Kia ora e te whānau

In past months, we have heard a lot about breath and breathlessness as symptoms of Covid-19. And in the past week, the words “I can’t breathe” have been on our minds and in our hearts with news of the murder of African American George Floyd by a white police officer in the USA. Some of us may have seen the distressing live video footage of Mr Floyd crying “I can’t breathe” and calling for his mother, who died 2 years ago, while the police officer knelt on his neck and three other police officers looked on.

In response to this, the other recent police killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and hundreds of others in recent years, African Americans and their allies have said ‘enough’. All around the USA they have rallied in in grief and horror at these murders and 400 years of oppression. Thousands of New Zealanders rallied in solidarity with them. We grieve for them and feel outrage alongside them.

During the unrest, we saw images of the President of the USA walking from the White House to St John’s Church opposite, with police and the National Guard using tear gas and rubber bullets to clear protestors as he went, so he could stand in front of St Johns and hold up the Bible as if to justify his actions in threatening protestors with calling in the military, as if to claim the authority of the Bible for his actions. Nothing could be further from Jesus’s message of peace and love inside the Bible, and the President’s use of it is ironic in the context, given that the Jewish and Christian Bibles were written by people of colour and the protests are about US people of colour expressing anger at the systemic and institutional racism they face daily.

In our grief and outrage against such injustice and oppression, it is important that we reflect on our own country’s history, the place of the church and its use of the Bible in the colonisation process which disadvantages Māori to this day, 180 years after the Treaty of Waitangi. And, as NZ Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon suggests, it gives us pause to reflect on our own police and justice systems and the importance of equal outcomes for tangata whenua and all communities. But let’s not retreat into guilt and/or defensiveness. There is no need for either. Rather, let us use the sheer force of love in our hearts and in our community to reflect on how we can listen better to those who are disempowered and disadvantaged by racism.

I will talk a little more about this in my reflection on Sunday. In the meantime, you will realise by now that I love poetry. Here’s one to finish with in these trying times. It’s by Anne Powell, a Wellington Cenacle Sister. Let the words and images wrap themselves around you. Feel the warmth and strength of our community, and make space for the courage necessary to stand in solidarity against oppression and injustice. Arohanui, Niki

Aotearoa Litany

Green of fern refresh us
Feathers of kereruwarm us
Rocks of Moeraki encircle us
Waters of Taupobathe us
Dive of gannetfocus us
Arc of rainbowprotect us
Stars of Southern Crossguide us

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