Fate can be decidedly cruel sometimes. Accidental discoveries can be the most painful of all. As my regular readers know, I wrote a book on the Psalms (Weathering the Psalms, Wipf & Stock—on sale now!) while teaching at Nashotah House seminary. I sent the manuscript to Oxford University Press, and it was declined on the basis of one review. Subsequently, I met the reviewer at a conference reception and he is now working on a book proposal for me. Such are the ironies of life. I can let that go with a chuckle of existentialist bonhomie. The twist of fate comes in through helping a colleague with a question about the Psalms. I grabbed the nearest book at work that would help, the newly published Oxford Handbook of the Psalms. I’d glanced through it before, but this time it fell open to the contributor’s page and the words “Nashotah House” fell upon my eye.
During my years at the seminary, I published at least one academic article a year, as well as a book, and I attended and delivered papers at the major professional conference every year. No one ever approached me about contributing to a Handbook, apart from my advisor and friend Nick Wyatt. I labored at building an academic career for 14 years in obscurity. Now, the newly hired replacement (not the faculty member hired to replace me) gets invited to contribute to a major reference work. I do not know the man. He may be a perfectly personable chap. Some of us, however, can work our hardest and never get noticed. It seems as if the world of scholarship is really just a house of cards.
Perhaps in times of schlock and flaw, such as these, I should turn to Ecclesiastes for comfort, rather than Psalms. Yes, the Psalms say some pretty challenging things to God—not as challenging as Job or Jeremiah, but still. Ecclesiastes, however, is the one to calm the intellectual’s soul. There are those who claim that the Bible no longer has any utility in a post-Christian society. Wise Qohelet, I’m sure, might just agree, even as he disagrees. I tried, without benefit of sabbatical, and with additional administrative duties, to make an academic life for myself. I was, in reality, just shuffling the deck with old Solomon. We took turns building layer upon layer, he and I, both knowing that our house, like any built on sand, could never stand. It must be some of that sand in my eyes; otherwise I can’t explain why they are watering so.