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⚗️ Becoming Apprentices

C. Wess Daniels
C. Wess Daniels
Good morning Friends,
There is lots going on in the world this week. On Sunday, while I was drinking my coffee we had an earthquake in Greensboro! Not something I had on my 2020 bingo card, but who am I kidding, I had to throw that thing away back in March! :) School is ramping up for my wife and I who are both educators so time is speeding up with plenty of uncertainties for our schools and our children too. I hope that wherever you are and whatever you’re going through, you remember the things that matter most to you and that you find ways to remain grounded (even when the ground may feel like it is moving!).
In this week’s edition of the newsletter, I discuss the subject of what it means to become an apprentice to a tradition and how apprentices are the ones who can help us rebuild our organizations and communities. I’ve been wrestling with a query a friend posed earlier in the week:
How do you build a program, a faith community, and organizations that can remain adaptable while not letting go of the central core of what it is?
Which brings me to the topic of apprentices.
This week’s query:
What does it mean become an apprentice and “to make apprentices?”
Thank you for reading,
Wess Daniels
And as always, I love hearing from you so reply to this email, give the newsletter a thumbs up or join our telegram group (link below).

⚗️ Reflection: Becoming Apprentices to a Tradition
The Ghost of Yoda with Luke Skywalker
The Ghost of Yoda with Luke Skywalker
“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.” - Abraham Heschel
As some of you know, I work at Guilford College as the Director of the Friends Center. One of the things our office does is work with students who are apart of the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program. This program is now more than 25 years old and has had well above 300 graduates of the program. To me, Friends Center and the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program (QLSP) are crown jewels of Guilford. They truly set Guilford apart in Higher Ed and the Quaker world. 
A couple of years ago, Deborah Shaw (the now-retired Director of QLSP) and I began working on a question: how do you help sustain a program like this over the long haul? How can you create a program that is both able to remain stable in its form but adapts in its content and practice? It would be easy to not want to touch or change anything for fear of messing something up or because change is hard, but knew if the program needed to adapt if it was going to continue into the next generation.
As you can imagine, the college students moving onto Guilford College’s campus today are not the same as the students rolling onto campus 28 years ago. The same is not only true for the students, but it is also for Quakerism more generally speaking, and is obviously for our world. 
How do you build a program, a faith community, and organizations that can remain adaptable while not letting go of the central core of what it is?
Over the last three years, starting with Deborah (until she retired), and then with the help of my new colleagues, Aleks Babić and Evelyn Jadin, we have worked to “remix” QLSP to be true to its roots and original vision, while also able to be adaptive to the changes we face as a society.
The resultant program is something we at Friends Center are very proud of and believe that it is worth telling everyone about. 
What was the core to its creation?
Today you will hear Aleks, the Director of QLSP, repeat frequently: 
“QLSP is about making apprentices to the Quaker tradition.” 
In a word: apprentices.
First, as apprentices of the Quaker tradition ourselves, we took time and care to revise this work - not for change’s sake - but the sake of our students and the tradition. We want the program to succeed because we want the tradition to succeed, and we used all of our varying gifts, experiences, and knowledge to create an open-work that we believe will do just that.
Second, we see our work with the students being about making apprentices. That means that they need to have holistic and embodied knowledge of the tradition. The learning needs to be participatory. And it needs to result in students who can create out of the tradition rather than copy it. 
My understanding of the apprentice is captured by one of my favorite stories from Peter Rollins:
There was once an old wise master who was at the end of his life. He had one disciple he was deeply fond of but was worried that this disciple was still far from enlightenment. The disciple was deeply devoted to the master, carefully following all of his teachings and never deviating from the path laid out for him. This was what troubled the master most of all. Calling his disciple to eat with him privately, he began,
“You have been a thoughtful and dedicated follower of my teachings for many years, and you may well one day become a great teacher. However, I sense that you are in danger of betraying me in your thoughts and actions.”
The disciple was crushed at the suggestion and responded,
“… I never tire of engaging in the rituals and prayers that you have taught. I swear to you that I would never betray you, my great teacher.
The master responded, “The fact that you have never betrayed my teachings, and the fact that you swear never to betray them: this is to betray them already.
This is the crux of everything we are trying to do. 
To be an apprentice is to go so deep into one’s tradition that you gain a sense of mastery over it. However, the real work of an apprentice isn’t to just become a master in order to repeat what one has learned but to “produce” new fruit that is recognizable to the tradition while also being marked by that person’s own hand.
