We Can Make The Heavens Rejoice

The Gospel of Luke tells us that there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. How much more the rejoicing must be in heaven when people on earth are reconciled to one another.

Glory to God in the Highest, by He Qi

Glory to God in the Highest, by He Qi

General Synod has hardly begun here in Waitangi, but already I have experienced what I believe will be the most moving moment for me of this, the 61st Session of The General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui.

Being in the work of ministry, it is easy to forget that we ourselves often are affected by the same challenges, shortcomings and experiences as those we are ministering to, this is especially true in regards to things like reconciliation.

As a Priest, one of my functions is to reconcile people to God and indeed to one another, the thing is though, that in reconciling others, I forgot my own need for reconciliation.

Reconciliation is a funny thing. The ultimate result is release, but the only way to get to that result is to first acknowledge, and that is perhaps the hardest thing of all.

To acknowledge your need for reconciliation often means baring all, it means accepting the vulnerable state you put yourself in, and above all, it means humility.

Reconciliation at times is also about more than just the immediate people involved, often there is a community, a family behind the people involved, when this occurs, their support and love are often what enables the people immediately involved to make it through the process of reconciliation.

This week I myself was reconciled to someone. Of course, there was a process to the reconciliation, and it was hard, but the end result was release from the burden of broken relationships and the returning to a state of aroha between myself and this person.

I give thanks to God for his grace which continues to soften our hearts. I give thanks for the amazing support that was shown to me from my church whanau. I give thanks for the charitable response from the person I wronged.

I truly believe that this week there was rejoicing in heaven over two people who, through the grace of God, reconciled to one another.

If you need it, don’t let the opportunity for reconciliation pass you by. The heavenly host are waiting to rejoice with you, don’t keep them waiting too long.

Advertisements

Maori Spirituality: A Wairua on Auto-Pilot?

Maori Jesus, St. Faith’s Church, Rotorua

The following is an article I submitted to ‘Craccum’ (Craccum is the University of Auckland’s Magazine) for publication in their Maori Language Week edition of the magazine. At the time of posting this entry the magazine had not yet gone to print. The posting of the article here is in response to numerous requests from various people to obtain a copy. In all honesty it was put together in haste, but I believe everything I wrote and I hope one day to do more research and study in this area in the hope of producing a useful study/resource that will encourage and indeed empower Maori people everywhere.

For Māori, spirituality is such an important part of our lives and our identity that quite often it can seem as if it is ingrained into the core of our very being. Indeed spirituality is so important that ‘Taha Wairua’ (Spirituality) makes up one of the components of Dr. Mason Durie’s ‘Whare Tapa Wha,’ four things necessary to live a well balanced life based on Tikanga and Whakaaro Māori. But apart from a few rote learnt prayers and perhaps praying before we eat, it seems as if any sense of deliberate spirituality is becoming less and less prominent amongst our people. This then begs the question, is spirituality still a fundamental part of who we are as Māori or has it simply become habit and void of any meaning at all?

It is important first and foremost to recognise that spirituality is not a synonym for Christianity. Although more often than not the spiritual context on our marae and at our hui is a Christian one, it is necessary to recognise that the religious spectrum of Māori is so much broader than just Christianity alone. Likewise it is important to remember that Māori spirituality is more than just praying or setting aside times to be ‘spiritual.’ Māori spirituality permeates everything we do and affects all facets of our lives; it is for this reason that perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the key to Māori spirituality lies in its application.

Too often we rest on our tradition as a way of manifesting our own spirituality, this can look as if we are simply putting our Wairua on Auto-Pilot, not too worried about what the outcome may be. But in this space and time, as we attempt to make sense of the world that surrounds us, a world full of destruction and pain, a world where the poor continue to be oppressed, the marginalised remain voiceless and our Tamariki (Children) are still going to school hungry, a Wairua on Auto-Pilot is a dangerous thing.

Although the thought of a conscious spirituality may not be a priority to many young people, it is vital to the future of our people, our whanau (Families), and our very being. It is not enough to exercise a passive spirituality that bubbles to the service when we all of a sudden need a karakia (Prayer) to open a meeting or to bless food. We need to cultivate a deliberate spirituality amongst our people, something that is sadly lacking in too many of our whanau. This doesn’t mean that we karakia day and night in an attempt to become more spiritually awake, rather it means that we need to become more aware of our Taha Wairua and its intrinsic link to our very identity as Māori. By doing this we create a foundation strong enough to stand up to the worst the world has to offer but also sensitive enough to see and appreciate the wonders that surround us every day.  This provides us with a much needed lens with which to see and indeed, respond to issues of marginalisation, oppression and injustice with concern and love.

