I am a Jew living in the United Kingdom, a country with a Jewish population of less than 0.5% of the total. I am a Jew living in Cumbria, possibly the least Jewish county in England. I am a Jew who married not beneath a sacred canopy in a synagogue but in the plain surroundings of a Quaker Meeting House in the Lake District. My partner will shortly become an ordained Anglican Minister. Our children have a love of Christianity and Judaism but will find their spiritual home in church.
I appear to have forfeited my rights to comment on matters of concern to the Jewish community. From Judaism's perspective I am most definitely living on the very margins.
Or is there another way of looking at this?
The great benefit given by distance is improved perspective. From where I stand I can take in wider views and appreciate a grander landscape of religious and political thought. That's especially true when it comes to Israel-Palestine and interfaith relations - the two main themes of this blog.
Writing from the edge leaves me free from tribal affiliations but without abandoning tribal affections. My Jewish edginess allows me to walk away from religious or theological rivalries. instead I am free to concentrate on commonality - the shared ground the overlaps between communities and faiths where open minds can meet.
This is not to advocate some kind of religious 'mush' devoid of distinct traditions, liturgies, prayers, celebrations and festivals. Religious particularism helps to forge personal identity, rootedness, community pride, a vital sense of connectedness. These things only go wrong when a particular route to a universal understanding of faith and humanity slips into exclusivity and chauvinism. The attitude and world outlook that says: Only my path is the right path. My truth is the whole truth. Only my light shows the way to redeeming the world.
On Israel-Palestine, my Jewish edginess allows me to understand the collective Jewish narrative that sees Israel not as a normal country but as a just answer, a messianic redemption, for a people who have suffered thousands of years of discrimination, oppression and genocide. My edginess allows me to step outside of this narrative, to question its understanding of history, theology and politics. It allows me to enter the narrative of the Palestinian people and be changed by that experience and understanding.
So what of Micah? And what is the paradigm shift he calls for? Why is he my edgy companion on this blog?
The Hebrew Prophet Micah, like the best of the Hebrew Prophets, was a critic of the religious and political power elites of his day. In starting this blog I was looking for a manifesto, a clear set of words, a vision to be aspired to and strive for. The paradigm shift I hope for, call for and pray for is summed up in these verses from the 6th chapter of the book of Micah :
6 With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
The words appear so reasonable but in reality they are as radical and counter-cultural today as they were in Judea in the 8th century BCE. We worship the wrong things, we fail to do justice, we do not show kindness and we walk upon the earth with a haughty arrogance.
Micah is writing from the edge. I hope that one day we will both find ourselves in the middle.