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Luke's Christmas (The Exalted Shall Be Humbled)

December 19, 2004

Glynn Cardy

Advent 4     Ps 80:1-7, 17-19     Isa 7:10-16    Rom 1:1-7      Matt 1:18-25


Throughout the Gospels there is a theme of reversal. The humble shall be exalted, and the exalted humbled. Those who are last shall be first, and the first last. God, say the writers, doesn't do things like we do them. When dealing with God expect the unexpected.


'The exalted' and 'the first' refer to people of influence and power. They are the people that others look up to. They are seen as successful, to be admired and emulated. God, however, sees differently. God chooses what the world regards as weak in order to confound the wise.


Caesar Augustus was the Roman Emperor whose domain spread across the Mediterranean world encompassing Palestine. Caesar ruled from 27 BCE to 14 CE - a total of 58 years, an extraordinarily long reign. He was widely acclaimed for bringing peace on earth. He did it by ruthlessly quelling discord.


The word 'peace' is always loaded. The powerful have their definition, the powerless another.


In an inscription from 9 CE found in Asia Minor, Caesar is spoken of as "our God" and "saviour" whose birth was "good news" to the world. In other texts he is spoken of as descending from a divine/human conception. Rome's PR machine made much of these claims in order to legitimate its regime of suppression and exploitation (so called 'law and order') throughout the empire.


In Luke 2 some shepherds watching their flock by night are surprised by a heavenly announcement: "I bring you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savour, who is the Messiah the Lord…" And the angelic choir declared: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favours."


The angels weren't apolitical. They were deliberately using Caesar language, the language of power. They were challenging the Lordship of Caesar.


There has been a lot of scholarly focus on the census in Luke 2:2 - whether it took place and could have involved people travelling to their ancestral homes. But Luke's point has been missed. The census was the time of the great revolt - the rebellion of Judas the Galilean. [1] Jesus is deliberately being aligned with the Jewish kingdom movements, the revolutions that declared there would be 'no king but God'.


The theme of two lordships is central to the biblical tradition as a whole. Which Lord will you follow - Caesar or Christ? Choose!


Yet there is a problem. Jesus is born in a barn, not a palace. He fraternises with the socially despicable: tax collectors, harlots, lepers and the like. He doesn't rule over the land. He doesn't seem to have any money, nor care. His followers are few, and most abandon him when the swords come out. His army is non-existent. His only crown is one of thorns.


Jesus presents us with a choice. Are we going to worship and strive for the power and wealth of the Caesars, or follow the one who rejected such power and wealth? Where are we going to see the decisive manifestation of God? Amongst the powerful, or, like the angels, in the Jesus who would be executed by the powerful? Politically, the lordship of Christ challenges systems of domination.


The angels spoke to the shepherds. There are a lot of latter day romantic notions associated with shepherds. The truth is less appealing.


Shepherds were a dodgy lot. Shifty. You wouldn't buy a used ass off them - you might burn yourself on the bridle! They were known for their fencing, and I'm not talking about the sport or No. 8 wire. Maybe the words 'crook' and 'fleeced' originate from those times? Shepherds were irreverent social undesirables. They had the social standing of modern-day streeties.


The REPLACEion of shepherds in Luke's Christmas alludes to the connection between the baby Jesus and the great King David, who was called from tending sheep to the dizzy heights of monarchy. It's the old poverty to power, or rags to riches theme. This little baby, born in a Bethlehem shed, was the one who would be the conquering king. Yeah, right!


It actually works in reverse: God brings down the mighty from their thrones. The greatness of God, as seen in this baby and the adult Jesus, chooses to associate with marginal and undesirable people. Jesus was building an upside-down kingdom full of nuisances and nobodies. His vision was for a land where everyone, particularly those who were vulnerable, suffering in poverty, or despised by religion and society were made welcome. His logo said: "Losers Welcome". And the winners didn't like it.


The inclusion of shepherds remind us that God turns up in the most unlikely places, among the most unlikely people and saying the most unlikely things. With God expect the unexpected. You'll probably find God round the back rather than out front, pulling weeds rather than pulling rank, looking grubby rather than looking grand. If God can visit shepherds God can even visit you, and just might.


If you go looking for God here are some hints: Firstly, avoid powerful and/or religious people who think they can stuff God in their pockets. Secondly, don't discount those in trouble with the law or who tell you about seeing white-winged apparitions. Thirdly, be mindful of the fragile things in life, like pregnant unwed mothers and people who sleep in whatever shelter they can. That which is small, fragile, and unpredictable is, in God's upside-down scheme of things, where hope is to be found.


Mary, the young peasant mother, is full of hope. The Magnificat, the early Christian hymn ascribed to her, is nothing less than revolutionary: the exalted will be humbled and the mighty will be dethroned.


This revolutionary aspect of Christmas is also found in the Christmas carol "O Holy Night" written in 1847. The fifth verse states:


"Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease!"


This carol was banned for years in many conservative churches, and radio stations refused to play it. It is however the good news of God in Jesus, and if the churches won't sing it others will.


1. Luke not only knows about the revolt of Judas the Galilean but allows Gamaliel to compare with Jesus and his movement in Acts 5:37 [remember Luke wrote both the gospel and the Acts of the Apostles].

Matthew's Christmas (Identifying with Those on the Edge)

December 12, 2004

Glynn Cardy

Advent 3     Luke 1:47-55     Matt 11:2-11


The town is geared for Christmas. Santa - three storeys tall - adorns the Whitcoulls bookshop on Auckland's Queen / Victoria Street corner. Retailers are working overtime. TV2's Christmas musical was filmed in St Matthew's last week. "You'd better watch out…" Jesus, Ben Lummis, and the elves are coming to town.


For the next two Sundays though I'm going to talk about Christmas in the Bible. It's time to turn back to our sources - Matthew and Luke - listen to their stories, and the problems they raise.


"Are these stories true?" you may ask. "Were there Magi, angels, and shepherds?" If you mean true in the sense of what a TV camera might show, then no they are not. If you mean true in the sense of containing truths about God and humanity, then undoubtedly yes. Lord, preserve us from the mono-focal perspective of literal factual history. Fiction and reality are not opposites. The former is often a vehicle for the latter.


What Matthew and Luke do is take their understandings of the post-resurrection Jesus, weave in threads from the Hebrew tradition, colour their stories with beautiful imagery, and offer us some of most enduring Christian images we have. They are profoundly true in the sense that they are metaphorical narratives speaking to our heart.


For the literalist the birth stories are a challenge. The birth traditions are relatively late additions with the earliest New Testament writers, Paul and Mark, knowing nothing of them. There are many irreconcilable differences between Matthew's and Luke's accounts. The stories sound like overtures to each Gospel, indicating the themes that will emerge in the adult life of Jesus.


Matthew opens his gospel making claims that 'Jesus is the Messiah, the son of David, and the son of Abraham.' He then gives us a genealogy to prove it. The genealogy sits lightly with history. Four generations and six kings, for example, get omitted. Interestingly the line goes through Joseph - in other words, if you believe in a literal virgin birth there is no Davidic DNA in Jesus anyway.


The purpose of the genealogy however is not to comment on bloodlines but to align Jesus with the great patriarchal heroes of Judaism. The title "son of David" was saying 'Here in Jesus is the one who, like King David of old, will save his people. He will restore the Kingdom, defeat his enemies, and live happily ever after.' Likewise the title "son of God" should be understood in the context of Davidic royal descent. At the time of coronation the new king was adopted as God's son. There is no suggestion in Matthew that Jesus was the 2nd Person of an eternal Trinity.


Two other patriarchs are recalled in Matthew's Christmas. Joseph is modelled after his namesake with the colourful coat. Both experience dreams, go on a journey, and wind up in Egypt. The birth of Jesus also recalls the birth of Moses, who likewise was threatened by a genocidal king ordering the death of male babies. Both of these patriarchs connect Jesus with the Exodus, the great liberation story that undergirds the Jewish faith. Here in Jesus, Matthew was saying, is the new saviour who will liberate us.


The link with Father Abraham is also made in the genealogy. Through ol' Abe all the nations of the world would be blessed. Jesus would not just be for the Jewish tribe [David's crew] but for the Gentiles too. Enter the Magi as evidence. They were colourful foreigners, outsiders who came to believe. 'Jesus,' says Matthew, 'is for everyone.' But note well the Magi needed the Jewish tradition to locate Jesus.


So far so good… This baby Jesus is starting to sound like the greatest thing since Adam was a boy. You can see in Jesus traces of all the great male heroes of old.


Then the story throws us what the Americans call a 'curve ball'. Into the genealogy is placed five women. Five feisty women, tainted with sexual anomalies. The usual genealogical policy was that wives and mothers were kept nameless, de-powered, out of sight and mind. By naming women the author was declaring that holy happenings could occur outside the normative patriarchal structure.


The first of the famous five is Tamar [Genesis 38]. This fearless woman, following the death of her husband, was not treated justly. Her rights to produce offspring for the clan were denied. So, disguised as a prostitute she slept with her father-in-law, Judah. The idea was to shame Judah into upholding her rights. Tamar nearly got herself killed.


The next woman is Rahab [Joshua 2,6]. She was a Canaanite prostitute in Jericho who sided with Joshua's bloody army in order to save her own family. Again this is a woman who was a sexual anomaly, and risked her life. She was also a foreigner.


Then there's Ruth. This culturally subversive tale, told to a xenophobic audience, reminded them that King David's great grandmother was one of those hated foreign Moabites. It too is a story of courage, a woman taking risks for the good of others.


Then there is Bathsheba [II Samuel 11ff.]. We usually hear this story from David and his critics' viewpoint: the King falling in love, impregnating Bathsheba, and then having her husband killed in battle. We don't often hear the perspective of a courageous woman who survived the lustful and murderous desires of the all-powerful King to become, in time, the mother of the heir to the throne.


The fifth woman is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Matthew invites us to understand her as a woman of courage who risked the displeasure of men, and prejudiced society, to be an unmarried mother, and give birth far from home and it's security.


I received a vitriolic complaint the other day, criticizing my non-literal understanding of the virgin birth. 'Yes,' I agreed, 'I don't believe in such literalism. I don't believe that God requires us to suspend natural laws, switch off our brains, and our capacity to doubt. Why is a virgin birth essential to Jesus' blend of divinity and humanity?'


Remarkable births were part of the tradition of Israel and the Mediterranean world. Angelic annunciations and miraculous births were stock motifs. A virginal conception was a device to say that Jesus was 'of God' - not just when he was resurrected [like in Paul], or at his baptism [like in Mark], but at his birth.


Matthew uses Isaiah 7:14 to bolster his virgin argument: "The Lord will give you a sign: a virgin shall conceive and bear a son." The sign was to be an assurance to King Ahaz that his rule would continue. A child born some 700 years later is hardly assuring! [The reference was actually to the future king Hezekiah.] Furthermore, the Hebrew word 'alma is better translated, not as 'virgin', but as 'young woman'.


We also need to remember the horrific consequences of the virginal conception doctrine over the centuries in creating an ideal woman who is virgin, faithful, cooperative and docile. The literalist approach to the virgin birth distracts us from understanding Mary determined, courageous, and full of feisty faith - a woman who was one of the fabulous five of Matthew's genealogy.


It is these five that I would like to see on Christmas cards. These women on the edge by their courage, their sexual otherness, and their willingness to challenge the patriarchal norms, give us insight into the adult mission of Jesus. One part of the early Church found sustenance in understanding Jesus in the tradition of the great patriarchs. However, another part of the early Church found sustenance in understanding Jesus fired with the blood of the feisty five. Jesus' greatness was not in any lordly lineage, but in his identification with those on the edge. This is the truth and challenge of Matthew's Christmas.

Parables on the Wharf

November 21, 2004

Glynn Cardy

Ordinary Sunday 34     Jer 23:1-6     Col 1:11-20     Luke 23:33-43


Sitting on the wharf. Watching the sprats. Being idle. As you do. I was hooked into a conversation with a fisherman. It progressed past fish, to philosophy, and on to Jesus. While re-casting his line he asked, "Tell me about Jesus."


Where do you start? Do you answer with a question? Do you regale him with a personal creed? Do you offer some history, deep-fried in doctrine, and sprinkled with contemporary meaning?


Being a fisherman, I thought a couple of tales would be a good start. I began with the Prodigal Son.


The story has three characters. There is a younger brother who wants his inheritance, and insults his father to get it. He goes off, squanders it, and then, after much soul-searching, decides to go home and say sorry. There is a father who, when insulted, doesn't let his emotions get the better of him, and gives the inheritance. He then waits and is delighted to see the wandering son return. The embrace precedes the apology. The son is welcomed home. The third character is the older brother who likewise insults his father. He does it by refusing to dine with him. Again the father's love goes out to welcome and include the offending son. There is one overarching moral lesson from this tale: the grace, or embrace, of God is not restricted to whom we think is deserving of it.


The second tale was of the Good Samaritan. A lawyer asks Jesus how one attains eternal life. Jesus answers with a question: "What's in the Law?" He answers "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind; and your neighbour as yourself." "Yep," says Jesus, "That's right." The lawyer then asks, "Who is my neighbour?" Jesus answers with a story: A fellow gets beaten up on a country road. A priest comes by, and passes by; likewise a Levite. Two holy, godly men, no doubt with good excuses, come by and pass by. Then a Samaritan comes by, and stops. To a Jew a Samaritan was something like what Christians today think of Mormons or Jehovah's witnesses. They're foreign. You don't trust them. They believe funny things. Well the funny thing is that it's the Samaritan who is 'the neighbour' to the beaten man. He cares for him, tends his wounds, takes him to a hotel and pays for his continuing care. It is this Samaritan who is the one faithfully following the commandment to look after his neighbour. It is the Samaritan therefore who is attaining eternal life. The overarching moral lesson of this story is that kindness has no borders, and nor does God's favour.


Both tales point to the expansiveness and generosity of God. This is what Jesus lived - writ large in his scandalous practice of dining with 'tax-collectors and sinners', with poor and rich, prostitutes, Pharisees, and publicans. The tide kept coming in. The fisherman paused, and thought. He'd liked the tales. Reminded him of one that he then told me - not that it's repeatable. He re-baited, cast, and together we stared at the sea. "Well then," he says, "so what?"


"Three points", says I. "Firstly, don't presume God thinks like we do." It's too easy to project on to God our pet likes and dislikes. We all do it mind you. But it's very important to talk, debate, and criticize each other's notions of God and humanity. Indeed that's what Jesus was doing when he told those tales.


