One of the most profound and touching aspects of our recent visit to New Zealand was the attitude we experienced toward its indigenous peoples. Everywhere we travelled we encountered what appear to be sincere and profound attempts to respect and incorporate aspects of Maori culture into predominantly European New Zealand. No doubt these efforts have met with varying degrees of success and there is still a long way to go. But the determination to value the Maori presence provides a hopeful model for the rest of the world community.
The Maori people we met seemed to take pride in their history and the richness of their heritage. They demonstrated a deep sense of spiritual connection with the land in which they live. We had the impression that there is a great deal the “pakeha” (New Zealanders who are not of Maori blood-lines) are learning from their Maori neighbours.
It was a rude awakening this morning to have it pointed out to me that, this coming Sunday, in the church I serve, we are scheduled to sing hymn #321 from The Book of Common Praise (Revised 1938). I shudder to imagine who we might be thinking of were we to sing:
Men scorn thy sacred Name,
And wolves devour thy fold;
by many deeds of shame
We learn that love grows cold.
O’er heathen lands afar
Thick darkness broodth yet;
Arise, O morning Star,
Arise, and never set.
We can no longer afford to divide the world into those “heathen lands afar” where “Thick darkness broodth yet,” and “Men scorn thy sacred Name”.
It is difficult to know how we could possibly imagine that we might instil values of mutual respect and reverence among people who we stand and sing of as if they were “wolves” devouring God’s “fold; by many deeds of shame.”
This nineteenth century view of the world has no place in the diverse multi-cultural global milieu in which we presently live.
International air travel gives the traveler a crash course in how small our world has become. It has been estimated that on any day of the year, there are four million travellers in the sky. Last Wednesday we wandered around the sprawling Auckland airport and observed planes waiting to transport passengers to the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, the United States, Canada, Singapore, and who knows how many other unidentified destinations.
It is unimaginable that I might look at all those people travelling to these “lands afar” and think they are all going to places where “love grows cold,” and “thick darkness broodeth yet.” We can no longer afford a view of the world that divides us into those who are white, western people of European origin and those who are “heathen.”
The church has been guilty for far too long of supporting a worldview that creates antagonism and an attitude of superiority over anyone who differs from us. We will never achieve the “reign of peace” “When comes the promised time That war shall be no more,” for which Hymn #321 fervently longs if we insist on dividing the world into those of us who see ourselves as having all the correct answers and those who remain in ignorance waiting for us to enlighten them with our wisdom and truth.
The world will continue to be an antagonistic, violent place as long as such attitudes of superiority and arrogance are enshrined in our worship.
Outside a Maori village two weeks ago, we had a conversation with a Maori woman who said, “Maori people have no set religion. We respect everyone’s right to choose how they express their faith.” The Maori may have a lot to teach us about what it means to live in a world community. If we can listen deeply to their gentle spirit, they may be able to guide us towards a world in which there is a chance people may live together with peace and mutual respect.