Friday, March 5, 2021

Teaching Chronicles: Kids Behaving Badly — Pencil Sharpener Bully

     Mark's handwriting was completely illegible.  Now, I don't mean it was difficult to tell his E's from his A's or he forgot to cross his T's, I mean it looked as if he had taken off his shoes and socks in class, stuck a pencil in between his big and second toe, and attempted to scratch out his work.

     At first, I just tried to encourage him to write more neatly.  His handwriting would improve for a little bit, but within a few days be right back to the illegible scrawl.  As a next step, I brought him a couple brand-new pencils, and then sat with him and worked on his penmanship.  As long as I was sitting right there, he actually had pretty good handwriting for a fourth grade boy.  Boys always have a harder time with handwriting in the younger grades because it takes longer for their fine motor skills to develop.  I had developed some pretty incredible ninja abilities to decipher poor handwriting, but Mark had me beat.  Although this was my first year of teaching, I knew better than to ding a kid for penmanship on a spelling test.  No, I wasn't expecting perfection, but I couldn't give credit for spelling the word "truck" if it looks like you have written the word "glurp."  I was even considering giving him oral spelling tests instead of written ones.

     It was a Thursday morning before school when his mom called me.  "Has Mark talked to you about the boy who sits next to the pencil sharpener?"  No, in fact, Mark had not.  It turned out every time he went over to sharpen a pencil, the kid would poke him with his pencil, or say something threatening to him under his breath, usually following up with his threats during recess.  Rather than undergo the trial by fire that was sharpening pencils, Mark would use his pencils until they became just nubs, mostly wood with mere traces of graphite, scratching against the paper — he had a whole collection of them in his desk.  Sigh… thank goodness for parents.

     The bully's seat was immediately moved to the front right of the room close to my desk, he received a lecture that I believe included threats of dismemberment, and like magic, Mark's penmanship became legible.  Now after thirty years of teaching under my belt, I would like to think I would've picked up on this on my own quickly.

     Still, it's an important rule in teaching and in life: What you see and think is going on, is not necessarily what is really going on.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

I Am a Recovering News Junkie!

     I must admit, I am a news junkie.  I didn't realize how much of a junkie I was until I left my full-time
job at Trinity Cathedral in April 2020.  It used to be I'd take a quick glance at the headlines and then rush off to work.  Maybe I'd catch up with the news at lunchtime for about fifteen minutes, but then I didn't think much about it until evening when I would watch local and national news.  Now, however, what I have discovered is I can literally devour the news for hours in the morning (or until my pot of coffee runs out.)  I'll start with the New York Times, move on to the Washington Post, read my local paper, amuse myself for a little bit with Facebook, and then see what the absolute latest is by checking Twitter.  By the time you've gone through the cycle, you can go back to the beginning and start over because there are new articles!  You see my problem.

     Maybe all this would be a harmless diversion if times were better, but given the dire state of the news — everything from the coronavirus, to politics, to global warming, to violence — it is absolutely soul-crushing.  It slowly began to dawn on me how much this was affecting my outlook on life, and I remembered the admonition from St. Paul, 

"Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  (Philippians 4:8)

     It is an old saying that whatever you turn your attention to is what will grow.  It took me too long to realize my feelings of anxiety and depression were directly related to how much news I was consuming.  So, I put myself on a diet.  I cut the amount of news I consumed down to a manageable level, and I can tell you I feel a lot better.  I don't feel anything less informed about what is going on, but I don't feel like I'm drowning in it anymore.  Like every diet, that one sliver of pie is not the problem… it's when you decide to eat the entire pie in one sitting.  Sometimes I still blow it, and a couple hours into reading the news in the morning, my neck and shoulders are tense and aching — that tends to get my attention.  Where we focus our attention is one of the great issues in life.  The psalmist says, 

"Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; give me life in your ways.  (119:37)  

     If like me, you found yourself overly anxious and depressed, there can be many causes (some of the physical… be sure to have that checked also), but one of them may be where you are focusing your attention.  I don't recommend being uninformed, sticking our heads in the sand when there are real problems, or being a Pollyanna, but we have to limit the amount of toxicity we consume.

