Monthly Archives: November 2013

Today is a Nice Day to be in Baltimore (at SBL)

It’s Monday but rather than wishing I was somewhere else, I am somewhere else. Baltimore is a pretty city with a nice harbour and some great historical buildings, although it has been a little chilly for my liking the last couple of days! But I’m not here to see the sights, so this isn’t really a travel post.


I’m in Baltimore for the annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature. It’s hard to describe, but try to imagine 10,000 people who are all studying or teaching the Bible, theology, or religion coming together for four days to share and discuss new ideas and happenings. Kind of like Comic-Con for Bible nerds if that means anything to you. This is my second time round after Chicago last year and I’m really enjoying it again. It’s pretty amazing to find yourself in a place with a whole bunch of other people who love the things that you love, and to talk to just a small sampling of them.

So what am I loving about it?

There are hundreds of different sessions and thousands of papers presented. I’ve been to presentations where I learned new ways of thinking that stimulate my own ideas; sessions where I wasn’t even familiar with all the words the speaker was using (even though they were actually in English); and even the very occasional session where I was thinking, “I actually already knew that!” As well as those in my areas of research interest, I’ve also attended other sessions on interesting and thought provoking topics I’ve never thought about before.

There’s also a book stall of immense proportions with significant discounts on US prices (so a lot less than Australian prices), so I may have bought a book or twelve.


There’s also a bit of “theological celebrity spotting” going on. Yesterday at the book stall an older man and I went to pick up the same book at the same time. As we both laugh and apologise, I sneak a look at his name tag. Yep, that’s Erhard Gerstenberger, German Old Testament theologian whose commentary on Psalms I just finished reading a couple of weeks ago. Last night I went to hear NT Wright speak on his new book (his sixty-somethingth) Paul and the Faithfulness of God. It was kind of like getting the cliffs notes version so now I don’t feel the pressure to read the whole thing (sshh, don’t tell Stephen Spence I said that :)) Tomorrow I have the opportunity to have brief conversations about my PhD with both Tremper Longman and Walter Brueggemann. My only fear is that I’ll be too “starstruck” to form coherent sentences, which would make it rather difficult to sound like a good academic!

NT Wright giving an overview of his new book
NT Wright giving an overview of his new book

Yes, I’m name-dropping, but I’m guessing they are not names which mean much to most people. The exciting thing is meeting the people who are doing what you want to do, those who have trod the path you hope to tread, who have made a significant contribution to an area of study and vocation you dream of making some kind of small difference to as well. I’m particularly inspired by those who are thinking and writing at this scholarly level but maintain their passion for making sure their work serves the local church.

So, what can I share that I have learned here?

My tip to any of you is this: if you work, study, or have a personal interest in a particular area and there is a big gathering of people who have that same interest, I’d encourage you to aim to get along to it at least once. It’s a really wonderful thing to find yourself caught up in realising that you are part of something much bigger than yourself, to be affirmed that you are not alone in doing what you are doing (or in caring about what you care about), and to be inspired and equipped to keep going and do more!

And if you don’t know how to find other people who love what you love, or you don’t yet know what that thing you really love to do is, make it a priority to find out! Find something that you really love to do, that you feel like you were created to do, and pursue it with all your heart!

I’m not exactly sure where this time of biblical research is taking me, and I remain passionate about both theological teaching and also local church ministry so who knows how that will all come together … but I’m enjoying the journey and trusting that it is as significant as the destination yet to be revealed. To paraphrase one of the speakers I heard yesterday, “God is as interested in our wrestling to get to where we are going as He is in that we get there.”

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything

The title of this post is the name of a book by David Dark which someone gave me a few years ago. It’s quite a good book but I like the title even more so. Because I love asking questions. Not because I’m constantly seeking to challenge or undermine others, but because it helps me think about things in new ways. Questions open possibilities and ideas. Questions make me reconsider my assumptions. Questions invite people to join me in exploring and wondering and imagining.

One of the guys I used to work with would sometimes get frustrated when he felt like all I had were questions without any answers. And I can understand that frustration. I don’t want to come across as a Negative Nellie or a Doubting Debbie! I know I need to keep learning the difference between questions which are critical in the sense of expressing disapproval and questions which are critiquing in the sense of analysing options and possibilities. I want to ask questions that inspire rather than judge.

