Over our lifetimes we make relationships with people who share our passions, perspectives, vocations. Sometimes we go to conferences and conventions, not just for the official events, but also because we get to renew those relationships of long-standing. College friends, seminary friends, graduate school colleagues, etc. In this posting Bruce Epperly reflects on his recent encounters with Claremont friends and colleagues at the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature Meeting. I appreciated these reflections on AAR-SBL as I'm thinking of attending next year's event as I finish my own sabbatical. Enjoy these reflections, and consider your own relational networks and the blessings they bring.
Postcards from Claremont #15 – Claremont on the Road
Not all of my postcards are in chronological order. Some rest on the queue until the right time and then I set them free to the universe, letting them fly where they will. That’s just the way writing is. As Orson Wells once described winemaking, “we serve no wine before it’s time.” The same applies to writing and remembering. For a few minutes on the day before Thanksgiving, everyone in my house is asleep – Kate and her mom, my daughter in law, and the two young boys. I have just awakened and want to write before my two year old wakes up wanting to go to the park. It is a joy to be home – to be in a familiar bed, to have the real presence of loved ones, and to live process theology with my family. Toddlers and infants are all process, after all.
I’m just back from the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature meetings in Chicago. It was surely process on the road. I go to a few sessions and hear young scholars as well as seasoned theological veterans like me give papers, but most of all, it’s like a grand high school or family reunion, and for me, my theological family here is the Claremont process family. We talk shop, of course, and share what we’re working on and the challenges of academic life. We also hatch ideas for conferences and shared projects or give each other new insights and ways to look at our respective professions.
Now that I’m a senior scholar, I also try to introduce recent Ph.D. graduates and current students to people who might be helpful to their professional careers later on. I remember how difficult it was for me to come up to a total stranger, whose institution was advertising for a position in my field or to introduce myself to a foundation that might sponsor my studies with a dissertation grant. These days, I reach out on behalf of my students and younger colleagues, making the introduction and then stepping out of the way so they can share their gifts. It’s all about interdependence – living process – in which you pass on the gifts you received or wish you’d received when you were younger.
This year at the Center for Process Studies Reception, we remembered Kathi Breazeale, a process theologian and professor at Pacific Lutheran University, who passed away this fall. A number of her good friends and Claremont colleagues thought it important to spend some moments in prayer and recollection, and as a pastor-theologian, I was asked to convene the group. Again, this was living process – we recognized the perpetual perishing nature of life, our mortality and finitude, but also the deeper interdependence and immortality in God’s memory and the impact on our own lives. All of us were different people because of our encounters with Kathi, personally and through her work. Her words live on in us and her teaching will shape her students’ adventures.
There is a community of Claremont Ph.D.’s who follow each other’s work, support each other’s projects, and gather from time to time for conversation, cocktails, and theological reflection. I am grateful for this camaraderie. I am always on the lookout for what my classmates are doing – Catherine Keller’s latest book or lecture; Rita Nakashima Brock’s transformative work in atonement theory; Jay McDaniel’s new projects related to process theology in China (www.jesusjazzbuddhism.org); and Becky Parker’s theological leadership in the Unitarian-Universalist churches and in new ways to look at the atonement. I am always inspired when I see a new book or open and relational project by Thomas Jay Oord or an insightful project from Helene Russell. Of course, I’m always eager to read the next project by my Claremont colleagues Philip Clayton, Monica Coleman, and Roland Faber, not to mention my Claremont mentors David Griffin and John Cobb. In the years to come, I anticipate sharing in the process adventures of my current students at Claremont as well as the group of young theologians who are working on their qualifying exams and dissertations at Claremont.
This is lived process. We are a small community, but like the mustard seed, we seek the common good through creative and insightful theological reflection. We believe theology makes a difference and that good theology supports our quest to be God’s companions in healing the world. I am grateful to be part of this learning-sharing community and for friendships that have shaped my life for nearly forty years.
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, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. His latest book is Healing Marks:Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion, 2012). 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.