Friday, October 9, 2009

The good teacher

His name is Douglas Bax. In Presbyterian circles, I think he is well known. He is 74 now and was, two weeks ago, hit by a car, riding on his bicycle. There wasn’t much damage. He is fine, bar a couple of bruises.

He was my lecturer at Rhodes University, in the 1970s. His mind was incredibly sharp. His wit timed and impeccable and his critique of the apartheid government, withering. He was one of the first people I had ever encountered, who really taught me how to think. And how to declaim.

I saw the fire in his eyes, when he spoke of things he hated. I saw compassion without weakness. I saw his pain and anguish, as we all considered the tragedy of what was happening around us. And it was he who started my lifelong process of thinking theologically.

If you are not a theologian, if you have not been taught how to think and interpret things theologically, you really will have no idea what I am talking about. That is not an arrogance, or a conceit. It is just the way it is. I have no idea how mathematics works – I can’t get excited by it. I can’t fathom how motor cars operate, and I probably never will. I listen in wonder when my doctor tells me about physiology, but most of it comes out as gobbledegook, so I just nod appreciatively.

But I do understand how theology works, because that is my training. That is the way my thinking happens. I can’t help it. I think theologically, even when I don’t mean to. And Doug Bax was one of the causes of that.

When I first settled in Cairp Tahn, I looked him up in the phone book and called him. Our conversation was extremely brief. “I will come and see you”, he said. That was many, many months ago. And today, he arrived at the gate out of the blue.

We sat comfortably and we spoke long. I hope it is the start of many more. Because what I did not tell him was how profound an influence he had on me, politically, theologically, personally. I doubt he had any idea.

We are strange creatures, are we not? How we are influenced, so easily for good, or for ill? We are lucky, I would say, when our teachers are good.

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