"Secondly," I continue, "don't presume truth is more important than being kind." Being right in these tales takes second place to being kind. The prodigal's dad would have been right to roundly criticize both his boys. Mightn't have got him the relationship he wanted with them, but he would have been right. The priest and the Levite were probably right to prioritise their church services; after all, they weren't paramedics. They were church leaders, not City Mission front desk.


The third point never arrived. A fish took the bait, and our attention was pulled away. Later the conversation moved on to politics and got snagged on the foreshore and seabed.


It was pleasant sitting there. Watching. Talking. As you do.

Who's the Boss?: God and the Authority of Scripture

November 14, 2004

Glynn Cardy

Ordinary Sunday 33     Isa 65:17-25     2 Thess 3:6-13     Luke 21:5-19


The Bible is described as the "Church's supreme authority" [1] by the recent Windsor Report. It is a new phrase in Anglican terminology, and an unfortunate one.


Sometimes a child will ask me, "Are you the boss of this Church?" I usually say, "No, God is." God is the supreme authority of the Anglican Church.


In the 1800's John Burgon, dean of Chichester, proclaimed: "The Bible is none other than the voice of [God]. It is the direct utterance of the Most High." God might have been the supreme authority, but the Bible was God's dictation. The Church's duty was to obey it.


Although Dean Burgon's view, regrettably, lives on, it is quite antithetical to the normative Anglican understanding. To give you an example the 1922 Commission on Christian Doctrine, chaired by William Temple, held that the Bible may not be used as the sole source of authority in Anglicanism. The Bible must not be interpreted as pre-judging the conclusions of historical, critical and scientific investigation. Christian thinkers are not bound to the thought-forms of the Biblical writers. No historical proposition is beyond reformulation, including the 39 articles and the creeds.


In other words, while the Bible is a great, inspired taonga the Church must engage in interpreting it. The tradition of the Church, reason, and experience, all must be heeded when seeking to discern the will of our supreme authority, God.


Sometimes the Bible is wrong - like on slavery, and women. A blind adherence to the Bible often goes hand in glove with blindness to one's own prejudice. Or in Coleridge's words: "He who begins by loving Christianity better than the truth, will proceed by loving his own…church better than Christianity, and … himself better than all." [2]


In the days ahead the Anglican Communion will wrestle again with this question of authority and all its ramifications. For the debate on homosexuality is not just about biblical interruption but also about the authority of the Bible in the Anglican Church.


This morning I want to take a brief stroll back into the Patristic Period, that time following the composition of the New Testament texts, to look at this question.


In this period there was no significant doubt about the authority of the Bible, but there was little agreement on what comprised the Bible, or what authority meant. A partial canon, or collection, of Christian writings had developed by the mid-300s, including the four gospels and collection of some Pauline and pseudo-Pauline [3] epistles. However a final list of what was or wasn't to be included was not agreed upon until the Council of Trent 1545-1563. [4]


So for the first 1500 years of the Church's life the authority was not in the literal words of what we now call the New Testament. Rather, while the Bible was generally held to be inspired, authority primarily was in the tradition of the community. The community's tradition preceded the collection of books and gave instruction how to read them.


No reading of the Bible was accepted within the community when it violated either human reason or common sense. The role of Scripture for most Patristic writers was to prove the accuracy of the living Tradition that had been handed down to them, but Scripture and Tradition could not be used to support each other in violation of human reason or the experience of the larger community.


Slowly the New Testament collection evolved from the combination of flexible textual interpretation, the preaching of the texts, developing creedal affirmations [5], common sense, and the consensus of the Christian community. Authority was located where these various elements intersected, and was generally to be guarded by the bishops.


Controversies over the interpretation of New Testament books developed while they were still being written. The method of allegorical interpretation, due to the influence of Philo of Alexandria, was very much in vogue. An example of allegory would be interpreting King Solomon setting a place for his mother on his right hand in 1 Kings 2:19 as a picture of Mary reigning with Christ in Heaven.


Such a method meant multiple meanings were possible. Irenaeus [130-200] was the first great Christian theologian-exegete. Aware of ambiguity, particularly when the plain meaning of the text was ignored, he generally preferred the authority of Christian tradition as guiding interpretation. He called this the Rule of Faith. He calls the fourfold gospel inspired, but seems not to grant the same authority to the Pauline writings.


Origen [185-254] was the most brilliant allegorist of the Patristic period, and Philo's most devoted student. He was also a champion of common sense. Common sense could protect the preached Gospel from being abused by improper and literalist use of the Scriptures. But the Spirit played the most important part in interpretation. Origen likened the Bible to a vast ocean or an overgrown forest, teeming with mysteries to be unravelled through discipline, with the guidance of the Spirit. Origen understood every biblical text to have three equally valid meanings: the literal, the moral, and the mystical.


St Basil [330-379] and the other Cappadocians continued using the methods of Philo and Origen. Ambrose [339-397] and St. Jerome [342-420] accepted Origen's three equally valid meanings. John Chrysostem [347-407] and Cyril of Alexandria [d.444] understood that the human agents through whom God delivered revelation were not freed from their human limitations and tendency to err. Yes, there could be errors in the Bible!


A chief opponent of Origen's allegorical approach to Scripture was Theodore of Mopsuestia [350-428]. He favoured a strict historical interpretation. He held that inspiration was both inconsistent and differentiated within the biblical texts. He also refused to recognize most Old Testament texts as directly referring to Jesus, and identified only four Psalms that in any way foretold the Christian revelation. [6]


Augustine of Hippo [354-430], who referred to the Scriptures as "letters from home", believed that the inspired Scriptures were true, but insisted that Truth could neither be limited to or by the Bible. He insisted, more strongly than most, on the importance of God's revelation outside of Christian tradition, an idea with strong precedent in Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Basil. Like so many of his predecessors he thought every biblical passage could have multiple true meanings.


In summary then, the Patristic period located authority outside the Biblical text, applying to both Scripture and tradition standards of evaluation that emphasised the role of the believing community. Doctrine, Biblical interpretation, and ecclesiastical authority were understood as free to evolve in faithful response to unfolding new understandings within the community itself. [7]


On another day when a child asks me, "Are you the boss of this Church?" I give a different answer. I say, "No, you are. You are a part of us and God lives in you." Such an answer means there can be a lot of bosses in Anglicanism. But we have a time-tested formula: be tolerant, keep talking, value our taonga [like the Bible], try to understand others, and be open to Truth wherever it may be found. Then we usually find God is walking this way with us.


1. The Windsor Report, paragraph 53, p.27.

2. Samuel Taylor Coleridge Aids to Reflection: Moral and Religious Aphorisms, XXV. 

3. Pseudo-Pauline refers to epistles that although bearing Paul's name under scrutiny were written by another.

4. Note that this was the Western Church's canon. The various Eastern Orthodox and Catholic denominations differs from ours. International Christianity has never had a universally agreed New Testament. 

5. The three historic creeds [one now relegated to the appendices of prayerbooks] are summaries of the inherited Tradition rather than New Testament faith, for their contents precede the New Testament.

6. Psalm 2, 8, 45, and 110.

7. I am indebted to the work of Philip Culbertson in his article Know, Knower, and Knowing: The Authority of Scripture in the Episcopal Church Anglican Theological Review 74:2 (Autumn 1991), 144-174.

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

October 24, 2004

Glynn Cardy

Ordinary Sunday 30     Luke 18:9-15


Prayer is individual and corporate, structured and unstructured, said and unsaid, thought and un-thought.


A working definition: There is only one reason to pray, and it is not to petition or to please. It is, as it was in the beginning, to get a grip on our existence. Or to flag it down for a moment as it flies past. If we also win a little harmony from the human bedlam, that is serendipity. [1]


The mother is in the kitchen, adorned in dressing gown and slippers, stirring the porridge, as the little ones upstairs stir awake. As she gently turns the porridge over with the wooden spoon, she gently turns her soul. It is a contemplative moment. Words aren't necessary. She is stirring that part of her which feels God-like. She is at prayer.


The child runs, jumps into the double bed, and cries "I love you Daddy." The warmth of uninhibited love floods his soul. This is food for the spirit, nourishment for the day ahead, a gift from God. As he lies in that love he is lying in God. He is at prayer.


Walking around the rocks, rod in one hand, as the day kisses the night adieu. It is a magic time. The lure of the fish is only one of the lures that hook her heart. The sea, rolling and giggling beside her splashes her soul. The gods of the dawn, the sea, and the rocks hold her. She is at prayer. You can see it on her face when comes home.


The earnest believer opens his Bible, reads the prescribed text, and talks at God. He is sitting on his bed, doing what he has been taught. He feels better for it. In another year the same, earnest believer will tire of talking at God, and stop to listen. In another year the words 'stopping' and 'praying' will become almost synonymous.


Some Bible stories are complex, often with more than one author. If the kernel of the story originated with Jesus, for example, in the years between his telling and the writing of the text as we have it today other editors/interpreters could have added their spin. I suspect the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector is one such story.


The parable is a story about prayer. Not so much about the said prayers recorded in the Lukan text, but where prayer begins and ends. Holiness, God's realm, prayer, is not the exclusive preserve of the religious, although we have often tried to make it so. We have often defined prayer in order to suit our needs, and to keep control of God.


The Pharisees were by and large good, ordinary people, sincere in their desire to serve God and neighbour. The Pharisaic movement sought to bring religion down to earth and into every aspect of life. Instead of travelling up to the Temple to pray, for example, one could pray locally in a synagogue, or even one's own home. Of all the religious groups in 1st century Judaism it is the Pharisaic movement that was most formative in Jesus' life.


We need to be careful to read past the inherited anti-Semitism that pervades Christian thought. The origins of the arguments with Pharisees in the gospels need to be heard as 'in house' debates. By the time these arguments were committed to the gospel texts as we know them today, that is some 40 to 90 years after Jesus died, Christian anti-Semitism was beginning to take hold.


This parable seemingly offers us two ends of the moral spectrum. "A Pope and a pimp went up to St. Peter's to pray" [2] has the same effect. One is an insider, and one is an outsider. Yet some would say it is a story that has been largely misinterpreted. [3] It is not about a stuck-up religious zealot and a repentant self-effacing tax collector. The interpretative key is their prayers.


The Pharisee's prayer, while obnoxious to our ears, would not have considered self-congratulatory and arrogant by Jesus' audience. It was of a 'prayerbook' form giving thanks to God that he was chosen while others were not. [4] The recounting of his fasting and tithing was declaring his obedience to God, rather than pious zeal. His prayer was expected, standard, everyday piety.


Judging people, then or now, by their prayers is fraught. Like the National Business Review learnt following their criticism of Mayor Dick Hubbard's wife, Diana, in the recent election.


The tax collector stands away from those gathered for prayer, as one would expect of an outsider. He beats his breast, a sign of mourning and even despair. He acknowledges he is a sinner. This too conforms to Jesus' audience's expectation. The tax collector knows his place in the religious scene, and is simply acknowledging what they knew to be true.


Then there's punch line. Jesus declares the tax collector righteous. "Huh?" "What do you mean?" "Where's the evidence?" "What sign of repentance has he shown?" "Has he repaid those he's cheated? [like Zaccheus will do in the next chapter].


The problem is that nothing in this parable tells us that the Pharisee is bad and the tax collector is good. There is no lesson to learn. No behaviour to emulate. The later addition of "whoever exalts himself will be humbled" is an editor's attempt to rectify that.


The story of the Pharisee and the tax collector invites us to reconsider our boundaries. The Temple was considered holy and God's realm. Things not associated with the Temple were considered unholy and outside God's realm. The parable tells us that there is holiness outside the religious realm, and unholiness within the religious realm. The old boundaries are gone. Like in the earlier story of the Good Samaritan [Luke 10] we are challenged to reassess what and whom we consider holy. But this time there is no good deed or bad deed to judge anyone by.


I like the notion that prayer is essentially not about petitioning God or trying to please God. Rather it is about trying to get a grip on our existence. Prayer is not the preserve of the religious. It is not constrained to our boundaries. The old boundaries that kept prayer defined by, and confined to, the religious faithful need to be dismantled so that prayer can belong to all.


In a former life I would meet at six for breakfast every workday morn. It was a big breakfast, for big men, who laid big slabs of concrete for cars to park upon. The jovial camaraderie filled the café. "Your face hurt?" "Sure hurts me. Ha, ha, ha." The atmosphere spilled over to the staff and other customers. It was very powerful. I realised as time went on that this spirit nurtured and sustained these men throughout the day. It was soul food. Prayer.


On another continent we would meet before breakfast. Social workers, priests, and locals. Gathering in the front room, morphed into a chapel, we would use a liturgy full of old words written by others about others. It didn't make sense. Just like the Church. But we would gather anyway and leave feeling spiritually held.


The dog sniffs at nearly everything. It is curiousity incarnate. It is very sociable, indiscriminately greeting each and every early riser on the city streets. The woman enjoys being lead by the dog into the day, and into her soul.


In darkness and in light, in trouble and in joy, in season and out, knowingly and unknowingly, for our selves and despite our selves, we do it. Prayer.


God, deliver us from the temptation to define and control prayer in order to make it the preserve of the faithful, and thus rob others of a language that might encourage their recognition of you. Amen.


1. I have taken license with Maurice Shadbolt's "reason to write" in One Of Ben's.

2. Crossan, J.D. Raid on the Articulate, p.108.

3. In particular I'm referring to Bernard Brandon Scott's work Hear Then the Parable: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus.

4. Consider, for example, this Talmudic prayer: "I give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, that Thou has set my portion with those who sit in the Beth ha-Midrash [the house of study] and Thou has not set my portion with those who sit in [street] corners…"

Being Faithful

October 10, 2004

Glynn Cardy

Blessing of the Animals     Ordinary Sunday 28     2 Tim 2:8-15     Luke 17:11-19 


One of my companions in life was Jonathon the cat. He was black and white and playful all over. Aerial gymnastics were his specialty. When I first met him he was standing on two legs reaching up trying to snare a blowfly. Suddenly, without warning, he propelled himself towards the windows, missed the fly, and was left hanging two metres off the ground, claws imbedded in the expensive drapes. The lady of the house was not impressed. Jonathon and I became playmates. Anything was an opportunity for high jinks - Christmas trees, the laundry chute [read luge], chandeliers... Jonathon's imagination was boundless.


Jonathon died. I don't know how. Probably riding the long curved drainpipe once too often. "Is Jonathon in heaven?" little Mary asked me. "Heaven is where God is," I began, "and the God I believe in loves to play. I think Jonathon and God were made for each other."