Our culture is enormously spiritual, from Tangi (Funeral Rites) to Powhiri (Ceremony of Welcome) to Hura Kohatu (Unveiling of a Headstone), Taha Wairua is the key to our culture. The risk we run if we approach our spirituality in a passive manner is that we reduce these most intimate of times into little more than a role play, a performance with no substance. The substance to everything we do as Māori relies on a foundation built from a spiritually deliberate base. This means that we have an obligation as Māori to become more spiritually aware. Just as we have an obligation to ensure the survival of our Reo (Language), we must also ensure the survival and growth of our Taha Wairua. This is what we are called to remember in the words of Sir Apirana Ngata : “E tipu e rea, mo nga ra o to ao. Ko to ringa ki nga rakau a te Pakeha, hei ora mo to tinana. Ko to ngakau ki nga taonga a o tipuna, hei tikitiki mo to mahunga. Ko to wairua ki te Atua, nana nei nga mea katoa.”

Right here and now we as Maori have the opportunity to make this happen, to remember the words of our Tipuna and Ta Apirana, and to turn those words into action. If we do so now, we save our children and our mokopuna the harsh and painful experience of having to search needlessly for the Taha Wairua that we lost.

Translation of Sir Apirana Ngata’s Proverb: Grow up and thrive for the days destined to you. Your hands to the tools of the Pakeha to provide physical sustenance, your heart to the treasures of your Māori ancestors as a diadem for your brow, Your soul to your God, to whom all things belong.

LGBTQ Ordination (a follow up to my Te Kaea interview)

Five Minutes of Fame.

Well, it seems my all too brief and not very illustrious career as a commentator on Church issues has hit its first speed bump!

With General Synod underway in Fiji and issues around our LGBTQ whanau having some prominence, it was only natural that the media would pick it up as a story, and so the lot fell to me to be interviewed. In an attempt to ensure 100% clarity I elected to be interviewed in English for the Māori language news, Te Kaea. The interview went well and I was pleased with the overall experience, until I saw the subtitles.

In the interview I was asked if I thought there was a barrier to the ordination of LGBTQ people to which I responded in the negative. I went onto say that there is, in my opinion no theological or tikanaga reason why LGBTQ people who are living in a loving relationship or are celibate cannot be ordained. This is not a view I apply uniquely to our LGBTQ whanau, but one I apply to any ordained person, or indeed candidate for ordination. The subtitle, however said “…I don’t see why any celibate gay man or lesbian woman cannot be ordained.”

Whanau, I believe that sexuality in its entirety and the physical manifestation of that sexuality between two people who love each other is one of the great gifts of God. It alarmed me therefore to see that the subtitle indicated or inferred anything other than that position. To demand anyone, LGBTQ or otherwise to exist in a state of celibacy as a prerequisite for ordination when they are involved in a loving relationship not only denies the couple perhaps the most intimate manifestation of love available to humans, but also denies the fullness of the candidate’s identity to be lived out. Of course there are some who choose to live a celibate life, and I support them 100% in that calling. I, however draw the line at demanding celibacy as an enforced way of life.

Whanau, although this post largely takes the form of an explanation, it is also a statement of support and solidarity from myself to our LGBTQ and Takataapui whanau everywhere, not only those in the Church.

Arohanui.

Please note that this isn’t an attack on Maori TV, Te Kaea or the reporter. Sometimes these things just happen.

Bibles Not Allowed?

No Bibles!

As a minister, a lot of people make assumptions about me, especially when they see me in a clerical shirt or ‘minister’s clothes.’ Some people think I must be really spiritual, while others take me for somewhat of a Moral Policeman. Some of those assumptions will be correct, while others will inevitably be wrong. This is one instance where I think people would be assuming me to take a certain stance on an issue, when in reality; I stand on the other side.

Recent reports in the New Zealand Herald (you can find the report here) tell the story of Tuni Parata, a hard working, committed member of the staff at SkyCity in Auckland. Ms. Parata has made headlines because, in the words of her employers, she breached the uniform policies of her job. So was she wearing bright nail polish or did she dye her hair a bright colour? No, Ms. Parata was carrying a Bible in her pocket.

As I said before, people would perhaps be expecting me to write in outrage at what has happened, but to be honest, I am not that outraged. I can only make an assessment on an issue based on what I know, and at the moment my knowledge on this issue is largely from the Herald report, and from that report, I don’t really see the issue. I accept that the response from SkyCity may have been over the top, I don’t think there was any need to issue her with a notice and use the rather stern language that was in the letter, but at the same time, I think SkyCity has a point, they have a policy on staff carrying things in their pockets and Ms. Parata breached that policy, Fair enough. I think where SkyCity went wrong was in the harshness of their response for what is, in the greater scheme of things a rather minor issue. It seems that a quiet word to Ms. Parata would have sufficed, instead SkyCity choose to go down a more formal route, a rather bad call in my opinion.

