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 theme for this year's Reconciliation Week has been particularly fruitful for those of us who are practising Christians. It has provided another positive link between our faith and the journey of healing and justice in our land. For each element of the threefold heading has meaning for both the Christian pathway and that of Australia's many peoples. Indeed it was a delight to preside at baptisms this week in this dual context. For 'Our History' calls us to reflect, and act, upon, the question 'where do we come from?' Neither an individual, nor a nation, can go far without acknowledging and being in proper touch with the bedrock of our lives, whether our historical memory or spiritual 'dreaming' and relationship to God. 'Our Story' similarly calls us to reflect, and act, upon, the question 'what do we belong to?'. This is vital for both individuals and communities. In the Christian case, this involves participation in the 'Jesus Christ', or biblical 'God' Story: in a sense, our Christian 'Dreaming'. Meanwhile, 'Our Future' calls us to reflect, and act, upon the question 'where are we going?' This is vital for purpose and meaning, new life and the realisation of our individual and shared gifts and potential. For Christians, this involves living further into the promise of shalom which God has for us and all his/her children. May all we have thus shared this week strengthen our ancient foundations, our walking together, and life in the Spirit of renewal.
One of the interesting features of criticism raised by some to aspects of 'progressive orthodox' Christian faith is the perceived relationship between love, God and Judaeo-Christian scripture. Progressives can certainly be guilty of simplistic and sentimental thinking, including syllogistic fallacies around such themes. Yet it appears to me that conservative theology sometimes runs the risk of driving a wedge between the God of scripture and healthy, life-giving, human love. In a recent local marriage equality discussion for example, it was somewhat extraordinary to hear a vigorous opponent assert a radical difference between God and human love. In responding to a particular interpretation of 1 John 4.16b - 'God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them' - they were right in drawing attention to the wider context of that verse, including the prevenient nature of God's love and primary focus in Christ. However such divine love was precisely embodied in the very human life and love of Jesus, expressing the presence of such love throughout creation, in all kinds of different ways. Part of the religious genius of historic Christian Faith has been the ability to hold these different elements in tension, understanding the creative paradox of i John 4.12 that 'No one has ever seen God; (yet) if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.' Both love, and sin, in my view, are far more complex and mysterious than many 'plain Christian' theologies allow for.
Perhaps part of the contrasting responses of Christians lies in how holy scripture is itself conceived. One young man for example said to me recently that the Bible and Christian Faith were not really about love but about salvation. He is on a genuine journey of exploration into these matters and we had a cordial and mutually illuminating conversation. Yet such a view reflects a very common but restricted framework which some Christians have imposed, and continue to impose, on the Bible. In reality of course such a lively and diverse set of scriptures have many contrasting themes. Salvation is a vital, and perhaps particularly distinctive Christian, one. Surely however salvation is but one way of approaching love, rather than the reverse? For all its misuse over the centuries, what has always 'saved' holy scripture is the longing for, and experience of, God which human beings have found in it. Rather than being the Procrustean structure of a salvation machine, the Bible is witness to the eternal love story of God, humanity and creation, embodied, for Christians, most fully in Jesus Christ.
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...
dStonewall have done a great job in helping share Christian LGBT stories from across the globe in their new resource - Christian Role Models for LGBT Equality (download by clicking on the link here). The 20 stories come from Eastern Africa, the Caribbean, Poland, the Pacific, South America, Eastern Asia, Western Africa and Eastern Europe as well as the UK, South Africa, Brazil, USA and Russia. Each story shows the personal perspective of Christians who believe that their faith is not incompatible with either being LGBT or accepting LGBT people. Their backgrounds and religious traditions are all different; some are priests, some have been imprisoned, some are in relationships. Some identify as lesbian, gay, bi or trans, while others are allies of LGBT people and communities. May this resource help to bring positive change, save lives, reduce the appalling violence suffered by LGBT people across the world, and renew churches ans societies the world over.
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...
The Hills Hoist is one of the great Australian icons. It is in many ways redolent of much of modern Australia: happily and effectively secular, suburban and spiritually practical and pragmatic. It is simple, straightforward and sensible. It is easily owned by all cultures and backgrounds and found across the continent, from the cosmopolitan coast to regional backyards, to outback and desert landscapes. It requires no special insight, ritual or tradition. Yet the eye of faith may contemplate its cruciform design with wonder. Grounded in the sacred earth, clothed with humanity, raised to the heavens, its ordered, waiting, being is open to the dynamic grace and play of the elements, not least the sun and wind – metaphors of the life-giving Word and Spirit. Unassuming icon – heaven in ordinary.
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.