Holding identities

First, before we get started, I am wondering what in the content of yesterday's post, 'The Atom of Delight' launched such a positive stampede of 'interest' from Pakistan! A mystery! A secret valley of Neil Gunn lovers exiled to the Hindu Kush!


To include a copy of Christ Mocked to a Christmas greeting might be seen as the first glimmerings of onrushing senility: confusing my festivals!

But it is a testament to one of this year’s most compelling moments: a guided tour through Hebron with two former Israeli soldiers both of whom had served in this deeply divided city during the period of the second intifada.

The tour began at the tomb of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob over which has been built both a synagogue and a mosque. They have separate entrances for Muslims (round the back through the security screening) and for Jews (and Christians and others…though one of our party’s ‘Hindu’ status created category confusion in the young Israel soldier questioning him)!

This questioning sparked different reactions in the party, some like me had walked on, ignoring the soldier’s interrogation, including Mamadou (Mohammed) from Senegal , some answered his questions politely and affirming their non-Muslim status were allowed on, others refused to participate in this act of separation, perceiving it as unjust, and walked back towards the bus. The very reality of having these choices differentiated us from the local Palestinian community (around the back, through the revolving gates, and the searches).

I was tempted to imagine what would Jesus do (not I confess a usual temptation) – as a Jew he could have had a hassle free entry to the synagogue but you can only imagine him identifying some non-violent provocation that illuminated the stark injustice. Insisting, as a Jew, that he would go around the back with the local residents, who, though in the majority, are the most marginalized by the grim realities of living in their land occupied and subject himself to search.

The option that bears witness to humanity, that what counts as humanity, is identifying with the world when and where it is most absent. Christ is mocked at Hebron because it is a place where humanity is denied.

To be fair, since not one of us is free from sin, our guides were scrupulously fair and gave account of Palestinian violence directed at settlers (however, both they [and I] would recognize the sheer disproportionate balance of violence, lying currently towards the Israeli side; and, that the settlers themselves lives are conditioned by systemic acts of aggression against their neighbours).

The sorrow of Hebron for me was that our identities had captured our humanity distorting it out of shape, allowing it to certain people and not others; and, of course, this is precisely what we have done to Christ, making of his humanity, that essential reminder of our own, not an invitation to a renewed community of love and compassion, but into a religion: Christianity, one more identity to burden ourselves with. Identities ought to be fun differentiators – masks that disguise and reveal – that spice variety into life, that colour the light of our one humanity, made in God’s image and likeness, instead we tend to carry them as weights of significance, weighed down to brokenness.

The choice of Edward Burra is equally deliberate. Here was an artist that lived at the margins – gay, single, wracked with pain, equipped with a great gift for friendship, he was a consummate observer , an observation often satiric and witty but ultimately strikingly compassionate and embracing. Some of his finest paintings are of people his own utterly respectable upper middle class white identity ought to have recoiled from – street walkers, shady people of the night, blacks. He embraces them all and celebrates them – both what makes them uniquely themselves, strutting their happy, carrying their unhappy identities – and their common humanity, caught in a compassionate eye.

It is an eye hard to cultivate – but our Christ mocking earnestly want to put it out – but we need its naked, vulnerable innocence and its resilient edge more than ever – and it is ‘our’ eye as these two poems of ‘incarnation’ of Angelus Silesius makes clear:

“Hail Mary!" so thou greetedst Her:
Yet, Gabriel, what doth this avail
To me, unless thou likewise come
And greet me with the self-same "Hail!"”

“I also am God's Son. I sit beside His knee.
His Spirit, Flesh and Blood are known to Him in me.”

Let us carry our many identities this year lighter, sassier, with more fun, and more translucent to the light of the Son that we all carry within and without and beyond!


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