Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Teachers

Are you relaxed?


Annie Wright Schools Kindergarten — Tacoma, Washington in the 1940s

It’s 1948. I’m in kindergarten in El Monte, California. I love kindergarten. I love my kindergarten teacher. I adore rest time!

The routine is always the same. Rain or shine. At the appointed time, each of us picks out a brightly painted plank of wood – blue, green, red or yellow.

I carry my red plank to the middle of the room, find a little space between classmates, put the plank on the hardwood floor, and lie down on my back, on my make-believe bed.

I also shut my mouth and close my eyes. Until it’s perfectly silent, my kindergarten teacher won’t begin the fun part. Read the rest of this entry »

Herr K, Jesus, Diane and Us | Part 2 of 2

⇒ See Part 1 of this sermon: Herr K and Jesus.

It’s 2002.  I’ve been going to Houston 4 times a year for more than six years to visit one of my three sisters.  Diane has been learning to live with ALS.  It has relentlessly stolen her ability to move, swallow, speak and breathe on her own.

Since 1999 Diane has lived without any of these abilities, with the exception of making small facial movements.  They’re her communication lifeline to the world.

For the first time in my visits, Diane can’t use electronic means of communication.  Everything has to be spelled out—letter by letter, using a numbering system linked to letters of the alphabet.

Diane is looking for learners.  She needs family members and friends willing to take upon themselves a yoke of learning.

Diane winks her left eye twice, signaling her desire to say something to me.  Each row of letters begins with a vowel.  I start down the vowels.  But there’s a catch.  I can’t just say A, E, I, O, U.  Instead, I have to use numbers as a code—1 for A, 2 for E , 3 for I, 4 for O, 5 for U, 6 for numbers.  1…2…3…4…   Diane raises her left eyebrow ever so slightly to let me know I’m in the vicinity of the right letter.

I shift gears and start going down the O road of the alphabet:  O… P… Q… R…  Diane raises her left eyebrow ever so slightly.  The first letter of the first word is R!  I can’t go too fast, or she won’t have time to make her eyebrow go up.  We return to the beginning and start on the second letter.  Eventually, when all goes well, either I intuit the word correctly, or she signals the end of the word by staring straight ahead.

Sometimes I get lost.  I forget that 3 stands for I, not E!  I forget where we were in the communication.  Sometimes Diane starts over with different words, because I’m not getting her verbal shorthand.

Sometimes my wonderful intuition becomes my worst enemy.  I think I know what Diane is trying to say.  I’m willing to start over and be corrected, but my expectations are still in my mind, wreaking havoc with my ability to get on track with Diane.  My anxiety level escalates.  So does hers.  It becomes more and more difficult to concentrate.

Suddenly, in the middle of one of these frustrating encounters, I get it!  I understand Jesus’ yoke of learning.  I never understood how it could be easy or light.  But now I get it!

If Diane and I are going to get anywhere together, I will have to come to Diane as a learner, not as the teacher.  It looks like this:

  • deciding to take Diane’s yoke of learning on me (She’s the teacher; I am not.)
  • starting over from the very beginning
  • laying aside every intuition or expectation about what she wants to say or ask me to do, where we’re headed, and how long it will take
  • following her lead and her pace
  • living with my dismay about this situation (I can’t heal her.)
  • following Diane on her journey with ALS

If I can’t learn from Diane in this way, I’ll never come to rest in what she wants to communicate to me.  And the burden and loneliness will be heavier than either of us can possibly bear.

You and Me
Three teachers, each looking for learners:  Herr K, Jesus Christ, Diane.  Looking for learners willing to die; willing to ask for help; willing to make mistakes and pick themselves up; willing to identify with those who are sometimes forsaken.

Time is running out.

About 20 years ago Diane, wife of Clay and mother of three children, graduated from seminary.   Within a few years she was called to be Minister of Christian Education, and then Minister of Administration and Christian Education at a large church in Texas.  Bright, articulate, gifted and called.  In her late 30s.

