Two films had a profound impact on me as a boy. Lost Horizon, with Ronald Coleman, made me want to be an actor. But the one I’ve been thinking about on this graduation Saturday is Goodbye Mister Chips (1939), starring Robert Donat and Greer Garson. That film made me want to be a teacher. I was 8 or 9 when I saw Chips, and was swept away by the theme of investing your life in the lives of others.
I had a basic understanding of the gospel at age 9, but not much in the way of the Christian life – that I was being called by God to mirror the character of my Lord, Jesus Christ through self-sacrificing love of my neighbor. I didn’t have many resources for biblical instruction. So, the Lord taught me through film. Without realizing it, I saw self-sacrificing love being lived out on the screen in the life of Mr. Chips. Here was a man wholly devoted to teaching young boys.
But, as with every great teacher, Chips did more than impart facts. He modeled character, dignity, and a love for beauty through learning – something Robin Williams would later enflesh in the wonderful, Dead Poets’ Society. Mr. Chips was so attractive to me, even at the tender age of 9, that I knew I would be like him when I grew up (to this day, my laptop is named Mr. Chips). His mastery of his subject, his mastery of himself, and his selfless devotion to his students struck a chord with me. No, that’s too harsh. It was less percussive than that. If I could extend the musical metaphor a bit – the film blew like a gentle breeze over the aeolian harp of my soul, creating crescendos and decrescendos in rhythm to the Wind of God’s Spirit. Organic, Unpredictable. Exciting. What happened to me in viewing that film was an awakening of a nascent desire to teach, and more than that, to disciple young hearts.
It has been my privilege for almost 35 years now to serve alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ on the faculty of DTS – men and women of exquisite character, imbued with a deep understanding of the Word of God…
And a love for our students.
We graduated 12 students from our Department of Media Arts and Worship this morning. I was so proud of every one of them. They earned a Master of Arts in Media Arts and Worship degree from DTS. There were more than that when you factor in those students who followed a Media Arts and Worship emphasis in the Th.M. They benefit from classroom instruction, of course. But memories and relationships are more often forged in faculty homes, or on the road, as students accompany faculty members on “905 Adventures.” 905 is the course number assigned to “special topics” courses, which have been designed to teach students in cultural venues where they can interact with artists across a spectrum of aesthetic disciplines.
Just a couple of examples: one of our MAW faculty, Dr. Sandra Glahn, and Dr. Barry Jones, from the Pastoral Ministries Department, are leaving this weekend for Orvieto, Italy. She’s leading a group of students on an Arts and Theology tour, for which they are receiving academic credit at DTS. Another faculty member in the department, Dr. Tim Basselin, took a group of students to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah a few months ago, where they participated with colleagues from Fuller Theological Seminary in discussions on faith, film and culture. Dr. Glenn Kreider took another group of students to Austin and the South By Southwest festival, where they engaged other artists regarding music, worship, theology, and the intersection of the arts and culture.
Because we love the Lord, and we love our students. We share a love of students with Mr. Chips. But ours is a love inspired by the Lord. Ours is a destiny that compels us to a higher calling. Chips was an honorable man, but his goal was to instill a love for knowledge that would last a lifetime. Our shared goal at DTS is to impart a love for our Savior that will inspire a longing that only He can satisfy – a longing that will last beyond the borders of this life and extend across the limitless expanse of eternity. Our classrooms are the habitation, not of minds alone, but of souls created in the image of the greatest Teacher of all. I’ve moved beyond Mr. Chips. Now, more than anything, I want to be like Him.
That’s why I teach.