     I suppose you could claim that technically you are a vegetarian if all you eat is potato chips, but I suspect most vegetarians would tell you just avoiding meat is not the point.  The point is adding fruit and vegetables to your diet will improve your health.  Just so, avoiding negative stuff is not enough.  St. Paul says we also have to focus our attention on things that are honorable, worthy of praise, pleasing, commendable, and excellent.  We need to dial down the negative stuff we take in, but dial-up the sunsets, and the art, and the poetry, and people we love, and stories about folks who are brave and kind.  I promise, you won't miss much, and you may find you gain a bit more faith in the goodness that is within you and within others.  And when you do that, this old world will seem just a bit brighter.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Being a Christian Before and After the Election

     In the first century, you read about St. Paul having a lot of choices: He had the choice of how to travel — pretty much limited to ship, donkey, or on foot; He had the choice of what he ate —He only criticized folks who saw themselves as holier than others because of what they would or would not eat.  But one thing you never read about St. Paul having to choose was the person for whom he would vote for Emperor.  There's a good reason for that.  He didn't have the freedom to vote in the first century.

     But just because he couldn't vote, didn't mean he didn't have some strong opinions about the politics of his day.  He spoke against the strong oppressing the weak. Like Jesus, he stood with the poor against the rich. He also dealt with people who said pretty much the only way to be a good Christian was either to take up arms against the Empire or surrender and go out of your way to become a martyr.  He basically told them not to be so dramatic; they just needed to obey authorities as far as possible, even the Emperor, and live their lives as quietly as they could (Romans 13.)  

     Many modern partisan religious salespersons have used this passage of Paul's to justify everything from slavery to serving in the army of the Third Reich.  Most often, they just exploit this passage to try and force others to obey unjust laws or follow a leader blindly without criticism in the United States, a democracy where we can vote and have the right to protest.  It is further noted they only bring up St. Paul in this context when whoever happens to be in political power agrees with them, and ignore it when the other party takes power.

     Jesus was involved in politics.  No, he did not have election bumper stickers on the back of his donkey, or a yard sign for his preferred Sanhedrin candidate, and he didn’t lick envelopes for a candidate's mailing while teaching the Beatitudes.  The way Jesus was involved in politics was simply to teach truth.  When you are in the presence of an unjust power structure and preach truth, it is always inherently political.

     When you criticize the rich and instruct them to share what they have with the poor, Jesus was addressing values, but the same time challenging the current unjust economic and political structure.

     When you show mercy to a woman caught in adultery, while an angry mob stands by wanting her stoned according to the law, he was teaching values, but he was also criticizing an unjust legal system steeped in sexism and racism.

     When he overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple and said, "My father's house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations," he was criticizing an unjust business and economic system that robbed the poor to enrich the already rich, and also indicted a corrupt religious establishment based on violence, profit, and hypocrisy.  You might think the church should not be meddling in certain areas, but I’m afraid I have to tell you Jesus involved himself in every area of human existence… no area was exempt.

     While I do not believe the Church should endorse candidates, I do believe the Church must be involved in politics.  When I say that, I mean the church should be involved in politics in the way that Jesus was: by teaching truth and values.  You might not think those are political, but when you are in the presence of an unjust power structure and you teach the Gospel… the Truth… the Church is going to be seen as political.

     If you don't believe me, just try to talk about how Jesus, and indeed the entire Abrahamic tradition, including Islam, speaks of the core value of welcoming the stranger and the wanderer. See if you are not accused of being political about the subject of immigration.  

     Try to talk about the Christian value of honesty and truthfulness, and see if you are not accused of calling a politician a liar. 

