I recall the time I first heard the word “merch” used as a verb. I was with some wonderful ladies on the second annual Women’s March, in New York City. We had to leave fairly early to get there from Jersey and as we made our way to the march route, we saw the goods. Vendors had all kinds of things on sale, from the ubiquitous tee-shirt to refrigerator magnets. One of the women in the group said, “I guess you can merch anything.” And so you can. People will buy all kinds of identifying marks. It’s a craze I personally don’t get into. I buy plain clothes, having more of an Amish aesthetic. Still, I was a little surprised to notice that the Society of Biblical Literature is now merching itself.
Now, who can blame a non-profit for trying to score a little on the side? We all know what that’s like. What I find myself most curious about is who would want to advertise that they’re working on a degree that will, in all likelihood, find them on the breadline when it’s all over? I’ve known many who’re proud to be nerds—they’ve got employment to give them creds. Those of us tormented by the meaning of it all, not so much. My decision to go to grad school was accompanied by the blessed assurance that there’d be plenty of opportunities, but there was no merch. Indeed, I was two years into my doctorate before I even found out what the SBL was—the great connector whence came jobs. At least in theory. I found my post at Nashotah House because a friend told me about it. I still have some of their merch.
Knowing what I do now, would I have done it any differently? It’s difficult to say. Who can recall the frame of mind of his younger self with such clarity as to know his choices? Having studied Bible I was curious whence it came—to turn back even further the pages of history. As I sit here in the early morning I have on my last two remaining pieces of Edinburgh merch. My moth-eaten woolen divinity scarf and my blue alma mater sweatshirt. I try hard not to think how close to three decades ago it was. I was so sure I’d find a job with that rare Scottish degree, imprint of John Knox’s breeches still fresh upon my head. Instead the merch of my current employer—a coffee mug—stands before me, reminding me that work alone awaits.