Many years ago, I was asked by one of my teachers to look after his papers. I am working through a number of boxes. Each box ( carefully organised) contains dated collections of papers. They are lectures, draft book proposals, book reviews, talks and sermons. They are an extraordinary collection of a lifetime’s work committed to scholarship and, above all, to week by week teaching. I was blessed by his careful support and encouragement.
These papers are being sorted in my study at Sarum College. In the ‘in between times’ recent months there has been much to reflect on. What are we learning in this pandemic? What might we need to unlearn? Have these theology books anything to share with us? Where is wisdom to be found? My colleagues in the academic faculty have continues to teach online listening, sharing and teaching. .
I would like to share with you some of what this particular teacher has given to me and, I think I should add, is shared by the work, values and ethos of Sarum College.
What might shape the teachers task ?
A teacher invites us into asking how we think and how we engage with the truth. Do we prefer questions to answers? And if we prefer certainties and convinced of the absolute truth of an answer, a teacher might accompany us as we interrogate what our approach to truth might be. A teacher invites us to stand back and dig deeper.
A teacher – this teacher – embodied a compassion, kindness and a deep rooted humanity that was committed to his student. He was excited about all the possibilities that learning brings.
The deeper we take into learning the more we are shaped and inspired in our understanding of what we know and what we can never know. We are invited into the exploration and appreciation of understanding what is important to us and how a community enables us to be transformed by study.
A teacher as a catalyst of Change ?
This is often an uncomfortable and challenging experience. When we listen to stories different from our own windows are opened onto and into the world we live in and some of the deep moral challenges of society. The teacher shows us that it is possible to listen to others and learn from each other without compromising who we are. Learning is always shot through with honouring, valuing and respecting the light that is present in each individual and their search for truth. In this respect teachers always give us more than knowledge – they point us to the skills needed to navigate life in all its ambiguity and complexity.
A teacher knows the geography of their subject
The teacher whose papers I am immersed in believed in the power of ideas and the words and perspectives which make up the Christian theological tradition. Through the honouring of texts he explored with his students and nature of the expression of meaning. He passionately held the truth of faith and how faith is central to human progress. This gave him some righteous frustration with some of the weaknesses of poor thinking but he always saw in a very wide variety of individuals there potential and capacity for human achievement.
There is much to ponder here as these carefully curated pieces of work are gathered and organised. Treasured fragments that reveal a extraordinary life of learning and demonstrate how the passionate teacher is sheer gift for others.