this is the first in a series of blog posts which i have called musings from the other side of the world.
i have spent a couple of weeks in new zealand - part holiday and part study leave. i have just got back and i am going to post a series of reflections inspired by the trip. i am a little cautious about it because i don’t know a lot about new zealand and there will be people who have studied and reflected at depth on the things i touch on. i am also english and we english are part of new zealand’s story back in the day as colonialist settlers. i also work for church mission society (cms) and cms missionaries landed in new zealand pretty early in that story and are tied up with its founding and treaty and, as i discovered, that is in quite contested fashion.
i am deliberately writing these as blog posts because blog posts are in the moment, journal like, sharing some thoughts that soon scroll down the page. but i welcome any push back or conversation. i loved talking with people i met in new zealand about these things.
my experience of friends i know from new zealand is that they are super proud of it. they love talking about it. they love making a connection to anyone or anything from new zealand. in fact if there is a chance to claim someone has a connection to new zealand they make it. i love that. i think i particularly love it because i have never felt that way about england - as far as i am concerned there is too much shame in our story! so for example i can never bring myself to wear an england shirt.
anyway all that is to say it is a beautiful country. i loved it! i only really got to see some of the south island (plus a day in wellington) and even then i did not make the north or the west coast of the south island. at some stage i hope i can go back and spend some more time there. a friend roger who used to be a neighbour and is now retired lives there for a few months every year and he has kept trying to persuade me to visit - he also has become an evangelist for new zealand! he hosted me and chauffeured me around - i really appreciated his generosity and kindness especially as i ended up staying a bit longer than planned due to having to change my wider plans because of coronavirus.
we did a whistle stop tour loop largely of mountains and lakes beginning at christchurch and travelling to…
mount cook which was out of clouds and looked stunning across lake pukaki;
queenstown which really is tourist central where you can do all manner of sports and outdoor activities - like paragliding - i remember my sister showing us a video of her bungee jumping in skipper canyon when she was travelling in a gap year so it was nice to drive by that bridge. we had a more gentile activity going on the earnslaw steamboat down lake wakatipu;
i also travelled on day trips to banks peninsula and akaroa. in akaroa where we went on a magical boat trip seeing endangered hector dolphins, blue penguins, albatross and seals. i loved seeing the albatross swooping behind the boat with its amazing flight and huge wingspan. ever since i was a kid i have felt excitement whenever i see dolphins especially in the wild so it was a treat to see hector dolphins. i love the outdoors and being in environments like new zealand do wonders for my soul and spirit.
there is so much beauty in the world and new zealand certainly has its share of it. it has amazing natural resource. it’s a similar size to britain but with only 5 million people. its people are laid back, sporty, hard working, friendly and love to travel. and they make great coffee! what is there not to like?
i have added an album of photographs to flickr - new zealand
kiwi and proud - seems so much simpler than being english and embarrassed! and yet maybe there are some layers of complexity underneath? while i was in christchurch i met some local church leaders and people interested in pioneering and mission. over breakfast we shared conversations and stories and questions (and breakfast!). one of the people who shared what they were up to described their pioneering as exploring what it meant to be a kiwi church and what kiwi identity might be. this was clearly a space in which there was plenty of deconstructing and reconstructing going on. i asked what they meant by kiwi identity as opposed to new zealand identity. kiwi spirituality or church or identity for them seemed to be a way of naming the desire for something beyond anglican, presbyterian, weslyian or vineyard (or whatever other form of western shaped, constructed and inherited church) and also something beyond new zealand identity as constructed solely in the settler communities. in other words a new kind of authenticity that weaves together a hybrid from the various threads of the communities in new zealand in a way that feels honest. like england this is about the wider changes in culture and needing something that resonates in today's world but my sense of this was that it is also getting at the settler, maori and pacific islanders stories and identitites as well. this is not what was said but i read this to be a quest for something post colonial as well as missional. indeed i began to wonder if it was possible to have one without the other.
the conversation took me back to a scene in the film whale rider where the maori grandfather is explaining the maori tradition and the importance of it and the ancestors (the whakapapa) to his granddaughter with a piece of rope showing various threads. he then uses the rope to start a boat motor and it snaps at which point he says 'useless bloody rope'. that tension - a longing for the gifts in the traditions, the ancestral wisdom and a feeling that it is also broken in today's world - is a tension i sensed is very much alive in new zealand. how do you reweave the rope? to really be kiwi and proud might need that weave.
something i hadn't expected was to be confronted with england and my own englishness...