"TIMBER!!!" The Death of Tall-Poppy Syndrome
The tall-poppy syndrome has always been something that New Zealanders have struggled with. When I was younger it was so bad that tall-poppy syndrome and NZ Culture were almost synonymous! But over the last number of years the Lord has been doing some amazing things in our Nation, one of which has been the ending of the tall-poppy syndrome.
I love it how when God is doing something in a people group or nation it can be clearly seen in the things that are important or significant to that culture. For New Zealand it's things like sports, music, and the arts.
Several years ago I had a vision where I was standing in front of a MASSIVE old native tree that had been chopped down. It was lying on its side in front of me and it was absolutely huge! Even on its side it was twice as high as I was. I could tell that this big old tree had been downed very recently as it still had green leaves on it and fruit was still ripe on some of its branches.
As I stood there looking at this ancient tree I asked the Lord, "what is this tree? What does it represent?" and He said, "This is the tall-poppy syndrome in your nation. It has been chopped down and has been brought to an end. From now on any manifestation of that tall-poppy spirit is just the fruit you see on the branches that has not yet died - but soon will. It not longer has a root system to support it."
You know how when the Father says one thing to you but you also get so much more at the same time? That's what happened here. As He said this to me I felt a firm warning imparted into my spirit to never again say things like, "NZ has such a problem with the tall-poppy syndrome." I felt such a strong sense of protection towards NZ like a Father protecting his kids from others speaking nasty words over them. It wasn't that the Lord wanted me to deny or ignore the problem, it was simply that He didn't want me to bless something that He had cursed. He didn't want me watering a tree that He had cut down. From that point on I felt a reverence for what the Lord was doing in our nation in this area and have been very aware of the fruit of His Spirit shining through at different times in our national story. It is really encouraging to talk about and look at what the Lord is doing.
This story started for me when I had this encounter, with the tree cut down, shortly after the 2007 Rugby World Cup. As everyone in NZ knows this was not a World Cup we want to remember. We suffered a premature exit from the World Cup as the result of a poor performance in the quarter finals. But what impacted me, and what ultimately led me to this encounter with the Lord, was the massive controversy around the re-election of our coach and captain. The coach and captain of our All Blacks rugby team had never survived a loss like we experienced in that 2007 World Cup.
I'm not one to usually spiritualise every little thing but when Graham Henry (All Blacks coach) and Richie McCaw (All Blacks captain) were re-selected I felt the wind of the Hold Spirit moving on it. At the time I didn't know why but all I knew was God was doing something and He had allowed me to be caught up in the draft.
After I had this encounter I began to notice the rise of some amazing NZ talent. The likes of Kimbra, Lorde, Stan Walker, Tiki Tane, Avalanche City and more recently Six60 to name but a few. Most of these guys were having more than just national success, they were breaking ground and topping charts internationally as well. What stood out to me was not the popularity that they had found internationally but how they were celebrated back home. It was different. It was somehow deeper and more genuine than it had been in the past. We had a real appreciation for the sound coming from our land. We genuinely liked it!
Then in 2011 we came back to the Rugby World Cup and won! In the midst of my excitement and absolute relief after a nail biting final against a French team that had been our kryptonite in 2007 the Father continued His conversation with me on this subject of the death of tall-poppy syndrome in our land. He said, "make sure in the excitement you remember where this started." He showed me that it started with grace and a second chance. It started with people willing to focus on the successes of a few rather than on their failures. He continued to show me how the 2011 win was symbolic of what we can accomplish when we choose to act in the opposite spirit to the tall-poppy syndrome of the past and He reaffirmed what He had shown me in that vision, the tall-poppy syndrome is dead!
The next major opportunity we had as a nation to experience this victory over the tall-poppy spirit was the America's Cup in 2013. We sailed amazingly and the nation came to a complete stop in support of our boys out there in San Francisco Bay. It was David versus Goliath and we were bringing that giant to its knees convincingly... Or so we thought.
We had one more race to win and Team USA managed to pull off a comeback that has since gone down in history as one of the greatest comebacks ever. Our boys were gutted, standing there in disbelief. We as a nation would normally resort to one of two things; we would run our boys down and would all throw our two cents in as if we suddenly all knew a thing or two about sailing. OR we would run the opposition down and say they had cheated and used illegal technology.
The amazing thing is, even though there was plenty of evidence around to say the later claim was true we as a nation chose not to go there. Instead, we welcomed our boys back as if they had won. We celebrated the phenomenal achievement of what they had managed to pull off. We held parades up and down the country and cheered and partied in celebration for a great team effort that had put on display our character and integrity as a nation.
