Monday 29 October 2012

News from New Zealand - 3

Monday 29 October – The cloud could not contain the rain today. So after lunch I walked to a shop and bought myself a purple umbrella. The choice of colour, I hasten to add, had nothing to do with episcopal concerns. It was just the most practical the store had.

The cathedral is about 7 minutes, a gentle uphill walk, from the hotel we stay at. So we are not only nurtured spiritually with the word of God and daily Mass, we are also being kept fit. We walk the route at least twice a day, from the hotel to the cathedral and back. And if you want a siesta, like I did today, succumbing to jet lag, you walk four times 7 minutes, up and down to the cathedral.

I have enjoyed walking with Louisa Mojela ,our lay representative, and catching up on Anglican Global South matters , as she also represent our Province in this structure. I also walked with the Bishop of Ceylon and began to understand some more about his context. On another occasion, I walked with a bishop from Tanzania, and really enjoyed connecting with him. Last night, I also spoke to a retired bishop from Tanzania , who, like Judge Albi Sachs and Fr Michael Lapsley, was sent a letter bomb by the apartheid forces and he too lost his hand. He was an amazing man, who talked with no regret nor bitterness for the atrocious act of the past, but spoke fondly of his time in Lesotho, Swaziland and Lusaka as an Anglican chaplain with Umkhonto We Sizwe. I remain grateful for all those who sacrificed their lives and, literally, body parts for our liberation.

This transformative and redeeming spirit was expounded by Archbishop Rowan, when he started today’s morning session with a quiet time and an exposition of 2 Cor 2:14-17. He said the context is that of Paul seeking to respond to his own challenging context, which may have been both similar and uniquely different to that faced by those I mentioned, with its pain, anger, suffering, and marginalization. Paul seeks to respond in a gospel shaped way. This takes the form of acknowledging our deep-seated emotions: in Paul's case his blazing anger in his letter to the Corinthian church. He then has to step back to critically reflect on these emotions. We must ask ourselves too, is our anger at a thing, a person, or a community? Acknowledging that God is faithful to both us and to others, is to reveal God' s passionate faithfulness in us, in that ‘while we were still sinners’, he sent his only son to liberate us, rather than to condemn us. And so we are challenged to ask ourselves whether our anger is more about passionate self-righteousness than faithfulness to God and God’s communion with us and who or whatever is ‘the other’ in our anger. Archbishop Rowan then called for critical faithfulness: critical because we believe in God’s redeeming presence, and faithfulness because ‘He who calls us is faithful and he will do it.’ He is faithful and will not go away, but will always be there. And so the church is called to ‘be there’ in God’s world, not to run away but offer this presence for all in need. This comes at a cost. The fragrance of death of which St Paul writes is an indication that something has to die in us, and the fragrance of life indicates that we are being transfigured into the likeness of Christ as we critically and faithfully serve God in the other.

The Anglican Communion’s Secretary General, Kenneth Kearon, in his opening address, took a similar line to the above reflection while speaking independently. He drew the analogy of the ACC and communion members as glass. We are required to cooperate and work with one another as we radiate, reflect, refract what communion is about. Doing this, like having stained glass windows in our cathedrals or parish churches, comes with a price. The cost of belonging requires transformation, which entails death to stagnant positions, because none of us can fully capture the whole picture of who God is and what communion is about. He concluded, ‘We each bring our own piece of stained glass and add it to the window alongside that of others, and so reveal the fullness of the glory of God in our broken and hurting world.’

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia is in effect a unity of three churches, or three ‘Tikanga’ as they call them: the Maori, Pakeha (ie of European descent) and Polynesian. Even in their negotiated settlement, there is this cost and this value; and so their fuller picture should be seen as a bright collage which is distinctive in its differences and yet one. So tonight we ended the day by having dinner at the Maori church, which displayed its traditional food, lovingly served for the good of the communion and extension of God’s mission. We sat and ate together and shared sweet fellowship. I found myself reflecting that if this is possible, in this place which also faced past divisions, yet came to acknowledge their pain honestly, then it is possible for South Africa to stay on course with reconciliation in spite of the current mining sector and other challenges. In the same way, it is also possible for our Communion, and even the world, with each bringing our unique pieces into forming this picture that is open, loving, transparent, and able to serve God with critical faithfulness, confidently knowing that he will never abandon his church or his world. He is faithful and this is the reason for my joy. What about you? If you examine yourself, what emotions do you have which need to die and be replaced with the aroma of Christ? And what about our church and our country?

God bless, Arch Thabo