It was a delight yesterday to see the film Holding the Man with one of my most lovely, compassionate and Spirit-filled gay friends. Based on the poignant 1995 memoir of Tim Conigrave, Holding the Man (a resonant expression drawn from Australian Rules Football) tells the story of the love and life he shared from schooldays with John Caleo, including the struggles they faced with others and their tragic early deaths from AIDS-related illnesses. Adapted by Tommy Murphy in 2006, Holding the Man became one of the most successful of recent Australian stage productions. This film version will hopefully widen the audience much further, honouring Tim and John by increasing light and understanding and strengthening our human solidarity against all kinds of sexual and gendered oppressions.
The film is certainly also 'a story of a generation'. From a personal point of view, as an exact contemporary of Tim and John (albeit on the other side of the world), I was indeed touched by remembrances of my own school days, university experiences, and early adult life, especially of wonderful gay and lesbian friends who also endured much pain (including some even to shocking early deaths) whilst vibrantly helping to transform our inherited climate of fear and repression. I also recalled my days as a young priest in London in the 1980s as the horror of the AIDS crisis broke upon so many, together with the horribly fumbled, generally fear-filled and, occasionally, fabulous response of Christians, as church bodies and individuals.
How far have we come? In many ways, we have traveled a long way, even in Christian circles. Yet only a few days ago the New South Wales Government banned the showing in schools of the film Gayby Baby, which offers the opportunity to enter into the experiences of children growing up in lesbian and gay families. All credit therefore to Dendy Newtown for screening Gayby Baby at this time, to encourage others to enlarge understanding and provide public pressure upon uncertain authorities. Indeed, as we bought tickets for Holding the Man, my friend observed to the young cashier that he had had to travel from the Central Coast to find the nearest screening. 'How sad', in this day and age', she replied, 'that cinemas everywhere aren't showing it.' For all the gorgeous steps taken, we are still very much on the journey of compassion and solidarity, never mind of celebration. Indeed, alongside admiration for so many like Tim Conigrave and John Caleo, I was left yesterday with deep sadness, and renewed frustration and anger, at the slowness, and sometimes sheer reaction, of so many Christians fully to love their sexual selves, so many of their 'neighbours', and their God of infinite compassion and creative diversity. In the context of my generation, the negative responses of Church authorities and Christian parents to Tim and John's love was more understandable, though no less shocking and stabbing to the very heart. I rejoice in those, across the world and from so many Christian traditions, who are seeking to walk a different pathway, centred on a Christ of a very different yet authentically biblical hue. Compared to the wider western world however, and even the attitudes of the bulk of our own church membership, I fear the institutional church is still a very long way from where we should be. As Aussie Rules would have it, if we are not, in different ways, 'holding the man', then we are so often either not even on the paddock, or 'holding the ball' of a bygone generation. May we be kissed afresh with peace, joy and understanding.
It was a delight last Sunday evening to see again Brothers Ghislain, Matthew and Alois (the Prior) from the Taize Community and even more delightful to take some of our parishioners and boarders from The Glennie School to share in Taize Prayer in St Stephen's Cathedral in Brisbane. This followed on from our beautiful Taize-style Candlemas Prayer the previous Sunday in St Luke's Toowoomba.
This year is the 75th anniversary of the founding of the remarkable Community in the little village of Taize in Burgundy, 100 years on also from the birth of the founder Brother Roger. It continues to act as an inspiration to so many people in so many places and situations in our world. Above all, its Christ-centred spirit of simplicity, solidarity and celebration speaks to young people who continue to join in 'the Pilgrimage of Trust' in such great numbers. The special Letter in preparation for this year's anniversaries is again a beautiful distillation of the Taize spirit and an encouragement to us all to walk together 'Towards a New Solidarity' with people of all Christian, ethnic and other backgrounds, with people of all faiths and none. Check our the Letter here.
For a number of years in my last job I was a frequent visitor to the Lindt Café in Sydney’s Martin Place, the site of the recent Sydney siege. It was a common stopover after our combined New South Wales Churches’ executive meeting and a great place to relax and be refreshed. Ironically we also often discussed the many inter-faith and peace initiatives with which we were involved. For Sydney is an amazing place, full of so many different peoples, faiths and cultures. The range of that diversity can be a challenge but it is a great tribute to the city that so much positive inter-faith and peace prayer and action has been fostered over the years. This is part of what of what will enable Sydney, and the rest of Australia, to triumph and flourish after the tragedy of recent events.
