Sunday, February 19, 2017

At Oihi Bay: Mission in 21st century Aotearoa NZ

Teresa and I had a marvellous holiday in January. I think - for future reference - a vital ingredient was taking a full three weeks off. No more two and a half week holidays for me! But the "marvellous" involved a highlight or two, only one of which concerns this post.

We had never been to the Bay of Islands (about three hours drive north of Auckland) so we made a plan to move on from a wedding in Auckland to spend a few days in this unknown but famously beautiful region. Here is a beautiful Bay of Islands place to stay.


It will cost you $13000 per night. That is not fake news. I tracked this place down on the internet.

We stayed more modestly at Paihia which, for me, is one of those heaven on earth places where bushy hills meet the sea and the view over the sea is full of interest - boats, hills, islands, more boats. Oh, and golden sand on the beach, and it is a long beach.

The Bay of Islands was where much of our first missionary work was established and then developed. We took this history in as we noted plaques dotted along the main road through Paihia, strolled around Russell, explored the Pompallier Mission House (i.e. printery where thousands of devotional books were printed and bound) and visited the Stone Store and Kemp House at Kerikeri.




We could imagine the missionaries working hard while enjoying a climate considerably more pleasant than the one they left behind in Europe. As we visited the extraordinary Treaty grounds at Waitangi - a "must" for every Kiwi before they die, IMHO - my mind was taken back to Darwin visiting in 1835 and seeing cricket played there or thereabouts.



And, of course, there was Oihi Bay to visit, the site of the first sermon in these islands, Christmas Day 1814 and the first mission settlement. Getting there is slightly more challenging than wandering around Paihia and Russell. We needed our rental car to trek some 45 minutes from Kerikeri to a carpark at the top of a hill from whence a kilometre track descends to the bay. What a great walk down it was, with recently installed displays explaining all kinds of interesting details about the endeavours of the missionaries and the local Maori inhabitants.

But here is the thing about Oihi Bay that struck me that afternoon. It is surrounded by hills with only a narrow platform of flat land for the missionaries to build a settlement. The following photo gives a sense of this (but the platform extends to the left of the photo). There was room for half a dozen houses, a chapel and a school room and not much area for developing flocks and crops.



Moreover, Oihi Bay is on the edge of the Bay of Islands. It was not the best location for growing the mission. While away I read one historian who imputed that Marsden insisted the missionaries stay there, even when they wanted to move. Eventually they did, and Paihia and Russell were better locations, both in area for building homes and growing crops and in centrality to the Bay of Islands.

Of course Oihi Bay's great value was that it was the site to which Marsden and his fellow missioners were invited. They needed to make the most of what they were blessed with.

It is not missiological rocket science to see that two hundred years later the church is kind of back at Oihi Bay. We have been given a place in Aotearoa NZ society. We are welcome here. But the "land" we now occupy is poor, small and a long way from the centre where we once were and to which we often voice a wish to return.

There is no Marsden in Sydney writing letters to us telling us what to do. Nevertheless we feel constrained. And we may be in for quite a lean time. It was nearly two decades before Maori converted to Christianity in significant numbers.

We do not know how long our current marginal state will be for. If it is for twenty years that is more or less the rest of my life :) It could well be longer.

Will we be faithful? Will we lay ground work for the future? Among those first missionaries were those who learned the Maori language (Te Reo), who wrote it down, composed grammars and began translating the Scriptures.

If the 21st century has taught us any one lesson so far, it is that the world outside of Christianity is developing, changing, moving forward at a rapid pace and in the process is evolving a new language to adapt. Who is understanding that language? Who is learning its grammar? Who, most importantly, is translating the Scriptures into this new language?

Added for, I hope, clarity: I am talking to a small degree about the (comparatively) simple exercise of maintaining Bible translations in the language of the day (so we rightly as English speakers have seen a move from KJV to RSV to (e.g.) NRSV/NIV/GNB/NJB/NLT) but to a greater degree about our communicating the gospel in a variety of means (including preaching) which connect the gospel with the way people today think and engage current society in thought forms and with imagery that likely will move them to rationally and emotionally embrace Jesus Christ and his message, and follow him.

12 comments:

Andrei said...

If the 21st century has taught us any one lesson so far, it is that the world outside of Christianity is developing, changing, moving forward at a rapid pace and in the process is evolving a new language to adapt. Who is understanding that language? Who is learning its grammar? Who, most importantly, is translating the Scriptures into this new language?

Peter the vernacular is constantly changing and isn't geographically constant either

The spoken English of South Auckland is not the same as that spoken in Tuatapere and if you translate the scriptures into either by the time you get there the language will have moved on - this is not unique to the 21st century BTW

Anthony Burgess of cognisant of this when he wrote "A Clockwork Orange" and wanted to give his narrator a voice that reflected youth culture - to accomplish this rather than drawing on the voice of youth at the time he was writing he invented Nadsat (nadtsat is the Russian suffix for teen as in seventeen - semnadtsat'). Nadsat was heavily influenced by Slavonic but the point is being fictional the book doesn't date the way he would have if he had used the language of Timothy Leary or Jack Kerouac. As an aside Nadsat retained Thee and Thou which the author used to great effect

You could as a novelty translate the scripture or perform a liturgy in nadsat but it would be a novelty, nothing more.

