Address to Phi Delta Lambda
Africa Nazarene University chapter
Thursday, October 30, 2014
We are all teachers. It’s a bold statement, is it not? We are all teachers.
I have not had the opportunity to speak with all twenty of our inductees. My suspicion is that some have formally studied education and are planning a career in teaching. Others have studied different fields – counseling, media, religion, law, and more. They may never stand before a classroom as a teacher. Still, the statement stands: We are all teachers.
I freely admit that I am biased. No task has brought me more joy or made me feel like I am using my best skills than when I have been teaching. Most of my teaching has been preparing men and women for ordained Christian ministry. One year saw me unlocking for high school students the mysteries of French grammar. Lest teachers have too high an opinion of themselves, God has a way of cutting us down-to-size. Terry Pratchett in his book, Mort, recalls a conversation. Someone observed:
“It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever… Have you thought of going into teaching?”
William Shakespeare once remarked: “All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” With apologies to Mr Shakespeare, let me reframe his thought: “All the world is a school, and you and I are the teachers.” I ask you: What are we teaching our students?
Yes, like it or not, you are a teacher and – like all teachers – you have students, pupils that you may not even realize have secretly enrolled in your class. Your students are the ones who watch you. It may be a co-worker on your job, a child in your class at the Vacation Bible School, a camper, a player on the football team you coach, or perhaps one day your own son or daughter. These are not formal classrooms, yet life is a school and school is always in session. Others hear your words, but what do they learn from your actions, from who you are?
Each of us could recall pivotal moments when one of our “teachers” in life taught us something unforgettable. Allow me to share a few of the lessons I learned from them, lessons that mirror the three words from the Phi Delta Lambda motto:
Righteousness, wisdom, and service
- Righteousness is 24/7.
It caught my attention, the little Blue Nissan, or as they called it back then, a Datsun 610. It was a Japanese import, much like the Japanese imports that fill the roads of Nairobi. I was 17 and had just secured my first driver’s license in the State of New York. Now I was beginning a gap year between high school and university, a year when I worked 4o hours per week at the grocery store, saving money to attend Eastern Nazarene College.
But I needed transportation to drive across town to work, and that little Datsun grabbed my heart. The “For Sale” sign on the window had a phone number, so I called and set-up an appointment with the owner. I kicked the tires and looked under the hood. It seemed to be in good condition. Eventually, I asked the question: “How much?” The owner told me the price, several hundred dollars, and I reminded him that I would also have to pay sales tax on the vehicle. “Don’t worry about that,” he said. “I’ll just write on the paper that you paid $ 100.00 for it, that way your taxes will be less.” I told him that I would need to talk with my father, and he understood. When I explained to my dad the owner’s offer to underreport the sales price, he replied: “Absolutely not, Greg. We’re Christians, and we will pay the rightful tax.” Later I brought the cash to the owner, and he handed me the car keys. “What should I write on the form for the tax assessor?” he asked. I told him what my dad had said, and he looked at me in disbelief. When I insisted that we must report the correct price, he shook his head and relented, but had this response:
“Your father is either very Christian or very stupid.”
Actually, I prefer to say: My dad that day was an excellent teacher, and what he taught me was simple: Honesty matters, and righteousness is 24/7.
The wisdom literature of the Old Testament has much to say on the topic. Psalm 33:5 reminds us that the Lord loves righteousness and justice. Likewise, in picturesque language, Psalm 85:10 tells us that righteousness and peace kiss each other, a reminder that when righteousness is absent, discord is never far away. Proverbs 16:8 is a values check, concluding: “Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice.”