Dr. Jenny Te Paa-Daniel's Commencement Address

May 23, 2014

E toku whanau I roto I te ingoa o te Karaiti. Greetings to us all as we gather in the name of our Creator God.

Let me first acknowledge with deep respect the land upon which this sacred institution stands and the ancestors who originally kept dutiful watch. Let me also acknowledge with equally deep respect and gratitude those currently entrusted the stewardship of our beloved CDSP, the Bishops, the Trustees and the Dean and President. I have more to say to some of you in just a little while!

I bring warm greetings from so many of your sisters and brothers from the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, particularly those who have enjoyed association with CDSP in past years. All have asked that I convey their very fondest love and best wishes especially to the graduating class! 

As I gaze upon this assembly, especially upon those of you who are the graduating class, let me say I share so completely in the immeasurable pride and relief of your families, your friends, your teachers and your younger peers who are no doubt right now visualizing themselves in this moment in a year or so. 

And so to the class of 2014, do savour this glorious and greatly deserved moment of yours for here in this day and especially in this ceremony is the culmination of all you have struggled for, yearned for, worked hard for, prayed for, possibly even wept for over the past three or more years.

I am so much in awe of the inspired and faith filled decision you have each made to place yourselves in the service of God’s mission, to place yourselves therefore in the service of those who are the least among us in any of our given societies.

You are being liberated (for now!) from the academy, now is your time therefore to determine just how best you will give effect to all you have learned.  Now is your time to step out without either the constraints or the protections you have enjoyed as students, now therefore is your time to exemplify just how non-conformist you are prepared to be

The Romans reading is one I have always considered perfect for occasions such as this. As with Paul, I implore you not to be conformed to the prevailing ideologies of this world, to the mere rhetoric of freedom and of justice being articulated so hypocritically by the powerful. Rather I implore you to go on being transformed by the continuous renewing of your minds and not simply for the sake of acquiring new knowledge but in order that everything about your future ministry is indeed based always on your unerring discernment of the will of God, to do only that which is good and acceptable and perfect in other words to endeavor always to do only that which is courageous, compassionate and costly.

In all seriousness then I do not presuppose for a moment the road ahead will be easy for you, for you each begin your works of ministry in a nation and in a global community where the scale of human suffering threatens daily to overwhelm and where genuinely selfless humanitarian responses to that suffering are increasingly difficult to identify.

You step out not into a brave new world but into an increasingly cowardly old world where greed trumps egalitarianism, where charity is contingent upon its tax advantages, where violence, public and private is endemic, where morality, let alone human decency appears now as untranslatable into the discourses and behaviours of the public square, where the milk of human kindness is daily soured by the unbidden human additives of prejudice and bigotry, of race and or religious hatred.

If I could impress upon you just one piece of Commencement advice it would be to urge each one of you to continue to gain deep and comprehensive understanding of the root causes of these last two phenomena of race and or religious hatred, for it is indeed their underlying politics of humanly constructed difference, framed as ‘identity’, which is at the heart of virtually every major global conflict in our world today.

It is the reason why grown men as violent armed thugs kidnap and brutalise innocent young school girls in Nigeria; it is the reason why Putin’s own armed thugs have with astonishing impunity and global indifference seized Crimea and are set to do similarly in Ukraine; it is the reason for the ongoing horrors between the two Sudan’s; it is the reason for Israel’s enduring reign of terror over the increasingly remnant peoples of occupied Palestine; it is the reason why 27 year old, pregnant Christian woman Meriam Ibrahim is this day on Khartoum’s death row for apostasy.; it is the reason why beautiful, clever young Malala Yousafzai stood up for her right to be free of the oppressive identity based limitations imposed upon her and upon so many women of the Pakistan/Afghanistan region by terrifyingly well armed Taliban fanatics; it is the reason for the tragically divided nation of Korea; tribalism was and remains disproportionately influential in the daily slaughters and the political mess of Syria and of so many other troubled nations; identity politics are at the heart of the enduring conflicts which have so tragically, so publicly and so unnecessarily divided our own ecclesial family for the past decade or more.

Boko Haram, claim their religious and political identity as The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad compels them to act as they do.

Putin claims it is the unequivocal demand for Russian national identity, which compelled his recent interventions into Crimea and Ukraine.

North Sudan claims to uphold the only authentic ethnic and religious identity for Sudanese people over against the troublesome Christian South.

The determined fusion of Zionism as a political movement with Judaism as a religion is the fraudulent basis of the identity-based claims of the state of Israel.

The Taliban ‘identity’ is in fact a murderous conservative ideologically based movement politically established by Pakistan at the tragic expense of Pashtun peoples.

The quintessential Anglican identity in terms of high church office still claims (with astonishing theological indefensibility) to exclude consideration of gay or lesbian people.

