For those of you who don’t live, eat, and breathe academic religious studies, it’s my duty to point out that the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) annual meeting begins this week. For those of us in the biz it’s like the sun holding still at Makkedah as we try to prepare for our various roles. This year the conference is in warm and sunny Denver, so be sure to dress in layers. The meeting was held in Denver many years ago now, and I remember very little of it other than it being the year my final published paper from my Nashotah House days was read. Or started to be.
I don’t know whether it was the altitude or the time of year, but I wasn’t feeling well the last time we met in Denver. Although it may not show on this blog, I’m really into geology and the city has a great mineral collection in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I went out to look at the collection the morning of my paper and had the great embarrassment of being sick while in the museum. I went back to my hotel for a nap and when it was time to read my paper I had to excuse myself because running my eyes across the lines of text made me nauseous. Concerned-looking philologists didn’t know what to do as I sat through the session with my head between my knees. That’s how I remember Denver.
Perhaps this year will offer redemption. You see, it’s very different attending the conference as the representative of a press instead of an institution. Your time is completely booked. People want to discuss their book ideas with you. For a few short days of the year you’re one of the popular guys. But for me, there are colleagues from every stage of my career on hand. Not too many people from Nashotah House come, although there are more now than there were when I was about the only faculty member who went. I see those I knew from Oshkosh and Rutgers, Gorgias and Routledge. Those I knew as friends before we became professional colleagues. They’re not after me to publish their books, and sometimes that’s all it takes to make three days of popularity really count. Later today I’m off to Denver and I won’t have time to see the sparkling minerals this time around, but hopefully I’ll remember it more fondly when its over.
Posted in American Religion, Bible, Current Events, Higher Education, Memoirs, Posts, Travel
Tagged AAR/SBL, American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature, annual meeting, Denver, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, geology
Like most people I have a cell phone. If I use it to take a picture, I can send that photo any number of places with a tap, swipe, and tap. It works that way with scanned documents as well. Using a hand-held phone, I can scan important papers, convert them to PDFs, and send them via email, text, “AirDrop” (whatever that is), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—you name it. Except fax. That I cannot do. The other day a company wanted me to send them a document by fax. Within seconds I had scanned it with my phone and was ready to send it, but instead experienced electronic constipation. The company had no email; it had to come by fax.
Now, like most reasonably modern people, we have no fax machine at home. We still have some in the office in New York, but they are clunky, noisy, and seldom actually work. The technology to receive documents has improved beyond the photostatic smear that facsimiles represent. I worked for a company where the warehouse insisted on orders by fax. You’d fax them the order and wait for the phone to ring. They couldn’t read the fax and you had to tell them what it said. Well, this particular company I was dealing with wanted a fax. I downloaded two or three “free” fax apps. They suspiciously wanted my credit card info. Besides, if you send more than one page they wanted at least ten bucks for a “package” deal. I had to send a three-page document. I checked to see if my laptop could do it. The manufacturer’s website said it could, but the menu option it told me about didn’t appear. Who insists on faxes any more?
This is the dilemma of mixed technologies. It’s like those movies where the streets of some exotic city are filled with rickshaws, cars, bicycles, and pedestrians. The fax, in this analogy, is the pedestrian. My mother doesn’t have email, let alone the capability to text (or fax). Ours is a telephone relationship. Yet in my hand I hold a device that can send this document anywhere in the world with a tap, swipe, and tap. I recall my first trip to Jerusalem where hand-drawn carts, cars, and yes, camels, shared the streets. This was in the days before the internet. To contact home even by telephone was cumbersome and costly. Yet somehow we survived. I’d arranged the trip utilizing a travel agency and funded it by a letter-writing campaign. The Ektachrome slides I took are now a pain to look at because technology has so improved our lives. Unless, of course, you need to send a fax. Delivery by camel can at least be arranged via the internet.
