A Wonderful First Week in Australia

About a month ago I posted about my upcoming sabbatical visit to Australia.

I’ve now completed two weeks Down Under, in Adelaide (South Australia). I’ve just arrived in Canberra (the national capital), where I’ll spend another two weeks.

In this post I’ll report on the activities of my first week in Adelaide; in my next post I’ll cover the second  week.

I left the USA on Thursday, September 15 and arrived in Adelaide (via Sydney) nearly forty hours later on Saturday, September 17 (Friday just disappeared in the time zone change).

It took me a good three or four days before I felt recovered from travel. I guess you could say I was jet lagged; but I think it was simply the lack of sleep (four hours sleep in a day and a half just wasn’t enough).

Travel on Qantas Airlines

And yet the trip itself (apart from the lack of sleep) was quite wonderful. I had never traveled on Qantas before (Australia’s national airline), but this is now my favorite airline.

Not only is Qantas the largest airline in the world (in terms of number of planes, flights, and destinations), but they had the best service I’ve encountered in years (especially in comparison to the American airline companies I’m used to).

There was a hot meal on every flight, not only on the long haul (fifteen hours) between the US and Australia (there were actually two meals on that flight); there was a hot meal offered even on the flights within the US and within Australia (when’s the last time a US airline served a hot meal on a domestic flight, included in the price of the ticket?). In fact, the meal on both the US leg and the trans-Pacific leg came with a free serving of wine or beer.

We even had a printed menu with our choices.

qantas-menu-2

I was picked up at the Adelaide airport by the Rev’d Canon Dr Matthew Anstey, the principal of St Barnabas College, who was my host for the two weeks. Not only was he a wonderful person, and smart to boot (with a PhD in Hebrew linguistics), it turns out that we both did our PhDs at the Free University of Amsterdam; in fact we defended our dissertations just a year apart. It’s a small world!

My First Few Days in Adelaide

Having arrived in Adelaide on a Saturday afternoon, I got a decent night’s sleep and then went to church (Holy Innocents Anglican Church) with Matthew and his family the next morning. There I heard a thoughtful message by the Rev’d Steve Daughtry about the use of money in the kingdom of God, based on the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13).

That evening I was interviewed on 1079 Life FM by the Rev’d Dr Lynn Arnold about my upcoming activities in Adelaide and my various bookshe had certainly done his homework. But then Lynn Arnold has been the Premier of South Australia (1992-93) and headed up World Vision Australia from 1997 to 2007; he is currently an Anglican priest stationed at St. Peter’s Cathedral and teaches Public Theology and Church History at St Barnabas College.

The next day (Monday) I got a tour of St. Barnabas College, including an office I could use, and I got set up with internet access, a printer, and so forth. That afternoon there was a reception with staff and friends of St. Barnabas, followed by dinner in a nearby restaurant (I had kangaroo for the first time).

St. Barnabas College (founded in 1880) is a member of the School of Theology of Charles Sturt University. The College recently relocated its physical campus to the same building as the Anglican Diocese of Adelaide, as a re-affirmation of its commitment to the church.

The very week I arrived St Barnabas College had just unveiled a new logo, new signage, and a brand new website, as part of a process of re-branding. So folks were pretty busy the first few days I was there.

Lament in Scripture and Life

The highlight of my first week in Adelaide was the two-day Workshop (September 22-23) on “Lament in Scripture and Life” held at St. Barnabas, which was attended by eleven biblical scholars (nine in Old Testament and two in New Testament); apart from me, everyone was from Australia or environs (one traveled from New Zealand).

All eleven of us wrote and submitted papers in advance on some aspect of lament. My paper was on Genesis 22, part of my research for the book on Abraham and Job that I’m working on during my sabbatical.

These papers weren’t actually presented at the workshop; instead we all read each others’ papers in advance. Each person had an opportunity to summarize their paper (5 minutes), followed by a 10-15 minute response that had been prepared by someone else, followed by feedback and discussion by everyone else for another 40-45 minutes.

