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.
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.
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.