One of the most life-giving parts of my ministry in Toowoomba was the installation of the Reconciliation Cross in St Luke's Anglican Church. Created by renowned Aboriginal artist Uncle Colin Isaacs, as a gift from Heather Johnston (a descendant of one of the original European settlers), this commemorates the great Aboriginal leader Multuggerah, the Battle of One Tree Hill, and Aboriginal resistance to invasion and dispossession. It was overseen with the guidance and leadership of the late Uncle Darby McCarthy and other local elders, with particularly notable support from Mark Copland (from the Social Justice Unit of the Catholic diocese of Toowoomba). It represents a vital visible step in Australian Reconciliation, affirming a continuing journey for recognition and justice. For, in these days of #BlackLIvesMatter and questions about 'white' history and memorials, it offers a tangible example of what can be done to renew our histories and nurture new symbolism and focal points for a better future together. In my view, as both an historian and a priest, it is undoubtedly appropriate that some, more offensive, statues and other historical artefacts are replaced and/or re-used in new ways. Others might have constructive adaptations or additions made. Both of these courses have indeed been employed, on church owned sites, as part of Church practice in addressing the legacy of, and memorials, to child abusers, and those who have colluded with them. Much much more important however is addressing living injustices and forging new pathways. Reclaiming Australia's 'black history' is a crucial aspect of this and Toowoomba's Reconciliation Cross is a living symbol.. It is therefore a cause of thanksgiving that it is placed in the centre of Toowoomba, in one of its oldest and most significant spiritual buildings, available for anyone to visit, to ponder and to encourage the next urgent steps in the journey of justice and healing...
Among other things, the killing of George Floyd in the USA has raised big issues about racism, in Australia as well as the USA, and elsewhere. Here are just three reflections by Aboriginal Christian leaders which raise the profound challenges to those of us who are white and continue to benefit from the systemic violence of our society. At the end of this Reconciliation Week they are particularly important to hear, and act upon...
One of the reasons I was happy to be part of the trans faith film Faithfully Me (premiered tonight) was film maker Rachel Lane's track record of assisting in sharing the voices of other typically marginalised groups, not least Aboriginal ones. For one of the challenging invitations of our time is nurturing intersectional relationships which enable justice and fullness of life for all - for too many, otherwise very necessary, 'identity' struggles are weakened by restricted commitments and groups which tend only to include their own kind. Over the years, many Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander leaders have pointed me to a better way, supporting the needs and hopes of others even, at a cost, when their own are so outstanding. We 'progressive' white folk haven't always reciprocated well.
Here, below, is a little excerpt from Secret & Sacred, an example of Rachel's earlier work, a glimpse of the deep wisdom of the Badjatala people (whitefella Hervey Bay & Fraser (K'Gari) Island region), but a snippet of the neglected ancient but very much living wisdom of this land. With particular thanks to Glenn Loughrey and Dianne Langham, Canon Bruce Boase, and Aunty Rose Elu for their continuing personal inspiration to me in sharing solidarity - and to other friends, like Tony Robertson and Johnny Valkyrie, who respond so beautifully and model how the liberation of any of us is entwined with the liberation of us all. This is so absolutely contrary to today's right-wing 'religious freedom' push, and central to authentic catholic faith, as so powerfully expressed in John Donne's Meditation 17: for the bells which toll, toll for us all. The chimes of freedom - human rights and flourishing - are indivisible - so let's ring out our different bells in a harmony of joy :-)
One more step along the road we go. For it is 6 years, almost to the day, since I successfully proposed a diocesan Synod motion for the Anglican Church Southern Queensland to explore a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), inspired by the work done by the Toowoomba Catholic diocese. I was reminded of this this afternoon as I took part in filming Reconciliation stories with Anglicare Southern Queensland and other diocesan colleagues as part of a new and developing Anglicare Reconciliation project. It has certainly been a sometimes frustrating, but also, above all, deeply enriching journey for me personally. For - from Cunnamulla to Buderim, through Toowoomba, the Gold Coast, and Brisbane - I have walked, yarned and worked with all kinds of people, from all kinds of different spaces and with all kinds of different stories. So it was lovely to share today in bringing some of this together, in immediate advance of NAIDOC Week, in order to enable fresh steps ahead with many more people. The RAP, is, and always was and will be, an ambitious project - seeking to work together over such a large and diverse area, with all sections of the diocesan family - and there is so much more to do, but today was an example of how rewarding this can be.
