Dr. Robert Moore

Dr. Robert Moore was the first person I met in seminary who told me to pray.

 

That fact may sound strange, depending on your perspective on ministers. Chicago Theological Seminary is the school where I was trained to be a pastor, and every day I spent there was filled with conversation and learning about God, the spiritual life, scripture, and church history and praxis. We talked from early in the morning ‘til late at night about how people can best relate to one another in the sacred spaces of worship, counseling and community life.

 

I was taught to think theologically, to deconstruct the religious language I received from others, and how to articulate what I believe the truth of God really is. I was taught to listen to diverse perspectives, and especially seek the voices of the abused and dispossessed as I applied Christian stories and ethics to contemporary social issues and causes.  I learned to examine my own background and biases, and to perceive how my social location shapes my thinking about Jesus and the Gospel. I was trained to lead small groups and congregations in prayer, and I was advised, “When you pray with others, here are the cultural realities and linguistic nuances that you’ll want to pay attention to, so as to both honor people’s differences and celebrate our shared humanity.”

 

I learned all about prayer and it was all good. But I am here to tell you – you can learn lots and lots about prayer, or marathon running, or financial planning or cake baking. It doesn’t mean you’ve actually done it.
Near the end of my first semester in seminary, after I’d finished a class project that I worked on harder than any academic assignment I’d ever had in my life, my professor, Dr. Moore, told me, “Good job. You seem to have a decent understanding of this material. Now all you have to do is pray, and be fierce!”

 

He was the first, not the last, to tell me to pray. I had other professors and pastors and friends encourage me in my prayer life over my seminary years. But I was shocked by Dr. Moore’s words when I first received them, because I had to acknowledge that I had not been praying, really at all.

 

I had not been allowing my training as a faith leader to shape my own faith. I wasn’t seeking God in my own life, even though I longed to lead others to God. In the seasons that followed Dr. Moore’s comment, I came to understand that I needed to develop my own fundamental, personal spiritual orientation.   And I did. By the time I finished seminary, I had not only gained skills for religious leadership, preaching, teaching and counseling, I had become stronger and more devoted in my personal faith in God and relationship with Jesus than ever before, and my faith has grown stronger still in the years since then.

 

Now I’m eager to encourage others in the way I was encouraged by Dr. Moore, that first semester. Offer your own life to God, first and foremost. Pray on your own time, for and from your own soul, regardless of how much you lead others in prayer. Grow your own spirit, develop your own faith, know your own story and your own identity as God’s beloved, even as you nurture the spiritual naming and journeys of other people. Pray and be fierce!

 

 

 

Okay, this blog post is about to take a big turn. Sorry if this is abrupt.

 

 

 

 

This week, I am mourning the death of Dr. Moore, who died last Saturday by murder-suicide. He shot his spouse and himself. It is just so perfectly dreadful, and it’s real. Although I was never personal friends with Dr. Moore, and didn’t know his wife, and I haven’t spoken with him in over five years, this is one of the most traumatic losses I’ve ever personally experienced. He was my teacher, and someone who shaped me as an aspirational Christian peacemaker. But his life ended in this most horrifying way.

 

This awful truth has been a brutal blow to my entire seminary community. Although there is a some quite-limited information about a possible mental health crisis or some kind of dementia developing since Dr. Moore’s recent retirement, there is really no way for the thousands of his students, friends and colleagues who loved and admired him, to make any real sense of what has happened.

 

Wait. This is real? This is not real. Him? Him.

 

We cannot believe it. It is fully and resolutely unbelievable. And yet it is true.

 

It hurts like nothing else I’ve ever felt, and there are many parts to the hurt. The pain of losing someone I cared about is strong, but familiar – manageable. The knowledge that all people, even the best among us, are capable of the worst actions imaginable, is truly terrifying.

 

Another dimension to the hurt is a fundamental sense of instability – this was a person whom I trusted, whom I asked fundamental questions about meaning and direction in life. I learned from him about how to live well, serve honorably, and contribute to the transformation of society toward greater justice and mercy. If, when all is said and done, he is a person who did this thing, what does that mean for everything I learned from him?   Are the truths I received from him not true, after all?

 

It’s been a hard few days.

 

I’ve been thinking about Dr. Moore almost constantly since I heard the news. In the time I knew him, we had many conversations, and he said many things to me that I thought were profound and helped shape my path as a future pastor.   But I have thought about his instruction to pray, that time in my first semester, over and over, more than anything else he ever said to me. I keep coming back to it.

