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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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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Jul 23

Shaped by Story

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“We are creatures who live by our stories. From early on we are told stories by our parents, which help us interpret how life is or how life ought to be. We are naturally drawn to stories and must follow them to their conclusion because

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We are creatures who live by our stories. From early on we are told stories by our parents, which help us interpret how life is or how life ought to be. We are naturally drawn to stories and must follow them to their conclusion because stories are exciting. Jesus taught primarily in story form. One reason might be that stories are memorable. We may not be able to remember many (or any) of the Beatitudes, but we all can remember the story of the prodigal son.

When we have a significant experience—one that shapes us—we turn it into a story. For example, a powerful experience from childhood may have been a special birthday party where you got the gift you had been hoping for. You do not remember the event in exact detail. You remember it as a narrative—who was there, what was said, how you felt, what the cake looked like.

Narrative is “the central function . . . of the human mind.” We turn everything into a story in order to make sense of life. We “dream in narrative, day-dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative.” In fact, we cannot avoid it. We are storied creatures. Our stories help us navigate our world, to understand right and wrong, and to provide meaning (“So the moral of the story is . . .”).

There are all kinds of narratives. Family narratives are the stories we learn from our immediate families. Our parents impart to us their worldview and their ethical system through stories. Key questions such as Who am I? Why am I here? Am I valuable? are answered early on in the form of narrative. There are cultural narratives that we learn from growing up in a particular region of the world. From our culture we learn values (what is important, who is successful) in the form of stories and images. Americans, for example, are taught the value of “rugged individualism” through the stories of our past (the Revolution, the pioneers). There are religious narratives— stories we hear from the pulpit, the classroom and religious books that help us understand who God is, what God wants of us and how we ought to live. Finally, there are Jesus’ narratives, the stories and images Jesus tells to reveal the character of God.

We are shaped by our stories. In fact, our stories, once in place, determine much of our behavior without regard to their accuracy or helpfulness. Once these stories are stored in our minds, they stay there largely unchallenged until we die. And here is the main point: these narratives are running (and often ruining) our lives. That is why it is crucial to get the right narratives.

Soul Training Exercises:

Read and reflect on Luke 7:36-50

Which character do you most identify with? Why?

If you are familiar with this passage, has the character you identify with changed over time?

How does this story impact the way you think about God?

 

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


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. Dr. Smith’s other titles include Devotional Classics (with Richard J. Foster), Embracing the Love of God, Room of Marvels, and Hidden in Christ.

Join Dr. Smith and other Christian Formation authors and speakers this October for The Apprentice Gathering 2015 – The Joy of Kingdom Living.  Learn more at www.apprenticegathering.org.

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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.

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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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