On the front of our order of service we see the hand and the paw reaching out to each other. When we touch and nurture animals we touch and nurture part of ourselves. Animals can help us to become more human. Humans and animals have an investment in building a world where hand and paw touch gently and gracefully. Our picture of the hand and the paw, however, gains its humour in its reference to Michelangelo's painting in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Rome, where a very European male, Adam, representing humanity, is reaching out to touch the hand of a bearded gentleman, representing God. So, the hand on the right is God's, and the paw on the left is that of humanity! The artist is therefore intimating that the animal is more open than the human to the presence of God.


A dog has owned me for most of my life. Dogs can be, and often are, good and devoted friends who will come to one's defense. Indeed Christian art made the dog the symbol of faithfulness in all its aspects, devoted guardian and defender of the flocks. Personally, after spending time under canine tutelage, I am somewhat skeptical of these ideals. Undoubtedly faithfulness does feature, but so does a good food fling with any gullible neighbour. In terms of being a defender, although one of my friends was persistently a doorbell for many years, he seemed to apportion his most aggressive barking, much to my embarrassment and others' amusement, to people in uniforms, particularly police. As for "guarding" sheep well! What can one say? My biceps were well exercised restraining him.


Faithfulness, however, has a lot to do with being true to your self, and God within. The dogs in my life have been faithful to their spirituality of play, generosity, loyalty and goodwill. So to the four-legged and two-winged animals amongst us I urge you to continue to be faithful. Continue to have fun, let go and let be, celebrate life without feeling embarrassed or feeling guilty for "wasting time". You teach us humans that the intensity of living is more important than its duration. You teach us also that play is an adult thing to do and needs no justification.


To the two-legged animals of my own species, let us learn from these fellow mammals about play, time, and faithfulness. The Genesis reading says that we were created good, as a blessing. Do you believe that about yourself? It is hard to believe in the goodness of animals if you don't believe in the goodness of your own self. Those of us who put the food in the dish are also entrusted with the power to preserve and sustain the whole animal world. One of the values of the human world is that of use and usefulness. Of what use is an animal? Of what use is a sick animal? If an animal can't comfort or protect is it to be thrown away like a piece of mechanical junk? St. Francis of Assisi once wrote, "Blessed be the one who loves his brother as much when he is sick and can be of no use, as when he is well and useful." Francis presumed that love and respect are the right of everyone, unlike some values of today when love and respect have to be earned, and when the paw has to do something profitable.


The paw and the hand can both respond to the invitation to be faithful. To be faithful to the divine Spirit that flows through them. To be open to the possibilities of a better world where animals and humans receive the love and respect that is rightly theirs, and those with hands enjoy the affection and trust of the pawed.


The cat Jonathon's paws often got him into trouble. His worst offence was his ongoing duel with the needle arm on the turntable. As the LP rotated, with Jonathon's eyes following its motion, it seemed that the needle arm was an interfering hand that needed swatting. The resulting screech from both the vinyl and the listeners was enough to make him rapidly retreat but not deterred from re-trying to defeat this thing at a later time. Jonathon's commitment to his spirit of play was total and uncompromising. He was yours faithfully, Jonathon.

In the Beginning was Love

September 26, 2004

Glynn Cardy

Ordinary Sunday 26     St Matthew, Apostle, Evangelist     Matthew 12:9-13


In the beginning was the power of love. And the love was with God, and the love was God. All things were made by love; and without love was not anything made that was made. In the power of love was life, and the life was the light of the world.


Once upon a time, in the land of Arabia, Malik, son of Dinar, was very upset about the disgusting behaviour of a young man who lived next door to him. For a long time Malik took no action, hoping that someone else would intervene. But when the youth's behaviour became absolutely intolerable Malik went to him and asked him to change his ways.


The youth calmly informed Malik that he was a friend of the Sultan and so nobody could prevent him from living the way he wanted.


Said Malik, "I shall personally complain to the Sultan." Said the youth, "That will be quite useless, because the Sultan will never change his mind about me."


"I shall then report you to God above," said Malik. "God above," said the youth, "is far too forgiving to reproach me."


Malik felt quite helpless, so he left the youth to himself. But after a while the young man's activities became so bad that there was a public outcry about it. Once again Malik decided it was his duty to attempt to reprimand him. As he was walking to the youth's house, however, he heard the voice of God say to him, "Do not touch my friend. He is under my protection." Malik was thrown into confusion by this and, when he got to the presence of the youth, did not know what to say.


The young man demanded, "What have you come for?" Said Malik, "I came to reprimand you. But on my way here the voice of God said: `Do not touch my friend. He is under my protection.'"


The young man's face changed. "Did God call me His friend?" he asked. But by then Malik had already left his house. Years later Malik met this man in Mecca. He had been so touched by the words of God that he had given himself to live and love amongst those crippled by poverty. "I have come here in search of my Friend," he said to Malik.


This story from the Islamic Sufi tradition encapsulates the meaning of baptism. God loves us and accepts us for who we are, as we are, with no strings attached. We are 'God's friends'. God's love is unconditional and extends to all people, even those we despise or hate. We are all held in the open hands of God, no matter what we believe or what we've done.


A baby cannot make a commitment to anything. A baby's parents, despite the wishful thinking found in some theology, cannot determine the child's future relationship with God. Parents' faith, or the lack of it, is irrelevant. God's love can't be earned. When we baptize a baby it is the grace of God that is writ large and our response is simply to wonder.


We know little about Matthew the tax collector, after whom this church was named. The Gospel story has him leaving his office and following Jesus. Later Jesus ate at his house and responded to his critics. In the Roman Empire contracts for collecting taxes were often put out to tender. The highest bidder in turn hired local people to collect the fees. In this system the bidder and his employees were responsible for paying the taxes to the government. But they could also try to get extra taxes from the people in order to increase their personal profit. Even if they were not skimming off the top, they were suspected of doing so.


It is probable that Matthew was regarded as a crook who stole from the common people, as a collaborator with the Roman occupiers, and as religiously impure. To dine with such a person was no light matter. To eat with such a sinner was to be infected by their sin. Jesus' action was scandalous.


The heart of the Matthew story is that the love of God, as shown in the actions of Jesus, is likewise scandalous. That love breaks the boundaries that humanity erects. It is a love that doesn't care what the moralizers and pious think. It is a love that accepts the Matthews of this world long before there is any sign of transformation.


Our Church is here in the heart of the city with a simple message: "All are loved by God". All can wander into this sacred place, and feel something of a spirituality of unconditional acceptance. You don't have to look right, have money, have family, and believe in the right things, in order to be loved by God. The challenge to us, the people of St. Matthew, is to nurture that spirit in all we do and say. We nurture it when we are kind and generous to each other. Kindness is a much under-rated word. One of the questions I pose to children, and to anyone else who's listening, is: "Is God kind and generous, or demanding and frugal?" You'd be surprised how many want to answer 'demanding and frugal'. Their experience of family, school and church gets transferred on to God. 'God expects you to do this and that and the other thing.' Giving to or spending time with losers gets in the way of achievement.


The Matthew story, on the other hand, extols kindness and generosity. I think we need to begin by being kind to ourselves as individuals. Let's do something kind for ourselves, something that we like, each day. Think of it as celebrating the gift of God that each one of us is. Let's also be kind to those around us, members of this congregation. By nurturing a spirit of kindness we nurture the spiritual hospitality this building offers the city.


Sometimes I am dismayed by the way Christians of progressive or liberal theologies treat each other. While I understand the need for incisive analysis and bold speech, I think we need to be kind to one another. We have far more in common than not. We need to sustain each other, even at times when we don't agree, for the slings and arrows of those who fundamentally oppose us are legion.


This building, nearly 100 years old, needs us as we need it. I don't mean 'needs us' primarily in the sense of repairs and renovations. I mean in the deeper sense of keeping its spirit alive. It is a sacred place. But sacredness isn't a given - it's a flame that needs to be fueled. Many people can come and gather here for all sorts of occasions, but they do so knowing this is a sacred place. It is also a place of sanctuary, where those who are excluded and battered by the policies and beliefs of state or Church can come and know they are loved. It is place too, from which we speak out against the forces of prejudice, greed, and abusive power. It is a place of resistance. It is a place that challenges.


This morning we celebrate the gift of life, in particular the life of baby Liam. We celebrate that he's loved, not just by his parents and family, but also by that life-enhancing energy that permeates the universe, namely God. On our Patronal Festival we celebrate Matthew the tax collector and the scandalous, boundary-breaking love of God, known in the actions of Jesus. Two people: Liam and Matthew. Same God. Same unconditional love.


In the beginning was the power of love. And the love was with God, and the love was God. And in that love we were conceived.


1. De Mello, A. The Song Of The Bird, Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1982, p.85ff.

Tolkien's Humpty Dumpty World. Christianity Through the Looking Glass (Part Three)

September 19, 2004

George Armstrong


Ho hum ... Here comes the old, old story again of "the Prodigal Son". Luke's gospel, Chapter 15 tells three whole stories to make sure that he rams home the point Jesus is trying to make. And still the Church hasn't got it.


There is the treasure belonging to the peasant woman. She had ten drachmae, ten tiny pretty silver coins. She has lost one of them. For her that's as serious as losing all of them. Maybe those ten coins together formed a string of jewels that were her only wealth. The string is broken and she herself is undone. She leaves not one square inch of her mud and straw floor untouched. Same with the shepherd. He's got a largish flock; one hundred sheep. He loses one - not much. He's kept the other 99 safe. But to him it's as though he's lost the lot. Then comes the family; the crazy old man and his two rather unpleasant sons, and not one sensible woman in sight. This old man has lost a son and he's only got two. He might have some daughters but in the Bible they don't count. Neither do children. Some Holy Book! But that's a sermon or two for some other time.


Twenty centuries of preachers have wept over this tale of the penitent younger son as a story about forgiveness and restoration. My parishioners gave me a shock though. None of them anywhere have ever accepted that the older son was the baddie in the parable. Time and again I told them that they had to forgive one another and not be like this ratbag older brother. But nothing would persuade my flock that this older brother was being unreasonable or unchristian. As far as they were concerned, that younger son had grabbed his share of the family silver and run. Now this little thief was bankrupt and expected to get back into the fold with some pretty speech of repentance that might have been composed by Tolkien's Wormtongue. The boy could stay lost as far as my parishioners were concerned.


Could so many parishioners be wrong? And I alone right? I'd have to check my Bible again - and again. So I had to think again, hard thought that has been and it's not over yet for me, not by a long shot. At my present stage of having to think again, these three parables are not about fairness and forgiveness and so on.


I turned to one of my Bible Commentaries compiled by the Union of Social Psychiatrists. Under this Prodigal Son parable they made some good points. One was that no sooner had the old man recovered one son, then he lost the other. Hardly sensible. And they quoted this parable as a significant example of what the Bible is full of. Their name for this conditions was: "Chronic dysfunction arising from post inter-generational conflict trauma!"


Now this simple straightforward diagnosis of a common biblical disease made good sense to me. What this parable was all about was one more failed attempt to put our whole humpty dumpty world together again - without a single tiny piece left over.


No wonder they all had a party once they thought they had succeeded. The peasant women had a party. The shepherd's had a party. The old man had a party. There were parties everywhere including parties in heaven. The angels threw it, says Luke; and angel parties are big enough to satisfy even party-crazy binge-drinking Kiwis! (Funny thing about parties. The Bible is as full of them as instances of "Chronic dysfunction arising from post inter-generational conflict trauma"!)


- - -


Putting Humpty Dumpty together again is not something that can be accomplished by Kings' horses and Kings' men. No matter how many Kings, horses, men or nuclear missiles. The trick is not how to get absolute power over a situation. Most Humpty Dumpties get busted by power and wealth in the first place. Futher injections of cash or bombs will only make matters worse. So it's a mistake to think that you can mend them by the application of yet more wealth and power. Throwing money, or cutting off money, or neo-liberal globalisation doesn't work. Nor do nuclear weapons or a war against terrorism. Absolute Power has been humanity's chiefest problem through endless Western Empires. Remember last century's "Wars to end all wars"? The soldiers in the trenches and the desert knew what a lie that was even before the wars were hardly begun.


The problems of Tolkien's Middle Earth were not solved by all those amazing battles which may have riveted, sickened or bored you in the audience during Peter Jackson's forever-and-ever-amen film trilogy. For all their magnificence, valour and special effects, Jackson's manifestations of power were knowingly insufficient to win against Sauron. Their function was only to distract Sauron's attention from something else. That something was the hobbits, at their last gasp but still dragging themselves up behind Sauron's back. Up and up they go. And at the end of that dizzy staircase, past Shelob, the monstrous spider and the living embalm-ment of her web. And then it's out over the volcanic cauldron, there to teeter on the edge before the final real victory, the destruction of the One Ring to Rule the World.


It's a pity that Peter Jackson doesn't celebrate this central theme with a clarity and power to match Tolkien. The stage on which the ultimate victory pageant was celebrated was, in Tolkien, on the Field of Cormallen. Tolkien recalls that he wept as he wrote this climax to his whole trilogy. For the climax is unambiguously focussed not on the crowning of the King amidst the massed armed forces in the environs of the formerly embattled citadel of Minas Tirith. No, the final celebration is set in the open fields. And the chief centre of honour, to their amazement if not horror, is given to the true victors, who turn out to be the laughable and fallible nine-fingered Frodo and his friend Samwise (the now-much-wiser) Gamgee.


Not that this ultimately matters. What matters is that Humpty Dumpty, the whole Middle Earth, Rohan and Gondor, are back together again. What matters is the big party to celebrate the coming of the Third Age of the World, our present Age of the World. For the great story of the world is just that. It is not simply a story of our intense private and personal experiences but of a whole community, in the last analysis a world community.


Jocelyn and I have been privileged to be at several big parties recently. First there was the farewell party for Ian Lawton and family at St Matthew's. It was hard to let them go (and I trembled for them in the United States!) But in their departure we were celebrating something that has happened to and for us all at a very deep level. The second party honoured several University of Auckland alumni who had excelled. One was John Paterson, our bishop and archishop. Another was Nicki Caro, the director of Whale Rider, who gave a magnificent speech. Then last night the party I was at took on a symbolism that was very much to the point of today's parable. Both Helen Clarke and Don Brash were there and both spoke to honour John Hinchcliff the retiring head of Auckland University of Technology. These parties included all sorts and conditions of human beings - just like this party this morning, this Eucharistic Party.


