This is about my 10th or 11th SBL. I remember those early years of being starstruck when I saw Luke Timothy Johnson in the flesh, or when I got a few minutes in line at a cafe to talk to D. Moody Smith. The first papers I presented – how much I prepared and rehearsed. There are so many wonderful things about SBL. It has always been a highlight of my year.
I am trying now, settling into a decade of SBL-ing, to find ways to strengthen the experience. So, here are my bits of advice for everyone, but especially those who have been around for a while, like myself.
#1: You’re not too cool for anyone, so don’t be a jerk. Don’t make SBL about showing off your status, or kissing up to someone. Remember what it was like to be blown off by someone (as they look for someone else more important to talk to). Don’t do it. If someone wants to meet with me or chat with me, I try to find time in my schedule. When someone comes to me and introduces themselves, I don’t wait to find out how important they are – I try to take a minute and get to know them.
#2: Remember the disenfranchised. I have lived in a majority white culture all my life, it’s all I know, and I am not upset about it, but that does not mean that I am always “comfortable.” In recent years I have been trying harder and harder to make sure I am noticing everyone around me. Be friendly and inviting.
#3: Come alongside an underdog. I was (am?) an underdog. I am not the smartest guy in the room – I work hard, but, confession time, I bombed the GRE (twice). Several people at SBL took a chance on me and believed in me, they sent opportunities my way that I didn’t deserve, but they believed I could rise to the occasion. I am trying to do that for others now. Come alongside an underdog at SBL.
#4: Encourage the women in your sphere. Not in a condescending way, but open your eyes to the sexist world of academia. Nobody wants to be sexist, but many of us are. It’s an old boy’s club. It’s changing, thank God it is changing. I work with many incredible women – academics and editors. But we have a long way to go. Invite them into collaborative projects. Invite them to your social outings. Some women academics receive little or weak support even from their institutions. Let’s do things differently.
#5: Treat exhibitor staff, hotel staff, and SBL staff with utmost respect. Our tendency is to think everyone is there for ME. My books, my papers, my response, my interview. Yeah, I’m sure they go home at night and all they want to do is talk about how amazing you are. (cue eyeroll). Take a minute every once in a while and be friendly to staff people. Surprise, surprise, many of them work excruciatingly long hours and have to be away from family for many, many days to serve you. Kindness helps. (Is it obvious I used to be one of these exhibitors?)
#6: Don’t diss anyone behind their back. I am guilty of this. I have done this. I know better, and I want to raise the bar. When gossip comes up, change the subject.
#7: Be yourself. (Your best self.) Don’t put on a mask at SBL. If you are evangelical, don’t pretend you are not. If you don’t like to drink, don’t get pressured into it. If you feel led to pray for someone with you in public, just do it. Don’t let “SBL” stifle you – we are SBL. We are human. Go for it.