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Remembering James E. Loder... (Princeton Gratitude series)

A lot of 'independent' strands in my life converged yesterday, intertwining and dancing as I know Spirit does. One strand that came up four different times was the life and work of my mentor-advisor, James E. Loder. Reminiscing well would require well over 500 words, but I can at least nod with the nudge of gratitude. He was part of the perfect storm at Princeton Seminary, shaping my love of science, teaching, theology and creative renewal onto a path toward today: full professor, small purpose business owner, circle-way facilitator, rosary-maker. Today I can say I really miss him. I couldn't always say that.

He was a complicated human being.

I was so drawn to him, just as Spirit intended. He had the tools and framework that made sense of all the puzzle pieces of Godde I'd been given up to that point. He was a man I learned from, listened to, then learned with, taught with. Then I had to differentiate from him in order to grow before reconnecting in my own time, so to finish my dissertation. He died, six months after my graduation. He still comes to me in my dreams from time to time. Sometimes it feels like him, himself; other times he's some part of me, speaking to me.

So many paradoxes within him:

  • He wrote on human development largely in human-divine terms, making him a fish out of water within multiple disciplines. Who does that?

  • His writings prioritized intimacy in the Spirit and he was one of the loneliest men I’ve ever known. And I've known a lot of lonely men. Patriarchy isolates them from themselves most, after all.

  • His life is most often refracted through his transforming moment—in which a logic of the Spirit was borne, eventually articulated—but I think he is better understood in the lenses few of us glimpsed, mainly his immediate family: the relationship with his wife, Arlene, and his two daughters.

  • His spiritual mystique was nearly unbreakable in the practical theological department, so it seemed, but he wounded his (doctoral) students deeply with his own hungers, unresolved needs. He didn’t know how to be "differentiated-from," nor to let go, so he would eventually lash out of his grief, sadness, loneliness. He died before he and I reached this part of his cycle, blessed be.

  • He drew father-daughter/son transference to him like flypaper, which is of course why he had such powerful impact upon me. Most Loder students developed a devotion that went beyond respect of a professor. It often had an energetic charge to it—this devotion—which led to idolization of him. Which his best spirit-self would have hated...

As I said, a complicated human being.

Whom I loved. Still love today. It took years for me to work through all this, particularly once I met students he had wounded. I myself refused teaching assistants because I feared unconsciously doing what he had done. (Spirit took care of that, blessedly, when it was time. I love mentoring teaching assistants, and would like to imagine I did it pretty well).

But I miss him, flaws and all.

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