The Call of the South Pacific

I lived in Fiji for nearly seven weeks this summer. I am grateful for this opportunity and will be writing more about it in the weeks to come. For now, here’s a little bit of an introduction.

The program through which I was given this opportunity to travel is one which is designed to foster an international learning experience of accompaniment where seminary students from around the world come see what the forefront of climate change looks like in Oceania. This intense program requires students to re-imagine the term “mission” in the midst of climate change in an area of the world which still bears many effects of the colonialist gospel. Here, many moons ago, Christian missionaries, under the flag of “mission,” introduced western Christianity to indigenous tribes in an effort to Christianize their ways, which shifted a great deal of power into white hands.

The island of the Firewalkers, Beqa; photo taken from Fiji's Viti Levu's Coral Coast.

The island of the Firewalkers, Beqa; photo taken from Fiji’s Viti Levu’s Coral Coast.

It was into this context, that I began my almost seven week journey in Fiji. We spent nearly every waking moment first learning about climate change in the Pacific context and then experiencing Pacific life in villages. This was the best way in which to see the effects of climate change on the lives, homes, and work of Islanders who did very little to contribute to the anthropogenic causes of a warming climate. The program provided a great deal of excitement as well as challenges. The most exciting part of the program was the opportunity to be welcomed into the lives of Fijian people; we were met with a friendly “Bula Vinaka!” and great deal of hospitality, grace, and multifarious stories. The challenges of the trip came in the way of learning to navigate a new culture with respect and without appropriation and/or judgement. Further challenges came in the way of immigration, but that is a story that I will leave for another time. The biggest challenge, by far, was to deal with the grief that came from seeing receding shorelines, salinization of soil, extensive violent storm damage, decreased fishing, shallowing rivers, entire villages being relocated, and altered growing seasons. As a citizen of one of the culprit western nations, my challenge was to hold the shame, grief, and culpability in tension with the work that we all, including Fijians, have ahead of us. This is the point at which I felt most at home in the program: I was able to foster conversation and reflection with the other program participants, our seminary hosts, and Islanders what our roles of responsibility looked like in each of our respective theological, ecclesial, and familial communities.

While this program was difficult and intense, it was still a formative learning experience for me as I combine my biological background and current theological studies, and head into congregational ministry with a focus on creation care praxis. In light of the extensive climate misuse I saw, I plan to continue this climate justice conversation in future ministry as I navigate ecotheology and accountable creation care praxis in congregations.

As the Spirit Moves

I think my training in the ways of justice making sometimes leads me to enter a situation with skepticism instead of love. I enter and ask with immediacy, what is the problem/ injustice/sin here? I am on high alert to find that which is not equitable and I often do this at the expense of seeing that which is equitable.

I came to Fiji looking through this lens. Where are the effects of climate change and how can I think about God in the context of a changing climate?

Don’t get me wrong. This is a most necessary question. But when my question precludes my ability to laugh, to smile, to find the love, the laughter, the smiles here, then I am missing half of the picture. I am negating the work of the Spirit. In my pneumotological understanding, the Spirit, works in the world in powerful and mighty ways which resist the Empire. But the Spirit, in its round dance with the Creator and the Son, was, is, and always will be– Love. To forget the work of Love which the Spirit is always doing is to miss most of the picture. And the picture is a beautiful one. To miss it is a shame indeed.

And shame is not something I choose to live in any longer.

Because when we see this work of love, it changes us. Brings forth courage and creativity. It is Spirit work and it connects us to each other and to all of creation.

It is through this lens that I am attempting to write a bit about my experience thus far. It has been filled with love and simultaneous aching because I love. Because I have so much love in Tennessee, I am aching every second I am away from it. And, at the same time, I have come to know my team here of Mimi from N. India, Palesh from Calcutta, Andrew from S. India, Silpa from India, Wesley from the Philippines, Hashan from Sri Lanka, Tamera from Zambia, Vawvawni from Taiwan, and Shalom from S. Korea as Love. They are family. We have had to become family because families care for each other and it takes a lot of care to navigate this intense program. They open me up and remind me that the Spirit works in us and through us as we love each other.

The Spirit moves resisting the Empire and I have seen the Spirit in the fresh fish I have been served as the honored guest of village tables (which are mats); I have seen the Spirit in the children who have graciously and patiently taught the Westerner phrases in Fijian; I have seen the Spirit in the concerned taxi driver who rushed me to the hospital after I was bitten by a dog; I have seen the Spirit as we served each other the milk of the coconut; I have seen the Spirit in the peace-building team working for restorative justice here in Fiji; I have seen the Spirit in the lei I was given at the welcoming ceremony; I have seen Her in the rest that I took; I have heard Her in the choir’s singing and the lolly (drum) ringing; I have seen the Spirit here in the incredible hospitality that I have been extended. I have seen the Spirit here.

The Spirit is here and I would be remiss if I did not take off my lens of skepticism so that I can actually see Her moving.

She’s moving; she’s resisting through Her love in Her mysterious way, calling us to join the work of caring for the creation that the Creator lives in, through, and with.

Can I lean into the work of the Spirit? I am not sure. I know that I need to try though because when I do, I am my best self, the Kate who welcomes love instead of skepticism, the Kate who listens before she analyzes, the Kate who asks Love to be her guide instead of judgement or fear.

Thanks be to God for many chances to get it wrong and a few chances to maybe get it right.