we had hoped: part two in a series on the road ahead

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

During my walks, I’ve begun to notice birds; the woodpecker hammering a dead tree (instead of my house); the goldfinch fluttering about the wild raspberry bush; the blue jay swooping onto the steady oak branch; the robin pecking for worms in the spongy moss.  And I am realizing that they are returning after a long winter. Each year they do return, bringing signs of the impending change.

In this series, we’ve been considering Belgian theologian Edward Schillebeeckx’s claim that the Emmaus Road narrative in Luke 24 is the essential Scripture for our current cultural moment. As I lead the Journey Academy community and consider what might be wise for the road ahead, I am finding myself agreeing more and more with Schillebeecx.     

The disciples notice signs around them: a powerful prophet speaking and doing, a hasty middle-of-the-night arraignment and rapid execution, the confusion of a vacant  tomb, an encounter with angelic beings and a staggering report of a living Jesus. Nate Silver writes, “The signal is the truth. The noise is what distracts us from the truth.” The disciples are trying to sort through possible noise to find the truth.  In our post-truth moment of so many competing stories, it is hard for me, like these disciples, to discern in who and what to place my hope.

John Piper describes biblical hope as, “a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future.” He distinguishes biblical hope from a more common Webster’s sense of an uncertain wish.  Hope is grounded in faith.  Piper attempts to distinguish his definition with “confident expectation.” This understanding of hope relates to the Journey community’s value of courage. Confident expectation is complemented by a courage that acts upon and with this expectation in the midst of not knowing fully.

Adding to Piper’s efforts with reasoned exposition, Emily Dickinson suggests a more intuitive picture of hope in her poem “Hope” is the thing with feathers. Dickinson portrays how hope perches, keeping us warm even in the chillest lands. LIke the thing with feathers, it comes alongside of us in our storms.  With this perching, there are times when we can’t even hope.  I still remember in our dear family friend’s difficult season how my wife Jenn memorably declared “we are going to hold hope in your place, when it seems impossible to hope.” 

In looking at the road ahead, one of our vital practices is reflecting on where we’ve traveled as individuals and as a school community.  At Journey, we have learned a great deal over this initial season of distance learning.  We have learned the value of common technology and communication platforms as well as schedules to minimize confusion for parents at home.  To this end, Ms. Sarah and Miss Cheryl will be aligning what they are doing across studios.  We’ve also learned the value of clear and focused check-ins with guides and will be laying out our schedules to insure these will happen as well as allow for additional check-ins to support heroes.  We have learned there is a need for more manipulatives and concrete Montessori activities to support our younger learners.  Ms. Sarah and Ms. Denice are developing a materials library that we would like to pilot for this next quest. We are learning how to improve our efforts with our youngest heroes through the sharing of best practices in the Acton Network as well as the larger early-learning Montessori conversation. We have learned more about making engaging quests with opportunities to do hands-on and out of the house activities.  And perhaps most importantly, we have learned about the value of creating spaces and times for connection with other heroes in structured yet playful ways like Virtual PE and prayer.   

In this section of the Emmaus story, there is what John Mark Comer calls the sharpest rebuke of Jesus.  As the disciples are trying to process the immensity of their moment, Jesus says,  “How foolish you are.  How slow to believe.” They weren’t remembering the whole story.  I imagine him reminding them of the stories; stories like Shadrach, Meshech and Abnego showing  what Nebuchadnezzar called “a son of the gods” (i.e. whom scholars call the pre-incarnate Jesus) walking with others in the midst of the fiery furnace; stories like the man of sorrow well acquainted with grief bringing redemption through suffering. Awash in perspectives and opinions, Jesus came to them with the larger and more compelling story that points to His long-foretold mission to rescue the world.  This is the source of Piper’s confident expectation.  

At Journey Academy, we have hope. We are remembering what He has done and what we confidently expect that He will do.  And there are signs in the midst of this moment; playful, joyful signs that fill us with courage that God is doing something in our midst and that He will continue to do something this fall.  

On Friday, we had a drive-by exhibition in our parking lot where heroes got to “show what they know” about the moon.  Presented by Galerie de Journee, the exhibition was titled “Over the Moon: an installation of science, writing and art.” The gallery curator, Monsieur Antoine, 

welcomed families in their cars explaining to them how they could experience the exhibition in a socially distant way as they viewed art from the safety of their cars and scanned QR codes to listen to the astronomer/artists read their writing and reflection about the moon.  

