Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Vignettes About The Rethinking Hell 2014 Conference

It’s difficult to process the amount of sheer memory that has stored itself in my mind during this past week. Much of this is recounted now, and I have little doubt that my memory is a bit shaky, like the IRS.

As Greg, Aaron, William and I packed ourselves into a rental van for a 24 hour trip to Texas from southern California, the only things I were concerned about included the following:

Don’t drink a lot because you don’t want to be the guy who has to pull over and water the bushes.

Please please please allow the AC in our car to be awesome.

And, ultimately, don’t let us break down on one of the many hundred mile long isolated stretches of desert.

But beyond that, when the four of us made it to our destination in Houston, Texas, we settled into a rather comfy routine of running around like chickens with our heads cut off. In between registration, setting up books, driving people around and trying to find the time to eat, we more or less figured out everything 

Thursday. Well, mostly. We went through our individual schedules and prayed that Chris Date would make it to Houston on time.

But, by God’s grace, Greg and I collapsed in our respective beds just before early Friday morning. Maybe around 1ish.

Friday was the easy day. Well, should’ve been. I ate a peanut butter sandwich and drank a few things and slept until noon. I spoiled myself until noon when I got up and was shuttled to the Lanier Theological Library again to, well, finish up everything. The entire Rethinking Hell group was there and it was nice to meet and greet amidst the chaos.

Then Chris Date showed up and it became a party.

Well. We shook hands and danced in a circle and plotted to sneak out the first edition of the KJV from the library. Only one of those is true, really.

Then registration happened. In between getting a ten-minute downpour that would’ve embarrassed a Seattle native, a few others and I were responsible for registering 140 people. That was intense. I worked in a movie theater for three years and I was the only idiot they brought in one Christmas morning to work the entire concession stand. If you are one of the few people to don’t go see a movie Christmas morning, it’s like being the only literate one in a room full of screaming children.

But registration went fine and I got to shake hands with a few people before the chaos diminished and William and I just sat in the dining hall while John Stackhouse gave his much-lauded plenary. Despite spending 24 hours in the same car as William, we still found time to talk about awesome things, sometimes related to theology.

Then some stuff happened and we all went about finishing up everything. Greg Stump was the Best from the West, working everything out rather nicely. So major props to him. I don’t remember much from Friday night because, well, everyone was dog-tired and everything became a game of shuffle along until you manage to crash back into your bed at the hotel.

Then 7am rolled around faster than it had any right to do so, and we were all back at the Lanier library at 8 for the entire day of breakouts, conversation, lunches, more breakouts, Glenn People’s plenary and the much-anticipated panel of 5 ‘hellions.’

As a side note, apparently I unconsciously adopted both a Texas accent and an Australian accent. I said Pee-tah instead of, well, Peter. I say this to let Peter Grice know that it wasn’t intentional; its just he has a really cool accent.

Since I’ve been asked several times about how my paper went, and I can’t say much beyond this: I enjoyed presenting it, and I got some decent pushback from Tom Talbott. I don’t remember the singular details, and being somewhat tentative in speaking off the cuff, but overall it was helpful. I enjoyed talking to a few folks afterword, which allowed me to clarify.

Amazingly, I got no pushback about my view of human anthropology. I was highly prepared to respond to almost any question, but none of the responses included that. So maybe my view isn’t that crazy.

Then Daniel, William, Joey, Glenn, Wes, Ralph Bowles and I went to legit Tex Mex. Quite good. I got myself a fruity drink and a disapproving raised eyebrow from our awesome waiter when I ordered that. It was good, my Sopa de Tortilla.

So the rest of the day was spent listening to Ronnie Demler’s great presentation, and meandering around the inner light that is the Lanier library. I saw books on ancient Greek, fragments of manuscripts and early editions of Bibles. Very cool. Mark Lanier is a cool cat.

Saturday climaxed in several ways. First of firsts, Glenn Peoples delivered his plenary, which was great. Insightful, provocative and entertaining. It ended with some brief Q&A and then we were off to dinner.

I don’t remember dinner, so someone from RH will refresh my mind on that. Oh wait. Wes suggested Whataburger. So I had that. Decent. Above average.

Myself and Dr. John Stackhouse
Then it was the final evening, the showdown. J. Lanier Burns (DTS), Shawn Bawulski (LLC), and Thomas Talbott (Willamette) all showed up to dialogue with Edward Fudge and John Stackhouse. It was over 90 minutes of back and forth, and it was really cool. There were some rough patches, as is to be expected when there are as many passionate people in one spot, but overall the dialogue was cordial and friendly, with things getting downright giddy in some instances (I think Dr. Burns and Edward were chuckling to themselves several times).

And Saturday ended with the tear down of all the materials and the stumble back to the hotel lobby for some … drinks. The entire RH team crowded around a small table, sipping and laughing and about ready to collapse.

Then it came to an end with a sermon by Dr. Stackhouse at Edward’s church, and our 24-hour drive back to southern California.

It was wonderful to finally meet my online friends and colleagues, and to meet some new ones. Speaking to Tom Talbott and getting his signature was pretty cool. Sharing drinks with the rest of the guys was great. The standout moments for me with often when it was just myself and another sitting down and chatting.

Whether it was with Peter Grice in the gym at Edward’s church.

Whether it was with Daniel Sinclair in the dining hall.

Whether it was with everyone else. It was great and I am so glad to have been there and done that.

Blessings.

--Nick

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