Only seven years later, in 1996, she resigned her position so she could learn to live and die.  Diane was a lifelong learner.  Her life ended this past February, 10 years after she was diagnosed with ALS.

How much time do I think God has given me?  In truth, I have only this present moment.  Sometimes I behave as though my days were numberless.  I’m still young.  What’s the rush?

Jesus is looking for learners.  People willing to learn how to live and how to die daily.  People like you and me, ready to take his yoke of learning upon us so we can find rest for our souls, our bodies, our minds, our emotions.

I’d like to close with a short reading that encourages me to persevere.  Especially when I feel lost and alone, disoriented, off-balance and dismayed.

Oswald Chambers is commenting on Mark 10:32, “… those who followed were afraid.”  Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem—where he knows he will die.  Alone.

At the beginning we were sure we knew all about Jesus Christ, it was a delight to sell all and to fling ourselves out in a hardihood of love; but now we are not quite so sure.  Jesus is on in front and He looks strange:  ‘Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished.’

There is an aspect of Jesus that chills the heart of a disciple to the core and makes the whole spiritual life gasp for breath.  This strange Being with His face ‘set…like a flint’ and His striding determination, strikes terror into me.  He is no longer Counselor and Comrade, He is taken up with a point of view I know nothing about, and I am amazed at Him.  At first I was confident that I understood him, but now I am not so sure.  I begin to realize there is a distance between Jesus Christ and me; I can no longer be familiar with Him.  He is ahead of me and He never turns round; I have no idea where He is going, and the goal has become strangely far off.

Jesus had to fathom every sin and every sorrow [human beings] could experience, and that is what makes Him seem strange.  When we see him in this aspect we do not know Him, we do not recognize one feature of His life, and we do not know how to begin to follow Him.  He is on in front, a Leader Who is very strange, and we have no comradeship with Him.

The discipline of dismay is essential in the life of discipleship.  The danger is to get back to a little fire of our own and kindle enthusiasm at it….  When the darkness of dismay comes, endure until it is over, because out of it will come that following of Jesus which is an unspeakable joy.

Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, March 15 – The Discipline of Dismay.

May God grant us courage for the hard work of learning to live, and the harder work of learning to die.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 October 2014

Herr K, Jesus, Diane and Us | Part 1 of 2

In 2006, several months after Diane died of ALS, I preached this sermon at a banquet for graduating seminarians in West Virginia.  I can’t get it out of my mind.  I think it wants to offer me something.

Looking for Learners

Come to me,
all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy,
and my burden is light.

The Gospel of Matthew 11: 28-30 (NRSV)

Herr K
It’s 1977, the first day of school.  German language school.  In Germany.

I don’t know a word of German.  I’m sitting with 29 other adult students behind tables arranged in a U-shape.  We have textbooks and notebooks ready.  Some are joking around in their native languages.  I don’t hear a word of English.  Even if I did, I really don’t feel like joking around.  We’re about to meet our German language teacher for the first time ever.

The door opens and a man strides in–tall, baggy brown suit, bow tie, blank face.  He picks up a piece of chalk and spells out  H e r r  K – – – – – – – – –  on the chalkboard.  He faces us, points to the chalkboard, then points back to himself.  He pauses.  Then he repeats these actions without saying a word.  Finally he stands quietly at the front of the room, gazing at us intently.

The room is deathly silent.

Without warning Herr K smiles!  He motions with his hands.  [points to himself; makes a hand motion away from his mouth; points to the class; tugs a bit on his right ear; then makes another hand motion away from his mouth.]

Not a word falls from his lips.  He repeats himself–just in case we didn’t understand. Still not a word.

Suddenly he leaps into action–striding back outside the door, closing it with a flourish.  Now he’s in the hall, and we’re in the classroom.

With another flourish he opens the door and strides back into the room, all smiles this time.  “Guten Morgen,” he says confidently.  He pauses.

No one knows what to do.  The smile vanishes.  He motions with his hands once more. [same as above]  He turns and strides back outside the door.  Closes it.  Opens it.  Strides back into the room all smiles again.  “Guten Morgen,” he says confidently.

