Response Online



Big Ideas Engaging the Culture, Changing the World

Rich Memories, Renewed Calling

Thank You for the Chance to Participate in SPU's Vision

By Philip W. Eaton, President

President Philip W. Eaton and Sharon Eaton

After writing this column in each issue of Response for 17 years, I found myself asking: What in the world should I say for one last time? I'm never very good at endings. I have always tried to live at that edge of new beginnings, imagining what's out ahead, scheming and strategizing how to make dreams for this great university happen, how to lead positive change.

But as I think about what I should say in this my last column, my first impulse is to say thank you, as genuinely as I can, to the dear people who carry out the distinctive mission of this university. I could name hundreds, if not thousands, of people for whom Sharon and I are deeply grateful.  Thank you for your friendship, your encouragement along the way, for your hard work and  faithful support, for catching our vision and for living it out in your own special way.

I could also talk about so many rich memories. I remember vividly, for example, those early conversations out of which I began to test the language of engaging the culture. I think about the long, fruitful debates behind the crafting of our statement of faith, as we sought to anchor and articulate our unique center in Jesus Christ. I think about meeting with John Perkins in Jackson, Mississippi, as we began to dream about what an SPU Perkins Center for Reconciliation might look
like. I think about the stunning presentation by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith on biblical illiteracy, out of which we launched our Center for Biblical and Theological Education.

There were so many efforts to take SPU into the city, notably our Downtown Business Breakfast and the marvelous Sacred Sounds of Christmas in Benaroya Hall. I remember the rich conversations with N.T. Wright, Chaim Potok, David Brooks, David McCullough, Earl Palmer,
Eugene Peterson, and so many others, and conversations with so many of the theologians and
physicists, biologists and chemists, economists and educators, artists and philosophers on our
outstanding faculty.

"Thank you for the chance to live and work and dream and strategize to make our vision for Seattle Pacific University a reality."

Here is another kind of memory. I was in the dining hall the other day, and three or four groups of students came up to tell me their lives had been shaped by this place, thanking me for whatever part I may have played. And I paused for a moment, and looked out across the bustling hall, and I saw in these precious young people the future of our world, and I thought what a privilege it has been to be part of their lives. I also felt a spirit of exuberant joy in the room, that yes, we have worked together to create genuine community for these young people, a community that is defined by joy and grace and love. Such a community changes lives, and models the way forward to a better world.

Here's another memory important to me. I remember a long plane ride back from Washington, D.C., where I was reading George Weigel's biography of Pope John Paul II. Weigel quoted from a sermon the pope gave on a fishing story, found in the Gospel of Luke. In this story, the disciples had fished all night without catching a thing, and Jesus approaches them and tells them to stop fishing in the shallows. He tells them to “put out into the deep.”

Apparently the pope used this text often, calling on the leaders and teachers of the church to follow
Jesus and put out into the deep. The pope would say something like, “Don't suffer the paralysis of process and politics. Don't get bogged down in bureaucratic detail that really doesn't matter in the long run. Don't let the culture define who we are or what we do. Rather, follow Jesus and put your nets on the other side. Put out into the deep.”

Somehow that evening on the plane I found a renewal of calling, for SPU, for me as a leader, and for me for the rest of my life. Often falling short, of course, nevertheless, I have tried to articulate a vision with ideas that matter. I have tried to pay careful attention to the people who carry out that  vision, to build together a community defined by joy. I have tried to understand more deeply every
day what it means that God's kingdom is breaking into our lives, into the life of SPU, and what it means that we have a chance to participate in the new thing God is doing in our midst.

So, thank you. Thank you for the chance to live and work and dream and strategize to make our vision for Seattle Pacific University a reality. Thank you for the chance to come to work every day for 17 years, each day trying to follow Jesus, each day trying to put out into the deep, for the sake of our students, for the sake of a better world, and in the end, so that all of God's children might flourish.

Yes, indeed, I end where I should, pausing for a moment to say thank you. That feels like a good closing to me.

Read tributes honoring President and Mrs. Eaton, and share your own in this moderated bulletin board.

View the gallery of highlights from the President Eaton's and Mrs. Eaton's 17 years in the SPU community.