     Post something on Facebook about Jesus’ teachings on peace and nonviolence.  Trust me, one of your commenters will see that as a political statement against the Second Amendment

     Oscar Romero summed it up well when he said, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.” If you don’t think teaching basic Christian values is not political, believe Oscar Romero, a Roman Catholic bishop who was assassinated for standing up to his government in defending the poor of his nation.

     The only reason such values are seen as political is because human beings have made them political.  That doesn't make them any the less the values of the Church.

     As for individual Christians, we are supposed to do good in the world… to make this world a little better. In our own time, it is our role to bring the kingdom of God into this present reality (I think there’s a famous part of a prayer that’s about that.)  One way we can do that is to vote.  It is not enough we observe personal piety; we, as Christians, must do what we can to dismantle oppressive power structures in our societies and create ones that support justice — when Jesus talked about sin, it was not just personal; he talked a lot about institutional… systemic societal sin.  That means we as individuals have to make political choices that can change society.  

     I personally have been involved in politics for many years, and I learned a long time ago I don't have to necessarily agree with a candidate on everything, or even like her or him, to vote for them.  I just have to look at a candidate and compare his or her stands with my values.  Some of those values are broad Christian values the church teaches: Will they care for the poor?  Will they be welcome the stranger?  Are they truthful?  But then I also will judge them on some values I believe are derived from my faith, but that I admit other people may see differently when it comes down to how you apply those values.  I will ask if they support education.  I will ask if they protect individual freedoms.  Naturally, no candidate ever ticks off all the boxes.  Ultimately, I have to make up my mind and vote.

     I cast my ballot this week.  I made my choices.  But now I have begun to think about the morning after the election.  Just as I was a Christian before the election, I am a Christian afterward.  And quite honestly, don't we spend most of our lives in the afterward?  So I have been thinking hard about how it is my responsibility to love my neighbors before and after the election, even if they vote differently.  And it will be the role of Christians and God's church throughout time to stand against injustice such as economic disparity, sexism, and racism, especially as it is embedded in the power structures of our day.  Yes, I voted for one person for president, but that just means I made my best judgment grounded in my faith and values at the time.  And once that person takes office, they become responsible for both the inherent injustices in the systems that dominate our country and any they might create by their policies.  It will not be my role as a Christian to follow them blindly.  In that afterward time, it will be my part, and yours, and the Church's to speak truth to power.

Friday, July 31, 2020

The Wolf of Gubbio

     This is the story of the Wolf of Gubbio as recorded in the  Fioretti di San Francesco.  While you read it, I would invite you to reflect on what it says about violence in our world.

     During the period around 1220 when St. Francis was living in Gubbio, a fierce wolf appeared in the country and began attacking livestock.  Soon the wolf graduated to direct assaults on humans, and not long after began to dine upon them exclusively.  It was known for lingering outside of the city gates in wait for anyone foolish enough to venture beyond them alone.  No weapon was capable of inflicting injury upon the wolf, and all who attempted to destroy it were devoured.  Eventually mere sight of the animal caused the entire city to raise alarm and the public refused to go outside the walls for any reason.  It was at this point, when Gubbio was under siege, that Francis announced he was going to take leave and meet the wolf.  He was advised against this more than once but, irrespective of the warnings, made the sign of the Cross and went beyond the gates with a small group of followers in tow.  When he neared the lair of the wolf, the crowd held back at a safe distance, but remained close enough to witness what transpired.  The wolf, having seen the group approach, rushed at Francis with its jaws open.  Again Francis made the sign of the Cross and commanded the wolf to cease its attacks in the name of God, at which point the wolf trotted up to him docilely and lay at his feet, putting its head in his hands.  The Fioretti then describes word-for-word his dealings with the wolf:

     "Brother wolf, thou hast done much evil in this land, destroying and killing the creatures of God without his permission; yea, not animals only hast thou destroyed, but thou hast even dared to devour men, made after the image of God; for which thing thou art worthy of being hanged like a robber and a murderer.  All men cry out against thee, the dogs pursue thee, and all the inhabitants of this city are thy enemies; but I will make peace between them and thee, O brother wolf, if so be thou no more offend them, and they shall forgive thee all thy past offences, and neither men nor dogs shall pursue thee any more."  The wolf bowed its head and submitted to Francis, completely at his mercy.

