Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Towards a theological response to the devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle (1)

 I was going to follow the previous two posts with a reflection on the Bible as the Word of God (what kind of "word" or "words" is it? Etc). But through last week a terrifying cyclone barrelled through the upper North Island causing devastation to land and buildings, resulting in loss of life. So far, at the time of writing, 11 deaths have been reported, but many people are so far "uncontactable". It is feared that, even when communications are restored and many currently who are beyond contact will be contacted, nevertheless there will be many more deaths reported. 

An initiative within our church so that we have an "all of church" response is described as follows:

"Drawing on the strengths of our Church we have established a new group named Hāpaitia: The Anglican Cyclone Gabrielle Response Group. The title Hāpaitia means to lift up, to support, to share a burden. 

Hāpaitia will commit to whakamana* communities so that they in turn can uplift ‘Te Oranga Ake’ – that is, help rebuild flourishing whānau, communities and environments.

Hāpaitia will focus on four key areas:

– providing support for Wairua (spiritual, pastoral and theological support),

– Tinana (care for physical and structural wellbeing),
– Pūtea (financial aid) and

– Kōrero (communications and storytelling).

This pledge stands not only for the following days and weeks, but throughout the journey to recovery. 

In a first step toward practical support, the Anglican Church’s St John’s College Trustees confirmed today they will release $250,000 in emergency funds for immediate deployment on Cyclone Gabrielle response.

Anglican aid and development staff will help coordinate the Church’s financial and operational response to Cyclone Gabrielle as part of the wider Hāpaitia response.

The Anglican Church has launched a Cyclone Gabrielle Emergency Appeal, hosted by Anglican Missions to support communities most affected by this week’s disaster.

Visit Anglican Missions to donate to the Cyclone Gabrielle Appeal. 

 *Whakamana: to acknowledge, uplift, maintain and restore the mana and tapu of others."

I have been invited to be part of this reponse because of the experience of the Diocese of Christchurch following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. This post and any subsequent ones on the matter is a contribution to the Wairua part of the response. Your comments will be helpful feedback in the development of my contribution. Thank you in advance!

(Finally, as we face our own natural disaster, we continue to remember the people of Turkey and Syria following the destructuve earthquakes there. And we continue to pray for peace in Ukraine.)

I understand the offering of theological reflection in such a time of disaster as this as offering at least two things. 

First (meaning foremost), offering theological support to those who bear the burden of care at the frontline of response to the disaster. 

Secondly, offering theological insights which may assist those at the frontline, or further back, to have confidence to respond to inevitable questions about how and why a good, kind, loving God presides over a world capable of unleashing such death and desolation on human society. This response may be needed immediately, because such questions may already be on the lips of the devastated. Almost certainly this reponse will be needed in due course because such questions arise for pretty much everyone who thinks about the world in relation to the possibility there is a God and this God is not immune to the prayers and praises of the people he has made. The story of Job is a salutary reminder of the folly of rushing in to offer explanations for suffering. It is also a story, when we reach its end, nevertheless, of the importance of embracing the problem of suffering, not avoiding it and pressing through to a response to the problem even if the response does not look like a comforting solution.

In this post I will attempt to focus on the first matter and leave the second matter to another post.

Jesus does not ask his disciples to be heroes. He asks his disciples to be faithful in small things (see Parable of Talents, Matthew 25:14-30), which may be as small a matter as giving a cup of water (Matthew 10:42) or giving away some clothing or food or drink or visiting someone in prison (see Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Matthew 25:31-46). As the ennormity of the challenge the cyclone's devastation is revealed the temptation to be overwhelmed (It is so big we cannot do anything) or to be heroic (If I work like a superwoman or superman then I can solve the problem) can be resisted in favour of resolving to be available to serve, to encourage others to serve, and so together to make a response which makes a meaningful difference to the situation.

