Where do you find feminist religious inspiration when you need it? Sometimes the answer is hidden in plain sight. So it was for me at school. For I was involved with a number of social transformations at my local secondary school, including being part of the first year of the historic admission of females. This not only seemed a self-evident justice to me, but it was also a personal saving grace. Indeed, in my final two years, I was part of otherwise all-female classes for most of my subjects, bar one other male assigned student (in religious studies). Also, to the initial chagrin of some, our 19th century grammar school (founded in 1863 out of the medieval charity created by Thomas De Aston, a 13th century monk) two years later finally fully joined the modern world as a 'comprehensive' school: merging with the local 'secondary modern' school, whose pupils were traditionally divided from us by the selective examination known as the '11 plus'. At which point school 'houses' suddenly appeared, under the names of the well-known local Lincolnshire worthies Tennyson and Wesley; the explorers (Joseph) Banks and (Matthew) Flinders (actually much better known in Australia than in their homeland); the fearsome Hereward (famed indigenous resistance fighter against the Normans), and, more mysteriously, (Anne) Askew. Happily I was placed in her house, but who was this, to us, unknown woman? Sadly, I never really found out then. On asking, apart from guessing that she was the 'token' woman in the list, we were told she was martyred at the Reformation. 'Great', said most of the boys: 'not only do we not get to be associated with a fighter like Hereward, or at least an intrepid explorer like Flinders, but we get landed with a woman, and one whose claim to fame is being slaughtered.' Even the girls had sympathy with the latter affirmation. Yet, had we been given a richer explanation, we might have had a very different viewpoint. For, of all the Lincolnshire icons, it is arguable that Anne Askew was the greatest of all. She was not just a type of freedom fighter (like Hereward), an intrepid adventurer of the new (like Flinders and Banks), a poet (like Tennyson), or a model of renewing spirituality and freedom (like (the) Wesley(s)). She was all these in one, and she did it all as a woman to boot...
my address to the Vesak Conference at UNESCO, Paris, 28 May 2015 as part of the Toowoomba 'Model City of Peace and Harmony' presentation
Let me begin with some words from a great poet and priest in my Anglican tradition:
No one is an island entire of itself; every one is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; … any one's death diminishes me, because I am involved in humankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
This wisdom is still powerful today, even though John Donne himself lived through the violent crises of his own age 400 years ago. For they are words for us all. Whilst they embody Christian understanding about human-divine solidarity, they are also reflected in other wisdom traditions, not least Buddhism. For no one can be an island today: no person, no religion, no country. What happens, for example, here in Paris, affects the rest of the world. In response to their own trials, many French people have said Je suis Charlie Hebdo. At it its best, that is another way of saying what John Donne said long ago. For whatever bell tolls - in Sri Lanka, USA, Israel-Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, the Congo, Toowoomba, or wherever – it tolls for us all...
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.