     "As thou art willing to make this peace, I promise thee that thou shalt be fed every day by the inhabitants of this land so long as thou shalt live among them; thou shalt no longer suffer hunger, as it is hunger which has made thee do so much evil; but if I obtain all this for thee, thou must promise, on thy side, never again to attack any animal or any human being; dost thou make this promise?"

     In agreement, the wolf placed one of its forepaws in Francis' outstretched hand, and the oath was made.  Francis then commanded the wolf to return with him to Gubbio.  At this sight, the men who had followed him through the walls were utterly astonished and they spread the news; soon the whole city knew of the miracle. The townsfolk gathered in the city marketplace to await Francis and his companion, and were shocked to see the ferocious wolf behaving as though his pet.  When Francis reached the marketplace, he offered the assembled crowd an impromptu sermon... With the sermon ended, Francis renewed his pact with the wolf publicly, assuring it that the people of Gubbio would feed it from their very doors if it ceased its depredations.  Once more the wolf placed its paw in Francis' hand.

     Thereafter, Gubbio venerated Francis and he received great praise from its citizens.  Many of them were convinced by the miracle and offered their thanks to God, going on to be converted.  This episode in the Fioretti is concluded with a note that the wolf lived for a further two years at Gubbio, going from home to home for sustenance and honoring the provisions of its agreement with Francis.  At its death the city was saddened, for even though it had slain so many it was a symbol of the sanctity of Francis and the power of God.  According to tradition, Gubbio gave the wolf an honorable burial and later built the Church of Saint Francis of the Peace at the site.  During renovations in 1872, the skeleton of a large wolf, apparently several centuries old, was found under a slab near the church wall and then reburied inside.

     Before St. Francis arrived, the villagers had bought into the Myth of Redemptive Violence, namely, that the way to deal with violence is to bring more violence against it.  It didn't work.

     We buy into this same Myth of Redemptive Violence when we say things like, "The only way to stop a bad man with a gun, is is a good man with a gun."  We buy into this same Myth of Redemptive Violence when peaceful protests seem to have no effect, and we turn in desperation to looting and throwing bricks.  Although we may not realize it, even when we despair and say, "What difference does it make if we vote?"  What we are, in effect, saying is that peaceful methods don't work.

     We lost a great and good man recently, Congressman John Lewis.  His example which has inspired so many was that he chose peace instead of violence.  He chose not to fight back against oppression, but also refused to bow to it.  His blood and witness were part of what made the Civil Rights Act possible.  It was the same choice Gandhi made.  It was the same choice Martin Luther King Jr. made.  It was the same choice Jesus made.

     The easy choice this world seems to default to is always fighting back.  Violence is the first response we try.  Yell angry words at your opponent!  Call him names!  Flip him off!  Honk your horn!  Throw a brick through a window!  Send in unmarked federal troops!  If you have been paying attention to the news recently, you have seen the Myth of Redemptive Violence unravel in real time.  Violence only begets more violence.  This is why the first step in making peace during any war is getting both sides to declare a cease-fire.  Only then can the work of peace begin.

     Being a peacemaker is often a lot more difficult and a lot more work than throwing a brick.  But if we can make peace and nonviolence our default reaction, it is so much more effective, and maybe in the words of Jesus, we will be called blessed for doing so.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Maybe It's God's Fault?

     If you haven't been wondering over the past few months what God has against us, you're probably one of the few.  With so much devastation and death wreaked on our world and this country by the virus and sheer self-serving political incompetency, only the most calloused could claim it is all part of God's good and loving plan for us.

