Mentors do more than teach facts. They contribute to a pupil's overall growth. They impart values. And they genuinely inspire. This month marks the 100th birthday of a treasured Lutheran mentor — Joseph A. Sittler, who died in 1987.
Sittler was a theologian and ethicist, a pastor and preacher — and a great teacher. He was a professor at Lutheran seminaries and the University of Chicago Divinity School. He taught through stunning sermons, at pastors' conferences, at major ecumenical events and around the table at the local pub. He had an awe-inspiring facility with language.
He was a mentor to many individuals — I among them. He also was a mentor to the church at large. Earlier than others, he insisted on the role of the church in caring for the natural environment. He argued that the relationship should go beyond "stewardship," a term that smacked to him of "management." He also argued the importance of literature and the arts to religious faith and expression. His influence contributed to my writing this column since 1988.
But it wasn't just what Sittler taught: It was how he did it. For one thing, he was intensely curious. But wait. Isn't curiosity supposed to be the student's trait, not the teacher's? Sittler
engaged others by asking the tough questions. He forced their minds to wrestle with his. His interest in their views and ideas was genuine and compelling. He did have some answers to suggest. But he didn't teach by leading, so much as by getting behind you and pushing.
Today there is a wonderful resource for meeting Sittler: The Joseph Sittler Archives at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, which houses writings, audiotapes, bibliography and much more. A Web site is being planned. Supporters include: LSTC; Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio; the ELCA; and the University of Chicago Divinity School.
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