The Sydney siege is a further confirmation of how vital is our prayer and work for community harmony, not least through the Toowoomba ‘Model City of Peace and Harmony’ initiative. When such terrible events happen, as they happen in different ways daily across the world, they can either erode our trust in one another or impel us to renew our faith in the love at the heart of the universe, differently displayed in various faiths and cultures. The strong base of relationships we have already established in Toowoomba certainly puts us in a good position to support those who are afflicted, to share solidarity with Muslims and others who are afraid or fear victimisation, and to create new partnerships for peace in our lives and wider world. The recent events in Sydney remind us again of how ‘no one is an island’ and how we are all affected by what else happens in our world. At home, Australia has mercifully been free of such events but it has always been connected to them overseas. Such connections can now make us afraid, if we let them, or they can make us stronger than ever in the things that truly matter.
From a Christian perspective, terror at Christmas should hardly be a surprise. Terror is written into the Christmas story itself. For Jesus was born into an oppressive and violent society, and, according to the scriptural stories, the holy family was forced to flee into Egypt as refugees, in the face of Herod’s massacre of the innocents. Yet Christ’s birth stands as a sign that such darkness, then and now, is not the end. There is something much, much stronger and deeper and transforming. So let us trust in that Spirit, shown also in the Magi, people of very different faith and culture, who left their comfort to share the light and love of God at the birth of Jesus. May that peace prevail in our hearts, our community and our world, that Toowoomba with Sydney may be fresh beacons of compassion and peace in the days ahead. Let us ride together on the path of peace.
It was a delight to meet with local Muslims today to affirm our shared concern for one another, our city and peace in the world. A number of people spoke well, not least Dr Shahab Abdullah the spokesman for the local Iraqi Muslim community. Tea and cake then helped seal the deal. What a contrast with the over-reaction of some, including those who closed three local military museums this week, thus, to my mind, exacerbating community anxiety rather than alleviating it. Even the police present seemed a bit embarrassed about currently having to wear firearms as part of the security reaction to recent events. Whether that is alarmist or not, it certainly does not reassure those of us who tend to feel less secure in the presence of weaponry rather than with it. More positively, it was a joy to speak with five Indonesian Muslim women who are in their last week of five in Toowoomba. They spoke with wonderful pleasure of their experience here, not least the excited interest they had conjured up in visiting a local school yesterday. Once again the benefits of 'table fellowship' shone through: last week in the Buddhist monastery, Sunday in St Luke's, today among USQ Muslims. Such is an important path to peace. As another Christian pointed out to me last week, in a much more conservative Christian setting, Jesus was much more a guest than a host. Should more be willing to step out of their comfort zones and risk vulnerability, there would similarly be much more joy and solidarity to quell our own anxieties and transform the world's genuine fears. Anyone for another cup of tea?
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it." (1 Corinthians 12.26) - this is part of the reality of our contemporary lives in the one world we now inhabit. It is very difficult not to be affected by the sufferings of other parts of the world, particularly if we share in Christian relationship. The situation in Iraq is a particularly grave one. As the Archbishop of Canterbury observed recently:
what is happening right now in northern Iraq is off the scale of human horror… we cry to God for peace and justice and security throughout the world, and especially for Christians and other minority groups suffering so deeply in northern Iraq.
It is therefore a sad but important duty to share in prayer and solidarity with those who suffer. As we do so, so much of scripture also comes alive in a powerful manner and we are drawn back to the cross and mercy-power of God.
Yesterday, in St Luke's Church, we shared a particularly poignant Prayer together with other Christians. The initiative was from a young Christian, Courtney Heyward, from another (independent Evangelical) church, who has been touched to the heart by the situation in Iraq. It was a reflective occasion, with readings from scripture interspersed with times for silent or shared prayer. Stones, or 'prayer rocks', were given to everyone present to hold as we prayed, reminding us of the hard things endured by others (including the burying of loved ones by the side of the roads of flight) and of the rock of God's love at the heart of all things. Towards the end of the gathering, each of us laid our stone at the foot of the cross and lit a candle of hope. We also shared some ways in which we may offer practical support to the persecuted, including giving to appeal funds and advocating for the needs of refugees. May God's mercy and strength comfort, turn the hearts of those who inflict terror, grant wisdom to those in leadership, and renew all who suffer.
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian and justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice and sustainable creation.