29 November 2012

Church or the academy?

During a conversation at SBL, a former professor of mine mentioned that we, as Reformed scholars, would eventually have to choose between serving the church or the academy. By that, I assume he means that one cannot please both academia and the church at the same time – whatever we write, one side will be frustrated or disappointed by the choices we make. However, I’m not sure I want to choose between church or the academy, although perhaps I have already unwittingly made my choice.

My choice to skip part of the sessions on Sunday morning to attend church in the neighbourhood illustrates my preference before church above academy. My time living in intentional community has only reaffirmed my desire to not allow my faith to be only something for my head. So I have definitely chosen church.

At the same time, I’m not interested in church that isn’t interested in listening to biblical scholarship. To ignore what’s happening in biblical scholarship is denying my Reformed heritage (this is despite the fact that, as a friend at this conference put it, there are a lot of people focused on a lot of obscure little details that I’m not at all interested in). How can we believe that God rains down good on both the wicked and righteous and then assume that other Christians (and non-Christians) are incapable of having good insights into linguistics, the biblical text, theology and culture?!? And since as a Reformed Christian I believe in God’s sovereignty and capability of working amongst all people in all things, how can I not use the gifts God’s given me to participate in developing that knowledge further? And then sharing that knowledge with the wider body of Christ (the church).

I, being typical of the generation in which I belong, want both. This conference has reminded me that I’m not the only one, which is pretty exciting. Now just to figure out how best to do that well (and finish my dissertation :) )

 Part of this has been cross-posted at brendasbiblioblog.wordpress.com.

28 November 2012

Free food everywhere I go

A friend of mine (Derek B) once accused me of being able to find free food wherever I went. At that time, I thought he was taking things way out of proportion. However, after being in Chicago for 4 days, I'd managed to find free food twice. So perhaps he had a point (the fact that I'm now once again picking up an entire garbage-bag worth of free bread every week only confirms his suspicions).

Ironically enough, none of the food in Chicago (besides a coffee I could have picked up at the women's lounge) was at the SBL conference. It wasn't until Sunday evening that I discovered how many receptions are held at the conference - and how easy/normal it was to crash/attend them - oh! My cheap dutch self bemoans missing out on some free food there!

So where did I find all the free food? At churches. The first was at a church downtown where there were leftovers from a Lutheran women's group that had met that day. There was tons of fruit, which was great for tiding me over until my late dinner. And the second was Thanksgiving dinner provided for and served by members and donors of the church.

As I'm currently not in a financial situation where I could ever claim that I need free food, it set me to thinking about the why and how of receiving food. This time, money had little to do with it. First, it would be a shame to let the leftovers go to waste, especially when we were all hungry. And, secondly, it would have been an insult for me not to accept the hospitality of the church's Thanksgiving meal (and it was good!). It helps me continue to ponder how food is a gift - both what I receive/take and what I can give.

27 November 2012

Advent begins on 27 november

Officially advent begins this coming Sunday - four Sundays before Christmas. But for me, advent begins today - because today is my Mom's birthday. Last year I was in Canada for Advent, visiting family. My mom's illness overshadowed that whole visit - and so my most recent memories of Advent and Christmas are filled with my mom becoming weaker and weaker and eventually passing away. Today, being her birthday, seems an appropriate time to enter into that season again - especially as it was on her birthday last year that we, her family, were finally starting to realize that something was very, very wrong.

As a way to honour Advent, I'm choosing to read the book, Letters to myself on Dying. The author, Mirth Vos, makes me think of my mother. She was a strong Christian from the CRC tradition, happily married with children (and grandchildren, too, I believe), looking forward to retiring and spending more time with her husband and everyone else. Except she was dying of cancer and wouldn't get to watch those she loved grow older. This book are her questions and thoughts and her coming to terms with dying. I expect my mother, if she had known she was dying, would have said a lot of the same things - and so I read this book to remember my mom's love of life and her struggle with having it end, as well as her love for God and for us.

As I wait for Christmas this year, I do it remembering the pain of loss and death. But I also do it in anticipation of the new life and hope that Christmas brings. Christ's coming takes away all pain and death! And Christ's having come to earth at Christmas means that even today there is new life and new hope - something I have already seen this past year as my family has gotten closer and discovered new sides of ourselves (for example, I don't think either my father or I have ever been so involved with babies before - they're a bit more exciting than we had both previously thought :))

26 November 2012

Sunday morning at the Society of Biblical Literature Confference

I've arrived back in Amsterdam and am starting to re-adjust to normal life, which hopefully means catching up not only posting on my dissertation but also blogging some of the events of the last few weeks.. 

The SBL conference was held from Saturday to Tuesday with sessions occurring all day on Sunday. Sunday morning church is a non-negotiable for me, so I had to figure out ahead of time what I'd be doing. The conference's church service at 7.30 a.m. was too early for me to make it, and so I googled and found an Episcopalian/Anglican church closeby, which seemed like the church where I'd feel most comfortable and able to meet God (I've become a bit too liturgical to fully appreciate Baptist or Pentecostal churches). I found the times of the services and got the exact address.