- - -


Alas, globalisation after the manner of past power-cultures can bring only perpetual warfare. This is true in the economic sphere. That way lies Statist or Imperial terror in politics and economy facing sporadic ineradicable terror from permanently embittered and often deeply religious rebels. Neither the neo-Con capitalism of Don Brash or the neo-liberal manoeverings of Helen Clarke can heal the world, necessary parties though both must be in our strange bestial lurchings towards Bethlehem. Nor have Communism and Socialism, though seemingly dead ducks, by any means run their course, as is clear from Spain and China if not from RogerGnome's shiny new New Zealand. As our Church at its highest levels has miraculously determined (more or less Christian after all these years following Whitby and Henry the Eighth) it is only from those deepest human chasms that separate the most indigenous from the most allegedly civilized of us, that the resolutions can come to bind us all into a new and wondrous Kingdom or Commonwealth of God.


- - -


Problems between older and younger sons are a dime a dozen in the Old Testament. Cain and Abel are the classic. Often it is the youngest who turns out to be the smartest and who gets the inheritance that actually belongs to the elder brother. Esau and Jacob are the classic case of this but the most dramatic is that of Joseph and his technicolour dream coat. Joseph is sold into slavery by his older brothers, who are sick of him being his father's pet and just so damned smart and up himself. But it's Joseph who finally ends up controlling the whole of Egypt with his brothers absolutely at his mercy. And maybe you could say that of the symbolism of the State of Israel today. The Arabs trace their heritage to Ishmael the elder son of Abraham. The Jewish ancestor is the younger boy Isaac, born to Sarah in her old age.


Nor are we finished here. Christianity is the younger sister and brother of the Jewish faith. Since Constantine, we as Christianity have triumphed over our Jewish older brother and visited upon him awesome anti-Semitic enormities. So (with Isaac supplanting Ishmael) the Jews supplanted the Arabs and the Christians supplanted the Jews. What a succession! And all tied up with Power and the One Power to overcome all other Powers.


If ever a political economic formation won the prize for being the One Ring to rule the world, it would be the Christian colonising Empires of Europe. We have flayed the skin and flesh from colonised countries in a manner far exceeding that of Mel Gibson's blockbuster celebration of bloody violence. Alas, Mel Gibson's Jesus Christ may not save us. He may only brings more bloody violence.


The true Jesus Christ of the Gospels, could we but recover him, this Jesus who told and - even more importantly - lived theses stories we have considered for three Sundays now, this Jesus is very different. So let us carry on and follow him with new eyes to the Cross and Resurrection of Easter.


Today's theme is then of gathering-up and gathering-in and "Big-Party". It actually continues the Grand Narrative of the earlier two in this trilogy of sermons. That Grand Narrative is expressed in different forms. It is like a hen seeking to gather all under its wondrous - as it turns out, angelic - wings. Jesus the mother hen clucks and weeps over Jerusalem just as Janet Frame's New Yorker Mattina lovingly treasures in memory and reality the fearful "rapture" which gathered all of Kowhai Street into Eternity. Then comes the Whalerider, renewing the succession of tribal genius, launching again the gloriously completed tribal canoe and breasting the Oceans of today's broken and tomorrows glorious world. And now this morning appears the mending and making whole again of the turbulent and bloody human family, the establishment of a transformational "kingdom" whereby the kingdoms of violence and exclusion and cultural abuse of power give way to the realms of the Prince of Peace where a little child, probably a little girl, shall lead us all.


Rev Dr George Armstrong

The Name Our Spirit Wants

August 22, 2004

Glynn Cardy

Ordinary Sunday 21     Luke 13:10-17


Some people find it easy to name their children. I often hear of children being named while they are in-utero. It seems unlikely then that their names are related to their characteristics. Other parents take their time. I remember taking six weeks over one of our children - trying each name on the hapless babe to see whether there was a fit.


Names are important. At baptism we celebrate those names and the person they clothe. The forenames are usually a combination of originality and familial connection. They are a means of both claiming that child as one of our own and setting that child apart as unique.


When a child enters the maelstrom of school names often undergo a transformation. Much to their parents horror the careful work of those early months is discarded in favour of 'Zero', 'Flush', 'Gooch', 'Cheese', 'Stink', and the like. These are names forged in the heat of peer interplay. Sometimes though the names can burn, and leave a permanent scar.


I remember having a coffee with a fellow jogger. He was one of those fit looking 30 year olds they line up for swimwear ads. I was one of those flabby looking 40 year olds they don't line up for anything. We got to talking about food, and slipped on to the subject of fat. Suddenly, as can happen in conversations, the tone changed. As I gently inquired he told me that despite appearances to the contrary, he had always thought of himself as fat. 'Fatty', his name from school days, was no joke. It was a weight that still weighed on him.


There is much pain in a name that hurts, confines, or crushes the spirit. The gregarious personality who jokes about his own nickname may be the very person who is aching inside.


Jesus meets a woman. She is called "the bent woman." How would you like to be immortalized with that name? She was bent over, back terribly contorted, and had been like that for 18 years. She doesn't appear to have a proper name. When people saw her, creaking down the street, they didn't say, "Here comes Mary," or "Look, its Elizabeth." They said, "Here comes the bent woman." That was her name and in that improper name her spirit was held captive.


If you want Kiwi audiences to applaud you, criticize political correctness. Changing labels like "crippled," "deaf," or "blind," to "differently abled," "hearing impaired" or "visually impaired" is often scoffed at as being 'PC'. Yet behind these attempts at language change is people claiming the right to name themselves. The same people who know the power of language to capture and weigh down their spirits. The same people who know the power of language to shape perception and open up or close down possibilities. The same people who claim the freedom to be known by a name they choose.


One church custom, now widespread, is addressing a person by name when giving the communion bread. Every so often an elderly parishioner would approach me and say, "Glynn, I know everyone calls me Betty, but I'm not really. Inside I'm Margaret, and I'd love you to use that name at communion." I find such conversations very moving. They are about people, usually late in life, claiming the power to name themselves before God.


The woman Jesus meets doesn't have a name, other than the improper one given to her by the town, a name based upon her disability. The story doesn't have an identity for her other than that of a victim. She doesn't have a family it seems, no occupation either. She is the one who is bent, stooped, bearing upon her shoulders an invisible yet very heavy weight, the weight of being different, the weight of not looking like everyone else, the weight of not being able to do what everyone else does. She is the crippled woman, bent.


In her encounter with Jesus she experiences freedom and healing. Some will choose to understand the healing literally: Jesus using supernatural powers to cure degenerative osteoporosis. Others, me included, understand the power of Jesus as transformative love, and interpret the healing figuratively. A weight gets lifted off her shoulders - a spiritual and physical weight that judged and condemned her. The spiritual and the physical often interlock. She stands up straight, empowered to be the woman she is, no longer bent by others misshapen prejudice.


Jesus calls her by a different name. Jesus doesn't call her disabled, or marginalized, or a victim of life's unfairness, though from most points of view she is. Jesus doesn't let her disability define how he sees her. Jesus instead calls her "a daughter of Abraham." It is both a descriptive name and also a name that calls her into her potential. Let me explain. Abraham was the great, great-grandfather of Israel. Abraham was the one to whom one starry night it was said a promise was given. God allegedly vowed to make a great nation out of Abraham, a nation through which all the nations of the earth would be blessed. She is a daughter of Abraham. She is an heir to the blessings of God. She belongs to the Jewish community. She is an insider, not an outsider where she had been relegated. She is meant for more than superficial, cruel, limiting labeling.


Abraham, as we read the stories of him, was an interesting guy. He made some big mistakes - like his relationships with his sons and their mothers. Abraham was not your ideal family man. Yet Abraham had a powerful compassion that outshone the other patriarchs. Remember the story of him pleading for Sodom and challenging God to be merciful. The sobering thing about that encounter was that Abraham, unlike most of us, literally believed that he was arguing with a God who could fry him from the sky. Abe had guts.


To be an heir of Abraham is to theologically throw oneself into seeking, challenging, and learning of the mystery of God. Come what may. It is to be a pilgrim. Jesus was therefore both acknowledging and affirming the woman's whakapapa and in doing so gently reminding her of its obligations.


I think a lot of the healing in this encounter comes in the re-naming. The woman has been named as 'bent' and treated as cursed. Jesus names her as part of the community of the blessed, including her and seeing her potential. The woman herself though is yet to claim and pronounce her own name. The story is unfinished.


Another heir of Abraham objects to Jesus. 'Look Jesus, we all like a healing, but this is the Sabbath. Couldn't you have waited until tomorrow?' Jesus quips, 'Well, animals need water on the Sabbath.' Sorry Jesus, it's not a good argument. Animals need water to survive; the woman could have waited until the morrow. But Jesus is not really arguing the texts about Sabbath regulations. His whole understanding of the Law and God is quite different. His paramount assumption is that what pleases God is people's well being. [1]


The leader of the synagogue would have affirmed that we must love God with our whole heart and soul and strength, and show it in action. That meant keeping the commandments. Behind it is an image of God saying: 'I am God. I must be obeyed. I want loyalty and service.' The outcome of which is: we seek to know what God's commands entail, how they apply, and we keep them. Simple as that! The better we keep the commandments the better child of Abraham we are.


Other Jews, like Jesus, disagreed. For them God's chief concern was not to be obeyed but to love and care for people and creation. Commandments, rules, guidelines, traditions, laws, scriptures are subordinate to the purpose of love. A child of Abraham is known not by her bloodlines or by her obedience to the letter of the law, but by her generosity to outsiders, and her commitment to restoring, encouraging, and challenging. When obedience to the letter of the law takes one away from loving others, then something is terribly wrong. [2]


An heir of Abraham, not unlike us today, had a choice over the type of God they would follow - a God of obedience or a God of love.


When we are baptized we join Jesus' iwi. He is our great great-grandfather. His arms were so wide they embraced the whole world. To that iwi we belong. We are connected. We are loved. We are named. In this iwi, in this great river of whakapapa, we will learn to navigate our way in life, supported by and supporting others, with obligations and opportunities. That daughter of Abraham is one of our forebears.


When you learn to navigate in the faith there are many stars in the sky. Some are more helpful than others. Like that leader of the town's synagogue we can choose the star of obedience that notices who is following the rules and who is not. Or like Rabbi Jesus we can choose the star of inclusive love that notices those who are bent out of shape by the words and prejudice of others, and does something about it. Or like the once-was-bent daughter of Abraham we can choose the star that calls us by the name our spirit wants, and which we in time courageously claim.


1. He is not riding roughshod over the Law and replacing it with new ways. Not according to the gospel writer Luke. Jesus upheld biblical Law. His conflicts were over the underlying theology of it.


2. This story is almost a parody of Jesus' opponents. How absurd to object to someone being made well! How absurd to imagine God would be more worried about having the Sabbath commandment protected than having people healed! We need to see that the story had that function: to contrast the two approaches. It is, in that sense, using stereotypes. It would be most inappropriate, in fact, directly offensive, if we were not to see this and to start caricaturing Jewish leaders and Judaism on the basis of this story.

Mary and Martha: Confronting and Savouring 'God-ness'

July 18, 2004

Ken Bennett

Luke 10:38-42


If I have been a bit disorganised and absent these past few weeks, part of the reason is that at this time of the year it is my task as ministry educator to organise the annual Licensed Ministry conference. This year one day was given over to the current and rather vexatious subject of homosexuality and the place of the homosexual lifestyle in the church.


I am pleased to report that the day was marked by very gracious behaviour and a willingness to listen without rancour to opinions that we might totally disagree with. We even managed to begin to search for a way ahead, to find some way for Anglican via media to prevail.


The discussion also highlighted for me the complexity and conflicts of biblical interpretation, another example of which is perfectly supplied by today's gospel; this sisterly altercation between Mary and Martha into which Jesus intervenes rather directly. I don't know about you, but I have been part of more than a few study groups where this story has generated a fairly high level of heat among the participants, often without shedding too much light on the issues. Certainly also there has been no shortage of scholarly ink spilt commenting on the story's meaning and purpose either.


Some reformation commentators say that this story is really about salvation. Are we saved by faith (Mary) or are we saved by works (Martha)? And of course, the proper answer is faith. Some more narrow minded conservative writers give us a different angle. They have suggested that it is an argument for the superiority of Christianity over Judaism; Martha representing the legalism of the Old Testament and Mary representing the liberating spirit of the New Testament.


Mystics, also, have had a field day with this text, gloating over the fact that the active Martha is chastised for not imitating the contemplative lifestyle of her sister. And, last but not least, women's groups have agonized for years over what this story says about the proper role of women in the church. In one parish I served, the Association of Anglican Women worried quite a bit about this story because it seemed to disparage all the cake stalls and other very worthy activities they were engaged in that offered financial assistance to the parish.


There is also recent work that is new to me. It is a compilation of significant feminist scholarship and it takes a sharp look at all the traditional interpretations of scripture. The analysis in this commentary of the Mary and Martha story is fascinating. Looking generally at Luke's treatment of women, what these scholars have discovered is that although Luke's Jesus is more inclusive of women than any of the other gospels, the kind of women who are affirmed are all one brand. They are good, quiet, supportive, obedient women like Mary who sits adoringly at Jesus' feet, her mouth shut, her spirit passive, her own energy submerged in Jesus'.


Mary is in sharp contrast to Martha, who is active, verbal, assertive, and willful; the Martha whom Jesus rebukes. This women's commentary concludes that Luke's supposed "empowerment of women" is really not empowerment at all, but instead a subtle way of affirming pliant, passive, quiet women as the acceptable role model for the female half (or should we say two-thirds) of Christianity. It's an idea that I find, at the very least, rather disturbing.


These interpretations are all very well, but for me, this week (especially in the wake of the crazy weeks I have experienced recently) I find they miss the main point.


I think we need to keep the story in its textual context. Immediately preceding today's story, Luke has told us Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan; the classic tale that challenges us to an active, 'works-oriented' faith that story that commands us to "Go and do likewise". Surely this story validates Martha's active type of faith. It seems to me that the Bible doesn't particularly distinguish faith from works, active discipleship from contemplative discipleship, Judaism from Christianity, assertive people from passive people. It is not a question of either/or, but rather a declaration of both/and. All of us are called to be both Mary and Martha.


For me, though, there is a different focus in this story all together, and that focus is anxiety; the debilitating, faith denying, manipulative power of anxiety. An emotion that I for one am intimately and numbingly familiar with.


