Yesterday it was encouraging to meet with Ryan Wiggins, from Reconciliation Australia, to hear of progress in providing Reconciliation tools for faith communities, not least in the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane. Ryan was going on to a meeting with our diocesan bishops, as the next step in the process of considering a diocesan RAP (Reconciliation Action Plan): an initiative I set going with a successful Synod motion, asking for diocesan-wide attention to the possibility of such a RAP as one tool to further Reconciliation as an essential integral part of our life together.
I have been partly inspired by the RAP (see cover to the left) created in Toowoomba by our local Catholic diocese, thanks to the leadership of the former bishop Bill Morris, my wonderful friends in the Catholic Social Justice Commission, and, above all, the gracious and wise guidance of local Indigenous people . Our Anglican Glennie School in Toowoomba, and the SAILS organisation in our diocese have also created other encouraging examples of RAPs, working closely with local Indigenous people. What a difference it would make however if we can find ways to 'mainstream' this work, so that it is not left to a few particularly enlightened or enthusiastic people!
I do not know exactly how our Anglican diocese will develop this process in detail. I do know though that it is being taken very seriously and that Reconciliation Australia are also inspired by the challenge of what would be (in Ryan Wiggins' words) a 'mega-RAP', providing real institutional weight, direction and inspiration to the whole breadth and depth of diocesan commissions, parishes, schools, welfare bodies, and other agencies. This would also, very importantly, be a major fillip for our Indigenous Christian leaders who work so hard, with so little resource and so many other responsibilities. For everyone can do their part in Reconciliation, not leaving this to those Indigenous Australians who often have enough on their plate just surviving, or to the 'usual suspects'. In this respect, what was particularly encouraging to hear from Ryan yesterday were the new tools coming online from Reconciliation Australia for local churches and schools. Recognising the difficulties of the original RAP frameworks for faith communities - designed, as they were, mainly for business organisatations - good work has been done (learning from the struggles of SAILS and other church groups) to produce more faith-community-friendly tools. With the assistance of World Vision, these will be trialled shortly and will hopefully represent further practical steps, with tangible outcomes for Indigenous people, on our crucial national journey of healing.
My thanks has been going out this week to all those who are keeping light alive in the face of the darkness of the abuse of refugees and asylum seekers across the world. I am grateful to so many fellow Christians and others of goodwill who are questioning what is going on and saying, in particular, 'not in our own name' to the continuing callous cocktail of our damaging national policies. Together with other members of our parish, it was good to be part of the Toowoomba candle vigil last weekend as we remembered the death of Reza Berati, murdered on Manus Island when in the enforced care of the Australian Government. It was a small step of solidarity but one on which to build. How, in Toowoomba, can we truly be a self-proclaimed 'Refugee Welcome Zone' city when our nation as a whole is not?
One of the biggest challenges to peacemaking is the very way in which peace is often viewed: namely as an absence, or a state void of war and violence. At best this perspective means peace is simply boring. No wonder violence is then so appealing, even fascinating (in its ancient sense of sacred attraction or compulsion). It was therefore good to be reminded recently, at a conference at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba, of the considerable work that has been done in recent decades in developing the concept of 'positive peace'. Speaking to a mixed body of academics, faith and local community leaders, diplomats and government representatives, Dr Lucas Misseri (from the National University of Corboba in Argentina) opened up the subject beautifully. Developing the theories of 'positive peace' by Galtung and Maliandi, he outlined deeply constructive philosophical grounding for the work being done in Toowoomba towards 'building a model city of peace and harmony'. If peace is actually truly dynamic, then it requires convergence, enabling all that is best in the variety of human life to engage, share and create even more new, life and energy. Inter-religious dialogue, he thus opined, was a vital convergent vehicle to positive peace. Dialogue indeed represents a crucial 'space in-between' our differences, offering respect and a cherishing all that is of value . It is not necessarily about seeking consensus, for that might actually deny the potential of creative conflict. For peace is impossible if it is about settling things down. True, positive, peace is about enlarging life, bringing all that is good in the past and present into a more fulfilling, yet never complete, but always open future: what the Judaeo-Christian tradition calls shalom. As such, inter-religious dialogue should also include others who do not see themselves as religious, or may even see themselves as a-religious. For everyone needs to be involved to find more convergences and the necessary values for peace.
As well as examples from Poland and the Phiiippines, the rest of the USQ conference involved considerable input from Toowoomba, showing how such dialogue is being developed locally at a whole host of levels. Deepened by our international sharing and insights, we locals were thereby strengthened in our lived dialogue, recognising it more fully as an essential resource to building the foundations of 'positive' peace:
* creating spaces for convergence
* establishing symbolic ways of interacting in the face of violence and 'negative' peace
* acknowledging human diversity and enhancing mutual respect
* contributing to a democratic lifestyle.
From the 2011 flood to future hopes, one of the important features of our life in the parish of St Luke Toowoomba has been prayer for our City, especially at Candlemas. For the feast of Candlemas (or Presentation of Christ in the Temple), traditionally celebrated on 2 February, is an important pivotal festival of the spiritual calendar, as Christians turn from the light of Christmas towards the greater light of Easter and healing for our world. In Australia, it also enables us to celebrate the full return of the working year and the beginning of the school year, praying for our local community as a whole. At Candlemas, we therefore hold a special gathering each year, involving others from the wider community, and we pray for and give candles to key figures, groups and organisations in our city. The following is a special prayer I wrote for this occasion, for the start of the new school and full working year and for other times of transition. May it be a blessing for us all:
May this time be one of delightful new beginnings for you
and for all those with whom you love and live.
When you look to the future may you rejoice,
and when you look to the past
may you be thankful and forgive.
May the peace of the Christ child
continue to bring you joy.
and may the hope of the resurrected One
bring you new life.
When you take up new challenges
may your candles burn bright
and when you stumble
may they still flame and flicker in the night.
So may you always know light in darkness
and the Eternal Light within you. Amen.
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.