Hello, blog. Been a long time, hasn’t it? Suffice to say, the busy part of the term was very, very busy, and there was about a month in there when I only saw daylight because my office has a window (and even then, I saw it more because it bounced off the wall my desk faces than because I actually had time to look out the window). But term is over, and after I mark the large pile of exams that will be hitting my desk at the end of this week, I’ll be back to my normal workload–though probably still not a lot of blogging time, as I’ve got a fair number of research outputs to get into press in the early half of the year.
One of the great pleasures of my job is the immediacy of conversation between theoretical and practical outputs–something which tends to surprise people not familiar with the field. But it’s there, and Scotland has both strong historic links between religion and public life and a healthy awareness of its own religious and ethnic pluralism, which makes it an ideal place for someone like me–a religious minority, with a strong research interest in how religious minorities fit into their wider society–to work. So in addition to the normal teaching and research outputs, there’s a certain amount of my time and energy that is spent being present–showing my face, lending my voice, and listening to what other people have to say, when there’s a conversation happening that requires input from multiple faith perspectives. I did two pieces of writing with that particular hat on this past term. One, of course, was my response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on Same-Sex Marriage (I’m all for it, and rather baffled by the arguments put forward by the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church that changing the law to permit religious bodies to draw their own conclusions on the issue and then act in accordance with those conclusions represents a restriction of religious liberty); the other was a reflection for our University’s Lessons & Carols service. The former needs a bit of cleaning up before it’s ready to post, since I ended up typing my responses directly into the web form. The latter, however, is reproduced here:
What on earth is a Jew supposed to say about Christmas?
When I was asked to contribute a reflection to this service, I joked with my colleagues over in Theology that I would simply need to find three minutes’ worth of different ways to say “You’re welcome”—Jesus was, after all, born a Jew, lived his life as an observant Jew, and died the death common to Jewish martyrs of the first and second centuries. In the records of his teachings that have passed down to us, contemporary Jewish scholars can hear echoes of the great Rabbinic debates recorded in the Mishnah and the Talmud—and Jesus rarely takes a position that has not also become normative within Rabbinic Judaism; the few times he deviates from what is now standard halakah, it is usually to deliver a ruling more stringent than the Talmud Rabbis. It should be a cause of great joy to me and mine that so many people have found such meaning in the words of one of my tradition’s great sages.
But of course, it isn’t that simple, is it? There are centuries—millennia—of ill will and contempt between Jews and Christians, which we have only begun to attempt to heal, through dialogue and study. Our shared scriptural heritage has caused us more harm than good, as disputes over the exact meaning of a given text have ended in tears—and pain—and blood. The Lessons and Carols service itself is a reminder of this, as Jewish scripture is re-read alongside Christian hymns to construct a narrative of a world broken by sin and redeemed by Christ—a narrative which is foreign to me as a Jewish reader of these texts, and which I am convinced was foreign to the ancient writers of these texts, as well; I confess that part of me standing here wants to say far less “You’re welcome” and far more “Those words are mine—give them back!”
These are hard conversations to have, still likely to end in tears and pain—though I dearly hope we have got past the bloodshed. But they are deeply necessary conversations: here, in the chapel of the University whose motto is Via, Veritas, Vita, where as a community we commit to seeking out truth for the betterment of all the world, we can only begin by telling the truth—telling each of our truths to one another, and hearing each other’s truths in turn. And so we begin, with this reading from the Book of Genesis, long before covenants or prophecy, with the deepest, most profound truth of all: in the beginning, God created all of humanity in God’s own image, and it was good. What happened afterwards is—and always was—ours to discover.