A great deal of my life has been spent as a border crosser, on so many levels A number of factors have no doubt given rise to this, including life contexts and personality. It is also however a key element in being both a priest and a transgender person. Much has been written about this from the point of view of priesthood. Whether lay or ordained, all Christians also share in the ministry of reconciliation (see 2 Corinthians 5.17-20 and elsewhere). Yet perhaps one of the under-recognised gifts of transgender people is the capacity many of us have to work across the borders of identity and difference. After all, we have to negotiate this more than most in our very selves. No wonder that, across the world's cultures, gender variant people have therefore always exercised sacred roles as priests, mediators, go-betweens, and other reconciling figures, in so many aspects of human existence. No wonder too that some like myself have been drawn into Christian priesthood and border crossing work as a means of finding life for ourselves and others, even when our own transgender identities have been outwardly submerged or suppressed. As transgender people become more visible and accepted as equal and positive contributors to human life, it will be lovely to see such ministries increasingly more explicitly affirmed, celebrated and nurtured. To be a border crosser, whatever your gender identity, is typically both an uncomfortable but wonderfully rewarding vocation. So if you are, or know, a border crosser, say a prayer and raise a glass of cheer and comfort! We are vital, for ourselves and for others. As Kathy Galloway put it, in a favourite poem of mine (entitled 'Cross-border peace talks'), it is a holy place to be:
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...
Congratulations to St Mark's Buderim for another wonderful Reconciliation event today: Celebration of Country 2017. Following a Welcome to Country by local cultural educator and traditional owner Jacquie Davis, the centrepiece was a sharing of the story of the Nandjimadji outrigger canoe project, with artists Aunty Robyn Lennox and Aunty Tracey Nicholson from the Nanjimadji Artists (a local group of Indigenous people with disabilities). The video shown can be seen below or directly on You Tube here. It is both illustrative of the value of cultural healing - a significant feature of local life in this area of the Sunshine Coast - and of the way in which such artefacts can be vibrant symbolic, and literal (!), vehicles for community, learning and deeper relationships in our Australian society. It was a lovely tonic in the face of the crassness of much that will occur on the horribly mischosen date 'Australia Day' this week. Today's gathering, ably facilitated by the Ven Jeremy Greaves and the St Mark's team, was also the fruit of many years of relationship building, similar events and the hospitality of St Marks. As such it continues to be an encouraging model for others to follow. Indeed, such local connections have now created a welcome new internet resource - the Buderim Indigenous and South Sea Islander Peoples History website. It was launched at the event today by Steve Chillingworth and Meredith Walker who, as a project of Buderim Sails ministry have worked with local Indigenous & South Sea Islanders on it. Including a number of stories, sites and other information, it is another step in the journey of Reconciliation, and will grow - hopefully to be copied and adapted by others elsewhere.
At the risk of sounding like The Big Bang Theory's Dr Sheldon Cooper, we have been having some appropriate 'fun with flags' at St Luke's Toowoomba over the last few days, as we have sought to honour the tragedy and courage of our broken Australian and international histories. Firstly we held our annual Remembrance Service, remembering the fallen and damaged of the great wars and conflicts in which Australians have been engaged, as well as praying for peace across the world. This involved armed services representatives, our mayor and local MPs, retired services organisations, Harlaxton RSL band, serving army chaplain the Revd David Snape, a fine sermon from the Revd Penny Jones, and display of the three services ensigns and main Australian flag. The collection from the service also once again went towards the maintenance of the Warriors Chapel in St Luke's, a space for our city which honours the fallen and damaged of various conflicts (including those of the world wars, Korea, and Vietnam) and which holds a number of banners from former times.
A new step this year however will be the addition to the Warriors Chapel of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags. These will be installed next Monday, 14 November, alongside a beautiful memorial cross to remember the Battle of One Tree Hill, one of the most significant local conflicts in the European invasion and settlement of the Toowoomba region. This is part of our Reconciliation journey together as we learn more about our shared histories and walk more closely together for healing and a better world. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait island flags are recognised national flags of Australia and are available free from MPs offices to recognised bodies. It was a delight therefore to receive these for St Luke's yesterday from the office of the Hon John McVeigh.
We pray together that all the flags we will hold at St Luke's will bring renewed honour and dignity to all they represent. I did have a little wry chuckle yesterday however as I received the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island flags. They, like all our flags, are deeply sacramental of identity, visibility, connection and life. Yet in another sense, they can also be aspects of our human capacity for pompousness and far worse, if they are not regarded properly with humility and care for all. For, as Eddie Izzard put it memorably, especially for those of us with British backgrounds, flags are also very curious constructions...
It was a huge delight to be part of the launch of the Reconciliation Action Plan of the Anglican Church Southern Queensland (diocese of Brisbane) in St John's Cathedral Brisbane last Thursday. Together with a Welcome to Country, didgeridoo music, food, and audio-visual display of Reconciliation activities across the diocese, a particular highlight was also the performance of the Malu Kiai Mura Baui dance troupe and speeches from Archbishop Phillip Aspinall and our National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Anglican Council diocesan leaders Canon Bruce Boase and Aunty Rose Elu. Almost 200 people attended the event, including the most prominent lay and ordained Anglican leaders in the diocese, local elders and representatives of leading organisations such as Reconciliation Queensland.
The RAP Launch was the culmination of four years work of awareness and relationship building across the diocese and represents a significant step forward. Indeed the ACSQ RAP is highly unusual for the sheer scale of its geographical and organisational extent, covering both such a large area of Australia with so many different Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples and involving every section of the diocese, including finance and service departments, as well as parishes, schools, St Francis College and Anglicare. May God bless all involved in making this next stage of shared commitment real in the days ahead.
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.
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.
It was a delight today to host a local - Toowoomba - launch of Aunty Mary Mitchell's autobiography Mary's Story (published by Mulga Mob Publishing) A wonderful Aboriginal lady. Aunty Mary has been at the loving heart of her family, community and church throughout her life and her story is one of heartache and joy. Born in 1938 at a place called Bob's Hut, Tilbooroo Station, Eulo in Queensland, she has lived her whole life around the Cunnamulla/Eulo area. She has been in Toowoomba recently to receive an award from the Cancer Council for her wonderful voluntary work and it seemed too good an opportunity not to celebrate her life together with others and share her book more widely.
We were joined today by a very good mix of family and friends from Toowoomba and much further west, form church and much wider community relationships. It was another living witness of how community building and Reconciliation is all about people, embodied in marvelous examples like Aunty Mary.
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.
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.