I'm not all that familiar with big cities in the United States, but apparently the conference centre (McCormick Place) is in a bit of a black ghetto. I asked the woman behind the information desk which exit I should use to get to 125 26th Street, and the first thing she asked me was why I wanted to go there!

I was early and bumped into a number of other visitors when I walked in (they were all black, which made me a bit nervous). We were directed to the church hall for the service, and we sat down together and I soon started to feel at home. Turned out that instead of the liturgical service I had expected, the liturgy was a sermon on Thanksgiving and our shared meal (communion) was Thanksgiving dinner. Slightly disappointing, but as the reason I go to church on Sunday morning is to be more able to meet God, I was hoping that I'd still bump into him in this strange setting.

And I did! I found myself in the midst of people striving to do church: to love one's neighbours and do justice. About a quarter of the attendees looked like they didn't have a regular home - they reminded me of the guys who come in to drink coffee at the community. And sitting at my table was someone named DJ - who'd been helped by the church when he was (unfairly) imprisoned (he was re-charged after the charges had been dropped!) for participating in the Nato-5 demonstrations. You can read more of his story online, including how the church reached out to help him: Nato protestor from LA charged and ordered to house arrest.

In the midst of a conference that seemed to focus a lot on my head, it was delightful to spend some time being reminded that my serving God faithfully has also a lot to do with my heart. My time living in the community in Amsterdam has only reaffirmed my desire to not allow my faith to be centered only in my head.

19 November 2012

a serendipitous moment

This afternoon during the SBL conference, I was walking along and saw a scholar I admired (Fischer) ahead of me. I hoped I'd catch up with him to speak to him, but wasn't sure exactly how to do that in a non-pushy way (even though I did truly want to express to him my appreciation for how he expresses himself so intelligently and very humbly at the same time, a combination unfortunately lacking in too many scholars). So when I saw him looking at maps not knowing where he was going, my offer to help became a natural way of starting a conversation.

I did get to express my appreciation of how he does scholarship (I'd like to be more like him when I grow up, to be honest) and he responded with words of faith, clearly linking his love for God with how he studies the biblical text. And then, being the gracious person he is, he asked about my work. And he offered me a slightly older article of his that he was carrying around. The article was on the Psalms - presented at the conference wher I first met Matthijs and whom I married two years ago today. I thanked him and expressed my appreciation for his unexpected anniversary gift.

It is wonderful to be here: I've had lots of chance of thinking about new things and getting new energy to work more on biblical scholarship, for which I'm thankful. But it is strange to celebrate my anniversary so far away from my husband. This serendipitous moment might it slightly less strange and reminded me once again of how much delight I have in being married to Matthijs.

17 November 2012

Finding my place in Chicago (at SBL)

I spent the afternoon attending a seminar on theological interpretation of the Bible. I'd love to do more to help further good biblical interpretation that takes seriously both the confessional nature of the Bible and current critical/academic scholarship on the Bible. Attending this seminar and hearing what others are doing is hopefully a step towards doing more of that.

Before I walked into the Seminar I saw a notice that there was a Taizé service in the church at 6 that evening. Perfect timing, I thought – something to do between the afternoon service and my late dinner plans. And perhaps it would be a nice change from the very intellectually focused afternoon.

It was a strange contrast between the two. The seminar was attended by about a hundred people, almost entirely composed of fairly well-to-do white males. The Taizé seminar was about 10 people, mostly females of which at least one was homeless. The seminar was well organized; the service somewhat haphazard. Yet, the singing in the Taizé service, despite the seminar being full of theologians and pastors, felt significantly better. Furthermore, I was robustly welcomed and thanked for my presence at the service; people were appreciative of me at the seminar, but I wonder how much of that was related to the potential diversity I represented?

I'm not sure what to make of the fact that I felt more immediately at home in the Taizé service than I did in the biblical seminar. Life in Amsterdam has obviously changed me – living in a Christian community and hanging out with homeless people regularly probably does have an effect on a person. Yet, I also long to feel at home and have a voice in doing theological interpretation well: theological interpretation that has consequences for both the homeless and the ones who might be accused of being too impressed by their own thinking.

08 November 2012

On Vacation

Once again I'm in Canada visiting family and friends. This is the official baby visit - I had 4 new babies to meet! Thankfully everything has been going well with them, and it's been delightful to meet all these little people. And Matthijs and I have gotten to see some different places: Toronto downtown, Owen Sound, St. Jacob's markets (today), so that's also been really fun.

Vacation hasn't been so great for the dissertation, though (nor was getting ready for leaving all that great for it), as you can see by the lack of updates on it. However, the end of this trip will hopefully change that, as I'll be going to the Society of Biblical Literature Conference in Chicago. I'm mostly looking forward to that (the thousands of people part is the part I'm not looking forward to), especially as I get to meet others interested in linguistics and the Hebrew language!