Over the last few weeks I have had the wonderful, if challenging, experience of sharing in leading the God, Humanity and Difference course at St Francis’ College. This has included looking at a wide range of human differences: including those of race, disability, gender, sexuality, faith, culture, history, and socio-economic position. We have heard from a variety of voices from across our Church and world: including Canon Bruce Boase (as an Aboriginal priest, as we explored Reconciliation issues) and, not least, Elizabeth and Ann from our very own congregation here (as we explored faith issues related to disability). In addition, we have been blessed by the insights of the rich mix of backgrounds and experiences within the class itself, including students originally from Sudan and Korea. Sometimes this has meant that we have met fresh questions and ideas which will require some working out. For our God-given human differences are not always easy for us all to live with. We can see that clearly in some of the conflicts and controversies of our Church and world today. Yet, as we have discovered in our course this semester, if we hold them prayerfully, and work with them with intelligence and compassion, they are powerful gifts to us for healing, new life, and flourishing together. For properly to hear each of us, speaking our own witness to God in our own way, is to let the Holy Spirit fly free in fresh experiences of Pentecost…
I wonder how many of us love the story of Mary Poppins? When one of my daughters was young, Mary Poppins the musical was her favourite film. I also once stayed for a week, in a hard-pressed northern English mining village, with a loving old couple for whom Mary Poppins was a great blessing. The old woman had had a stroke and was bed-bound. Every day however she would watch Mary Poppins and the magic of love and life came back into her soul and that of her husband. Mary Poppins, like all great stories which touch our hearts and souls, can have that effect. It shares and nurtures what we might call ‘the wind of the Spirit’. This, the Holy Spirit of God, is profoundly transformative, as we hear powerfully today in one of the greatest promises of revelation in the words of the prophet Joel…
by the Revd Dr Jonathan Inkpin, Pentecost evensong at St John's Cathedral Brisbane, Sunday 8 June 2014
‘Come out from behind that thing!’ – the Aboriginal elder’s voice rang out powerfully as I was about to begin the Decade to Overcome Violence launch in Alice Springs. She was objecting because I was behind a lectern: another whitefella, as it were, standing over or apart from her. As it happened, in what followed, every blackfella who spoke also headed behind the lectern. I guess therefore it was probably that elder’s own personal issue. Yet I have never forgotten it. For, in a way, following feminist pioneers, it was a lived experience of what Indigenous scholars (such as Denis Foley, Martin Nakata and Aileen Moreton-Robinson) call ‘standpoint theory’.
Standpoint theory is a postmodern method for analysing inter-subjective and ethical discourse. For a standpoint is a place from which one sees the world. It thus helps direct both what we focus on as well as what is obscured. The specific circumstances of our standpoint then determine which concepts are intelligible, which claims are heard and understood by whom, and which reasons and conclusions are understood to be relevant and forceful.
Now, like any approach, standpoint theory is not without weaknesses. It risks, for example, generalising the experience of different peoples, and it risks suggesting an overly ‘essentialist’ character of particular genders, races, or other identities. Yet it is a powerful means in which marginalised groups can challenge the status quo. Indeed, as the feminist theorist Sandra Harding put it, it helps create ‘strong objectivity’, or strong inter-subjectivity. For when the perspectives of the marginalised and/or oppressed are included, we have more objective, or deeper inter-subjective, accounts of the world. This is vital to a richer, and more life-giving, ethics.
Spiritually speaking, standpoint reflections also lead to a richer ethical and doctrinal expression of Pentecost. For, in Pentecost, the Spirit of God is embodied, enlivened, and expressed through all created voices. As God’s voice puts it, through the prophet Joel, in our first reading tonight, ‘I will pour out my spirit on all flesh’: on old and young alike, male and female, not least slaves; and, the passage goes on to say, also through the more-than-human environment, by ‘portents in the heavens and the earth.’ True Pentecostal experience, it seems, is about true inter-subjectivity. All creation’s standpoints are voiced, held together, and contribute to the whole. Pentecost is thus a basis for a holistic, fully environmental, ethics. For Pentecost is so much more than we have often made it...
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Jo Inkpin,