Oscar Romero, the great El Salvadorean archbishop and martyr, observed that the task of the Church in every generation is to make of that country’s history a history of salvation. This has always struck me strongly and I’ve been pondering it in relation to ANZAC Day and St George’s Day (the English national day) this week. As a saint, Oscar Romero’s feast day also falls appropriately between those two dates and challenges us to relate our national histories to that of Israel as described in the Bible. What can we learn?...
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the Pope’s horses and all the Pope’s men (and women),
couldn’t put Humpty together again.
For good and ill, the era we know as the Reformation has hugely shaped us. It involved immense fragmentation: both a breaking down and a breaking open. Like Humpty Dumpty, that which went before had ‘a great fall’ and could not be put together again as it had been. Especially within Christian life, it has thus bequeathed so many features we simply take for granted. Some have lasting value. Others are much more questionable. This includes the very existence of different Christian traditions, in what, from the 19th century, we have termed denominations. This was not, of course, an intended outcome. Indeed, it would have seemed anathema to any Reformer, as well as to the Church of Rome. Yet it is part of our Reformation inheritance. So what do we make of this, for God’s continuing mission? What is worth keeping? How might we move on together?
This reflection is not a traditional potted history. Nor does it seek to draw us into comparisons of our different Christian traditions, never mind reassemble past dynamics and rhetoric. Instead, it outlines briefly both vital differences and also important similarities between that age and our own. In doing so, it identifies a number of negative features which often mar our churches and world. It also suggests a number of positive features which can heal and take us forward. Hopefully, in the contemporary spirit of ‘receptive ecumenism’, these may then provide a basis for assessing which Reformation gifts we will own together and which we will leave behind. What else, we might then ask, do we need for our journey onwards today?...
Asked for a prayer, poem or other contribution to greeting Penny at her commissioning service, I could do no better than turn to John O'Donohue's wonderful book of blessings To Bless the Space Between Us. It was a blessing for the space that is the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, and not only for Penny, and I, but also for those who have long found their spiritual home elsewhere. Especially at this time, as we come this week to the pain and promise of the fateful date of 26 January, it is also a blessing for all human beings and their ancestors who have come to Australia. It is a reminder of the 'big history' and mystery beyond us all.
May it be a blessing to all:
Before a human voice was ever heard here,
This place has known the respect of stone,
The friendship of the wind, always returning
With news of elsewhere, whispered in seed and
The thin symphonies of birdsong softening the silence,
The litanies of rain rearranging the air,
Cascades of sunlight opening and closing days,
And the glow of the moon gazing through
May all that elemental enrichment
Bless the foundation and standing of your home.
Before you came here, this place has nown
The wonder of children's eyes,
The hope of mornings in troubled hearts,
The tranquillity of twilight easing the night,
The drama of dreams under sleeping eyelids,
The generous disturbance of birth,
The anxieties of old age unclenching into grace
And the final elegance of calmly embraced death.
May the life of your new home enter
Into this inheritance of spirit.
May the rain fall kindly,
May daylight illuminate your hearts,
May the darkness never burden,
May those who dwell here in the unseen
Watch over your coming and going.
May your lives of love and promise
Refine and deepen the spirit of this land.
(also posted on the Milton Anglican blog)
A few weeks ago we had an owl in St Luke’s church building. It appeared first for the memorial service of a beloved Aboriginal woman. It stayed to perch above a wedding couple as they took their vows. It shifted next day to the high altar where it seemed to speak directly to me: ‘it is time to move.’ For, spiritually speaking, in many cultures the owl is a symbol of mystery, the feminine, and, above all, change. It appears, as a herald or guardian, at times of various transitions in the lives of individuals and groups. So it has been, I believe, for myself and Penny.
Today I am announcing that Penny and I are relinquishing our appointments in the Anglican parish of St Luke Toowoomba, to take effect from Monday 16 January next year. At the invitation of the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, we do so to take up new roles in the life of the diocese and to enable the parish of St Luke Toowoomba to find new clergy leadership for the next steps in its journey. We do so with mixed feelings. For we have been richly blessed in Toowoomba and it is very hard to let go of the depth of relationships we have enjoyed with so many people here, both within church circles and in the wider city. Yet we would not be being faithful to our own sense of calling, or to the needs of the parish and wider church, if we did not do so...
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.
Anyone whom Adolf Hitler put a large portrait of prominently over his desk must have a dark side. This is certainly true of Frederick II of Prussia, commonly known as Frederick 'the Great'. A brilliant military general, he took full advantage of his father's consolidation of Prussian military power and became a potent symbol of German militarism, administrative efficiency, duty and enhancement of glory. Among his worst aspects was his treatment of Poland. Indeed, among his the oppressions which resonated with later Nazism, he boasted that he would gradually rid the world of Poles.
The other side of Frederick was his so-called 'enlightened absolutism', which first drew me to him when I studied the 18th century 'enlightened despots' at school. Fascinated by radical thought and a leading sponsor of music, fine architectural buildings and the arts, Frederick was, for example, a notable patron of Voltaire. In some respects he also offered significant religious toleration within his realm, albeit with disdain for genuine religious faith, particular acts of active opposition to Polish Catholicism and with little real time for Jews. Whilst historians argue over his sexuality, with women certainly finding little place in his world, there may be some grounds for seeing positive aspects of homo-erotic life, albeit distorted by power. Aspects of his governance were also certainly forward-thinking, including sponsorship of immigration, recognition of the new United States of America and of the rights of prisoners of war, criticism of hunting, and protection of some plant life.