Oscar Romero, the great El Salvadorean archbishop and martyr, observed that the task of the Church in every generation is to make of that country’s history a history of salvation. This has always struck me strongly and I’ve been pondering it in relation to ANZAC Day and St George’s Day (the English national day) this week. As a saint, Oscar Romero’s feast day also falls appropriately between those two dates and challenges us to relate our national histories to that of Israel as described in the Bible. What can we learn?...
It was such a joy on this day of Resurrection to meet the recently new born Leo today in the Special Care Baby Unit at the Royal Brisbane & Women's Hospital and to share Easter communion with his wonderful parents. Leo was born prematurely but is thriving with loving care and is a delightful gift to our St Francis College and Milton Anglican community as well as to family and friends. We hold Leo in our prayers and look forward to his coming home. In his beautiful fragility and hopeful promise he already however offers us spiritual insight and connection. Indeed, one of the lovely aspects of his beginnings is the moving Aboriginal artwork at the entry to Special Care. This centres on the kookaburra, a Christ-like symbolic announcer of new creation, and offers ancestral spiritual wisdom. For, in the words of the Aboriginal artist Tracy McGregor:
the kookaburra spreads the news of a new baby created...
the baby will then be part of a spiritual family connection that treasures the ground they walk on, allowing the child to grow with strength and wisdom like their ancestors...
Our youth is now part of our future and they will travel on a journey that will be filled with all the knowledge and guidance that allows them to unite with the land and the people.
This is the magical journey of life.
This morning, on this April Fool's Day, we Milton Anglicans also pondered the laughter of God's Resurrection. Leo is a gorgeous sign of this. No wonder the kookaburra laughs.
As western society, in a few places, begins to admit (and hopefully address) some aspects of our own male violence and abuse, will we learn to recover old, and create new, stories and images of what matters? Among other aspects of the Songlines exhibition in Canberra, this came home to me again strongly as I was once more struck by the power of the female in ancient storytelling. The powerful moral and cosmological (Seven) Sisters stories for example are told in many ways in different places, including with strong resonances outside Australia (from where the number seven among the sisters may partly have arisen). In the west of Australia the sisters are thus called Minyipuru. As they travel east however, out of Marlu country into the lands of the Ngaanyatjarra and the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjarra, they become known as Kungkarrangkalpa and Kungkarangkalpa. The details profoundly matter of course, yet they also share so many common themes, not least those of women's survival, resilience and ingenuity in the face of male threat. For the sisters' journeys include pursuit by a male, also known in different places by different names. This man, to try to realise his lust and love, is a shape-shifter. So the story is partly a colourful battle of wits between the male and females, involving all kinds of subterfuges, adventures, and stratagems. Told as they have been for tens of thousands of years, these richly layered stories thus enable both men, and especially young women, to come to terms with our human needs and struggles: sharing a realistic portrayal of the interplay of desire and exploitation, power relationships and flexibility of action. Women are not idealised but their capabilities, and their weaknesses, are no longer buried. They, together with men, become active participants in their moral choices and aware nurturers of one another. As the Aboriginal women of the Songlines exhibition put it, in relation to the painting of Yaritji Young of Tjala Arts (above):
We are all kangaru pulka: big sisters to the young women. Like in the Seven Sisters story we must teach and protect our young sisters
This is so much more powerful when the story and its morality is enacted in so many different ways. For, as Tjunkara Ken, Yaritiji Young's sister, has said:
I hold my father's story. I hold my mothers' story... (it) doesn't come out of paper or out of a book. It's coming out of the ground here. (My way) is different. It comes from the inside out.
How will each of us make female dignity a grounded matter of 'inside out'? Such stories also of course have resonance in western traditions, not least in the Bible, where similar comparisons might be drawn to tricksters like Jacob and powerful women such as Deborah and Judith. Indeed, like any living and enduring spiritual stream, despite its deeply patriarchal traditional limitations, Christianity also has its own share of female stories of wisdom, resilience and empowerment. How often however do we hear, sing, dance and embody them, and create new ones? As, so painfully slowly, we come to terms with the damaged feminine in our culture - and above all with the brutal realities and 'hidden' denied abuse of so many women's lives - it is surely time, further prompted by the sisters and the ancient wisdom of the Songlines, to tell and live them.