 

I think the reason is that Dr. Moore wanted me, and all of his students, to know and embrace the source of our life. God is many things – the ground of our being, our shelter and strength, our rescuer and redeemer, our shepherd and guide, our light in darkness.   We pray because God is God, and because we need God.

 

Faith is essentially the practice of making sure God is the only God in our lives, but truly contending with God as the source of life is somewhat terrifying work, and who are we kidding, God as Ultimate Reality is a mostly incomprehensible proposition. It’s much easier, and therefore ubiquitous, for people to mistakenly invest temporal things, like money or power or status or acclaim or tribe, with the standing of God. Whether we say it or not, we treat these things as the source of our life and meaning and salvation.

 

Because, at least some of the time, we trust in the wrong things, our faith is at best corrupted, at worst demonic.

 

And when we love someone dearly – a parent, a spouse, a friend, a teacher – if he or she has provided a critical part of our formation, this person’s wisdom and grace, as well as their mistakes and hurtfulness, can be imbued with a superhuman power in our lives.

 

The failures of the people who loom largest in our lives seem like God-sized failures.

 

That’s why it hurts so bad to know my teacher died this way. And it’s also why the necessity of prayer is probably the most important thing Dr. Moore taught me. Because seeking God as the only God orders everything else in life.

 

Relationships can be sacred and holy, but people are not God.

 

I asked a friend, ‘How could he do this?’ and she said, “I don’t know, but he did. He was not immune to all the trouble we know is real. He was not beyond the forces of violence that we’ve all been working against. None of us is.”

 

What she said is true. And so I pray.

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16 thoughts on “Dr. Robert Moore

  1. Rob,
    This is so helpful. It has been hard to pray these last couple days. All I have been doing is just crying and asking God to forgive Robert and bless Margaret. And then I come to me and my wife and my prayer there has been that God might just pick us up and carry us until we can walk again. Which we will. But it will be a more lonely journey without Dr. Moore and dear Margaret. Bless you brother. –Jason

  2. Rob,
    This is so helpful. It has been hard to pray these last couple days. All I have been doing is just crying and asking God to forgive Robert and bless Margaret. And then I come to me and my wife and my prayer there has been that God might just pick us up and carry us until we can walk on our own. And we will be better some day, hopefully soon. But the journey will be a lot more lonely without Robert and Margaret. Bless you brother. –Jason

  3. Rob,
    Thank you for putting words to what I’ve been wrestling with since hearing this sad, sad news.

  4. I’ll pray too. I’ll pray for Dr. Moore and for you.

    Off topic, but reading this really makes me miss your ministry. It’s a blessing to be able to get it even virtually!

  5. Thanks Rob, you reminded me of so many of the things he taught. It is a terrible act, we will really never know what triggered the event, but I do know is that God has placed us in situations and places beyond our imagination and we are changed forever. Peace!

  6. Thank you for your words. I never met Dr. Moore but I have been listening to him and learning from him for several years now. I am heartbroken and didn’t realize how much he meant to me.

  7. Rob, I thank you. I, too, was a student of Dr. Robert Moore. I shared your reflection with my 5,000 Facebook friend ‘congregation,’ with these words:

    No matter your religious history, I urge you to read this intense personal reflection.

    Dr. Robert Moore was also my teacher at Chicago Theological Seminary at the University of Chicago. He taught Jungian psychology to budding pastoral counselors like myself. He taught me about Jungian archetypes and the power of myth. His teaching influences my writing to this day. He was one of my ‘favorite’ professors. He was a favorite of many students.

    Dr. Robert Moore, died last Saturday by murder-suicide. He shot his spouse and himself.

    Rob Leveridge writes, “It hurts like nothing else I’ve ever felt, and there are many parts to the hurt. The pain of losing someone I cared about is strong, but familiar – manageable. The knowledge that all people, even the best among us, are capable of the worst actions imaginable, is truly terrifying.”

    “Because, at least some of the time, we trust in the wrong things, our faith is at best corrupted, at worst demonic.”

    “Relationships can be sacred and holy, but people are not God.

    “I asked a friend, ‘How could he do this?’ and she said, “I don’t know, but he did. He was not immune to all the trouble we know is real. He was not beyond the forces of violence that we’ve all been working against. None of us is.”