Jacob, one of our youngest heroes who joined us in February, composed a playful spoken word piece reflecting on the moon and in the process giving me hope to continue in this calling of Journey Academy’s attempt to change the world.  Watching families circle the parking lot, I saw them put their cars into park, engage with the visual art and scan the QR code. Each time, they reached Jacob’s installation, they were surprised by the bass line paired with his vibrant lunar declarations. “The moon is so pretty!”  As heads started to bob along with the beat, we saw heroes on a journey learning, creating and reminding us to hope. 

Hope comes in the midst of repurposing and discovering.  I thought cross-stitch was relegated to inspirational phrasing framed on my grandmother’s kitchen wall. But Sloane’s art about the moon reclaims and represents some of her learning in an unexpected revelation of heroes on a journey, learning, creating and reminding us to hope.   

Charlie’s fresh work with paper mache created a distinctive, personified and friendly moon that had many exhibition goers pausing.  Like Eun Sub Cho taught the heroes in the ecology quest, we were looking, then observing, then seeing.  Charlie’s art helped us to pay attention and we noticed a hero on a journey, learning, creating and reminding us to hope.    

And so we move into our early summer break before the final quest of the school year.  We are already looking to fall. This will be our on-going task at Journey for the next couple months.  But we will remember this Friday May 22, 2020 at 3:00p. There are signs to which we will pay attention. The light reflects off our moment suggesting a source of illumination and warmth, like some full moon hanging over the trees.  We will remember. 

//Dr. T//

what things? part one in a series on the road ahead

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked. (Luke 24: 13-19)

When Belgian theologian Edward Schillebeeckx was asked if there was one text from the Bible that would name and speak to our cultural moment, his reply was the twenty fourth chapter from the Gospel of Luke 24. This chapter tells the story of disciples processing the crucifixion of Jesus as well as the rumors that He is alive. One of the subtitles in the chapter is “On the road to Emmaus” and this chunk of Scripture seems particularly appropriate as we travel in this season of starting to imagine what’s next.   We are on the road; to something not clear. On this road, a depression seems to surface; not ever present but somewhat consistent, emerging like a beach ball pushed underwater.  On this road, there seems to be an aimlessness.  A lot of what we thought we could trust in, certain rhythms, expectations and even goals are tenuous at best.  And in a hopeful turn on the Emmaus Road and in our cultural moment of road, there seems to be a bit of discovery as well as generative questions emerging as we look at and encounter the familiar in new ways.  

I am on the road (literally the trail) quite a bit these days. Walking has become one of my primary spiritual disciplines where I am quiet before God, as well as where my physical motion is a part of the Spirit’s guiding, strengthening, encouraging and challenging. After a day of guiding my children in learning and zooming with others, I find that a walk with my earbuds and a phone call is a great way to be present with others. I am reminded of an accidental practice of discipleship at the Stockbridge Boiler Room where I co-led a prayer and discipleship community. My weekly meetings with our interns involved walking through the West Side neighborhood we were serving, praying and processing as we set foundation for our way forward as a non-profit and a ministry.  

Something significant has happened in the past three months.  Uncertainty is thick in the air. Like the two disciples on the road in Luke, likely a married couple, many are downcast. I see it poignantly as my son John realizes that he can’t celebrate his birthday with his class at school. I see it as another son Ezra hears of sports seasons canceled.  I hear it when my daughter Bea shares about a school administrator succumbing to complications of COVID-19 and cancer.  Unsurprisingly, a recent poll finds half of Americans saying that the pandemic is harming their mental health.

The disciple couple on the road is processing their downcast moment.  Myself, I find an almost research-like interest in every call that I make to hear how others are doing in this moment of downcast.   Recently, this blog has become one way of inviting others to process.  Looking forward, all roads will lead through and reckon with downcast. At Journey Academy, I see our guides integrating this into their practice of regular video-conferencing.  “There are times,” Ms. Sarah says, “that I need to turn from assessing the hero’s progress on a quest and talk about sewing projects; and talk about that the rest of our time. Or other times when I need to help heroes come up with strategies to deal with their stress.” Going forward on our road, these aspects of social-emotional learning and the ability to self-regulate in the face of adverse experiences will be of utmost importance.   