And as you know a recent experiment involved a liturgy conducted in another register Polari, a a real dialect but now dated and this caused much upset and controversy and I doubt brought not one soul to the table

To translate the Scriptures into Maori the first step was to create a literary form of Maori because in those times there was no written Maori and Maori did not have the vocabulary needed for completeness

And that literary form was based on Northern Maori Dialects, as far as I know and that can still cause controversy to this day as in the Wanganui, Whanganui fuss of recent times.

In terms of reaching a wide audience I suspect Melania Trump's rendition of the Lord's Prayer in her heavily accented early 17th century English had a greater emotional impact than any tweet by the Archbishop of Canterbury, whatever the register - whether that is for good or ill is another debate

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
I am going to add a clarifying note to my post as I have not been clear that I am thinking about "language" as both "vocabulary" (which, from time to time, means we can and should update our familiar translations of the Bible to keep up, roughly, with changes to everyday vocabulary, but, yes, we might also preserve some familiarities such as olde versions of the Lord's Prayer) and as "thought processes, conceptualisation, cultural adaptation" which, for example, meant that the Gospel is communicated in four different versions, for four different audiences (who may all have known the same Greek vocabulary but did not share the same thought processes etc).

With respect to the latter there might be potential for translation of the gospel into Polari (notably if, say, half of England starting speaking it) but there would be controversy (as recently arose) since the question of accuracy of translation arises (as it did re the recent liturgy at Westcott House). Just as it does when we preach the gospel in such a way that we are criticised for making it legalistic, licentious, limited in scope - all dangers in translation negotiated in the pages of the NT.

Hirini Kaa said...

Kia ora Peter. Beautiful sharing of your travels in a really quite nice part of the country :)

Perhaps to add to your metaphor: while the missionaries were stuck on this strip and in the north Maori were off around the country sharing the Gospel in their own tribal "language". Which the missionaries often disapproved of.

Arohanui, Hirini.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Hirini!
Yes, Maori were best interpreters of the gospel for Maori :)
In our global world with many identities for people to identify with (or, sometimes unwillingly, be identified as) we have a pluriform challenge to learn relevant languages. And to find ways to get out from our narrow strips of land to be among all peoples.

Andrei said...

...about our communicating the gospel in a variety of means (including preaching) which connect the gospel with the way people today think and engage current society in thought forms and with imagery that likely will move them to rationally and emotionally embrace Jesus Christ and his message, and follow him."

The "Crystal Cathedral" might serve as a cautionary tale

Under its founder it went from strength to strength engaging people with thought forms and imagery that moved them rationally and emotionally and a great glass temple rose in sunny California. But when the founder moved on due to advancing age the music director ended up committing suicide and the enterprise itself ended in bankruptcies and court proceedings. A life cycle of possibly fifty years

Yet on the Holy Mountain (Athos) the monks have been praying since the 4th century at least if not longer and many of the prayers and hymns sung by those monks are also prayed and sung by 10s of millions of people all over the world every day and Sundays and Feast days in particular - in different styles and languages but shared through the ages and across the globe on every continent including Antarctica

And when we participate we are uniting together in one large worship service that never ends and never will

You might argue we do it imperfectly (true) and you might argue this style of thinking is too abstract or foreign for the 21st century Western mind or that it does not provide the instant gratification that more "modern" forms of worship seek to furnish

In part this maybe because of a fundamental difference in the views of Salvation between the Western and Eastern Church, the former in extreme cases seeing "being saved" as an instantaneous thing on conversion whereas in the later it being seen as a lifelong process, a journey of hope

On another thread you left this tongue in cheek comment
" Hi Nick
ha!
I am most familiar with English as she is spoke in Durham, Cambridge and London."


But with this English register how well can you relate with a Glaswegian pipe fitter or a young polynesian male from South Auckland? How might you appear through those eyes?

You know what I'd like to hear? The ancient and theologically profound Hymn "Only Begotten Son" sung in Maori or Samoan, using the harmonies of the South Pacific - it would bring tears to my eyes and maybe yours as well

"Only-Begotten Son and Immortal Word of God,
Who for our salvation didst will to be incarnate of the holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary;
Who without change didst become man and was crucified;
Who art one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit:
O Christ our God, trampling down death by death, save us!"

Anonymous said...

I'm not quite sure if Hirini means the missionaries often (sic) disapproved of Maori sharing the gospel independently, or of their using the Maori language to do so. I can recall instances when missionaries found flourishing Maori churches in areas they visited for the first time, where they had concerns about the content of the message being preached. I can't recall concern about the use of Maori per se, and would be interested in references to the actual language in use.
Rhys

Father Ron said...