    “What she said is true. And so I pray.”

  8. Thanks for your wonderful blog on Dr. Robert Moore. He was a new professor when I started seminary in 1983 I think.  Tragic,we never know.  Meanwhile we grop in the darkness and listen for the songs of the faith coming from we know not  where.

  9. Dear Rob,

    To your point, “Are the truths I received from him not true, after all?”, I offer my own journey through that fog…

    Due to his final acts, I feared that my admiration for Dr. Moore and his work would diminish me in the eyes of other people. Maybe they’ll worry I have been infected by the thinking of a madman. But who are these other people? Why should I care what they think? Thankfully these were fleeting thoughts, because they were completely narcissistic.

    I do not question the value of what I learned from Dr. Moore based on his tragic end. Were I to do that I would be abdicating my responsibility for discernment. And I would be negatively judging a man whose circumstances were beyond my comprehension. And for what? To hide my insecurity. It is my responsibility to listen to my heart and know the truth when I see it. It is no one’s responsibility to be infallible.

    Nonetheless, I occasionally speculate on what really happened and why he did it. I am pretty sure that were I to have more facts, good could come from it. Perhaps it would increase my compassion for him, dissolve my fear for his soul, and eliminate my anger at him for sending the wrong message to all those whom he had dedicated his career.

    That being said, no knowledge can reduce my love for him and the sadness I feel over the gruesome circumstances of his untimely passing. And so I have been patient to learn the facts as they surface, because I should not delay my grieving, which I have found is not entirely sad and grim. Robert’s life and achievements are well worth celebrating.

    And most of all I am thankful for his love and wisdom. Robert was like a father to me – he was my dear confidant, wise mentor, warrior brother and beloved friend. No man has meant more to me.

    I have asked this from my community and now I ask it from you: Please hold Robert and Margaret in light and love. Pray for them. They have crossed death’s threshold, and are now in the liminal space they have prepared for their entire lives. May the love and guidance they so abundantly provided for others now serve the progress of their souls.

    • Thanks, Jim. I came to a similar conclusion as you, when considering the question, “Are the truths he offered, less true?” The truth in everything he taught us, stands – it’s not destroyed by this tragedy.

      Actually, my peers and I discussed that very question in a class I took Robert Moore – we were considering one of the theologian/philosophers we were reading, and the topic of the man’s notorious personal failings came up. So as a class we talked about what it means to celebrate and be shaped by the teachings of a fallible teacher. I chose not to incorporate that story into my blog post above because it felt like it’s own essay, and probably it was too painful of an idea for me to be able to explore a couple days ago when I was writing this thing.

      Even though, like you, I have an undiminished personal appreciation for who Bob was and the vast wisdom he shared with his students and community, I chose to focus more on the pain and dismay that his death has brought about in me, and the way that it forces me to rely on prayer, since all other sources of comfort and assurance will return to dust. The fact that I was encouraged in this spiritual focus by Dr. Moore himself years ago made the whole thing come together for me, and at that point of writing and thinking about this I decided I’d go ahead and publish this piece.

      One thing I did not try to do in this essay was explain who Robert Moore really was. I experienced him to be brilliant and enigmatic, zealous for life and community and discovery – I was somewhat in awe of him, and I didn’t want to ‘get him wrong’ in a blog post that sought to communicate the essence of who he was. The same is true of his work – I don’t believe I’d do justice to his books, scholarship, or programmatic leadership if I tried to describe his contributions to the various worlds of learning in which he operated. So I decided only to share a couple aspects of my own experience being taught by him and processing his death.

      But in the past week, I’ve been richly blessed to read many people on social media writing about Bob, who he was, what he was all about, and anecdotal stories about his personality. Your remarks are a great example. I have LOVED reading these thoughts from people who knew Bob over the course of decades. None of them sums him up, but I recognize the professor I knew in each person’s description, and the combined insights from many, many people are offering a great testament to the man.

      Jim, God bless you. Rob Leveridge

      • Rob,
        Thanks for writing this.

        I last spoke to Robert in January of this year and had been working with him on a weekly basis for the previous 3 years.

        Like so many have already said, and as you articulated in your blog piece here, it is impossible to make sense of how his life ended and is completely out of character from the man I knew.
        Also, as others have shared he had a profound impact on me personally and I grew enormously fond of him .

        Thanks for writing this and allowing others to comment here.
        Bless you.
        John

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