Our teachers teach us, and that’s the point.
We choose to learn, and because that is true, who we choose to learn from is crucial in what we learn. I have long described the deepest learning as over-the-shoulder, through-the-heart learning, because the most formative pedagogy is always that. Anyone who knows me knows that I love books– and books and books and books –but we do not learn in the most transforming ways by reading books. They are part of the story, certainly, but words have to become flesh for us to understand them, for us to believe them.
A long time ago I chose to learn from James Houston, a Scot who grew up in Spain near the town of Avila. He found his way to Oxford as a young man, first for study and then for work, serving as a don (a professor) for 25 years. To the surprise of Oxford, 45 years ago he was persuaded to leave the city of steeples and spires to begin a new college in the colonies, founding Regent College in Vancouver, BC.
Over the next decades he hoped and dreamed into existence the most respected graduate school of theological studies in the world. Not first of all a seminary, or a place for more technical study, but a school for Everyman and Everywoman, for butchers and bakers and candle stick-makers– and for people in business, law, the arts, engineering, medicine, agriculture, the crafts –who wanted to deepen their understanding of life and labor by forming a more coherent connection between belief and behavior; in a word, who longed for a richer vision of vocation.
Much more could be said about Dr. Houston and Regent College. But simply this. His years at Oxford were spent as a teacher of geography; over time in his years at Regent he became known as a geographer of the soul.
And I was drawn in, wanting to learn from him, choosing to learn from him. Over years we have often been together, even teaching together sometimes, but in many places over many hours I have listened carefully, learning over-his-shoulder, through-his-heart, never becoming him, but allowing him to form me.
Last night he was at the 40th anniversary celebration of the C.S. Lewis Institute, which he co-founded, and we sat at the same table. As I looked at him, still at it into his 90s, I smiled as I thought about him and his life, a gift to me and to so many.
This summer I am teaching a course in Regent’s summer school, “Vocation as Common Grace for the Common Good,” which in its own way is my way of saying, “Thank you, Dr. Houston.”
Yes, our teachers teach us, and that’s the point.