One of the good things I did over my long weekend away was to attend a lecture in Edinburgh by Jack Spong, radical American bishop and theologian. I was delighted to realise as I passed the Unitarian church where it was delivered that the event was a sell-out long before it started - not just because I was able to sell my spare ticket (at the purchase price) but because this seemed a hopeful sign. For much of the time I feel that religion in our society is so much a minority sport (I'm talking ethnic Brits here) that I wouldn't have been surprised at a half-empty hall, but no, it was packed. The audience was interesting - I felt young by comparison with 90% of those attending - and resembled a cull of many piskie congregations, which was probably just about right.
Spong was speaking about the subject of his latest book, Jesus for the non-religious. To attempt to summarise the 90 or so minutes of his talk would be to diminish it, and I don't intend to try. But it was heartening to hear someone of his undoubted scholarship reinforce ideas which I feel I've instinctively held for years, and to realise that this was another of these inspiring Christians who could blow new life into the flame of faith and show how possible it all is. I'll share one of my insights which he touched on.
When setting Interpretation passages for senior pupils, we often used to put a question about the nature of the text used. Was it fact or fiction, and how could you tell? And one of the possible pointers to fiction would lie in the close reproduction of the most private or intimate moments of conversation. Like the one between Pilate and Jesus, for example. Now, go too far down that road and you could end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But explain the Jewish background and a bit of history and suddenly - hey! You grab the baby and embrace it. The superfluous bits are seen for what they were. It's what is that counts.
Ok. I told you it was simple. I bought the book (link on the Wikipedia site already linked to) and will be on surer ground when I've read it. But at the end, when he stood like an old-fashioned Baptist preacher and demanded of the church: "Give me back my Jesus!" the hall erupted. It was exciting and exhilarating, and all these aged persons were full of it. No doubt there were those who had come to mutter, but they must've slunk off.
And me? I had a bad attack of the whirring brain and wasn't asleep till after 3am. Isn't religion exciting?