The other connection to our moment provided by the couple is the direction of their walk on the road.  They are walking away from Jerusalem, the center of Jewish life with the Temple, where God is encountered and regular pilgrimages are made.  Even more interesting, they are walking toward Emmaus, which was the center for nothing. This seemingly aimless travel away from a meaningful place resonates with the hours of aimless screen time that many have experienced these past two months. I’ve never been drawn to puzzles before, but now I am looking for something else to occupy me. My daughter Bea says, “You’ve moved into the serious puzzle level now.”  

serious puzzle level

It is this aimlessness that a thousand pieces of oddly shaped cardboard on my table is trying to address. 

At Journey Academy, I see methods for responding to aimlessness. Many in our community live out our value of being Learner-Driven. Owning our walk down the road as well as identifying our purposes and path of implementation; this intentionality and sense of direction is what we all need as we go forward in this next season. I see parents guiding their heroes and recognizing the power of owning learning. In our current quest focused on the moon, heroes like Ethan and Elias are going above and beyond, researching and bringing facts from their individual inquiries about the moon to the Socratic Discussion.

As we walk toward the fall, I am dreaming about ways that we can deepen our Learner-Driven practices.   Currently, I am dreaming and praying about four ways and we will explore this deepening over the summer.  Helping heroes set goals and assess progress is one of the keys to operationalizing our value of being learner driven.  We are fortunate to have Christi Gilbert as a parent in our Journey Academy community.  Christi is an Early Literacy Coach and English Learner Specialist with Kent Intermediate School District.  Her experiences with  Cognitive Coaching  will direct how our guides can coach the heroes.  This summer conversation will be foundational for building our capacity to help heroes learn about their ways of learning.

Another way for deepening our learner-driven value is through informing how our heroes engage in their spiritual journeys.  This February, co-founder Dana Roefer, shared with heroes her practice of journaling and how the Holy Spirit helps her document the significant moments, make sense of what was happening and find guidance for responding and moving forward. Driven by the desire to learn more about her own hero’s journey, Dana made space for silence and solitude in her life, and God gave her insight for her next steps.  Likewise within the Acton Academies network, we see this same kind of quiet contemplation at Sanctuary Academy in Chicago. There, they create a Catholic expression of a space within their school that respects the dignity of the hero’s spiritual quest. Next year, we are dreaming about such contemplative journaling practice focused on Scripture. We believe this will offer heroes a way to listen through Scripture and discern their next steps.  To help us, we will be talking with Ada author and prayer minister, Kathleen Trock-Molhoek, founder of Pebbles and Stones to think through the practice of journaling next year.  

Another step forward on the road involves our work with quests.  Our quests are a primary way that we live out our value of being curiosity-based.  At the same time, they can be leveraged to help us strengthen our value of being learner-driven.  One way to do this is the consideration of Design Thinking.  As heroes practice empathy, brainstorm, construct solutions, solicit feedback, revise and make their work public, the learner driven aspects of certain quests can be deepened.  A third summer conversation will involve middle school teacher and classroom design thinking consultant Ian Grell to help our team start to imagine how to weave design thinking principles into our quest development.  

Looping back to the Emmaus Road story, we find our fourth way forward as Jesus joins the couple and initiates some discovery with a couple of playful questions.  Like Detective Columbo (or like a good writing teacher), He asks,  What are you discussing together as you walk along? This invitation to summarize and remember comes as He claims unawareness of the biggest news story that Jerusalem has experienced in a long time.  He continues the cluelessness with a query of What things? In the midst of play, He guides them to unpack the details.  Discovery is often found as we look at the details.  

Walking forward in our historic moment, embracing playful discovery will be essential.  The looking for each of us as well as for Journey Academy that we talked about with Eun Sub Cho, director of the Wonder Academy is a part of this discovery.  However, Jesus adds a vital complement with His sense of play. In such a challenging moment as ours, play not only keeps one buoyant, it also brings an opportunity to see things anew. Clearly we are not facing a concentration camp in our moment, yet Guido in Life is Beautiful does offer us a way to respond through play.  This play doesn’t simply wish things away, but rather helps imagine things differently and provide a way forward. Even now, we are trying to integrate play as we study heroes in our last quest of this year. The playful Dr. Tyrannical (who bears a striking resemblance to a certain Journey Academy Director) will be posing challenges for the emerging heroes, evading detection and eventually getting his comeuppance in the end.  

As we look at the road ahead, our final way of proceeding is going to be exploring a way to integrate this kind of playful discovery into our time. At the Acton Academies Gathering in Austin this year, we heard an exciting presentation on play-based learning that we would like to imagine here.  This posting from Acton Academy Lake Charles suggests a way forward for implementation. We are already thinking about how to provide materials (like the culvert pictured at top) for heroes to employ in creative play and then leveraging their play as an opportunity to reflect and learn together.  We want to embrace the question, how are we going to be playful?  In a Kingdom sense, I might even suggest we need to let Jesus mess with us (in a playful way).  

