The end of summer is always difficult for me. My vegetable garden shrinks, in size and in its contribution to my physical and emotional well-being. At some point, I’ll have to break down and buy a store-bought tomato with the texture of cardboard and scramble to find fresh rosemary. We won’t roast vegetables or salmon on the grill. And the spirituality of gardening will need to enter its dormant stage until May.
Summer’s end also initiates Winter Dread, an affliction common to transplanted Southerners.
Even though it’s still warm, I know that December and February are coming. It will be dark when I leave for work and dark when I get home. It will be cold, something I truly, truly depise.
This year, summer’s end is even more seismic because it also marks the end of a semester-long sabbatical. I am extremely fortunate to work at a place that still grants faculty occasional sabbaticals to pursue their research. Since January, I’ve been working primarily at home on my own writing. I launched my website, began blogging, and began my Reading the Bible as an Adult project. I’ve worked hard and for long hours, but I’ve been able to do most of it while in sweatpants.
Rejoining a hard-working team of folks committed to engaging students, the church, and the world is a privilege but also daunting. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced the daily press of classes, committee meetings, and institutional crises. I love teaching and am glad to resume classroom interaction, but I remember how much energy it takes to listen deeply to students and colleagues and respond to their needs.
This academic year will bring important work and challenges. Our institution will welcome two new colleagues to the faculty.
We will resume talks about a major curriculum revision. In January, my colleague Anabel Proffitt and I will lead a cross-cultural seminar to Israel and the Occupied Territories (at least I’ll miss one cold month in PA). I’m revamping some classes (Introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and Psalms) and teaching one for the first time (Violence and the Bible). I’ll spend lots of Sundays preaching and teaching in churches and elsewhere.
But I’m committed to taking back to my seminary work the things that I learned while on sabbatical. First, that I not only love to write but need it in my life. Spending time with my own thoughts and projects isn’t something I can leave for “free time.” I shrivel without it. Second, that I see the world differently than I did last December, before I entered the world of social networking and blogging. The world is, well, less compartmentalized than I thought. On Facebook, I’ve watched my students post in rapid succession about a very denominationally-appropriate sermon they just preached and their results on a quiz whose very premise contradicts their own theology. Both somehow fit into their worlds. Through reading my colleagues’ blogs, I’ve found that they also have widely diverse interests. I’ve learned more about what really matters to other scholars through the internet than I ever have at Society of Biblical Literature meetings.
I’m still thinking about what all this means for the church, theological education, teaching, and publishing. Not the technology itself (which is important), but how technology has democratized commentary. You don’t have to be a syndicated columnist to “publish” your take on the Bible, on the church, on anything and everything. In fact, you may find a bigger readership for your blog than in the newspaper. That can be a good thing, but it also raises hard questions about whether all commentary is equally relevant and who determines relevancy. If a Facebook quiz on “Which book of the Bible are you?” links Numbers with the obsessive-compulsive personality, who cares if a biblical scholar thinks that Numbers has gotten a bum rap?
I’ve got plenty more to write about. I just have to make sure that I keep doing it even when summer and sabbatical end.