The authors and topics of the papers were as follows:

  • Elizabeth Boase, “Engaging Westermann and the Assumptive World”
  • Jione Havea, “By the waters of Pasifika: Wailing at Noah’s altar (Genesis 8)”
  • Michael Trainor, “‘Did you know that little girls could be nailed to the cross?’: The Lament of the Gospel”
  • Timothy J. Harris, “Appropriation and Juxtaposition: Experiential Readings of the Lord’s Prayer in Contexts of Lament”
  • Mark G. Brett, “Psalm 94 and the Hermeneutics of Protest”
  • Matthew Anstey, “The Narratological Necessity of Lament”
  • Peter Lockwood, “Jephthah’s Enemies and His Daughter: Narcissism, Violence and Lament (Judges 11)”
  • J. Richard Middleton, “Unbinding the Aqedah from the Straightjacket of Tradition: An Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Abraham’s Test in Genesis 22″
  • Jeanette Mathews, “Prayers of Lament as Performance”
  • Monica Melanthon, “Slumdog Despair: Taking Dalit Laments to Church”
  • David Cohen, “At the Edge of the Precipice: Psalm 89 as Liturgical Memory”

We had two wonderful days of intense and serious discussion, and the feedback we each received will greatly improve our papers as we revise them for publication. We are planning for a volume of essays possibly called Lament Rekindled.

Then, after our (serious) scholarly endeavors, we had fun posing for photos (I don’t remember what the joke was, but it must have been good).

A Trip to the Barossa

Although most of the participants in the Lament seminar had to leave soon after to catch flights home, four of us were around the next day for a trip to the Barossa, a beautiful wine region of South Australia near Adelaide. The only trouble was that it began to rain that morning, so it cut down on the sightseeing component. Nevertheless, I saw kangaroos in the wild, as we were driving by. And the wine tasting proceeded as planned.

All week I had been learning distinctive Aussie lingo, including:

  • no worries, mate [= you’re welcome; in Jamaica we would say “no problem, mon”]
  • footy [= football]
  • uni [= university]
  • breaky [= breakfast]
  • a flat white [= coffee with milk]

I learned one more on the Barossa trip: “cellar door,” which is a reference to the wine tasting room associated with a winery (the term has a sort of Hobbit feel, though some of the cellar doors we visited were quite spacious).

We visited four cellar doors in all on the trip, two before lunch and two after. It stopped raining briefly when we came out of Peter Lehman Wines (the third stop), which allowed us to have a group photo taken outside.

And the sun actually shone brightly (though briefly) just before we headed for home. But it was pouring when we got back to Adelaide.

This weather was a portent of what was to come.

I’ll soon post a report of Week Two in Australia.

Earth Day in the Bible

Today is Earth Day, when we attend to the health of our earthly environment. The first Earth Day was observed in 1970, when the environmental movement was born in the wake of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

The Original Earth Day

But there’s a sense in which Earth Day goes back to Genesis 1, when God looked at what he made and saw that it was good. We could say that was God’s “observance” of Earth Day.

But then came human sin, which brought ruin to the world. We today can understand very well how human evil can taint our earthly environment. But it’s quite an achievement for the ancient author of Genesis to understand how inextricably humans are bound to the earth.

We see the human effect on the earth when we read on in Genesis.

Take the contrast between Genesis 1 and 6. Whereas God had looked at the initial world he made and saw that it was very good (Genesis 1:31), later we are told that when God looked he saw something quite different—that human evil was great on the earth (Genesis 6:5), and that the earth had as a consequence become become corrupted or ruined (Genesis 6:12).

Later, in the New Testament, Paul can talk about not just human beings, but creation itself, groaning in bondage to futility and yearning for liberation (Romans 8). This is something we today can understand with perhaps other levels of meaning than first-century Christians could—we who live in a world of global warming, melting icecaps, toxic waste, bleaching coral reefs, and rapid species extinction due to habitat erosion.

