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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]


In memory of James Holloway

By Samuel Torvend '73, Assistant Professor, Department of Religion

James Holloway
Dr. James Holloway, seated before one of the many organs he played during his brilliant career. (COURTESY OF THE HOLLOWAY FAMILY)
I never grow weary of the natural beauty in which the university campus rests. We work among towering firs, ancient forests, and expansive lawns marked by diverse foliage. Not long ago, after taking a walk around the campus, a friend of mine suggested that faculty and students must be easily distracted in class by what she called “this enchanted garden.” The night of her visit we sat in the amphitheater outside of the Mary Baker Russell Music Center and listened to a jazz combo welcome the rising moon and distant stars against the azure field of the western sky. Such is our garden.

Yet snakes seem to appear in most gardens: some benign, others quite deadly. I imagine that it will be difficult to walk across the campus—to meander from the Russell amphitheater toward Eastvold—without remembering the sight of Jim Holloway’s body covered by a police tarp. As a professor of European religious history, I know that some Christians consider the practice of honoring martyrs and saints an unfortunate development within Christianity, a practice best set aside by a faith more reasonable if not biblical. So, within a few hours of Jim’s death, I was surprised to see an ever-expanding circle of burning candles, flowers, messages, and crosses marking the place of his death. A “martyr’s circle” so to speak, surrounded by people kneeling, singing, praying, whispering, and holding each other in this time of peril.

Indeed, who could have imagined on the morning of May 17, as Norwegian students sang their national anthem that we would end the day weeping as hundreds of us sang ‘Beautiful Savior’ outside Olson Auditorium?

Earlier in the week, Jim and I met to discuss the preparations he was making for worship at the Southwestern Washington Synod Assembly. Jim was never at a loss for words—enchanting, scholarly, deliriously funny words.

At one point, he told a terribly bawdy story and then, as I was still laughing, began to expound on the ‘axiomatic principles and fundamental strategies’ that must be observed in the celebration of any public ritual. With such apparent ease, he could tell a joke and then deliver a serious commentary on just about anything. For instance, he was not happy with the choice of a white gospel hymn selected for singing at the assembly. “Sam, this old hound dog of a hymn can be played like this,” he laughed as he banged out an aggressive marching rendition of the tune. “Or,” he continued mildly, “we can transform it into a lyrical elegy like this,” his fingers gliding slowly over the keys, elongating the rhythm into a sophisticated art song.

You see, one rhythm, one truth, or ‘one way’ was never sufficient for Jimmy Dale. Indeed, he knew too well the claustrophobia of fundamentalism that surrounded his early life in the South, a constriction left behind—he willingly confessed— by becoming a scholar and a Lutheran. Perhaps this is why it is so difficult to think of his real absence when what we long for is his enchanting and complex presence. Quite simply, he belonged among us at this Lutheran university. He embraced a faith enlivened and questioned by the scholarly pursuit of wisdom. He promoted rigorous and disciplined learning at the service of faith. Not one without the other. You see, Jim wasn’t a scholar one moment and a Lutheran the next. He was both at the same time, these two ‘rhythms,’ informing and guiding the complexities and orientations of his life.

Yes, his family—so dear to many at the university— mourns the death of a beloved spouse and father. The churches of the Northwest have lost a visionary musician and mentor. His diverse array of friends will no longer hear his terribly funny jokes plucked from the pathos of southern life. But we in this university have lost that rarest of creatures: a colleague in whom the deep resonance of faith and learning was heard in keys both major and minor.

At university chapel on May 18, the day after Jim’s death, we thousands sang an old song which seemed, suddenly, freshly, new: “Time, like an ever-rolling stream,/soon bears us all away;/ we fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.”

Yes, dear friend, you are gone. Yet nothing of you and your life among us and all our lives together in this troubled garden has been lost to the One who brought you to us. For in memory, there is hope.

Pacific Lutheran University Scene
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