Dear Toowoomba... It's ok to be me
My years in Toowoomba were both full of wonderful things and also wrestling with the need to come out publicly in my authentic gender. So it has been good to reflect again on this as I responded recently to the invitation to share in the Make Visible project developed by artist Shannon Novak with the support of QAGOMA. This aims to grow support for the LGBTQI+ community in Queensland, Australia by making visible challenges and triumphs for this community. One of the satellite sites and partners is USQ at Toowoomba, who asked me to write a short letter, headed 'Dear Toowoomba'. They also invited me to be a part of the Launch of the project 'Its' ok to be me' at USQ and to share in a panel on ways forward. I hope my contribution may be part of contributing to the further maturing of a city with so many fine features and people, but still with a little more work to do in fully celebrating and empowering all its people. It has also reminded me of the many people (and a wonderful dog!) I miss in Toowoomba and its achievements and potential...
It has been a great delight, and a surprising honour, to be featured as one of the 'Dangerous Women' of Queensland in the recent podcast series produced by the State Library of Queensland. Each of the other episodes features remarkable women from different fields of life and experience - including the extraordinary Lilian Cooper who, with her life partner Josephine Bedford, were also queer pioneers associated with the Anglican Church in Brisbane. My conversation with the wonderful Holly Zwalf can be found here, and the full podcast series here. I am also grateful for a positive article in the Brisbane Times by Jocelyn Garcia, in which she highlights 'finding your roar' - part of what I hope I can convey to others (of whatever gender identity and/or journey):
"I hope my story can encourage other people, not to be exactly like me, but whoever they want to be and have courage to take on difficult things because it is worthwhile in the end, Above all, it’s about taking courage and trusting the deep-down things of love and life in yourself." (full article here)
on dangerous women
I was thrilled recently to meet with the amazing (Snaggletooth Productions) duo Erin McBean and Holly Zwalf (also, among other things, coordinator of Rainbow Families Queensland). They were interviewing me for the State Library of Queensland's Dangerous Women podcast project, which will highlight six women's stories. I am honoured to be one of these, recognising that for some I am 'dangerous', though I have never sought any such epithet, and I hope that something in my journey may help others in shining creatively. This is certainly the aim of the State Library. As has been shared with me:
'All of our Dangerous Women are compelling, bold, determined and dynamic and we hope that in sharing their stories they will empower listeners to share a deeper understanding of themselves and Queensland. We have selected stories of three women from our heritage collections, and two women with contemporary aspects, yourself included. We have employed the expertise of Snaggletooth Productions, an all female production company to produce and host the podcast'.
I hope to share more about the project as a whole as it unfolds. There are three key features however which have emerged for me which have strengthened my views (born of my life experience and my studies of women's history) of how 'dangerous women' who deliberately create positive change, or unwittingly represent positive change, come to flourish...
Today Milton Anglicans, of which I am a part, return to 'in place' Sunday worship together, albeit with significant restrictions. With what spirit do we come?...
Women United project
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!).
One more step along the road we go. For it is 6 years, almost to the day, since I successfully proposed a diocesan Synod motion for the Anglican Church Southern Queensland to explore a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), inspired by the work done by the Toowoomba Catholic diocese. I was reminded of this this afternoon as I took part in filming Reconciliation stories with Anglicare Southern Queensland and other diocesan colleagues as part of a new and developing Anglicare Reconciliation project. It has certainly been a sometimes frustrating, but also, above all, deeply enriching journey for me personally. For - from Cunnamulla to Buderim, through Toowoomba, the Gold Coast, and Brisbane - I have walked, yarned and worked with all kinds of people, from all kinds of different spaces and with all kinds of different stories. So it was lovely to share today in bringing some of this together, in immediate advance of NAIDOC Week, in order to enable fresh steps ahead with many more people. The RAP, is, and always was and will be, an ambitious project - seeking to work together over such a large and diverse area, with all sections of the diocesan family - and there is so much more to do, but today was an example of how rewarding this can be.
