he is of age: part three in a shelter-in-place series
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
In part one of this series, I shared a picture of the above tree folded into a pond covered with snow. Documenting how winter operates in Michigan, this photo affirmed how snow in mid-April has come to be expected. In the face of such an expectation, I needed to be filled with courage to persevere and keep faith that Spring was coming.
Looking at this week’s section of John 9, I notice the blind man courageously reporting with an incomplete understanding (“He is a prophet”) in the face of a formal inquiry by the Pharisees. I also observe how his parents show some courage while also giving in to fear. They answer the Pharisees’ first question documenting his lineage and his disability. Yet they also recognized the power of the Pharisees to throw them out of the synagogue (and effectively out of the community), and they punted on their second answer and hung their son out to dry.
During this season of shelter-in-place, there are days when I find myself filled with courage as I embrace the uncertainty of shepherding my family as well as leading a school. Yet there are other days when I fail and simply want to tap out in the face of my fears. Recently, my internal margin, diminished by close quarter conflicts and unrealistic expectations for myself and others, left me irritable and short-tempered with my family, especially my teenagers during our distance learning work. Reluctantly drawing on my wife’s wise counsel, I have stepped back from guiding my teenagers’ school efforts (and she has stepped in) because I was losing it daily.
My self-assurance as an educator was taken down a notch or two, I’m chastened and left with a choice. Do I pout or do I step back in to continue guiding my two ten-year-olds in their learning as well as father my family? Courage, for me, is stepping back in after failure. Courage, for me, is tentatively writing out loud with each of you about this shelter-in-place season. Brene Brown suggests the courage to not know might be a key in this season. Learning to be filled with courage is a value and a practice for me in this season; and being courage-filled is a value for Journey Academy and the heroes with whom we have the honor of walking.
In our Journey Academy community, we have a number of health care workers who care for and facilitate the healing of their patients. Likewise in the face of economic disruption, I have witnessed our numerous parent-entrepreneurs trying to wisely navigate the businesses they’ve started through this pandemic. And I’m inspired by the courage-filled Journey community that has gathered around discerning a calling and changing the world. .
During his last quest, Holden stepped into a question that had personal relevance. “What do you need to know about dyslexia?” His research and exhibition blended the stories of others, of researchers and of his own journey to adapt to dyslexia. As he shared his final product, the responses of both parents and heroes reflected on the powerful demonstration of his courage.
Reports from across the country document the impact of uncertainty on educators in this new season. Like other courageous colleagues, the Journey guides have stepped in and stepped up. Our own Miss Sarah has made the most of guiding in this uncertainty She developed a virtual writing workshop with adapted structures. She has mastered Zoom meetings, one on one conferences and on-line PE classes. And she is still puzzling over how to increase student engagement over the distance for certain students. She faces this on-going challenge with courage and a drive to understand more about this new way of doing school.
The other part of this spiritual practice of courage involves the practice of reconciliation and restoration. Certainly in this moment, the need to engage respectfully and honor each other in the midst of disagreement is critical. As the pandemic exacerbates divisions, seeing clearly and hopefully while leaning in relationally will be the foundation for the Kingdom’s advance.
Looking back to our John 9 foundation, the one faction of Pharisees prioritizes God resting on the seventh day. John Mark Comer exhorts us to make it the best day of the week. My friends Scott and Aubree use markers like special Sabbath treats. It has become a life-giving pause for our sometimes relentless weeks. At the same time, the pragmatic approach of the Pharisees on the other side of the aisle is compelling as they say in a manner of speaking, “the proof is in the pudding.” ‘No one who is far from God would be able to do things like God’ does has a ring of truth.
The possibility of division is ever-present. Over the past eight weeks, the stakes have been astronomically raised. Life and Death. Commerce and Unemployment. Blame and Rebuttal. It takes courage to take part in any uncomfortable conversation. It takes courage to admit not knowing. It takes courage to admit that fear is causing one to overreact. This essential practice is made for this moment.
I was privileged to hear Miss Cheryl testify about how her heroes navigated an extended online conflict. Cheryl asked questions and listened, modeling for the heroes how they could listen. She waded into the awkward and the uncomfortable and in the end watched them reach a solution for them to put into practice for the remainder of the year. In the best of discipling, she modeled for the heroes ways that they too could walk in her courageous footsteps.
For us at Journey, being filled with courage shows itself in our critical conversations about recess conflicts or studio interruptions; in our trying hard things and sometimes failing at hard things; in our setting of goals and being held accountable by each other. And our hope is to gather around this value as many parents, heroes, guides, volunteers and partners as we can.
The antidote to fear is not courage. Courage is acting when one is scared. The antidote to fear is faith. The source for acting when one is scared is faith. The blind man describes the source of his faith.
“He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
He was one way before Jesus. He was another way after Jesus. This is the foundation of his faith. This is how he was able to act, even if he didn’t totally understand what had happened.
I want to finally acknowledge that simply hearing example after example of courageous people can be crushing rather than encouraging. The change happens when you realize that someone lost sight of His loving Father for you; when you meditate that He was left in the darkness for you. When you see that, is when courage begins. Merry saw Eowyn’s courage in Return of the King and he was filled with courage to strike at the Witch King. I see that courage in the guides, the heroes and the parents at Journey Academy. And I believe their courage comes from seeing Him. May we all turn our eyes upon Him. .