STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 08/21/2007

Inspiration | Dr. Elaine Phillips

Dr. Elaine Phillips, professor of biblical and theological studies at Gordon since 1993, was the 2006 recipient of the Senior Distinguished Faculty Award. This award is made on the recommendation of faculty and members of the senior class and is based on teaching ability, noteworthy scholarship and the quality of their relationships with students. Provost Mark Sargent describes Phillips as an esteemed colleague who "cherishes many connections within the Gordon community--connections that are apparent in the many students who value her as a mentor, in the enthusiastic teams that travel with her to study at Jerusalem University College, and in the ways her students are drawn to more earnest study of biblical literature and history." In the summer of 2006 she led a team of students to teach, minister and work among people still profoundly affected by the December 2005 tsunami.

When we asked Dr. Phillips for a brief essay on inspiration, she promptly produced two, and asked us to choose. We thought they were both wonderful--and you can read them both here.


Fear "So," you ask, "what inspires you? What propels you out of bed to face each new day?" Now, I know some of the right answers to that question: a deep love for what God has given me to do; joy at the prospect of engaging with students and colleagues; a sense of excitement at each forthcoming day's adventure. But the truth is, it's often fear. Fear of being a spectacular failure if I don't over-prepare. Fear of disappointing people. Fear of being perceived as an outright sloth, especially when I compare myself to the people who surround me. I'm a prime audience for the exhortation in Psalm 56:3--"When I am afraid, I will trust in You," a theme to which the psalmist returns several times.

One more abiding fear, the prospect of physical pain, does indeed propel me out of bed early in the morning in order to exercise and hold at bay longstanding weakness in my back. And, in the strange ironies of life, that fear is a gift; the hour and a half of enforced morning exercise has become a paradigm for what can be happening in the realm of prayer--spiritual "exercise." I'm prodded by a line from Richard Hays' The Moral Vision of the New Testament--". . . Believers stand in a relation of solidarity with the pain of an unredeemed creation" (page 26). When I'm feeling ineffective and terribly small, I'm reminded that we pray to the Master of the Universe. I revisit God's faithfulness and trust Him as I actively commit the fearsome aspects of the forthcoming day, and--when I am being less selfish--a deeply pained world into His abiding care. I remember that we only have each day once, and that time, just like pain and prayer, is also God's gift.  

As I think of lasting impressions, the things that "inspire" me, legacies, my mind inevitably turns to my parents. Whose wouldn't --for better or for worse? As a child, my best memories coalesce around reading, music, "going exploring," and our family's island. Reading was modeled and inspired by my mother from the time, as she tells it, they brought me home from the hospital. As a result, I read all the time and everywhere. To my mother's dismay, a book always accompanied me to the dinner table and invariably was my last companion before falling asleep, sometimes illuminated by a flashlight under the covers because we were not supposed to be starting the next chapter--and the next--after hours! While I have many "favorites," I commend Dorothy Sayers' The Man Born to Be King, a set of twelve radio plays written for the BBC on the life of Christ. It has continued to be a compelling presence in my life since the first time I read it in 1979. And I give it to anyone who looks the least bit interested when I rhapsodize about it!

My mother also instilled in me a love of exploration, in books, in thinking, and in the outdoors. One of my favorite activities was to "go exploring," either on my own, managing on more than one occasion to get thoroughly lost, or coercing my mother to come along. She is, at the age of 92, still exploring, an avid reader of Science News, an affirming audience for my own attempts at writing, and someone who tried snowshoeing for the first time last Christmas.
My father taught piano lessons in our home and my sister and I frequently entertained ourselves as tiny children by sitting under a table (conveniently covered by a long cloth) in his studio listening to him teach lessons. I know, the ultimate in bizarre childish behavior. Once he was through with a lesson, we would race to the piano bench, climb up to it and render our versions of the music. In order to re-direct those childish impulses, he began to teach us. Rumor has it I was somewhere between two and three years of age when this commenced. While I never became very good on the performance side, loving good music was built in! Interestingly, my all-time favorite work is Mozart's Requiem which Gordon College will present in February. I also dearly love hymns--good ones that have sound texts and felicitous harmonies. And I love my sister's compositions; she is the one who picked up the family music mantle.

At a time (1953) when my parents' sole means of transportation consisted of a car that refused to go in reverse, they invested in a relatively isolated two acre island in western Ontario. Lacking the funds to have a "normal" cottage built, my Dad acquired everything second or third hand and designed and built his own--over the space of 30 years or so. This is the place our family "calls home."  It has also provided me with some of my favorite sermon illustrations! More importantly, it is a place for rest, restoration, and family reconnections. It is the "wallpaper" on my computer, a beacon of natural beauty reminding me in the midst of schedules and Power point lectures, of this one of God's many good gifts to me.


The Moral Vision of the New Testament
Hays takes on challenging issues in contemporary ethics after establishing a framework for discovering New Testament ethics. He first works through the books of the New Testament, calling this the "descriptive task." His "synthetic task" draws together the complexity of these teachings under three related images--the covenant community, the cross, and the new creation. The community is the "primary addressee of God's imperatives" (196). The practice of ethics unfolds within the community before the eyes of a watching world. "The cross becomes the ruling metaphor for Christian obedience, while the resurrection stands as the sign of hope that those who now suffer will finally be vindicated" (31). In the shadow of the cross, the community's "hermeneutical" and "pragmatic" tasks involve the imaginative integration of the text for contemporary situations and then living out those affirmations with consistency.

The Man Born to Be King
My all-time favorite book is Dorothy Sayers' The Man Born to Be King, the cycle of twelve plays on the life of Christ that she wrote for the BBC. It was first given to me by a good friend back in the late 70's and I have probably read it more than 20 times since that time. Sayers captures the real characters behind what we have often allowed to become flat, stained-glass representations. As a result, the Jesus of the plays does indeed bring healing and restoration to the reader as well as His first-century contemporaries.

Mozar'ts Requiem
Mozart's Requiem Mass in D Minor has been for years my favorite choral work. Of course, the questions regarding the completion of the work following Mozart's death in 1791 are a fascinating mystery. Much more important, however, is the nature of the music itself. It verges on the sublime, evoking our longings for the transcendent Real Presence (an allusion to George Steiner's book of the same name) and the hope that extends beyond this fallen world. Growing up in a musical household, I heard this many times over the years but it came alive for me in March of 1991 when I heard Michael Korn lead the Philadelphia Singers in his last public conducting performance before he succumbed to AIDS in August of that same year. It was poignant beyond words.


The Moral Vision of the New Testament
The Man Born To Be King
Mozarts Requiem