Today’s guest is Catriona. And Catriona and I were Facebook friends first. In a moment of weakness, I said, ‘Will you be my friend?’ And she said, ‘yes’. And then we actually met at the Bishop’s training event Shaped. And Catriona gave a testimony there. And I listened to that. And if you’ve listened to a few of my podcasts, you might know that I go to Bishop’s training events and then say, ‘these people have to be on my podcast’. Catriona was one of these people so it was exciting to meet you finally, Catriona. And to have you on my podcast is very exciting. And Catriona works at the CSIRO as a science support officer, doing fieldwork and also office work. And that’s gonna be maybe a bit of what we talk about today. But you’re very, very welcome.
First, I’d like to know how you became a Christian.
It’s one of the biggest twists of my life. I never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d become a Christian. I saw Christians as those crazy people that needed a crutch, weren’t very smart, couldn’t think for themselves. The sort of the classic sort of objections, I guess, to Christians. So I never in my wildest dreams at all. It was last thing at all that I wanted to become.
So I guess if we just step back a bit. I grew up in Devonport to a fairly sort of standard upbringing. Four kids. Father was a surgeon there. Mum was a PE teacher, we lived by the beach. It was all very nice.
My parents were not Christians in the sense that they didn’t go to church or anything like that. But they wanted us kids to experience Christianity. So we went to Sunday school and I was confirmed there. I was a very keen musician, I played the oboe, piano, that sort of thing. I sang in the choir, which was good. But I never really developed a faith. I had a very superficial faith. And so I just drifted out of it, I guess.
As a Tasmanian, certainly in that area, one of the things that everyone wanted to do really when I left school was to leave Tasmania. So I did that.
That is very true.
I know. And it’s so sad, and you sort of come back here and you go, ‘mm hmm’. But I went to Adelaide to study music. And a few experiences took me away from Christianity pretty much completely. And I did the standard post-modern thing. And I was God. I knew everything. I made up my own truth, I became my own person. What I saw was real. It was my truth.
And I became quite aggressively atheistic, I guess, because I was a scientist, studied science, and I started to think that science could prove everything down to the point where some scientists are trying to prove what it means to fall in love with someone so that they actually can prove it through scientific reductionist ways. So that was pretty much the way that I thought.
So if I fast forward quite a number of years, my parents became very sick and I was living in Canberra at the time and I accepted a job in Hobart at the Antarctic Division, and one of the reasons for that was to be in the same state and close by so that as they got older I could be there to support them. And my parents died after illnesses. And I was quite lost.
I had lost my parents. I had no partner, no children. My family is all around the country. So we’re not that close. I didn’t really know how to deal with it.
And it’s quite painful to think about that now. I had no way at all to deal with it. But at my parents funeral, actually, prior to that, my aunty had suggested that we have Mum’s funeral at Collegiate. She was a head girl. So we thought we’d have her funeral there. And I thought, no, no, no, mom wouldn’t like that. She’s not a Christian. She’d hate that.
But we asked the principal there and she agreed and she said that I’d need to contact the Dean who was who was acting chaplain at the time.
So he called me up and I said, ‘well, yes, if we can have the service there, that’ll be fabulous. But can you not mention God?’ And he said, ‘well, that would be a little bit difficult because it’s a consecrated building. It’s a chapel.’
And yeah, we had the service there. It was … it was nice. But he did mention God far too much for my liking.
So is this Dean Richard Humphries?
That’s right. Yeah.
Yeah. I can’t imagine him leaving God out of it.
No, it was … I mean, I had no idea what I was really asking for. But thinking back on it, it sort of shows just how much I despised Christians, I guess.
I mean, even at a funeral, I didn’t want a bar of it. And it was really I’m not even sure why we did it. I think it was not the fact that we wanted it in a church. It was just Collegiate. There just happened to be a chapel there. And that’s where he did it. It was nothing at all to do with it being in the church. So.
And then after that, he kept on asking me how I was going. And I met up with him a few times after that. And I started to think, well, I’d met a few Christians at that stage that I knew were Christians. I’d met him. I’d met some people at the Cathedral, St David’s Cathedral here in Hobart.
And I just thought, well, I want what you have. I want your sort of your sense of confidence. It wasn’t that I wanted God or Jesus or anything. I just wanted to have that sense of confidence. And so it was a very self-indulgent, superficial, very shallow [reason] why you would want to become a Christian.
