We can make too much of names. However I have always been puzzled by Christians who have actively promoted caring for close relationships under titles such as Family First without reflection on the name of the group. For can family, or anything else, really be first for Christians? Surely, for Christians, the love of God as found in Jesus Christ should always be first and foremost? Family, like anything else, must not become an idol. Whilst it is at the bedrock of life, it can also become suffocating and confining. Yet, if so, what place should family have in our lives and world? Such questions take us to the heart of many of the most profound, precious and painful personal issues of our time. These are issues which certainly lie heavily on our hearts and minds and which we need to address prayerfully and tenderly. What can we then say and do to make a positive difference, bringing some light to often over-heated questions?
In our most recent edition of our parish magazine Namalata, we sought to offer a few reflections on different aspects of family, without pretending that it has any simple or complete answers to the complexity of our human relationships. It is tempting to believe we can find easy, straightforward solutions. This is part of the appeal of fundamentalist religion. If only, the claim goes, we stick to a certain set of rules, or go back to an historic ideal which never actually existed, then all our human personal relationships will be sorted. This horribly ignores the reality of human life, with all its differences and struggles for identity. It ignores the heartbreak, courage and mercy in many relationships which do not fit pre-determined norms. Above all, for Christians, it ignores the teaching and practice of Jesus...
A wonderful recent new addition to the Toowoomba CBD is a peace mural on Neil Street. The Peace and Harmony mural concept was initiated by the Toowoomba Goodwill Committee of which I am currently chair and it was a delight to assist in the development of the mural, particularly through a fundraising meal at our All Saints centre. For the Goodwill Committee’s goal is to develop Toowoomba as a city of Peace and Harmony through interfaith and multicultural dialog and activities. There are a number of groups within the Toowoomba community working on violence prevention, community safety and social cohesion, social justice and helping people in need of support and assistance. Each of these organisations is helping to make Toowoomba a better place to live, work and raise families. The Goodwill Committee aims to help focus and harness this work together and to raise the profile of peace and harmony through a variety of creative means.
A working group which included representatives from the Goodwill Committee, Toowoomba Youth Service and the First Coat art festival decided on a theme of “One and the same” for a mural in Toowoomba. Internationally renowned Melbourne based artist Adnate (see above working on the project) was approached to see if he would be involved in doing a peace and harmony portrait for Toowoomba. The artist supported the concept and agreed to come to Toowoomba to do a mural. The artist also worked with Toowoomba youth agencies while he was in Toowoomba, engaged with young people during the completion of the mural and also attended some organised community engagements and youth workshops. Several young people from the Toowoomba Youth services “All Type” youth mentoring program supported the artist over the weekend and were tasked with recording the progress of the mural.
The artist decided to do a mural of an Aboriginal youth in recognition of aboriginal people for whom he has a great respect. He had spent time studying and associating with Aboriginal people in various places across Australia growing in his understanding of their culture. The connection of the mural to peace is in the beauty of the face, sky and land and recognising the Australian Aboriginal as the first people who have a rich cultural background. In some ways we are all different but in some ways we are the same.
We realise that one mural does not solve our social problems but it a positive step towards recognition of aboriginal people and their cultural history. Art is very subjective and people will inevitably interpret the mural in different ways. We hope people will accept it as a beautiful piece of art to be enjoyed by Toowoomba people and visitors alike.
As an English Australian Christian, ANZAC Day has been, and remains, somewhat enigmatic. I appreciate, and am sometimes deeply moved, by aspects of it. Yet it often feels a little alien, particularly in its more recent forms: adding, as they do, extra nationalistic and even militaristic overtones to a developed myth which is itself somewhat sub-Christian, and at times even anti-Christian (when, that is, it over-exalts the very elements of blood-sacrifice and trajectories of human violence which Christ's work transfigures and ends). Generally therefore, I tend simply to let ANZAC commemorations pass by, except when I am forced to confront them: such as at the SCG one day at an AFL match, where the invasion of the pitch by a military parade and ritual was a powerful reminder of the sometimes problematic relationship between sport and violence (indeed I wondered what it would take, and what reaction there would be, to a peace march and peace ritual in the same space in a similar manner). As a proud and happy Australian citizen, I believe strongly in the right of my fellow Australians to hold and practice ideas and behaviours different from my own. I also rejoice in the virtues and outstanding stories of courage, resistance and mutual support in the ANZAC myth and I pray that these may indeed flourish in positive ways in our lives and world today. However I still often feel somewhat distanced. Are there, I wonder, ways forward to a more inclusive commemoration?...
