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.

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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.

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.

Sermon – 1st Sunday in Lent – Mark 1:9-15

The Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness

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.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”

Although we didn’t celebrate it with a special sermon, or a hākari, last Sunday was what is known as Quinquagesima Sunday. Its name tells us that it is only 50 days left until Easter, but before then we must first pass through the season of Lent. In many ways, today here in our Gospel reading, and in this the first day of Lent we begin a journey, both with one another and a journey with God in Christ.

It may seem a bit odd, but Lent is a time where we, as Christians are spoilt. We are spoilt in that we have a rather large amount of time set apart just for us, it is a time to reflect and think about our calling as Christians. During Lent we are given 40 days during which to really stop and think about what our faith calls us to do, not just for the 40 days of Lent but on into the rest of the year as well.

As usual, Mark doesn’t spend time worrying about the details of what is happening in our reading, instead we are told that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness and Mark moves right along with the story, unlike Matthew and Luke who elaborate on Jesus’ time on the wilderness. Perhaps we need to be more like Mark, perhaps we need to stop getting caught up in the little things, the things that are all around us that stop our faith becoming a true and informing part of our lives. Here and now in this season of Lent, we are given the opportunity to make that happen. We are given an opportunity to stop, just for a little while and reflect on our lives and what our faith is calling us to do, and then put that faith action; so that once the 40 days of Lent have been and gone we continue to live a life informed by our faith, and ensure that we are ready to triumphantly proclaim the good news of the resurrection on Easter morning.

Traditionally Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. During Lent, the usual question we get asked is “What are you giving up?” to which the usual responses come: Chocolate, or fast food, or still others give up their cell phones and computers. While there is nothing wrong with this approach to Lent , and to be honest, whenever I give up anything for Lent I always fail miserably, the one downside perhaps is that beyond our “giving up” being a minor inconvenience to us, nothing really changes. After 40 days going without, or even less for the weaker among us, we just jump straight back onto Facebook, or start eating Chocolate again and continue with our lives. As I said, there is nothing with that approach to Lent, but as Christians I think we are called to go beyond, we are called to effect real change and let our faith inform our action. This Lent is an opportunity to do just that. Now,  I am not suggesting that we all take up a cause, grab a banner and go on a hikoi, but rather that we take the opportunity Lent gives us, and devote the next 40 days to reflect on each of our callings to love and to serve, and to turn that reflection into a real world action, however small it may be. Whether it is starting a blog to write about issues of Social Justice, or volunteering somewhere or simply becoming more familiar with the issues that surround us every day, each little act contributes to effecting change. By reflecting throughout Lent and actioning that reflection, we transform Lent from the impersonal, blip on our radar, into a powerful tool for transformation and change, all informed by our faith and empowered by our baseline calling to love and to serve.

This Lent, there is a lot to cause us to pause and to reflect even if we don’t want to. Ash Wednesday coincided with the first anniversary of the February earthquake in Christchurch and although it is a year on, there are still people using chemical toilets and a return to normal is still far off. But it’s not just major catastrophes and disasters that should be in our minds as we ready ourselves for Lent. Here in Auckland, arguably the most advanced city in New Zealand and a city with an annual budget of over $3 billion and over $29 million worth of assets, 156 families are being evicted from their homes. Not because the tenants are abusing their properties, or because they are late paying their rent or even because they are breaking the law. No, these families, some of whom have called their houses their homes for over 10 years, are being evicted so that Housing New Zealand can sell the land, and property developers can move in and redevelop the sites for new homes. While it is true that some of the land will be used to build new homes for Housing New Zealand clients, there is no guarantee that the evicted tenants will be the ones living in them. This is more than just an issue of people losing their houses, this is happening in one of the poorest communities in Central Auckland and it is happening to some of the most vulnerable people. In one foul swoop, these people not only lose their houses, they lose their community, their comfort zone, their assurance, and their homes. They lose the things that cannot be bought and sold. These are things that come through stability and permanence, not through being transient and unsure. If this isn’t enough to get you off to a start on your Lenten reflection then look to what is happening with AFFCO. Yesterday, AFFCO, the biggest Meat Processing Company in New Zealand and a company worth over $968 million, announced an indefinite lockout of its workers at 5 meat plants across New Zealand. Workers that are overwhelmingly Māori, workers that are already being taken advantage of. Both of these kaupapa are just 2 examples of things happening all over the motu that we as Christians should be condemning. Quite often though, through no fault of our own, these kaupapa come and go without much notice a part from reading them in the morning paper. Here and now, as we begin our journey into Lent we have a very rare chance in today’s day and age of 2 minute noodles and broadband, to pause, reflect and think about these issues. Issues that aren’t happening overseas somewhere, but are happening here, in our own backyard. Issues that aren’t affecting Mr & Mrs Nobody but are impacting on our very own whanau and communities.

Whanau, our calling to love and to serve demands that we at least give more than a fleeting thought to issues like these because it is only then, and when we respond with action informed by our faith and calling that we can, like Jesus, emerge out of the 40 days of wilderness that is Lent, and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God and call our whanau and our communities to repent and believe in the Good News.

And so I leave you with those thoughts in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.         AMEN.

Sermon – 1st Sunday After Epiphany – Ordinary 1 – Mark 1:4-11

The Baptism of Jesus, by He Qi.

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.

