Leading With Passion
A Ten-Year Anniversary Interview With SPU President Philip W. Eaton
“We’re going to grab hold of a vision that will take us into that encounter between the gospel and culture –– painful and risky as it is sometimes, but exciting and wonderful, too. Because that’s the Christian story.”
— Philip W. Eaton
THE AVERAGE TENURE OF TODAY'S university president is only five years, which says something about the demanding nature of the position. So,
when Seattle Pacific University recognized Philip W. Eaton’s 10th anniversary
as president this spring, it celebrated the fruits of a full decade — and
counting — of strong leadership. Eaton arrived at Seattle Pacific in 1994
to assume the role of academic provost and two years later accepted the
Board of Trustees’ invitation to become the University’s ninth president.
In a special interview with Response, he offers an inside view of his presidency,
as well as a glimpse of the man behind the office.
Editor's Note: Although this anniversary interview was edited for length in the printed edition of Response, below is the interview in its entirety.
Q: When did you realize that you wanted to be a university president?
A: This all came very late for me. I had absolutely no aspirations
to be a university president. Honestly. I was an English professor
at Whitworth College in Spokane for 17 years, and my life with
students and literature was profoundly satisfying. Then I made
this big change in my life, for complicated reasons I’m sure, and
went into business in Phoenix. I felt a new sense of calling, and
I planned to be there forever. Being a university president just
wasn’t on my radar screen at all.
While I was in business, I got a call, out of the blue, from a
friend of mine, the chair of the board at Whitworth, asking me
to consider the interim presidency there. I said absolutely no
way. At first. But one thing led to another, and Sharon and I
decided that we could take that time — one year — and do this.
So that’s the story, that’s when it all began to open up, the
possibilities. At first, I didn’t think about it as something longterm.
It was an interim time, and I was going back to being in
business. And then the moving van was at our front door,
literally, to move back to Phoenix, when SPU called to talk to
me about a job as provost. I realized that what had happened for
me in that year at Whitworth just might be signaling a call to
leadership in Christian higher education. By the way, this was a
huge decision for Sharon as well. She had to change her notion
of caree,r too, and find her own sense of calling in all of this
change, which she has done beautifully and gracefully.
Q: What made you want to try something completely new at that
point in your career?
A: I am a curious person, for better or worse, always exploring,
pushing all the time to grow. And I think that’s what happened.
I just thought, wow, a door is opening, and what in the world is
this all about? I really have grown to understand — I call it a
“theology of open doors” — that God opens doors for us. And
I feel strongly that we need to look through them, we need to
walk through them and take a look. My curiosity keeps me
walking through those doors.
Q: You’ve stayed at SPU for 10 years and counting. What is it that has kept you here?
A: I love this place. And that’s very genuine. I love what has happened here. I love the people here. I love the potential here. And I knew all of that very early on. Something grabbed me, and I knew this was a place where I wanted to contribute what I could. It is a sense of calling. I mean a true sense that God has called me to this place at this time. And it is a settling — maybe it’s just my time in life, or chapter in life — but a kind of settling into a place where whatever gifts I’ve have can be used to their fullest extent.
I’m maxed out all the time. I know what my limitations and my weaknesses are — I mean, I don’t know them all; none of us knows them all — but I’m using whatever I’ve got to offer to the limits. And that’s exciting; it’s a good feeling; in fact, it’s great.
Q: What is the first thing you think about when you wake up each morning?
A: One of my wonderful mentors, another long-term college president, told me that he gets up every morning with a pit in his stomach, realizing that he shoulders the ultimate responsibility for the school. Well, I’ve thought about that a lot. Do I get up with a pit in my stomach? And I do, you know, in a sense. I know what he’s talking about. Yet with that responsibility comes something very positive: a new challenge every day. And I really mean that. It’s like, “What can I get done today? What are the possibilities?” Oh, that’s exciting. That’s very exciting. I think that’s part of what it means to be called. I was just thinking first thing this morning: “These guys hear my new ideas all the time. I’ve got to slow down with the ideas a bit, you know?”
Q: Why was it important to articulate the vision for “engaging the
culture and changing the world” at this particular moment in
A: When I became president, I launched a grand conversation.
