Ray Tetz

The summer that I turned 10, my grandpa decided I needed a pocketknife. There it was—a folding knife with a brownish handle and a shiny bolster holding it together and stamped with the word “BARLOW.” The knife had two blades—one about three inches long and rather fat and large, and the other quite a bit shorter and thinner. Grandpa explained that the big blade was for cutting things like the twine on a bale of hay, or a piece of rubber out of an old tire tube, or maybe for whittling down a stick to the right size and shape. The smaller blade was for sharpening a pencil, or shaving a matchstick into a peg, or carving initials into a tree.

He showed me how to sharpen the knife with a whetstone—always with the blade pointed away—and cautioned me quite sternly to not use it in any way that might be harmful to myself or somebody else. If he found out I was misusing it, he would take it back.

This was well within his rights, for it had been his knife first—he had carried it in his own pocket for some time. It was just about the greatest treasure I had ever received. The fact that it had been his knife before it was mine made it very special. I carried that knife with me everywhere—even to church—but I tried not to use it much because I didn’t want it taken away, and I sure didn’t want someone bigger deciding that they would like to have it.

I took it to fifth grade and had it in my pocket about a month into the new school year. I hardly ever took it out—perhaps to cut my sandwich once in a while. I was vaguely aware of a prohibition on pocketknives, but since it had never been openly discussed I wasn’t about to bring it up.

Things could have gone on this way for the rest of the year but for the broken speaker that hung over the door to the classroom and connected to the intercom. The principal stood on a chair and pulled the speaker away from the wall to fix it. We were all supposed to be doing math or reading, but of course we just watched him instead.

He quickly diagnosed the problem as a broken wire—a fact that was announced in an offhand way to no one in particular. I can still see him standing on the chair, speaker tipped away from the wall, trying to decide what to do. And then the fateful request: “Raymond” (that’s what they called me back then), “let me have your knife and I can fix this.”

Time suddenly slowed way down. Not only did the rest of the class now know that I was packing a knife, but the principal obviously knew it too. And he had just outed me to my teacher, who I was pretty sure was not in favor of knives in school, not even grandfather-approved Barlows. Not only did the principal know about the knife, but he had asked that I hand it over. I slowly got up and went over to where he was standing, towering over all of us from the great height of his chair, with his hand outstretched for my little knife.

I fished it out of my pocket and took one last look before I handed it up to him, and then just stood there, waiting for the inevitable scolding and confiscation.

He quickly flicked open the little blade, and, in a few seconds, stripped away the rubber from both ends of the broken wire, twisted the two wires together with a flourish, and returned the speaker to the wall. Then he stepped down from the chair, ran his thumb across the edge of the blade, looked at me and said, “That’s a good edge on that blade; I like it when a knife is kept sharpened.” With both hands, he closed it up, leaned forward a little and handed it back, saying quietly, “Probably a good idea to not bring this with you to school.”

I pushed the knife deep into my pocket and returned quickly to my seat, avoiding looking at anyone, especially the teacher, and wondered if I had just witnessed a miracle. I thought of nothing else the rest of the day.

The responsibility that began with the gift of the knife had changed into something akin to trust. That afternoon I had been a part of solving a real-world problem, with just the right tool in my pocket to bring about the solution. Now I had been advised to use my own judgment about my next move: keep carrying the knife every day or leave it at home when I went to school. It was a bit of warning, yes, but it was also an invitation.

It wasn’t the first time someone had trusted me. But it was perhaps the first time that involved something clearly belonging to the adult world. I thought about it a long time, and decided to leave the knife at home—although it was the first thing in my pocket when I returned from school every day. I decided that trust—whatever it meant—was something worth having.

These days I still carry a small Swiss Army-style pocketknife, just in case I need to cut open a bale of hay or carve my initials into a tree. My choice of knives has changed, but my thinking about trust has not.

Trust takes many forms, beginning with your own confidence in your integrity, your intentions, and your life experiences as a means of learning how to make good decisions. It extends to your relationships—all of them—and how you develop the capacity to trust others and build experiences that earn their trust in return. It extends to a culture of honesty in the organizations and communities that you belong to.

Discipleship is essentially a deepened trust in Jesus and His grace in every aspect of life. Being a true and trustworthy disciple means seeking a greater and greater consistency between what you believe and how you live and act out your faith.

To be a part of a community of trust is of great power and value. It is not unlike being presented with an extraordinary gift and then allowed and encouraged to truly use it. Like my old Barlow knife. A summer gift from my grandpa, but really so much more.

Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.