Today Westport marked one week since the atrocities committed at 2 Christchurch mosques. Many of us gathered at the NBS Theatre outdoor stage to pay our respects, to listen and reflect through music, to join hands during the broadcast Muslim call to prayer and 2 minute silence. Then at 8pm, we released 50 paper lanterns from Victoria Square (Well not quite 50 - some were tricky to light - see photo). St John’s Anglican Church has been open for people to drop by and we are asking people to “stand in solidarity” with those who lost their lives, by leaving a pair of shoes on the mat at the front of church.
People will be feeling all kinds of emotions in the aftermath of the attacks: tears, anger, disbelief, fear, emptiness. That is part of the grieving process. Even if we don’t know anyone personally involved in the tragedy, we feel keenly that our complacency has been shattered and that evil can be closer to home than we realised. One thing I learnt from living through the Christchurch earthquakes is that it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. If you need help with anxiety or stress there are many sources of help: doctors to give medical help, churches to pray with you, or just a well-chosen friend to hang out with.
Today, a week after the attacks, is an important day to mark. But how should we respond in the weeks and months ahead? How can we make sure that #LoveNotHate is more than just a slogan?
Well we need to show love practically, to those who are different to us. And I don’t just mean to our Muslim neighbours, there are lots of minorities in New Zealand who are feeling fearful right now. It could be dropping off plate of cookies or garden produce to a neighbour. Taking time to talk with the new family who have joined the school. Showing someone new to town where the different facilities are. A lift to a hospital appointment. Or calling someone out when they make a racist or unwelcoming remark.
Jesus summarised our responsibility to others as “love your neighbour as yourself”. When pressed for what that meant, he told his most famous story, the parable of the “Good Samaritan”. It’s a story of 3 travellers walking down a dangerous road. When they come across a man who has been attacked and injured by robbers, 2 ignore him and walk past, and only one stops to help.
Samaritans were the “ethnic minority” in Jesus’ day. They were looked down on, misunderstood and berated. And yet Jesus places one of them as the hero of this story. It is the Samaritan who stops to look after the wounded man at the roadside, to take him on his donkey to the inn, and to show him love, compassion and hospitality. (Luke 10:30-37).
Interestingly, my experience of moving to New Zealand 10 years ago has been that it is the immigrants and ethnic minorities who have given us the warmest welcome. People originally from Zimbabwe, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Malaysia opened their lives and their homes to us and have become our best friends. What’s the connection between Jesus’ famous story and my experience? It’s that those who are considered the outsider sometimes have the deepest reservoir of love to share. #LoveNotHate is not just about expressing our love to those different to us, it is about being willing to receive it from them as well.
NZ Maori identify themselves by their local mountain and river, but I grew up in the south of England where the land is flat, and our local river - the Blackwater - lived up to its name as being one of the most polluted streams in the UK. So now I'm claiming the Buller River, or in te reo Maori the Kawatiri, as my own.