When Michael texted me during the week to see if I could preach, I must admit I was a bit nervous. Not because I didn’t want to preach or because the thought of preaching scared me, but rather because here we are, only the second Sunday of the year, but also the first Sunday after all of the hype and excitement of Christmas, New Years and the Holiday Season. Today is a hard day to preach… For the past month we have been spoilt for options when it comes to preaching. We have had the dramatic lead up to Christmas in Advent, we have had Christmas Day itself, and last week was New Years day. In the Church calendar today marks the beginning of two “seasons,” today is the first Sunday after Epiphany, and the first Sunday in Ordinary time. Although these things make it hard to preach on a day like today, I think that it is on this very day where the meaning of Christmas hits home and becomes real. Just like we recited together at Midnight Mass on Christmas eve with the poem: The Christmas Hymn: “When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins:…” The rest of the poem goes on to tell exactly what the work of Christmas is: “…To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, to make music in the heart.”

Christmas is a time of year where, more than any other time, the difference between the rich and the poor is made obvious. It is at this time of year when the struggles of those on the lower end of the Socio-economic scale become front page news and for this one time of the year, the spirit of Christmas calls us all to respond to this poverty that is all around us. Here and now, on this, the first Sunday in Ordinary time, it is good to be reminded that poverty doesn’t just affect people during Christmas but also on the other 364 days of the year. The Herald reported that this year’s turn out to the Auckland City Mission’s Christmas lunch was an all time high, and so many people turned up that some had to be turned away.  It is now, after the struggles of the poorest of our community is no longer making it to the front page of our news papers that we should be responding to our calling to love and to serve. A calling that is inside every one of us that claim to be followers of Christ, a calling that is instilled in us at our baptism and nurtured for the rest of our lives.

Baptism, it is something that we do quite often here at Te Karaiti and in a couple of weeks we will be doing it all again as we welcome the Chanel and Tui who will be bringing their Children to be baptised. What a beautiful thing, a young newly married couple living out their faith in such a way that causes them to realise the promise, the potential and the hope that is signified in baptism. For Chanel, Tui and their whanau it will no doubt be an emotional time. Memories of past baptisms will come to mind…thoughts will turn to loved ones who couldn’t make it and still others who are no longer here. But the overwhelming feeling on the day will be one of joy.

This morning, although there will be no baptisms, we celebrate and remember all those things that baptisms mean; promise, hope, and potential…in the Baptism of Jesus. The gospel of Mark does not to have a Nativity Narrative, that is, there is no account of the birth of Jesus, instead we are taken directly to Jesus’ baptism.

Jesus’ seeking and acceptance of baptism is a sign of unity with and an example for us to follow. Although the baptism being offered by John was one of repentance, Jesus’ sinless nature meant that there was no sin needing to be repented, but rather the necessity for baptism and the importance of baptism was as a starting point, and an opportunity for a new beginning. For many, the baptism of Jesus signifies the beginning of his ministry, a new phase in his life. At this time of year and on a day in which we remember the Baptism of Jesus we are given an opportunity to reflect on the past year and think about our own new beginnings and the promise, hope and potential that the New Year brings. When we think of the bible and the theme of New Beginnings we most often call to mind the creation story in Genesis, but the bible is full of New Beginnings and this, the baptism of Jesus is an example of just that.

Here, today, we are given an opportunity to once again stop and reflect. First of all on the past year, the good times, the bad, the successes, the failures, the ups and the downs. But it is also an opportunity for us to look to the future, the New Year and see where our baptismal obligations are leading us, and what those obligations are calling us to do.

Here and now, as we remember the Baptism of Jesus, we are being called to reflect on those words of the baptism liturgy which call us to “walk in the faith of Christ, crucified and risen, to shine with the light of Christ.” Although the needs of the poor and the marginalised have all but disappeared from the front pages of our news papers, the calling still remains with us to respond to our baptismal obligation and be the light of Christ amongst those whose own lights may have grown dim. In order to do that we must firstly and whole hearted live out the words of the Christmas Hymn: “…to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people…”

And so I leave you with those thoughts in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.         AMEN.

A Piece of Art.

Matua Hone, doing what he does.

In my brief career as a preacher I have come to the opinion that preaching is a true art form, and sermons a piece of art.

Like most works of art, there are things that work well and things that don’t. Things that depend on the viewers’ (or listeners’) perspective and things that are just plain horrible no matter what perspective you take. This means that the act of preaching and indeed the sermons themselves become a very intimate thing, almost to the point when the sermons themselves become a piece of you and a little bit of you is weaved within the sermon.

For these reasons some preachers (this one included) can become a little bit shy about preaching and our sermons. Of course there are those for whom preaching seems to be natural. I have been blessed to witness some true masters of this art form in action, most notably the Venerable Dr. Hone Kaa, Kaumatua Priest and Mentor for scores of ministers here in Aotearoa. I am convinced that the reason Matua Hone is so at home in the pulpit is because what he preaches at Church on Sunday he is living on Monday, Matua Hone’s faith informs his action. Matua Hone isn’t always the most eloquent preacher and at times he comes very close to “the line” and may even step over it, but what Picasso or Michelangelo could do with a paint brush, Matua Hone can do with words.

In an attempt to get over my own shyness and to one become a quarter the preacher that Matua Hone is, I have decided to post my sermons here from now on. I realise that that could mean this blog is about to deteriorate into a theological wasteland, but it is pretty much already that so why not go the whole hog!

I apologise in advance for the ensuing sermons!

Kia koa, kia hari –Rejoice and be glad!

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