faith in a climate change age
It has been good to contribute recently to a number of faith-based initiatives which are seeking to engage constructively with ecological challenges. Edited by the excellent Dr Clive Ayre, one of the Australian leading thinkers in this field, the latest journal of the Australian Association of Mission Studies is for example focused on these issues. It was an honour therefore to contribute some of my thinking and experience of the, often disconnected, relationships between Reconciliation, Ecology and Mission, particularly positively in relation to local projects in Queensland. It has also been good to hear of planning for the first national conference (this September) of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) and to begin to link up more closely with that work in which I shared in Sydney. Meanwhile the Anglican Board of Mission (ABM) has been moving forward with its own climate change awareness and advocacy, on behalf of Australian Anglicans as a whole. Some of its work and plans can be found here, including an article I was pleased to contribute from my experience in the Philippines and eco-theological studies. The article itself is also to be found below (just click "Read More"). All these things seem such small steps but together, by God's grace, we can make a difference...
The other evening I had the pleasure of being part of this year's inter-denominational service of commissioning of Religious Instruction (RI) teachers for Toowoomba. It was a typically up-beat and prayerful occasion, with fine inputs from local school principals and Stephen Urmston, the new Anglican Children & Family worker at St Barts Toowoomba. I was moved again by the genuine care and loving commitment of those involved in offering RI to children in our local state schools and do believe that, in some ways, they enhance both the spiritual and wider relational life of the children and adults they share and meet with. However...
Today I received my contributor's copy of the latest Iona Community publication - what a joy! It is a book of readings, reflections and prayers about 'the bombs and bullets and landmines we drop into the heart of other people's lives' and the many good folk working for peace and reconciliation in the UK and further afield (i.e even, not least?, in southern Queensland). Like so many Wild Goose Publications, it is an excellent resource which can be used for personal and group reflection. I hope it will serve that purpose well.
My own contribution, as a member of the Iona Community's Australian sister body the Wellspring Community, is a piece about 'Building a model city of peace and harmony Down Under': telling something about our Toowoomba journey, and sharing our now well-established diverse community Affirmation, as part of an encouragement to anyone, anywhere, to 'seek peace and pursue it'. Toowoomba is no more special than anywhere else - though it is particularly amazing in sometimes quite unique ways! - for everyone can share the journey and the joy: as Jesus said, the shalom of God is right here among and within us - this is the good news, get real, get going, get loving!
The recent Queensland election was a stunning reversal of the equally historic LNP landslide (at least in seats) of three years before. Although it has left the State Parliament in an interesting and acute balance of political forces, it was an emphatic rejection both of the authoritarian style of the Campbell Newman government and of the proposed policies of the lease of state assets. Is this simply a sign of the fickleness of the contemporary electorate and/or also a sign of a shift in people's attitudes to the politics of austerity?
Across the world there are a few signs of a turning away from the kind of politics and economics which reflect the relentless advocacy of large corporations and wealthy interests and which have steadily and disproportionately increased the wealth and power of the rich in comparisons to the rest of us. In both Greece and Spain, in the face of economic crisis, the general populace has begun to fight back against the recipes of more austerity forced upon them, supporting parties which have had the courage to take another line. It is too soon to say if this might spread. Queenslanders certainly can hardly be said to have suddenly become born again Socialists, particularly as the Labor state leadership is also politically cautious and committed to the further development of some problematic environmental and economic schemes. Yet when the Federal Government still talks about the problem being its communication methods rather than its concrete policies, one wonders if it is really listening. Its budget last year was a disaster in alienating many of the less wealthy, even before crass and clumsy remarks by the Treasurer about the poor and the most recent farcical announcement of a knighthood for Prince Philip. Paul Kelly published his song the Land of the Little Kings back in 1998 but it still speaks powerfully today. It would be nice to think that the people have finally decided to do something about it, even if politicians may still have tin ears.
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.