I met with lots of different groups, asking the questions: “Who
are we? What do we want to become?” The vision for engaging
the culture and changing the world emerged out of those conversations,
in part out of SPU’s unique history and place in the
world. But what is clear to me about this vision for Seattle
Pacific is that it also came out of the deepest parts of who I am,
the kind of Christian culture in which I grew up, and the kind of
training I had in literary, cultural, and intellectual history. An
awareness of culture is profoundly important to me — but it is
always related to an encounter with who we are as Christians.
When I look attentively at the world, and then when I try earnestly
to live in the Christian story, I find myself asking, “How
does everything come together? What is that big story swirling
out there? What is that big drama taking place — God’s drama,
ultimately, but a drama that we participate in?” That’s engaging
the culture and changing the world.
I knew from the very beginning that I have absolutely no
interest in a separatist model, the idea that Christians are
embattled by the world and should separate themselves from it.
I needed to say, “No. What we’re going to do is to grab hold of a
vision that will take us into that encounter between the gospel
and culture — painful and risky as it is sometimes, but exciting
and wonderful, too. Because that’s the Christian story.”
Q: Did you know all of this about yourself when you drove into the parking lot your first day at SPU, or have you learned a lot about yourself as you helped SPU learn about itself?
A: Absolutely it’s the latter. I have learned, and I have grown into the vision along with SPU. I didn’t have it all figured out. If we were to go back and look at the kinds of things I wrote early on, for instance, the threads would be there, but, no, there’s no way I came here saying, “Wow, you know, we’re going to launch a university vision, and we’re going to engage the culture and change the world.” I believe this was all part of the calling. When you think about the unique gifts of this place — our history, our Wesleyan theology, the fact that we’re an urban campus, the breadth of our academic offerings, our larger size — all those things played a huge role in the shaping of the vision. What I brought to the table and what the University brought to the table came together in this vision.
Q: What is your definition of leadership? What have been your
leadership priorities as president of SPU?
A: I regard university leadership, any leadership, as first of all
articulating vision. That’s what I believe leaders do. They point
the way forward. To say that another way, leadership is about
ideas — hopefully it’s about ideas big enough to capture the
imagination of people. Those who feel leadership is just about
managing detail, well that’s not leadership in my opinion.
I think it’s about ideas, and it’s about people. Those are the two
things that it always must be. And we’ve got both. We have a big
idea, and we are so blessed at Seattle Pacific with outstanding
people: faculty, staff, students, trustees.
The other thing I think a leader must do is shape identity,
and that is something I felt called to do as SPU’s president. That
process takes time. You have to work at vision and identity every
day, it seems to me. You have to stand up and say who we are
and where we are going, then say it again, and then say it again.
When you see a leader who is unwilling to define identity —
out of fear or worry about offending some group or another —
you’ve got trouble, you’ve got confused identity.
When I was introduced as president, I said, “We will ground
everything on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s find our center
point. Let’s drive a stake in that center point and then let the rest
unfold.” Now it took time for people to trust me, but that was
my effort, to speak into any kind of fear that we would step onto
some kind of slippery slope. “We are going to center everything
on Jesus Christ,” I said again and again, “so let’s be very clear
about that from the beginning.” There was gradually a settling
of fear, and of confusion about who we are.
Q: As a university president, you must communicate with more constituencies — students, faculty, staff, trustees, church leaders, donors, other college presidents, legislators, the general public, etc. — than, arguably, leaders in any other profession. How do approach this kind of responsibility?
A: Well, it’s absolutely crazy, that’s what it is. It was Jill Ker Conway, former president of Smith College, who said that we’ve created a monster in the university presidency. This job is impossible — for the very reason your question suggests: the range of constituents that you have to address. And there is no choice; you have to address them all. You can’t decide that someone’s not in that mix. So what I have to do is focus. I have to say, “These are the primary constituent groups that I’m going to put more time and energy into right now, but I’ll make sure that I’m addressing the others as well.”
Once again, this is a place where my answer really has to do with vision and with ideas. You have to continue to articulate ideas that matter. And you have to try to always speak with substance, which is very hard to do. Part of the challenge is how to speak differently to the various audiences. These audiences hear things differently, all the way from church leaders to a downtown audience, or even the difference between speaking to faculty and to staff. Or this amazing experience that presidents have of speaking to an audience with both students and faculty in the same crowd. Of course, the ideas are consistent regardless of the audience. That’s what excites me: How do I take the same ideas and speak — out of my heart — to the faculty about the encounter of the gospel and culture, and then go downtown and do the same thing for a secular audience?
Q: How do you keep the idea of “engaging the culture, changing the world” fresh for yourself in your work as president?
