Friday, July 18, 2008

The Life of Brian

I sat down with a degree of anticipation to watch the latest interpretation of the life of Bishop Brian Tamaki. I was disappointed. I later discovered the footage was dated - 2005 vintage which explained some of it. But mostly I was disappointed by the banal approach of Ross Jennings who's doco it was. An example makes the point:

Jennings commented on Tamaki's flame-decorated Harley: "That looks like a bike the devil would ride."

Tamaki: "What sort of a question is that, Ross?"

Jennings: "Do you feel as though you've got a monster between your legs?"

Tamaki: "Shucks, what sort of question is that?"

Silly stuff.

The shallow approach persisted throughout. Just when it was threatening to get interesting and informative Jennings moved on. For example, the structure of the Destiny trust board and the relationship of Tamaki inc and the Destiny Gym, Proton was briefly canvassed and then lost amidst another banal observation: you mean the church pays no tax on its tithes? Of course it doesn't you idiot - no church or charity is taxed on its donations. But you can bet the Tamakis pay their share of tax on any income they receive from the church. Both of which Jennings knows only too well.

What seemed to be coming from the Tamakis was they are shareholders in the company that runs the gym, completely separate from the church. Which is OK by me. And that Tamaki makes money off his books and things - which is also OK by me (although it is a matter of degree and personal taste how much one buys into this - he's certainly not alone though!)

The most interesting comments were the very learned and charitable comments by openly gay Christian academic Peter Lineham, who brought a deal of understanding to the table. Of particular interest to me were comments on the Maori and Pacific cultural elements to Tamaki's role-status. Only I couldn't decide who had the more flamboyant hair style - Tamaki or Lineham with his red dyed perm! Lineham also noted that tithing, reformed substance abusers would likely be much better off financially with Tamaki, even paying the tithe. The appearance of ex gang members with stories of reformation, repaired marriages and legit jobs reminded me that there are winners in the Tamaki story.

Tamaki showed just a little of the hurt he perhaps feels at his villification, with an amusing anecdote about being seated next to the late Maori Queen, forcing Helen Clark and other high brow Labourites to acknowledge him to their chagrin (as Tamaki tells it). He has a photo on the wall.

I found some of the church scenes a little disturbing. Perhaps just personal taste? Perhaps a concern at what could be interpreted as manipulation and play acting. Almost impossible to say. So I won't.

But all in all, a disappointment. I've met Tamaki on a number of occasions and enjoyed dealing with him. It seems to me the most real picture we saw of him from Ross Jennings was when he was hanging with his mates, out on the harbour fishing, and eating raw mussels off his bait knife. There's still a sense for me - you can take the boy out of Tokoroa, but you can't take Tokoroa out of the boy.


Rhett said...

I agree with most of what you said. My impression of Tamaki from the doco was that he didn't appear to be incredibly learned; it seemed to be more raw enthusiasm that carries him through.

I also think his wife is the brains behind the operation. I have to say, the most revealing quote of the doco came from her: "But we're not rich!"

Slight perspective adjustment needed?

servant said...

It was clear Jennings was in a realm he knew nothing about and hadn't researched - Christianity. If he had a clue he could have pushed Brian in a few more places.

Instead he went for the cheap tryhard shots and came off looking a little silly. For a one hour doco and 7 months with Brian, it was poor.

Hannah's comment on not being rich came after saying that they, as a business, were worth millions. Her justification for saying they weren't rich was that they had a big mortgage. To cover the sort of mortgage one has with a house like that, one cannot be poor or even on an average income. Hannah, to have a mortgage on a house like that, one has to be well above average in terms of worth and income, thus you would be considered "rich" by NZ standards.

Peter Lineham is a legend!!! I admire that guy.

Simon said...

Great post. Haven't seen the doco but interested in your perspective here - and it's a very considered perspective!

Didn't know that about Peter Lineham. Like his weekly chats with Mikey Havoc on bFM.

Jack said...

A fair response bj. I must admit that it was really frustrating to watch most of it in a state of " ask ..., why didn't he ask ... and so on. It didnt give enough detail on the finances for me to judge it - only to observe that church leaders in many other NZ Christian denominations also lead very comfortable lives and are fairly wealthy. The bit that made me most uncomfortable was when his wife asked the congregation for money and demanded "no jingle jangle, only the paper stuff...etc, etc". Folk in my family who dislike the church have spent all weekend repeating that one! So yep it was disappointing, perhaps because I thought it would be more of a 'Burying Brian' will have to go back to the Wed night comedy for that- incidently would TVNZ have gotten away with a 'Burying Brenda'comedy if she were killed after her drunk husband biffed a vase at her during a domestic?

BJ said...

Yes, that comment jarred with me as well. I suspect that within the pentecostal/prosperity culture that actually passes for humour and is a tension-relieving way of reminding people that giving is an act of self-sacrifical worship. So in that sense she is right - the church will find it hard to achieve its mission in the world if people pay lip service with their giving. I imagine it was probably less jarring for the people it was intended for who are used to 2 sermons every week - one on giving and the other on whatever. Course it made great TV and Hannah was a little dumb to say it!

Hannah may well be the brains of the outfit...but I suspect its all relative :) She's certainly the looser lipped of the 2 and would probably sell more advertising!

Interesting chat I was having with someone on the weekend who said all his mates at work had watched it. And that in their eyes Tamaki came out pretty well. A kiwi boy come good.

Jack said...

I agree Tamaki didn't come out too bad - I began watching the doco with a somewhat closed mind - having long ago decided I didn't like the bloke, but ended up having to give him the benefit of the doubt - in part because it didn't go into enough detail to do otherwise, but also because he came across as fairly straight up - it wasnt like he hid his wealth or tried to dodge questions. And the cultural perspective on leadership from Lineham was interesting. Might explain Winston Peters love of fine clothes too ; )

Canterbury Atheists said...

Yeah, very disappointing doco this, from all perspectives. Much better to check-out ‘Destiny In Motion’ that crops-up on Sky (Documentary & Discovery Channels) now and again. Comedian Te Radar joins the rank & file from the political arm of The Destiny Church, during their ineffectual & doomed campaign at the last election. Much better insight and a real laugh at the same time.