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An Incomplete Deconstruction

An image took my breath away last week. It was of a baby doll in a manger made of rubble. Broken chunks of cement and rocks, debris and wood surrounded by figurines. It was the nativity scene of a Church in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. The place where storylines say Jesus was born.

Image by Al Jazeera

It’s a powerful image that highlights the complexity we’re being called to hold right now. Sadly though, we’re not very good at complexity in our hot take, mic drop, modern way of communicating and feel more comfortable in the binaries insisted upon by the internet. You’re either for us or against us, you’re silent and complicit, you speak up but it’s not enough, you don’t know what you’re talking about, ‘educate yourself’ people scream, often in capital letters so we feel the full effect. It can be paralysing and is divisive, adding to the pain and fracturing we’re seeing along all sorts of lines. I know I don’t want any part of that.

I’ve been quiet as I’ve been processing the horrors taking place in Israel and then Gaza these last few months, determined not to look away, trying to share what people on the ground have asked to be amplified. The reality of war, the dislocation from a sense of safety in both places. The devastation of losing entire families, what Gaza was like before, what they ate, how they enjoyed the sea, the poetry they wrote. And I’ve been watching Australian Indigenous people give their support, with love and solidarity, immediately after the No vote on October 14th. Tuvaluan psychotherapist, Leah Maneama posted this beautiful video about being a witness and holding peoples’ stories. Sydney writer and artist, Amani Haydar organised a collective of therapists to support people here feeling the deep grief of it all, powerless. She has a deep grief of her own and her book The Mother Wound is powerful.

What I have realised with some shame and regret however, is that I knew very little about the history of the region, apart from what had always been taught at my (fundamentalist) church growing up. I heard from the stage many times, ‘we must support Israel.’ The Holy Land, made for God’s chosen people. There was no room to move in this, we learnt that the Biblical references to Israel referred to the modern state of Israel, and no matter who was in leadership, they had the support of the pentecostal church in Australia, and evangelical churches in the US that we were connected to. Without question.

While I always wanted to travel to the holy land, to be there and experience the gravitas of the place Jesus walked the earth, I often found the concept of chosen people confusing when I’d thought everyone had access to God, we just had to ask him into our lives. And the chosen people seemed to be connected to a contested stretch of land that seemed to be connected to the terrible end times movies I watched about the second coming. It all felt like some B grade movie really, part sci-fi, part horror, dystopian and fear based. Eyes on Israel we were taught, Jesus will return when there are ‘wars and rumours of wars.’ It wasn’t for us to challenge these wars, we should let them unfold, it was evidence that a series of events was in motion. It was upheld in powerful spaces with certainty, like so much else within the literal interpretation of the Bible I was given. Looking back, people were operating from handed down ways of believing, pre-internet and insular, we just accepted things, critical thinking was discouraged. I don’t know that much has changed.

I’ve learnt more these last few months than in all my 30 years of church attendance. About the history and the horrors experienced by Jewish people, their need for a homeland and also, the great price that was paid by Palestinian people and continues to be paid, for this to be possible. I have listened to the pain of Jewish people in Sydney whose children have to have security and whose schools are behind locked fences. And the deep grief of Palestinian people here, feeling powerless. I’ve listened to Rabbis condemning the attacks of Gaza, I’ve listened to peace activists, Israeli and Palestinian, working together for change. They possess courage and faith that moves me. I also know these words are hot potatoes, able to cause flares of reactivity, disputed, all able to be countered and, the lived experience of oppressed peoples everywhere is something I will never know. But I’ve also learnt that the deconstruction of my faith was incomplete. I thought I’d come out the other side, but this part remained as a sort of backdrop that had never been tested by my critical mind that emerged as I walked away.

There is a deep grief and empathy being poured out all over the world right now. As philosopher Bayo Akomolafe says, “we perform grieving… as a strain away from politics as usual, as a making space for our bodies to do different kinds of things in the world.” I hope that is what is happening, that our bodies may be able to do different kinds of things in world, more humane and kinder things, more connection, less division and destruction. I don’t think that’s a naïve hope.

For what it’s worth, the way of Jesus has always been worth following. Were he to be born in that same place in the West Bank today, a brown, Palestinian refugee, if he survived the bombing and starvation thousands of children are experiencing there as I write this, I find it difficult to believe he would grow to stand with the powerful. He never did. He sought out the marginalised and oppressed, the sick, the overlooked. He restored dignity and breathed life into dead places.

My role as a counsellor now is to support people to find grounding, to come back to their bodies so they can process and hold their own pain and the pain of the world. Not to convince people of my perspective or stance or need them to see things as I do. That would be the evangelical part of me from way back, trying to save the world again.

And so I find grounding and come back to my own body. I let the regret, anger and rage work its way through and enlarge my capacity to feel these big emotions, as well as my full hearted-ness as I spend time with my family over the Christmas break. As well as gratitude for rest and the joy of plunging into the ocean at sunrise and eating a mango with its juice dripping down my arms. I want my body to do different kinds of things in the world. Different to the division, open to connection, able to breathe life into dead places. Spacious enough to hold it all.

If you’d like support, especially around this time of year as emotions can be big, you can find me here.

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