Most of us probably never had a “Dead Poets Society” moment. And by “Dead Poets Society” moment I am referring to standing on ones desk and reciting Whitman or ripping out introductions to analytical literature texts or reciting poetry while kicking a soccer ball for all it’s worth. No wonder this movie was so much fun. And although not many of us have had these dramatic landmark moments in our educational experiences, I imagine many of us still have moments we can look back to that continue to shape who we are.
For me it was Mr. Michael Pettit; my high school literature teacher. While coming up through elementary school and Jr High, English was never a strong subject for me. It’s not that I didn’t make A’s (I mean look at how nerdy I am, did you really think anything differently?), it just wasn’t my favorite. I preferred the strict analytical methods of math and science versus the creativity and limitless methods found in literature and the like. And all of a sudden in my junior year of high school I found myself getting a “C” in Mr. Pettit’s British Literature class. But the great thing about Mr. Pettit is that he was not content to see an “A” student get lower marks in his class. One day he took me aside after school and talked to me for over an hour about how I wasn’t living into my gifts by doing so poorly in his class.* It had it’s effect. I started working harder and diving into assignments more. But even greater was the appreciation that I gained from the universal themes in literature he brought before us.
One such assignment was unique in that he had us memorize a Biblical text before our senior class in American Literature began. The text was as follows: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:1-4). And not only did we have to memorize it, but we also had to recite it in front of the entire class. Now why in the world would we recite a text Christ himself read in the synagogue before beginning a class on American Literature? Could it be that our mission helps us better see the world and those who have written and spoken to us about it through literature? Could it be that as the Spirit rests upon us we are challenged to move forward and all life must be lived out of this mission? You can see how I am still formed by a text I recited sixteen years ago in a small classroom.
So I ask you today: who are your poor? your brokenhearted? your captives and prisoners? Who are the ones for whom the Spirit of God as rested upon you in order to minister to? Maybe we all need a little “Dead Poets Society” moment after all…
* As you may or may not have inferred by this point, I wen to a private Christian high school. An amazing gift of sacrifice from my parents I will never be able to repay.