To be clear, my intent is not to minimize the sorrow, disruption and anxiety that we have and are experiencing by suggesting we move on.  I simply want to say this; the road is ahead of us.  We need to move forward.  We need to take steps.  The poet Anthony Machado writes, “the road is made by walking.” These things, these are the things we need to be thinking and talking about with each other. We pray that you join us on the journey.

::Dr. T:: 

now seen: fourth in a shelter-in-place series

A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.


I have been reflecting on some Kingdom practices for this season connecting to chapter nine of John’s gospel as well as my experiences at Journey Academy. My first installment Display focuses on how seeing and curiosity can provide a foundation for a response to this moment.  Sent considers how the practice of intention can guide us in the face of challenge.  And He is of age suggests that wholeheartedness is a useful way to calibrate our expectations in times of uncertainty.    

centered set

As John 9 draws to a close, the formerly blind man is kicked out of the synagogue for sassing back. More than a first century time-out, this shunning from worship also meant being cut off from the life-sustaining social network of commerce and connection.  And in his moment of dire need, Jesus meets him.  

With Jesus’ cryptic inquiry, I recognize a connection to Journey’ Academy’s value of asking questions. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” In the Old Testament, Jesus’ embrace of ‘Son of Man’ is found in the Psalms, in Ezekiel and in Daniel.  These passages suggest Jesus’ humanity as well as His divinity and claim to be the Messiah.  Asking about belief in the one who is both human and divine is a question focused on centering the formerly blind man in his moment of confusion and uncertainty.  What he centers his life on going forward is of critical importance.  

As a response to his encounter with Jesus, the man worships. He exalts him as Messiah and puts Jesus at the center of his life.  Meeting Jesus gives him boldness to tell the truth and to get a touch snarky with the power brokers of the synagogue.  In the midst of his storm, he centers on Jesus.  Josh Garrels and Beautiful Eulogy describe it as anchoring.  They sing, 

Anchor of my soul you sustain
When I'm in the storm,
You remain good to me, good to me

In this season, I am learning about the critical practice of asking the question “what or who am I centered on?”  

At Journey Academy, we, too, have learned about the practice of being Christ-centered and it has been vital for us.  Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch helpfully explain the centered concept in The Shaping of Things to Come, a book about their experiences with being Kingdom entrepreneurs launching start-ups.  

…rather than drawing a border to determine who belongs and who doesn’t, a centered set is defined by its core values, and people are not seen as in or out, but as closer or further away from the center. In that sense, everyone is in and no one is out. Though some people are close to the center and others far from it, everyone is potentially part of the community in its broadest sense.

In their Australian context, Frost and Hirsch further explain centered-set with a ranching analogy.  Few Australian ranches build fences to keep livestock in because of their vast expanse of land.  Rather they center their ranches with wells (pictured above). In a landscape with limited hydration, all the livestock come for the water of life.

At Journey Academy, we value being Christ-centered, unapologetically.  The idea of Journey began with our founders Dana and Matt Roefer, as new parents, both centering on Christ’s counsel and guidance for next steps in their move back to Grand Rapids.  And they centered their start-up on Jesus.  With the well of Jesus at the center, Journey Academy humbly welcomes all no matter how close or far they are from the well. My time leading the middle school at The Potter’s House, a Christ-centered school, also demonstrates this practice of centering.  The Potter’s House staff lived a vibrant prayer life, following Jesus, proclaiming the Gospel and integrating it into their teaching.  At the same time, The Potter’s House welcomed Muslim refugees from around the world looking for a better education as well as marginalized students bullied in other local schools looking for a safe and hospitable school.  The center is set and the water is for everyone.    

how to center

Centering, as a personal spiritual practice, involves regular reflection on my functional center.  Questions like “who or what am I worshipping?” are a key part of centering.  At times individuals or groups or societies might think they are centered on Jesus, but in reality they are centered on something else.  

We all center on something; we all worship something.  Bob Dylan writes we all have to serve somebody. In a season of uncertainty and fear, what we choose to center on has particular impact.  If I am simply centered on myself, my ambitions and my desires and if someone else is equally centered on themselves, navigating through fear and uncertainty with them into flourishing quickly becomes impossible.  If in fear, one elevates  race as the ultimate center it may lead horrific acts discrimination and violence.  What we center on matters.      

