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When they fished us out, my glasses had disappeared for good.

Human memory lets us forget the name of someone introduced seconds ago, while replaying in living color a sufficiently grand or horrible event that occurred decades ago.

Take the time Pastor Bob was invited by the Christian school principal to accompany the graduating class on their final outing—a few days at a dude ranch. I had to pitch in to earn my keep. There had to be some talent I could contribute.

Fortunately there was. Someone had to teach safe canoeing, since we preferred to come back with the same number of graduates we’d left with. As Providence would have it, my family owned a canoe, and we’d had enough fun playing “tippicanoe” to know what not to do.

All went splendidly until the final morning. With an hour to kill before departing, the principal and I hopped aboard for one last paddle, setting a sterling example for the students congregated on the dock. Donning our PFDs, we stepped carefully into the center of the boat before gingerly parking our posteriors in the appropriate places. At the last moment, one youngster who had never set foot in a boat asked to join us. “Hop in!” we said.

I vividly recall the horizon rotating counterclockwise just before losing all vision to the murky depths that swallowed us whole. When they fished us out, my glasses had disappeared for good. It took a few days to restore my vision, but weeks to restore my drenched ego.

The epistle writer James probably had something worse in mind when he wrote, “Not many of you should become teachers . . . for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1, NRSV). Many preachers, teachers, and parents appear to serve with faithfulness and distinction for decades, but then the revelation of some sin takes them down faster than a misstep in a tippy canoe.

In the blink of an eye, sexual abuse, plagiarism, egotism—and other (post)modern incarnations of the “seven deadlies”—ruin a career, a relationship, a reputation. Worse, much worse, such behavior betrays the gospel and God’s lambs placed under our care.

At seminary we learned that such catastrophes have deep roots that go way, way back. When we underestimate our own vulnerability to sin, we don’t take precautions. We live like it couldn’t ever happen to us. It can. So from the get-go we need to take steps that keep us constantly accountable and fully transparent in how we conduct our lives.

If you’ve been blessed to be able to enjoy the great outdoors this summer, practice safe canoeing.

If you’ve been blessed to shepherd Christ’s lambs at school, church, or home, then practice safe teaching. You never know what you might be capable of, and whom you might take down with you. Foolish human pride usually precedes the misstep that plunges you and those you love into a sea of hurt.

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