There are BYU professors, and there are BYU professors. Brother Keller is in a class by himself. His life story alone fascinates me. Converted to the church as a young adult, then left the church, became an ordained Presbyterian pastor in Colorado, converted back to the LDS Church as an adult, and continued to maintain an interest in other religions, to the point of living in a Zen Buddhist monastery for a time, where he learned meditation and other lessons he later imparted to his students.
Three incidents come to mind which endear him to me:
I took his “Gospel and World Religions” class and he introduced us to the art of Zen Buddhist meditation. For about six minutes (which seemed like an eternity), the classroom was entirely silent while we meditated. I left the classroom literally laughing for joy from the stress relief, it being around final exam time and all. It was the most concentrated experience of peace I had found to that point in my young life.
In the same course, we were discussing the idea of blood and presumably DNA literally changing upon baptism in order to make a convert one of the house of Israel. This idea was propagated in a book by a respected LDS author at the time. Professor Keller’s response was perfect when challenged by a student who was advocating the idea: “I don’t believe it. And you don’t have to either. No matter who says it.” This was a shock to some in the class who were accustomed to a much more authoritarian theory of truth.
I took a follow-up course from Brother Keller called “American Christianity and the LDS Church” along with a friend of mine. Both of us were on intellectual trajectories which could very well have taken us out of Church activity. Brother Keller said something very perceptive at the end of the semester: “I know some of you have taken this class to get away from the LDS Church, but I hope that what you have learned here will help eventually bring you back towards it.” It did, Brother Keller.
I can’t say enough good about this man, although I’m disappointed that he shaved off his trademark mustache. 🙂
Do you have examples to share of teachers who’ve helped you stay Mormon, or just inspirational teachers in general?