After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. (John 9)
In this season of shelter-in-place, isolation can point with it’s bony finger, What can you do in the face of this!? At times it feels like “the rough beast . . slouch[ing] toward Bethlehem” described by William Butler Yeats is coming for us. And some of the worst days have a relentless quality. In response, last week I reflected on how curiosity was a practice for making sense of what is going on and responding to this slouching moment.
This week, I want to consider how discerning and following a calling can be another way to respond to this cultural moment. As we see above in the story from the Gospel of John, the formerly blind man is called and sent to Siloam. He answers that call, courageously with incomplete information. He discovers a new identity. He “owns” this identity saying ‘I am the man.’ And he steps into a journey where he doesn’t know all the answers.
Rick Warren calls this process part of a “purpose-driven life.” Gandalf reminds me, “…that Gollum still has some part to play, for good or for evil.” The comedian Michael Jr. exhorts us to “know our why.” Discovering our part to play in the story is vital in a time like this.
As I was praying trying to manage some of my anxious and overwhelmed emotions, I received a distinct impression that I could do some thinking out loud and that it could be of use to others in this moment. At Journey Academy, we call this the beginning of the hero’s journey; the finding of a call.
Using words, telling stories and making sense of life brings me a sense of usefulness and joy. And each of us has a gift for this particular time. This practice of knowing one of our purposes; one of the parts that we might play, one of our ‘why’s’ is what I’ve also been seeing in the heroes at Journey Academy
A phrase that we use to describe this is learner-driven. The word education in Latin is educare. One of the root meanings of educare is to draw out. At Journey, we want to draw out the gifts and passions that heroes know they have as well as ones that they do not yet realize. Our studios create the space to discover and then resource these drives of learners.
The past two weeks, Jaina has been driven by a gift she has for leading workouts. By the second week of shelter-in-place, she saw the need and the opportunity to organize workouts with the heroes. She proposed this to Miss Sarah and collaboratively planned out a P.E. session on a Google Doc. Her leadership and love of health drove her to develop this and share it with her classmates. Friday P.E. has now become the Jaina Workout.
In this video clip, you’ll notice a number of subtle and sophisticated moves employed by Jaina. At first, it seems like she’s simply doing a workout for the camera. But as the camera slowly pans back, you realize she’s leading a Zoom P.E. class. She opens with a demonstration and then adds an optional challenge to differentiate the workout. She practices empathy as well as encouragement. She finally demonstrates accountability by pointing out that Miss Sarah was not doing anymore pushups (later Miss Sarah clarified that she had already finished).
To be clear, we don’t have a P.E. teacher preparation course at Journey Academy. But what we do have is an ability to listen to heroes like Jaina, an ability to adapt and structure learning opportunities driven by their interests and gifts as well as an ability to connect these moments to larger arcs of learning organized throughout our day.
In this moment, the anxiety of our cultural moment drops away as I watch Jaina, driven by her learning and as we join with her. I begin to imagine if each of us brings our best selves, if each of us follows one of our calls, if each of us knows one of our parts, if each of us knows one of our ‘whys’; there is hope.
To be sure, a hero-led P.E. class isn’t going to paper-over the grief, dislocation and cultural wrestling match over intricate and entwined policy choices in this pandemic moment. But I am willing to push my chips onto emerging heroes like Jaina as a solid response to future moments that are sure to come.
In the previous part of John, chapter 9, Jesus picked at a common misunderstanding. When bad stuff happens to you, it’s your fault. What His teaching and the formerly blind man show me is that the actual big idea is God uses moments like these to display his glory through people. When we find one of our calls and let it drive us in this pandemic moment, God can display his glory. We simply need to accept His invitation and say, I am the man. I am the woman. I am the hero. I am the P.E. teacher.
May we all find our call for this moment.