hearts burning: part three in a series on the road ahead

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. (Luke 24: 28-35) 

Throughout the series, we’ve referenced Belgian theologian Edward Schillebeeckx who says the Emmaus Road narrative is the essential Scripture for our current cultural moment.  In this final chunk of the narrative, Jesus continues to play around with the disciples as He acts as if He were going further.  His teaching about the larger story and His fellowship had proved both persuasive and attractive to the unwitting pair of disciples as they urge Him to stay. 

Looking at the road ahead for each of us as well as for Journey Academy, we have looked at some practices like cognitive coaching, contemplative journaling, design thinking and play-based learning as part of our road ahead.  We have also considered how hoping, remembering and playing will play a significant role in next steps in the upcoming season.  In this third installment, I want to suggest that courageous reconciling will be foundational for each of us as well as for future travel at Journey Academy.

tables, reconciling and wholeness

“When he was at the table with them” is where the narrative focuses our attention.  After reminding them of the bigger story on the road, He ignites the connection to the table in the recent past where He told his disciples “this is my body given up for you” and “this is my blood poured out for you.” “Take and remember.”  At that table, He brought them together and made them one.  At this table in Emmaus, He brings them together, reconciling the whole story and His place in it.  

Tables, in the right circumstance, can bring wholeness.  The Hebrew word shalom means “peace” as well as “wholeness.” Gracy Olmstead’s recent essay in Breaking Ground titled “Wendell Berry’s Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic” usefully adds Berry’s idea of health as wholeness. Looking at Jesus in this moment, He brings wholeness and reconciliation. In our cultural moment with the proliferation of so many viewpoints in so many different complicated situations, this action of reconciliation will be critical.  At Journey Academy, we place a premium on learners driving our way forward.  With so many drivers, there comes so many different paths and complications. We can’t just simply say “do your own thing.” We are going to need to learn more about reconciliation.

reconciling at Journey

Listening is a key part of reconciling.  In our last quest of the year, we are asking the question, “what makes a hero?” The quest includes playfully writing about one’s superpowers and super suit, as well as studying historical and fictional heroes, service learning and interviewing a hero in one’s life.  At the heart of the interview is an opportunity to listen. As Reaghan interviewed her mom, she listened to how her mom Kimberly had persevered on her hero’s journey. Toward the end of the interview, Reaghan remarked how she has reconciled her mother’s learning into her own life.  This type of listening makes our future road possible.  

Miss Cheryl takes this listening and moves it to the next level with her restorative practice in the Elementary Studio.  For conflicts, she asks heroes What happened? How does this impact you? What responsibility do you take? What do you need/need to do to get to ok? Through listening, she helps heroes to be what the apostle Paul calls “ambassadors of reconciliation.”  We will be a community committed to reconciliation.

our journey as heroes toward reconciling

Over the past week, my heart has been heavy with the news from cities around the nation.  As I read the news, this has seemed distant. Yet, when I’ve lulled myself into this misperception, the Spirit directs me back to a letter written some fifty seven years ago by a young minister from Atlanta who found himself in a Birmingham jail cell.  

Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. (Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963)

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s taught us that we can be affected by something as simple as another’s cough on an airplane from a distant city. We are realizing this “inescapable network of mutuality.”As we commit to reconciliation, it must not be simply a commitment inside our studio walls.  We want our heroes to realize that we are part of a single garment of destiny.  This is a wholeness that is hard to realize.  But we are committed to journeying together as part of the whole.  

As I realize my connection to George, Ahmaud and Breonna, the link is deepened through a young man who lived with us for two years. Ibrahim came to our house as part of the Refugee Foster Care program at Bethany Christian Services.  He is now working toward a degree in Social Work at Michigan State University.  He came to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo after his parents were killed during the war. In between, he spent years in an overcrowded refugee camp in Tanzania.  

I’m struck by how Ib escaped with his life, only to be caught up in an historic and systemic assault on people of color in our country.  The relooping stories of George, Ahmaud and Breonna deeply unsettle me. I am constantly asking questions about the responsibility I have as a part of this country’s current state.  After recently talking about Minneapolis, my ten-year-old, Vivienne looked up at me with a precocious comprehension and said, “I’m worried for my brother, Ibi.  I don’t want him to die.  I love him.”  When my joyful and distracted daughter perceives that, something must not be right.  Something is not right. And if it’s not right, what should my response be? What might our response be?

listening, examining, owning and doing

I think a good first step is to follow Reaghan’s lead and listen.  Listening to voices of people who’ve been impacted is foundational. In a previous series, I shared a video from speaker Michael Jr. on purpose.  Known for his inspirational messages, his sharing of the Good News and his comedy, this video from his Facebook page titled “A Personal Experience” takes a more serious tack, documenting a moment from his life as a nineteen-year-old African American man growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and encountering the police.  In his moment of pain and anger, Michael Jr. found that giving to others who were also in pain was a part of his path to forgiveness and healing.  I continue to listen and learn.  

Like the heroes at Journey who own their learning through reflection, I need to own my part as a member of this society that has targeted African Americans. I need to acknowledge and humbly hold the anger of friends and relatives as well as brothers and sisters in Christ.  As I pray Ignatius of Loyola’s Examen, I am asking the Holy Spirit to identify those areas where I’ve seen God, where I’m living up to my calling to be like Jesus and where I have not been like Jesus and have participated in this social sin as well as leading me to realize my individual screw-ups.  As I try to practice reconciliation, I return to the questions that Miss Cheryl asked.  What has happened?  How has it impacted me (and others)? What responsibility do I take? What do I need and what do I need to do to make it “okay?”  Each of these questions and this practice of Examen can lead me forward to a response-able next step.

With so much of our culture shouting, I can tend to withdraw and the legislative front is no exception for me. Politics can often be about dividing people, point-scoring and power grabs.  But there are times when it can be redemptive.  At this moment, I sense such an opening where I can participate. This past Sunday night, our local member of Congress Justin Amash introduced a bill on Qualified Immunity.  “The brutal killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police is merely the latest in a long line of incidents of egregious police misconduct,” Congressman Amash wrote in a letter to his colleagues posted on Twitter. “This pattern continues because police are legally, politically, and culturally insulated from consequences for violating the rights of the people whom they have sworn to serve. That must change so that these incidents of brutality stop happening.” At times, I find myself differing with Representative Amash.  In this case, it seems like a reasoned thoughtful response to the mounting number of misconduct examples.  

The experience of transformation was described by the disciple couple as “our hearts burning.” Many things, righteous and unrighteous, can set our hearts ablaze. Lust, wounded rage, ambition and prideful revenge can light a fire inside of us that can drive us forward.  The Bible calls these “overdesires (epithumia).”  Yet when we have the right firestarter, the starter who comes to serve, the one who is faithful, righteous and true, then the fire is right and proper.  This is the kind of fire that leads heroes toward justice. This is the kind of fire that gives heroes hope.  This is the kind of fire that gives heroes perseverance. This is the kind of fire that enables heroes to humbly listen.  

“Stay with us” is the plea to Jesus from the disciples with the burning hearts.  We need to ask Jesus to stay with us in the midst of the pandemic of COVID 19 as well as the pandemic of racist brutality. He is where my eyes need to stay centered.  Stay with us. You are Emmanuel, God with us. And if we stay centered on Him, He will kindle our hearts for the road ahead.

::Dr. T::

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