A focus on service, on achieving small tasks, in other words is fine. In the aftermath of a disaster, after initial adrenalin boosted responses, there is a need for stamina, for steadily working through each day and for days, weeks, months and even years afterwards. Through a long haul, rest and recreation remains important. The people who need us this week will also need us to help next month and even next year. This wisdom was underlined for all of us in Christchurch/Canterbury after the 2010/2011 quakes.

In turn, such considerations raise questions about what will keep our own spirits up, beyond ensuring a steady approach with appropriate rest. As part of a persistent, day to day, longhaul response, prayer and Bible reading, praying the Daily Office, gathering for acts of worship and communion will be vital for our spirits. Communing with God and with others is important when times are tough as well as when everything is trucking along fine. Apart from me, Jesus says, you can do nothing (John 15:5)

Of course, for many of us faraway, who should resist the temption simply to turn up to help unless we are invited to do so, there are two important things we can do to support those on the frontline: to pray and to give (preferably money since locals will know their needs better than we do). Day by day and Sunday by Sunday we will be a praying church, uplifting before God the needs of our sisters and brothers, especially in the territories we Anglicans know as Te Hui Amorangi o Tairawhiti (++Don Tamihere) and the Diocese of Waiapu (+Andrew Hedge).

"If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26)

In this way, finally, we underline the importance of working collaboratively. Both locally as people, say, visit homes in pairs, or tackle a cleaning up task with a team so that mountain becomes a molehill, and from one territory to another as we pray and give, we can be a fellowship of Christians. One of the great themes in Paul's writings to the early churches is local fellowship - how members of a congregation love one another - which is also fellowship across the Mediterranean world - how love for one another means taking up a collection for the saints in Jerusalem (e.g. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3).

"Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love." (1 Corinthians 16:13)


MsLiz said...

"Hāpaitia means to lift up, to support, to share a burden". I like the outline of the initiative and how it's presented and your discussion's very helpful +Peter.. and genuinely encouraging. Thank you.

Re-boosting this verse that you shared in your post ...

"If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26)"

[I see there's also been flooding and landslides in Brazil's São Paulo state, also with significant loss of life and much damage]

Father Ron said...

Thank you, Bishop Peter, for the link to Anglican Missions support for Cyclone Gabrielle's Aotearoa/NZ Victims. Prayer and support given for these and the victims of earthquakes in Syria and Turkey. Millions donated from all over the world. We need to do our bit - as a gift of thanks for our own deliverance.

On that other subject: Sad about the GSFA Declaration of Independence from the A.C. However, The Mission of Christ goes on in our Anglican Communion commitment to Marcy and Justice in a needy world. "Inasmuch as you did this for the least of my little ones, you did it as for me" - Jesus. Have a BlESSED ASH WEDNESDAY AND LENT.

Mark Murphy said...

Hi Peter,

I enjoyed your reflections of what an appropriate spiritual response to the cyclone might be, at this stage. I liked the modesty, the humility, the earthy wisdom of what you offer here. A cup of water. A packet of biscuits. Visiting someone in prison. No heroes. Salt and light.

Today is the anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake. I'm surprised to feel sad as I write this post.

Everyone's soul is so different, with its own sense of timing, and rhythm. For some people, the spiritual meaning of the quakes was a renewal of our shared humanity, a waking up from the sleep of atomized, taken-for-granted life. For others, it was a descent - a relentless stripping away of all the tent pegs of safety, familiarity, and faith too. For some of my clients with longstanding, profound mental health challenges, the earthquakes made them feel more normal and less odd - like others were now experiencing major trauma too.

Right now - a cup of water seems to me to a very appropriate spiritual response. In time, as survival and basic belonging needs are secured, as the shock and adrenaline wear off, who knows what other needs and spiritual vistas may open up for the cyclone survivors, what questions they maybe asking of God. Maybe Church can he a place where these questions are allowed and safely housed, like they are in the Book of Psalms.

Mark Murphy said...

Hi Liz,

Your post put me in my mind of: I once heard that one reason for the destruction of the native forest/vegetation by Pākehā, including land that was and would never be used for sheep and beef, was because Māori were able to melt away into "the bush", and in a way that frightened and frustrated the colonial desire to control them.