Last weekend, over three nights, our worship centre at All Saints in Arthur Street hosted a series of open-air movies under the stars, together with a barbeque and other refreshments. Particularly at the 6.30 pm 'family' showing, a good audience was present, enjoying Up, Lion King and Toy Story 3. We hope this may be a regular feature, maybe twice a year, as we enable All Saints to develop its life and ministry to the community.
All Saints is in some ways like a platypus: it easily goes unnoticed. Changes of time, activity and orientation at our other two parish worship centres has also seen it drift somewhat, especially after its regular members declined to make any time and worship changes in the 2013 parish review. For the 8 am regular worship time has clashed with the much bigger centre of St Luke's and there has been no clear focus for the future. With considerable faith and courage, All Saints congregation has however now launched themselves into a new time slot - 4.30 pm on a Sunday - and begun establishing new links and a refreshed profile for its surrounding community. Its hall is now certainly well-used during the week. It offers hospitality to both the Toowoomba Coptic and Greek Orthodox worshipping communities and it is a delightful setting for a wedding. Time will tell but we had a very encouraging gathering for worship at the first 4.30 pm service last week. Led by its current dynamic centre wardens, we hope it can therefore continue to claim its growing identity as 'Toowoomba's Village Church'.
Last night, as part of our Maundy Thursday journey, many of our parish members shared together in a Christian Seder meal, followed by our special celebration of communion with footwashing, stripping of the altars and (brief) prayer vigil. Although we have shared a seder meal in the past, it was a few years since we have done so and it proved very moving. A number of elements made it so, including the prayers, questions and answers, remembrance of the Exodus and other deliverances from oppression and evil, and the reading of psalms. The quality of the food and preparation was excellent and the joyful, Jewish-style, song, at the end also rounded things off beautifully. Perhaps most importantly of all however was the attention all these were given and the spirit of attentiveness further cultivated in and between all those who took part. Often, even in our prayer, family and community lives, we rush from one thing to another, risking just going through the motions. To take time to consider what we are doing is a valuable exercise, especially when it brings us to a deeper appreciation and communion with the food, people, and holy stories we share. After the seder meal, this deepened spirit of attentiveness flowed into our worship, bringing a more profound sense of so much within it, as we more truly 'celebrated the feast' of God's presence in, with and beyond us.
Sheer drama is one of the most significant aspects of historic Christianity's marking of Holy Week. To share in it is to share in a mighty eternal stage-play. This is no mere re-enactment of events long ago, as if the Church were an ecclesiastical form of the Sealed Knot. Instead, appropriately engaged with, it is a re-membering and re-imagining of love's ultimacy in the face of the forces of human abuse, deceit and betrayal. Theologically speaking, as a drama to enter into, Holy Week is a powerful confirmation that it is not us who find or save ourselves and our world. Rather it is God, the ultimate power of love, who does the work and turns the world upside down. The call and challenge to the Church in any age is to help make this drama live in any context.
This year, Holy Week in the parish of St Luke Toowoomba began with a wonderful celebration of Palm Sunday, with a delightful blessing of palms around our soon-to-be-completed labyrinth, a lively procession, dancers from our Living Dance school partners, a loving celebration of communion, and joyful singing from one of The Glennie School's choirs. Perhaps the most powerful part of our gathering however was the dramatic presentation at the heart of our Ministry of the Word. Instead of a reading of the lengthy Passion Gospel, and a brief address, several parish members each took a key role (money-changer, Simon Peter, Pilate, Mary Magdalene etc) and told their own story of what they had seen, felt and experienced in Jesus last days. This spoke wonderfully to everyone as it brought the story, and the whole liturgy of Holy Week, alive in new ways. It was an encouragement to us all to continue to look at how we stage, dramatise, and enflesh the Gospel at all times, as well as a beautiful journey into the great tragi-comedy (in the deepest sense) of Holy Week.
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.