Bicultural Being and Spirituality

Bicultural Being and Spirituality

Glynn Cardy 6th February 2022

Manawa mai te mauri nuku
Manawa mai te mauri rangi
(Embrace the power of the earth Embrace the power of the sky)
Ko te mauri kai au
He mauri tipua
ka pakaru mai te po
(The power I have, is mystical, and shatters all darkness)
Tau mai te mauri
Haumi e, Hui e, Taiki e!
(Cometh the light, we are united, progressing forward!)

Sometimes the privilege of living and working in a different cultural context comes our way. Sometimes that different culture is largely similar to what we’ve been used to. Like it was for me when I lived and worked in a Cotswoldian parish in the United Kingdom for three months in 2006. The similarities between the European church contexts in Aotearoa, Australia, England, Scotland, and the United States are greater in number than the dissimilarities. We have more in common than not. Though we like to joke about what’s uncommon.

Yet, when a minister from a European cultural background lives and works in Samoa, or in te ao Māori (the Māori world), the dissimilarities are greater than the similarities. So, it is when a Samoan or Māori minita lives and works in te ao Pākeha. Then the differences between what one assumes and what others not of your culture assume can be very large indeed, and we (the visiting minister, the manuhiri – the travelling bird who alights for a time) need to listen and learn and adapt. In time, with patience by everyone involved, we start to become conversant in more than one cultural world. We start on the road of being bicultural.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of working first in Mangere in te ao Māori, and later in Glen Innes. While the church in Glen Innes was of te ao Pākeha, many of the community groups I was invited into weren’t. Like taking off your shoes at the door, many of my assumptions I had to take off – put aside – in order to hear, understand, and later respond. And I was being watched all the time.

Talking of taking off your assumptions, I recently read Te Kawa o Urewerai. As you may know I have over the decades
regularly walked the lake track around Waikaremoana. With the settlement between the Crown and Ngai Tuhoe the national park is now co-managed. What that means is assumptions are being re-examined as a bicultural way of working emerges. In the document I refer to, you won’t find reference to the state of the tracks or the quality of the huts or the ease of access – the things often foremost in Pākeha conversations. Instead, you will read of a vision of caring for the people and the place, the plants and birds, the ecology of the Ureweras. And it is couched in mystical, theological language. Like this statement: “Te Ureweras is ancient and enduring, a fortress of nature, alive with history… Te Urewera is a place of spiritual value, with its own mana (status) and mauri (power). Te Urewera has an identity in and of herself…”

What is being talked about is a different worldview – though with many overlaps (like with pest control and concern about poisons) with te ao Pākeha.

When you grow up in Aotearoa with a Samoan or Māori whakapapa (heritage) you are immersed in a bicultural world. There is the world of your family, and often your church, and the world of the institutions and their ‘common sense’ which were designed by Pākeha, with Pākeha assumptions, and automatically favour those who share such assumptions. So, the vast majority Māori and Pacific peoples in Aoteaora live biculturally – with a foot in each of these different worlds.

So, bicultural is not about being bilingual. Though language is always helpful, indeed necessary, to understanding culture. Being bicultural is about being able to operate in more than one cultural world. It’s about learning and understanding the nuances, what that knowing smile might mean, who needs to be consulted before a decision is made, and what is sacred and how the sacred should be treated.

A bicultural church therefore is where both worlds operate, are adequately resourced, and are equally honoured. PCANZ, to which St Luke’s belongs, is a monocultural church where the Pacific Presbytery and Te Aka Puaho are peripheral to our mission and purpose, and the resourcing (and who determines the resourcing) reflects that. PCANZ, in its monoculturalism, assumes that only one culture can be in ascendency, and that is the culture of the majority.

This is not to say that there many fine people within our church who dream and work towards a bigger vision, and try to express that with words like ‘multi-culturalism’ and ‘bi-culturalism’. But to affect the sort of change I’m talking about General Assembly would have to give up much of its power and assumptions – a bit like entering into a marriage – and learn to re-examine and renegotiate all that it does and why. And – like a marriage – it is only when we start on a journey of committing ourselves to each other as cultures that we will learn what true aroha is and what such commitment involves. So, if such change ever came about, I would expect the mana and mauri of Te Urewera, the kaitiaki (guardians) of which are Ngai Tuhoe, would feature in the business and prayers at General Assembly.

