Farewelling Michael Jensen

*the full text of my speech at Chapel this morning as we farewelled Michael Jensen*

You know Michael, I’ve always thought of you as something of a modern day Mr. Keating, Robin Williams character from Dead Poets Society.

John Keating (Dead Poets Society)

It’s because like him, you have inspired a whole generation of Christians to be brave and interrogate their own thoughts. To think deeply and take risks for the sake of the gospel.

John Keating says, ‘I always thought the idea of education was to learn to think for yourself’.

You don’t let us get away with simplistic, well worn answers to real questions. You push and poke and so often end our classes with no real resolution. You should know that this is incredibly frustrating. While this is an alarmingly endearing quality as a teacher, it may not be so endearing to those at St. Marks. Consider yourself warned.

John Keating says, ‘I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way’.

Although it makes me sad to report that you have not once climbed on top of a table in one of our classes, you have definitely sat on one. For future reference, it’s not the same. Still, we consider you to be standing on the table metaphorically. In some ways you fit inside the Sydney Anglican box, and in other ways, you are way out there with John Milbank. Your openness to listen to and learn from others who are not from our own particular patch is admirable.

John Keating says, ‘Now we all have a great need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go, “that’s baaaaad.” Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in the wood and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

You have shown us conviction. Sometimes in more weird ways than others. That time you came to class dressed in some kind of Anglican dress to make a point about church history – can anyone even remember the point? Not me, I was distracted by the fact you were wearing a dress.

More seriously, you have modeled to us what it looks like to have a firm but not necessarily fixed opinion in the public sphere. Your writing and speaking inspire us to hold fast to the gospel and find creative ways that commend the gospel in a culture and world that is increasingly opposed to a Christian voice.

John Keating says, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

As a former English teacher we have come to rely on you to make us sing hymns – a capella – in your second year lectures on Jesus and to quote poetry in your third year lectures on the Christian life. This will be one of our enduring memories of you. You have a profound ability to see beauty in the literary world and incorporate your passion for it into your teaching.

But you are also an enigma.

You often wear a suit, but you mix this classy outfit with casual shoes. What’s going on there? And then you have been known to be seen in King St Grocer in your pyjamas.

And you are obviously Facebook’s Lecturer of the Year. Enough said.

John Keating says, ‘No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world’.

A great teacher is someone who knows, loves and thinks deeply about their subject. You know Jesus, you love him and you have a deep desire to think through how knowing him changes how we live in the world.

A great teacher imparts that passion to their students. I’ve never sat in a class with you where I didn’t believe that you were thrilled to be there.

A great teacher does not see a room full of minds, but a room full of hearts. He understands that each of those people has their own story, their own baggage, their own doubts and their own passions. He seeks to understand them and speak a word of truth and challenge and comfort into their lives. He loves them. You have loved us. You have given us your very self. Your time. Your wisdom. Your own doubts and questions about Christianity.

Thanks for being a great teacher,

O Captain, my Captain.


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