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The Teaching Dimension of our Calling

January 13, 2014
Dr. Lallene J. Rector

RothThis coming Saturday, we will remember the remarkable life of one of our former faculty members, Rev. Dr. Wolfgang Roth.  Wolfgang was on the faculty when I came to Garrett-Evangelical in 1986.   He had just completed a term as the Academic Dean and was then serving as the Director of our Joint Graduate Program in Religious and Theological Studies in cooperation with NU.  Dr. Roth joined the faculty in 1967 having previously served a brief pastorate in the United Church of Canada.  Before he came to us, he had taught in Jabalpur, M.P. India and in Toronto, Ontario, having received his doctoral education at the Universities of Marburg and Tubingen in Germany.  In 1981, he was installed as the Frederick Carl Eiselen Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and remained on our faculty until his retirement in 1996 - a very dedicated teacher with us for 29 years.

Wolfgang was a delightful colleague and a popular teacher.  Reminiscing about him has lead me to further reflection upon the vocation of teaching.  I believe that at its best, teaching is an act of generativity, a reference you may recognize to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial developmental theory.  Erikson theorized the greatest part of our adult lives could/should be spent in giving, studying, forming, mentoring, and teaching for the wellbeing of others and for the sake of those who will become our future.  Lest you think I am speaking only to persons formally engaged in teaching, I am not, and neither was Erikson.  

I believe all forms of ministry – and I do mean the ministry of all baptized Christians, ordained and lay - contain a component of teaching whether we claim it as such or not.  Those around us are paying attention to what we do and what we say.   They are learning from us, even when we think we are off-duty and even if we do not think of ourselves as teaching.  The author of the book of James cautioned that not many of us should become formal teachers because we would be judged with a greater strictness (James 3:1-2).  Maybe the author of James knew what contemporary educators have long recognized, i.e., that the most influential aspect of any teaching is often not the content offered as much as it is how we are with those whom we teach and how our students, parishioners, family, employees, clients, and friends experience us as people.  This is an incredibly sobering thought.  For it suggests that one could be the finest scholar and not actually accomplish the learning desired under his or her tutelage.  We cannot assume that content alone will carry the educational task.  The life of Jesus speaks as loudly to us as anything he said: his care for children, for the poor, his feeding and healing acts, and the time he spent with those rejected by society – the tax collectors, the ill, the cultural and racial other.  We are taught by the action of Jesus’ ministry and by his being, as much as by the explicit content of his teaching.

This spring we will begin a year and half process of curriculum revision.  It is typically not a process that is welcomed by faculty members because curriculum revisions are hugely disruptive to our work and to the equilibrium with which we have become familiar.  A revision process can also spawn “turf wars” when anxiety is provoked about losing a particular foothold in the curriculum.  While there are eternal treasures of our faith, its traditions, and its sacred scriptures that we must continue to steward, we can also be at risk for missing the new thing that God is calling us to in this time and in this place.  So, we will take the time to step back, to continue our evaluation processes, and to learn from others about how our efforts are being received.  It gives us an important opportunity to consider how we may improve our efforts to prepare bold, spiritual leaders, including learning new ways of being and teaching in the classroom.

We will ask ourselves if we are actually transmitting the information we need to transmit.  What are our students learning?  Are they learning how to think theologically and how to effectively analyze pastoral situations? Are they learning how to be the public theologians who can speak cogently to the conditions of the world in which we find ourselves? Are our graduates able to provide leadership and to render pastoral care that makes a positive difference in people’s lives?  And are they learning how to inspire others and to make disciples of Jesus Christ?

Beyond the Garrett-Evangelical curriculum revision, my hope is that as baptized Christians, we will all become more aware that we are always teaching.  We teach in the ways we relate to each other and in the ways we live. While I do remember some of what Wolfgang taught and some of his research interests, it is as a fellow teacher that the memories of his integrity, his inquisitiveness, his graciousness, his firm academic standards, and his creativity constitute the deepest learning I received from him.  I suspect many of his students would report a similar experience.

We can be sure that those around us are learning from us - one way or the other.  We can also be confident that as a community of baptized Christians called to embody love of God and love of neighbor, our lives can “teach” the world, in the most powerful way possible, about the One who redeems.

Comments   

 
# Al Caldwell 2014-01-13 23:36
Thanks, Lallene, for a lovely article remembering Wolfgang. I remember him as one of my professors when I was a student; as my colleague and dean when I was on the faculty. I remember his teaching style as a detective who uncovered clues and pursued them to the end. Rest in peace, Wolfgang. And Lallene, thanks for keeping in touch with all of us via your regular blog.
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# Lallene 2014-01-14 22:15
Hi Al,

Wolfgang was such a treasure for us!!
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