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.
One of the most life-giving parts of my ministry in Toowoomba was the installation of the Reconciliation Cross in St Luke's Anglican Church. Created by renowned Aboriginal artist Uncle Colin Isaacs, as a gift from Heather Johnston (a descendant of one of the original European settlers), this commemorates the great Aboriginal leader Multuggerah, the Battle of One Tree Hill, and Aboriginal resistance to invasion and dispossession. It was overseen with the guidance and leadership of the late Uncle Darby McCarthy and other local elders, with particularly notable support from Mark Copland (from the Social Justice Unit of the Catholic diocese of Toowoomba). It represents a vital visible step in Australian Reconciliation, affirming a continuing journey for recognition and justice. For, in these days of #BlackLIvesMatter and questions about 'white' history and memorials, it offers a tangible example of what can be done to renew our histories and nurture new symbolism and focal points for a better future together. In my view, as both an historian and a priest, it is undoubtedly appropriate that some, more offensive, statues and other historical artefacts are replaced and/or re-used in new ways. Others might have constructive adaptations or additions made. Both of these courses have indeed been employed, on church owned sites, as part of Church practice in addressing the legacy of, and memorials, to child abusers, and those who have colluded with them. Much much more important however is addressing living injustices and forging new pathways. Reclaiming Australia's 'black history' is a crucial aspect of this and Toowoomba's Reconciliation Cross is a living symbol.. It is therefore a cause of thanksgiving that it is placed in the centre of Toowoomba, in one of its oldest and most significant spiritual buildings, available for anyone to visit, to ponder and to encourage the next urgent steps in the journey of justice and healing...
Among other things, the killing of George Floyd in the USA has raised big issues about racism, in Australia as well as the USA, and elsewhere. Here are just three reflections by Aboriginal Christian leaders which raise the profound challenges to those of us who are white and continue to benefit from the systemic violence of our society. At the end of this Reconciliation Week they are particularly important to hear, and act upon...
Today is an opportunity for everyone to rejoice in the great historic achievement of the Mabo campaign in reclaiming title to land and self-determination, toppling the monstrous British and white Australian fiction of ‘terra nullius’ - and to be inspired to address continuing injustices, not least those of enduring violence and dispossession borne of colonialism. This should truly be one of Australia’s great public holi(holy)days, not just another day, and its messages should be developed every day...
I'm so pleased for the talented Gympie photographer Charmaine Lyons that her first Women United exhibition was able to be held recently, at Gympie Regional Library, before COVID-19 spread here. The project has been focusing on sharing the photos, and stories, of 200 'ordinary, extraordinary' women from all walks of life in regional, or regionally connected, Australia. It was motivated by reaction to the White House photograph featuring President Trump signing off on an US 'global gag' on support for women's reproductive rights - original story here - and by the Women's Marches in the USA and worldwide. Charmaine's vision is about affirming those working for, and living out, a more just, sustainable and flourishing society and world for all - which is something we sure need to ponder and work for more actively in the future as the weaknesses of our profit-before-people economy & privilege-for-some culture are so exposed by COVID-19 right now. A book and - in time - more exhibitions elsewhere will follow (part of the positive creative expression which hopefully will be nurtured and curated in this bunkered dread season). Most of all however I just love the affirmation of diversity coming from regional Queensland (often despised elsewhere in Australia). It is such an encouraging example of empowerment wherever we may be: if Gympie can do this, why not elsewhere? With blessings to all creative spirits 🙏❤️ Here’s an 'official' film interview (Women United - an interview with Charmaine Lyons), hosted on Vimeo - by another talented Gympie creative spirit (Jazmyn of Jazmyn Produces) - sharing some of the aims, inspiration and photos (including one of me if you’re very attentive!).
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?
Who would have thought, in Australia in 2019, that, thanks to the insistent Tweets of a rugby player, hell would gain such attention? Hellish is certainly the result for those of us in the rainbow community. Particularly since the recent Federal election, we have been subjected to a deliberate right-wing campaign of aggression and hate, with fresh destructive impacts on our mental health and well being. This is a powerful expression of the vicious distortions of so much of today's media, and the apparent eagerness of some 'religious' groups to promote, or be used by, repulsive reaction in the name of religion. It is also a vivid reminder, both of how theological concepts can have real life consequences, including in the political sphere, and also of the need for a religious, as well as much broader, response by LGBTIQA+ people of faith. For religious-inflicted pain is indeed rife and horrendous among LGBTIQA+ people. Anger at religion as a whole is therefore, as a huge understatement, more than understandable. More moderate 'straight' religious people urgently need to recognise this and join the rainbow community as much more effective allies, with a commitment to genuine listening, deep repentance for religious-based shaming and violence, and powerful commitments to assisting in change. Yet, as it uses religion, we are also unlikely to defeat the hideous distortion that is right-wing 'religious freedom' without better theological scrutiny and the use of religious resources by LGBTIQA+ people of faith, affirmed by other parts of the rainbow community. In this, one key feature is indeed to reclaim the very idea of hell as a theological impulse towards justice for the oppressed, connected with the vision of 'a new heaven and earth' of peace and love, not as punishment of 'the other' by the rich and powerful. For God, if that world is to have reality at all, needs proclaiming as the ultimate source of transforming love in generous diversity, not as a mean tyrant picking on the marginalised. If hell is to have any real meaning, other than as a description of actual lived pain today, then it must be as a reminder that, in some ultimate sense (to use Billy Bragg's words):
'there will be a reckoning for the peddlers of hate... and a reckoning too for the politicians who left us to this fate'...
I've always loved the first of May. Maybe it is the Celtic and European blood in me, or the feminine, or the longing for justice and the appreciation of those who forged the struggle, or the family birthdays which fall this month, or simply the rising sap of life and creation itself - all topped off by those champagne breakfasts I enjoyed on this day in Oxford - but I adore it. Of course it 'works' so much better in the northern hemisphere - 'oh to be in Paris now that Spring is here', as the old song has it? (and indeed I've been blessed to be in that beautiful city of liberty in May on a number of occasions). Yet it is such a gorgeous symbolic celebration of veriditas - greening - in so many senses of the word. It rings for me, sings to me, dances in me: with joy, with hope, with transformation...
The English have traditionally been some of the least inclined to celebrate their own identity with a national day . This is due to a number of historical features, including the way in which my native land has been buried in the complications of British, imperial, and other identities. At best, and excepting the national game of football, there is also something 'un-English', distasteful and concerning about nationalistic enthusiasms and wrapping oneself in a flag. In addition, it opens up the huge question of what kinds of England and Englishness are to be valued and affirmed. On this St George's Day, I am therefore reminded of Billy Bragg's song 'Between the Wars' and a whole host of English inspirations to seek:
Not the iron fist but the helping hand
Not a land with a wall around it
but a faith in one another
Not a land of hope and glory
but the green field and the factory floor
Not skies all dark with bombers
but the peace and justice for which the best have always striven
With deep thanks and huge pride in/with all others who have come from, sung and celebrated, prayed, written, worked, embodied and partially created 'other' Englands from those which often prevail.
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.
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.