While at first glance this issue seems to be quite a big deal, and I accept that this has no doubt placed undue anxiousness and stress on Ms. Parata and her family, it seems to me that this is, in reality, simply a storm in a teacup stirred up by those with vested interest in ‘sticking it to the man’ at every chance they get. SkyCity isn’t banning Ms. Parata from bringing the bible to work and reading it during her breaks, SkyCity isn’t saying that she must choose between her faith and her job, SkyCity isn’t saying that the bible, in and of itself is the issue. SkyCity is, however badly, simply enforcing a standing policy in regards to staff uniforms, something they shouldn’t be made out to be anti-faith or anti-Christian for doing.

Matua Hone Kaa – A Tribute.

Matua Hone...e rere tonu nga roimata.

 In January, I posted a piece about Sermons. In that post, I made reference to one of the best preachers I have ever heard, the Ven. Dr. Hone Kaa. I have had the privilege over the past few years to work with and learn from Matua Hone. From driving him around, to being one of his ministers in Mangere, to just spending time with him, Matua Hone has had a huge impact on me. It was with sadness then that we learned of his diagnosis of cancer and that little could be done for him. As the days went by, Matua Hone didn’t seem to change, he continued coming to Church, he signed up to front a new TV show, things were looking good. But at the beginning of the week Matua Hone’s condition began to change until, on Thursday the  29th of March, surrounded by his family, Matua Hone passed away.

As preparations began to take shape, myself and several other young ministers who Matua Hone had mentored began the task of looking after Matua Hone and his whanau during his tangi (funeral). It was a sad but humbling pleasure for me to preach at Night Prayer on Friday Night at Matua Hone’s tangi. The following is the sermon I preached that night, I wanted to say more, and to be honest I could never put in words all that Matua Hone has meant to me, but as we prepare to take Matua Hone home to the East Coast it seems appropriate to share the sermon here…given it was him who inspired me to post my sermons online! No reira ki a koutou te whanau, Whaea Jane, Hirini, Nepia, Paea, Ngarino, Emere, Hana and Takimoana, kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, remain acceptable in thy sight O LORD our rock and our redeemer.

(John 10:11-16, The Good Shepherd)

                A couple of weeks ago, some of us from St. Johns were lucky enough to spend an evening with Matua Hone and Whaea Jane at their home in New Market. It was a night filled with stories, laughter and karakia. For my sins, it was decided that I would preach that night. One thing I noticed as I prepared my sermon, was that since Matua Hone fell ill, a lot of people had been using different words to describe him, now that Matua Hone has passed away, the whole nation is referring to him like that. Some have called him a “rangatira”, others an “activist priest” and some have even described him as a “living legend.” I remember talking to one of Hone’s cousins, Wharekawa, and we got to talking about sheep. Wharekawa said that some of my Huriwai wanau were good shepherds back in the old days. Well whanau, needless to say, that talent must have skipped my generation! I don’t know much about sheep, and to be honest, I haven’t even touched one, but what I do know is that the work of a shepherd is hard, especially in the time of Jesus. Their work revolved around being alert and ensuring the safety of the flock. It was the shepherd’s responsibility to ensure there was good pasture and water for their sheep and that meant the shepherds often spent long stretches of time away from home, often sleeping under the stars, open to the affects of the weather and in some cases wild animals. All of these things, combined with the sheep’s tendency to wonder off and become lost, meant that the shepherds were always working. In some cases the danger was so high, that in order to protect the sheep, the shepherd would have to place himself in harm’s way, sometimes resulting in the shepherd’s injury or worse, death.

Whanau it may seem as if this story in the Gospel of John is simply talking about Jesus, and you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that. But beyond that theme, this gospel reading is calling us all to realise that we too, through the death and resurrection of Christ are being called to be shepherds to our whanau, our friends, our people. Matua Hone did just that, he began a journey in response to his calling to serve his people, and like the shepherds of Jesus time this calling, this mahi lead him away from his home, away from Rangitukia and the East Coast and sometimes even away from Aotearoa. Matua Hone’s work as a priest, was a work and a ministry directly informed by his faith, and if anything the one thing he held closest to him was the care of people, so much so that given his over 40 years of Ministry as a priest, you could say that he lay down his life, and therefore lived his life for his people. That isn’t to say that he only ministered to Ngati Porou or to Ngati Kahungunu, No. It was Matua Hone’s belief that everyone was made in the image of God and that therefore means that we all have a vested interest in one another, all people were Matua Hone’s people. What better example do we have of this part of Matua Hone’s life then the establishment of Te Kahui Mana Ririki. Matua Hone took a vested interest in every child in Aotearoa, and when it was obvious that something needed to be done, and our tamariki needed a voice, Matua Hone once again lay down his life and did something about it.

