I'm so pleased for the talented Gympie photographer Charmaine Lyons that her first Women United exhibition was able to be held recently, at Gympie Regional Library, before COVID-19 spread here. The project has been focusing on sharing the photos, and stories, of 200 'ordinary, extraordinary' women from all walks of life in regional, or regionally connected, Australia. It was motivated by reaction to the White House photograph featuring President Trump signing off on an US 'global gag' on support for women's reproductive rights - original story here - and by the Women's Marches in the USA and worldwide. Charmaine's vision is about affirming those working for, and living out, a more just, sustainable and flourishing society and world for all - which is something we sure need to ponder and work for more actively in the future as the weaknesses of our profit-before-people economy & privilege-for-some culture are so exposed by COVID-19 right now. A book and - in time - more exhibitions elsewhere will follow (part of the positive creative expression which hopefully will be nurtured and curated in this bunkered dread season). Most of all however I just love the affirmation of diversity coming from regional Queensland (often despised elsewhere in Australia). It is such an encouraging example of empowerment wherever we may be: if Gympie can do this, why not elsewhere? With blessings to all creative spirits 🙏❤️ Here’s an 'official' film interview (Women United - an interview with Charmaine Lyons), hosted on Vimeo - by another talented Gympie creative spirit (Jazmyn of Jazmyn Produces) - sharing some of the aims, inspiration and photos (including one of me if you’re very attentive!).
In these times of coronavirus induced 'social isolation', it is salutary to reflect on those who have been leaders in practicing what we might call 'sacred isolation'. Indeed, I was happy recently to meet a request to write about St. Cuthbert, whose feast day falls this week. As a child of Northumbria, and the haliwerfolc (people of the saint) of Durham, it was a labour of love (there are certainly reasons his famous cross hangs, as in the photo above, in the window of my living room). My piece for Anglican Focus is entitled 'St Cuthbert - opening the door to the heart of heaven' (with homage to Malcolm Guite's fine sonnet), and can be found here. Sadly, in the Australian Anglican Lectionary, Cuthbert is remembered primarily as 'bishop and missionary'. His true significance however is much more than that: above all, as monk and hermit, in exploring life and God in silence, solitude, and intimate relationship with the 'word' of God in people, places, scripture and the 'book' of all Creation. Perhaps his commitment to 'sacred isolation' at the heart of his being is a particular gift to us today - not cutting us off from others, but enabling us to find deeper meaning, healing and solidarity in the midst of whatever life's circumstances throw our way?
Speaking before this weekend's Sydney Mardi Gras, the performer Courtney Act went to the heart of today's political and cultural struggles:
People having the opportunity to … picture themselves in someone else’s experience – [It] fosters a sense of empathy. Empathy is what is missing right now in the world. We’re yelling from opposite sides of the room and nothing’s getting done.
(Guardian interview 23 February 2020)
Sadly, but probably accurately, Courtney's view is also that whilst “the world has become more respectful of diversity in general … Australia is still definitely behind the eight ball.”
How do we move beyond this?
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 :-)
Timing eh? If I were a comedian I’d be sacked! Sadly, I’m not able to be physically present, although this premiere is so much on my heart tonight. Unfortunately, this clashes with leave that Penny and I had planned over a year ago, with some special family commitments. However, this film is truly timely, speaking something of the 'word' that is transgender people of faith's gift to church and world...
2020 promises to be something of a watershed year in the development of Anglicanism, both in Australia and internationally. For this year sees both an Australian General Synod meeting and the next Lambeth Conference, each of which look to be significant occasions in continuing Anglican 'culture wars', particularly in relation to the persistence of narrow ideological hang-ups towards sexually and gender diverse people. In addition, in Australia, the Anglican Church's Appellate Tribunal will rule on the legitimacy of two very mild steps taken by the dioceses of Wangaratta and Newcastle: respectively an agreed liturgy for blessings of those now able to be married under civil law under the marriage equality legislation now happily in place in Australia; and space for clergy in all such faithful relationships to able to use their gifts freely in recognised ministry in the Church, without fear of disciplinary action. Meanwhile, with proposed religious discrimination legislation before Federal Parliament, Anglican and other Churches will rightly come under further scrutiny for the degree of their collusion (and, in some cases, active leadership) with the continuing queerphobia and repression of LGBTIQA+ people in Australian society. Sadly, LGBTIQA+ Christian voices are typically restricted or denied in these developments, not least within Church debates themselves. Thankfully, like their counterparts overseas, Equal Voices Anglicans have been growing in strength and visibility, offering some hope and consolation in what will be a lengthy struggle for sanity and dignity. As this year unfolds, it is indeed hoped that fresh affirming expressions will be increasingly manifest. For the moment, on behalf of Equal Voices Anglicans, I offer a list of helpful resources for use, from both Australian and international sources: including You Tube and written stories, theology, small group study materials, and pastoral care resources - download here, or from the Equal Voices Anglican website here.
