Monday, September 28, 2009

Learning is Doing

On my last blog post I spoke on the real struggle of organic, simple and missional life. It's not an easy path for those who like knowing where they are going on a tangible daily basis. You just don't get all the information you'll need for this journey as a set up manual when you step into it.
For most people; figuring it out as we go, with the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit as our guide, can be disorienting and uncomfortable. Some of us don't like adventures all that much and want the map! We are used to being told what to do, believe and sign up for!

Like the children of Israel, after leaving years of captivity for the promise of a land of inheritance and fruitfulness we, instead of saying; "give us manna!", proclaim; "give us the manual!"

However, God has a land of inheritance for each of us that is unique, tailored and fruitful. It's imperative that we learn and discover it on our own with Him on that one of a kind journey.

We don't get the manual, instead, we learn by doing it with Him. The Teacher of all teachers.

When my kids were little, I had to make a conscious effort to help them learn to do things for themselves because I knew it was better for them, even if it was not better for me. I wanted my kids to love the learning process, so they'd continue to grow and learn all their lives and in every context. From a selfish and convenient perspective, it was easier, quicker and more efficient if I did things for them. They on their own, usually produced large messes as they figured out to feed themselves, dress, keep up their room, brush teeth, make cookies, do science projects, term papers, etc. I was okay with the messiness of learning because I knew the end resulted in truly acquired skills, learning and confidence. I could of done many things for them. I could of instructed them in every detail, closely monitoring and controlling the process. However, would they of really learned, or just learned to be good at following instructions and a controlling parent?

In the journey of learning a simple, organic and missional life, we want the manual of instruction to study and contemplate over first. We think we learn by gathering all the information we need first, and then do it.
We listen to various speakers, take some notes and contemplate what we learned. We fill our brains with information, examples, models, other people's testimonies and maybe try out some of what we've read or heard about. We wait until we have what we think we need and then try some of it out. Enevitably, we make a mess. We struggle. We hate the process because it has messes and failures. We look like complete wackos to those around us who are watching the whole experiment. We evaluate all the things that went wrong and re-evaluate the whole paradigm. We wonder if we ARE wacko! We want more information and instructions. Then, we'll be successful! NOT!

As humans we learn by certain ways. Auditory (hearing), Visual (seeing), and Kinesthetic (doing). We can learn by any of them, but one will dominate the others as our best learning style.
As a homeschooler, it was important for me to ascertain what learning style worked best with my three kids. Once I determined which one dominated the others, I tried to incorporate as much as I could of that learning style into their learning process.
As we age, we usually become more "balanced" in our learning styles. However, one learning style increases in it's effectiveness as we age, regardless of it's previous dominance or not. That is the Kinesthetic or the "doing" learning style.

As some of you know, Tom and I are instructors for motorcycle safety riding courses for the State of MN.
We go through a long and extremely intense training process to become licensed instructors.
One of the things we learn as instructors is the best way adult learners acquire skills and retain information.

Adults learn quickly and retain the most through using their gross motor skills first.
Then, once that is acquired, the learning moves to fine motor skills and into our thinking process.

In other words, actually using your body in the learning process comes before the thinking and understanding of that skill if you wish to really learn and incorporate it.

Whether your into motorcycles or not, ride along with me a bit as I use them as a good example of what I'm talking about.

Let's say your riding along and you want the motorcycle to lean to the left (as in a curve to the left). In order to do that you must press the left hand grip. Vise versa for the right. No one understands this until they actually get on the motorcycle going about 10 mph, press the hand grip in the direction they want to go and see the bike lean and go in that direction. It makes no sense in our brains until we actually do it and see the affect.

If I'm teaching someone how to find the friction zone (the area where releasing the clutch engages the power of the motorcycle's rear wheel and you begin to move forward), no amount of explanations help until the student actually gets on the motorcycle and feels the friction zone for themselves. Since they are using their hands in new ways, balancing a couple hundred pounds and feeling pretty nervous, they inevitably stall the bike a few times in the process! Who cares? They have felt and thereby learned just what a friction zone is. Now, they can continue to improve their skills until it is a smooth and thoughtless maneuver.

Of course, all our learning is individualistic. Some students learn quick and others need to spend a bit of time to master the process. However, by actually doing the skill first, as opposed to thinking and understanding it, the skill is acquired. Motorcycle riding becomes less stressful and more fun as skills grow and confidence blooms!

It is a similar process in learning the simple organic and missional lifestyle. You must experience it (and in my motorcycle analogy; kill the motor a few times) by doing before it really starts to take shape and make sense. It can look messy, and you may have a lot of starts and stops. (You may feel like a new student on a 250lb motorcycle, a complete klutz and one who will never be a track racing star, but your moving!) Your really living out your faith in new ways, and experiencing God in the ways of Job who said "I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you".

Be encouraged by your learning process. Learn by stepping out and doing some of those ideas you have in your heart. Let the Holy Spirit show Himself faithful to His Words in 1 John 2:27; "As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as his anointing teaches you about all things; and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him."

We have another saying in the motorcycle community; ride your own ride. It means, let those around you ride their machines in the skill and abilities they have, and you ride within yours. We are not in any competition, any striving for the status of "best rider". Rather, we ride the ride the Author and Perfector of our faith has designed for each of us. Unique and exciting, full of the joyful ride of His ongoing faithfulness to us.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Journey of Discovery

I have a lot of conversations with people who are struggling with the blind adventure of the simple, organic and missional church life.
I hear things like; " I don't really know what to do!", "I wish someone could show me how this works!", "I tried that/that, and it didn't work so what's wrong?", "What is this supposed to look like?", "Is there a manual or something I can follow?", "Can you give me a blueprint to work from so I know what I'm supposed to do?"

