I would think that we've all had mentors of one type or another. I can name quite a few person who have influenced my life over the years -- Bob Gray, Gary Nichols, Dennis Helsabeck, Herb Works, Jim Bradley, Gary Wells, Ed Linberg, Don Reisinger, and many more. I continue to encounter mentors -- men and women who influence the direction that my life takes. Bruce Epperly, in this, his seventh, postcard from Claremont, offers his own thoughts on mentoring relationships. I would ask you to take this moment to consider those who have mentored you? What difference have they made in your life?
Postcards from Claremont #7
– Remembering Mentoring
A few weeks ago, I gave a public talk for the Center for Process Studies, housed at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. On the morning of the talk, as I was walking through the campuses, I was thinking about an upcoming preaching trip to my home congregation, Grace Baptist Church, in San Jose, California. I don’t anticipate returning to San Jose very often again. My parents are dead and my holidays are generally are on the East Coast and with my children and grandchildren. I was thinking about whom I wanted to visit and my thoughts turned to Richard Keady, my undergraduate professor in Religion, who introduced me to the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and process theology.
Imagine my surprise when, just before the talk began, Richard Keady came up and reintroduced himself to me. Talk about synchronicity! It had been almost thirty years since we had seen one another. Throughout the talk, Richard sat next to my graduate school mentor and life-long teacher, John Cobb, the parent of process theology at Claremont and, perhaps, the world. Richard had been a student of John’s and I had been a student of Richard and then John! It was a precious moment for me to be surrounded by this living “cloud of witnesses” whose dedication to teaching process theology shaped my life and enabled me to claim my role as a teacher and pastor and Christian with confidence and care.
Claremont is a home for mentors in my life. I think of the width and ambient wisdom of Bernard Loomer and the Advanced Seminar in Process Studies, attended by Catherine Keller, Nita Nakashima Brock, and Rebecca Parker, now some of the most creative theologians of our time. Loomer introduced me to one of primary lenses through which I view theology – the lens of stature or size – how much reality we can embrace while maintaining our fluid center. I think of John Cobb, whose largeness of mind and spirit and continuing creativity inspired me to join process theology with practical ministry and spiritual formation. John is the embodiment of the spirit of process theology; in the words of Jim Manley, the “spirit of gentleness” flows through Cobb to his students and listeners. I think of David Griffin whose analytic spirit forced me to learn chapter and verse of Whitehead and anything else I read. Griffin taught me that before you critique a contrasting position you had better know it well! I think of Jack Verheyden, the shy Texan, who introduced me to nineteenth century German theology and the great philosophers (Pierce, James, Royce) of 19th and 20th century philosophy. I think of Chuck Young, at the Graduate School Philosophy, who may not have appreciated process and platonic metaphysics but who supported my vision of Plato as process thinker. I think of Dick Keady at San Jose State, a student of Cobb’s, whose passion for process theology brought me to Claremont and set my path on a lifetime of teaching and ministry.
I have tried to be faithful to these teachers by being a caring mentor myself. By loving my students, giving them freedom to roam theologically, and putting their journey ahead of my visions of their future. A mentor is affirmative, challenging, creative, but always non-possessive in letting the divine move through her or his students’ lives. I thank my Claremont mentors and this school that transformed my life.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith Lectionary and Patheos.com. He is currently serving as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.