Part of the journey of embracing two worlds is listening, learning, and interacting with another spirituality. I am not talking about learning a hymn in Te Reo or Samoan. Or learning the Lord’s Prayer, or another prayer, in those languages. Although, of course, language is one of the gateways, and is to be encouraged.

When I talk about a bicultural spirituality, I’m talking about seeing with two sets of spectacles, and then having an inner (and sometimes an outer) conversation between those two visions. Such conversations are part of what Te Ra O Waitangi is about.

It is hard to talk about Pākeha spirituality without making generalizations to which there are always exceptions, and hard to talk about Māori spirituality when I have simply been a visitor, a guest, in its whare. So, my words are very provisional.

One more proviso: sometimes it seems that we want to label a spirituality as ‘suspect’. We might be wary of some of our Pākeha spiritual heritage, or wary of what has been called Māori ‘polytheism’. I would simply say there are treasures in both, and things to be careful about in both.

In Māori spirituality the starting point is location and the interrelationship with one’s whenua (land), one’s whakapapa
(ancestry), and one’s whanau. One’s mana and mauri (your self-confidence and strength in who you are) derives from these relationships. Personhood is found in the weave of whenua, whakapapa, and whanau. Dislocation leads to dysfunction and spiritual suffering. A rangatira (a leader) is one who literally weaves (ranga) a company of people together (tira). The health (oranga) of the whole is what’s spiritually important.

In Pākeha spirituality the starting point is also location, but rooted more in the self and the self’s relationship with the divine. Whenua, whakapapa, and whanau are important, forming us into who we are, but are not usually as crucially important – affecting our psychic and spiritual wellbeing – as they are in Māori spirituality. So, heritage and genealogy, for example, are wonderful to learn about, and maybe take inspiration from, but they are not critical to our spiritual health and formation. Rather our personal relationship with the divine is. When a Christian leader says ‘Christ is my turangawaewae (my place to stand)’, that leader has a Christ that is not grounded in, or limited by, or has responsibilities with, a physical place or a physical family.

Of course, Pākeha spirituality – like Māori spirituality – is evolving, and certainly in Progressive thinking the importance of whenua (how we are nurtured by and nurture the environment) and whanau (where we learn about love, compassion, and its costs) are increasingly formative.

Location also includes God. Though Christians talk of the Holy Spirit dwelling within, most Western Christian thinking has God primarily external to us. So, prayers are directed outward to a deity. And similarly, while Christians talk of God in Jesus coming amongst us (the incarnation), most Christian thought seems to locate most of God beyond this planet, in heaven. God is other, out there, mystery of mysteries. Transcendent.

Māori spirituality, on the other hand, is more immanent, seeing manifestations of the divine all around. So, there are gods of the forest, the ocean, of cultivation, etcetera. Life is lived within these manifestations. Everything one does is within the purview of the divine, and integrated with the divine. Wayne Te Kaawa points out that the Māori word for the overarching concept of God was named ‘Io’ by the missionaries, whereas the word was actually ‘Aio’. Aio literally means ‘peace to you’. So, this transcendent word for God, Aio, locates God back into a quality of betweenness among the people.

You may be aware of the Bible in Schools debate that has been going on for some time. Progressives and others have
been wary of the practice of Christian instruction in state schools, mindful of the anecdotes of teachers with missionary zeal presenting a conservative evangelical worldview to children. There has been a campaign and court proceedings to keep the teaching of religion out of state schools.

I have not heard of one Māori church leader in favour of this campaign, though a couple have expressed the view (not
dissimilar to my own) that Bible in Schools should be replaced by the teaching of religious studies (and led by teachers not volunteers). For Māori spirituality does not see a divide between sacred and secular in the way Pakeha spirituality does. Any meeting in te ao Māori – whether church, business, teaching, medical – should begin by acknowledging the spiritual currents at work. Some Progressives struggle with this.

I have barely scratched the surface here of what a bicultural spirituality might involve. I’d like to conclude with a bit of
Christology. One of the ways of talking about Jesus in Te Reo is “rata whakaruruahu”, which means “sheltering rata tree”. This is a term that is commonly used to describe a wise chief who gives nurturing shelter. That is a very different
Christology than taking Jesus out of the village, putting a crown on his head, and worshipping him as the new emperor God. In a sense the journey of Progressive theology is finding Jesus again in the village, where he had never left.