     You may have never thought of yourself as a theologian, but you actually are.  Any time you sit and wonder about the nature of God (or what in the world God is up to), you are doing theology.  If you're having trouble reconciling what you see going on in the world around you now — the death, the hateful behavior toward others, the corruption — with a good and loving God, you're not alone.  It's nice to let ourselves off the hook by blaming everything on God, unfortunately, that's bad theology, a rookie mistake. 

     No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one… Do not be deceived, my beloved.   Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.   — James 1:13, 16, 17

     It's understandable we bring God into the picture when faced with a reality that seems beyond comprehension right now.  God is, after all, pretty much incomprehensible no matter how many words we try to put around God.  Human beings, being what they are, try to make sense out of things.  We look for patterns.  This is why we see shapes and faces in cloud formations.  Unfortunately, this is also why without sufficient information, people tend to default to conspiracy theories.  We're just trying to make sense of everything, and to be fair, it's pretty tough right now making sense of what is going on in our world.

     There is an old Episcopal preacher story that goes like this: A terrible hurricane hit an island in the Caribbean.  A newspaper reporter was interviewing religious leaders for their take on why this happened.  She interviewed the evangelical preacher who said, "This is God's wrath being visited upon us for our sins!"  Next, she interviewed the Roman Catholic Bishop of the island who said, "It is God testing the faith of his people."  Finally, she went to the Episcopal Bishop.  When asked why this terrible event occurred to the island, the Bishop thought for a moment, but then shrugged and said, "It's hurricane season."

     Episcopalians tend to be pretty practical about this stuff.  Humans have evolved alongside viruses for millennia.  Right now, there's a bad one out there we are fighting.  That doesn't mean God is responsible for the hurricane.  But what we are responsible for is our reaction.  We are responsible for how we love and care for one another during this difficult time.

     While God does not cause evil, God seems to have a knack for bringing good out of the worst situations.  Think of the passion for racial equality and reform that has risen from the death of George Floyd.  Think of the humanity and witness of the diary that a young girl, Anne Frank, kept during the Nazi occupation.  Think of the thousands of nurses and doctors serving selflessly and at much personal risk every day during this pandemic.

     No, the hand of God is not in the hurricane, but we can have courage. The hand of God is in us...  how you and I care for one another, our kindness even toward strangers, and how we step forward to help heal this broken world.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Points at which new recipes lost me…

     I like to fancy myself a pretty good cook.  But, it wasn’t always this way.  When I was freshly divorced in my early 30s, I struggled to put dinner on the table three times a week when my daughters came over.  But then, I discovered the delightful, frozen children’s meals, Kid Cuisine!  There are currently seven varieties of these meals: everything from “Pizza Painter Cheese Pizza,” to “Twist and Twirl Spaghetti with Mini Meat Balls,” to three different species of “SpongeBob SquarePants” meals that seem to involve two incarnations of chicken and one of macaroni.  The alarming thing I discovered while writing this is there are also twelve discontinued varieties, including the unappealingly named “Bug Safari Chicken Breast Nuggets.”  Wikipedia doesn’t say why these twelve were discontinued, but I’m concerned that many of them sound familiar.

     Living in the Kid Cuisine fool’s paradise for about a month, it finally dawned on me these probably weren’t the healthiest meals I could provide… in fact, I became concerned I was possibly poisoning my own children.  I understood at the time there were laws about that kind of thing.  So, I went out and bought a used paperback Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, tenth edition.  Learning to cook terrified me.  To avoid hyperventilating, I kept repeating, “You have a Master’s Degree in education!  You teach reading!  You can do this!  All you have to do is read and follow directions.”  So, I started with one new recipe a week, and over time, have developed quite a repertoire.

