"A good teacher is a determined person."
For John Cobb's 97th birthday, we asked some of the people he has inspired to say a few words in honor of his special day.
John Cobb for me was first the ideal professor and dissertation advisor. Later, he became the ideal faculty colleague and senior co-director of the Center for Process Studies. If I had gone to Yale or PSR as a student, as I had originally planned, I have no idea what would have become of me—nothing worthwhile I suspect.
Our society is facing many challenges, one of which is a lack of wise elders who model virtue and convey deep insight while also remaining humble and encouraging of younger generations. John Cobb, Jr. is a shining example of what is missing. I first met and began collaborating with him in 2014. Already deeply appreciative of his written work, I immediately fell in love with the man. Though I am 60 years his junior, it became clear during our first meeting that if I wanted to take up his call to action, I would need to find a way to match his preternatural energy level. His enthusiasm for transformative ideas and commitment to being of service to humanity and the wider Earth community continue to be an inspiration to me and many others.
I enrolled at Stanford in 1955 as an economics major. Took a few economics courses. Found them useless. And switched to psychology. In 1989, I read Herman Daly and John Cobb, For the Common Good, the first useful economics book I ever read. I learned soon after that John Cobb, a philosopher of religion whose love of life was never subverted by the economist’s love of money, was the secret ingredient. Now 84, I look up to John on his 97th birthday as both my wise elder, and my inspiration for aging.
Years ago, I was in New York and struck up a street-side conversation with someone in a way that you can easily do in that city. For some reason, our chat moved in the direction of process thought and the guy told me that when he finally understood what process thought was really saying, he had to take six weeks off work to absorb the event-based shock. I have no idea who he was and we never were in further touch but I've always remembered the walk-and-talk and our point of connection, as process thought in general and John Cobb in particular have had just the same seismic effect on me. I had John as a professor for a single class in 1981 and had to re-imagine my whole self as a result. No one has so consciously shaped my life and thought. I will forever be in his debt for having so lovingly nurtured me along his own adventure of ideas.
Eugene Shirley, Pando Populus
I have become a student of John’s since joining the process community in John’s living room. Process was one philosophy I simply rejected as an undergraduate. However, the opportunity to sit and have conversations with John and this group of thinkers/scholars has been an interesting and welcomed opportunity. While my personal philosophical position has not changed in terms of God’s nature, rI have gotten to know John Cobb the human being and honest thinker.
I have learned few of things in this short period. One is the idea that Compassion is of a nature that is more restorative than the notion of Justice in Restorative “Justice” Practices. John made this point eloquently at PWR in Salt Lake City. Secondly, I have found Dr. Cobb to live life with an authentic humility. It is seen in the relationships he has developed over the years. Finally, I have been impressed by John’s ability to speak deeply on any topic without notes. I’m amazed. Through all of this I have learned that one can grow gracefully into one’s role as Sr. Elder and be productive in one’s contribution to society and culture.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHN!
I first met John Cobb by stumbling on to Process Thought fortuitously and finding his writings, models of clarity, humility, and welcome. Delighted to find a soul mate of conviction and thought, I wrote a paper articulating my own take on Process, and in a moment of aspiration, sent it to John. Imagine, he gets a manila envelope from some rabbi he’s never met or heard of. Many theologians simply never responded. But John? He picked up the phone and invited this stranger, this rabbi, to spend a day at his home in Claremont. When we met, he shared his responses to my paper, asked me about my life, and then insisted I stay for dinner. John’s goodness is as great as his intellect, and that is saying quite a lot! Because of his character and his brilliance, he has drawn some of the worlds kindest people around as his students, colleagues, and partners. And he welcomed this Jew into their midst. John Cobb is a shining light in my life, as he is for so many. And his ideas have shined a light, created a path, where before there was just darkness and stumbling. I’ve told John in private that he is my Rebbe. I’m proud now that you know that too. He’s probably yours as well.
Rabbi Dr. Bradley Shavit Artson
They say it’s best to never meet your heroes. I’m glad to say that this adage doesn’t apply to John B. Cobb, Jr. I first met John, so to speak, in a book. As a graduate student learning about process thought and religious pluralism, I was amazed by his wisdom. He inspired me to listen deeply, to keep an open mind, and to explore big questions with curiosity and humility. Upon actually meeting John on my first visit to Claremont, I asked for his autograph in my copy of Christ in a Pluralistic Age. I’m not sure who was more embarrassed, me or John. It has been the privilege of my life to work side-by-side with my hero; to participate in the continuation of his legacy at the Center for Process Studies, and to partner together toward the creation of an ecological civilization. John is brilliant. But what I have found more inspiring than his ideas is his lifestyle. His kindness and compassion, his humility and minimalism, his collaborative spirit and genuine support of those around him. John dreams big and he inspires me to dream big too. No doubt I am a better person today because I know John Cobb.
Wm. Andrew Schwartz
John your birthday is a gift to us all, as we get not only to let ourselves comprehend—not merely prehend—the meaning of your life in our lives. And such a great plurality of lives we are, entwined in ways that would never have happened, not nearly, apart from you. Of course you don’t want praise, you never were about yourself. But you do want to know that the process collective will persist with creativity and faith on the path of that not yet impossible common good, that ecociv, that commonwealth of God. Our relation to you makes persistence probable. Your visionary ideas have seeded themselves, spread and grown in an Earth-embracing multitude. The sunyata, the humble boldness, of this “you” that we celebrate has cleared the way for our myriad styles, media, networks of actualization. In your forcefield, sometimes in your name, always in your spirit, we won’t give up, no matter what. We will keep weaving the Cobb-web of our local relations, our planetary influences, our improbable materializations.