So I started to explore Christianity. And I also thought at that time that if Christianity was something that I had despised for so long, that if I was going to not be Christian, I really had to understand what I was actually not wanting to become. So it was kind of, it was kind of like me wanting what they had, but not really wanting to become a Christian is a bit hard to explain it. Anyway.
It makes an awful lot of sense. Especially at that lost time in your life where you’re sort of like a ship without a rudder.
You’ve got a rudder. So that’s, you know …
Yes. And that’s actually a good way of putting it and you’re just bouncing off anything. You just grasping at things that can help you.
Because my nonchristian worldview, it couldn’t cope with that sense of loss, and what I do now. I couldn’t understand it. And I was just clutching around and I’m ashamed to say it now, but that that was what it was like. I guess it’s probably not an uncommon thing. And in hindsight, it makes sense. But at the time it made no sense at all. So I was incredibly lucky. The cathedral community was fabulous. Down at St James in Ranelagh as well.
And that’s why I started going to so many Bible studies as well, because I thought that I need to really understand this. And I went to at least three services a week.
So you’re not a Christian, but you’re going to three services a week and several Bible studies?
Yes, that’s right. Because I want to understand it, and I thought, well, this is my chance, you know? And if I don’t, if none of this makes sense, then at least I’ve given it a good try.
But God had other plans for me. He had marked me all along. And he just didn’t let me go. So I kept on trying to come up with excuses, and excuse after excuse.
But eventually I was in West or South Hobart. There’s a little park. There were a kids playground and a little bench and I sat there and had a hamburger in one hand and a chip in the other. And I gave my life to Christ.
Well, it was like I could not. I couldn’t avoid it anymore. It was inevitable. And it was like I had no control whatsoever. It was like, ‘okay, I give up, you know. Here I am.’ And that’s pretty much how it was. And yeah. And so here I am.
I would not ever have expected to be here five years ago.
Yeah. So, yeah, that’s really great. So all this time you’re working at CSIRO?
How does your faith show in the work that you do in your work environment?
It’s it’s interesting because I would have thought and this is funny speaking about it now, but not back then. But now I think. Why are they not more Christian scientists?
Oh, I know!
Well, yeah. You have science as a background, too. But when I was an atheist, I thought, why are there Christian scientists? Because I thought you could explain the world through science.
Now, obviously, science addresses a different issue, but it’s interesting. The difference there.
But I I try and live out my life as a follower of Christ, as a kingdom person. I don’t always get that right. But I try and bring glory to God in everything I do, because he created us with purpose and he created us to work. And so I try and do the best that I can in order to glorify his name as well. So it doesn’t matter what it is. A lot of my work is quite menial. It’s quite repetitive, but it’s great work.
And I’m studying God’s creation. So I’m so incredibly privileged to do that.
And also, I work in an environment where people have conflicting, often conflicting, very different world views. So people of different faiths, people with no faith, people coming to faith. But I know that I’m a follower of Christ and that I am to love and to serve God and other people as well. So I try and bring that into everything that I do. It’s difficult when you have conflicts, obviously, but you try and love your neighbour as yourself.
I’ve started a Battery Point evangelistic prayer team with City Bible Forum. We’ve just got off the ground. So that’s really good.
Is that with people from work? Or is it just with people that can get together at that time?
It’s hopefully it’ll be people at work, but we’ve only just started. So it’s a matter of just finding out who’s around and who has the time as well. Yeah. And it is obviously a bit of a time commitment. Yeah.
I’m the sort of person that if someone says, you know, ‘what did you do on the weekend?’ I’ll say, ‘well I went to church, I did a Bible study’, whatever. I’m quite open about if I’m going out for lunch, I say ‘I’m going to a Bible study’.
I’m studying New Testament Greek. So I have my vocab, my Greek vocab on my wall at work, which creates an interesting discussion point, particularly as a lot of the language of maths and stats is ancient Greek. So that’s a commonality which I push. It’s yeah, it’s interesting actually. Yeah.
So since I’ve become a Christian, people say that I’m a lot calmer, I’m a lot less anxious, I’m a lot less judgmental. And it’s a great opening because then you say, ‘well, I can tell you why.’ And it’s a great launchpad into talking about the gospel. So it’s brilliant. So I hope that I’ll live out my life as a follower of Christ in the workplace. And it’s something that I try to do and I hope that I do that. Yeah.
It sounds like you’re just so open to having those conversations if they turn up?
And I like the idea of also of, like you say, putting the Greek up on the wall, just having things that are conversation points so that the conversations have something to crystallise on. You know what I’m saying? Like you have to have a little node to form a crystal. And if you can make those little nodes around the workplace so that people might open up the conversation with you, that’s a very cool idea.
