Saturday, November 26, 2011

I wish someone had told me - what's a Guild!?!


University courses and reading have been enjoyable to me.  I very much enjoyed the persons who taught me at several schools - Nazarene schools - where I earned Bachelor and Master's Degrees.  I know my professors were caring individuals and good thinkers.  But I wish I would have been given more information, earlier - about what it means to distinguish the differences between work with the Bible for the Parish or Church community and work with the Bible for the Professional Community or "the Guild."

I earned a Bachelor's Degree and two separate Master's Degrees in Religion/Theology from three separate Nazarene Schools - and then went off to do Ph.D. work.  I had grown to love reading the Bible, discerning its nuance and complexity - and my professors helped shape my thinking.  But none of them gave me discernible, credible and direct insight into what it might mean for me to be "a Scholar."

My pursuit of University degrees came about in large part because I had a higher than average (but not excellent and not genius!) mental aptitude - and because I worked hard and invested time in being a student.  (I am convinced that I learned to read and work "harder" as a student than most students.  If I have had any success, it is because I invest effort - not because I'm "smart.')  I earned scholarships and stipends that encouraged me to continue pursuing degrees, but it wasn't until I had been in Universities for more than 6 years, and I matriculated to the University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology that I came into a real awareness of what it means to "be an academic" and to "enter into the Guild" - for me, the Society of Biblical Literature.

For most of the past 16 or 17  years, I have attended, every year, the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and/or a Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.  I remember distinctly when I attended the Annual meeting in 1999, in Boston.  I recognized at that meeting that I was a "Bible Geek" and I "fit in" with this eclectic and diverse group.  I was sitting in a session committed to the Deuteronomistic History - (Joshua to II Kings - historical books in the Jewish Scripture.)  The focus of the session was on David.  The room was cold. Boston was cold.  And a scholar got up to present his paper. And before starting his presentation, he noted how cold it was in the room.  He said something along this line.  "It's so cold in here I need an Abishag!"  I laughed with the cadre of scholars gathered in the room!  How funny!  Then, I realized - no where else in the world would this joke be *this* funny to this many people - and, in fact, most people would not get the joke!  (Abishag is the young woman given to David in his old age - to lie beside him - to keep his aged, dying body warm.)  The fact that I laughed at the joke, confirmed for me that I really was a "Bible Geek" and I really did enjoy "this" Guild.

Every Fall at the institution where I work, I teach Old Testament Theology to every School of Theology and Ministry Major.  In October, I require every learner to read and engage an article published in a peer-reviewed journal, about the Old Testament.  The assignment is simple enough - read the article you have found, and on 2 page summarize the argument and give a personal reaction.  After the learners complete the assignment, I talk to them about "where" these articles come from - typically the result of some "paper" "presented" somewhere at one of many scholarly conferences or meetings.  I describe the meetings to them and how "the Guild" woks - for various venues, Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, Wesleyan Theological Society - - and the like.  I am very clear with my learners - usually sophomores and juniors - that they may not have enjoyed the scholarly journal article they reviewed - and they do not have to pursue scholarship.  I encourage them that they don't have to pursue graduate work and I let them know they can effectively and capably pastor churches without seeking higher degrees - so long as they covenant to be life-long learners!  But, I also make sure they know - clearly and unequivocally - what "the Guild" is and that "now" is the the time in their lives that they need to begin to think about how they will perform and where they will seek graduate degrees and when they will enter the Guild as student members - so they can live into their best possible futures. 

That all takes place in October.  Then, after another couple of weeks pass, I typically attend the November Annual meeting of the SBL and I remind my learners where I am going and what being a member of "the Guild" entails.

I have many, many good friends in "the Guild" - and I treasure relationships I have from persons of various religious traditions and perspectives, from various schools where I have studied.  (In fact, I wish I would have known to be a better colleague and friend with fellow students in my under-graduate and graduate experiences!)  With one colleague, in particular, though - he and I both being from the Church of the Nazarene - we lament with a smile - that "no one told us" what we needed to do to become "true" Scholars with "pedigreed" degrees.  No one told us that "getting into the right school" and studying "with the right people" can set trajectories in motion that can not be established other ways.

I love what I do and am so very happy in so many ways to be where I am in life - but my career is different than colleagues and friends who teach elsewhere.  As an example, I teach at least 8 courses a year - with hundreds of students, thousands of pages of papers to read and grade.  I might get a one-semester sabbatical every 9 years.  A colleague just a year my senior, pedigreed up differently than I - and he teaches at a school where he gets a year long sabbatical every 4-5 years - and he only teaches a maximum of 3 courses per year, plus has at least one (if not two) Graduate Assistants personally assigned to his courses - giving him much more time to read and write and engage in other ways.

I celebrate where I am at.  In truth, I'm not smart enough to be at the most prestigious schools in the world - but, if I had been guided and mentored differently, my life would have taken on other options that are now not possible to me. 

I  am not lamenting - simply commenting! 

And I comment so that the young persons that I teach now will have the insight of this wisdom - from my lived experience - as they think about how they might elect to pursue Graduate School work . . . and life within The Guild!


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