March from the Deacon

On February 20th of this year, my wife Kim and I were supposed to leave for a trip to the Holy Lands. On October 8th of last year, one day into the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip, I realized that the trip would be cancelled. Since then, I have watched the conflict unfold with a range of emotions from anger to sadness to grief. I will not discuss the details of the conflict here but instead discuss how we’re talking about it, which is not well.

America has long had close ties with Israel, and we have only recently talked about bigotry openly in our society. This has complicated already difficult discussions in our highly polarized country that politicizes any topic associated with emotional reactions. If you acknowledge that tens of thousands of Gaza civilians have died in Israel’s military actions, someone is likely to call you out as antisemitic and supporting terrorists. If you support Israel’s right to defend itself, someone will likely call you out as supporting genocide. If you find my choice of words describing the conflict disturbing, ask yourself what you would say to me, and more importantly, why.

Discussion about war in Gaza and the toll it has taken for the wider region has created strong emotional reactions, and we start our discussions from those reactions, defending not only our opinions, but our personal feelings. This way of discussing things that affect us is rapidly becoming the default way in which we discuss even the most difficult and critical issues in our own country. Opinion, facts, and emotions are rolled together so that counter-arguments and fact- checking are experienced as personal attacks and attempts at silencing different perspectives. Progress we could make toward solutions has stalled because domination and attack have become the reason for discussion.

On Palm Sunday, two or three weeks from now, we will hear Jesus’ Passion read during worship. This word “Passion” is a curious description because everyone except for Jesus was very passionate about what was going on and what should be done with him. Jesus does not express many emotions, or not very strongly, but he listens closely to Pilate, Caiaphas, and Herod as they interrogate him. What Jesus demonstrates is a separation of his emotions, certainly fear, anxiety, anger, and grief, from what was going on around him. He was not disengaged and uninterested, but quite the opposite, because he was paying attention to what was unfolding and why.

This separation of emotions from what is going on can be a way for us to talk about difficult topics and issues. This is not tosay that emotional reactions are inappropriate or wrong, but to say that there is a more constructive place for them. The energy from our emotions is what we need to listen to what we don’t want to hear, talk about what we want to avoid, and let go of the need to win at any cost. Jesus was calm during his trial and death sentence because he understood why it had to happen. The need for calm rational discussion and consensus reflects a need to be more Christ-like, to be engaged, interested, and most of all, to listen. To disagree is not to attack or insult. It is an opportunity to understand where dignity and justice truly lie.