A: Cultural engagement is a big idea, a rich idea, a profoundly historical idea. If you start with a small idea, you’re going to run out of things to say in a hurry. This is about living the Christian story, and that story goes way back. Always the gospel is encountering the culture — from the very beginning. And so our rich Christian story lives in history, but it is also where we ought to be right now. It lives with a kind of depth and resonance to it. And it is who I am. I mean, it is deep in me. It is alive in me. If it ever dies in me, I’m through. I feel that a leader has to lead with passion, lead with ideas that are passionately important to you. And this is my passion. By the way, to stay alive with the vision, I am constantly reading and talking and listening and watching and writing. What an exciting venture — to keep digging deeper, to keep growing.
Q: You recently completed several months on a study leave. What
was the focus of your study?
A: It was driven by my continuing passion on this question of
the encounter of the gospel and culture. You know, if I had gone
into that study leave and found this topic dead to me, that would
have been scary. What I found
is that I’ve just begun to
scratch the surface.
The study leave took me in
directions that were fascinating
and maybe surprising. I studied
a whole lot about culture.
But I also got on this trail of
studying Paul and the beginnings
of the first-century
church, because it truly is the
model for cultural engagement.
Paul was a man of the world,
right in the heart of the dominant
culture in a significant
part of the world at that time.
He was a Roman citizen and
knew what was going on in
Roman civilization; he spoke
Greek and knew Greek philosophy;
yet he was deeply engaged in the Jewish story and was a
passionate, zealot Jew himself. And the good news he discovered
in Jesus was nuts to Jews and Greeks alike. Just nuts. Perhaps
too much of the Christian community reads Paul in terms of
personal salvation only, which sometimes becomes a separatist
way of reading him. Are Paul’s writings about personal salvation?
Absolutely they are. But if you start looking at them through the
lens of engaging the culture with a new, unfolding story of the
gospel of Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, the text and the world
open up in exciting ways to teach us what we ought to be doing
as Christians in the world or what a Christian university ought
to be doing.
Q: What was one of the most interesting insights from your study leave?
A: I find myself thinking a lot about the notion of a good-news
university, being a good-news leader, being good-news people as
Christians, fully and faithfully living in the Christian story and
yet right in the heart of what’s going on. I found, even while
writing on my study leave, how easy it is to drift into a kind of
condemning voice, that is, a kind of voice of judgment — a prophetic
voice — saying, “This is wrong.” And I think a certain
amount of that has to be said about our culture. But how do you
ultimately bring good news to the world? The gospel calls us to
bring something flourishing into people’s lives. I’m not being
foolish or idealistic here, I don’t think. I understand you can’t
always bring what is perceived as good news. Yet you’ve got to be
driven by a gospel that says you reach for it even when you can’t
get it; you reach for reconciliation, reach for wholeness, you reach
for human flourishing. The gospel is good news beyond some
simplistic notion, some idealistic notion that we can all just get
along. It is good news coming out of pain, suffering, tragedy,
death — it is good news coming out of the cross that settles
those questions once and for all.
Q: What have been the proudest moments of your presidency so far?
A: Without a doubt, when I hear faculty, students, staff, trustees,
and alumni earnestly and
convincingly use the language
of engaging the culture and
changing the world, I have an
enormous sense of satisfaction.
The vision has taken
hold! It is in the fabric, in
the culture of our university.
I am proud of that.
I am also proud that we
really are a grace-filled community.
People truly care
about each other and treat
each other respectfully. People
yearn to live and work in community.
They just need the
chance, and leaders have to
create that chance.
In addition, I am also proud
of various initiatives I helped to
launch. I am thinking of such things as the New Faculty Seminar
and the Center for Scholarship and Faculty Development;
launching the Common Curriculum; dreaming about and forming
the Perkins Center for Reconciliation; restructuring the Board
of Trustees; creating the Comprehensive Plan for the 21st Century
and 2014: A Blueprint for Excellence; completing the Science
Initiative and the Science Building; investing $100 million in
facilities; gaining increased visibility and credibility in downtown
Seattle — all of this always with the help of a great team.
Q: What role do you think SPU has to play on a national stage?
