I first met Tom Oden when I entered Drew University as a graduate student. The year was 1987. I walked into the Great Hall, a beautiful, imposing structure in the Oxford style. Sheets of paper had been posted on the walls of the Hall, each headed by the name of a particular professor. New graduate students were anxiously and eagerly perusing each posting, wondering which professor would be guiding their studies in the years to come. I came to a sheet labeled “Thomas C. Oden,” glanced down a list of six or seven students, and there was my name.

I remember my first appointment with Tom as my academic advisor. I tracked down his office in Wesley Hall, knocked on the door, and heard a voice call, “Come on in.” A narrow hallway faced me, lined with shelves of books, an entrance way I would come to know well over the next four years. I peered down the hallway but couldn’t see Tom. His desk was at the end of the hallway, tucked around the corner.  When I turned the bend, there was Tom, sitting at his desk. He was surrounded by stacks of books, scattered sheets of paper, and his omnipresent index cards, each covered with scribblings. I don’t think he ever threw one away.

He smiled as he saw me. “Chris, how ya doing?” We chatted for a while, mostly small-talk, and then discussed my upcoming seminars for the fall. If memory serves me correctly, at least one class would be with Tom. I think it was on John Wesley, for Oden was a well-known Wesley scholar. If I was to study with Tom I would be studying Wesley and, I soon learned, the church fathers.

What I remember most about this first meeting, though, is simply Tom’s kindness. He was genuinely interested in my life. He wanted to know about my family. How long had I been married? What was my wife’s name? Did we have children? Where was I living? Other questions followed. What was my history as a student and as a Christian? What were some of my favorite books? What were my interests for my studies and for the future?

Tom surprised me by asking if I would like to be his teaching assistant. I think I surprised him when I declined his kind invitation. I explained that I wanted to get my feet wet as a Ph.D. student before I made other commitments. That seemed fine with him; little did we know that we would be working together for the next 29 years.

I have shared with you my grief over Tom’s death. And that is only right. I long to hear one more “How ya doing?” But such is not to be. What I can do, though, is to remember. In the initial stages of grief, the remembering is hard, fearful, tiring, even remorseful. “If only I had called more often. If only I had known, he would be leaving so soon. If only …”

In time, though, the fierce, demanding, ever-present grief begins to subside. Such is happening to me. And a different kind of grief is settling in. Should I even call it grief? It is a remembering, a recalling, a bringing to mind, a welcoming into the present a life well-lived.

As I do so a smile will appear, a chuckle quietly emerges, and yes, occasionally a tightening of my throat and a dampening of my eyes. For this is a remembering housed in thankfulness, a peaceful, restful, joyful remembrance. I find I am inviting Tom back into my life in a different way from when he was tangibly with me at Drew or in Oklahoma City. “How ya doing, Tom?” I ask. And from a place nearer than I might ever think possible, I sense him saying, “I’m doing just fine.”

Now Underway: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? First, choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

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