Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reflections on SBL 2008 in Boston


There is a first for everything, the saying goes. I just attended my first annual Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) meeting in Boston--a city known for tea, lobster, baked beans, and chowder. I had only enough money for an expensive cup of chowder in a plush mall one evening. I left hungry. Whereas the regional Pacific Northwest meetings of the SBL occur every spring and attract a smaller, intimate crowd, the annual meeting remains unprecedented by attracting thousands of scholars world-wide every year the weekend before Thanksgiving. A highlight for me was attending a 2 1/2 hour session Sunday morning to hear a panel of experts reflect on Michael Fishbane's new book, Sacred Attunement. What made this particular session more memorable from the others? One word: Fishbane. After four scholars offered their remarks, some quite critical of Fishbane's lack of reference to Heschel and other profound Jewish thinkers, Fishbane took his stand. Without notes, without ego, without arrogant defense, Fishbane shared from his authentic, true self. "You have to start somewhere," he asserted. "In the book, I start where I am." Fishbane explained that he does not want to be ventriloquist who simply repeats what others have to say. What is most memorable was Fishbane's way of being. He spoke with conviction, power, and passion for Judaism, his family, and life. I felt compelled to go up to him afterwards to seek answers to some of my unanswerable questions: What is the meaning of life? What should I be doing with my life? He was surrounded by a great cloud of admirers. I left out a side door and disappeared in the crowd. Later, I saw him. It was as though I had spotted Santa Claus for the first time, compelled to share what I wanted for Christmas. I went up to Fishbane. I thanked him. As he shook my hand, he asked my name. In that moment, meaning return to my life.