Like her or loath her, Melinda Tankard Reist has made an impact. Listening to her in Toowoomba yesterday, I was struck by the challenge and cost of the activism she lives and calls others into. I would not personally agree with exactly everything she says. Yet she remains one of the foremost contemporary 'pro-life feminist' voices and her grassroots campaigning movement Collective Shout is a lively force against the objectification of women and the sexualisation of girls in media, advertising and popular culture. Melinda is also a powerful encourager and embodiment of activism. Indeed, as the Glennie School and others locally have found this week, she is a particular inspiration to girls and women to stand up for themselves and for the needs of others. Does Melinda sometimes overestimate the negative effects of pornography and over-emphasise prohibition and protection rather than choice and liberation? Perhaps. Does her socially conservative background cause liberal concern? Maybe. How far does she contribute to the deep and thorny challenges of working through shame and honour, economic, cultural and gendered power, and the place of eros, sexual identity and expression in our contemporary world? Feminists seem divided on whether they agree with her or not, and how she contributes to their cause. Yet, whatever her own failings - and all activists have them - all would surely agree that she is an impressive agent provocateur for activism...
Last Sunday it was both moving and a delight to celebrate the 20 years anniversary of the ordinations to the priesthood of my wife and colleague Penny Jones and our Glennie School chaplain Kate Powell. Both were part of the historic wave of female ordinations in England in 1994. As part of the gathering they shared something of their own journeys, including the pain and struggle to ordination (and, in Kate's case, the opposition of her own bishop, in Chichester, which led to her ordination by another bishop in a parish church at East Grinstead). The choice of songs, readings and poetry was telling and uplifting and it was a huge pleasure to be joined by people from the wider community as well as Glennie School and the Anglican parish of St Luke. We were reminded how this is but one more step on the journey of God's liberation of women and men: a 'teacup in a storm', offering comfort and encouragement. A particular joy was also the presence of other women from other denominations and religious faiths (including Venerable Wu Chin, from the Pure Land Buddhists, who brought a lovely gift of typical hospitality).
Yesterday it was encouraging to meet with Ryan Wiggins, from Reconciliation Australia, to hear of progress in providing Reconciliation tools for faith communities, not least in the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane. Ryan was going on to a meeting with our diocesan bishops, as the next step in the process of considering a diocesan RAP (Reconciliation Action Plan): an initiative I set going with a successful Synod motion, asking for diocesan-wide attention to the possibility of such a RAP as one tool to further Reconciliation as an essential integral part of our life together.
I have been partly inspired by the RAP (see cover to the left) created in Toowoomba by our local Catholic diocese, thanks to the leadership of the former bishop Bill Morris, my wonderful friends in the Catholic Social Justice Commission, and, above all, the gracious and wise guidance of local Indigenous people . Our Anglican Glennie School in Toowoomba, and the SAILS organisation in our diocese have also created other encouraging examples of RAPs, working closely with local Indigenous people. What a difference it would make however if we can find ways to 'mainstream' this work, so that it is not left to a few particularly enlightened or enthusiastic people!
I do not know exactly how our Anglican diocese will develop this process in detail. I do know though that it is being taken very seriously and that Reconciliation Australia are also inspired by the challenge of what would be (in Ryan Wiggins' words) a 'mega-RAP', providing real institutional weight, direction and inspiration to the whole breadth and depth of diocesan commissions, parishes, schools, welfare bodies, and other agencies. This would also, very importantly, be a major fillip for our Indigenous Christian leaders who work so hard, with so little resource and so many other responsibilities. For everyone can do their part in Reconciliation, not leaving this to those Indigenous Australians who often have enough on their plate just surviving, or to the 'usual suspects'. In this respect, what was particularly encouraging to hear from Ryan yesterday were the new tools coming online from Reconciliation Australia for local churches and schools. Recognising the difficulties of the original RAP frameworks for faith communities - designed, as they were, mainly for business organisatations - good work has been done (learning from the struggles of SAILS and other church groups) to produce more faith-community-friendly tools. With the assistance of World Vision, these will be trialled shortly and will hopefully represent further practical steps, with tangible outcomes for Indigenous people, on our crucial national journey of healing.
In what ways can we join together with others in praying and witnessing to peace? I am most thankful today to friends from Toowoomba's Pure Land Learning College for their kind work in putting together a video of our celebration of the International Day of Peace at St Luke's Toowoomba last year. It is a lovely new year's gift to receive at this time and can be viewed below (click on more). Our event took place in the context of St Luke's flower and music festival during Toowoomba's Carnival of Flowers and is just one example of how churches and others can cooperate and be hospitable to others for the sake of the wider world and our greater mutual understanding It was the third time we have held something similar at St Luke's, with each occasion being particularly special. Last year, for example, children from The Glennie School helped us by sharing their own prayers, as leaders of different faith groups in Toowomba joined together to light candles in prayer. Through videos, speeches and songs, we were reminded of how Toowoomba can be a model city for Peace and Harmony. This video compilation shares something of how Toowoomba is giving a real lead, as well as how we try to link in with other initiatives overseas. It shows how we can find times and ways to relate together without compromising out integrity and instead be enriched by one another. Indeed, for myself, in this event last year I was especially humbled by an older Sufi Muslim man from Iraq. He greeted me before the start with deep and fulsome thanks. 'This is so wonderful', he said, 'I grew up in Iraq in the shadow of the Anglican cathedral and became great friends with many there. We truly loved one another. So it is so sad to see and feel the religious hurts of Iraq today. This however is one marvellous way we can begin to reestablish sanity again.' At the end he was full of tears of joy and compassion. He grasped my hand as we exchanged the peace. 'May the peace of Christ be with you' he said. I have rarely experienced such a truly meaningful exchange of peace in a religious setting.
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.