Jesus’ existence. We want it, but when we attempt it, we mess up royally. In fact, as William Temple says, “From the beginning, I put myself in God’s place. This is my original sin. I was doing it before I could speak, as has everyone else . . . . I am in a state, from birth, in which I shall bring disaster on myself unless I escape it” (Devotional Classics, p. 224).

Surrendering the goal (and illusion) of being in charge is the foundational task of our spiritual journey. Jesus says that very plainly. He is the leader. Jesus is Lord. If we want to walk with Jesus, we have to give up control of our lives. There is no room on the throne for two lords; we need to get up off the throne, renounce all claims to lordship, and declare allegiance to the one who is the Lord. As Eugene Peterson expresses so well, we can’t go or grow with God and at the same time remain in charge of our lives (Mark 8: 34). We need to continually and consciously turn our will over to God.

However, turning over or surrendering remind us of actions that most of us see as adverse and undesirable: submitting, letting go, yielding, capitulating, giving in, throwing in the towel, laying down arms. We don’t want to even think about these words, let alone be forced into doing them. Why do we resist and fear these actions? Because the result is powerlessness, and when 21st century Christians read powerless they read weakness, helplessness, and loss. In groups I teach, just thinking about losing control creates fear, anxiety, and even panic among participants. The idea of purposely giving up control – even to God – is foreign.

The Value of Powerlessness

The authors of the Twelve Steps, “hopeless” alcoholics, understood the value of powerlessness very well. The first step of the spiritual program they created to help them regain sanity after a life of addiction is to admit “we are powerless” and that our “lives have become unmanageable.” The second step recognizes that “a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” In the third step, we turn our wills and lives over to the care of God as we understand God. In other words – surrender.

Perhaps we resist the word surrender because it seems we are “giving up.” The Twelve Steps and Scripture both encourage us to see that we are “giving to.” If our God is trustworthy and loving, we don’t have to be afraid of surrendering the driver’s seat to him. What do we have to lose? Fear, anger, worry, pride, judgmentalism? I, for one, could stand to lose those.

Recently it occurred to me that as we consciously and continually turn over the reins to God, we come closer to the original intention of God’s creation. In the Garden of Eden, harmony was the way of the world. Adam and Eve were in harmony with God, obediently accepting their place as creature, responding when God called. They were in harmony with each other as co-laborers, companions, and friends of God. They were in harmony with nature, understanding their role in the preservation and enrichment of God’s creation.

Harmony even reigned in their own minds, in their “self.” There was no artificial split between body, mind, and soul. No cacophony of voices clamored for control of their minds. They were at peace with themselves. God was in control and they were content. There was no need in Eden for masks to hide who they really were, for shields against vulnerability, for negotiation or compromise. Indeed, there was no need for “power.” They were “powerless” and it was heavenly.

But then God directed Adam and Eve to eat from any tree except the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” The serpent played his wily hand; his challenge led to rebellion in the Garden. Humans walked blindly out of harmony into disharmony. A struggle of wills replaced harmonious relationship. Power now became essential and powerlessness was to be feared. And this is the world we live in.

Now we can see the truth of the paradox Jesus taught in Mark 8. At first glance, having power seems to be an advantage. Instead it ushers in wariness, confusion, corruption, pain and loss. Powerlessness and surrender, on the other hand, which seem to be postures of weakness nurture community, understanding, harmony, and joy. What we “give up” when we surrender is a life of struggle and disharmony. When we surrender and give ourselves more and more to God, we come closer and closer to Eden.

Please take a second and share with us your thoughts about giving up control in today’s world.

 

This blog post is an excerpt from Under Ordinary Skies, Living as Apprentices Every Day, written by Karen Bables for apprentices of Jesus. She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com

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