This year is the bicentenary of the Bible Society in Australia and it was wonderful to be given a lovely gift by one of our students which marks the occasion - Our mob, God's story : Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists share their faith. (researched and edited by Louise Sherman and Christobel Mattingley ; art selection by Max Conlon, Gail Naden, Glenny Naden and Inawantji Scales ; with foreword by distinguished Aboriginal artist and educator Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann)
Winner of the 2017 Australian Christian Book of the Year, Our Mob, God’s Story features the work of 66 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian artists, well-known and unknown, from communities, towns and cities across Australia, from Tasmania to the Tiwi Islands, from Ceduna to Cairns, form Perth to Wonthaggi, sharing their faith in 115 paintings inspired by Bible verses and stories, many well loved, others not so well known, from Creation to the Crucifixion. All artists have generously given free use of their images, but retain copyright.
It is a powerful and beautiful witness to God’s love for the traditional custodians of this ancient continent which we now call Australia, and to the talent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Publication has been funded by a generous donor and all proceeds will go towards publication of Scripture in mother tongues of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups.
At the risk of sounding like The Big Bang Theory's Dr Sheldon Cooper, we have been having some appropriate 'fun with flags' at St Luke's Toowoomba over the last few days, as we have sought to honour the tragedy and courage of our broken Australian and international histories. Firstly we held our annual Remembrance Service, remembering the fallen and damaged of the great wars and conflicts in which Australians have been engaged, as well as praying for peace across the world. This involved armed services representatives, our mayor and local MPs, retired services organisations, Harlaxton RSL band, serving army chaplain the Revd David Snape, a fine sermon from the Revd Penny Jones, and display of the three services ensigns and main Australian flag. The collection from the service also once again went towards the maintenance of the Warriors Chapel in St Luke's, a space for our city which honours the fallen and damaged of various conflicts (including those of the world wars, Korea, and Vietnam) and which holds a number of banners from former times.
A new step this year however will be the addition to the Warriors Chapel of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags. These will be installed next Monday, 14 November, alongside a beautiful memorial cross to remember the Battle of One Tree Hill, one of the most significant local conflicts in the European invasion and settlement of the Toowoomba region. This is part of our Reconciliation journey together as we learn more about our shared histories and walk more closely together for healing and a better world. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait island flags are recognised national flags of Australia and are available free from MPs offices to recognised bodies. It was a delight therefore to receive these for St Luke's yesterday from the office of the Hon John McVeigh.
We pray together that all the flags we will hold at St Luke's will bring renewed honour and dignity to all they represent. I did have a little wry chuckle yesterday however as I received the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island flags. They, like all our flags, are deeply sacramental of identity, visibility, connection and life. Yet in another sense, they can also be aspects of our human capacity for pompousness and far worse, if they are not regarded properly with humility and care for all. For, as Eddie Izzard put it memorably, especially for those of us with British backgrounds, flags are also very curious constructions...
It was a huge delight to be part of the launch of the Reconciliation Action Plan of the Anglican Church Southern Queensland (diocese of Brisbane) in St John's Cathedral Brisbane last Thursday. Together with a Welcome to Country, didgeridoo music, food, and audio-visual display of Reconciliation activities across the diocese, a particular highlight was also the performance of the Malu Kiai Mura Baui dance troupe and speeches from Archbishop Phillip Aspinall and our National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Anglican Council diocesan leaders Canon Bruce Boase and Aunty Rose Elu. Almost 200 people attended the event, including the most prominent lay and ordained Anglican leaders in the diocese, local elders and representatives of leading organisations such as Reconciliation Queensland.
The RAP Launch was the culmination of four years work of awareness and relationship building across the diocese and represents a significant step forward. Indeed the ACSQ RAP is highly unusual for the sheer scale of its geographical and organisational extent, covering both such a large area of Australia with so many different Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples and involving every section of the diocese, including finance and service departments, as well as parishes, schools, St Francis College and Anglicare. May God bless all involved in making this next stage of shared commitment real in the days ahead.
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.