I empathize with these questions. These are real struggles from hearts that want to "do it right" and have been trained to follow models, leaders, organizations, and manuals so that what they do is "successful" and "correct". I resist the tendency, which is so easy for me, to tell them what to do. Instead, we start talking about what they are learning in the process, what their goals are for living this organic simple life in Christ, what the Scriptures say we should esteem, and that it is okay to try different things and even fail a few times in the process.

God is certainly capable to get us where we need to be, when we need to be there, with all that we need in the process. The bottom line is; He is faithful.
Have you ever heard that saying of on "a need to know basis" ? I think that fits well with His leading of us. He takes us one step at a time. He gives us what we need to know and understand when we need it to lead us forward in faith. He also lets us struggle.

Most of us don't want to hear that we learn best by what we struggle with and figure out on our own. We also don't like to hear that failure is a better teacher than our successes. In fact, I recently read a medical study that concluded that we actually grow more brain cells when we fail! How's that for "organically" rewarding our failures? What incredible Grace!

I believe, God is taking us each on our own wonderful, unique and unmapped "Journey's of Discovery". That is what the journey west, of the explorers Lewis and Clark's into the then unknown, was called.

For those of us who admit to being " a Trekkie", you'll be familiar with the saying; "of boldly going where no man has gone before". I like to use the Star Trek motto to illustrate what the journey in the lifestyle of simple, organic, missional church is like. No manuals, no maps to follow, no clear guidelines and directions (yet,... just give it a few more years and the experts will have the '5 steps to simple church success' available soon at your local bookstore....sorry, my cynicism again).

We do have some great folks out there who are sharing their own journeys of what they are learning and experiencing. Giving us some understanding of what this whole simple lifestyle is all about. Lewis and Clark types who, are on the "Journey of Discovery", just like the rest of us, but are a little further along on their expedition and keeping great journals.

Tom and I have been doing something different this summer. We have been taking short three or four day "mini" vacations on the motorcycle, but we've been doing it in a totally new way from how we have done it before.

In past years we have had a general plan to our vacations. Not completely, but we would have an idea of where we were going, where the scenic spots were, where the camping areas and the places available to us for lodging, eating, getting gas, etc would be. We would, once in a while, drive off the planned course and see what we could discover, but that was the exception. Most of the time we just followed the mapped course we'd laid out together in the kitchen over a couple of nights.
In these vacation expeditions we'd also have a definite goal and agenda of what we wanted to see, experience and accomplish. We don't have the name "driver" for nothing, and some days the only goal seemed to be how many miles we could push through in a day!

This summer however, has been different.

Instead of loading up the car and luggage carrier with all our necessities for camping, our suitcases full of "stuff" that we'd maybe use, coolers packed with food and drink, we packed small bags that fit into the limited spaces on the motorcycle. Usually not more than a change of clothes, our rain gear, a couple bottles of water, basic toiletries, a bible and extra jacket. We'd take along a map, but only for the sake of getting us back on track if we got disoriented and lost out on the back roads of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

We load up and take off in a matter of minutes (verses hours), heading out of the city, in the general direction we wanted to go. We would find some road unknown to us and take it, just to see where it would lead. Often times it would lead to some great and awesome place that we would never of found on our own. Sometimes we would find ourselves at a dead end, where we would have to turn around and go back a bit until we found another road and take that for a while. We found some incredible places and experiences that made us look forward to what new things we'd discover tomorrow! We felt alive and revived. Resulting in thankfulness for all that we saw God bless our journey with each day. A beautiful road, a person to encourage or pray for, finding new friends in towns we'd never of known, creating memories and special times of enjoying life together in the goodness of God. It was simple (unencumbered and portable), organic (let's see what unfolds naturally in the process) and missional (what other lives can we bring some aspect of the nature of Christ to today in our encounters).

When Lewis and Clark made their journey into the western wilderness some two hundred years ago, they went not knowing what they would encounter with each day and decision of direction. Sometimes, the river they travelled just took them along it's natural path and when that was no longer possible, they found their way through mountain passes and vast prairies with sometimes the help of those native to the area. They recorded information, observations and drew pictures of what they were discovering and wrote it in journals for those who would be following in the future. Even though this would be the beginning of the westward movement of settlement, each of the pioneers soon to head west on that journey still had to discover, on their own with just a few journal notes of information and helps, the path to where they would eventually settle.

Tom and I driving along this summer on the unknown back roads of MN and WI, not knowing where we would eventually end up that night was exciting, rewarding, adventurous, fun, a bit unnerving, tiring and stressful at times. All of the above and more! I wouldn't give up one moment of it.

The simple organic and missional church life gives us no GPS, maps and instructional directions. Instead, we have the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in the direction we are to go. We get to learn how to follow Him in a dependent and intimate way. When He says; this is the way, we go that way. We learn to have ears that hear. We learn to discover, on our own with Him, the unique adventure that Jesus has planned for us to experience more of Him and what He has in store of us while we walk this side of heaven. To know Him, and walk daily in an intimacy that is fresh, alive, exciting and dependent. We have the ultimate "journal", the Word, that has all that we need pertaining to life and godliness. We have the journals of others on similar journey's that can encourage and aid us, but in the end, we find our own Journey of Discovery with the Author of it all!

In the vernacular of motorcycle trekking............."enjoy the ride"!