When you think of the country you love, how do you sing, dance, tell its story? Does it, for example, look anything like this painting (pic to the left)? In a recent article - how do we get out of this mess - George Monbiot rightly identified the underlying narratives of our lives as major determinants of history, politics and healthy societies. This is at the core of so many of our contemporary conflicts and tensions. For it is by the stories we live, the songs we sing, the moves we make, that we shape our world and are shaped. Monbiot correctly observes that this is why some will act in ways which are actually self-destructive and even resist change which is in their best interest. This helps us better to understand challenges like the Brexit vote, the political success of Donald Trump, and the obstinate blinkers of some farmers and rural people to the realities of climate change. Outlining both the power, and the weaknesses, of two major political-economic stories (the Keynesian and 'free market'/monetarist paradigms) within which the 'developed' world has lived for the last few decades, he pleads for a new story: a story grounded in the environment, the affirmation of human community, and the creation of volunteer networks, mutual help, and advocacy. So how do we create this story? My sense (shared I'm sure by George Monbiot) is that it needs a holistic approach, which weaves together the creative insights and capabilities of our current age with existing wisdom from wherever it can be found, not least from Indigenous peoples and the best of our religious-spiritual traditions...
At the heart of the community of Cunnamulla in western Queensland is the town swimming pool. As in many Indigenous, or Indigenous-majority, communities, it plays a central role in fostering community, health, connections and life of various kinds. In Cunnamulla this is certainly notable, not least through the marvellous work of Marianne Johnstone who not only manages the facilities, including the 50 metre olympic-style pool, but wonderfully trains and leads swimming, triathlon and other activities.
One of the highlights of our recent diocesan Reconciliation Action Plan initiative in Cunnamulla was therefore the Saturday afternoon swimming gala. The climax of this was the invitation relay race, led by the local mayor Lindsay Godfrey. Our group was encouraged to join in and bishop Cameron Venables and local Anglican Minister Steffan van Munster duly stepped forward to help form a team which came a very creditable third (the winners being an able relay of local Aboriginal young men). It was a powerful symbol of both Cameron and Steffan's ministry among local communities. Instead of simply sitting on the sidelines, or dispensing prizes (though bishop Cameron did that too!), they plunged right into the heart of community life, literally getting soaked in the process.
Plunging into the pool is a powerful metaphor for what Christians call the incarnation, the way of Jesus which involves plunging fully into all life has to offer and all of the human condition. Sometimes Christianity, and Christian theology, has been a bit of an, albeit usually kindly and well-intentioned, onlooker activity. Getting wet however is not a real option for genuine ministry and mission. Gustavo Gutierrez, the great Latin American pioneer of liberation theology, reflected that a truly incarnational theology is 'the second act', after the commiitment to life, justice, solidarity with the poor, peace and reconciliation. This is certainly true of the journey of Australian Reconciliation as well as faith development in general.
What of my involvement in the pool, you might ask? Well, being a water-challenged person on account of my very British and rural upbringing (far from the unwelcoming cold seas around the UK and at a distance from a pool like Cunnamulla's), I did not myself jump in that pool, although I did offer to join either the running or cycling leg of any similar triathlon. Yet I hope that, in other things I do, I also have the faith to keep plunging in the pool of life. We also have to reflect but active participation is vital. Jump in, as they say in Cunnamulla, the water is wonderful.
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.
This Saturday, at 10 am in St Luke’s, a special event will mark the anniversary of the Battle of One Tree Hill (Table Top Mountain) between local Aboriginal people and early European settlers. The organisers hope it will enable us to learn more of our shared history and thus move forward with greater understanding and a stronger commitment to a better future. For at the heart of Reconciliation of all kinds is a recognition of the truth of our past and present and a transformation of hurtful memories into purposeful new life.
An Anglican bishop once termed the dispossession of Indigenous people ‘Australia’s Original Sin’. He was saying that unless deep uncomfortable truths are faced we can never fully receive the grace of new beginnings. For this works on social as well as personal levels. Whether as individuals, communities or nations, all of us fall short of the glory of God. When we acknowledge our brokenness however, healing can come. For, as the great El Salvadorean Oscar Romero put it, the task of the church in every generation involves helping to make the history of every nation a history of salvation. May God continue to bless us in this journey.
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.
This week I spent two days reflecting together with others on the next steps in the journey of peace and harmony in Toowoomba. The first day was with other members of the Goodwill Committee, developed at the invitation of the Pure Land Learning College to help give community direction to the Pure Land Venerable Master's vision of Toowoomba as 'a model city' of peace and harmony. On the second day we joined by some other wonderful key community leaders, acting as 'critical friends' to help take forward our hopes and ideas. Thanks are also due to Prof Michael Cuthill of USQ for his able facilitation. For it was a very profitable time, developing our structure (even if I was asked to be GWC chair for the forthcoming year!), our shared sense of purpose and key areas of partnership with others. GWC groups are now working particularly on specifics for: the development of agreed community values for our work, Indigenous engagement, youth engagement, peace art, further multi-faith understanding and action, and grounding our connections with UNESCO through official partnerships such as the 'Creative Cities' program.
On behalf of Angligreen, it was a delight yesterday to share in the 'Debate the Preacher' series at St John's Cathedral in Brisbane, exploring environmental ethics. I found myself drawing on recent experience of Aboriginal approaches to land and the cosmos. These can be part, I believe, of ways of re-reading our world, ethics, bible and sacred traditions which enable a fresh and more fruitful Pentecostal understanding of life. Through this, we are challenged and inspired to eco-Living in the Spirit. For, to our loss, we have so confined our understanding of Pentecost to human, and often restricted personal and ecclesiastical, experience. Instead, Pentecost perhaps offers us vital ways in to more fruitful engagement with the heart of many of our contemporary challenges, not least ecological ones, as well as cross-cultural and inter-religious. Not for nothing is Pentecost understood theologically as a new creation. Check out my address here.
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.
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.
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.