Sunday, July 12, 2009

Jenny Te Paa

Very possibly the most remarkable moment in the General Convention for me thus far was the address by Jenny Te Paa that I've written about earlier. Jenny was a member of the original Windsor Commission and is dean of a seminary in New Zealand. Here is a portion of her earlier address to the House of Deputies:

"I was sharing in all humility one of my deepest regrets (one that I know is shared by other Commissioners) that as members of the Lambeth Commission we were never fully apprised of the full facts of your polity and in particular of the limits to the power of the office of Presiding Bishop.

"As a result of that crucial gap in knowledge and understanding it is my belief that the very unfair, in fact the odious myth of ‘The Episcopal Church acting (in the matter of the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson) with typical unchecked US imperialism’, was more readily enabled and abetted to grow wings and fly unchecked for way too long across the reaches of the Anglican Communion...

"We realized, to our utterly deserved chagrin that we had perhaps failed albeit inadvertently to prevent something of the unprecedented vilification of the Episcopal Church and especially of its leadership that inevitably resulted.

"Your generosity of spirit in spite of all you have suffered so unjustly and unnecessarily over the past few years is just so perfectly admirable. That you continue with such magnanimity to gather international friends, to share with us so openly, so willingly all that you do so formidably, so precisely, so efficiently and so compassionately is a gift offering of such magnitude that it seems so utterly insufficient for me to simply say thank you, thank you, thank you.

[At this point, I had tears in my eyes.]

If I could be so bold I want also to assure you that among ourselves as your international friends we are now all quietly urging you not to dwell unduly with any sense of uncertainty about your place within the global Anglican Communion. Sure the fearmongerers abound – they always have and they always will but surely our gaze must always be fixed beyond the horizon of fear and just as surely that gaze must always apprehend first and foremost the images of those who are the least among us...

[Jennie was among a group of international guests among us. She took note of that, and of their encouragement for the sake of justice.]

I pause momentarily and ask you all to note that President Bonnie has here represented Brazil, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Aotearoa New Zealand – what she has done of course is actually invite the true global south into your midst!

[Lest you think this was just a "love feast." In charitable but firm terms, Dr. Te Paa challenged the General Convention about our appropriation of the term "Umbutu." She is from a native tribe in New Zealand and speaks with authority about the appropriation of one cultural idea into another culture. In the following, she challenged the Convention in sharp, but guarded words. Her address was not mere fluff.]

We have seen how attractive indigenous spirituality; in fact indigenous tradition in its many forms has suddenly assumed a level of contemporary interests and attractiveness. We have in all of this become desperately afraid of cultural appropriation and so as this intensely beautiful and endlessly complex concept of ‘ubuntu’ is uttered and claimed, explained and proclaimed I cannot help but wonder if all the necessary precautions against even unwitting appropriation have been taken?

Now as I said I offer this comment not by way of a criticism but rather by way of a word of loving advice from this your indigenous sister. I don’t know what precautions you may well have taken but if I may suggest, one of the markers which we indigenous peoples have found most helpful in these matters is to ask of those seeking to enter more fully into the very different socio, politico, spiritual, cultural worlds of ‘the constructed other’, are you intent on becoming one with or one of ‘the other’?

The most respectful of these options if of course the former. In this way we are each freed to become fully whom God created us to be and to flourish into that God given identity. The actions of one seeking to become ‘one with’ are those of selfless, sacrificial and loving solidarity whereas the actions of one seeking to become ‘one of’, are likely to be characterized by unashamed self-interest! The former option is thus more likely to be true ubuntu, but then I would not be so bold to determine such a thing! I simply raise a respectful cautionary flag.
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I know she may be a bit hard to follow, but I find the spirit of Jenny Te Paa absolutely compelling.

Lowell

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