The ambiguity of Frederick the Great, on so many levels, is partly explained by his context and upbringing, not least the brutality of his father's treatment of him and the deep-seated aggressive insecurities of Prussia as a whole, consequent on the bitter experiences of the Thirty Years War and other catastrophes. Understandable, if typically one-sided and distorted, Nazi enthusiasm for him has meant that both Eastern and Western Germans have subsequently been wary of his legacy. Yet he remains, in various senses, a fascinating figure, both as a symbol of the bad and good in German history itself, and of the human character.
The second Toowoomba Range crossing should be called Multuggerah Way: such is the excellent suggestion of local elder, and Australian jockey great, Uncle Darby McCarthy (pictured here with Jagera leader Madonna Thomson and Dr Mark Copland at the Multuggerah lookout in J.E.Duggan park). What a great way to help redeem our shared history and honour the remarkable story of Indigenous resistance in the Toowoomba area! Fairly recently a major stretch of the Warrego Highway, between Toowoomba and Brisbane, was named after the great Rugby League footballer Darren Lockyer. The names, and stories, of local Indigenous achievers are very hard to find however. Indeed, Uncle Darby's suggestion comes on the back of the failure of Toowoomba Regional Council to improve the existing plaques on the Toowoomba Range which commemorate the Battle of One Trill Hill (Table Top mountain). Whilst Uncle Darby and Dr Mark Copland had had official conversations with Council figures towards ensuring the story was properly told, this very week the plaques were simply renewed in their imperfect state: hardly an appropriate way to mark today's 172nd anniversary.
Multuggerah's story is a part of the rich Indigenous story of our region and nation: full of life and courage, and of personal and community strength, as well as of pain and sorrow which demands full attention. It is part of the mixed memory of our land and peoples without which we are diminished and even disorientated. It is a potential source of learning, pride and healing. How powerful a reconciling sign it would therefore be to have Multuggerah recognised as Uncle Darby suggests. In the next little while it is hoped to explore the idea further. The recent experience with the lookout plaques indicates there is a journey to be made.
Giving thanks today again for my ‘first love’, and for the wonderful fellow devotees and mentors who shared with me her joy and pain and subversive power of transformation. I am challenged too to return to the task.
Is there a ‘history gene’? There are days when I wonder: when I meet people who have little or no sense of the past, of the human story, of the beauty and siren song of Clio, the muse of history. Like someone who is musically, artistically, or religiously deaf or blind, they can function, sometimes much better than I. Perhaps they are indeed in some way fortunate, immune from Clio’s mischief and agonies. Yet they lack the ecstasy of her communion. They have little or no ex-stasis – no place to stand – outside the purely immediate, the merely commonplace, the simplistic assumptions of the present, so deeply shaped though these are by the past and its perspectives. They seem hidebound, for they are timebound. For history may indeed have created walls in which we humans are imprisoned. Yet the study of history can be a door to our release. Like a wondrous Tardis, we are whisked away within it to other places and other people, to the possibilities of fresh perspectives and to passionate, patient, peacemaking. As C. S. Lewis once wrote:
Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion… the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age...
Giving thanks today for the work of Indigenous historians, not least John Maynard (from the University of Newcastle) whom I heard speaking again yesterday at St Mark's Anglican Church Buderim. John came later than most to professional historical research and teaching, via family history enquiry, but he has nonetheless become one of the most lively and significant historians we have in Australia today. Grandson of Fred Maynard, the redoubtable political activist and the President of the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA), and son of the noted jockey Merv Maynard, John's work has already done much to open up the buried, forgotten and often erased history of Australia and help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples find empowerment in the struggles and achievements of their ancestors, Australia's 'first peoples' in so many respects.
John was speaking in Buderim, on the anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generations, as part of the remembrance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have fought for their country and the dedication of memorials. John spoke particularly, with his typical insight, challenge and informed passion, about Indigenous Australians who had served in the first world war: bringing their lives and contexts alive and moving us, at various points, with the notes of sadness, anger, frustration, solidarity and re-commitment to struggle which they evoke. This aspect of John's work is part of the national "Serving our Country' project, led by Prof Mick Dodson and others in Canberra, which will bring welcome light into neglected aspects of the history of Australia in this 100th anniversary year of the Gallipoli tragedy, and, most importantly, further enhance the identity of Indigenous Australians and the celebration of their lives by others too.
The other day at home I found a wonderful book, related to my doctoral studies, which i had not really looked at properly. It is entitled England's Voice of Freedom: An Anthology of Liberty. First published in 1929, it was edited by the radical journalist Henry W. Nevinson, an active participant, among other things, in the women's suffrage movement. He was, unhappily, married to Margaret Wynne Nevinson, a leading (Anglican) Christian feminist and one of my personal heroines. Not surprisingly, there are a number of first wave feminist entries in the book, among a treasury of inspirational texts on liberty.
Nevinson's book is a timely reminder, in this 800th anniversary year of Magna Carta, of the amazingly deep, delightfully varied, and incorrigibly ingrained spirit of liberty in the history and very spirit of England. Of course there are other trends and spirits, not least: the arrogance, authoritarianism, and class-ridden contempt of many English so-called 'elites' down the centuries; an occasionally recurring mean and miserly insularity which can sap the soul of English delight and generosity; and the brutality and coarse violence which has often been close to the surface at home and, sadly, exported abroad. Living away from the land of my birth, I am well aware both of those failings and the danger of romanticising. All great peoples also have inspiring words and lived examples of liberty. Yet, for all that, there is something in the English heritage which, as Nevinson put it, is 'peculiarly English in the ideas of freedom' that have been passed down: 'something that appeals very intimately to the English man or woman born and bred... and nurtured unconsciously upon her ancient traditions as I have been'. Perhaps, at a distance, those unconscious elements can also become a little clearer?...
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.