Realized eschatology, if you’ll pardon my French, is a term that describes the “already/not yet” aspect of the “end of the world.” In other words, some theologians suggest that the eschaton—the end—has elements of both the present and the future in it. The term came back to me yesterday as we returned to our old apartment to take care of things the movers left behind. (And “left behind,” I realize, isn’t really a biblical eschatological concept at all.) Joined by our daughter, I felt a bit resentful of her time being taken from our new home to spend in the old. I felt an almost adulterous desire to leave the old and cleave to the new—hadn’t we already paid, and overpaid, for that apartment many times over? The house, on the other hand, is new (to us) and still requires much attention.
As we organized the remaining items, broke down boxes we didn’t use this time around, and waited for the Got Junk guys to arrive and haul it away, I noticed our daughter gazing wistfully at the empty space that had once had our imprint all over it. It dawned on me that she’d spent her teenage years here—after the Nashotah House debacle, this was the place she’d lived the longest. This empty apartment was, for her, home. I began to feel insensitive about my earlier anxiety to leave. We all live between at least two worlds—our pasts make us who we are in the present. The world of our teenage years is fraught with emotion and memory. The world looked so different at that time, as I sometimes forget.
Moving is one of the most stressful situations human beings encounter. We have a love/hate relationship with our past. To me the apartment represented a place we occupied out of a kind of desperation. Five states to the west, we had to move to New Jersey with little money and tons of boxes—one of them Pandora’s, with hope nestled inside. We told ourselves the apartment was temporary—maybe a year—only until we could buy a house. Twelve months turned into a decade, then more, with each year accreting memories in every crack and corner. Part of us will always be in that apartment, for every place people have lived before is haunted. On our way back to our new home at the end of the day, we were each lost in our thoughts. Perhaps not so much realized eschatology as experienced reality, we’d spent a day in a present that will never fully arrive.
Sects and Violence in the Ancient World is nine years old today. Not that I’m keeping count. Really, I’m not. WordPress sent me a notice, and they ought to know, being the virtual womb whence my thoughts gestate. The original plan for this blog was to take my abiding interest in the religions of antiquity and give them a more public face. My brother-in-law, Neal Stephenson, thought I should do podcasts, because, at the time I spoke incessantly about ancient deities. I can still hold forth about Asherah at great length, but ancient Near Eastern studies is, believe it or not, an evolving field. You need access to a university library, or at least JSTOR, and a whole sabbatical’s worth of time to keep up with it. Even though telecommuting, I’m a nine-to-five guy now, and my research involves mostly reading books.
So Sects and Violence began to evolve. I realized after teaching biblical studies for over a decade-and-a-half that my real interest was in how the Bible was understood in culture. Having a doctorate from a world-class university in the origins of the Good Book certainly should add credibility. My own journey down that pathway began because of interpretations of Scripture that were strongly cultural in origin. I first began reading with Dick and Jane but quickly moved on to Holy Writ. It has shaped my life since before I was ten. It’s only natural I should be curious.
Like most tweens, I discovered sects. Why did so many people believe so many different things? And many of them call themselves Christians. And the Christians I knew said the others weren’t Christian at all. And so the conversations went, excluding others left, right, and center. As someone who wanted answers, this fascinated me. The Bible was the basis for many belief systems of sects everywhere. From Haiti to Ruby Ridge. From New York City to Easter Island. From Tierra del Fuego to Seoul. And not just one Bible, but many scriptures. And these beliefs led to behavior that could be called “strange” were it not so thoroughly pervasive. Scientists and economists say we’ve outlived the need for religion. By far the vast majority of people in the world disagree. I couldn’t have articulated it that way nine years ago, but since losing my teaching platform, I’ve been giving away for free what over four decades of dedicated study—with bona fides, no less!—has revealed. Happy blogday to Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.
