by Bruce Epperly
Over the next few months, I will be reflecting on process thinkers I have known. I will share a few thoughts on women and men who have shaped my understanding of process theology not just by their words but by their lives. Process theology is profoundly embodied. Mind and body, and the ambient environment, are intricately connected. Where mind ends and body begins, no one really knows. Indeed, in process theology, the mind is embodied, and the body is inspired. The word is made flesh in process theology in acts of creative transformation.
I got to know Bernard Loomer in the Advanced Whitehead Seminar, during the Spring 1978. It was a lively group of young theologians. I don’t remember all their names, but some became shapers of process theology, evolving it in new and creative ways: Catherine Keller, Rita Nakashima Brock, Rebecca Parker, and Bruce Epperly. We were discovering our own theological gifts and Loomer helped us on our way.
Always wearing a white turtleneck with a pipe in his pocket, Loomer held forth. There was no telling where the class might go on any particular day. Our conversations were wide-ranging and unscripted, and we learned as much about Loomer as the “orthodoxies” of process thought. In fact, to Loomer, the world was too grand and mysterious for any theology to be final. There was no norm for process theology as well. Indeed, Loomer believed that the most adequate theologies were many-sided, always growing, and aware of their limitations and the ambiguities of life. A whole life contains both good and evil, the wheat and the tares grow together, and having a large spirit enabled you to live with ambiguity, even in God.
For Loomer, size or stature was everything. A theology was worthless, even if intellectually well-articulated, if it lacked intellectual, emotional, and spiritual stature. As one of Loomer’s essays notes, “S-I-Z-E is the Measure.” According to Loomer:
By size I mean the stature of a person’s soul, the range and depth of his love, his capacity for relationships. I mean the volume of life you can take into your being and still maintain your integrity and individuality, the intensity and variety of outlook you can entertain in the unity of your being without feeling defensive or insecure. I mean the strength of your spirit to encourage others to become freer in the development of their diversity and uniqueness.
Loomer believed that we need large-souled theologians, pastors, business leaders, and politicians. As I look at today’s popular preachers and televangelists, I am amazed at how small their visions are: they define faith as much by what is excluded – science, philosophy, the insights of other faith traditions, the arts and literature, persons from other cultures, and GLBT persons – as by their affirmations of faith, all of which must be accepted without question. Few realize that the grandeur of universe – containing at least 125 billion galaxies each with billions of stars and by implication billions of solar systems – compels us to be both humble and adventurous. In Loomer’s words:
“Every important revelation, every important incarnation, carries with itself the principle of transcendence. Every revelation exists to be surpassed and therefor every revelation contains within itself a pointing beyond itself.”
Theologians are called to be adventurers into the mystery, recognizing that there is always more. Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and so should we. A complete theology is a lifeless theology. A fully-known God is an idol. The horizons of theology are always receding even as we journey toward them.