By Joel McKerrow
This article is an excerpt from Joel McKerrow’s book Woven, used with permission. We’re going to be sharing a few of these in coming weeks. If you consider yourself a ‘spiritual misfit’ Joel’s book is an excellent guide to navigating different stages of faith. Go and grab a copy here.
I stood at the back of the bar and listened to the lament of the poet. A sorrowful keening. He was filled with rage at being told he was ‘not right’, at being misunderstood. A gay young man with conservative Christian parents. Their rejection of him due to his sexuality was a callous knife. They were parents who had done all they could to ‘cut the gay out of him’; parents from whom he felt nothing but judgement; parents who were scared and whose fear translated into rejection. A teenage boy had been abandoned in the name of ‘Christian morality’. The image of God had been cast aside to uphold their particular doctrine.
His pink hair flared bright in its loud rebellion. The tight denim shorts, shiny bling belt buckle, knee-high boots and sparkling tube top declared that his own path had been chosen. The crack in his voice and the tears in his eyes communicated as much as his words and dress. He raged and wept, and rightly so. I let every bullet of his angry words pierce my skin. Too many times I have heard this story. Too many times.
I stood at the bar and began to rage with him. I felt the rising anger at the tradition I grew up in – my sculpted community which had done so much damage out of fear. The hypocrisy. The narrowness. The destruction of a person to uphold a moral. A Christianity of judgement. All in the name of a Christ who only ever gave love to those who were on the ‘outside’. A Christ who only ever raged against the religious, pious in-crowd, the elite who dictated who was in and who was out. A Christ who was absolutely accepting and who looked nothing like this man’s parents. A Christ who looked nothing like … me.
The thought struck me like a fist. A Christ who looks nothing like … me. I whispered it out loud as I stood there. The words slapped the rage right out of me. My rising anger fell to the floor. Within a few seconds I went from storm clouds to something else entirely. In the past I would have been caught up in the rage and the blame and the indignation and the pointing finger. I would have forsworn the church once more. Yet now, something was different.
I stood at the back of the bar and listened to the lament of the poet, and somehow I was able to recognise my own place in it. My lament joined his lament. But also something other came up in me: a growing realisation that I had spent many years pointing my finger at the hypocrisy of my sculpting community and had never once truly owned it for myself. In that moment, the finger pointing outwards began to turn itself inward. Not in judgement and self-condemnation – it was not a harsh self-criticism to drown me in guilt and shame. Rather, it was a deep recognition. A knowing. An awareness that set me free from blunt judgement.
In that moment, it became clear that I am a complex mass of intention and broken promises and selfish actions and arrogant criticism, just as my faith tradition is. I, too, am complicit in the madness. I am part of the system, just as the poet’s parents are part of the system. The personal is always larger than the individual. I am more than just me. I am one with those who have gone before me. Even more, I am one with the whole of humanity, both its brokenness and its hoping, its selfishness and its compassion. The good and the bad all flows through me. It was the Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who said that the line of evil does not run between us and them but ‘cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?’
In that moment, the hypocrisy of the man’s parents became my own hypocrisy. And my own hypocrisy became the hypocrisy of the world. Their judgements were my own, and their judgements were ours. The fear that led to their actions is the same fear that saturates my own actions, just as it stains the world with its taint. We are all pink-haired. We are all fearful parents. We are light and we are dark. Sinner and saint.
In that moment, the fractured love of the man’s parents became my own fractured love. And my own fractured love became the fractured love of the world.
But that was not all. In the same moment as I was able to admit my complicity, our complicity, something surprising happened. Strangely, unbelievably, I found I was able to forgive myself for it, and forgive ourselves for it.
I stood at the back of the bar and listened to the lament of the poet, and I broke. I wept, though not tears of regret. They were, somehow, tears of freedom. A knowing of open-handed recognition and forgiveness. The poet may not be able to forgive his parents, and it is not my place to say he must. But I forgive them as I forgive myself. I forgive us as I forgive myself.
It is also not my place to tell you not to rage and lament. That may be the very thing you need to do to expel what has been done to you. I will not take this away from you.
I simply tell you my experience in that moment. Something took the bitterness out of the anger; something took the resentment and the acrimony. And I was left with the knowing that I am connected to the poet as I am connected to his parents as I am connected to a broken faith tradition as I am connected to those it has broken. I am connected. We are connected. We are woven. Every accusatory, pointing finger is inevitably pointing at a mirror. Likewise, every act of forgiveness towards another breaks the chains from my own ankles.
You may not be able to forgive. They certainly may not deserve it. But I wonder if holding on to all that resentment is doing just as much damage as the initial wounding. I wonder what it would look like to at least forgive yourself. To let yourself off the hook. In doing so we are able to cast from us the hold that such resentment has on us. To forgive ourselves. To be forgiven. A surrender into graciousness.
I wonder if, in the process of this forgiveness, you would in fact be forgiving us all.
Joel McKerrow is an award winning writer, speaker, educator, artist, creativity specialist and, having performed for hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world, is one of Australia’s most successful, internationally touring, performance poets. Based out of Melbourne, Australia he is the Artist Ambassador for the aid and development organisation ‘TEARFUND Australia’ and was the co-founder of community arts organisation, ‘The Centre for Poetics and Justice’ (2010-2013). Joel was the third ever Australian representative at the Individual World Poetry Slam Championships in the USA and is a highly sought after speaker at conferences and festivals all over the world. He has four published books and four spoken word/music albums, is a successful play-wright and is a co-founder/host of the The Deep Place: On Creativity and Spirituality Podcast.