This year’s Senior Distinguished Faculty Award recipient has enjoyed a notable career in his field and in the Christian liberal arts, though it has been our good fortune to bring him to Gordon only within the last decade. Yet almost immediately after he arrived, he impressed many with his professionalism and ability to see new possibilities for his students.
Actually, my first conversation with him was about two decades ago, long before either of us knew we would be standing one day together on a quad in New England. He had called from his Midwest home to help arrange a tour of a Ugandan theatre troupe on the West Coast—a performance that mixed the joyful and mournful strains of African music and dance in an exploration of a nation’s tragedy and hope. At Gordon, he has shown that same spirit—a delight in things new and experimental, a desire to listen to voices beyond his own culture, and an awareness of the ways that theatre awakens us to the tragic and joyful. There is indeed, a joyful spirit in his work, evident in his love for musical theatre. But there is also a moral alertness, apparent when he produced a blend of Harold Pinter plays because their nuances spoke to some of the political rhetoric and fears of recent years.
A former chair of the Fine Arts division, he is appreciated for his collaboration with other artists. On several occasions, he has joined with faculty in music and the visual arts to enrich our aesthetic vision for Christmas and Tenebrae programs. As a mentor to students, he sets high goals and allows individuals to take risks. His spirit of innovation—as well as his respect for students’ potential and courage—led to one of my favorite events at Gordon in recent years, the production of the play Growing Up Christian. Under his guidance, the students wrote their own script, drawn mostly from their own experiences in the church. It became a vibrant, edgy, joyful, and very moving portrait of a generation’s journey to embrace a life of faith in a postmodern era. Selected for the Kennedy Center’s regional festival, it won audience and scriptwriting awards. But more important than the awards was the impact the play had on its audience. After seeing Growing Up Christian, the festival director marveled that, instead of rushing off to their usual parties, audience members, including students from many colleges in New England, stayed up much of the night talking about their own spiritual journeys. Theatre had rekindled their desire to talk about faith.
Last fall, when assisting with a production of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline at New York’s Lincoln Theatre, he wrote these words in his blog: “One goal of theatre is a dramatic call to abate memory loss. We often forget what silly creatures we are when we are in love. We lose touch with our humanity when we are driven by arrogance and vengeance. We fail to see the impact of our actions, both routine and monumental. Theatre keeps us from forgetting.”
For the many ways that he has helped us remember our humanity, and for the ways that he has helped us see theatre as a means of discovering our faith, I am pleased to present this year’s Senior Distinguished Faculty Award to Professor Jeff Miller.