And it might take a little while for that seed to be set. So you have the conversation piece there and then they might come back with their own going, about about whatever, you know, on your wall or whatever you said in that discussion we had about this particular topical issue that people around Hobart are talking about. So it just sows those seeds.
And the prayer group, that’s an amazing idea, too. I think I did that when I was at the uni. It wasn’t easy. I think it was a difficult spiritual atmosphere to pray in. But nothing happens without that that prayer base.
Absolutely. And it’s also supporting Christians in the workplace too. Secular organisations can sometimes be quite hostile. Not welcoming.
CSIRO’s been great and I think it’s really good that we support each other in the community, so. Yeah, growing from that.
Yeah. Absolutely. All right. So you do more Bible studies than anyone I know, I think.
So that’s obviously grown out of when you were searching, but you’re still getting a lot out of that.
Yeah. So I love the Bible. As I said, I started off when I was an atheist to learn about the Bible.
I really didn’t know what I was studying. I knew it was a really big fat book, but now I love it.
I love and enjoy, I just love learning as much as I possibly can. And I’m only a beginner. I haven’t read the Bible through in its entirety yet. So I’ve been told that I’m actually very lucky because there are bits in the Bible that I can read that I’ve never read before. And I can remember when the, one of the first units that I studied, I’m studying at Ridley online, was Old Testament and reading through the Tabernacle.
And I’m just reading, just turning page after page going, wow, it’s a real page turner. And people in my class were so jealous. Jealous, in a sense because I’d never read it before. And I had that sort of first time wonder on top of being a new Christian. It was just amazing.
My son says he listens to the Bible online every day and that he was going through Numbers and it was just so repetitive. And then he said, ‘The other day I had some sort of repetitive list from Numbers and then I had the genealogy from Matthew and he was like, ugh.
Yeah, the Bible has highs and lows.
It’s all important.
It’s all important.
But it just amazes me. The Bible, it’s book that God … I mean, God gave us a book. He revealed himself in a book. It’s incredible. And I just love reading it and about it. You learn about God, you know, and what our purpose is. And I just love reading it. I love discussing it. I love the way that you can, at the beginning of a Bible study session, you can start with not really knowing what’s happening in there. And by the end of it you’ve unpacked it, each that the participants has put a bit of themselves into how to interpret it, how it impacts their lives, how it speaks to them. How God speaks to them. I just love doing that.
Do you have a favourite method that you use? I mean, I’ve led Bible studies sometimes where you read the passage and then the questions are just so obvious. You know, what does this verse say? Well, it says that. And then you get … and so the the way that I’m enjoying it at the moment is where you just read it. And then go around the table and everybody says what spoke to them or what jumped out at them. Yeah. So spend a bit of time sort of studying it silently. And then we go around the table and everybody says their own bit. And then some people have the history and some people have other insights. And yeah, I’m finding that a really, really good way to study.
Yeah. Yeah, I agree.
I think most of the Bible studies that I go to, obviously Theology Tuesday is a different case, but they’re mostly run by other people. And so they have their own style of doing it. But that, like you say, that tends to be the way that we do it. So someone will read through the passage and have a look at it and then each one will contribute to it. You tend to place a lot of emphasis on the cultural context, the historical context, what was happening at the time. And then you go through each of the verses, try and get an overall view of it.
At one study we drew pictures. So through art, which is a really interesting way of doing it. So reading the verse, and how does that speak to you artistically, which is an interesting way of doing it.
But I just find it fascinating that everybody has a different methodology. And sometimes different group dynamics will mean that you have to … It’s better to study in a different way. Things change as time goes by in different genres, like whether it’s a letter, whether it’s a narrative, whatever. Different ways of looking at it.
Yeah. I think it’s very important to have to have a flexible way of looking at it.
So Theology Tuesdays then, tell me about those.
Theology Tuesday started in response to my study.
So as I said, I studied the masters of divinity online through Ridley Theological College in Melbourne. And as an online student, we don’t get the same degree of interaction, physical face-to-face interaction with other students. We have a forum which is just great. But it doesn’t replace face-to-face interaction. And especially as a new Christian where I’m still maturing and there’s so much to learn. And I’m I I wouldn’t say I’m impatient, but I really want to learn. So it seemed, it was suggested to me that I had a, that I ran my own group.