     Nowadays, I usually read the recipe section in the newspaper, but sometimes I find their offerings ridiculous.  I am not the kind of cook who delights in the exotic or the hard-to-find ingredient.  So I thought it might be fun to share some actual quotes from recipes where they lost me:

  • “Use a Spoonful of Shrimp Paste When You Can’t Find Anchovies.” — Oh yes, let me find that jar of lovely shrimp paste I keep in the refrigerator door.  Do people really keep shrimp paste on hand?!
  • “Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 4 days to let the mixture marinate.”  — You know, you might get an hour of marinating out of me, but you can forget even one day, much less four.  If I tried to marinate something for four days, what would really happen is I would forget about it until the odor of the rot from the refrigerator reminded me.
  • “These shrimp burgers are bursting with flavor thanks to kimchi.”  — Even the thought of shrimp burgers, much less shrimp burgers combined with Korean kimchi is certainly enough to make me burst, but not quite how they meant.
  • “If you don’t have an extractor, puree the fruits together in a blender, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth” — As you may have guessed, I do not have an extractor… and on my blender, only the first few buttons work… the purée button is clear to the right… and I don’t have a fine-mesh strainer… and there’s no way I’m going out to look for cheesecloth.  I think we’re done here. 
  • “Fresh cilantro leaves with tender stems” — At my Walmart, I’m lucky to get cilantro and not get it mixed up with parsley.  I’m not about to start cultivating a new “tender stem” requirement.
  • “You’ll need a 3-inch doughnut cutter and a small cutter for the center holes; we found in testing that you’ll have fewer scraps to reroll when you use a square cutter or a sharp knife and a ruler to measure 3-inch squares.”  — This all started out as fun and games; I mean who doesn’t like doughnuts?  First, are there really outer and inner doughnut cutters?  Where would I buy something like that?  And second, doesn’t it kind of take the fun out of it, not to mention it’s kind of OCD, if you feel you have to use a ruler to measure your doughnuts?
  • “1 tablespoon fresh ginger grated on a microplane grater” — Okay, I might be able to find fresh ginger, but I’m not sure I even know what a microplane grater is.  You’ll be lucky to get the standard ground ginger you find in the grocery store cooking section, and yeah, it’ll probably be generic.
  • “Beat in egg yolk, salt, vanilla seeds and orange blossom water 1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), preferably cultured (European-style)” — All right, wait just one dang crockpot minute!  I’m supposed to find vanilla seeds and have orange blossom water on hand?  And what exactly is cultured, European-style butter?  Is it just American butter with an accent or does it also have to have an advanced degree and be well-traveled?!
  • “Kimchi Pancake” — You know, I couldn’t even get past the title of this recipe.  It’s really bad when just the title kicks in your gag reflex.

     By now, I’m sure you can see why my favorite cookbook on the shelf in the kitchen is entitled 5 ingredients/15 minutes.  Besides, I used to think I liked to cook, but I've learned over the years what I really like is cooking while a bunch of friends are in the kitchen with me drinking wine and talking.  Bon appétit!

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Mystery of the Disappearing Keys

     I did not realize until I retired how many keys I had.

     As a priest, I had one key for the outer door of the offices, one for the inner door, one for my office, two or three keys for the church, plus a credit-card-sized electronic key that worked on some doors but not all.  I had the same heavy bundle of keys when I taught 6th Grade for thirty years.  Even before I began my teaching career, I always had a big bundle of keys in all of the minimum-wage jobs — jobs I appreciated because they paid the bills.  I remember even in high school I had a key for my car and another one for the trunk (Remember when those were two separate keys?) plus keys for my parent's house.

     It seems, however, I have arrived at a time in my life where I have only two keys on my ring:  My house key, and my mom's house key.  Even my mom's house key is going away soon since she is selling her house to stay in assisted living.  I no longer even have a car key because that is just a fob now on newer cars.  I do have a few more keys such as the one hanging in the hall for the back gate, but I rarely use it.  It is not worth carrying it on my key ring.

     I have begun to wonder if this mystery of the disappearing keys is a metaphor for what happens as you get older.

     There was a time when John the Baptist was all the rage in Jerusalem and its suburbs.  He was on Instagram, he was on Twitter, he was an influencer.  People were coming from everywhere to listen to that young firebrand preach and get baptized by him.

     But then there came a time when his cousin Jesus got a lot more popular.  And that really bugged John's disciples.  In the Gospel of John, chapter 3, they come to him complaining about this.  They say, "Hey, you baptized this guy, and now he's stealing all your thunder!  He's trending on everything!"

John heard them out, but then he replied with one of the most humble things recorded in Scripture.  He softly said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)

     His gentle response has always fascinated me.  It has always felt like the entire Christian life could be captured in these seven short words: "He must increase, but I must decrease."

     In one way, it felt kind of sad after I turned in all my Church keys.  Here I was, shrinking before my very eyes. There was a feeling of quiet panic at first.  Who was I if I didn't have all those keys and what they represent?  But in another way I have to admit, it was a kind of a relief.  I'm glad not to have to pack around so many keys.  I don't need that huge bundle in my right-hand pocket anymore that jabs me if I bump into a door jamb.  With so many keys, pens, ChapStick, contact lens drops, and a black leather billfold in my right-hand pocket, when I sat down, it would often trigger the alarm on my car or the trunk opener.  It got really irritating to have someone stop into my office a few times a day to say, "Did you know your trunk is open?"  I don't want to be the one who is responsible for opening doors for everyone else anymore.  If you are the guy with all the keys, you have to do things like show up on time and be responsible.  Everyone has expectations of you.  It feels kind of good to let those expectations go and just be myself.  I have had a huge key ring probably since I was around sixteen, but somehow, I just do not feel the need to carry such a burden anymore after forty-six years.

     In The Lord of the Rings, when Galadriel is offered the keys… I mean the ring of great power that she knew would eventually destroy who she was, she finds the inner strength to refuse it and says, "I pass the test. I will diminish and go into the West and remain Galadriel."

     Now, I am certainly not comparing a lifetime of gainful employment to the "One Ring to Rule Them All," but there is something to be said for knowing when it is time to bow out.  There is a grace in letting go.  There is a grace in diminishing.  There are always relationships and jobs from which you have to move on.  On my journey, I think I have learned that an important part of wisdom in life is the grace with which we let go of things.  It has also been my experience that whenever it is time to step away from one thing, it makes room for someone else to step up.

     Although I was a very good teacher and loved it more than I can say, I learned long ago there were many, many good teachers who were nothing like me.  In fact, at my school, if I had not chosen to take early retirement, a new teacher who had great promise would have been laid off.

     I will always be an Episcopal priest, but stepping away from my position at the Cathedral will give others a chance to minister, and I believe she or he will do as well or better than I.  Trinity Cathedral is set on the banks of the Truckee River.  I have always said, "There were good people worshiping beside this river long before I came, and there will be good people worshiping beside this river long after I am gone."  It may sound a little morbid, but it has always given me great comfort that I am not responsible for the whole world or the future, but only my small portion of it.  I'm just not that important in the grand sweep of things.

     Stepping away also has opened new doors for me.  I'm a cellist.  Two years ago, I began working on the Prelude of the Bach Cello Suite in D minor, a piece that is so exquisite I am convinced when it is played by a true master, like Jacqueline du Pré, the angels weep.  Although I had certainly learned all of the basics of the piece more than a year ago, I just could not get the piece to flow.  The reality was, I did not have enough time to practice.  Within just a few weeks of retirement, however, I am satisfied enough with my proficiency that I can set it aside for now and move on to another piece.  (You never finish learning Bach.  I will be working on it at least for the next ten years to bring it to performance level.)

     I have gotten to work on writing that is not under a deadline.  My reading has expanded.  I am able to read books that have nothing to do with a class I must prepare to teach or a retreat I will run.

     And so, I have decided it is okay to diminish.  It is okay for me to decrease.  In fact, it seems to be the natural culmination of the Christian life.  Although it may seem counterintuitive, more and more, it seems the disappearing keys have actually opened new doors for me.