Friday, November 03, 2006

A most unorthodox Rabbi.......

Growing up in the middle of "Middle England" I was exposed at an early age to the broadcasts of Radio 4. Foremost amongst these broadcasts was the "Today" programme first thing in the morning. At breakfast time I was always aware of the "news" probably starting with weak memories of the Falklands War, through Miners Strike, Fall of Communism, Gulf War (1), Collapse of Yugoslavia, Rwandan Genocide, IRA ceasefire and many other events that have shaped "modern history".

Brief flirtations with "Breakfast News" or horrors.. TV-am occurred but for my Father these ultimately lacked the breadth and character of "Today". "Today" was not, and is not without its faults. Allegations of political bias, self-referential stories and an element of self-satisfied smugness have always been part and parcel of Today. In a sense this adds to the "enjoyment" of regular listeners. Like a close friend or relative its faults are obvious and known but almost add to the affection it is held in. I never chose to follow my Father's listening habits but I have found myself becoming a regular "Today" listener just like he was.

Somehow a professional "pacy" news bulletin on Five Live just doesn't have the charm of the comprehensive but often stumbling coverage of Today. The World Service is available on 648 MW for international news junkies but inevitably lacks the homely quality of Today.

Today is littered with anachronisms that few broadcasters would dare to begin today but are protected within the tradition of Today. Foremost amongst these are the "Racing Tips"- hopelessly unreliable betting predictions for the day's horse-racing and "Thought for the Day"- moral thoughts from a variety of religious and sometimes non-religious commentators.

I was not around at the start but I suspect it was mainly Bishops with the occasional Catholic or Methodist thrown in for "balance". Today, inevitably, the commentators range from Muslim to Atheist, Buddhist to Christian and for 25 years have included one Rabbi Lionel Blue.

Rabbi Lionel Blue (RLB) is probably the most unorthodox Jewish Rabbi around. Not only is he a 76 year old gay Jew but he refers lovingly to his long-term partner Jim and makes jokes on subjects ranging from death to the holocaust. In recent years he has battled ill health- everything from Epilepsy to Cancer- but still retains a positive outlook on like.

Thought for the Day ranges from 2 to 4 minutes in length around 7.50am each morning. They are not always that inspiring but I am always cheered to hear RLB come on. His broadcasts are irregular in frequency so it never certain when he will come on next. However I am pleased to say he was on yesterday and still seems in good form.

I have copied his words below, but his "Thought" can also be heard on the BBC website. Maybe you have to be brought up listening to Today to fully "get" this but I think it is charming and eccentric as well as positive and strangely uplifting. I have been aware of RLB since the 1980s- longer than I have known most of my friends. In a way, it is one of the miracles of broadcasting that you can feel affinity to a person you have never met.

Here is yesterday's Thought from Rabbi Lionel Blue.

Thought for the Day, 6 November 2006
Rabbi Lionel Blue

If they'd blown up Parliament yesterday I'd have devoted this Thought to it. Also being against the Iraq war from the beginning I can't comment on its consequences. So instead I'll concentrate on my own exhaustion. I feel I'd overdone it and forgotten I was no longer a sprightly 67 but a 76 coming to bits. So I lose my balance, tumble down stairs and crash into a cupboard. My partner, an athletic 80, can't raise my fifteen stone, rushes out and returns with an ambulance.

Then our multi ethnic and much under appreciated NHS swings into action because I've got a soaring temperature. And I doze. Comfortably secured by a drip, ear plugged to my transistor, half listening to the familiar news. There's the reformers who can't reform themselves, terrorists covering their own inner violence under a fig leaf of faith, spiritual teachers for instant drugged enlightenment, and our old acquaintances the charismatic revolutionaries shouting Power to the People but the corruption remains. We fool ourselves like the people between the two world wars.

But then my godly inner voice whispers 'It's too easy Lionel exposing other people's hypocricies. What about your ego games, your hidden agendas and mixed motives. Where's your self honesty?'

'But I'm sick and growing old' I answer querulously. 'You're not dead yet' says my inner voice brightly. 'Whether you're growing up, growing fat or growing old, you're still growing. Seventy six is a good age to be honest to God and make a new start in life. But this kind of knowledge doesn't come easy and you'll need the courage from prayer to face it and humour to puncture your false pride.' Wise words. We humans are too tricky clever to be wise which might prove our undoing. Ponder this cautionary tale for broad indeed is the way which leads to self deception and cloud cuckooland. A man marches into a wine bar. 'Five glasses of bubbly' he orders and drinks them one by one. The following week he does the same. The curious waiter asks him why. 'I used to come here' said the man 'with my four brothers and sisters and we each had a glass to celebrate the weekend. But now I'm the only one left hereabouts and this is how I remember our happy family. 'Thanks for telling me' said the waiter much moved. So he's shocked when the man returns a week later and asks for only four glasses of bubbly. 'Has anything happened to one of your brothers or sisters?' he asks fearfully. 'Oh no' said the man. 'They're doing fine. I've just stopped drinking that's all.'

O Lord have mercy on us, for as you know we're more mad than bad.

copyright 2006 BBC

Blue Thoughts from the Rabbi........"I don't believe death is the end. This world is like a corridor, like a departure lounge in an airport. You make yourself comfortable and get to know people - then your number comes up and you're called."


James said...

I thought atheists were still not allowed on TFTD-there was some fuss a couple of years back, and they let Richard Dawkins do an alternative Thought, but it wasn't in the regular slot.

On the issue of the racing tips, there was amusement last week, as the presenter (Gary or Steve) had tipped that horse that was in the lead before throwing its rider over the finishing line. The presenter asked the racing correspondent if that still counted as a win ;-)

Luis said...

Thanks for the clarification James. You may well be right. I have rather assumed that R4 had already crossed that bridge but maybe that has not happened (yet ?).

I think I caught the discussion on whether the rider being thrown over the finishing line counted as a win !

I should of course say that tradition is not always respected on radio 4- as demonstrated by Controller Mark Damazer banning the musical start to proceedings this year when he banned the 33 year old UK theme. I thought it was only the Taleban who banned music. Maybe he wants to be known as "Mullah Mark" !