So it’s great because it teaches me about God, teaches me about the Bible, helps me with spiritual formation. And it also helps me run a Bible study group, which is an interesting thing to learn. So there’s about six to eight of us that meet on Tuesdays it tends to change round a bit as people have moved interstate. But we meet generally once a week on Tuesdays. Down at the cafe in Salamanca, which is very nice. We also have started to meet once a week on a Saturday to go through a DVD on the New Testament setting of Jesus. That’s been really good. So that’s more of a fellowship, eat and discuss a longer period. But we discuss a range of things. And I think the flexibility people really like, so the range of topics.
So this semester we’ve talked about my essay on open theism, which was interesting, open theism is where God is open to …
This is in response to my completely blank look.
That’s right. Your completely blank look. [laughs]
So that God is open to possibilities. He works interactively with humans. The future is not. It’s undecided. It is. It’s still open. So that covers a whole range of different doctrines, different things. So that was really interesting. The problem of evil. So how can we have a God who is all loving and all merciful, but yet we have horrific evil in the world. So that yeah, that was really interesting. We talk about church history. I did a unit on early church history up to 430 AD I think it was so. So we went through a book talking about that, a study guide.
We talk about my sermons, so we talk about it prior to my sermons and then the analysis of my sermons. Which is great. So they’ll generally turn up to my sermons. So it’s really good to get some feedback from that.
We do exegesis as well, like we were talking before about Bible study. So we went through Isaiah last year and we started 1 Corinthians this year. We look at ethical issues and how each of us are thinking about issues such as same-sex marriage, for example, and other issues as I’m maturing as a Christian, often it’s good to have, you know, the older Christian, the more mature Christians.
I had a, I wouldn’t say a crisis, but a period earlier this year where I thought I don’t know when God is speaking to me, how do I actually know? How do I, how can I discern that? And I just didn’t know how to answer that. So I brought that to the group as well. How do you pray? Sometimes people in the group will also have their own questions. So it’s great to get a variety of different questions from different people. It’s mostly for me, but I pray that the others get something from it. They keep coming back so I assume that they obviously do.
Absolutely. So, yeah, my next question is, is how theology has impacted your life. And like when you started talking about, you know, the structure of the Tabernacle or the Old Testament, whatever ancient Greek you think oh yeah well how is that impacting your life? But as you were just talking there’s a whole lot of very relevant issues to now as well. So, yeah. How has it changed your life, studying theology?
This is another interesting story. I love interesting stories. And I think in my life I seem to fall, I stumble across them all the time, I think.
I started studying theology at, well actually, at Ridley Theological College in Melbourne online. And it’s a fabulous way to be able to study.
And I had become a Christian mid-July and started studying in November. And I did that because I thought as an older Christian, I’m so far behind, I have to catch up. And I think at one stage I pretty much had the entire diocese answering my questions. I was asking so many questions and that was fine. They didn’t mind it, but I thought, well, I actually need to probably start studying formally.
So I thought, well, I’ll do theological study. How hard can that be?
Having already studied music and then studied science.
I thought, this can’t be hard. So I enrolled for a grad dip. And people did suggest to me that I start with something simpler. And I thought, no, no, no, I’ll be fine.
In hindsight, it was both the best and the worst thing that I could have done. The worse in the sense that I really underestimated just how much there is to learn. But the best in how much there is to learn. And it’s been incredibly transformative to me. So initially I was studying facts. So how many cubits is a tabernacle? How many disciples did Jesus have? Things like that. Yeah. Just sort of facts and it didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. But I didn’t really understand that it’s not, that that’s very important. But it’s about the transformation. It’s about the character formation. So one of our lecturers talks about the fact that you don’t study theology. You live theology. You do theology. So it’s all about how you are transformed, how you learn what God has done for us, what he is doing and what he will do, what our purpose is in his plan and how you live as a disciple of Christ.
So for me, it’s been absolutely profound.
Earlier this year, I went through this crisis about I didn’t know if God was really speaking to me. And it was all bound up in my identity in Christ. So before, my identity been in my job, it had been in my parents, it had been in things that I could earn for myself. And this year, it’s been really me understanding that my identity is in Christ and it sounds so simple. But the things that flow out of that are just extraordinary. It’s so profound. It just anchors who you are that Christ is your identity, your identity is in Christ.
And I would have learned that, I think, in time. But I think studying theology really accelerated me being able to do that.
We also, as part of the study, learn about spiritual practices. So at the moment, I’m learning something called Centering Prayer, which is where rather than your prayer might be thanking God for something, adoration, asking for things. It’s really just about sitting in his presence, just enjoying sitting in his presence.