What Jesus says to Martha is not, "Stop cooking, get out of the kitchen, shut up, be sweet and smart like Mary." No, what Jesus says is "Stop worrying, stop fretting, stop getting into a tizz. Stop agonizing over the mechanics of the meal. Don't worry about pleasing me or proving yourself or being perfect. Stop focusing on performance. Instead, start savouring goodness; the goodness in you, the goodness in me, the goodness - the Godness - that emerges when we stop and enjoy one another."


This is where I, and maybe you, can start identifying with Martha. We can identify with her exhausting, gnawing anxiety; anxiety about doing it right, anxiety about pleasing all those people and all those expectations out there, anxiety silencing all those imagined critics who are poised to pounce on her, and on us. It doesn't matter whether we're worried about our job performance, or our parenting skills, or our family responsibilities. The Martha in all of us is "worried and distracted by many things."


One authority I consulted talked about anxiety as "that which one experiences when one's self esteem is threatened."


Of course anxiety is a very normal human emotion - something we all know at some level every day of our lives. And much anxiety is appropriate and even necessary - it's the tension needed to be productive, creative, caring. But neurotic anxiety, excessive anxiety, worrying at a level which is totally out of proportion to the situation at hand, is both unhealthy and destructive. In my own life I have discovered, with help, that exaggerated anxiety is a sign of exaggerated low self-esteem, and it is much more a statement of how we feel about ourselves than how we feel about the person or situation we are anxious about.


When we think carefully about it I think we can see that main problem with Martha's anxiety is that it is basically selfish. It appears, of course that Martha was trying to do something nice for Jesus - preparing a nourishing meal - but I think we can observe that she was caught up more in her own needs than his.


It seems to me Jesus had come to their house during a long and difficult journey to be nourished not by gourmet cooking, but by friendship and his intimate relationship with the two women. Martha, however manages somehow to stick in a "should" into the description of what a good host, a good woman, a good Christian is supposed to do - she becomes focussed on her own inadequacy, instead of on the gift Jesus was offering.


Boy do I know all about that! Are there times when you find yourself awake in the early hours ticking off in your mind all the tasks that you have before you, imagining the ways you might fail in what you have to do? I certainly do - more than once in the last fortnight.


For me there are certain events guaranteed to push my anxiety button. Organising big diocesan events, facing angry students and ordinands chairing the AGM. And sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly badly about myself, the Martha in me is unleashed even doing the daily tasks that I usually have no problem with, even enjoy. At such times writing a sermon is agony, getting through meetings is hard labour, and relating to people authentically is impossible. Why? I have discovered that at those times, for whatever reason, I am focusing on my own inadequacy. It seems that in those moments when our self-esteem is threatened most, we spend more time compensating for our own fragile personality than we do enjoying and serving the world around us


Martha, in this story trying to find her own worth through external measurement, focusing so much on meeting Jesus' needs that she is losing herself in the process, trying to control Mary's behaviour by assuming responsibility for her sister, trying to earn esteem through taking care of others rather than sensing that she was already loved and valued as a child of God.


Martha is like so many "good Christians", like so many of us; certainly if we we grew up in the 50's and 60's. "My own needs don't matter," we have been taught to say. "God first, others next, self last," as my teacher Mr Cappie, wrote in my autograph book. But there may be a dark hidden side to this notion of self-less love that can express itself in deep resentment; if I am going to give up so much for you, you better darn well do as I say and be who I say you are. My worth rests on you doing and becoming exactly what I want." Such was the nature and intensity of Martha's anxiety. She cared too much, and so she lost herself in the process.


Martha's worry, her intensity, her inability to appreciate Jesus because she was too busy taking care of him - all of this was turning her into a rigid and resentful nag. And it was this bitter part of who she was that Jesus gently rebukes. He says to her and through her to us, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, but only one thing is important to me today. I want to know you, and talk to you, and listen to you. I want to hear your ideas and learn from your experiences. I want to share what I know and what I feel. And it is only when we take time to truly be in the presence of one another, it is only then that we will together find ourselves in the presence of God."


Martha didn't have to prove herself to be worthy of love, and neither do we. Our worth is not measured by how clean our house is, how much money we have, how many papers we've published. To God these things are immaterial.


There is a Psalm that reminds us just how precious we are, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together intentionally in our mother's womb, precious and unique and unconditionally loved by God. And I would like to think that this is what Jesus is saying to Martha and to us today. Confronting our anxieties with the knowledge of our intrinsic worthiness, the fact that we are deeply beloved of God - for me that's good news, news I would wish our anxious performance oriented world to hear and believe.


Ken Bennett

(With thanks to Susan R Andrews for the original ideas.)

The Gospel According to Archbishop Vercoe

May 23, 2004

Jeremy Younger


Our Gospel reading today speaks of the overflowing, extravagant generosity of God - that scandalous love of God that turns the common view of forgiveness on its head.


So often we are led to believe that forgiveness is about being sorry, and, if we're sorry enough, then God will accept us back into the fold, into the family. This is blasphemy. Forgiveness isn't about sins being taken away but about generosity being received and celebrated. It's about God, loving - not about us, grovelling.


Are we ready enough - big enough - to risk receiving the free overflowing love of God simply by being the people we are? Why does the church work so hard to deny or cover up the generous love of God? Why does it so easily retreat behind a wall of morality rather than reach out with the open hand and heart of love?


Why is Archbishop Vercoe and Christians like him unable to get this simple Gospel message into their heads and celebrate the fact that God's love - the love that sets us free - also sets free the person sitting next to us here today - and the gay couple setting up home in Ponsonby - and the transsexual prostitute in K' road, and the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus in our Gospel reading?


I'm reminded of the definition of piety that I once heard - that the pious person is the one who looks at you forgivingly when you haven't done anything wrong. That's what I feel when Archbishop Vercoe talks in one breath about loving gay people and in the next talks about a world without gays.


But it's too easy just to see him as a sad, bigoted churchman and to throw abuse at him. I know I feel like doing that as much as the next person. I'm worried about statements like those he made, not just because they present a naïve, ignorant travesty of the Gospel but because they are dangerous.


As a psychotherapist, I know of the danger that public statements of this type play in the inner worlds of those struggling to own their personhood and their sexual identity. I know what it's like to be called out in the middle of the night to a vulnerable young gay man who has tried to kill himself because of his struggle to live in the world also inhabited by Archbishop Vercoe and his ilk.


But I believe we have to look deeper than just scapegoating Archbishop Vercoe. This is not simply about a new Archbishop who by happenstance and longevity has been thrust into the leadership of the Anglican Church. Archbishop Vercoe is not a bad man. The sad thing is that it is to be expected that a 75 year old Maori Bishop would believe and promote the ideas he does in the name of Christ and his church.


What I want to look at this morning is why this is so, why we would expect him to speak and believe and act as he does, and why it's no surprise. This I believe goes far deeper than a particular person - a particular Maori Bishop - it goes to the very bedrock - the very core - of our country, Aotearoa, New Zealand, and to the core of the Gospel - the Gospel lived out in this place.


It is about colonisation and our part as the church in that process. To quote Psalm 2 as a founding text of this land: "Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shall break them with a rod of iron: thou shalt dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel."


And so the coloniser's came armed with the word of God to give them authority.


The history of colonisation in many places in the world teaches us that the statutes and laws and mores that have over time been used by the colonisers to control, oppress and dis-empower the colonised, remain on the table after the colonised come to power and are then used by them to control, oppress and dis-empower others. This we see in Zimbabwe, in the Congo, in Nigeria. And I believe we are seeing it in the life of our own church.


So Archbishop Vercoe is given leadership and power in our church - Archbishop Vercoe, this genuinely courageous and godly man who has fought for justice, equality and dignity for Maori over many decades - and the first thing he does is to oppress others.


What a judgement this is I believe, not just on him, but also on the colonising Christian theology that my Pakeha forebears brought to this country - the theology that came with the colonisers - which was negative, moralising, condemnatory, un-relational and deeply flawed.


When you look at this Mickey Mouse theology, masquerading as biblical truth but really having much more to do with plain, pious, prejudice, we have to try to understand and share our part in that, as the children of the colonisers - where it's appropriate we have to acknowledge that we are implicated.


The colonising imperative of course was empire - the army conquered and subjugated and the church converted and educated. The great tragedy is that the moment of colonisation - the middle of the nineteenth century - became the moment of arrested development, where theology got stuck and thinking became petrified. And that, as shown by Archbishop Vercoe, is now our sad inheritance - a threadbare Victorian theology dressed up as the pseudo-moral highground.


The one shining exception, the great contradiction to this sad state, which proves that all is not lost and other ways are possible, is that of South Africa and the Anglican Church there, which, through the amazing, prophetic and brave ministry of Archbishop Tutu has enabled the church to celebrate lesbian and gay people and in so many other ways to embrace the constant, liberating, dynamic life of God.


Thank God for a church like St Matthew-in-the-City which has a long and honourable history of speaking out about these gospel imperatives, but how sad that Aotearoa, New Zealand has no one to lead the church of the stature of Archbishop Tutu. Let us work and pray for new leaders in the church who refuse to settle for the stagnant thinking of the past. Western theology has moved on - much careful, exciting, creative thinking now informs our understanding of so many issues including the family, the role of women and sexuality - yours and mine.


Isn't it sad that Archbishop Vercoe, even though he talks of a 'new' morality, appears to be unmoved and uninformed by all that is new? He seems content to stay stuck in a sad, discredited, naive understanding of a Gospel, which only speaks of judgement and exclusion, when he could take the opportunities afforded him by the privilege of his new office to shout passionately from the rooftops, and live out in practice, a Gospel of love, acceptance and celebration - the Gospel that, thank God, I believe you here at St Matthew's have a passion for, and struggle to live out day by day.

Pakeha and the Treaty of Waitangi: Why its Our Treaty Too

May 7, 2004

Patrick Snedden

A Pakeha Reflects on 30 Years Work with Maori Communities by Pat Snedden*

A public talk at St Columba's Anglican Church, Grey Lynn, Friday 7 May 2004


I had not thought in this talk tonight that I would say much about the foreshore and seabed. Positions for and against the legislation are so polarised at present that it is difficult to see what could be added that might suggest a different way this issue may be tackled. But some of you may feel justifiably short-changed if I didn't at least give you my view of some of the principles on which this matter might be advanced even though the Bill has now had its first reading.


So let me do so briefly. I would take you back to a talk I gave to the seabed and foreshore hui at Waipapa in February this year. The hosts wished for a Pakeha perspective and I obliged. My view has not changed since.


To deal with this issue we must return to the spirit and principled approach of our founding charter. Most importantly, the time must be taken to reach a result that leads to the enhancement of mana (honour, dignity and respect) of all participants. If either Treaty partner wins at the expense of the other then the issue will not be solved. If we have learnt anything in this last thirty years, it is that the past for Maori, is never forgotten.


What is more, all New Zealanders must be able to understand the substance of the resolution and a broad consensus will need to be gained in support. It will need popular sign-off by the people. It is a moment for the cultural and historical education about our nationhood, not a return to active denial of our history.


So how might the parties act in this matter?


- The Crown could acknowledge that it has not extinguished aboriginal title and could explicitly recognise Maori rangatiratanga in this matter and confirm support for the 1840 manawhenua position of tangata whenua in respect to foreshore and seabed


- Tangata whenua could acknowledge the unfettered sovereign right of the Crown to govern and the unfettered right of navigation and the non-commercial access to the seabed and foreshore for all New Zealanders.


- The Crown could invite Tangata whenua with manawhenua in a region to jointly manage the seabed and foreshore exercising their obligation jointly with the Crown of kaitiakitanga (guardianship).


- Tangata whenua could clearly agree that where there exists possible commercial development of the seabed and foreshore, those with manawhenua who have an explicit and beneficial interest would have to submit to conflict of interest provisions, and not vote in such matters.


- Tangata whenua would acknowledge that in the matter of commercial development of the seabed and foreshore they have no more or less than the same rights provided to all New Zealander citizens.


- Finally any solution must confirm the basic founding principle of our collective security as a people. That we can all expect to be treated the same way under the law and that we all have access to the law in the in a fair and transparent manner.



And what might such a resolution achieve?


* The Crown will have confirmed with absolute clarity its sovereign right to govern in all matters without qualification and all New Zealanders will have regained certainty about their unfettered access to the foreshore and seabed.


* Tangata whenua will have experienced their rangatiratanga as confirmed by the Crown, manawhenua recognised and aboriginal title retained. In addition their joint management of the resource is confirmed with the Crown in all matters of a non-commercial nature thus ensuring the appropriate exercise of kaitiakitanga.


* For all new Zealanders, the commercial opportunities are exactly the same.


* And all parties will have the same rights of access and protection under the law.


Ask yourself the questions. Do the current proposals in the bill before the house enhance the mana of all parties? Do they operate within a win/win paradigm? Can most New Zealanders understand them? Do they derive from recognition that we are all the same under the law? Will they in their current form lead to a durable solution?


If your answer is 'no' to any of these questions, then we might have a problem. The hikoi turnout on Tuesday suggests that one party at least to this process is naming that problem. It need not be so. We have the ability to constructively resolve this issue.


My challenge to New Zealanders, most particularly my fellow Pakeha, is simple. Let us commit to a fair and equitable resolution. We have it in our power to do so.


What does this say about us all belonging within Aotearoa/New Zealand?


The conduct of this debate does bear on our knowledge of our cultural selves, our history and our Treaty. It goes right to the heart of our sense of belonging, particularly as Pakeha. A recent experience of mine will illustrate what I mean.


A couple of months ago I called a cab to go to town. The driver made to head off in a direction that I didn't expect. E te alu ifea? (Where are you going?) I said in my best and only Samoan. He nearly leapt out of his seat hearing this from a palagi and we both fell about laughing. How had been his morning, I asked. Busy, he replied, taking people to the cricket test at Eden Park.


Oh, the Pakeha hui, I said. What do you mean, he responded with eyes raised. Well, it goes on for five days, everybody gets fed at least twice a day, there's lots of controversy, for long periods nothing seems to happen and then suddenly people seem to be at each other's throat. In the end they shake hands and mostly it ends in a draw. Sounds like a hui to me, I said. He had the grace to chuckle.


There's only one place in the world where that conversation could have taken place and be understood inclusive of all its cultural nuance. That place is here.


What therefore does it say about belonging?


Let me talk more of Eden Park. My great grandfather, Alexander Snedden was one of six Auckland businessmen who in 1903 purchased the swamp, drained it and turned it into a sports ground. Such has been our continuous connection over four succeeding generations that when members of our family played at Eden Park at either rugby or cricket, it was hard to escape the feeling that with this sporting whakapapa we had home advantage!


