- A Deploration for Rita Gross (1943–2015)
[Buddhist-Christian Studies carried an appraisal of the scholarly contributions of Rita M. Gross in its 2011 issue (volume 31). The board asked Terry Muck, Rita’s long-term co-editor and friend, to offer a memorial.]
Fellow travelers, professors of disciplines, deep thinkers from all nations, transform and utilize your superpowers to make lamentation and musement.
For death has taken one of us, one of the best of us, Rita Gross, she of the generous mind, pointed voice, and unfathomable spirit.
With golden words remove both sting and delusion from Rita’s long journey; With soothing verbal signposts, guide her to the harbor of new life.
As you join Streng and Abe and Chappell and countless others in the beyond, dear Rita, requiem aeternam, boon companion. Amen.
I heard the news about Rita’s stroke on Sunday, October 25, 2015. I was flying home to Wood Hill, our Wisconsin retreat, from a lecture I had given in California. I was to stay overnight with my sister Brenda in St. Paul before driving home the next day. I immediately realized I could easily drive through Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where Rita lived and was in the hospital. I asked Rita’s good friend, Mary Ellen Strand, if it was okay to visit Rita. She said of course it was okay, and I made plans to arrive between ten thirty and eleven the next morning.
Rita was a very good friend. We had known each other since the founding of the Society for Buddhist Christian Studies in the early 1990s. I served on several committees with her before we became co-editors of the Society’s journal, Buddhist Christian Studies. During our decade long co-editorship, we met at least three times a year to plan and execute issues of the annual publication. We met once at the annual meeting of the Society in November, once in the spring at her home in Eau Claire or at my summer retreat at Wood Hill, and we usually found ourselves together for at least one common scholarly meeting somewhere in the country, where we did some editorial work. We worked well together.
We worked well together in spite of the fact that we were polar opposites in almost every way. Rita was Buddhist; I was Christian. She was socially and theologically [End Page 215] liberal; I was conservative. She knew everyone in the scholarly Buddhist world; my contacts were mostly Christian. But we agreed on the nature of editorial work, helping authors do their best work and resisting the temptation to insist they say what we wanted them to say. We liked and respected one another’s positions and found ourselves able to agree to disagree when differences arose. It was an excellent partnership.
Rita was a model scholar. She was a master at discerning and stating the core question on any issue, insisted on basing her eventual conclusions on facts that she moved heaven and earth to discover, and she was a beautiful, clear writer. Although she was not a polemicist, at least to the degree many in her fields of study were, she had a way of presenting her conclusions and their implications in such a compelling way that it was almost as if she were looking you in the eye and saying, “Really, is there any other way to see this?”
Rita liked most to work in areas of overlap among her primary areas of expertise, Tibetan Buddhism, feminism, and religious diversity. She wrote and edited several books and scores of essays. Among the books my personal favorites are Buddhism After Patriarchy, a feminist critique of traditional Buddhist teaching, and Religious Diversity, a compelling statement on why and how men and women, and members of different religions, could and should work and live together in peace.
Rita was a mainstay in the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies. She was an indispensable part of the core group of scholars who founded the Society, and over the years she held every position of leadership. Our international meetings, held every four years, were organizational nightmares, and no matter what her official leadership position at the...