Posted in Current Events, Just for Fun, Posts, Science, Travel
Tagged Ektachrome, email, fax, Jerusalem, Luddite, technology, text, travel agency
Timing has never been my strong suit. As soon as I stopped my daily commute to New York City, the Morgan Library and Museum opened a display titled “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders.” To appreciate the irony of this fully, you need to realize my office was just across the street from the Morgan Library, and the daily visits would’ve provided a good opportunity for a lunch-time break with my beloved monsters. Instead I was spending the time moving further west and unpacking. Still, displays like this are a tacit form of validation. Those of us who admit, as adults, that we like monsters huddle under a cloud of suspicion. Monsters are a matter for kids—like dinosaurs and fairies—not something on which an upwardly mobile adult spends his time. We’ll take whatever validation we can get.
Perhaps we’ve been too hasty to dismiss our monsters. Even the Bible, after all, has them. They help us cope in a chaotic and uncertain world. A world of hurricanes and Trump. A world lacking compassion and sense. Monsters have always been symbols of the borderlands. Creatures that cross boundaries and that shouldn’t exist but somehow do nevertheless. Science has helped us understand our world, but in our desire to grow up enough to use Occam’s razor, we find that it shaves a little too close. Besides, what can be more unnatural than shaving? When we lose our ability to believe in monsters, we lose a piece of our ability to cope with an unpredictable world. Monsters have their practical uses indeed.
If the world were more predictable, I would still be teaching instead of editing. Or I’d still be living in an apartment rather than a house. Moving is chaos embodied. Like monsters, it’s best left to the young. It’s just like this world for a monster display to open just across the street right when you’ve moved out of town. I should expect no less in a cosmos marked by uncertainty. Medieval Monsters isn’t the only museum display of the weird and wonderful. Monsters have a way of showing up again once you think they’re safely gone. Family and friends share with me their visits to other monster exhibits at other museums. They may wonder at my fascination with them—an adult with a sober doctorate in the field of history of religions, biblical studies, ancient Near Eastern religions, whatever. It’s kind of a monster in its own right, on display here daily. If you happen to miss it, don’t worry. It’ll remain lurking in its own corner of the internet.
Posted in Bible, Classical Mythology, Current Events, Just for Fun, Monsters, Posts, Travel
Tagged aliens, Medieval Monsters, Morgan Library and Museum, New York City, Occam's razor, Terrors, Wonders
At various points of my career I’ve applied for museum curator positions. Since those who actually land those jobs have degrees in museum studies, I’ve never gotten as far as an interview. Still, I like to think I’d be good at it. I spend time in museums and I’ve been told I have an okay eye for design. And I recently read that museums are educational institutions. That makes sense since people tend to be visual learners. (This is something I took into account in my classes as well, illustrating lectures to make a point. The traditional academic feels that pictures are somehow “soft” learning as opposed to the harsh realities of text and word-based instruction, but I beg to differ.) We see things and they stick with us.
On a visit to the New York Historical Society museum I once looked at their somewhat abbreviated sculpture collection. This isn’t the Met, after all. One of the tricks I’ve learned about museum displays is that some curators place subtle humor in their framing of objects. For example, my gaze was drawn to a figure of a pilgrim. A stern-looking fellow, he’s captured in full stride, massive Bible tucked under his arm, determined frown on his face. This is a man trying to create Heaven on earth, dour though it may be. Taking a step back, my camera found a smile in this image. On either side of this angry Christian were two naked women: one was apparently Artemis with her bow, the other perhaps a Muse. The lines of the display draw attention to this juxtaposition. There’s some humor here, intentional or not.
This also takes me back to yesterday’s post about Heaven. Perceptions of what it is differ. There’s a mindset like the pilgrim that sees a life of suffering being rewarded in the hereafter with endless bliss. I do have to wonder whether too much hardship down here might not make one forget how to enjoy oneself. It’s difficult to picture a Puritan in rapture. It’s as if the journey—the hard road—is the real source of enjoyment here. Each of us, I suppose, has her or his own view of Heaven. Mine’s kind of like a library with all the time in the world without end to read. Others, I suspect, would find paradise as a garden. Yet others would see Heaven as a kind of museum, but it would be one where laughing out loud was okay, for the Curator definitely has a sense of humor.
Posted in American Religion, Art, Higher Education, Posts, Sects, Travel
Tagged Artemis, Heaven, Muses, museums, New York City, New York Historical Society Museum, Pilgrims