Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Cor 12: 12-31a; Luke 4: 14-21
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, a day that has become a regular feature in the calendar and in the UK has broadened its remit to include not just the Holocaust of the second world war, but more recent incidents of genocide. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and so we are asked to remember that shameful and devastating time in the life of a small African nation. A time when within small villages, neighbours betrayed one another; a genocide that left no community untouched; a time whose impact is still being felt. I’ve met some survivors of that genocide and they will live the rest of their lives as people who have been damaged by trauma. One little example of that was a day when I introduced two women to one another, two women who had both lived through the genocide and are now in Scotland. In my innocence I thought that each would be pleased to meet someone from her home country, but within moments I realized that there was something much bigger at play. Each needed to identify very quickly which side the other belonged to, to identify friend or foe. Luckily it was OK – but no thanks to me.
The strapline for Holocaust Memorial Day this year is Torn from Home. Both of those women were effectively torn from home but they had brought their pain and history with them – and that history of home was far more significant than any shared story they may have had in this new place that they have come to call home.
One of the intellectual struggles we all have is to imagine how people find themselves in a position where they are committing despicable acts of violence against people whom they once called friends and neighbours. And, of course, the journey from here to there is an incremental process. That process has its roots in our sense of identity – the ways that we see ourselves and how we translate that sense of self onto other people. We never really see ourselves as others see us- and we can be quick to forget that we don’t see other people as they see themselves. You’ll know the Robert Owen quote ‘All the world is queer save thee and me, and even thee’s a bit queer’.
We make divisions and differences in all sorts of ways – many of which are completely trivial. Think of the debates about whether jam or cream should be spread first on your scone or scone. I do wonder whether