The Pain that Plagues Creation

Just yesterday I was listening to an old song (from the eighties) by Mark Heard, called “The Pain that Plagues Creation.” It’s very appropriate for Earth Day.

Mark Heard was what we might call an alternative Christian singer/songwriter, who was not quite in the mainstream. He died young, and Bruce Cockburn wrote and recorded a song about him called “The Strong Hand of Love” for a tribute album.

Here’s a recording of “The Pain that Plagues Creation,” and you can follow along with the lyrics below.

As this planet falls around the sun
Trapping us in the orbit
Creation groans in unison
Like a race of frightened orphans

The darkness of this raging storm
Is covering up our portals
But a yearning for the light is borne
In the heart of every mortal

Day to day we ache
With the pain that plagues creation
Night to night we lie awake
And await its restoration

Heaven knows our lonely ways
Heaven knows our sorrows
And Heaven knows things that we don’t know
And the joy of eternal tomorrows

But through this glass we dimly see
This world as it was made
Oh and the good we know must surely flow
From the heart of a kind Creator

Refrain

So hold on in this restless age
And do not fear your shadow
Your alternating tears and praise
Are prayers that surely will matter

Refrain

Mark Heard, “The Pain that Plagues Creation”
From the 1983 album Eye of the Storm
© 1983 Bug ’n Bear Music

New Earth Day

Yes, there is a pain that plagues creation—both human beings and the earth and its varied lifeforms. But the Bible envisions a great change coming, an end to pain when tears will be wiped away.

In the book of Revelation, John tells us: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1). He sees the New Jerusalem (representing the renewed community of believers) descending from heaven, and he hears a voice from the throne declaring God’s permanent dwelling with us on earth, since the curse is removed.

Then comes the amazing announcement: “Behold, I am making all things new” (21:5).

For those (ancient or modern) who know the ruined earth, its hard to take this seriously; so the voice adds: “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Since I’m preaching this Sunday at Community of the Savior (my home church), I’m aware that Revelation 21:1-6 is one of the scheduled lectionary readings, along with Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, and John 13:31-35.

It isn’t exactly clear how all these texts fit together—and it isn’t every week that those who organized the lectionary intended all four assigned texts to mutually illumine each other.

But in this case I think the lectionary texts fit together remarkably well.

And that’s what I’m going to try and communicate in my sermon for this Fifth Sunday of Easter (a.k.a. Earth Day Sunday).

And for my Jewish readers this Friday afternoon, Shabbat Shalom!

___________________________

Click here for the audio of my sermon (“Enlarging Our Vision: God’s Plan for All Creation”), and click here for the written text.

 

The Very Best Christian Analysis of ISIS (By Brian Stiller)

Brian Stiller (a Canadian) has been Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) for the past four years. In this capacity he has visited dozens of countries (including Somalia, Japan, Nepal, Iraq, Egypt, South Sudan) to witness and liaise with Christian groups, especially those suffering persecution.

He has recently edited, along with other scholars, a volume entitled Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (Thomas Nelson, 2015).

Along the way Stiller has gained a deep knowledge of the nature and problem of extremist Islam.

His four-part analysis of ISIS is the best and clearest I have found, and should be helpful to anyone wanting to understand the roots, development, character, and goals of this movement. It is particularly helpful in being informative yet non-ideological, while acknowledging the genuine danger of this form of extremist religion.

Stiller’s analysis originated as four “Dispatches from the Global Village” sent as emails to interested persons, which are now compiled into one succinct, yet comprehensive, article. The four parts are:

ISIS Part I: What it is

ISIS PART II: Four central questions

ISIS PART III: Six underlying realities; seven stages in conquest

ISIS PART IV: A Christian response

This is well-worth reading by anyone who wants to be informed on the subject.