The most commonly accepted rubric for contemporary identity politics goes something like this: Identity politics is political action to advance the interests of members of a group supposed to be oppressed by virtue of a shared and marginalized identity (such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation). All of this is done in order to redeem historic injustice and to achieve greater self-determination.

All of the global examples I have provided and so many more all fit very determinedly beneath this rubric.

The tragedy for me as a theological educator is that this is the one imperative rubric, which we global Anglicans appear doomed to continue to ignore, doomed to continue to resist examining, let alone critiquing, doomed to allow to overwhelm our understanding of and subsequent response to God’s missional call upon our lives.

My anxiety is that we ignore and we resist at the peril (ironically) of those whom we say we seek to serve. For how can our works of mission and mediation among those most marginalized, most disadvantaged, most vulnerable, ever proceed without that necessarily deep and well-informed understanding of the identity politics, which are so demonstrably at stake in virtually any given theatre of human conflict?

For example again, what do we each apprehend when confronted with the avowals of 21st century tribalism?

I ask this because tribalism of one perverse form or another inevitably often looms large as the identity politics underbelly catalyst for violence, for exclusion or for elimination in many of the examples to which I have referred. It works something like this - my tribal identity which I regard or indeed know to be superior, is threatened by your tribal identity which I perceive permits, encourages, authorizes behavior, attitudes, freedoms which I fear, do not understand, abhor, cannot control and so my reaction is to destroy, eliminate, discredit, purge. And no I am not just speaking here of ethnic tribalism – for the exact same sentiments can be readily identified in the neo-tribalised struggles to do with seeking for justice and for recognition among any number of groups disenfranchised within their respective communities and or societies. 

Here in this country you have the neo-tribal struggles between the liberal progressive Democrats and the conservative, tea party, gun toting Republicans? And what indeed of the now quite deeply embedded neo-tribalism within our own beloved denominational household between the completely misnamed so-called conservative global south and the liberal global north?

For now in the interests of time and potentially of interest, I rest my identity politics case and turn longingly back to Paul. For while the complexities and extant challenges of all I have outlined are very real and while the pastoral and political demands they continue to present appear as truly daunting there is as always, a way forward – a way dependent upon not only deep intellectual engagement with the theoretical claims and the practical outworking’s of identity politics, but also a way utterly dependent upon what is and always has been freely available to us all and that is a faith filled abundance of personal grace and of civility; an abundance of generosity and gentleness of spirit.

Paul provides the perfect functional and attitudinal template for identity politics activism – activism whose goal is to transcend human particularity with all its prescriptive limitations, in favour of celebrating an open ended cultural spectrum. In this model the almost endless options of cultural expression present within the magnificent breadth of human diversity may be entitled to their own sense of legitimacy and fulfillment.

And precisely how might this happen? Well quite simply really and even though I freely confess to still struggling attitudinally and behaviourally myself with aspects of Paul’s prescription I do surrender completely to his insistence that only transcendent regard and appreciation for one another across our myriad humanly constructed differences will enable us honestly, genuinely, completely . . . to let our love be genuine;  to hate what is evil;  to hold fast to what is good;  to love one another;  to outdo one another in showing honour . . .  to extend hospitality to strangers . . .  to not curse those who persecute us . . . to weep with those who weep . . .  to live in harmony  with one another . . .  to associate with the lowly . . . to  live peaceably . . .  to never avenge ourselves . . . to feed our enemies when they are hungry,  . . . and finally,  not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good.

We who are many are one body in Christ  - on that basis alone the tribalising tendency inherent in contemporary identity politics surely falters. Individually we are members one of another’. Notice Paul does not ever qualify his claim by adding the words ‘over and against those others’.

Surely then the key to overcoming our increasingly and understandably neo-tribalised nature is to strive instead to take on so much more of the nature of God?

The nature of God who sides with the victims of violence and oppression, who is full of forgiveness, compassion and mercy. The nature of God who is beyond any tribe, who loves all people, all of creation equally. For is it not in fact only love—unconditional, free, generous, self-sacrificing love—that in the end can save us from our tendency to ignore or to resist our ongoing obligation to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. For is it not only that expansive Christ like love that can give us an endless horizon to journey toward, an horizon big enough to encompass the whole world, all tribes, all nations, all peoples that on earth do dwell . . .

My sisters and brothers in Christ I believe with all my heart that a deep intellectual apprehension of identity politics suffused with a deep discernment of what is indeed the will of God are key to the missional project of driving always toward achieving God’s justice and thus sustained world peace in the years ahead.

To the graduating class once again thank you so much to you all for allowing me to be in on the very beginning of the journeys you will now undertake beyond these seminary walls – we have shared in this sacred liturgical moment of celebration and of thanksgiving, we your family and your friends are filled with inexorable pride – we have been blessed as we have blessed one another - certainly this is a day I will never ever forget and neither will I ever forget those of you with whom I have shared this precious day.

