For a good bit of last week I was in Vancouver, attending the Congress on the Social Sciences and Humanities, a yearly meeting of academics and folk interested in the things interesting academics. I look forward to this, and am able to attend most years. Although the event draws in thousands of professors, researchers, and activists, most people connect to a smaller organization. I belong to the Canadian Theological Society, and so am happy to meet old friends and new at CTS’s meeting. There are always great papers given by established and young scholars in a supportive and collaborative atmosphere. The networking opportunity is always appreciated, and the learning opportunities rich.
Most years I attend a few sessions by other groups. This year I heard a lecture on re-interpreting the book of Samuel at the Craigie Lecture, sponsored by the Canadian Society for Biblical Studies, a session on early church authors at the Canadian Society for Patristic Studies, wherein a colleague of mine gave a great paper, and a jointly hosted panel on Indigenous issues, featuring the formidable Lee Maracle.
Most years I spend quite a bit of time in the book store, but for some reason this didn’t happen so much this year. It might be, in part, because of the beautiful setting of the University of British Colombia. I spent a good bit of time wandering about, and made it down to the ocean a couple of times, and into the renown Museum of Anthropology, which had some stellar exhibits of totem poles, and also some work by Bill Reid (see below). It was breath-takingly beautiful.
I spend a good bit of my life going to conferences. Years ago, when I first started attending conferences, I felt anxious to hear all the right papers, to meet the right people, and to get my money’s worth. Things have changed. I have come to rely on serendipity much more. Also, I plan this activity, but listen hard for that still small voice that says drop your plans and check out that event instead. I usually try to capture something of the culture of the location of the event, realizing that academic work that is done without attention to context just no longer much motivates me. And I work hard now to balance meeting new people and visiting old friends, with spending a bit of time on my own, which allows me to take stock of my work, my life, my passions, etc. I used to want conferences to advance my career. Now I want them to pique my curiosity. And they generally do.
Conferences all have a kind of a soul, in my experience. Each one is different, marked by a kind of “flavour” built upon the interaction, the experiences, the context and so much more. I think I have decided that, for me, this year’s Congress’s flavour was “digression.” Much that happened was tangential to plans, and some of it I am still processing. I was especially moved by my visits to the ocean at sunset, and to ponder how the sliding of the sun below the horizon speaks to the transitory, yet cyclical nature of life, my life. This horizon reminded me that life does not come with certainty, but it is rife with stark beauty. It called me to settle into a trust, and reminded me that faith, which grows out of a call from without, also grows into a call within that is ever reshaping, remaking me.