After the recent bombings in Paris, our Toowoomba Gooodwill Committee leadership decided to hold a gathering to bring together community leaders to strengthen our social cohesion and resilience. Held at the University of Southern Queensland this was well attended, facilitated by Professor Michael Cuthill and expert in research on social cohesion. Speakers also included the Mayor of Toowoomba Cllr Paul Antonio, Inspector Mike Curtin from Queensland Police Service, Venerable Wu Ping from Pure Land Learning College, Professor Ken Udas from USQ, and university student Sophie Ryan. Bishop Cameron Venables also led an engaging question and answer session with the panel of speakers and contributions from the floor - not least a several positive contributions from members of the Toowoomba Muslim community. Key themes included positivity, whole community engagement, valuing diversity, partnership building, leadership into action, open and truthful education, and acknowledgement of the need to read sacred scriptures and traditions in context and with a deep spirit of love and humanity, acknowledging potential 'texts of terror'. For my own introductory words as Goodwill chairperson click below on read more...
I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and their elders past and present, and, on behalf of the Goodwill Committee, I warmly welcome you to our important agenda today. I acknowledge our mayor Councillor Paul Antonio and our local member Dr John McVeigh, Inspector Mike Curtin and so many other community leaders and I thank Professor Ken Udas and USQ for their hospitality. It is wonderful to see so many people from so many different walks of life come together at this busy time to address the vital issue of our social cohesion. For this seems to become ever more crucial every day.
Indeed, the Anglican Vicar of Baghdad in Iraq was in Washington DC recently when that Islamist couple launched their shooting massacre in California. What happens in Iraq, Canon Andrew White reflected, is clearly happening here: in the West, in the Middle East, almost anywhere, he said, we are part of a Third World War - a war very different from anything we have known before.
Now I'm not too sure myself about such war terminology, but the Vicar of Baghdad, is right, isn't he? We are all affected today by what happens almost anywhere in the world and we all have to work in new ways for genuine peace and harmony.
So, with others who have helped to bring us together, I believe we have to look seriously at how we live together, in our city, and with those beyond. This is why we are here today. It is not an idle issue. On the one hand, some of our fellow Australians were arrested yesterday on suspicion of plotting fresh violence in a city just two hours flight from our new airport. On the other, a right wing group, the so-called United Patriotic Front, is planning a rally here, in Toowoomba, in a few weeks time - to stir the same kind of hate and disruption they have helped cause in Bendigo. So what are we doing about the fear and hate those kind of things reflect and breed? What will we do from now on? These, among other questions, are ones to ponder together, and, perhaps ask our panel about later.
What is essential is that we work more closely together, with new and even surprising partnerships. This is what the Anglican Vicar of Baghdad encourages us all to do. Out of the red hot furnace of Middle Eastern violence, he reminds us that, in his area, more Sunni Muslims are being killed by other so-called Sunni Muslims than even the terrible numbers of Shia Muslims, of Christians, of Yazidis, and of others who are being killed or forced to flee. The identity doesn't matter. The Vicar of Baghdad's own remarkable refugee and relief agency itself is run by an outstanding courageous Muslim woman. The creed and the colour doesn't matter. Compassion and welcome does.
Here in Toowoomba our compassion and welcome is, and will be, tested - if not by firebombing of our mosque, then by redneck anxieties, by fear fanned by outsiders, or by the violent actions of individuals, frustrated, alienated, or distorted by cruel ideology. So what can we do?
At this time, we are in what Christians call the Advent season. There are three key aspects: the first is to be aware, to wake up to what is going on; the second is to prepare, to reflect and start making plans with others; and the third is to share: to share the light - all that is good - with others, especially those in the midst of, or vulnerable to, fear, hatred, violence and poverty of various kinds. That is what we are here for today: to be more aware, to prepare, and to share. So we begin by reminding ourselves of the light among us: the amazing resources we have in each other, not least in the people, and their constituencies, from which we will now hear.
'Society', says the Vicar of Baghdad, reflecting on horrors throughout the world, is in many places 'falling apart.' 'It's not just Iraq that is broken' he says, 'it is society.' We are not so broken in Toowoomba, but there are cracks and we cannot rest complacently believing there will be not be more in future. Whatever our outlook, as the Vicar of Baghdad says, 'we have to unite in order to help each other and those in need.' So many of you here are simply amazing in doing so. May this be another vital step in that direction. Thank you for coming: may we be more aware, prepare, and share.
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.