One of the more important seasons of my spiritual journey thus far was to sit under Tim Keller’s teaching at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  His thoughtful and passionate examination of the Bible added the idea of idol to my thoughts on centering.  Like Bob Dylan, he said we all worship something.  And an idol isn’t just a god like Molech that requires child sacrifice, an idol could be an idea that centers one’s life.  He described these seemingly innocuous idols as “good things that have become ultimate things.” In John 9, the Pharisees have chosen good things and people like the Law and Moses to become ultimate.  And it keeps them blind.   

Our current moment has many centers demanding our allegiance.  Good things like protecting our elders or making a livelihood are pitted against each other as competing centers with disastrous divisions. Even placing something unquestionably good like family as the ultimate center can lead one to disillusionment and an over controlling response with the inevitable disappointments that come with family relationships. Unless one centers on the ultimate one, we will follow the wrong star home and we will delay becoming the Kingdom that He has already set in motion at the cross.

The Scottish minister Thomas Chalmers writes, “The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.” To get rid of an idol, we need to find something else on which to center our lives.    

Just recently, I had another parenting failure with my teenager and in retrospect, it came from my centering on the good thing called security.  With my immuno-compromised lungs, I have my bad days of COVID-spiked fear and worry.  My teenager acutely feels the distance from her social center and is pushing to shorten the distance.  In response, I haven’t been the empathetic father that I have been made to be for her because all I’m worrying about is how my center of security is being threatened by potential and real social forays.  And it’s not so much a matter of CDC compliance as it is my heart and my overreactions.  It’s only been in the past two days that I’ve been able to pray with the words of Colossians 3:3 and say, ‘Security you are not my life.  My life is hidden with Christ.” Now I’m beginning to respond with some empathy and grace. When I focus on the one who gave up security and self-interest and humbled Himself unto a cross, when I center on the one who lived the life that I should have lived and died the death that I should have died in order that I might become the righteousness of God, that is when I can become the father that i’m supposed to be. 

how we center

Even good things like being learner-driven, curiosity-based or courage-filled can become idols.  At Journey Academy, we believe if we center our practice on Christ, then these good things can remain what they are supposed to be.  They remain as good things and values that we agree upon.  

Christ-centered practice in the learner-driven Journey Academy context takes on a distinct nuance.  Spiritual formation involves not long lectures but rather times of listening to mentors’ stories and Scripture, examining models, accepting invitations, taking time for individual silence, creating spaces for prayer and discerning His calling for each of us to change the world.  

Heroes take leadership roles in these various practices.  Stella and Lola often lead the ELS worship in the morning while Ella models liturgical dance during the worship.  Recently the heroes had a quest that focused on the Gospel and four heroes made the decision to follow Jesus. In response, Miss Cheryl integrated her work of discipleship into her weekly check-ins.

And our spiritual formation complements our other values in unique and exciting ways. Many of our attempts to be Learner-Driven can be guided by the Holy Spirit’s leading,  The way that we become Courage-Filled is by considering our Hero Jesus as we consider the promises He made as well as observing him facing and overcoming trials. Basing in Curiosity, we value the really important questions like ‘why suffering?’ or ‘how can Jesus be divine AND human?’ rather than the simple broadcast of  information because we see that’s how Jesus developed His disciples; through questions. Centering on Christ simply enhances and grounds our other values.  

now seen

To be clear this practice of recognizing Jesus and centering on Him personally and corporately, does not bring a guarantee of success or freedom from suffering.  It does not mean that I will be healthy and wealthy.  Rather It means I will remember what He did and said.  It means we will remember. It is our anchor in this storm when everything else is being tossed back and forth and the only thing that is certain is things are never going to be the same.  We will remember.   

A helpful place to start with this practice is to borrow the blind man’s question, “Who is He?” If you need to argue about it like the Pharisees, know that Jesus loves a good argument.  If you’re not sure like the formerly blind man, Jesus is patient and He loves questions (that’s one of the reasons I love him).  

Once you’ve started that contemplation, turn to your own life and identify what your functional center or centers are, asking others around you for insight.  Then turn back to Jesus and consider Him some more.  Let this consideration work on your heart.  And in time as you wonder at who He is, He will start to become your center.  Still, remember this is a journey so be patient; trusting that He will bring living water to us all in a dry and weary land.  

:Dr. T: