Friday, May 13, 2016


The three backpacking instructors in that I’m in charge of this month are sophomores who are teaching “Camping Skills” to sixteen freshmen at a time. I give the instructors pointers ahead of time, then they run the entire session while I sit in the back and keep an eye 0n things. All three are good at their work, and are willing to try different teaching techniques such as various questioning strategies or ways of engaging the learners.

Today I watched one of them going around checking the kids’ knot-tying skills. Coming to
one Freshman who had tied his power hitch around the leg of a nearby desk, he scrutinized the knot. Then he commented, “You’ve put three turns inside first loop instead of two, so the knot doesn't work. Untie it and do it over.” Then he moved on down the aisle, checking other students. He came to a big kid who has been a bit confrontational and disruptive in our class at times. The instructor looked at this kid’s “Siberian hitch,” and commented, “That’s it! Good job.” Then,as he moved on down the aisle he simply gave the student two quick pats on the shoulder and kept moving. I was truly impressed by the sophomore’s savvy -- the shoulder-pat was perfect: a guy-thing that gave off a lot of good non-verbal vibes. “Yes!” I thought to myself, “that freshman is yours for the rest of the course!”    
the course!”  

At 5:00 mass this evening Fr. Augustine preached on the encounter of St. Peter with the Risen Lord on the shore of the lake, beside a charcoal fire. Jesus asked him three times, “Simon, do you love me.” The threefold question was, of course, a reminder to Simon of the three times he had denied even knowing Jesus -- that, too had happened around a charcoal fire.

Then Fr. Augustine said, “John’s is the gospel of do-overs,” and gave as an example the encounter with the woman taken in adultery, who Jesus forgave and let her start over again. I immediately thought of my Camping instructor in this morning’s class.

First, when the one student had messed up his power hitch, the instructor simply pointed out that it wouldn’t do, and that he had to re-do it. No hard feelings, no condemnations, just “Re-do it.” This is the way our Lord works with each of us when we mess up in our knot-tying. He lets us have a re-do every time -- we always have the right to start over again.

Then there was the pat on the shoulder given to the problem student. I think that this, too, is something that Jesus does for me; he finds subtle ways of reassuring me and encouraging me, of motivating me to be a better follower of his.

And finally, Jesus must expect me to use that same approach on people around me: everyone always has aright to a do-over, a right to be forgiven. Sometimes that’s a difficult thing to do. A lot harder than learning to tie a power hitch.

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