A: I think we’ve got a role, because I think we’re trying to define something unique. Now, every university president says that. I know that. But as we continue to move SPU in the direction of encountering what’s going on in the world, I believe that’s ultimately where all of Christian higher education ought to be. In the world of Christian higher education, sometimes we’ve allowed ourselves to lapse into some form of separatism. And so, to me, I think SPU can provide leadership in cultural engagement, not just with colleges and universities. I mean that in terms of other circles of influence: students, donors, church people, and secular community members who become our partners. I think we have something to say; I think our vision calls us to bring a message of hope to a national, and indeed a global, stage.
Q: As a poet and a literature professor, why did you realize the study of science should be a priority at SPU?
A: I knew from the beginning that we had tremendous need in the sciences. Our main facility was antiquated and inadequate to the needs of our faculty and students. I also know, as the vision was beginning to take shape, that if we were going to engage the culture and change the world as a Christian university, we had to be at the table of the sciences. So, I went to our faculty and told them I was not interested in just addressing need — what we had to do together is craft a vision for the sciences within the context of our driving vision as a university. And that’s what we did. It has been tremendously exciting for me to see our new facilities function as a catalyst for renewed vision and energy. Things are just popping in the sciences. That’s cool for a literature professor, too.
Q: If you could snap your fingers and make one thing happen for
SPU, what would it be?
A: That’s a hard one, because I love what we are. I do not sit
around wringing my hands, thinking about what we do not have.
But I think if I could have a $300 million endowment with a
snap of a finger, I’d do it. Part of my responsibility as president is
to help provide appropriate resources to support our people to
accomplish the vision. That’s huge to me. I think our supporting
family must be as expansive as our vision. And so, in our next
phase, if I could snap my fingers, I would enlarge and expand
our family — always, of course, giving credit for and gratitude to
the family that has sustained this institution for 115 years. We’ve
got lots of plans to do just that, by the way. I call it cultivating the
next generation of partners.
Q: What are the two or three initiatives that most excite you as you look forward to your future as SPU president?
A: For 2014: A Blueprint For Excellence, we have identified and crafted some signature commitments for SPU. If our vision is to engage the culture and change the world, a distinctive vision, how do we achieve that vision, concretely, uniquely? And so we have come up with five signatures, and I am very excited about those signatures. Part of my challenge as a leader in the days to come is to weave these signatures into the fabric of the institution.
For example, one of the signatures talks about knowing and understanding what’s going on in the world. One talks about embracing the Christian story, becoming biblically and theologically educated. We are working right now with our School of Theology faculty and with our Campus Ministries team to imagine how we can be on the leading edge of placing biblical and theological understanding at the heart of who we are. Driven by these signatures, how would we do chapel and community gatherings? How might we do faculty and staff development? This is very exciting.
I am eager as well to launch a new fundraising campaign, and that is in the works. We have built a foundation, a platform, from which now to provide new resources. This will be an exciting venture.
We have an initiative launched to take our vision national. Our John Perkins Center for Reconciliation is beginning to flourish. We have launched the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research. We have just applied for a major grant for cutting-edge work on science education. We have a chapel/performance hall I hope we can build. All of this is very exciting to me as we move into the next phase.
Q: In your end-of-the-year letter to students, you told them you
thought there were some things that made them distinctive among
college students. What are those things?
A: I think our students are really exceptional. They are incredible.
I know that most often I interact with the exceptional
among the exceptional. But our students as a group are bright.
We know that statistically. They’re savvy and sophisticated. I
detest that language people sometimes use when talking about
students, saying they “live in a bubble.” I don’t think SPU students
live in a bubble. They’re culturally hip. They know what’s
going on. They’re unafraid of a city, and that’s not always part of
a college experience. They’re also very accomplished. It’s just
scary what they’re doing, they’re so good. There’s another whole
dimension as well: I guess I’d call it curiosity. There’s an openness
about them. Not a hint of cynicism. They are not afraid. That’s
huge to me. I think if we created a culture of cynicism on campus
— which I think is one of the crises in higher education —
that’s what they’d be. And I just don’t feel it. That doesn’t mean
they’ve got their heads in the sand. I think they see a troubled
world, but I think we’ve helped equip them to say, “I can make a
difference; I can change the world.” And that’s very cool.
Q: What is the most memorable conversation you’ve ever had with
an SPU student?
A: I’ve had many wonderful conversations with students, but I
remember one of our pre-med students who came to see me a
couple of years ago. She was graduating and going on to med
school the next year. She said something to me that I think was
really profound. She said, “I’ve got a friend who is finishing her
degree at an elite public university. We’re very close; she’s a Christian,
and she’s going to med school, too. You know, all of a sudden
I realized she has to compartmentalize her faith from her science.