Now not all Pakeha have this same sense of ownership about our country. I read a commentator recently suggest Don Brash's speech at Orewa tapped at a very emotional level the sense of Pakeha feeling "strangers in our own land". In short we need to reclaim our sense of belonging.


Brian Turner wrote recently in the Listener asserting a deep and intimate Pakeha connection with the land, a connection denied he believed by many Maori, including Ranganui Walker, to whom he was responding. When Walker says, "I have been here a thousand years. You arrived only yesterday" Turner objects. This view, he says, very clearly denies a similar depth of feeling to almost everyone else. He fundamentally disagrees with a presumption about the way in which non-Maori feelings for land and water are dismissed as less heartfelt, less sensitive, less spiritual.


So am I, as a Pakeha, indigenous? Well, emotionally yes and technically no. For me to claim my 140 years of direct ancestry here is a source of pride and this is my home. But can I fairly claim to be indigenous in the same way as Maori who have been here from around 1300 AD? To do so would be to sideline 500 plus years of Maori experience prior to my forebear's arrival. What's more my forebears were not the first people to settle here, an important element of the definition. So to claim to be indigenous in the same way as tangata whenua is unfair and technically it is not factual. And if there is one matter that we need to do today is to stick to the facts.


But nor do I wish to tug my forelock in this matter. As Pakeha we claim our belonging through being descended from the settlers who agreed the Treaty. The same Treaty that by joint agreement of tangata whenua and tauiwi, gives all subsequent migrants and their communities the right to call this place their own. The importance of this cannot be understated. It was the Maori Land Court Chief Judge Durie in 1990 who first described Pakeha as tangata Tiriti, those who belong to the land by right of the Treaty. It is our unimpeachable security, our right to belong passed from generation to generation.


On one side of my family my migrant ancestors arrived at Port Albert near Wellsford in the 1860s. They became farmers. At the Port Albertland wharf there is a plaque thanking Ngati Whatua for their assistance in settlement and acknowledging that without that they would not have survived.


Today we are shaped by a set of cultural reflexes toward the land, our environment and as my taxi driver conversation shows, the interaction between Maori, Pakeha and Pacific peoples that exists nowhere outside of this place. And increasingly, especially in Auckland, our population is playing host to many new communities and will continue to do so. For the vast majority of us tauiwi, most especially Pakeha, we no longer have a bolt-hole to escape to anywhere else in the world that accepts us as their own. I have visited the heart of my Irish and Scottish roots and except for the most surface of acknowledgement they did not see anything of themselves in me nor me in them.


I am here in Aotearoa New Zealand for good because I have nowhere else to go. And I am content with that.


My view is that it is this concept that so many of us post-Treaty migrants have emotional difficulty with. We passionately and intuitively know we are not strangers in our own land, but we are unresolved as to how to describe ourselves.


Resolving this will help us deal with this current debate. Denying the distinct and different world-view of our Treaty counter-party will not satisfy this need. At present my observation is that Pakeha (and for that matter many new migrants) look at the Treaty as being not our Treaty but their Treaty, a method of leverage for resolving Maori claims. So once we finalise their grievances the relevance of the Treaty will be no more.


How much more satisfying would it be if we all claimed and acknowledged our own sense of belonging, different but authentic to its core, Treaty-based in its origins? Then this discussion would be quite different. The Treaty would become our Treaty and our behaviour in relation to the principles of that Treaty would be inclusive not exclusive.


How can we deal then with different worldviews or indeed a dual worldview?


We need this confidence in 'belonging' if ever we are going to relax about the different world-views that sometimes separate tangata whenua and tauiwi. The foreshore and seabed debate is the current point of tension. Why is this the case?


In the last week two examples may help us point to an answer.


The Sunday Star times carried a report of a poll that found Pakeha believed themselves more likely to experience racism in this country than Maori, but less likely than Asian migrants. This result, I suspect, would have been news to most Maori.


As a working definition, one might describe racism as prejudice plus power. In short it connects the dislike of a person or group because of their ethnicity with the ability to exploit that prejudice to the disadvantage of that person or group.


I don't in my experience remember any anecdotal experience of Pakeha friends or family who couldn't get a rental property because of their ethnicity. I have never heard of Pakeha not being able to get a bank loan because their ethnicity comes into the higher risk category relative to other borrowers. Nor have I read a news report of a Pakeha not being allowed to speak in court in the English language or say prayers in their own language at the hospital bedside. I don't remember hearing about a situation when members of my own ethnicity have been prevented from applying our cultural manners or standards of politeness in the welcome of strangers or colleagues into our business meetings or public gatherings.


By now you will got my general point. So what perceptions might this poll on racism be about? On a common sense basis it is hard to match its conclusions with the available evidence. So is it talking about something else then going on within the perception of Pakeha?


Is this indeed reflecting a view that some individual Pakeha are missing out versus some individual Maori? In cheaper primary health care perhaps, or in scholarships to medical school? Do we think Maori are getting preferential treatment from WINZ or Housing NZ? Is the idea of 'closing the gaps' a litmus test of this sort of racial preference?


Before I attempt to answer this let me go to my second example.


On the same day as the poll report I attended the opening of a new wharekai at Pukaki marae in Mangere attended by Dame Te Atairangikahu. There were perhaps 500 people present, 10 of whom were Pakeha. This was an occasion for the affirmation of manawhenua (tribal authority within a region) by the collective represented by affinal based kin groups known as tribes (iwi) or sub-tribes (hapu). This form of collective activity is happening every day in the Maori world, but as I had cause to reflect, it is only tangential to the world of those who are not Maori.


Here we have some of the clues to the puzzle.


There is a Maori world in existence that operates within collective structures (iwi/hapu) and has at its core expressions of rangatiratanga (chiefly authority/trusteeship) and manawhenua (tribal authority within a region). These collectives relate to other Maori and to the Crown and all its agencies in a way not paralleled with any comparable Pakeha cultural institutions and they have done so since 1840. What's is more these collective structures exist in perpetuity.


They are recognised by Article Two of the Treaty which explicitly affirms and acknowledges this leadership of the collective (rangatiratanga).


Pause to consider the impact of this for a moment. If those opposed to the Treaty deny rangatiratanga, it is an inescapable extension of that same logic that they are denying their own legitimacy to be here. For it was precisely by exercise of this collective rangatiratanga on behalf of their tribal groups that the chiefs consented to being a party to the Treaty with the British sovereign. Without explicit recognition of this rangatiratanga, so obvious both to their own kin groups but also to the British Government representatives, a Treaty could not have been agreed in the way that occurred.


As tauiwi we have an obligation to recognise rangatiratanga, because it provided us with the corresponding right of citizenship of this country. Clearly a subsequent denial of this legitimacy is not what any of us want. Nor should we be afraid of the implications of such recognition, which requires first and foremost acceptance and understanding, not the wholesale transfer of resources.


However our previous practice in this matter has not always been exemplary. Most Maori collective structures have for over a century prior to 1975 been largely ignored by the Crown, or dealt with remotely, through the Courts. Their presence has not therefore resided in the hearts and minds of our received Pakeha historical consciousness with anywhere the same force as they reside for Maori.


So therefore as a nation, when we come to pass judgement on the nuances of an issue like the foreshore and seabed debate the Pakeha mind goes to the rights, privileges and obligations of individuals and assumes this include Maori as well. Conversely the Maori mind goes to goes to the rights, privileges and obligations of collectives, and for Pakeha this counts as an extra, a benefit not available to themselves, a second bite of the cherry.


Perhaps it is not surprising therefore, that Pakeha start to feel Maori are getting one over them. But are Maori to blame for this sense of imbalance?


How does rangatiratanga work?


I suspect at the heart of this Pakeha sense of imbalance is this fear of rangatiratanga or tino rangatiratanga as it is often most commonly expressed. What could this mean if it is not a direct attack on the Crown's right to rule, the subtle undermining of the 'one law for all' concept?


In recent times it has been usual to juxtapose Maori sovereignty with Crown sovereignty, both in direct competition for precedence. It does not have to be so. There is evidence that the original intent of the parties to the Treaty allowed for joint protection under the law but separate sovereignty over assets and taonga. If this was the case are there contemporary examples of this working today? The answer is yes.


The story I wish to share with you tonight turns on the examination of rangatiratanga exercised, lost and then recovered. My experience at Orakei with Ngati Whatua suggests such an idea is not beyond us. Some of you may have heard or read of my summary of the Orakei experience and the founding of Auckland previously. I will not repeat it here.


Suffice to record that Ngati Whatua o Orakei, the once proud people of the Tamaki isthmus, at 1840 holding sway over the whole of Auckland; the people who invited and induced Hobson to Auckland to form the seat of government; were reduced in precisely 112 years to a landless few living off the state. By 1951 they were without a marae on which to fulfil their customary obligations and were left with a quarter acre cemetery being the last piece of land they could tribally claim as their own.


In his second claim before the Waitangi Tribunal Joe Hawke outlined the case relating to the disposal of the Orakei Block, the land ordered by the court in 1869 to be forever inalienable. The outcome was unequivocally in their favour and Bastion Point in 1991 was finally transferred back into Ngati Whatua's hand by Act of Parliament. The area vested included the whenua rangatira now known as Takaparawhau park and the smaller Okahu Park comprising the original papakainga and the foreshore.


(How ironic. This vesting of the title to the foreshore at Okahu Bay was completed under a National Government!)


The first thing it did was to give a huge chunk of Bastion Point back to Aucklanders. That's right, they gave it back to you and me for our unimpeded use. I refer to the most expensive land with the best views in all of Auckland. The land where Michael Joseph Savage rests. Ngati Whatua agreed to manage this jointly with the Auckland City Council for the benefit of all the people of Tamaki Makaurau.


What therefore is it that enables a people who sought for 150 years to get some form of justice that recognised their cultural destitution, to react in their moment of triumph with such generosity to those who had dispossessed them?


What underpins such an act of munificence? To put it simply; the recovery of the hapu rangatiratanga. What therefore has changed since 1991?


In practical and contemporary terms the Ngati Whatua hapu at Orakei is now once more in control of their own affairs as defined and expressed through their own:


* socio-cultural activities (related to housing, education, health and marae based activities)


* economic development (especially joint ventures where external finance and development expertise would be joined to hapu land), and


* political relations (such as agreements with central and local government and regional institutions and organisations)


The 1991 Act meant the full and unfettered return of their marae. The hapu had the chance to rebuild their wharenui and improve their facility to offer manaakitanga (appropriate hospitality) to honour their obligations to others within their rohe (tribal area), both Maori and tauiwi. It also provided the cultural locus for the tangihanga (ritual farewell of the dead) for those who have passed on, an absolutely fundamental reflection on hapu mana.


The Act also foreshadowed potential for a comprehensive Treaty and currently Orakei is in direct negotiations with the Crown.


Its social development extended to reaching agreement with Housing New Zealand as the Crown agent on the transfer of ownership of 100 state houses in the early 1990s along with the attendant deferred maintenance and mortgage. A focus on educational achievement now sees the hapu claim tertiary educated graduates to Masters and PhD level across many disciplines whereas pre-1987 such numbers with first level degrees were in single figures. On another front health services have grown to the extent that Orakei is today the most extensive Maori primary health provider in the Auckland region.


The economic development potential unleashed by this statutory recognition of manawhenua has transformed the quarter-acre hapu of 1951 to a significant land-holder, including significant parcels of downtown Auckland. The Crown in this time has provided two separate allocations of funds. One of these, $3 million, came as an endowment with the 1991 Orakei Settlement. On a second occasion the Trust received financial consideration for lifting the moratoriums on surplus rail land when the railways were privatised for Crown profit in the mid-1990s. The Ngati Whatua commercial presence in the marketplace is now recognised as substantial and saavy.


Recognition of manawhenua re-introduced Ngati Whatua into the political and cultural life of Auckland via a structural relationship with the Crown and its agents. Such a reintegration is evidenced by Orakei now playing host to every significant dignitary visiting Auckland including the presidents of China, Russia and the United States. This kind of public recognition had been almost entirely absent in their experience from the late 1870s. Successive generations of the hapu had seen their land and taonga disappear and with it their tribal manawhenua, so critical to the practical exercise of rangatiratanga. Today the restoration of mana is plan for all to see.


It is therefore precisely the process of this recovery that has re-ignited the capacity for the exercise of rangatiratanga. An essential feature of this rangatiratanga is that it relates to the group, not to the individual. In this respect the coherence of the group is evidenced by its size, its leadership, its marae base, its facility for manaaki and its relevance to other Maori groupings of similar kind along with its political relations with the Crown (and/or its agents). This has determined its capacity to exercise rangatiratanga. It has reached a kind of cultural 'critical mass'.


All this has been achieved without threat to the Crown's right of sovereignty. If this is possible with Orakei, why is it not possible elsewhere? I believe it is.


Now what are the substantial and usually 'silent' achievements under a Treaty-based process that new Zealanders can be proud of but usually no nothing about?


Over my years of work with Maori groups and communities I have come to a critical awareness of a central proposition. When the Treaty is working well the nation is prospering, full of confidence. When it is a matter of fundamental strain between Maori and Pakeha we lose vital momentum as a nation. We are in one of these troughs right now. We have been there before and emerged. But it need not be the case.


There are plenty of examples where observing the mutual respect for mana inherent in Treaty lifts the performance and outcome for all New Zealanders. Let me take you through three examples.


In the last five years I have been involved in two of New Zealand's most capital intensive building programmes; the rebuilding of the waste water treatment plant at Mangere in South Auckland and the rebuilding of the Auckland City Hospital. These projects have budgets amounting together to just under a billion dollars. Both projects represented opportunities for the sponsors and tangata whenua to engage in constructive discussions to enhance the project outcomes for all New Zealanders. The outcomes have been stunningly successful.


In the 1960s when the Mangere oxidation ponds were built, consultation with Maori was perfunctory. As a result the outcome was awful. Foreshore disappeared, shellfish were poisoned by toxic outflow into the Manukau harbour, the birdlife went away and the hapu with the marae on the foreshore saw their access to seafood disappear.


Today, the result could not be more transformative. The rebuilding of the plant has seen as part of the whole package the restoration of the foreshore and the enhancement of the environment for all recreational users. The birds and the fish have returned. It is safe to harvest and swim again. And the Tainui hapu (Te Ahi Waru) at Makaurau marae has been intensively involved in the reconstitution of this wonderful piece of foreshore.


Why has this occurred? Because the Resource Management Act required it in the first place and secondly, Watercare Services recognised having local Maori with manawhenua in this area involved from the beginning could only be advantageous for everyone. No big cheques, no scandals, just respectful understanding that the Maori insight to be incorporated into restoration of the environment adds a dimension that enhances the outcome for all New Zealanders.


