Sunday, August 12, 2012
I want a new New Zealand
By Sam Burrows, A New Zealand Press Service International voluntary Comment writer for Christian Today
Special to ASSIST News Service
NEW ZEALAND (ANS) -- Often I am made aware that in many ways I am failure as a New Zealander. I grew up playing soccer rather than rugby, I don’t know how to count to ten in Maori, I don’t own a pair of gumboots, and to add to the blasphemy, I find the beloved Lord of the Rings movie franchise incredibly dull. I realized as I grew into adulthood that I didn’t fit the “Southern Man” myth that governs our national identity. I don’t fix cars too well. I’ve never put up a fence. I don’t drink Tui Beer. And you’ll never hear me say “She’ll be right mate.” I feel like an imposter with the right accent.
In the words of journalist Gordon McLauchlan, us Kiwis are a “passionless people”, we are “frowning zombies” who “have lapsed into a lack of passion bordering on inertness.” We just don’t care. In the last general election there were about a million of us who chose not to vote. Our “She’ll be right” attitude has helped to mould us into apathetic consumers downplaying passion, ignoring what we see as annoying, disruptive rhetoric, and marching on to serve the gods of lifestyle - chai lattes in hand.
This “zombification” has not developed without its consequences. When meaning has been sucked out of life, and people follow the consumer script, there arises a certain helplessness and despair. It can appear that there is nothing beyond the morbid predictability of the good life. In a country that has it as good as ours we still have a suicide rate much higher than our road deaths and the highest youth suicide rate of the OECD countries. Something is wrong with the story of reality that we are telling ourselves.
Ideas from a Danish philosopher
I think Kierkegaard’s thinking still sticks a sharp knife into 21st Century New Zealand. Could the church’s job be to rustle the feathers of Kiwi culture? To wake people again to the miracle of life? To lead people beyond the trivial? To lift the gaze beyond comfortable living? To suggest that perhaps some ideas are worth fighting for? Could this be what being a prophetic people means?
What is the message of the gospel, and are we willing to live and die for it?
If the church is to take its identity seriously then we need to examine what shapes us and take notice of our history. We stand in a long line of people who have taken a look at the cross of Jesus, understood that He is Lord and decided that there are things that don’t belong in a world that belongs to Him. This line of people includes the early church subverting the greatest superpower the world had ever seen by undermining its class system. It includes William Wilberforce and his friends changing the face of Britain by creative engagement in social action, abolishing slavery and standing up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. It includes story upon story of compassion and charity inspired by the love of God, always pointing to something bigger than the ideals we have conjured ourselves.
A good kick in the pants
So perhaps our real mission isn’t simply name dropping Jesus. Perhaps what New Zealand needs is a good kick in the pants. Perhaps what Christians need to be doing is embodying a story that represents life in all its weightiness. To remind people that they are only alive once. That their relationships are important. That life is a great opportunity designed for much more than new furniture, lifestyle blocks, company cars and road trips. Perhaps before we introduce people to the one that brings us into true, full humanity, we need to dismantle the ideas that so easily steal the attention first.
Perhaps what Christians need to do for New Zealand is to take life seriously. To love well while we still can. To not just settle for a good night out and a few brews with the boys.
Maybe we could fight for a new cultural identity, beyond the stoic Southern Man myth that we still hold on to so tightly despite its odd fit.
Or not. Whatever.
Sam Burrows is an ex-Middle School teacher (he made it out alive) who is currently working in Young Adult ministry while completing a Graduate Diploma in Theology at Laidlaw College. In his spare time he likes to pretend to be a rock star and writes for enjoyment and in order to impress a potential wife.
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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.