Just before Thanksgiving I was in Denver, eavesdropping on 10,000 religious scholars at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion. It was a great chance to connect to a good friend, learn some things, shop for academic books (40 percent off!) and see a beautiful city.
I'm still thinking about those five days and some memories still are making me smile:
In a relentless shifting sea of well-worn brown oxfords, one male scholar was walking around in blue glitter ankle boots.
I heard two scholarly presentations that connected the Black Panther movie to biblical themes, one describing the film as an “empathy generating machine.”
In every restaurant, coffee shop or market, I overheard conversations about religion and scripture. When was the last time that had ever happened to me?
"If they want to know what I think about I Peter, they can read my book.”
"You find it all through the writings of the Desert Fathers.”
"To be an effective missionary in Madagascar, you have to speak French and Malagasy.”
I had no trouble topping 10,000 steps as I walked around downtown Denver during my free time. I hadn't had time to do any research on the city, so I just walked different directions and meandered through the city. One evening, I turned a corner and was enchanted with Larimar Square, dressed for the holidays (above).
And, finally, one evening I was reading through the next day’s offerings and ran across another familiar name (A lot of these names are familiar, people whose work I’ve read or interviewed for news stories). This particular scholar and I grew up in the same small northern Idaho town. We'd spoken once on the phone for a story I was writing -- I don't remember if I had the nerve to remind her then that we had known each other. But now it felt like I had nothing to lose.
“Are you Professor Brooten?” I asked. “I’m Nancy Haught. Our mothers were friends.” There wasn't time to share much more than my mother's name and her love of "opera night," when she and Mrs. Brooten and friends would listen to a recorded opera and indulge in dessert. That gathering meant a lot to my mom, who I suspect often wished she lived in a bigger city. And it meant a lot to me, fifty years later, to share a memory of our mothers with another woman who grew up in my hometown and went on to do great things.
This is a small world and an empathy generating machine.