She’s afraid to face some of the questions that science asks
of us as Christians. And I’m not afraid, not afraid of any question
science or the culture asks me — because of my experience
at SPU.” And I thought, What an unbelievable statement! What a
beautiful statement that we can fully and competently engage the
culture and that there’s no fear in that. It’s open and embracing,
not compartmentalized. There just couldn’t be anything better
than that. I believe we’ve equipped her well to change the world.
I believe our vision of engagement is at work.
Q: Do you have time in your schedule as president to spend informally with students?
A: I make time whenever I can, and I’m always glad I did. This spring, right before the end of the quarter, I had three different dinners with groups of students. A freshman came up to me one day and said, “I’d like to put together a group of people to have dinner with you.” And I said, “Okay, let’s do it.” So I met them at Gwinn Commons, and there were about 30 men and women. I was so impressed. They were all ages, from freshmen to people who were graduating that weekend, and they all knew each other. They were talking across the tables and asking me questions, and they kind of warmed up to me when they found out I was a real person and would answer things honestly. We had a great time.
Two nights later, about eight young women, all of whom had known each other since they were freshmen, took me to dinner at Buca di Beppo. They were all graduating and had stayed tightly together the entire four years. They loved each other. I mean it; it was just cool. I had a blast. They, too, wanted to ask me all kinds of questions. One of them says right in the middle of dinner, “You’re know, you’re a celeb.” I said, “Oh, please, come on, now.” “No, no, you are,” she said. They had obviously been to the restaurant before, by the way. They said, “Well, what do you want to eat?” And I said, “Well, you guys look like you know the menu.” I mean, they took over right then. And they started negotiating the menu and ordering stuff. It was great.
And then I had the Centurions to the President’s Dining Room for dinner. We had barbecue beef sandwiches, and they were all dressed up, with ties on. We talked about alcohol, the chapel policy, you name it. They even asked, “What do you think if we could be a kind of a sounding board for you? If you’ve got a problem you’re working on, and you want to know what the students think, you could come to us and you could just ask.” I thought it was just neat; what a gracious offer. These were thrilling times for me; it was a great way to end the school year.
Q: When you were a college student, who was the most influential person in your life?
A: One professor rises to the surface immediately. His name was Dr. Simpson. I never called him by his first name, believe me. And he was a powerful shaping force in my life. He’s still living, but he’s probably in his nineties now. He had polio as a young child, completely lost the use of one of his legs, and walked on crutches for his whole life. What he did is develop these massive shoulders. The reason I mention that is that he was massive to me, as a presence in my life. I took every course I could take from him, and he would tell these stories that were just so powerful and meaningful to me. With rich language. With rich understanding of literature, rich understanding of the gospel, rich understanding of culture. It was a broadening for me in terms of the encounter between the gospel and culture, really.
I graduated from Whitworth, got my Ph.D. and then went back to Whitworth and joined the faculty. Dr. Simpson was still a faculty member at the time. When Dave Winter, the new vice president for academic affairs, came, he wanted to shake up all the departments, so he instituted radical change by saying the youngest Ph.D. in every department would become the department chair. So … I’m in this department with this massive figure in my life, and I become, at twenty-something, the chair. I’m absolutely quaking. It was really something.
Q: What were your major musical and literary influences in college?
A: I have always loved classical music and did as much as I could to grow in my understanding during college and after. But during my college years, we witnessed a huge revolution in music, and I was right in the middle of it. I was a little young to experience Elvis, but everyone felt his impact. When the Beatles broke out on the scene, we knew something big was happening. It was quite exhilarating. And cool. Then Bob Dylan was very big for me. Simon and Garfunkel. Paul Simon later and maybe better. Eric Clapton. Music was challenging the past, challenging a lot of assumptions about many things. Not all of it for good. I looked from afar at Woodstock and thought, my word, something’s going on here. As Joseph Heller said sometime later: “Something Happened” during those years.
I discovered literature in my freshman year in ways that I had never experienced before. I also discovered in “Freshman Writing” that I loved to write. I discovered early American and British fiction. I discovered the British classics of the 17th century, John Donne and company. I discovered Shakespeare. Later, I read all of the contemporary poetry I could get my hands on. Still do read it some.
Q: If you could spend an evening with a writer or a character from literature, who would it be?