Andrei, despite our sopmetime differences, you ansd i share a lot in common:

1. A love of The Solemn Liturgy and mysticism connected therewith.

2. A love of Theotokos, Blessed Mary, the Mother of Christ - the closest human being to Jesus in his actual lifetime (Incarnate, Flesh of her flesh.

3. Invocation of the prayers of The Saints.

Agios O Theos, Agios Ischyros, Agios athanatos, eleison, ymas!

Malcolm Falloon said...

Hi Peter,

You wrote, "There is no Marsden in Sydney writing letters to us, telling us what to do." Where do you get that idea from? For it is not true. That is not how the early to mission to New Zealand was run.

Just for the record. Between 1815 and 1819, when he made his second visit to New Zealand, Marsden wrote on just one occasion: 7 Dec 1816. A letter to Kendall expressing his great satisfaction in Kendall's leadership and the work, and a letter to Hall and King giving them permission to return to Sydney if they could not work in greater unity with Kendall.

Hardly the overbearing, yet remote, boss you seem to want to impute to Marsden's character.

Malcolm

Andrei said...

I suppose there are two related things about this post and its postscript that cause me some disquiet

Firstly it is my sense that over the past 2000 years the Church has acquired many treasures, not material treasures but cultural ones and clearly included among those are the English language version of the Bible known as the King James Version an acknowledged tour de force

The second thing is the implicit assumption that these treasures are unsuitable for the great unwashed and a simpler version is required to set before them, which seems somewhat patronizing - indeed in an earlier post there was distinct sense of embarrassment expressed in the Archbishop of Canterbury's use of Jacobean English

The core treasure of course is the Faith itself and the question being how best to share this with those who have not received it or for whom it has passed them by

Peter's contention seems to be we need to continually adapt the way we communicate our message to conform to a rapidly changing world - whereas mine is that the message is eternal and the Church is not of the World and we shouldn't try and present it as thus - that is a too simplistic way of expressing this thought perhaps

Incidentally The Hymn I posted above was translated into English by an American woman, Isabel Hapgood who was an Episcopalian in the early 20th century and the English she used was...

I think the way forward for the Church in a rapidly changing and chaotic world is to be a place of serene certainty and a harbour from the noise and babble that surrounds us, not to join the cacophony and compete with it

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Malcolm
I bow my historical imagination to your historical accurate knowledge (and will amend the post above accordingly).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
I agree that the church can be a place of serene certainty etc.
I note that the gospel in Slavic lands is not spoken of in Aramaic, Hebrew, or Latin, though obviously Greek (and Coptic) plays a role amongst Russian, Romanian, Arabic etc tongues.
Your point amounts to "at a certain point in the translation of the Gospel from the Aramaic of Jesus, some speech forms have found great and enduring favour (e.g. the language of the KJV and BCP in English speaking societies) and should be continued (e.g. to maintain serene certainty)."
My point is, "What if those great and enduring speech forms no longer connect with people?" thus, "Might we be in a point of change to a new (hopefully) also great and enduring speech form?"

Andrei said...

"Your point amounts to "at a certain point in the translation of the Gospel from the Aramaic of Jesus, some speech forms have found great and enduring favour (e.g. the language of the KJV and BCP in English speaking societies) and should be continued (e.g. to maintain serene certainty)."

Not exactly Peter

(1) Firstly you would have to agree that some translations are better than others and that an old translation that is good is far better than a new one that is bad

e.g. "Give us this day our daily bread" versus "provide for us the food we need today"

The word "bread" in the former not only refers to physical nourishment but references "the bread of life" and thus includes petition for our spiritual nourishment - this being lost in the more "modern" translation

(2) With familiar forms of prayer and worship encountering a new translation is discordant, the rhythm is lost - a person raised in the Faith may pray the Lord's prayer well over 70,000 during their lifetime, with little understanding at first and growing understanding as they mature, and this is regardless of how modern or ancient the version is they first encounter - Jean said on another thread that the traditional English version is the one she automatically uses even though she knows newer versions and that is natural

And thus with the prayer ingrained in your heart when praying in an entirely different language you pray the same prayer with understanding even if you don't know the language at all (that's why I asked you about praying the Lord's prayer in Maori on an earlier thread)

On the other hand praying a discordant version in the same language is a distraction from the meaning and to do it you need probably need a book and focus shifts from the prayer but on the book and sounding out the right words

(3) I think that the language of worship requires its own register, which should be non profane, poetic and pleasing to the ear - with liturgical worship as you mature you can put the book down and the rhythm of the worship engulfs you and your focus can shift entirely to God

I often wonder at the number of Western people who are interested in things like transcendental meditation and feel sad that they don't realize they could find something far deeper in our Christian Faith but they wont find it in a mega Church with a rock band