As I intimated earlier I want in closing to return and to offer a deeply personal tribute to my school, to my beloved and respected CDSP and especially I want to pay public homage to a number who have been such extraordinary companions, mentors and very dear friends over so many years.

To my esteemed CDSP academic colleagues former and present, I say in my own language nga mihi tino aroha ki a koe –  my love and respect for you all endures. From the time of my beginnings here in Berkeley to this day I am always enthralled by our unexpected reunions. Dean Meyers more commonly known as my dear sister Ruth, thank you a million times for your extraordinary colleagueship – we will have such a good time together in the Fall!

To my greatly respected brother and treasured friend Dean Mark Richardson I offer profound thanks to you for your exemplary academic and pastoral leadership, for the extraordinary gift of recognition you have accorded me this day and of the Professorship opportunity pending. You have established the reputation of CDSP globally as an institution known as a welcoming home place of solace and of refuge, a place of immense intellectual integrity, a place yearning for credible diversity, a place of prayer and of peace. Certainly it is a place I feel so utterly privileged to call my own, a place I am blessed to continue contributing to.

To dear dear friends here present:

Archbishop Paul Kwong, greatly revered episcopal leader and fabulous advocate for quality Anglican theological education.

Bishop Mary Gray Reeves, exemplary episcopal leader, determined advocate for full inclusion of all minorities not only in the life of the church, but indeed in all of life itself. Bishop Mary, also formerly of St John’s College Auckland New Zealand!

Bishop Marc Andrus, greatly respected leader and dearly loved friend of so many years – gentle spirit, feisty heart for God’s justice project of inclusion for all. I so look forward to time with you and the people of this Diocese later this year. 

Bishop David Rice – e te rangatira tena koe, hari koa toku ngakau te kite atu I a koe! How I miss you not being back home where yours was always a voice of gentle reason and of quiet dignity in a house of Bishops not always especially well behaved. How lovely to be with you here. 

Bishop Barry Beisner – wise contemplative thinker and doer – Roro and I are blessed by having both you and Ann in our lives. I am especially indebted to you Ann for your advocacy and your treasured friendship. 

Rev. Brian Grieves, paragon of the pursuit of peace with justice and beloved friend and colleagues of many many years and many more to come; to

To my co Honoris Causa recipients, Bishop Tom Breidenthal and Bishop Ed Konieczny I extend my very warm congratulations even as I am truly humbled to be in your esteemed company on this occasion.

Forgive me if I have inadvertently passed any one of you by without deserved public recognition – know however you matter no less to me and that I will do almost whatever it takes to make up for my oversight!

Finally I do as I must and that is to bring into the room those absent for now and forever. I think with particular fondness of Professor Judith Berling who continues as teacher, mentor, wise one and who was once long ago my long suffering PhD supervisor! I was fortunate to spend time with Judith earlier in this week and I continue to honour her as integral to CDSP and certainly as one of the living treasures of the GTU. I think with gratitude of the late Sir Paul Reeves, former Archbishop of the church in New Zealand, whose 1994 visit to CDSP was the catalyst for my own enduring relationship.

I think of all mine and Roro’s loved ones at home especially our precious little grandchildren. It is for them that daily we seek to exemplify together, something of what is indeed good and acceptable and perfect. For it is our shared understanding that ultimately it is for all the little ones of the world that we are all duty bound to teach and to model in our daily lives the critical importance of not simply speaking the truth to justice but indeed of living determinedly and bravely into its incessant and often daunting demands.

There is a lovely little story our grandchildren love to hear time and again – I am sure you will love it too if you are not already familiar with it. It is a story we use to explain the dire consequences of saying all the right things but in the end of not ever being believable. It would seem to be an appropriate leave taking offering to those about to become church leaders and to those who already are.

Here is just a little extract from one of Aesop’s’ fables entitled:  Fine Words Are Not Always Equal to Fine Deeds

Once a very good lion was king of all the animals in the fields and the forests.

He was not angry or cruel or unfair, but only kind and gentle.

During his reign he made a royal proclamation to all the animals.

He laid out rules for a Universal League of animals.

In this League, the wolf would not harm the lamb, nor would the panther harm the kid.

The tiger would not hurt the deer, and the dog would not hurt the hare.

Everyone should live in perfect peace and friendship.

When the hare saw this proclamation, she said, "Oh how I have waited for this day.

How wonderful it is that the weak will stand alongside the strong without fear."

After she said this, the hare ran away for her life.

Amen.

Dr Jenny Te Paa Daniel

© 23 May 2014

© 2012 Church Divinity School of the Pacific