Auckland City Hospital has experienced something similar. The rebuilding of the hospital provided an opportunity to think about how a Maori worldview on health might enhance outcomes for all users of the hospital facilities. So Ngati Whatua were involved at the early planning stages. They made a dramatic difference to the design of the mortuary by introducing a place for families to gather with the deceased. They made simple suggestions about hospital design that provided for a 'tupapaku route', a method of allowing families to remove their deceased relative from their place in the hospital down to the mortuary out of the public eye. This has been a great relief for all users of the hospital. The Maori perspective on respect for the dead has been embraced by all because it adds a dimension from which all can benefit. The hospital has clear and dignified signage in English and Maori showing how to find services you are after. Small but important symbols that show by their presence that living with dual worldviews can be celebrated. It need not be feared.


A third experience relates to the work of Health Care Aotearoa. It is a primary care health network with 55 providers nationwide, over half of whom are Maori owned services. The other services are Pacific owned and trade union or community clinics. I have worked as their business consultant since 1994, the year of its founding. This is a bi-cultural, not-for-profit network that provides first level primary care for 150,000 patients, the majority of whom are on low incomes.


There are over 300 staff employed throughout the independent providers and they are all sign on aware of the Treaty thrust of this network. For many of them this is a new experience. It is very clear that most Pakeha do not have the on-the-ground experience of working and living in circumstances where a Maori view of the world is just as important and as relevant as their own, and where what's more, that view counts.


In the Health Care Aotearoa environment the experience, however messy, is the reverse. Maori views do count and do shape decision making along with Pakeha and the health outcomes for patients are steadily improving.


This teaches me at least three things. Firstly, a Treaty-based approach to managing our lives is possible and practical. Secondly, that it can produce for the most part better results. And thirdly, therefore, it need not be feared. What we have worked at in this last ten years to make ordinary and normal within Health Care Aotearoa is not replicated in the general community experience of Pakeha. And people without this experience fear it or expect the worse.


Yet the reverse is my constant experience. So often the right thing to do in respect to Treaty processes is manifestly the right thing to do for all people. Time and again.


So where does this all leave us, Pakeha in particular?


Don Brash's Orewa speech and this government's foreshore and seabed bill have ensured that the health of our race relations are now being talked about at the dinner table. This is similar to the way the 1981 tour got into everybody's entrees complete with the on the street activism. While the resultant climate has managed to relieve many people of the need to suppress their prejudices and this has had some ugly consequences, not least in the parliamentary debate, another debate is opening up that is more potentially constructive.


One of the characteristics of this debate is that it is less a matter between bigots and liberals, but more between those who are actively trying to understand our history and those who don't think it makes a jot of difference. It's is not a debate the historians are winning at present.


Overwhelmingly those opposed to the practical and intellectual grappling with the Treaty and its consequences characterise themselves as 'forward looking'. The subtle pull of this appeal is that it allows for settlement of Treaty grievances and then closure. So they can claim to be retrospectively just, but constitutionally pragmatic. Now the grievances have been settled contemporary NZ does not need a Treaty.


What's more, the parliamentary political process in attempting to silence a part of the Maori contribution to this debate risks trying to marginalise it as fundamentally self-interested. Pakeha must take therefore responsibility for righting the balance in this discussion and resetting the tone.


Many Pakeha, even those who have been sympathetic to the Treaty and the supporters of Treaty application in public life, initially shrank from the blowtorch effect of the Orewa speech. In fact many supporters discovered that they didn't know enough to defend the positions that we had been silently advocating, especially when the conversational and political environment around the race discussion became toxic. This retreat from instinct occurred politically and well as personally.


Michael King provided many of us with a morale boost with his recently published history, now having sold over 70,000 copies. But his deeply sad passing has been an acute reminder that we all need to be confident in our grasp of our own nationhood and how it has developed, and not be so reliant on others. The need to know has become paramount for without the knowledge and the perspective offered by understanding of the Maori and Pakeha interface over the years, issues like the foreshore legislation are truly unfathomable, (no pun intended!).


This is a seriously challenging issue being handled at constitutionally breakneck speed. One hopes that the time for the mature reflection it needs will not be elusive. The opportunity for submission via the select committee needs to be taken. Getting this wrong will continue to be bad for all of us.


The difficult progress of this debate is a significant alert to those of us who feel intuitive empathy for a pathway to nationhood that has the Treaty as a clear and present sign-post. Maybe many of us have been intellectually lazy supporters of these Treaty processes because we saw them as right and just in themselves. We assumed they would just go on, mostly unchallenged. Well that is no longer the case. Informing ourselves to a greater degree is one way of meeting these new challenges.


On the way it is important to deal with some of the dross. The side issues that inevitably hamper debate about the substance, whist the form is endlessly discussed in the minor detail. Again consider the foreshore. Ask yourself which has received the most illuminating attention; the content of the bill or Tariana Turia's 'will she or won't she' stand on crossing the floor or creating a bi-election.


Most New Zealanders will have made their own judgements about Tariana's move but hardly any will have been well served with the kind of information that might inform their judgement on what motivated her to move or indeed what galvanised 20000 to join the end of the hikoi. Thus time and again irritation inevitably takes precedence over explanation.


So what can we say of the constant irritations that get under the Pakeha skin?


A reasonable observer in touch with a range of our national media could be forgiven for thinking that it is open season on Maori. If it isn't alleged corruption with the setting up of a new prison, it's naked self-interest in parliamentary voting. If it is not Maori holding up developers over resource consents relating to waahi tapu sites, it's the distraught medical student's mother who has complained that a less talented Maori student has taken her child's place in medical school. If it's not the school that allows for the wearing of pounamu but not Christian crosses as jewellery then it's the primary health organisation that has 50% of its governance as Maori representatives even though the population of Maori is much smaller than that in the area.


The sub-text of this message is clear and simple. Being Maori in New Zealand gives you no special standing either individually or collectively. And if you don't believe it just stick up your head and see who waiting to lop it off for you.


Just what is going on here and how can it be dealt with?


Perceptions change governments. The Orewa speech altered the popular view of Dr Brash. The hikoi has tilted the political axis for both Labour and National. The political calculus of gaining and losing office is moving. There is a simple message here.


New Zealanders need exposure to new ways of seeing how the Treaty practically works in everyday life and how it adds value to our daily experience. They need to see and hear that this works and can work for all of us.


Further, Pakeha in particular need to actively encourage resistance to the everyday invitation in the media to demonise Maori because what they are portrayed as doing is aggravating us. Treat this for what it so transparently is: a one-sided portrayal of the people and the issues designed to present and elaborate on the conflict without insight as to the resolution.


I need to also say that part of our Pakeha apprehension and irritation relates to language. The Treaty language has been the codified text of the power elites on both sides of the equation. Brash's Orewa speech disposed of that codified level by (mis)representing many issues in plain unambiguous English. This struck a chord. Treaty supporters need to strike a similar chord in response. These matters are explicable. Let's explain them.


Finally, why not consider the simple strategy I have adopted which has been to use evidence, example and enthusiasm?


For instance, the PHO (primary health organisation) preference funding argument for Maori criticised by Dr Brash is evidentially wrong. More and more people when examining the detail of the policy and practice now know this to be true.


Conversely the contribution of Tainui hapu input to the wastewater treatment plant in Mangere results in stellar environmental and recreational outcomes for everybody. We need to celebrate this.


The example of the hospital 'tupapaku route' is another illustration, so respectful to all cultures. Just like the genuine treaty commitment within a network such as HCA which takes dual world views seriously and achieves better health results for all patients.


So too with the Orakei example of rangatiratanga. Ngati Whatua are beginning to flourish and so yet we build closer to an inclusive society where the benefits are more evenly shared, a sharp contrast to our recent past.


These are all practical down-to-earth responses that people can understand. It is then much easier to talk of Treaty principles and applications against the background of this common sense experience.


New Zealanders are in my view fair and reasonable in the long run. The current risks are higher than they have been for some years. But so are the opportunities for genuine breakthrough in our cultural appreciation of ourselves.


It is plain that as Pakeha we simply do not know enough about Maori and our own joint history. Ten years ago we could claim genuine ignorance. We cannot do that now.


I believe we must create a new more sophisticated paradigm if we are not to return to the tactical belligerence of the recent past. Such a test is ahead of us with this foreshore and seabed bill. Let's do our best to pass that test with creativity and genuine dialogue. Near enough will not nearly be good enough.


Patrick Snedden is Pakeha New Zealander with 22 years involvement as a senior executive and owner in publishing companies serving the educational, medical and farming sectors. He was a founding director of Mai FM, Auckland's first Maori-owned commercial radio station.


Most recently he has been involved in high level public sector governance roles as deputy-Chairman with Housing NZ Corporation and as an elected board member of the Auckland District Health Board He is also deputy-Chairman of the ASB Trusts and chairs their Investment Committee and serves as a director of Watercare Services Ltd, the water and wastewater company for Auckland.


For over 20 years he has been an economic adviser to Ngati Whatua o Orakei Maori Trust Board and is a member of their Treaty negotiation team. He also works as a business adviser to Health Care Aotearoa, a primary health network involving Maori, Pacific and community not-for profit health providers.


He has professional degree qualifications from Auckland University in commerce specialising in accounting and economics. He is also trained in anthropology which equips him with a mix of skills suitable for addressing the emerging issues of commerce in a cross cultural context that is New Zealand today.

A Day in the Life of a Parish Priest

May 2, 2004

Glynn Cardy


The dog whines. It is pre-dawn. Together we head for our local leash-free volcano and ascend. Watching the city switch off its lights and the sky ignite with the day… breathing the cool and breathing hard… the dog frolicking in the delights of space and smells… these are all part of my morning prayer. It is precious time. Thank God for dogs.


6:45 in our household is action stations. Preparation has begun the night before with lunches made and uniforms laid out. In the morning four children and two adults breakfast, dress, exchange amicable grunts, and dive out the door swimming with the Auckland traffic.


I return, a little jaded, sometime after eight ready to face whatever this day may bring.


No day is ever the same. The unexpected is just waiting to drop by. The art of enjoying being a parish priest is to have a state of mind flexible enough to accommodate such interruptions.


Usually though, around 8, with a restorative coffee in hand, invariably still unshaven, I check the overnight emails and return the unanswered calls. Then, before the phone starts to misbehave, I scan the various sites: sojourners, anglicansonline, nzherald, and textweek.


After 9 the morning heats up. Now suitably attired and groomed, I respond to letters, the occasional request for help, and the demands of some deadline. Invariably someone drops in, and then out. I catch up with our administrator and voluntary helpers. On Wednesdays I lead Mass at 10.


Eventually the noise and busyness of the day quench my spirit and I retreat to the local café for a re-fill. Trim flat white. There are a lot of people at the café of course who know me, but respect for one's space is part of urban survival. Usually a smile or a brief "Hi" are the extent of social contact. I sip, read, and ponder. Sometimes I write notes. Most sermons start at the café.


I believe at the heart of the priestly vocation is the will to stop, look, and listen. To pray and to think. I try to get at least an hour a day.


Today I visit a parishioner downtown. To 'have a coffee'. I'm listening for what matters to him, how does faith figure in his life, and how might I help. We talk about his business and his children, Yugio cards and cooking. Talking in the office is different from talking at home.


On the way home I pop in unexpectedly on a colleague. Just to let him know I know he exists and matters. We talk dogs for five minutes.


Home to the telephone and the call I've been dreading. Sometimes hard things are best done straightaway. Today I've been procrastinating. I'm taking a funeral on Friday and the family is not on talking terms with each other. One side has done the organizing. They think it's a good idea to tell the other side what's going on. Being in the Taranaki the other side mightn't have heard! They asked me to make that bridging call.


Cripes! It's nearly 1:30 and I promised my up-and-coming-Mark-Sorenson that I would be there to witness the defeat of the opposition as he slugged innumerable home runs. I arrive, panting, at the school just in time for the start of his innings. I exchange pleasantries with some other parents who seem incredibly more relaxed than I am. He gets to second base before the team is out.


One of my little rules of thumb, easier to say than to do, is that I need to be a good father to my children in order, in the old language, to be a good father to my congregation. By good I mean giving them the time, affirmation, and the support they need - building love and trust.


One of the gifts of this job is flexibility. I'm typing this at 9.30 p.m. Whereas at 3.30 p.m. I was driving across Auckland picking children up and depositing them at sporting venues [soccer and swimming]. Priests, if they choose, have the opportunity to be involved in their children's lives to a level rarely seen a generation ago.


Another gift of this job is variety. After 4 is usually the time when baptism, wedding and funeral folk come to visit. We have over a hundred such services a year, and therefore average four interviews each week. I love asking people, who often have little understanding of the Church, about God and faith. The answers are refreshing and often insightful. For my part I try to communicate that they are loved and respected by God, and are a part of us.


Like most families food, homework, catching up, and getting children to bed consume the early evening hours. It is also the time that I receive a number of phone calls. There is frequently too a knock on the door from someone a bit down on his or her luck.


Although one can't be too dogmatic about it, I try to only work three evenings a week - one visiting new parishioners, one at some meeting, and one writing. My wife laughs when I tell her that last sentence. It is nice to have ideals even if they are frequently compromised.


Tonight I'm thinking. I received a glossy leaflet titled "Family Under Attack". It's referring to the upcoming Civil Union Bill. I'm, however, more interested in finding out what would be good for families. So I've been asking around.


To date I've heard mostly about workplaces that could be more tolerant of family needs. Like having work functions suitable for those with children. Like flexibly helping parents work outside normal hours in order to attend school events. Another parent suggested cycle-ways so children can visit friends without being run there. Another talked about a 'surrogate grandparent' scheme - linking children with older folk. No one I've spoken to has mentioned the gay word.


These thoughts take embryonic shape upon my computer screen.


Sometime around 10.15 my darling wife invites me to have a cup of coffee with her. Decaf. We talk, tell stories, and enjoy the peace found in our company. It is precious time.


The day draws to a close.

What Is Being Indigenous in Aotearoa/New Zealand Today?

March 21, 2004

Patrick Snedden

What is being indigenous in Aotearoa/New Zealand today? by Pat Snedden*

A public talk at St Johns College on Race Relations Day, Sunday 21 March 2004


Earlier this week I called a cab to go to town. The driver made to head off in a direction that I didn't expect. E te alu ifea? (Where are you going?) I said in my best and only Samoan. He nearly leapt out of his seat hearing this from a palagi and we both fell about laughing. How had been his morning, I asked. Busy, he replied, taking people to the cricket test at Eden Park.