Posted in American Religion, Bible, Current Events, Just for Fun, Memoirs, Posts, Religious Violence, Sects
Tagged blogging, Edinburgh University, Neal Stephenson, religion, Sects, violence
To say it was an easy move would be a lie. I write this on a beautiful, cool, clear July morning. Only I can’t even calculate the last time I slept. Not new house syndrome, but that move! Our personal account manager at International Van Lines was supposed to call us between 4 and 6 p.m. on Friday to confirm the time of the move. She would also tell us how much money was needed, in cash, by the movers. In cash? She’d taken my deposit by credit card; why couldn’t the balance be paid that way? She was supposed to call to clarify. I suspect my tone makes it sufficiently clear that she didn’t. I went to bed not knowing if we would be moved or not—I only reread her email after packing the last box (or so I thought) at 7 p.m. The IVL offices were closed.
I awoke at 3:30 to an email saying they would be there between 9 and 11 a.m. And they would be wanting an uncomfortably large amount of cash. My wife went to get it, and three guys and a truck arrived at 9:15. I could see their faces blanche at the walkthrough. They’d been told it would be a ten-hour job. It turned out to be seventeen. Nothing makes you feel a cad quite like being thought a snake-oil salesman. Our bill of lading was just a bit short of reality. Packing the truck wasn’t finished until 9 p.m. Unpacking until 2:30 a.m. Our three guys were joined by two more for the unpacking. Most everything went into the garage because, well, no stairs.
Twice during the day the amount of cash needed was upped by a significant amount. This was one of those “we’re in it now” situations. We paid what was requested. The internet guy was arriving potentially by 8 a.m. this morning. Who can sleep knowing the alarm is set for four hours from now? And our labeling scheme was so arcane that, well, most everything ended up in the garage. The movers themselves? Absolutely fantastic! I’m sure they’ll be talking about this move for months to come.
Looking outside, the yard wants mowing. The internet guy is coming. Who needs sleep when my life of telecommuting begins tomorrow? The good news is it took only half an hour and one trip to the garage to find the coffee filters. I’m looking out at a beautiful, crisp morning. Over an Everest of boxes. But you won’t know any of this until the internet guy gets here. Somehow I sense we just accomplished something quite extraordinary.
So, it’s moving day. Amid all the packing and sorting—outside the regular 9 to 5—I realized that this was the first move I’ve made outside the constraints of academia. Well, maybe not strictly so, but I left Nashotah House in the summer, and I was unemployed when I moved to New Jersey to start in the publishing world, so there was no office work involved. The move without changing a job is a tricky thing. And exhausting.
I didn’t write about the process early on, in case it didn’t happen. Buying a house is an exercise fraught with peril and it can collapse at several junctures over the three-or-so months it takes to finalize things. Then there’s the move itself. Back in January I found myself setting books aside that I thought I might not need again in the next few months. We started hauling boxes down from the attic to pack those books in February and March. We finally made an offer on a house in May, and now, seven months after the process began, we’re ready to move. Or so I tell myself.
Our last move didn’t go exactly as planned. Like Bartleby and Loki, we were moving from Wisconsin to New Jersey, perhaps seeking our destiny. Who knows—maybe undoing the universe? We hired Two Men and a Truck to move us. My brother in New Jersey said he’d meet the truck since it was going to take us a little longer to get there. On arrival day, no truck. We called the company to find that the said Two Men had actually abandoned said Truck in a parking lot in Chicago. Although embarrassed, the big Two Men upstairs made no offer of a discount on the move, even if it cost my brother an extra day of work. We’re hoping for better things this time around.
International Van Lines didn’t call the night before, like they said they would. After a somewhat restless night (should I stay or should I go?) my usual 3 a.m. internal alarm kicked in. An email, like a thief in the middle of the night, told us when to expect the big guys and their vehicle. Moving is kind of like prophecy in that regard. In any case, for those accustomed to early posts, there will be a delay tomorrow since the internet people are finishing the virtual move around 11 a.m. Church time on Sunday. If we pull this move off, I might have to admit there are miracles after all.