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I Learned a Valuable Lesson

January 18, 2014

imageI can recall clearly the childhood excitement of seeing a Frank Lloyd Wright architectural wonder when I was a pupil at Hershey Elementary School. I gazed on the textbook picture of Fallingwater as my teacher explained how Frank Lloyd Wright’s genius was in adapting his designs to blend into the local landscape, even using regional materials in the creation of the building. I flipped the pages and saw some of his other masterpieces.

Taliesin.

Unity Chapel.

Johnson Wax Headquarters.

The Guggenheim Museum.

I was hooked.

I read everything I could about Wright, scouring every library for a volume of his style, philosophy and creativity. Through my childhood and teen years I studied his works. For a time I even fancied entering the field of architecture and following his footsteps. Decades later, my wife Jill and I visited Pennsylvania and took a tour of Fallingwater, and the anticipation did not exceed the event. It was everything I dreamed. I studied more through my adulthood, becoming somewhat of an armchair expert of the architectural legend Frank Lloyd Wright.

When our family moved to Arizona, I grabbed the opportunity to take my family to Taliesin West, Wright’s winter home and architectural school in Scottsdale. The tour was a bit pricey, and on a schoolteacher’s budget I needed to save up in order to take my family, but I looked forward to the tour.

I was like a kid in a candy shop.

Our tour guide was a 60 year old portly gentleman with a Santa Claus demeanor who seemed surprised at my enthusiasm and knowledge of Wright’s career. At virtually every turn I was asking questions and jabbering about something or other. His eyebrows would raise and he would walk me through an answer, but each time the responses were slower and more deliberate.

At the mid-point of the tour we sat and watched a film about Wright. After the film’s conclusion the tour guide asked for questions. I raised my hand.

“I know that Wright was a conscientious objector who opposed the war,” I said. “I have read that he encouraged his students to the same philosophy, and that some of them were arrested for refusing to go into the draft at the time of World War 2. My question is, did the school enrollment suffer?”

The guide looked at me for a full second and – in front of a packed room – snarled and responded, “You know, I don’t even have to answer that question. You have no right to go prying into someone’s private life and looking for secrets, and I won’t even bother with dignifying your request. If we all go about asking and getting nosey about things…”

He went on for another thirty seconds.

I was shocked.

No right to ask private questions? This is what the whole tour was about – Wright’s personal thoughts, beliefs, convictions, drawings … the guide had told us about Wright’s financial difficulties, his marital challenges… we had even gone and seen the man’s bedroom! In fact, this was a question time – at the guide’s personal request.

I am not sure whether the guide took a personal dislike to me or not, but the embarrassment was palpable in packed room. Even my family was stunned at the guide’s response. I tried to re-word my question but to no avail. The guide would have none of it.

Now, follow closely, and you’ll see my point:

At the end of the tour, obviously, I registered a complaint and then that night put my concern in writing. The response of the administration was great. I was given a full refund as well as a written apology and membership into the Society, complete with a full year’s subscription to organizational magazine.

But something happened.

The incident clicked a switch in my head. After the first magazine, I lost interest. For some reason, the negative response by a leader caused me to lose interest in the subject matter. Oh, I wasn’t angry, but each mention of Wright brought up a memory of the unpleasant situation. It seemed as thought the whole relationship with Wright’s work and his impact was lost on me. I felt as if I were Charlie Brown finally expressing his love for the little red-haired girl, only to be unceremoniously dumped. Today, I find it hard to recall very much in the way of Frank Lloyd Wright. His work is still as appealing and his designs are still stunning. But I just don’t care anymore.

Overly sensitive, you say? Maybe so. But it taught me a very, very valuable lesson which I have burned in my heart to this day: respect for the seeker.

The subject of the Bible is one that is amazing, deep, mysterious, adventurous and sometimes downright scary. It is brutal at times and conversely as delicate as fine china. Learning about God’s glory stretches the mind in ways few other things can. We delve into history, yes, but we also venture into the transcendent. This is stuff for the soul, and as such, should be given extreme care. That means whenever a student has a question – no matter how naive, overly simplistic or even controversial – the question and the questioner should be given the dignity and respect due to a seeking soul wanting an honest answer.

I am reminded of the passage in Luke 18 when the disciples made the sad assumption that children were nothing but a bother. They were too simple to see the depth of the Kingdom teaching! Jesus Himself, however, corrected the disciples in permitting, nay, encouraging the children to come right up to Him and enjoy His presence. Don’t you think some of the little ones asked some delightfully plain and sincere questions? I do. Jesus enjoyed this, just as now He delights in our unpretentiousness and ordinary ways. He doesn’t ignore us.

And I should use the same compassion in the classroom.

The subjects might be deep. I have fielded questions on theodicy, wine-drinking, predestination and slavery. I have no right to dodge these.

The questions might be off-topic. There have been requests for discussing dating, tattoos, speaking in tongues, and even the use of profanity. I purposely create extra class time in order to give an answer that is responsible.

Wherever we go deep in the Bible, the questions arise. I realize that an occasional pupil will attempt to side-track me for the fun of hearing a personal anecdote and thereby bypass teaching time – that’s par for the course.

However, there are always the thinkers and the worriers. The ponderers. The confused.

If I mock their questions or openly ignore them, I remind myself of the Taliesin West consequence: they could turn off the switch.

Lord help me, I cannot, cannot afford to let that happen.

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