Somehow someone finally gets it and squawks back – “Guten Morgen.”  He replies abruptly, “Ja!  Ja!  Und Nein!!!”

We dare not laugh.  It isn’t funny.  It’s terrifying.  By the end of the day we’ve been baptized into the drill.  The daily drill we’ll fear and hate for the duration of the course.

Herr K goes around the room, one by one, standing directly in front of each of us, drilling us publicly until he’s satisfied we have every inflection, every intonation and every word just right.  “Guten Morgen, Herr K!”  He spares no one.  He has nothing but contempt for students who show up unprepared, who don’t sit up straight at the table, or whose faces give off the tiniest flicker of disdain for him or for his sometimes brutal tactics.

Herr K doesn’t waste time with folks who don’t want to learn German.  He’s looking for learners.

Herr K taught me to think, speak and dream in outstanding German.  In the process, I learned far more than German.  I learned to die – to my pride and to my desire to get things right the first time, all by myself.

Bringing German to life in me meant dying.  Daily and publicly.   I didn’t like this man.  Yet he knew exactly what he was doing, and what it would take for us to ‘get it’ so well that we could pass as German citizens.

It’s the first day of school–well, maybe not the very first day, but the first day of a new semester.  Jesus is on a teaching mission.  He’s looking for learners, not just good students.  Good students are a dime a dozen.  He’s looking for learners.  Folks who will come to him, who will accept his yoke–a yoke of learning.

Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden….

It sounds so comforting.  An invitation from Jesus meek and mild, gentle and lowly in heart.  It tugs at our hearts because we’re all so weary, so burdened, so heavy-laden.  The words warm our hearts:

learn from me;
you’ll find rest here–soul rest;
my yoke is easy;
my burden is light.

You’d think such an invitation from such a popular and powerful teacher would have folks flocking to his side–making their way to the mourner’s bench, streaming down the stadium steps and into the football field, crying out

Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us! 
We’re so weary. 
We’ve waited so long for someone just like you–
someone who understands our pain, our longing for something different–
someone who understands how distressed and hopeless we feel most of the time. 
Overworked.  Overtaxed.  Beaten down. 
Disrespected.  Violated.

Yes, Jesus!  We need a teacher just like you!
Yes! We accept your gracious invitation!
Yes! Just as I am, I come, I come.

You’d think folks who’ve waited so long for just this moment would flock to Jesus.  I’m reminded of Soren Kierkegaard’s wonderful description of The Great Invitation.  Jesus, arms open, cries out to the throngs, “Come unto me!”  Against all expectations, most of the crowd turn their faces, running as fast as they can to get away from the sound of The Great Invitation that offers so much to so many.

Why?  Why do they run?  Why do they turn away?

Kierkegaard directs our attention to the Inviter—We look.  We see the problem immediately:

He had no form or majesty that
we should look at him, 

 nothing in his appearance that
we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.   
there is no beauty that we should desire him.  

Isaiah 53: 2b-3 (NRSV)

Now look at the students in his class—

Not the wise and intelligent—they’ve all run away or turned away.  But look!  There at his feet are his students:

women, men, young people and children
afflicted with diseases and misshapen bodies locked in deep pain,
outcasts struggling with demons, epilepsy, paralysis and skin diseases,
a woman about to be stoned,
a centurion in distress about his servant’s paralysis,
Peter’s mother-in-law sick in bed with a fever,
fearful disciples caught in a sudden storm,
despised tax collectors, sinners of all kinds and sizes,
a dead girl, a hemorrhaging woman, a blind man,
a thief on a cross

Jesus is looking for learners.  Do you recognize yourself?

* * * * *

To be continued….

© 2006 by Elouise Renich Fraser, revised 24 Oct 2014

God’s Beloved Daughter-Child | Part 1 of 4

It’s the 1990s.  I’m teaching a seminar on spirituality.  At the beginning of the class I hand out to each participant, including me, a blank piece of paper and crayons.  The assignment is simple:  draw and color your childhood image of God.  You have 5 minutes.

I drew and still have my image: Read the rest of this entry »

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