Oh, the Pakeha hui I said. What do you mean, he responded with eyes raised. Well, it goes on for five days, everybody gets fed at least twice a day, there's lots of controversy, for long periods nothing seems to happen and then suddenly people seem to be at each other's throat. In the end they shake hands and mostly it ends in a draw. Sounds like a hui to me, I said. He had the grace to chuckle.


There's only one place in the world where that conversation could have taken place and be understood inclusive of all the cultural nuance. That place is New Zealand.


What therefore does it say about belonging?


I want to stay with Eden Park. My great grandfather, Alexander Nesbit Snedden was one of six Auckland businessmen who in 1903 purchased the swamp, drained it and turned it into a sports ground. Such has been our continuous connection over four succeeding generations that when members of our family played at Eden Park at either rugby or cricket, it was hard to escape the feeling that with this sporting whakapapa we had home advantage!


Now not all Pakeha have this same sense of ownership about our country. Last week I read a commentator suggest Don Brash's speech at Orewa tapped at a very emotional level the sense of Pakeha feeling "strangers in our own land". In short we need to reclaim our sense of belonging.


Brian Turner wrote recently in the Listener asserting a deep and intimate Pakeha connection with the land, a connection denied he believed by many Maori, including Ranganui Walker, to whom he was responding. When he says, "I have been here a thousand years. You arrived only yesterday", he (Walker) very clearly denies a similar depth of feeling to almost everyone else. He rails against a relentless presumptuousness about the way in which non-Maori feelings for land and water are dismissed as less heartfelt, less sensitive, less spiritual.


So am I, as a Pakeha, indigenous? Well, yes and no. For me to claim my 140 years of direct ancestry here is a source of pride and this is my home. But can I fairly claim to be indigenous in the same way as Maori who have been here from around 1300 AD? To do so would be to sideline 500 plus years of Maori experience prior to my forebear's arrival. Not only would that be unfair it is un-factual and if there is one matter that we need to do today is to stick to the facts.


But nor do I wish to tug my forelock in this matter. As Pakeha we claim our belonging through being descended from the settlers who agreed the treaty.


On one side of my family my migrant ancestors arrived at Port Albert near Wellsford in the 1860s. They became farmers. At the Port Albertland wharf there is a plaque thanking Ngati Whatua for their assistance in settlement and acknowledging that without that they would not have survived.


Today we are shaped by a set of cultural reflexes toward the land, our environment and as the taxi driver conversation shows, the interaction between Maori, Pakeha and Pacific peoples that exists nowhere outside of this place. For the vast majority of us, we no longer have a bolt-hole to escape to anywhere else in the world that accepts us as their own. I have visited the heart of my Irish and Scottish roots and except for the most surface of acknowledgement they did not see anything of themselves in me nor me in them.


I am here in Aotearoa New Zealand for good because I have nowhere else to go. And I am content with that.


And it is this concept that so many of us post-Treaty migrants have emotional difficulty with. We passionately and intuitively know we are not strangers in our own land, but we are unresolved as to how to describe ourselves.


Resolving this will help us deal with this current debate. At present my observation is that Pakehas (and for that matter many new migrants) look at the Treaty as being not our Treaty but their Treaty, a method of leverage for resolving Maori claims. So once we finalise their grievances the relevance of the Treaty will be no more.


How much more satisfying would it be if we all claimed and acknowledged our own sense of belonging, different but authentic to its core? Then this discussion would be quite different. The Treaty would become our Treaty and our behaviour in relation to the principles of that Treaty would be inclusive not exclusive.


Patrick Snedden is Pakeha New Zealander with 22 years involvement as a senior executive and owner in publishing companies serving the educational, medical and farming sectors. He was a founding director of Mai FM, Auckland's first Maori-owned commercial radio station.


Most recently he has been involved in high level public sector governance roles as deputy-Chairman with Housing NZ Corporation and as an elected board member of the Auckland District Health Board He is also deputy-Chairman of the ASB Trusts and chairs their Investment Committee and serves as a director of Watercare Services Ltd, the water and wastewater company for Auckland.


For over 20 years he has been an economic adviser to Ngati Whatua o Orakei Maori Trust Board and is a member of their Treaty negotiation team. He also works as a business adviser to Health Care Aotearoa, a primary health network involving Maori, Pacific and community not-for profit health providers.


He has professional degree qualifications from Auckland University in commerce specialising in accounting and economics. He is also trained in anthropology which equips him with a mix of skills suitable for addressing the emerging issues of commerce in a cross cultural context that is New Zealand today.

Success and Succession: Reflecting on Herod with Witi Ihimaere. Christianity Through the Looking Glass (Part Two)

March 14, 2004

George Armstrong


The World saves Christianity from its religiosity by drawing it deeply into its sorrows and joys, its goods and evils and the struggles between them.


Wide awake and more "world-awake" studies of Jesus wake us up to a perception of Jesus who was awake to his own world just like this. It's a far larger and more real view than the conventional popular Hollywood view of Jesus. Jesus was far more than an essentially other-worldly pious man who somehow saved the world by a flawless life and a horrible death. In fact, Christianity was a Movement as much as it was a person. It was a whole Movement incarnated in and called into being by a remarkably communal, remarkably inclusive human being who practised what he preached. Likewise, the gospels are not so much sacred biography as social history. In fact, the gospels point to an actual total transformation of history as we know it.


This was my point last week in sketching the realities of the succession crisis following Herod the Great. Following Herod the Great came his son Herod Antipas, Herod "the Not-So-Great". This was the Herod of Jesus day. Jesus never knew any other ruler than him. Herod the Not-So-Great carried on the ruthless pattern of his father's rule. This butchery and ruthless milking and dispossessing of his own people is perfectly obvious from history. But alongside this ruthless behaviour he ran the usual political Good News Machine.


Herod the Not-So-Great followed his father in trying to persuade people that he was the King of the Jews. He was the successor of King David and King Solomon. The Roman overlords of the day did not trust Herod Antipas to rule over Jerusalem and the multi-million dollar Temple Cathedral that his father had built there. Herod the Not-So-Great had to content himself with the Galilee franchise with neighbouring Perea thrown in.


We looked last Sunday at the splendid city of Sepphoris built by Herod Antipas near Jesus boyhood haunts. It proved too far away from the trade routes for Herod to make the monies that his ambition required. So he built an even more magnificent Administrative Centre for the armies of tax collectors, police under-cover spies and temple agents needed to exact taxes and tribute with remorseless thoroughness. He named his new city after Tiberius Caesar successor to Augustus. Herod had built Sepphoris upon the embers and blood of its former rebellious inhabitants. He built Tiberias on the site of a former burial ground.


Herod the fox, Jesus called him. This fox got Rome's licence to watch over a far flung chicken coop belonging essentially to the Caesars. To celebrate the founding of Tiberias, Herod minted a whole new series of propaganda coins with the Roman and Hebrew symbols of power and plenty stamped on either side. He restarted the calendar with the founding of Tiberias as the first day in Creation. Tiberias was a city built fully and magnificently on Graeco Roman not Jewish lines. It was a city that was indeed in every way an affront to all that the Jewish central tradition stood for.


It was perfectly clear to the impoverished surrounding population - who formed the body of the crowds who flocked to John the Baptist and later Jesus - where the money had come from to build these cities. And their chief purpose was to keep the people in order even as it sucked from them every last drop of economic blood. It was a savagely bad situation, much worse than I can briefly here describe. The ruthless control exercised locally from Tiberias was complemented and perfected from Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the economic sacred and ideological centre of a whole infernal Palestinian machine.


This was not what the God of Israel had intended. That was and is perfectly plain from the Jewish or Hebrew Scriptures, our so-called Old Testament. In the Hebrew tradition, the nation of Israel had been a suffering People without a God and enslaved to the Egyptian Pharaohs. In the depths of their slavery and despair in Egypt, this People was found by a God without a People. A great religious and social covenant took shape between this remarkable Nation and this remarkable God. Israel was often described in their scriptures as a fig tree planted by God, a fig tree intended to bear plentiful fruit. And what fruit figs are - big purple succulent delicacies, full of seed for the new trees and crops that could multiply for ever.


There's a fig tree in the Gospel story today, a miserable one. It hasn't born fruit for years. A fig tree that hasn't produced figs? What use was that to God or man. What's this fig tree about? Not itself of course but about Israel under the Herods and Caesars. For all its pretense and greatness, Israel as a whole People had been so barren of true righteousness. The Temple system and Tiberias and Herod the not-so-Great, the fox had actually produced nothing but thorns driving deep into the flesh of God's poor.


What then was to be done?


John the Baptist started a Movement of the common people that was carried to a further stage with Jesus. Not that Jesus's style or strategy was the same as John's. Jesus knew early however, once John was beheaded by Herod the not-so-great, that his own fate was likewise sealed. Jesus saw himself as in the true succession of the ideal Kingdom of the Jews, a Kingdom of righteousness in the sense of justice and peace and plenty. This was Good News but not for a tiny ruthless royal and imperial elite. This was genuine Good News for all of God's people, especially the hitherto deprived and dispossessed, those put down and cast out.


The current power-mongering Herod, who hungered for his father's title of King of the Jews was a pure phoney according to Jesus. He wasn't any sort of shepherd, as Jewish kings were meant to be. On the contrary, he was a fox. At every point in the Gospels, in subtle form not always apparent to the casual reader, Jesus and his kingdom are presented as a Good News that is the complete reversal of and alternative to the Kingdom exercised by the Herods of the ruling establishments. Here was the true succession. Here was the true kingdom and the king who would mediate its appearance into the world of desperate men and women and children.


Whale Rider, Witi Ihimaera's novel (and now film) is also a crisis of succession. Who would become the leader once Koro Apirana had gone? The old man is desperate - understandably so. He searches amongst the young men around him, then amongst the boys. No answer. Well there was an answer. But no way could that stubborn old Paka - as he was affectionately called by his charmed grand-daughter - no way could the old man hear or see this answer. For the little girl who doted on him, the beautiful child whom the stubborn old Paka roughly and time and again rejected - this girl was The One. And through her, the People were reunited with the whales whose ancestral and creaturely destiny was bound to theirs. Wondrous resurrection broke out upon a worried and fractured tribal world. In this magical child and true young woman, a mediator had come into the world. Some mystical transaction was accomplished in this girl in ocean depths far from prying human eyes. She thereby brought back life from the dead in gift of her own whole person to her own aching people. Out of the depths of the tiny troubled tribe had gone the call to deep in Ocean's depths. And from the depths of Creation had come a wondrous answer.


Here is a kind of re-play of the agonised groans of the Hebrew slaves. From their depths they cried out towards a God whom they did not yet possess. And the God who himself was longing for his people heard and recognised in his eternal depths that cry from afar. In that cry the God of Israel heard the loved accent of a people that would become his own.


How can Israel of the modern world fulfil its true destiny? It's still a fraught question for the whole world to reflect upon. More appropriately, how are we in Christianity, younger sister and brother to Israel's tradition, to discover and fulfil our own vocation? Just as urgent and by no means unconnected: How can we in our own country, with our own religious traditions of Christianity fulfil our destiny? Our succession is not a simple political one between Helen Clark or Don Brash, or between a constitutional monarchy and republic. It's a far deeper one about ourselves as a whole nation of two founding peoples.


Rev Dr George Armstrong

Christianity Through the Looking Glass: Part One - Janet Frame

March 7, 2004

George Armstrong


Before we get to communion, during this sermon, I'm going to take you for a ride! A ride of the imagination.


We're off through the narrow gate or door over there, up past where the bellringers do their stuff, up onto the roof of the church tower. Over we leap now! Follow me, a giant hop across to the Sky Tower. Up and up and up to the pinnacle of that Temple then up, up into the clear blue sky we spring, a kind of reverse Bungy Jump until our vision is unimpeded by the earth's curvature.


Are you with me? Don't be nervous now. This ride gets yet more strange.


Now look south, down towards Oamaru where that wonderful woman Janet Frame with the even more wonderful imagination rests - as do her ashes. Something is glinting down there. That mischievous woman Janet Frame has left behind a mirror. This is what is glinting in the sunlight as she signals in our direction from beyond this life.


We're flying south now. Don't hold tight. Relax. You couldn't be in more loving hands than those of Janet Frame. She's not like those of us who still fear the traumas and deaths ahead of us. She had her traumas long ago. Electric shock treatments without end as a severely depressed young girl. That wonderful woman and wonderful imagination saved by a whisker and by a literary prize even as she was being wheeled towards a lobotomy in the operating theatre.


The glinting mirror is poised over Puamahara, near Otaki maybe, or Waikanae; one of those towns that lately no doubt have become a no-go zone for those unspeakable ones, the endlessly denounced dole-bludgers.


We are drawn towards this mirror. Now we are gazing into it. It's not an ordinary mirror; more like Galadriel's still basin of water in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. What we see in the mirror is not exactly our reflection, but something nevertheless eerily connected with our innermost soul-selves.


We see a wealthy woman from New York, Mattina Brecon. She's the lead character in Janet Frame's novel The Carpathians. Mattina has rented a house in Kowhai Street Puamahara for a couple of months. This is her style of tourism. She wants to get close to the people. She is easily accepted by her neighbours. They readily invite her into their houses and onto their Marae. From the moment she sees the worried face of the British Queen on the banknotes that she exchanges at the quaintly named "dairy", she is entranced by these o-so-ordinary New Zealanders who become her friends.


Her new friends have some things strangely in common. Each of them in turn says that they do not really belong in Puamahara. They have come to Kowhai Street from some former place which they now speak of "with transparent love". And many of them speak of going away and finding a new life for themselves - in Auckland or somewhere equally inconsequential. They all seem to live for the past or the future, never delightedly in the present. All speak, each in their own hum-drum ordinary way, of a soul-deep bottomless disappointment and loss in their everyday existence.


Mattina becomes aware of their hopes and fears. She sees how fragile and vulnerable they are; just like herself back in New York with her once-promising but now - that promise long gone - her deeply disappointed writer husband Jake. Their own partnership however over many years has against all the odds settled to an extraordinarily sustaining togetherness.


It would outlast the apocalypses to come. For an apocalypse is on the way - and more than one.


One of Mattina's many utterly memorable utterly ordinary neighbours is Hercus Millow. Sergeant Major Hercus Millow, a widower and a returned soldier, has been a prisoner of war. He welcomes Mattina into his home and tells her of the communal imagination that had stocked the p