address to the Eco-Iftar 2023, lead organised by Muslim Collective,
at Pitt Street Uniting Church, Sydney, by the Revd Dr Josephine Inkpin...
It is lovely to greet old and new friends on behalf of Pitt Street Uniting Church for this Eco-Iftar.
Since last year’s Eco-Iftar we have added a few things here, including the current exhibition of Queer Faces of Faith, which celebrates multi-faith facets of sexually and gender diverse people. We also have a multi-faith banner in the Peace Chapel, which, vitally held and grounded by Aboriginal fabric and design, contains key symbols of the world’s great wisdom traditions, and also a central symbol of oikoumene. For this church stands for oikoumene, a Greek word which signifies the spiritual vision of reconciled people of faith. This vision helped give birth to the Uniting Church, together with other vital 20th century developments, including inter-faith dialogue. Oikoumene however has always been about much more than Christian unity or even inter-faith relationships. Crucially the word means the whole world: our shared planet, variously understood as it is in different traditions, including as our common mother, or, in eco-aware theologies, as the body of God. That, above all, is why we rejoice to open this space for everyone today.
Let me put this in further contemporary context. For, several years ago, the oikoumene journey was identified as moving through five C words.
The first C word is Conflict. Sadly we still experience this. Indeed this church community recently experienced several criminal attacks by the so-called Christian Lives Matter group. Sadly, intra-communal violence, as well as violence in the name of different faiths and cultures, is alive and with us, in Australia as well as further afield. Therefore what we do today matters, to help reverse the trends of populist violence.
The second C word is Competition. In Christianity alone, you would have thought that today’s shared challenges are more than enough without falling back into competition. Yet, all too often, faith groups turn inwards, becoming more sectarian, or overly obsessed with their own ‘branding’ and holding on to what they have. In a dominant neo-liberal capitalist society, perhaps such temptations to religious family selfishness are inevitable. Yet the Golden Rule of love for all, and that means all of creation, is not about competition between faith brands.
The third C word is Co-existence, which, beyond conflict or competing, is what faith groups often settle for. Yet that is still not love, but lukewarm commitment to the things which really matter: including the growing of relationships and nurturing the ultimate purposes of us all. Therefore, key to our gathering are our ‘Relational Conversations’: so that we grow together, not simply recognising one another.
The fourth C word is Cooperation, which is where we start to get somewhere. The Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) is a powerful example, and what we do today is a symbol of that and an encouragement to others. Yet this is still not the full vision of oikoumene: that is, living and loving sustainably on our one planet, fruitfully together in the kaleidoscopic divine mystery of existence.
For there is a fifth C word we touch today, if we open ourselves to it: and that is Communion. Now, that word has particular Christian connotations, and indeed tragic conflicts attached to it, and I would not want to belabour it. However, it points us to depth in relationship: the kind of depth and intimacy which is only possible by what we might variously call the gift of divine love, letting go into the mystery of being and becoming beyond our little egos, our narrow tribal affiliations, and even the outer frameworks of faith. In so many spiritual traditions, this kind of human depth is facilitated by the sharing of food in the spirit of love. Our Iftar is therefore also a graceful divine offering of all that we are if we would approach it rightly.
I would add one more C word: namely Creativity, or New Creation, which flows from deeper, divine, relationship. For my prayer, in the spirit of true oikoumene, is that we are renewed today in divine creativity, to renew the whole earth.
A final word then about the three large angel sculptures above us: for these were produced with Light n’Up, the Lismore Lantern makers, as we sought deeper relationship with the Lismore community, which has suffered so much from the wave of floods and other climate-related destruction. The Lismore Lantern folk identified three great gifts, or charisms, which they saw in our faith community here, and in the LGBTIQA+ community as we sought to celebrate Sydney WorldPride this year: namely Compassion, Courage, and Joy. My sense is, and it would certainly be our Lismore siblings’ view, that Compassion, Courage, and Joy are also the living hallmarks of the true multi-faith relationship we desperately need in the healing of our planet. Therefore, may the angels of Compassion, Courage, and Joy, share lovingly in our feast today, and may they be with us in all we are and do in the days ahead. Amen.
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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.