Rabbi Lionel Blue has died. He was best known as a broadcaster from his regular contributions to Radio 4’s Thought for the Day. They were usually very funny yet at the same time very challenging. He was the first openly gay rabbi and in this, as with many other things, he was a pioneer.
One of my favourite Rabbi Blue stories concerned the need for unconditional acceptance of God. He spoke of a man with no faith who was on a solo coastal walk, miles away from the next person. He slips and tumbles over the cliff. Half way down he manages to grab a tree stump sticking out of the cliff face. 50 feet below he sees jagged rocks and an angry see. There is no way back to the top. He was in a hopeless situation. For the first time in his life he prays: “If there is a anyone up there, please help me”. A voice comes from the heavens: “This is God. Put your faith in me, let go of the branch. I will catch you in the palm of my hand and carry you to safety.” The man looks at the jagged rocks fifty feet below and considers the consequences of letting go of the branch. So he prays again: “Is there anyone else up there?”
I have used that story in a lecture I give about the lack of choice homeless people have, that they put their faith in services and we have a moral duty to do everything we can to keep them safe and to get them off the streets.
As a student, Lionel Blue was a close friend of my uncle Colin. Colin, later the Bishop of Namibia, tried to convert him to Christianity while Lionel Blue tried to convert Colin to Marxism. It was ironic that twenty years later Colin had become a Marxist and Rabbi Blue had a close affection and fascination of Christianity.
In 1947 they hitchhiked together to what was then known as Palestine. Years later Rabbi Blue said that Colin had demonstrated true Christian compassion by sharing his tooth brush with him as he had left his at home. His autobiography ‘Hitchhiking to Heaven’ refers to that trip.
I will remember reading a collection of his articles, ‘Bright Blue’, on a camping holiday on the Isle of Wight, laughing and laughing until it hurt. If you don’t know Lionel Blue or his writings, look him up. You will be both inspired and entertained.
Thank you, Lionel Blue. Rest in Peace.