Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Maori Proverb

While taking a break from wrapping up the administrative details of World Peace and Prayer Day, I took pause to think about what I might share at Rotary tomorrow morning about this stage of my journey.   All my efforts for the past few months seem to be best captured by this Maori proverb.
Ko mate kāinga tahi, ka ora kāinga rua.  Translation: "There is more than one way to achieve an objective"  Simply put, I've been trying to find the out of the box solutions that would allow the Peace Riders and other First Nations community members to come to Bdote Minnesota to pray in their traditional way. 
And some of those answers were parade permits, a World Record hug attempt to close traffic on a major bridge, and new partnerships that could provide insurance and other resources.

As a Christian, I believe that prayer is the means for God to communicate with all people. Further, I believe that all faiths should stand together to protect the universal right for all people to pray because  it is in prayer that God reveals Himself and transforms those who listen. When we allow all nations, all faiths, all cultures, all people to pray, the whole world benefits.

This isn't about endorsing anyone's religious practices or judging if anyone's beliefs/practices are right; This is about a human right. I don't believe that it is my job to convince someone that my "religion" has the monopoly on truth, nor to cram my faith traditions down anyone's throat.  However when I am invited to explain the reason for my hope and my strength, or the motives behind my actions I am always pleased to share my faith story and passages from the Bible that have been my guide. If I had a cure for cancer, I would be lacking compassion if I did not share what I found to be the remedy and source of healing;  similarly if I have found any truth, I would be lacking compassion if I refused to share what I found to be the source of healing.  So I will share whenever I am given opportunity.  But even before being invited to share these things we hold dear, we should all be encouraging each other to pray, fully trusting that God is not illusive and will choose to reveal Himself when people pray.

I remain optimistic that this process will shine a light on the difficulties that indigenous people have in practicing their faith and that this will serve as the inspiration to change ordinances to include appropriate accommodations. This process has been very educational as I've tried hard to "play the game."  I've run ahead of the Peace Riders to ensure that they proceeded legally and safely.  In watching me walk through this ordinance process, many government officials have commented about how laborious, expensive, time intensive and administratively confusing it has been for an everyday Minnesota resident to jump through the bureaucratic hoops to allow people to pray "legally" at an indigenous sacred site.  Coming back to the Four Way Test:  "Is it fair to all concerned?"  I simply think that we can do better.

Bdote Minnesota is especially demonstrative of the issues that are replicated across North America in various degrees.  A major interstate now bisects Oheyawahi (Pilot Knob) burial grounds.  The site of the Dakota concentration camp is now in a state park which charges admission per vehicle.  A historic US army fort was built on the bluff overlooking the Dakota's "Garden of Eden."  And almost every community in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area has an ordinance that does not permit horses on their roads.  Are we so "advanced" and "developed" and "civilized" that we have grown into a new life with no room for a traditional American Indian horse ceremony?   So although at first blush this effort was about permitting indigenous prayer at the Bdote sacred site and finding an appropriate route to get there, it is about much more.  It's about sacred sites issues in North America and about how the rest of the faith communities have an opportunity to come alongside of the First Nations to ensure their human right to pray too.

One municipality said "Please come.  But our city roads are not safe so you can't ride on them.  And the sidewalks are not a good option, nor are the ditches alongside the road. The grass would be ripped up so that's not an option.  You can't go through parks and you can't ride on trails.  So get permission from the county and state to ride on their roadways and we will support your ride through our community.  We're so pleased you are coming."
The county said "Please come.  You must ride on that city's roads or the state highway because the county roads are not safe.  We support your ride as long as you take city or state roads.  We're so pleased you are coming. "
The state said "Please come. But you can't ride on the state highways because the roads are not safe. Talk with the city and the county and they will find a route through this community that we will gladly support.  We're so glad the Peace Riders are coming."
So they are welcome but they can't ride on any city roads, county roads, state roads, sidewalks, ditches or grassways or trails.  But please are welcome in our community...

I'm not knocking the government staff for implementing their current policies. 
I'm knocking the policy. 
There are certain laws that were created for very good reasons, most importantly public safety.  But I just think we can do better.  And that means we need some out of the box solutions that can be easily understood and implemented.   Ko mate kāinga tahi, ka ora kāinga rua

1) If you don't know where to get the needed permits and if you don't understand the administrative process, you are set up to fail.
2) If you don't know how much it costs for all those permits, you can't plan ahead and fund raise for the big events.  Some would say that that just like I don't get charged an entry fee to go to church on Sunday, it seems wrong that our Dakota neighbors who have been stripped of their homeland need to pay a park entry fee to return to their sacred sites.  Again, we can do better.

Mainstream Americans who ascribe to the Abrahamic religions and who visit a temple, synagogue or church as their "house of worship," experience the freedom of religion through access to their respective "house of worship" that has been constructed by man. What if your church was the confluence of two rivers or housed in a national park? 

Although the Bdote sacred site lies in the major metropolitan area of Minneapolis-Saint Paul which is home to over 2 million people, it is rare that I've met anyone who has had any clue that there was any special connection to the land area that is now managed by federal, state, county government agencies.  I think it starts with education and this WPPD event created an opportunity to do lots of educating.
Toki Waka tumutumu

This morning at the airport I dropped off three of my new international friends from World Peace and Prayer Day.  Izaak, Lee and Danny New Zealand provided much joy and many smiles during World Peace and Prayer Day with their stories, wisdom, wit and songs.  They gave me a Toki Waka Tumutumu necklace.   It's a stone that has a chiseled edge on the end like a tool for cutting.  The Māori word "Toki" means a tool for cutting (called adzes in New Zealand) and wood carving.  These prehistoric tools were often made from nephrite, (jade) or giant clamshells. "Waka" are Māori watercraft, usually canoes ranging in size from small, unornamented canoes (waka tīwai) used for fishing and river travel, to large decorated war canoes (waka taua) up to 40 metres (130 ft) long. In recent years, large double-hulled canoes of considerable size have been constructed for oceanic voyaging to other parts of the Pacific Ocean. "Tumutumu" is the name of an iwi or clan.  So it seems that the beautiful smooth white rock on my necklace is a miniature tool for shaping a boat that will bless the people.

These Maori elders spoke a prayer blessing and encouraged me to live my life such that I am a tool for carving, cutting, shaping, formulating, creating, paving the way for others. I view this necklace as a symbol for the next stage of my journey as we prepare to debrief WPPD with government leaders and craft new policies for the future...  I have recently been entrusted with some new tools that have the potential to help and to bless others.  My simple prayer tonight is that God will teach me how to use these tools in a constructive way that will bring Him glory. 

(My apologies in advance to my Maori elders if some of this got lost in the translation...)