Just be still and know that I am God.
Exactly. Exactly. And just being there.
And for me, that’s been extraordinary. Just feeling, you know, in his presence.
So I can’t really express enough just how formative it has actually been for me.
Is it something that you think everyone should do?
Well, we’re all theologians. We all study God to some extent. It’s how we do it. So some find formal study the way to do it. Some don’t. So I guess finding a means by which you can. But I think for me, the essence of it is that you’re not just learning facts about God.
You’re learning things about God that then transform you to become the person who lives the gospel, who becomes, who lives as a disciple of Christ, as a follower of Christ. So you’re living it. You’re living your theology. You are not just learning a bunch of books on a shelf. It’s not that. It’s you are actually living theology.
Yeah, everything gets applied.
Absolutely. It’s it’s it’s completely applied. It’s practical. Theology is practical. So when people say to me, why are you studying theology? This boring, old musty thing? It’s not, it’s practical.
So when do you feel close to God?
Again this is a tough one. And it was actually really good that you asked this because it made me really think about it. And I think for me, I’ve spent the majority of my life either actively ignoring God or not even thinking about God at all. If you had asked me five years ago who Jesus was, I couldn’t have answered it. I would have said, ‘it’s something to do with God’ But I wouldn’t have really been able to answer it. And it’s actually quite hard to realize that …
You didn’t even know that God that you didn’t believe in.
Exactly. Exactly. That’s that’s exactly right.
And I lived like that. And so for me now, and maybe it’s because I’ve got that new Christian glow, I just feel like he’s there all the time. I just feel I’m just nestled. He’s got his arms around me. He’s nestling me. And I guess all I know before I was a Christian, what it was like to have no hope, no certain future, no nothing. And now I have that. I just I feel like I’m in his presence all the time. It’s a bit like chalk and cheese. I just can’t stop smiling. I just feel like I’m part of this big body of Christ with him at our head.
But as far as particular moments, I think that if I’ve been praying so the Centering Prayer that I talked about, where you’re just resting in in the presence of God. When I’m worshipping in a group in the cathedral or other places that I worship at. I just love being in that amongst others that feel like I do.
And when I’m facing a difficult situation or something that I don’t know how to handle it. So in the past, I’ve relied on myself. And that’s not very satisfactory. Whereas now my trust is in God. And so I can feel him putting words in my mouth, giving me thoughts, giving me confidence to deal with that.
So is it’s extraordinary. And it is a transformation, too. Sometimes I wake up and I don’t even recognise myself in the sense that I can feel him transforming me. And yeah it’s hard to put into words, really.
But I find that if I haven’t prayed for a bit or read the Bible for a bit, then I really feel something really missing. I just feel really distant and unsettled. So, yeah.
As they say, who moved?
That’s exactly right.
What’s one thing about God or Christianity you wish everyone knew?
Well, I think you said it before. The fact that I didn’t recognise the God that I didn’t recognise. And so I think for particularly for, say, unbelievers is that, and I was very true of this, is that you’re rejecting a God that you don’t even know. So a lot of my ideas about God were completely wrong. So I thought that I had to be good to go to heaven. It was one of the really big stumbling blocks. I thought, I’m not good. I can’t be a Christian because I’m not good. I think that there just a … people don’t understand the God they’re rejecting.
Yes. I saw a couple of ads on Gruen. There’s an ABC program, the Gruen Project, which is about advertising. And they had the challenge ads and they were: challenge atheists to become Christians, and challenge Christians to become atheists. And watching those two ads, really just, they were just like bright, glaring spotlights on the fact that these people didn’t understand our faith or our God at all in any way. He’s not a get out of jail free card. He’s not an insurance policy. You know, and he doesn’t require you to be good, and he’s not a killjoy. You know? Yes. Let’s think about who we’re rejecting here.
And people really need to know that he is a God that loves us unconditionally. He wants us, he loves us as we are. He takes us as we are. But he doesn’t leave us there, he transforms us. So he lives with us. He’s a living God. When we study theology, we study a living God. We study a relationship. We’re not studying a God that’s distant, that’s over there, that doesn’t provide for us.
That he created the world and us. But he’s actively involved in our lives. And I think we forget about that. So I wish that more people understood how much God loves us. I think that Christianity cops a lot of flak. I think that people don’t really think about, well God is love, that he loves us so much.
That’s amazing. That’s a wonderful place to finish. Thank you very much for sharing with us. Thank you.