A: I think about a poet named Theodore Roethke, who taught at the University of Washington for a while and died in the 1960s. He was a crazy man, literally, yet I have just been so profoundly moved by his poetry and his writing. And what a kick it would be to spend an evening with him. It could probably be a kind of up-and-down experience, kind of crazy, but very exciting. Then, you know, there are some poets out of the early 20th century, long dead, that I would love to meet, such as William Carlos Williams, or Wallace Stevens, or T.S. Elliot — although that would be a dry one. And then one of my current heroes — he just died — but his writing is important to me right now, is Czeslaw Milosz, the great, great Polish-American poet. I’m just enormously fascinated with him. I think I’d begin my conversations with questions about their love of language and try to get a feel for why they’re so passionate about it: why they love it and why I love it, you know. Why every word matters. That would be very exciting to me.
I can also think of some theological figures I’d love to spend an evening with, Lesslie Newbigin, for example. What an incredible thing. Would I ever love to have him on campus. He’s dead, of course, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to meet some of those people who have been really influential in your life through their writings?
Q: What were the last five books you read?
A: Hmm. I read almost everything that N.T. Wright writes, and, as someone said, he can write faster than I can read. I just finished his Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, a kind of Mere Christianity for our time. I just read both of Wright’s recent books on Paul, one called Paul: In Fresh Perspective, the other What Saint Paul Really Said. Cutting-edge scholarship on Paul. I also just finished his book called The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture. All just flat-out fabulous books. I have also reread almost all of Lesslie Newbigin’s books, most especially Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture and Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship. These two books, and Newbigin’s writings generally, are simply the finest work ever done on the encounter between the gospel and postmodern culture. I recently read John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University, the classic statement of the purpose and mission of the modern university. A statement, by the way, that truly is an anchor for all later discussion on the university. I am a fan of the British novelist Ian McEwan, most recently his novel Saturday. I have been making my way through the complete poetry of Czeslaw Milosz. He is huge. I read a lot of Lincoln, and have immensely enjoyed the books by my friend Ron White, most recently The Eloquent President. More than five, I know. Sorry.
Q: What were the last three movies you saw?
A: Walk the Line, the story of at least part of the life of Johnny Cash. And The Apostle, really a fine film of a complicated, yet earnest and genuine small-town, Southern preacher and evangelist. Also Road to Glory, a fabulous film about basketball and race and reconciliation. By the way, this movie is about the NCAA National Championship basketball team in 1965, a team from West Texas that broke the race barriers in some exciting ways. The only team to beat the national champions was Seattle University. Now, here’s the deal: The only team to beat Seattle U that year was SPU. How’s that for cool?
Q: Do you have an ipod, and what’s on your playlist?
A: I don’t have an ipod. Should I?
Q: What would be your ideal weekend?
A: With my grandkids. Playing golf with my three boys. In New York City or London with Sharon. Holed up somewhere in a hideout with my books and my computer for writing.
Q: What’s the secret to mastering the game of golf?
A: I’ve gotten kind of obsessed with golf from time to time, an obsession that I think is healthy, by the way. Mastering the game? Easy. I haven’t. No way. The golf swing is one of the great mysteries of the human race. I used to think it was women.
Q: You lost both of your parents during your 10 years as SPU president. How would you describe their legacy in your life?
A: They gave me a sense, I now discover, that there is a big drama out there and I must be part of that drama. In fact, I have the opportunity and the obligation to make things better in whatever way I can. They also taught me that God was profoundly part of that drama, the ultimate shaper, that there was a big story with a beginning and a future, and I could sit here in the present, rooted in the past, expectant and hopeful about the future. Precisely because this was God’s unfolding story and not mine alone.
My mother taught me something about hospitality, that welcoming folks into your home was a good thing, that cooking good food was an art and an act of grace. I wish I had learned more of her art.
My dad taught me to work hard and not to feel entitled to anything. Sometimes I wished he hadn’t worked as much as he did, and maybe my boys feel the same. A work ethic is huge for me. That was a gift from my dad, maybe sometimes a burden.
My dad also taught me to build something. We are called not just to think about things but to build, to create, to craft. Most of the time he was building things that could make life better for others. This was a gift, a legacy.
My dad loved to sing that old hymn about telling the story of Jesus: “I love to tell the story of unseen things above/Of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love/I love to tell the story because I know ‘tis true/It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do/I love to tell the story, ‘twill be my theme in glory/To tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”
It’s an old, old story, and I love to tell it, too.
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