Mark Murphy said...

Hi Liz,

Your post put me in my mind of: I once heard that one reason for the destruction of the native forest/vegetation by Pākehā, including land that was and would never be used for sheep and beef, was because Māori were able to melt away into "the bush", and in a way that frightened and frustrated the colonial desire to control them.

Mark Murphy said...

Last night I dreamt that a great dark empire was hunting through the land to snuff out the last pieces of resistance, the last little lights that refuse to go out. My task was to hide some children away from the incoming forces. I tried hiding them under some bushes in a forest, but knew it was quite futile - eventually they'd need to come out for food and the darkness would be waiting.

At one point I saw a dark square or cross with four patches or corners of light that hadn't been filled in with darkness yet. I thought of the four gospels.

When I woke, I knew I could understand the dream personally or interpersonally, but that this would lack courage and integrity. It felt like a vision of objective evil.

MsLiz said...

Hi Mark, thanks for sharing the description of your dream.

Here's part of a daytime vision I had a few years ago, relating to the violent loss of my two young sisters four years before I was born.. when children are taken it's so unspeakably sad.

In the last part of the vision I was in a dark room.. a room situated inside a huge wall. A 'good' presence was with me and I was conscious of it but couldn't see it. In front of me I could see my dad and brother with their backs to me and they were intently looking at something. As I watched, an unseen presence whisked them away and I understood I was meant to see past them to something deeper.

So I moved closer and saw a big black abstract painting lying on a table and it was alive, massive hate and malevolence emanating from it.. I knew it was a representation of Evil so I stood there and gazed at it and could feel its hatefulness. It was horrible yet I wasn't afraid (because the good presence was still with me).

Then I came out of the vision and it took about 3 days before I physically lost the feeling of being 'tainted' (like 'smoke-tainted' but by the bad stuff I'd felt). It took a long time to develop some learning from what I saw, but it's been immensely helpful in how I think about 'dark things' that happen that are hard to understand - whether that's my personal story or much bigger things like the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas which was especially heart-rending for me to read about.

I'm not sure I fully 'get' your last paragraph sorry Mark but thought I'd share this experience anyway in case it's of interest.

Moya said...

I am aware of an ‘objective evil’ in the world, having felt a dark presence with me, many years ago when I had rejected the Lord for a period. (Blessedly he pursued me). I recognise it behind the many tragedies we hear about. And it is in the Scriptures quite clearly in the temptations of Jesus in tomorrow’s gospel, though I think it was only uncovered to him in the naked appeal to worship. 1John 3:8 says, “For this purpose was the Son of God manifest, to destroy the works of the evil one”. He knew that hatred and malevolence to the ‘n’th degree.

Anonymous said...

Mark, that sounds like a nightmare about Russia kidnapping children in Ukraine.

What can put their lives back together after the war?


Mark Murphy said...

Dear Liz

Really appreciate you sharing your vision here.

Stepping back a little, reflecting on some commonalities perhaps, I'm with...

1. The 'objective' existence of evil - evil as an 'objective' or *transpersonal* reality, rather than just being a projection or sum total of our subjective, personal foibles and failings.

2. The transpersonal existence of goodness too - and without which, it seems, it is probably far too threatening and disturbing for us to directly experience and acknowledge the above. (however briefly, tentatively).

3. The contrast between 1 and 2 far from being a 'problem' in terms of the coherence of Christianity ("how can a just and kind God...") as pointing to how we can just begin to safely face into and acknowledge the existence of the dark empire, if only for a brief glimpse. "The Light is that which enables us to see" (George Fox).

4. That it seems important for our sanity and health that we are supported to do a little bit of this awful 'seeing'.

5. A subsequent dream has emphasized the shady borderland between me and evil - where I have mysterriously signed up for and shockingly participate in the dark empire!

6. Cautiously, thoughtfully, slowly, it might be important to reflect in this way on earthquakes and cyclones too.


Dear Bowman,

What an awful, sickening cyclone. Love to you.

