A few days ago I was approached by meditation friends to lead a flag washing ceremony this Australia Day. I am happy to do so. The concept is deeply peaceful and nonviolent. Washing is a natural, soothing and renewing process and has spiritual resonance with all kinds of faiths and cultures. As a response to the challenge of celebrating Australia on the day of dispossession of its first peoples and ancient cultures, it is also a creative one. Surely that is a conflictual and offensive anachronism which one day will be replaced by another date for a genuinely whole community affirmation of Australia's amazing nation? In the meantime, washing the flag is one way in which we can together ask for healing and renewal for us and the wider world. Whereas burning a flag is a furiously aggressive and destructive act on various levels, washing can be both an appropriate act of repentance and reconnection.
Within Australia, the inspiration for our Toowoomba flag washing comes from Western Australia, where, on 27 January last year, a group of Christian leaders led a public ceremony of repentance outside the Perth Immigration Detention Centre (see story here). The liturgy used was drafted by the Revd Elizabeth Smith and is the basis for the one I have drafted for our own gathering here.
Our flag washing ceremony is open to all and will take place towards sunset at 5.30 pm this Monday, 26 January 2015 in the Tom Doherty Park in Acland. Such a venue, built and maintained by volunteers over decades, was suggested by those who approached me as appropriate because it is a symbol of community life and hope. For Acland, today radically changed due to mining developments, has been a place of contention over a number of years and a place which thereby symbolises many Australians' longing for healing and reconciliation. As the friends who will join me have expressed it:
The Australian flag is a powerful symbol. It has the strength to unite. The act of washing is tender and compassionate. It symbolises a desire to be a nation that is kinder, more gracious, more generous and inclusive of all who live here and of our natural treasures.
As we join together in this symbolic act of purification, we cast aside despair and argument and celebrate our shared values and the decency of ordinary people.
We understand how very blessed we are living in this amazing country.
We believe that if we are all people, we are all equal.
We believe that good will prevail and that light will flourish.
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.