He’s just a simple guy… a schoolteacher. A humble, bespectacled man in a humble profession in a humble city somewhere in middle America.
On the other hand, you might call him broken. A broken man, with a broken kid and broken dreams of fatherhood… In a broken profession, ministering to broken teenagers, in the most broken of postmodern times.
But even (or – perhaps – especially) the broken man can become
But even (or – perhaps – especially) the broken man can become salt of the earth, light of the world, when he submits himself in duty and in love. Even the humblest of messengers can herald a miraculous message.
What makes Mr. Jeffrey Wright such a special teacher?
Mr. Wright is one of those types of men, rarer gems in these broken times, who have become what they were meant to be (and, no, I’m not talking about his job, per se). Men who have discovered what Love is and what it looks like, lived out. Men who become guardians of life and beacons of light to those around them; all the more attractive in the darkness. All the more heroic in the desolate landscapes of the disintegrating American family and the broken-down American public school.
Jeffrey Wright pours his heart and indeed his whole body into his teaching. Maybe he learned how to do that – the pouring out thing – somewhere else (more on that later). It’s in this complete self-donation that Mr. Wright snares the attention of his troubled and disinterested students. They’re naturally quite unaccustomed to it. Most of them probably need some time to come around, to warm up to his over-the-topness… (My cup runneth over – Psalm 23:5)
~ I think he could tell with me, that I had stuff going on. So he kind of reached out to me at first, and at first I was like, dude, you’re a teacher. I’m not gonna talk to you. But I did ~
Because, as we know, these teenagers are broken too. They’re coarsened, their innocence shattered long ago. Many would rather be engaging with a screen of some sort – a video game, a smart phone. They’re skeptical – especially of authority figures (and therefore also of love, itself).
Perhaps they’re especially skeptical of men – or at least this particular species of man… so exotic to them he might as well be a relic, or a prehistoric sketch in their social studies textbooks. The Self-Giving Man.
It’s no wonder – their skepticism. Some of them are fatherless, maybe motherless, even homeless. Who could blame any of them for being uninspired by a world that – from most corners – tells them that life is about getting grades and getting into college, buying stuff, selling stuff…
So, chances are, most of Mr. Wright’s teenagers aren’t used to real-life encounters with real men who give of themselves so unselfconsciously. It’s almost embarrassing! (Did you see that girl who tried to sneak by him in the hallway, unnoticed? Mr. Wright noticed her.) In the presence of this real man, they crack a little bit – these teens, so broken on the inside, but with their carefully constructed protective veneers. First, their disaffection falters. They’re alert – after all, a pumpkin might explode! But soon comes the moment when their hardened hearts crack too… the lecture – the best story he’ll tell all year…
~ Do you love us? ~ More than you know. ~
They let their teacher in. Or, rather, he sneaks in. Somewhere between the daily eye-to-eye greetings, the explosions and the busted blocks and nails and magic tricks, Mr. Wright sneaks in. Love sneaks in.
It’s then that his students catch a deeper glimpse of this real man, cracks and wrinkles and sorrows. A real man. With tears. With his broken heart. Revealed and spilled out. In the most unexpected of places – a science classroom. A big bear of a man, a scientist, a nerd. His voice cracks once or twice when he tells the story.
The Art of Manliness: Coming to you Live and in Technicolor (from a Louisville Male High Science Classroom)
It’s not every day that you’ll spot a real man in his natural habitat. They don’t make ’em like they used to, but we’re also looking in all the wrong places, like Hollywood and the NFL gridiron. But here is an image of Manliness and Fatherhood who reveals himself in humility and vulnerability. (Haven’t we seen that somewhere before?)
Mr. Wright’s lesson on manly love might be unexpected, the day he’s reserved on the syllabus to tell about his son, Adam. This day, Mr. Wright’s faith is explicit. One day is enough. The rest of the time, he just lives it. Holy icon-meets-high school science teacher, husband and father: a man who found himself by giving himself completely away.
“Put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28)
Jeffrey Wright’s students know he is an honorable man. A man worth listening to. A man who does not let people down. An integrated, unselfish man. But is he a superhero? How does a mere mortal sustain such an unceasing selflessness? The answer is, he doesn’t.
But we don’t need to be hit over the head with that lesson. The hints are there. He may use explosions and sledgehammers in class, but Wright’s faith on display is not like a blow to the sternum. It’s more like a constant whisper.
The crucifix on his bedroom wall, the family’s mealtime prayer… these aren’t accidental. They are the signs and symbols and gestures of a home ruled by Christ. Of a family oriented toward God and a man who has his house in order.
Sometimes the lessons of Love sneak in through cracks in broken hearts, where – before the break – it might never have been able to penetrate. Mr. Wright does not win Louisville Male High’s popularity contest because of his looks or his clothes or his gilt-edged public speaking. He is beloved because he is a good man, and his students catch his sincerity from a mile away. No gimmicks. No protein shakes. No seductive displays of power or wealth. Just pure, unadulterated, authoritative, manly LOVE.
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