The Body Miracle: Remembering Professor James S. Miller

Tribute delivered at memorial service for Professor James S. Miller, Oct. 17, 2011, at Clinton Frame Mennonite Church

By Goshen College President James E. Brenneman

One does not teach Anatomy and Physiology or Pathophysiology for 31 years, without being profoundly in love with the miracle that is the human body. Professor James S. Miller loved the human body’s innate, almost mystical, ability to decode beauty, experience joy, bear pain, and generate healing.

Dr. Jim understood, better than most of us, Scripture’s claim that: “If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part experiences joy, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corin. 12:26).

Linda, Lisa, Leanne, Robert and to all the rest of Jim’s family and friends, on behalf of all of us at Goshen College, we not only suffer with you in your loss, we extend to you our deepest heartfelt sympathies, our ceaseless prayers and abiding support. We, along with you, will lose parts of Jim in bits and pieces for a long, long time to come. The body is broken. Broken indeed.

We also rejoice with you in the human, loving, thoughtful, fallible, quirky, gift that was Jim’s person. We are thankful that in major research facilities and makeshift medical hovels, at countless bedsides, in operating rooms and drop in clinics all across the globe and right across the street, thousands are being tended to, cared for, blessed and will be so for years to come by those taught by Dr. Jim Miller, “DJMills” as his students so affectionately called him. Jim was passionately driven to keeping Goshen College among the top colleges and universities in the nation for getting pre-med students into medical school. He wanted our future nurses, our budding research scientists and physicians to be among the best in the world, as they are.

His students have recalled for us that Dr. Jim was never quite as excited as when he detected an anomaly in an animal being dissected or turning his concern for a student athlete’s injured arm into a mini-lesson on pathophysiology or using the X-rays of his own injured back as a teaching illustration. Even the body broken was a lesson in passionate learning for Professor Miller. Perhaps, if this were one of his labs, today, he might ask us, “What might we learn about healing and hope, from the hurting body we are, even now, today, as remember and honor him in death?

So much more could be said about Professor Jim. His jokes about pigs (he wrote a dissection manual for fetal pigs), anatomy, medicine. “What do you do with your pig when he loses his tail? Take him to a ‘re-tail’ store. “ “Bada-bing, bada-boom.” His endless puns like: “Artificial knees and elbows were developed during a joint project.” He tried. Graphing even his humor quotient from student course evaluations.

Other students remember his faithful attendance at their athletic events, his open-door policy when a student needed help, his attention to detail, his hard, but fair, tests. That momentary pause of his hand catching a thought, as he was about to write on the board.

Faculty members remember Jim as someone who would go the second mile for his students, giving retakes on exams, coming back to the office on Sunday’s to help a student prepare for the MCATS. He was someone to emulate in his availability and number of student scholars he mentored. His interest in Roman history, playing basketball, creating spreadsheets for just about everything. He reached out to new faculty time and time again to make them feel at home at GC.

Jim was (as is Linda) a Goshen High School band parent. So am I. If any of you know us band parents, we’re a bit obsessed. Jim was very proud of you, Leanne and Robert. One day at band practice, I was standing by Jim watching the band perform. He wanted me to know each of you. It was fairly easy pointing out, you, Leanne, since you have a major and beautiful flute solo in the piece and manage to stand still while playing it. As for Robert, since you are constantly on the move, like the rest of the band, we had a harder time finding you, a clarinetist on the run. But that didn’t stop Jim, he knew exactly where you would be at a certain moment in the sequence of twists and turns and hurried me over to the place where you would march by in front of us, to point you out. GHS Crimson Band, you, too are part of the broken body. But your presence here today is medicine for our souls. Thank you.

At Goshen College, we claim Christ as the center of our lives, our vocations, our studies, our values, our futures. Christ is the model of our teaching and learning. We are, along with you, part of what Scripture calls “the body of Christ.” Like the human body, such a body with its spiritual DNA is a miracle to behold, able to decode beauty, experience joy, bear pain, and generate healing.

On behalf of all of us at Goshen College, I pray that each one of us — touched as we were by the life of Professor Jim — will discover here on earth what he now knows in heaven. Discover that wondrous new and living body that is now his forever and ever. So, as Leanne has taught us with such poise on the performance field, “Here’s to you, Jim.”

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