500 Words - Day 5: Write about your favorite teacher
I have had several teachers that are memorable for all the right reasons. Mrs. Myers in kindergarten, Mrs. Smith in 4th and 6th grade, Mrs. Dye in 5th grade, and Mr. Griffith who taught math in 8th or 9th grade. All were fantastic teachers I fondly remember. There are several more in my journey through my undergraduate and two graduate degrees, but it is Mr. Sanders, my philosophy and theology professor during my time at Huntington College that I instantly refer to when asked this question.
I always felt Dr. Sanders was unassuming and soft spoken. He had a kind smile and enjoyed a well placed pun. And it doesn't hurt that it was in Dr. Sanders' classes where I employed my superb flirting skills with a beautiful blue-eyed, brown-haired, freckled girl in a Gap ball cap that I now call my wife of almost twenty years. The combination of flirting and my magnificent mind at work were hard to resist. Please just don't ask her for her side of the story.
But Dr. Sanders' impact on my love life is only part of the reason he is my favorite teacher. I took six classes with him during the four years of my undergraduate studies. I was in my late teens and where I didn't already think I had everything figured out I was asking all sorts of questions, particularly regarding faith and God and all the things I was taught to believe about God. Question everything, the saying goes, and I did. Many accepted doctrines and beliefs didn't sit well with me throughout my teen years. They simply didn't make sense to me, they seemed illogical or reduced to blind faith and trust where hard questions either couldn't be answered or where the answers would lead to an undesirable outcome. Enter Dr. Sanders.
Dr. Sanders was controversial in some of his beliefs. But I have always defended him as a teacher because he never forced an answer from his students. He would inform, guiding us through different perspectives and historical thought. And he would ask questions. He would ask, "What do you think?" I was in love. It caused me to imagine what it would have been like to sit at the feet of Jesus or other rabbis while they asked they're questions, probing our thoughts, and exploring not just theology and doctrine, but the underlying beliefs that had already shaped who we were. In Dr. Sanders' class my thoughts mattered. The tension and friction I felt with pat answers and inherited beliefs mattered. He gave young students freedom to express doubt, confusion, angst, anger, joy, amazement, creativity, and awe. He taught us how to think, how to whittle our way down through layers of thought and belief and emotion into a question or problem and examine what was held at the core. He gave us permission to be fully human in our pursuit of deep mysteries. He valued our thoughts and views without belittling our youth and inexperience. He was a teacher in every sense, exactly what we hope our teachers will be.
His teaching continues to shape me today. I have not stopped asking difficult questions or halted at some invisible boundary because it is the acceptable limit. My faith journey, while odd and misunderstood and out of bounds to some, is rich and alive precisely because of Dr. Sanders' influence on me. I will forever be grateful and fondly recall him as the best teacher I ever encountered.