Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Farewell, Sweet SBL

1. In a couple hours, I'll wake up and begin the drive back to home and family, leaving behind the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), my bitter sweet old friend. SBL is a friend because it is the language I dream in. It is the field in which I have put my 10,000 hours.

Students, church friends, even colleagues might look at some of my thoughts as strange. Well, they might here too, at least at some of my ideas. But some of my strange ideas at home would get knowing looks here as a common framework. What might take some time to persuade at home is sometimes a starting assumption here.

2. Yet my friend SBL is not all sweet. So just because something is true doesn't necessarily make it helpful or useful. Some scholars here would fight over how to pronounce an omicron and might think the heavens are falling, not only if their course is not taught their way, but if it is not required of all students.

I don't think it's necessarily hard to grow or at least maintain a seminary or educational institution right now in theory. The biggest obstacle, I suspect, is the stubborn idealism of faculty and a resistance to change. You not only have brilliant minds here. You have stubborn, brilliant minds. The ones with political skills too are downright scary.

Humanity is humanity. Some just fight with different weapons than others.

3. And still there is the cynic here. Year after year of pointless paper and pointless new book weigh on the soul that remembers. Some, maybe most, never remember. Each year they buy another couple hundred dollars worth of books. They make their proposals. They start their groups.

The deconstructionist still lurks at the bar, coming mainly to scoff at the mindless crowd, like the old men in the balcony on the Muppets. Vanity of vanity, all is vanity. I saw a first presentation last night, a young scholar in a doctoral program stretching her wings for the first time. Well presented. Ignorance is bliss. The world doesn't care about the nuances of obscure passages, but it will still move you toward a job and tenure, nonetheless.

4. As long as we all continue to play the game, the game legitimates itself. As long as there are still jobs requiring biblical experts and experts on religion, SBL will live on. And some of us do actually believe there is a Reality behind all this.

I have not lost hope in meaning and truth. But perhaps I am the odd one who realizes that the "it" book or session this year isn't really that important in the vast scheme of things. God looks on the heart, not on the head. But the smallest of ideas is a sacrifice to God, a small participation in the grandeur he has created.

Farewell, my bitter sweet SBL. You've re-inspired me to read yet again. You've re-inspired me to play yet again. An hour and yet I shall awake to the real world, that cares little of thee.

1 comment:

Jonathan H said...

This is good. Thank you for reframing what we do.