It’s Monday but rather than wishing I was somewhere else, I am somewhere else. Baltimore is a pretty city with a nice harbour and some great historical buildings, although it has been a little chilly for my liking the last couple of days! But I’m not here to see the sights, so this isn’t really a travel post.
I’m in Baltimore for the annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature. It’s hard to describe, but try to imagine 10,000 people who are all studying or teaching the Bible, theology, or religion coming together for four days to share and discuss new ideas and happenings. Kind of like Comic-Con for Bible nerds if that means anything to you. This is my second time round after Chicago last year and I’m really enjoying it again. It’s pretty amazing to find yourself in a place with a whole bunch of other people who love the things that you love, and to talk to just a small sampling of them.
So what am I loving about it?
There are hundreds of different sessions and thousands of papers presented. I’ve been to presentations where I learned new ways of thinking that stimulate my own ideas; sessions where I wasn’t even familiar with all the words the speaker was using (even though they were actually in English); and even the very occasional session where I was thinking, “I actually already knew that!” As well as those in my areas of research interest, I’ve also attended other sessions on interesting and thought provoking topics I’ve never thought about before.
There’s also a book stall of immense proportions with significant discounts on US prices (so a lot less than Australian prices), so I may have bought a book or twelve.
There’s also a bit of “theological celebrity spotting” going on. Yesterday at the book stall an older man and I went to pick up the same book at the same time. As we both laugh and apologise, I sneak a look at his name tag. Yep, that’s Erhard Gerstenberger, German Old Testament theologian whose commentary on Psalms I just finished reading a couple of weeks ago. Last night I went to hear NT Wright speak on his new book (his sixty-somethingth) Paul and the Faithfulness of God. It was kind of like getting the cliffs notes version so now I don’t feel the pressure to read the whole thing (sshh, don’t tell Stephen Spence I said that :)) Tomorrow I have the opportunity to have brief conversations about my PhD with both Tremper Longman and Walter Brueggemann. My only fear is that I’ll be too “starstruck” to form coherent sentences, which would make it rather difficult to sound like a good academic!
Yes, I’m name-dropping, but I’m guessing they are not names which mean much to most people. The exciting thing is meeting the people who are doing what you want to do, those who have trod the path you hope to tread, who have made a significant contribution to an area of study and vocation you dream of making some kind of small difference to as well. I’m particularly inspired by those who are thinking and writing at this scholarly level but maintain their passion for making sure their work serves the local church.
So, what can I share that I have learned here?
My tip to any of you is this: if you work, study, or have a personal interest in a particular area and there is a big gathering of people who have that same interest, I’d encourage you to aim to get along to it at least once. It’s a really wonderful thing to find yourself caught up in realising that you are part of something much bigger than yourself, to be affirmed that you are not alone in doing what you are doing (or in caring about what you care about), and to be inspired and equipped to keep going and do more!
And if you don’t know how to find other people who love what you love, or you don’t yet know what that thing you really love to do is, make it a priority to find out! Find something that you really love to do, that you feel like you were created to do, and pursue it with all your heart!
I’m not exactly sure where this time of biblical research is taking me, and I remain passionate about both theological teaching and also local church ministry so who knows how that will all come together … but I’m enjoying the journey and trusting that it is as significant as the destination yet to be revealed. To paraphrase one of the speakers I heard yesterday, “God is as interested in our wrestling to get to where we are going as He is in that we get there.”