Identity. We all have an identity. We all have different narratives that help us to define our individual identities. Some parts of our identity we do not choose. Others we readily lay claim to.
Assumptions. As with identity, so too do we all have our assumptions. Our personal narratives inform our assumptions about ourselves and each other. Sometimes the world around us assigns us both our identities and our assumptions. Sometimes we do not realize how quickly we jump to believing our assumptions are realities. But what if that were not the case?
Over the course of the past few days, questions of identity and assumption have stretched our minds, pulling us into difficult conversations regarding how we interact with the multiple narratives that surround us daily. This was especially the case as we spent our first day in Old City Jerusalem yesterday.
It appears that Jerusalem is in the midst of an identity crisis. Jerusalem: A city that stands as a central location for three different religions, filled with a history of both the sacred and the profane and etched with the narratives of people who have longed for the divine only to find or perpetuate hurt along the way. As in history, we so often continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and for due reason. Jerusalem is generally not identified by peace.
Even as we walked the streets of Jerusalem, the assumptions about the identities of these who make up its population permeated the city. Ethnicity, religion, and gender: these are the identity markers readily ascribed to each individual. Residents do not get to choose how they are generally identified in this place nor in this conflict. With their assigned identities come worldly assumptions regarding their loyalties, ideologies, and claimed enemies
In this way the world pushes its assumptions on top of us, its anticipations and expectations for how we must act given our identity. Yet, identity is not solely defined by the world around us. Do we not have the power to begin to create our own identity? Rather than allow the world as it is to control our identity and our destiny, we find power and restoration when we recreate ourselves despite the world’s assumptions. We have the power to rearrange the pieces of our identity to make a new creation that leads towards restoration of the world as it should be. I have never seen a more clear example of this profoundly empowering shift of identity than during our meeting with Ben and Moira of the Parent’s Circle Family Forum.
Ben, who grieves the loss of his daughter in a bus station bombing near her army base in 2003, and Moira, who mourns the loss of her Palestinian husband in a violent attack in Jerusalem in 2010, sat side-by-side and shared their collective grief with us as they understood it. Through their process of sharing in the Parent’s Circle over the years, despite the pain of their loss they have chosen to reorient their identities as victims of a conflict away from the conversation that would assume they were now even more assuredly enemies in a violent conflict. Rather, as they share their pain with one another, they refuse to look at the grief of the other and believe that pain was deserved. They choose to put their assumptions aside to meet and mourn and move toward reconciliation and restoration instead of standing for the perpetuation of anguish and suffering for anyone in this conflicted place. And they are but two people among a sea of 600 families in the Parent Circle Family Forum who join together to rearrange the pain of their mourning into a relationship of shared grief that extends the hand of reconciliation rather than retribution.
In these partnerships, their identities–Israeli or Palestinian–no longer restrict them to the responses the world might assume and assign to them. Rather, their partnership with the once “assumed enemy” has provided the beginnings of healing as they count themselves as friends, supporting one another in the work of reconciliation and peace. While Ben and Moira did not have all of the answers to this conflict, their commitment to work side-by-side despite the tragedy’s that brought them together gave us a glimpse of hope for a restored future in this place.
Assumed worldly identities aside, they have created a new identity for themselves–an identity grounded in respect, dignity, and continuing action amidst their mutual grief. While we continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem only to hear of more violence in the media, may they be a glimpse of the peace that in turn transforms our assumptions of this place and the identities of its people.
And as we as a group continue to wrestle with identity and assumptions both here and back home, releasing our own hurtful assumptions and rearranging ourselves in our identities as a new creation, may we come to a place where the celebration of life brings us together as closely as mourning the death of loved ones has for Ben, Moira, and all family members of the Parent’s Circle Family Forum.
While we cannot control every part of our given identity, I do leave you with this question: How can we release our assumptions and transform our identities to be people of reconciliation, restoration, and peace? What will it take?