Good Friday morning ...
Once upon a time I was in 8th grade – in 1958 – long before many of you reading this were even born. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was President. Gas was 25 cents per gallon. The very first Toyota was brought to America and sold that year. NASA was also created that year as a federal agency with the mission of researching aerospace.
My 8th grade teacher was one of a kind. He was nowhere as good looking as Miss Mount, my fifth grade teacher… not nearly as kind and loving and forgiving as Mrs. Martin, my second grade teacher. But he was who he was.
His name was Mr. Robertson. He was a very stern man, very demanding and usually he got what he demanded. Our classroom was one of two located in a separate two-story building apart from the main part of Churchland Elementary School. And there … in that building … Mr. Robertson ruled. He never sent anyone to the principal’s office. He handled everything his own way … in his own time ... by his own rules ... in his own little fiefdom.
And since we didn’t change classes in those days, I had him for Math and English, for Science and History, and everything in-between. But more than anything, his main subject was teaching know-it-all-eighth graders about life.
Mr. Robertson taught us the principal of being honest. He had a very unorthodox way of monitoring tests: he left the room … actually he left the building. He would distribute a test, clarify the instructions, have everyone change seats so they were not sitting in their own seat, and then he would leave. It was up to the students to monitor each other. He called it the principal of being honest.
And it worked.
We monitored ourselves. We took the test without a peep. Everyone kept their seats. When finished, we placed our paper on Mr. Robertson's desk and sat back down ... awaiting his return. We remained quiet. In due time ... always perfectly timed to thirty or forty minutes, whatever the test required ... Mr. Robertson would return. Where he went, no one knew. We never asked! No one would EVER ask!
Mr. Robeertson had our respect. Yes, we feared him. He punished for infractions ... and he punished hard. But he had our respect which he had earned by being honest with his class. He pulled no punches. He meant what he said and he said what he meant. He treated us 8th graders like mini-adults, almost all grown up, on the verge of being totally responsible for ourselves. He taught us life.
Another principle of life Mr. Robertson taught was you never give up (just like my mother reminded me whenever I was ready to give up). He reminded us we needed to have confidence in ourselves, to develop skills, to gain knowledge, to apply ourselves, to work hard, and to want to achieve. With that kind of attitude, he said, you can do just about anything you set your mind to.
And he was right.
Mr. Robertson, along with my parents, taught me to be a believer in people, to trust them until and unless something happened to doubt their loyalty or honesty. I’ve told many a person ... my own children, myself included … YOU CAN DO THIS! When I take youth and adults to Africa on short-term missions … sometimes we get half way through the experience and one of them breaks down. “I can’t do this anymore! I can’t go on! I can’t sleep another night on the ground! I can’t eat another bean! I can’t go another day without a shower!”
I sit that person down and tell him or her about Mr. Robertson. I say, “You can do this! Don’t tell me you can’t! Can’t won’t cut it! Can’t won’t get you through this! Can't won't get you a shower! Can't won't turn that bean into a pizza! Can’t won’t get you home!” And I give him or her my pep talk and we pray together and I send him off to think about it for a while … and shortly here he comes back and says: “I can do this! I’m going to do this!”
Mr. Robertson told us we would need that kind of determination, that kind of drive, that kind of confidence in life. And he encouraged it by the way he taught.
Mr. Robertson was a unique teacher. He was interesting, he conducted lively discussions, he knew his subject matter, and he showed compassion and grace ... but only when necessary. But what made him most remarkable to all us 8th graders was his story ... of which he reminded us regularly ... almost daily. He was a recovering alcoholic. He had come out of a horrible hole to be where he was. He was committed to live by the principal of honesty every day and every day he had to remind himself that he could do this one more time. And he did ... day, after day, after day.
Mr. Robertson lived what he taught and he did it openly in front of his 8th grade class and together we learned life lessons remembered to this day. I don't recall what grammar or literature we learned in 8th grade. I don't remember what period of history we studied or what math we were doing. But, 60 years later, I do remember Mr. Robertson and his lessons on life.
Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world ... let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." [Matthew 5:13, 14, 16]
Have a great weekend in the Lord ... mindful of the witness you are to others ... even years after the fact.