So I try to illustrate each of my posts. I do this because in the days when the internet was young I often found blogs during image searches. I’ve grown more cautious over the years, regarding copyright. I try to stick to the “fair use doctrine”—and that’s what it’s called, a doctrine—or images I “own.” In the latter case it often means searching WordPress for a picture I’ve posted before. Since nobody has time to name all their photos, I use the assigned DSCN or IMG nomenclatures. There aren’t so many that a search won’t turn up an image in my library. Thing is, WordPress likes to anticipate what I’m looking for. What’s more, it “autocorrects” after I’ve begun scrolling through everything. DSCN becomes “disc” in its addled electronic brain, and IMG becomes “OMG.” Naturally, the image you’re seeking can’t be found until you manually correct autocorrect.
OMG has become very common shorthand these days. Growing up evangelical, there was a debate whether “o my God” was swearing or not. Those who like to hedge their eternal bets argued that this was taking the Lord’s name in vain, thereby breaking one of the big ten. This was to be avoided at all costs. Those with a little less fear (or perhaps a bit more courage) argued that “God” wasn’t “the Lord’s name.” God is a generic word and can refer to any deity, except, of course, for the fact that there is only one God. This led straight back to the conundrum. Exegetes tell us that technically this commandment isn’t about saying the deity’s name, but rather it’s a prohibition against using said name when you don’t intend to do what you say you’ll do. In other words, lying.
It’s truly one of the signs that evangelicalism has evolved that the world’s best known liar is unstintingly supported by this camp. When I was a kid, saying, well, OMG, could get your mouth washed out with soap. Lying could lead to other forms of corporal punishment, such as being, in the biblical parlance, smitten. Now it gets you elected to the highest office in the land and supported by all those very people who won’t spell out OMG, even when they’re busy cutting you off in traffic with their Jesus fishes flashing in the sun. When I was a kid presidents would step down rather than go through the humiliation of being shown a liar in the face of the world. Times have changed. And I have no idea how to illustrate such a post as this. What comes up when I search OMG?
It occurred to me the other day that I will never read all the books on my list.Only in my fifties, it’s not as if I’m knocking at death’s door, but who hasn’t been aware that that gentle rapping might come at any time?Macabre?Maybe.Realistic?Definitely.Perhaps I’m a little old to be thinking about prioritizing, but it’s pretty clear that between work, writing, and the requirements of daily life (taking the car to the shop, scheduling a dentist appointment, trying to find time for a haircut, lawn care), that something’s got to give.Work’s the non-negotiable since without it avoiding starvation (or perhaps getting medical coverage) becomes a full-time job.Best to leave that sleeping dog slumber.Then come the other three Rs: relationships, reading, and writing.After that the time left to divide is pretty petty indeed.
My reading list grows almost daily.Reading is a form of relationship.I’ve recklessly written to writers after finishing their books, convinced that they’d written it to me.I’ve also read material that, when done, makes me regret the time spent.Still, I don’t, I can’t give up.Writing is a form of giving back.The other day an editor who’d accepted one of my fictional stories wrote that she couldn’t stop reading it.It doesn’t matter that the magazine doesn’t pay—I’ve received back already what I’d planned for all along.A kind of relationship with a reader.If WordPress is to be believed, there are some followers on this blog.Most think I write too much, and some, perhaps, too little.Writing, however, like reading, is the formation of relationships.
Like relationships, reading takes time.I carve out a spot for it daily but that doesn’t really make a dent in the growing reading list.I can’t claim that it’s because I’m no longer a professor.Except during the summer I read more now than I did when I was teaching (the professor’s life isn’t what most people think).It is, I believe, that there are so many interesting ideas out there that one person simply doesn’t have time to think them all.Reading and writing are a form of very slow conversation.Of course, with technology the rest of life is speeding up.Things seem now to happen instantly.The world of books is slower, and the pace is far more sane.I may never get through my list of books to read, but at least I have good conversation with those I don’t know, and that’s what really matters.
I beg the indulgence of my regular readers as I post a public service entry today. As I noted a few weeks back, I have filled the allotted free space on WordPress. That meant I had to move to a paid plan and what with all the extra space in here I hired a professional web-designer to help me spruce the place up a bit. This note is to let you know that within the next 24 hours the appearance of this website will change dramatically. Don’t worry, Sects and Violence in the Ancient World will still be part of it. I hope that, if you subscribe, you’ll be willing to move that subscription to the blog page because I’ll continue to use it. The new home page will allow me to attempt to bring my books to the attention of the world while continuing to do whatever it is I do on a daily basis here at the blog. Since you’ve been kind enough to read this far, I figured I could share a little of my thinking about the blog in an exercise in meta-narrative.
First of all, the title. Why do I call the blog “Sects and Violence in the Ancient World”? As much as I’d like to say it was an intentional quasi-anagram involving my initials and other key letters of my full name, that wasn’t actually it. This blog began as a summertime conversation with my extended family while on vacation. I hardly knew what a blog was then (and some would argue I clearly don’t know what one is even now!), but but brother-in-law suggested it as a place to do some podcasting. (I did, until I started working in New York City, which ate up virtually all of my free time during the week.) One of my nieces said “What would you call your blog?” Off the top of my head I said “Sects and Violence,” well, you know the rest. I originally had hopes that my career teaching ancient West Asian religions would continue some day. Indeed, I still post in that area, but my interests have shifted a bit since then. The main theme of the blog has remained religious studies, broadly conceived. I don’t limit myself to that, but I do use it as a personal pole-star.
Writing is its own reward. And besides, WordPress told me I’d run out of space. The next time you check in here, things will probably look a bit different. The blog will still be there, but there will be some other pages and features. Thanks for coming at least part way on the journey with me. And when I run out of space again, we’ll see where it goes from there.
I’m not sure whether to feel insulted or flattered: apparently WordPress has deemed this blog worthy of enough hits to place an advertisement on it. The ad feels like a wart. Probably because religion is deemed an “embarrassing” topic, WordPress has not given much promotion to my persistent efforts; I’ve only reached the coveted features page only once. Yet I may be targeted for an ad. Those who actually read my posts will know that I find commercialization banal and trivializing. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it can even be good. I guess in this context, I’d like to find out why my little blog was singled out for such attention.
Maybe I’m over-thinking this. (Do I hear a gasp of astonishment from my readers?) I believe a blog should be a place of ideas and discussion. Of course, I believe the same thing about religions: they should be open to discussion about what they’re trying to do. They should also give truthful responses to those who inquire. Otherwise it is just false advertising. Perhaps I’m only annoyed since yesterday’s post (where the ad first appeared) was heart-felt and serious, while the ads I saw were light-hearted and funny. It is the price you pay for not owning your own server, I guess. I’ve trespassed into the realm of giving my words to a commercial vendor (not for any profit, I should add), and can I begrudge them their attempt to make a buck by my efforts? Only a writer knows how much of her or himself they put into their words.
I’ve just come into the great throne-room and I wish to say to my readers, “Pay no attention to the ads behind the posts.” I do not put them there. I gain nothing from it but a space where I might express my thoughts without having to pay fees for my own domain name. “Get a publisher,” the cynical might say. What publisher would pay for the observations of a highly trained specialist who commands no attention in the academic world? I guess I should be grateful that WordPress even allows me to scribble on their pages. What do I hope to get out of it? Open minds and free thought, and perhaps a small dose of sanity when approaching religion. I’m not selling anything, so please ignore the ads. Now, after this break for “station identification” I guess I can get back to my idealized world where no money is required for ideas changing heads.