MsLiz said...

Dear Mark, your thoughtful summary is very helpful and I'm pleased now that I shared the vision. I've been working on these issues for about six years and I had that particular vision about half way through. With your list I've checked the meanings of words that I may not fully understand, and I'd say your points accurately reflect what I've been learning.

Here I'm responding primarily to point 5. I think that's a real thing, "the shady borderland", something we struggle through as we grow spiritually. Thankfully, growth is a process.

This passage from a book* by Bishop Jake Owensby (TEC) is helpful for me, about the "process" of "resurrection at work" and how God is with us - offering light in the darkness:

"Hope bubbles up from an awareness that God is in this mess with you, offering light in the darkness. But God is doing more than merely sitting alongside you. God’s love is making you what Paul called a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5: 17). This is resurrection at work in your life, a process of dying to an old life and rising to greater life already in process on planet Earth."

* Owensby, Jake. Looking for God in Messy Places (p. 42). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.

Just did an online Bible search for death, life and found this - again in 2 Corinthians!

2 Corinthians 4:11 (NIV)

"For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body."

MsLiz said...

Hi BW, I've watched the Robert Greene video and what stood out for me was RG's "persistance" / Paul's "perseverance". In my own words RG and Paul both urge us to stay focussed, keep going, and go deep.

MsLiz said...

BW ~ comment 2: I found the story of Michael Faraday fascinating from the RG video. His family were religious and I've read that Faraday remained a life-long Christian. It's amazing how much he achieved!

Apart from that, RG's focus seems to be helping people be aware of how they're unique and encouraging them to make decisions that are in keeping with their natural affinities - to the benefit of themselves (in finding meaning throughout their life) while also bringing good to the community as a whole.

Dallas Willard spoke about God being spirit and present everywhere, and therefore God is present anywhere we care to think of - before we even get there! And that 'dominion' and 'reigning' are responsibilities under God - with emphasis that God is *love*. Christians' response to Gods salvation ought to be life-long discipleship with associated disciplines and practices.

He took some trouble to make it clear there's not two classes of piety so the piety of Christians whose work is in the marketplace isn't 2nd-class to those whose working lives are spent in the Church.

DW mentioned how humans working in community that aren't doing so under God can easily act in ways that are harmful - I assume his point here is that disciples live their faith all the time and every place, and don't leave their faith at home when they go to work. Essentially their whole life ought to be lived in love for people and creation, or at least striving to do that!

Anonymous said...

I first encountered Dallas Willard as a scholar of the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl, and he is not less precise in his language when he teaches as a minister. So--

"Salvation is learning to think and act as Jesus Christ would do if he were living your life."

This is ocean-deeper than the more familiar adage to Do What Jesus Would Do. It is one thing to mimic the hero of bible stories; it is another thing to undergo a transformation of human emotions so that one thinks and acts to please the Father. Kindly note that he largely gets this from evangelical Anglicans, although not the ones we know today.


Anonymous said...

Which poses a conundrum that lies behind many discussions here, including That Topic--

Is the Way open to those who are not self-reflective?

SS Peter and Paul both recognised that God had opened the Body to the nations after an inner obstacle to seeing this had been removed.


Moya said...

“Salvation is learning to think and act as Jesus Christ would do if he were living your life”.
That is so powerful and turns upside down the attempt to live by rules. It makes me think seriously about my life.
I think even a child can enter the Way, but for faith to grow and develop a degree of self-knowledge and self-reflection is necessary. St Teresa of Avila said something like, ‘Self-knowledge is the bread we feed on”, in other words we never get beyond the need for it. Some of the opinions we hear on all sorts of topics can point to ‘logs in eyes’!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Moya. I agree. For just that reason, I am wary of reasoning that purports to eliminate all subjective judgment.

Aristotle famously opined that as it is unreasonable to accept a merely probable proof in mathematics, so it is unreasonable to insist on unambiguous proof in interpreting texts.