One of the most encouraging aspects of the Australian theological scene is the work of the Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies. Based at the University of Divinity, Melbourne, this vital network has considerably inspired and supported me in recent times and will, I hope, continue to grow in strength and influence. Personally I am thankful to this project and its leaders to have an essay (entitled 'From Footballs to Matildas? - Gender Diverse People and Theological Game Change') included in the forthcoming book Contemporary Feminist Theologies: Power, Authority, Love - part of Routledge's 'Gender, Theology and Spirituality' series. I am also pleased to share in the Horizons series of online conversations which the Collaborators run on a monthly basis. This month, I am myself a focal point, chatting with Dr Cath McKinney about intersectionality, not least the challenges and opportunities of gender diverse people within feminist developments (link to event here). Here below - and at this link - is a short reflection to stimulate thought and discussion...
Above is a prayer I have written to mark the annual Coming of the Light festival (1 July) and for use of other occasions. It is shaped with thanks to Torres Strait Islanders with whom I have walked/continue to walk, with appreciation of their deep faith, spirituality and commitment to justice and diversity. Living strongly in my heart is also the visit, with NSW Ecumenical Council friends, which I paid several years ago to the Torres Strait. Torres Strait Islanders are often little known to many Australians, never mind the rest of the world, and literally and metaphorically missed off maps of the nation. Yet their history, culture and life today are rich and life-giving. They also continue to challenge us all to face up to the continuing effects of colonialism, injustice and climate change (which impacts on the Torres Strait so strongly). I am particularly grateful to walk paths of just Reconciliation with Aunty Rose Elu and the non-geographical Anglican Torres Strait Islander parish in Brisbane. May this year's Coming of the Light further enrich the people of the Torres Strait and deepen our solidarity.
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?
Trans Spirit Flourishing is the name of a new website I have produced, which seeks to shed light on transgender life & spiritual understanding and to help develop support and encouragement for trans people in our varied journeys. For spirituality is essential to human beings but we have often used it ignorantly.
The unnecessary and deeply hurtful Australian postal survey on marriage equality has sadly demonstrated how many Christians are still not aware of the devastating damage which has been done and which continues to be inflicted on LGBTI+ people by ideas and practices which we desperately need to leave behind. As a result the deep spiritual life and insights of so many LGBTI+ people is often neglected. For transgender and gender nonconforming people this is a particular tragedy as our journeys are so much bound up with exploring and expressing our deepest identities. Things are changing however, even if some of us will no doubt continue to bear the pain of the struggle. Trans spiritual flourishing for some sections of religious faiths may never happen, but who knows - God is amazing in surprises! However trans spirit flourishing can begin, or develop further, right and here and now, for everyone .
My hope is that this resource can add, and point, to sources of light and encouragement - both, and above all, for those struggling with gender identity themselves, and for allies and those genuinely seeking understanding.
We are living through challenging times, with many demanding issues of ecology, reconciliation, peacemaking, poverty, and care for refugees and other vulnerable people. Gender diversity has so often been a battlefield. May we make of it a source of grace for the larger journey of healing and wholeness for all.
The other evening I had the pleasure of being part of this year's inter-denominational service of commissioning of Religious Instruction (RI) teachers for Toowoomba. It was a typically up-beat and prayerful occasion, with fine inputs from local school principals and Stephen Urmston, the new Anglican Children & Family worker at St Barts Toowoomba. I was moved again by the genuine care and loving commitment of those involved in offering RI to children in our local state schools and do believe that, in some ways, they enhance both the spiritual and wider relational life of the children and adults they share and meet with. However...
One of the great joys of February 29 is that it reminds us that life cannot be fitted into a system. Something - thank God - always bursts out. What good news is that for all that is weird and wonderful in us, our lives ans relationships! The Gregorian calendar does its best to calibrate and control us. Yet having an extra day every four years can't even fix time then. So, on 29 February, we have a great opportunity really to celebrate all that is weird and wonderful in ourselves, in others, and in the amazing diversity of our world - vive la difference. So what will you do today to make it a weird day, with all the weird people and places you know?
It was a great delight last week to lead the Grafton Diocese's clergy retreat. The diocese has gone through a number of difficult trials in recent years (especially in wrestling with horrific child abuse issues) but it includes a wonderful variety of people and places, led by its fine bishop Sarah Macneil. An area of fabulous country, rivers, beaches, lifestyles and pursuits, it has been very successful in holding together a wide diversity of Anglican outlooks whilst pursuing new initiatives in mission and ministry. May God bless it richly in brighter days ahead and strengthen us all in learning from one another.
For this year's Toowoomba Harmony Day celebrations, it has been a delight to write a special affirmation of peace and harmony for Toowoomba faith leaders to share. Taking up some of the themes of our journey together, including the local Indigenous significance of the Bunya tree, the Goodwill Committee of Toowoomba hope it may be a declaration we can also share and develop in the future. With every blessing upon our many peoples, faiths, and cultures which enrich us all...
We come from many backgrounds
and have journeyed many roads.
We give thanks for these good things of our past.
We rejoice in the first peoples of this land
and their continuing cultures.
We celebrate with all who have left other nations,
brought their learning and made a home in this place.
Just as the Bunya tree has given life for so many generations,
so may we offer shelter and sustenance
and share smiles of peace and harmony.
We bring many gifts and outlooks.
We give thanks for these good things of the present.
We rejoice in the strengths and diversity
of our shared community.
We celebrate our many faiths and stories,
our business and our art.
Just as our environment gives delight to our Garden City,
so may we scatter seeds of understanding,
grow flowers of friendship, plant peace and harvest harmony.
We share many hopes and dreams.
We give thanks for these promises of the future.
We rejoice in its possibilities.
We re-commit ourselves to the common good.
Just as earlier diverse communities gathered
for the great Bunya festivals of the past,
so may we walk together
into a more joyful and reconciling world.
Honouring our elders and raising up children of hope,
may we be a model city of peace and harmony.
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.