On this New Year's Eve, 4 000 people took refuge from bushfires on the beach at Mallacoota in Victoria. The dramatic pictures - full of burning, smoke, and red skies - understandably drew forth words such as 'apocalyptic'. With two more lives lost today, together with many houses, the unprecedented series of bushfires across Australia cast a strong pall over the nation. The evacuation on the beach is but one powerful symbol, but, in the apocalyptic mood, it vividly makes fact the fiction of the famous film On the Beach (released in 1959, starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire), with its Melbourne 'end of the world' scenes. This is not the product of nuclear devastation however, but of the wilful neglect of decades of climate research and the 'she'll be right' blinkered stubborness of so much Australian and worldwide 'leadership'. It is a fierce verdict on such self-obsessed, and ultimately self-destructive, politics which have been so prominent in so much of the world this year. At the turn of this year therefore, lament, rather than looking forward, may seem most appropriate. What hope do we find?...
Beyond Religious Privilege and Segregation: Becoming Good Neighbours as LGBTIQA+ and religious Australians together
Sometimes Parliament is seen as a soap opera. If only it were! For though it remains so white and suburban, even TV’s Neighbours has just included a transgender character. It is a positive sign of the times but makes recent political developments all the more incongruous. For whilst the wonderful Georgie Stone enlivens Erinsborough High, in politics a green light is being given to repression. Why are we rushing towards religious discrimination laws when we’ve not yet even sorted our schools issues? So the question I want to pose is this: what kind of neighbours do we want to be as Australians together?
Current parliamentary discussion is failing trans people - not least those of faith - in both process and specific proposals. Hence Equal Voices calls for postponement, into at least the middle of next year, to enable genuine consultation with those who will bear the greatest cost. The proposed Religious Discrimination Bill is a move towards enshrining disturbing forms of religious privilege and segregation which can only corrode our pluralist culture...
Sadly the Australian Federal Government seems intent on once more causing trouble for its LGBTIQ+ citizens. For the recently released draft Religious Discrimination Bill again reflects the militant drive of the Religious (and wider) Right rather than a desire to find a pathway to recognise all Australians as equal in law, respect and value. After the pain of the unnecessary postal survey campaign on equal marriage, there has been little let up for LGBTIQ+ Australians as some others have pursued what often seems like a deliberate vendetta. Significant elements and figures in Australia's Christian community continue to be major offenders in this, obsessed with their own narrow sectarian agendas and preservation of power and privilege. The consequence is further understandable alienation of many from religious bodies. LGBTIQ+ people of faith consequently also find ourselves further marginalised, sometimes not always finding 'safe space' within the wider LGBTIQ+ community. The Right's drive to posit the nonsense of 'God v the Gays' and a repressive 'LGBTIQ+ agenda' thus currently bears fruit. Thank God therefore for the existence of bodies such as Equal Voices, the national network of LGBTIQA+ Christians and allies, together with other LGBTIQA+ people of other faith, and partnerships with some other key LGBTIQA+ groups and leaders. Together we seek genuine freedom for all. As a member of the Equal Voices national board, I thus felt myself impelled yesterday to speak out with others in our movement about the failings of the Federal Government's approach. This follows my participation in shared advocacy with other LGBTIQA+ people (as in my speech at the Brisbane rally recently). See here below further for the words of our media release...
I speak today as both a proud member of our LGBTIQA+ community, and also as a dedicated person of faith, indeed as an Anglican priest. I do so, because people like me are typically erased, our lives and voices ignored. Yet we queer people of faith do exist! - and we are increasingly seeking to be visible. For our very existence gives lie to the monstrous misuse of religion for political ends. We suffer particularly profoundly from religious discrimination. We do not want religious exemptions which hurt us and others, and betray the heart of who we are. We also know that the majority of our fellow Australians of faith agree with us, as we saw in that dreadful postal survey. So we’ve tried to lobby, spoken to Government inquiries, sought to be part of desperately needed change. Yet, as queer people of faith, our rights to religious expression are seldom recognised...
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.