But I also know that too often Christians can seem to present themselves as people who have all the answers, as if when you choose to follow Jesus suddenly life gets all wrapped in a nice big bow and everything becomes simple. That hasn’t been my experience. For me part of the journey of discipleship has been learning to ask more and better questions.

Jesus asked questions a lot. Seriously, have a look at the Gospels. He asked questions all the time! It was a key way He taught, it was usually the way He engaged with people who came to Him with questions, and it was often the way He got His disciples to imagine what life in the kingdom of God might look like.

I find some of the best questions I ask are the ones I ask of myself. Questions like: What am I afraid of? What do I really want? What am I really trying to say? What is stopping me from doing what I know is right? What if I believed I could make a difference here? Why do I think that way?

And other times the really good questions are the ones God asks me. Who do you say that I am? (Luke 9:20)  What do you want me to do for you? (Matt 20:32) Will you really lay down your life for me? (John 13:38) Those are the ones I’m really trying to work on answering well.

Today Would Be A Nice Day To Be In Sydney

I think there will always be a sense in which Sydney will be my city. I was born there and grew up in its suburbs and outskirts. Despite today’s forecast for uncharacteristically gloomy November weather, if I could hang out there today (ideally with my sister and niece!) instead of the other things I have to do at home, that would make for a wonderful Monday!

The Iconic Harbour Bridge
The Iconic Harbour Bridge

I still feel a strange kind of pride when filling in a form asking for place of birth that I get to write the name of a place so iconic and universally known. I walked across the Harbour Bridge on its 50th birthday and saw Allan Border play his last game at the SCG. I performed in primary school choirs at the Opera House and went to the Royal Easter Show every year. We watched the Tall Ships come into the Harbour from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair on the bicentennial. My 13th birthday party was at Luna Park and while our house was being built we lived for six wonderful weeks in a hotel on the Corso at Manly. I’ve spent a number of New Years Eves in the city for the fireworks, and I was at The Rocks the night Juan Antonio Samaranch announced that the 2000 Olympics would be held in “Syd-a-ney.”

Cricket at the SCG
Cricket at the SCG

I sometimes find it hard to believe that I have lived in a completely different part of the country for nearly two decades. I love Adelaide, but Sydney will always have a pull for me. Whether it is flying in over the harbour or driving up the Hume Highway, whenever I go back to Sydney there is a sense of coming home.

NYE Fireworks on the Bridge with the Cahill Expressway in the way
NYE Fireworks on the Bridge with the Cahill Expressway in the way

What is it about Sydney? It’s not a city I particularly wish to live in these days – the traffic alone would drive me crazy (although I do love that I still know how to drive from Liverpool to Newcastle without using any toll roads!) But it’s a city I appreciate and enjoy and I can certainly understand why many of my friends choose to make it home.

The view from Jonah's at Whale Beach
The view from Jonah’s at Whale Beach
What do I love about Sydney?

All the usual things that everybody else loves, of course – from Darling Harbour to the Corso at Manly, Taronga Zoo and Circular Quay. I love the northern beaches but am happy to leave Bondi to the real tourists. Living in Adelaide even makes me appreciate City Rail 🙂

St Mary's Cathedral
St Mary’s Cathedral

But I also love many of Sydney’s suburbs because of all the memories they bring back. Driving past the house I grew up in at Frenchs Forest or the unit my grandma lived in at Burwood, the hall where we did Physical Culture competitions at Willoughby or the publishing company where I had my first grown-up job at Lane Cove. Am I the only one who feels that pull just to go past and see old familiar places when I am in the area?

Looking out over the bay from suburban Cronulla
Looking out over the bay from suburban Cronulla
What have I learned from Sydney?

Many, many things, but what stands out today is the power of memories. I’ve learned so much from so many people in Sydney, and going back to those places is a way of re-connecting with my history and some of the experiences that have shaped who I am today. It’s a cliché for a reason, that the place you grew up will always be a part of you. And I wonder if it is all that I love about Sydney that set me down the path of traveling and seeking to appreciate and learn from all the other wonderful places this world has to offer?

The recently turned 40 Sydney Opera House
The recently turned 40 Sydney Opera House