Whether anyone gets a chance to read all of your books, though, that is another matter! Sending joy.
I love John Cobb. I first met him on the page, carrying questions about evil, the Incarnation, religious pluralism, and my discontents with materialism. I first met him in the flesh as a student through Process Summer institute. Afterward, I managed to talk him into joining Marjorie Suchocki for a lecture series at Wake Forest University where I was a student. After a week of personal interaction and encouragement, I realized how the beauty of Cobb's religious vision radiated through his being. When I first moved to LA for the Ph.D. program, he and Jean hosted my family multiple times, making these relocated Southerners feel welcome. What's wild about my experience is that it wasn't rare! A fellow student and Orthodox Priest once told me, "of course, Dr. Cobb is technically a heretic theologically, but he bears the divine image faithfully." As one who is grateful for the heresy, I concur entirely on the affirmation of John's person. Today I am a proud member of the John Cobb fan club, though Catherine Keller insists there is a significant waitlist on becoming its President. Without the presence of John Cobb in my life, on the page, and in person, I don't think I could give an account of who I am today. I am confident that the witness of John has and will continue to inspire my life as a disciple of the Galilean vision.
There are only a few people of my acquaintance who have embodied both the epitome of kindness and intelligence: John B Cobb, Jr. is one of those few. Complementing these traits are John’s inclusiveness, openness, and vision, which have allowed him to be one of the leading creators and advocates for the kinds of transformations that will be necessary to save our civilization and planet. The first time I really spoke with John was at a conference at Esalen that I helped organize. Characteristically, when I mentioned over dinner that I had dreamed of a center to investigate new ways of thinking about the world, and its future, John without hesitation invited me to join in the work already going on at Claremont. My relationship with John has evolved from mentor, to work partner, to friend; but he has always been my teacher. This has been one of the great blessings of my life.
John B. Cobb Jr. taught me how to love beyond belief. The lesson plan wasn’t listed in the syllabi for the many courses I took with him beginning in 1982 as a doctoral student in theology at Claremont Graduate School. Rather, his very way of teaching and caring for his students combined with his grace-filled integrity riveted my mind and captured my heart. He has been a blessing in my life for four decades. And our correspondence has a healing power and spiritual energy that serves as mana for my soul.
I repeatedly watch John practice what Jesus preached in Matthew 5:41: Whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. John has taken the extra steps so often that a grateful throng, millions strong, now walk with him. He gracefully carries the burdens of others, often affirming some of these burdens as his own. As he wrote in Grace & Responsibility: A Wesleyan Theology for Today: “I participated in the guilt of Southern whites for our collective crimes against blacks. I participate in the crimes of the United States in its support of repressive regimes in Latin America. I participate in the guilt of Christians for our vilification of the Jews. I participate in the guilt of the human species for what it has done to other species. When I suffer as a result of the evils in question, there is justice in that suffering. . . . Until I am conscientized I do not feel guilty for them. But when I become aware of the evil, I recognize that I have been objectively guilty even when I knew no better. I am likely to feel that I could and should have known better, but my objective guilt is not limited to my subjective refusal to see what I could have seen.”
John’s modesty still astonishes me. He once told me he had never paid more than $15 for a jacket. His one dress suit was a gift from one of his sons who claimed he had bought the wrong size for himself and asked John if he would take it off his hands.
There is a graceful presence about John that goes unnoticed because it is so quietly remarkable. You don’t see it; you feel it when he laughs; when his eyes twinkle; and when he gently asks questions that topple dense arguments and dubious speculations.
Yes, he is a master soul. And yes, I love him. His presence in my life is an amazing grace. His presence in the world is an amazing grace. His presence lives in all of us who know and love him.
Thank you, John.
And truly happy birthday.
It’s very common for people to want to make a positive difference in the world, but most of us accept that whatever difference we might make it will probably be quite limited in scale. It’s far less common to want to change the world; to have the vision, ambition, courage, and perseverance to not only have an impact within one’s closest circles of influence, but to also genuinely affect the lives of thousands and perhaps even millions of people all over the planet. John Cobb is indeed one of those rare persons who doesn’t just desire to save our common home, he has the audacity to think that his efforts can actually play some role in bringing it about. This seeming hope against hope is driven by a clear vision of how the world works, our place within it, and the temporality of things. He thinks and speaks and acts with a perspective that is both planetary and personal at once. His is consumed by an awareness of interwoven fabric of the cosmos, the community, and the individual; that complex ways that each is interdependent on the other.
I’ve had the good fortune of working very closely with John for the past several years, and one of the things that never ceases to amaze me is his ceaseless drive to reach further and do more—to expand the horizon of his influence. Not to receive accolades, not to gain wealth, and not to achieve fame, but to contribute to the common good, to build a new kind of civilization, brick by brick by brick. So while the sunset of life for many is a time for recreation and relaxation, those are completely unthinkable and undoable for John. What he does think about, virtually non-stop, is the fact that our time on this planet will soon come to an end if we don’t radically change our modes of thought, patterns of behavior, and forms of interaction. Nothing matters more to him than the long-term well-being of the world, and he refuses to leave the virtually-impossible work of transforming it to anyone else. So even though he’s fully aware that his sun will soon set, or, perhaps better, because he’s so self-aware of his own mortality, as long as he has the capacity to do something, anything, however small, he cannot stop.
May we all be fortunate enough to pursue such passions. Happy birthday, John.