I watched in awe as we took this opportunity that we had been presented with and chose to completely and totally nail it! It was like putting round-up (weed killer) on that already dying tree! It reaffirmed our victory over tall-poppy syndrome in such a significant way. I believe it was this single event that was the pivot point in our national history with tall-poppy syndrome. We had the choice in that moment to "go back to Egypt" or run on into the promised land and possess our new found freedom. I remember sitting there, almost in tears, as I flicked through the channels watching the parades, the parties, and the celebration in honour of our Team... The team who lost! And not only lost, but lost in devastating fashion! For many of us we didn't even know the significance of what we were doing, but as I watched all I could see was Gods hand weaving the culture of Heaven into the DNA of our nation.
After this we had the 2015 Cricket World Cup. The Blackcaps went into this as a bit of a wild card. We believed in our boys but at the same time we knew the skill and ability of the other superstar teams we were up against. So there was an electricity in the air when our team smashed their way in an exciting style all the way to the World Cup Final! We were up against our cousins from across the ditch. The Aussies who we had beaten convincingly already in the earlier rounds. The difference this time was, we were now playing on their turf. Needless to say, we lost and lost badly. I remember driving down the main road here in town on my way home from somewhere the next morning and I said to the Lord, "I wish we could have won that Father, it would have been sooo cool." I wasn't really expecting a reply, sports aren't something I talk to God about much at all, but what He said back to me amazed me. He said, "yea it would have been fun to win but if you did you wouldn't have the opportunity to put another nail in the coffin of that tall-poppy spirit." I could suddenly see the massive significance of this moment in our story. This was another "stake-in-the-ground" moment for us as a nation. Again, I watched in awe as we celebrated a team who lost. This was so foreign to us only a few years earlier and now we were holding banquets and parades celebrating our teams who did NOT win. It used to be that even when we won we would pick holes in the victory... Now we were over the moon about second place! I knew I was watching history unfold... And it was beautiful.
This is just a brief birds eye view of what the Lord has been doing in this area here in NZ. What's cool is, the closer you look, the more beauty and detail you begin to see. You begin to see how deeply this work and been woven into the fabric of who we are. We might not always nail it but our "normal" is now new. We are a "new creation" nationally.
One of the amazing fruits that has been produced as a result of the death of tall-poppy syndrome in our nation is the resurrection of the arts. That cutting spirit almost killed the artistic part of our nature - especially in the church. Tall-poppy syndrome creates such a dangerous environment for artists that they simply shut down and go into hiding. As that spirit has died we have started to see a resurgence of the arts in our land. And not just arts that imitate other cultures, but our own sound, our own song, our own dance. Artists are discovering that there is a new found safety where they can begin to release their songs, paintings, writings, dances and poetic pieces knowing that they won't be cut off at the knees for trying. I believe international artists like Lorde, Kimbra, Brooke Fraser and others prophetically show us the level of influence we are called to as a nation and how we will step into that as we celebrate and release our own sound and song.
This is hugely important because the arts not only reflect a nations identity but they also define it. Hitler knew this and tried to steel the art works from the nations he invaded. He knew that if he stole their artistic works they would be easier to beat because they would forget who they were. When a people don't know their identity they will settle for being a slave.
The reason the Father has been breathing on the arts so intentionally over the last 6 or 7 years is because they help define our identity. They enable us to see and hear who we really are. The songs we write, the paintings we create, and the dances we release are all declarations of who we are. It's like when you hear a Haka. As a New Zealander I can be anywhere in the world but when I hear that Haka I know who I am again. So it is with the arts; when we release our song and our sound through the arts we see who we are again. They not only reflect who we are but also define who we are.
So I write this to encourage us as a nation to continue in the victory over this thing that has had such a hold on us in the past. I believe that as we continue in this we will create such a safe environment for our children that they will be the most creative and intelligent people to date. Songs and sounds will be released in such a powerful way. Business ideas and new inventions will come frequently and with ease. That creative D.I.Y part of our culture is going to increase and begin to bless other nations as we become known for problem solving and creative answers to questions previously thought unanswerable.
Two Key ways we can partner with the Holy Spirit in this identity revolution are:
1 - Be You. Love who He has made you and explore the fullness of the grace He has released to you to be YOU!
2 - Bless others for being them. Be an intentional encourager. Train yourself to look for ways you can encourage. Encouragement is literally the release of courage. As you encourage someone for being who they are they receive courage to walk in their God given identity even more fully. Speaking the truth in love has more to do with encouragement that it does criticism. Selah.