So what does this all mean for us? No doubt over the next few days we will hear story after story about how Matua Hone touched people’s lives, or how he inspired them, or how he was a man of faith, and while the sharing of those memories is good, what can we actually take from them? Here and now, as we mourn the loss of Matua Hone we are given a chance to really reflect on his life and impact on us all. Here and now we are given the opportunity not just to tell stories and remember, but to turn those stories into inspiration and that inspiration into action. As we move forward and prepare ourselves to say goodbye to Matua Hone, we must let his example lead us to also realise our calling, the calling of Christ that demands us to love. It is a calling of hope, of justice and of service and it is that calling that Matua Hone lived his entire life. If we let this opportunity go by then we might as well bury our memories with Matua Hone, if however we wish to honour Matua Hone and all that he meant to us, then let us follow his example to live a life, our lives, in such a way that we are ready to lay them down for all people, no matter who they are. By doing this, we take a piece of Matua Hone forward with us, we transform this time of grieving into a time of rejoicing. We change the tune of our song from one of sadness to one of joy. Whanau, as I share these words with you I am reminded of a line from one of Matua Hone’s sermons, he said “When we expect the worse at the last, we get the best. That is the mind of God, always to turn what you and I consider to be the end result into something so different.”

No reira e te Matua, e te hoa, e te Hepara. Moe mai ra i roto i to moenga. Moe mai ra i roto it e ariki.

For Ports Sake!

Casualisation.

On the first Sunday of Lent I preached at my church in Mangere. While the sermon itself was structured around Lent and what this time of the year means for us as Christians, the overall theme of the Sermon was one of reflection. Not just idle, feel good reflection, but a real world reflection with real world applications, however small those applications may be. Along with that theme running through that particular sermon, lately I have also taken a shine to speaking about how important it is for our faith to be real, and therefore inform our actions. I suppose, when you put those two themes together, you end up with what I think is a fairly decent attempt to live a life based on the gospel, a life centered on Christ.

Right now, here in Auckland, we are being presented with an opprtunity to engage in some of that real world reflection. Right now there is a group of people on Tamaki Drive holding up signs, they aren’t human billboards for some pizza company, nor are they trying to sell you anything, no these people are workers at the Ports of Auckland, and they have had enough. The reason the men and women of the ports have set up camp on Tamaki Drive is because they have been issued an ultimatum of sorts, basically they have been told to sign new contracts, (contracts that will effectively make them casual workers) or else face losing their very livelihoods. While the Ports of Auckland’s Spin Doctor has been hard at work trying to paint a picture of a spoilt and more than well paid workforce, the fact  remains that the workers of the Ports of Auckland are being taken advantage of, and we who claim to be followers of Christ must, at the very least acknowledge this injustice that is happening in our very own backyard.

The issue of the Ports of Auckland is bigger than just a stand off between frontline workers and the powers that be. The real issue here is the knock on effect of what this attempted casualisation threatens to do to the workers and their families. The mere talk of casualisation sends a bolt of uncertainty to the very core of workers. Casualisation means an entire workforce living and working within an environment of concern and uncertainty. The workers are facing questions of how many hours will I be working this week? Will I have enough, come pay day, to pay my bills? Will I be seeing my family this week? All of these things, rooted in instability and uncertainty, can and will take their toll on the workers and their families. The tension that these questions will introduce to the families of the affected workers should be our main concern. As Christians we are, by virtue of our very calling to follow Christ, called to ensure that the community around us is cared for with Christlike compassion. One way we can do this is to ensure that our communities are well, and how do we get well communities? We build them on the backs of well families, something that we are in danger of losing to the tune of over 300 families if the workers are forced to sign this contract. This is not an issue of greed or bad will on the workers part, no. This is an issue of justice, and issues of justice are, by their very nature Gospel issues.

Here and now, we as Christians are called to step out and allow our faith to inform our actions. We are being (and are always being) called to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, here and now we need to stand with the workers from the ports and in this, the season of Lent, we are called to remind society of the reason why Jesus himself quoted from the prophet Isaiah saying: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,to let the oppressed go free,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu remarked in reflection on his involvement with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, “We were involved in the struggle because we were being religious, not political. It was because we were obeying the imperatives of our faith.” Although on a much smaller scale, this is what we too are being called to do. We aren’t being called to go on a crusade motivated by political allegiances or leanings. It is something much bigger than that that is calling us to action, it is our very faith that commands us to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the lords favor, and, in this instance, to stand in solidarity with all the workers of the Ports of Auckland.

%d bloggers like this: