Walking Upright - Using Both Feet

November 24, 2013

John Bluck

Aotearoa Sunday     Luke 22:14 -23:56     Mark 4:26-34

Video available on YouTube, Facebook


One of the hardest confessions I’ve had to hear came from a South African immigrant who came to talk to me after I’d been speaking one evening on the subject of Kiwi identity.


I don’t what to sound like a whiner, he began, but I ‘ve been in this country for 30 years trying to belong, and I still feel like an exile. I don’t connect with the country I left behind, and I don’t connect with this place where I live and work. All this Kiwi identity stuff, relating to Maori as the people of the land, let alone trying to be Pakeha, leaves me cold. I thought you should know that. Have a nice evening.


He wasn’t whining, not even complaining, but simply resigning. He had given up on belonging here, and I felt powerless to say anything useful, having just spent the last hour singing the praises of being Kiwi, living inbetween the cultures we brought with us, 200 years ago, more or less, and the culture we found here that welcomed us and fed us, signed a treaty with us, intermarried with us, fought wars both against and with us, founded a church with us, and in the process redefined who “us” is, redefining New Zealander from an indigensous word to a hyphenated word, so that we can no longer speak of being simply or only Maori or Pakeha again.


The hyphen defines our existence as New Zealanders. We have become a people who rely on the art of being inbetween, the both - and culture, shaped by the tangata whenua, the people of the land whose story is Polynesian and Pacific, and equally though not always justly by the manuhiri, the people who came here later as visitors and stayed on as tangata tiriti, the people of the Treaty, from Europe and now Asia and Africa as well.


That hyphenated way of living and being is very obvious if you live in Kaitaia, or Gisborne, or even Pakiri. But it’s not always so obvious in Auckland central, and its almost invisible in the grey and white landscape of Herne Bay.


Which doesn’t make it any less true.


In that marvellous poem by Glenn Colquhoun, he catches the essence of our bicultural life and landscape and history in the glimpses we take for granted and can’t see for looking.


The statue in the park alongside the carved wooden face.

The fish on a plate with a wedge of lemon 

and the rattle of cockles boiling in a pot,

Sleeping between clean sheets in a bed

And in the soft gaps between bodies on the floor of a marae.

When Pakeha die, do they also make the long walk to the cape up north.

These are all clues to the trick of standing upright here,

Walking with feet in both cultures.


They are subtle, pervasive, often invisible and unacknowledged, but no less powerful clues to who we are and where we belong and what forms us body and soul.


It’s a volatile chemistry and an amalgam of mystery, much derided and denied. Pakeha courted the Maori and romanticised them as an exotic but dying race, then suppressed them when they survived and asked for respect and justice. Later, Maori had to become token Europeans and stop speaking Te Reo in order to get on. Even now the struggle for shared equity and mutual respect continues. Just this last month we see the mental health system struggling to cope with Maori patients deemed to be more “aggressive” than Pakeha, and Ngati Tuwharetoa vindicated by a report that shows they never agreed to gifting the land to the Crown for the Tongariro National Park.


The struggles continue and the treaty settlement process helps enormously but the only place to understand what’s happening is in the middle of the mystery, as hyphenated people.


Some choose not to identify in this way. Simon Bridges, Minister of Energy and Resources, says he is not a Maori, nor is he a Pakeha. He’s a New Zealander, which is the word once used exclusively for Maori. 


That’s a familiar position for people who don’t want to deal with the chemistry of being bicultural in the hope we can grow out of it. If you’re healthy and wealthy and the sun is shining for you, then you can probably get away with that sort of denial.


But if you want to engage with the roots of historic injustice and deprivation, then its hard to claim to be neither one thing nor the other.


Sir Paul Reeves, who claimed his Maori side much later in life, once told me he had to make a choice, to go where the call was loudest and the need most urgent, and while that didn’t mean he denied his Pakeha heritage, he did become an advocate and owner of his Maoriness, and the results of that are his legacy, especially in the reconciliation achieved in Taranaki.


You can avoid this debate of course and try to stand upright alone. The poet Allen Curnow who coined the phrase, imagined one day New Zealanders will be able to stand up for themselves, as it were, but not yet, Perhaps some child, born in a marvellous year. I don’t think Simon Bridges is that child.


If that child is Maori and Pakeha, I think he or she will need to be able to claim both cultures with pride. That would be a marvellous year.


I wish I could say Anglicans are able to lead the way on this bicultural belonging and standing.


Because along with our Methodist colleagues, we’ve led the way in coming to terms with our bicultural history. 


We started well, from 1814 (with Marsden and Ruatara), then slipped and fell (in the land wars of the 1860’s), then fumbled along for nearly a hundred years with the issue of whether Maori should be allowed to have their own leadership, and painfully, slowly and then finally in 1992 agreed to a new constitution that gave full recognition, partnership and respect to each tikanga or cultural pathway. 


The constitution is called Te Pouhere, the mooring post, and it’s to this single standard that all our canoes are tied: Maori, Pakeha, Pacifika, conservative, progressive, not much of anything, and everything.


As Anglicans we can avoid or disagree on most things. The creeds, the virgin birth, why Jesus died, who wrote the Bible.


What we can’t get away from, even if we wanted to, is that the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand is a bicultural church, that began as Te Hahi Mihinare, the missionary church, founded and spread from the very first morning in 1814 by Pakeha missionaries and Maori evangelists, now established in every village and marae in the land, with more branch offices than NZ Post, which is no longer much of a compliment, preaching the good news and singing the songs and speaking the cadences of a gospel that is rooted in the soil and the sea and the sounds and colours of this place like no other place. A gospel that helps us know who we are as women and men made in the image of God with a place to stand and a story to tell and a faith to share.


And how does that gospel grow here in Aotearoa?


Well it’s got something to do with people like us who inherit this Anglican bicultural story: in the hope we can do better at building a country that provides justice and partnership for all its peoples in gratitude for what we have achieved together and it’s got something to do with God whose purpose is always to build justice and shalom for all peoples, and especially those who still have no justice, no peace.


This morning’s gospel describes that balance beautifully. 


The farmer scatters seed and goes home to bed.


The seed grows – he knows not how, silently, mysteriously, in slow and hidden ways that are as much in spite of the farmer as they are because of him.,. even if he is slow and lazy and stupid. 


But he does harvest the crop and enjoy its rewards.


And the seed can be tiny, so small it is lost and forgotten. Yet it produces a tree that gives shelter and food for many.


These are parables about the kingdom of God, the commonwealth of justice and shalom that God intends and is slowly, mysteriously, often invisibly coming in. The just reign of God that Jesus announced and symbolised and died for and continues to emerge because no force, no death can stop its coming. 


In the story of the people of God called Te Hahi Mihinare, which for all its betrayals and about turns, has been a story of partnership and justice and liberation, from racism and colonialism and sexism and oppression of every kind, laden with splinters and glimpses of the new reign of God.


We have not managed to tell that story as well as we should. That South African man who talked to me hadn’t heard it though he’d been around Anglicans for years.


Next year is the 200th anniversary of this extraordinary experiment called Anglicanism in Aotearoa. The Christmas day service that began it all, led by a bad tempered missionary and a wary local chief, will be re-enacted.


My hope is that St Matthews and all Anglicans will reclaim that story in all its ambiguity and promise, and make it their own, and find the eyes of faith to read it through, as a story of how God works in our world, right here, right now.

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