The parable suggests that the one who learns and practices the tradition needs to be able to discern between when to hang on and when to let go. When to be faithful and when to betray. The title of this parable is telling: “A Faithful Betrayal.”
Or for those of you who prefer Master Yoda who said in the Last Jedi: “Luke, we are what they grow beyond.”
Force Ghost Yoda Scene in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Force Ghost Yoda Scene in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Three Important Characteristics of Apprentices
In closing, here are three characteristics of apprentices:
  1. Apprentices are self-aware of their tradition. They see themselves as active participants in the ongoing drama and story of their living tradition and understand that they play a role in that dynamic. Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre says that apprentices exhibit “the virtue of having an adequate sense of the traditions to which one belongs.” This view of apprenticeship is directly linked to the concept of open-works, I have shared with you in the past.
  2. Apprentices understand that they are subject to that tradition, its community, elders, and original texts. Apprentices are people who voluntarily submit themselves to the wisdom of their tradition. Participating in the structures of accountability and the “Powerful Practices” associated with the tradition.
  3. Apprentices are not limited by age or time in the community. It is about investment in the tradition and seeking to understand its practices, narratives, and conflicts in a way that helps move the community forward. 
There are plenty more ways of thinking about apprentices, but these three characteristics enable apprentices to be key players in helping communities through times of crisis and renewal. These are the individuals whose own commitment and love of the tradition is proven and whose minds and hearts are supple to the challenges ahead that they will not get stuck. These are not the people who will play fast and loose with our communities and traditions, nor are they the ones who are unable to move with agility. These the kinds of people we need in every community and institution leading us at this time.
As we look at a world dramatically changing and our communities in crisis are faced with the question a friend raised with me the other evening:
How do we help our communities adapt and change while also helping people have some sense of stability?
I believe one big part of this answer is apprentices who know the deep wisdom of our traditions, our communities, and the people we love.
❓Query for Personal Reflection
  • How do we help our communities adapt and change while also helping people have some sense of stability?
  • Do you see yourself as an apprentice to a tradition or traditions?
  • What does it mean for you to become an apprentice to a tradition?
  • What community and/or tradition are you allowing yourself to be shaped by?
  • How can you help create more apprentices in your community?
Got a question you’d like to ask from the serious and complex to the daily and mundane? Hit me up on Twitter, Telegram, or put this hashtag into the subject and send me an email. Each week I’ll select a question and feature it in the newsletter.
🔗 Dress Down Friday Links
Spiritual Nurture in a Fix-it Culture
How Jerry Falwell Jr. Lost His Liberty Flock
‘Christianity Will Have Power’
My Digital Note-Taking System | Idea Store and Idea Factory
🐦 Tweet Thread of the Week
🌱🌲 Nurselog Note of the Week
The Nurselog is my “digital garden,” a kind of personal wiki with notes and ideas of things that I am working on and/or find interesting. This week’s note is: Apprentices
🗣 Join the Discussion
Want to discuss this week’s newsletter? Our chat room is a place where readers of this newsletter can share feedback, ask questions, meet other really interesting folks, and share things you think would be of interest to this group.
🗺 Opportunities
I am very excited to offer new opportunities to work with you and your communities in the coming year, including spiritual direction, speaking and pulpit supply.
Learn more by going to my webpage.
📆 Upcoming Events
Sunday August 16, 2020 6 PM EST - Freedom Church of the Poor. This week: Jesus and Fusion Organizing. Live on Facebook
Watch Last Week's Service here - Freedom Church of the Poor
💚🧠 Final Thought
You Still Dream by Nikki Grimes (ht Emily Daniels)
Here, poem meets prayer.
We are exceedingly comfortable
with posturing and self-defense
that masquerade as apology.
But what’s needed in this moment
is unmixed confession
of our nation’s sin,
deep and indefensible.
“Now I lay me down to sleep”
must make way for
something more muscular:
sack cloth and ashes,
prayer and fasting,
naked prostration.
Daniel understood
radical repentance begins
with this unvarnished profession:
You are righteous,
and we are not.
Please heal our nation.
Cleanse our stubborn hearts.
Show each of us what part to play.
Broken as Judah and Jerusalem,
we cry and come bending our will
toward the good
you dream for us still,
no matter our sin,
no matter what skin
Prayers of peace and grace for you this week,
Wess Daniels
Greensboro, NC (Haw River Watershed)
☕️ Thank you for Supporting This Newsletter
You support this newsletter by reading it, sharing it with friends, and/or by contributing financially to the making of this newsletter, and my other ministries. Thank you! -Wess 💚☕️
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C. Wess Daniels
C. Wess Daniels @cwdaniels

Old and New (Spiritual) Technologies For Life Today in the Face of Empire. Renewal and change in the hopes of mobilizing communities for love & liberation.

Wess Daniels
Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College

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