In Monty Python’s Life of Brian, there is a powerful scene where a revolutionary sect asks, “What did the Romans ever do for us?” Recognition slowly dawns that the answer is actually “quite a bit!” When we truthfully explore the origins of the Ecclesia Anglicana we face similar acknowledgement for there are several influential strands which typically sit in paradoxical tension with one another. In our understanding of Anglican history, we do well therefore to be open to ‘both/and’, rather than ‘either/or’ perspectives. This is certainly apposite to the enduring influence of both ‘Roman‘ and ‘Celtic’ forms of early Christianity. Sometimes juxtaposed as two competing elements, each continues to shape the nature and dynamics of Anglican spirituality in distinct, but also complementary, ways. Indeed, recent scholarship even questions the terms ‘Roman’ and ‘Celtic’ (some preferring ‘Insular’ to ‘Celtic’) as a designator. It points out that the various early British and Irish Christian traditions were closely linked, rather than a simple, coherent, entity. Nor were ‘Celtic’ Christians isolated from others, as if in a form of spiritual Brexit (a problem with the alternative designation ‘Insular’). For, as Patrick Wormald put it: “One of the common misconceptions is that there was a Roman Church to which the Celtic Church was nationally opposed” in some rigid sense. Nonetheless, if we are generally wise to use inverted commas, historically they reflect enduring creative tensions between the local and universal, between Christ and culture, and between different emphases in mission, prayer and order. Appreciating this rich mosaic more fully enables greater depth in our vocation and spiritual life today..
Yesterday I was given a marvelous gift from a remarkable artist of both life and embroidery. This is a person of great grace and determination who, little known to most people, was a courageous female pioneer in her field of work, also engaging with Indigenous people in other places long before it was 'fashionable' (if it ever has been in a positive sense). At the same time, she has been an amazingly skilled and prolific needlewoman, whose creations, soaked in prayer and deep reflection, richly adorn not only much of the parish of St Luke Toowoomba but many other places besides.
I was overwhelmed by the generosity of this gift and also the beauty, skill and insight which has gone into it. For as my blessed benefactor put it, in an accompanying card:
Traditionally the needlepoint group gave a piece of needlepoint to outgoing priests from this parish. This continues that practice.
It was worked with care and consideration in in appreciation of all you have done in the parish and community.
The four arms of the cross symbolise the outreach in all directions.
Celtic knot work has no beginning or ending but one has to start somewhere - so in your new position may that outreach continue.
On the eve of the feast of St Hilda of Whitby, it is hard to express the Celtic Christian call to mission better, in a medium so resonant of Celtic spirit. I feel richly blessed.
One of my favourite Billy Bragg songs is Handyman Blues (see below for a video version with leading British comics): a wonderful consolation to those of us who are deeply admiring of our fathers and others differently abled, but who are far more capable with words and images than nails and hardware. I was thinking of this a few weeks ago when I made a rare trip to Bunnings Warehouse as part of a family wedding and move preparations in Canberra. What would be the equivalent of Bunnings Warehouse, I wondered, for those of us cursed and blessed with Handyman Blues? Perhaps it would be a Poetry Pavilion? As it happens, this year's London Book Fair instituted a Poetry Pavilion for the first time to promote poetry more fully (see here for one poet's account). How encouraging! In my soul's eye however, a Poetry Pavilion version of Bunnings Warehouse would be far more dramatic and quirky. For a start, quite unlike Bunnings' admirable practicality, like a Celtic rune, nothing would be straight, never mind the aisles. All would be curves and squirls, wiggles and squiggles. In contrast to the predictable sausage sizzle at the door, food would be of all varieties, with sensational mixes of spices and scents, and delicious wines abounding Instead of tools and serviceable items, in curious corners and angular alcoves, each decked with fascinating fabrics, metaphors and motifs would be hiding, with songs titles and dance themes a plenty. Nor would a single uniform be in sight. Everything would be free but would cost all that the heart requires.
It ill behoves an Englishman, and an Australian citizen, to advise Scots how to vote on their future. How exciting it is however that this debate is happening, both for the future of England (and Wales and Northern Ireland) as well as that of Scotland. Which ever way the vote goes, Britain as a whole will never be quite the same - thank God - as the Scots reflect on what it means to look to a post-Imperial future, and, hopefully, encourage the rest of the British to do likewise. For it is good that the British PM David Cameron tells us that he has a heart, at least for some things which have been good about the United Kingdom's structure. Even better though if he were to have a real heart for those things which are at the core of this debate: the longing of people everywhere to be taken seriously for who they truly are; to claim freedom and full responsibility for their lives, their land, and all that lives within it; and to seek a people's vision based on values of genuine democracy, justice and care for all, including free and fair partnership with the rest of the world. Generations of heartlessness by the English elites towards the poor and marginalised throughout Britain (not least to the Celtic so-called 'fringe'), have led us to this pass. A 'United Kingdom' which is still essentially a Union of ancient Crowns can never be enough. With the Scots, the English (the Welsh and maybe many Irish too) also deserve a forward-looking 'Community of Peoples'. My own Scottish friends remain divided on how that may best be immediately furthered: is full independence a help or a hindrance? I sympathise with them in their dilemma. Yet whatever the outcome, they agree that it at least begins to engage Britain's contemporary, post-imperial, identity. So may the spirit of my greatest Scottish hero, James Keir Hardie, thus prevail...
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.