Exile and the Prophetic: Interfaith IMAX

This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Well, it was my first time speaking in an IMAX theatre last night and a good time was had by all. The different faiths represented went through the nuts and bolts of how their traditions see the body and self. Mine was the only one on the prophetic as I thought it would be. The audience may have been more interested in the others’ sensibility. It was difficult to figure out since the evening went long. There were only a few minutes for questions.

At the reception afterwards, a woman approached and told me how wonderful my presentation was. She also congratulated me for sticking to my time allotment which the others didn’t. Basking in my reflected glory, she then told me how she was forbidden to teach Sunday school in her church. This was after she proclaimed that the Bible had been brought to earth by aliens. She was taken aback by her dismissal; the alien presence was so obvious. To break the ice and bring us back closer to the earth, I asked her whether the aliens were Jewish. She laughed, paused and went silent for a moment. The aliens might have been Jewish. To be honest, though, she wasn’t sure.

Such is the life of a public speaker. To be honest, I enjoy the possibility of Jewish aliens bringing the Bible to earthlings than some of the other comments I receive after a lecture on Israel/Palestine. Have you ever received a congratulatory comment that you recoiled at? When it comes to the discussion of Israel the atmosphere is so contested that your comrade in arms can alarm you by what they think.

On the positive side we had a Jew, Christian, Muslim and Hindu sit together in peace and harmony. On the negative side, the world out there was more or less neglected. Is that the price for peace and harmony?

On the Israel/Palestine interfaith front all isn’t peace and harmony and hasn’t been for a very long time. In fact, what had been an attempt to resolve differences is more and more being contested. How can the faith traditions extend their hand in peace to one another when the other hand is an iron fist?

Politics is crucial in the interfaith dialogue, even if it often remains buried in theological concepts. Politics has always been central to religion. I don’t complain about the intersection of the political and the religious. After all, this is exactly where the prophetic line takes on its disturbing power. The task is to make the politics come out of its hiding place and announce itself. Then we can ask what kind of politics we want. We can make an informed choice.

Holocaust politics. Israel politics. Zionist politics. Everything is political, no matter what side of the religious fence you’re sitting on.

In Jewish life, even in Judaism itself, what kind of politics do we want to practice? Tell me what politics you practice under the umbrella of religion and we can agree or agree to disagree. Only don’t tell me that what I want is political and what you want is religious. Your “religious” is as political as my politics.

I have less of a Presidential debate hangover this morning than after the first debate. The news continues to herald Obama’s return to form. The next debate is on foreign policy. Will Israel assume a large role or will it remain reserved for campaign trail one-liners?

Interesting, too, that when it comes to the political world out there, our Presidential candidates have to prove that they’re tougher than anyone else than has ever run the country. Tough love is the best that countries like Egypt can hope for. I suppose it’s better than military intervention which seems the only other choice presented. Again the exception is Israel. Can you imagine any Presidential candidate proposing tough love for Israel?

I notice, too, that Ehud Olmert is emerging as a possible candidate in Israel’s upcoming election. It is difficult to imagine that there isn’t a stronger candidate to challenge Netanyahu. Or is it?

Olmert has so much “money-stuffed envelops” baggage. He still has to face more corruption charges. Is that were we are in Jewish history that redemptive Israel can only surface two candidates of such underwhelming character as Netanyahu and Olmert?

Over the years, American Jewish financiers have corrupted Israeli politics. In fact, the entire relationship with the American political system has been corrupting. Olmert is threatening to run on the platform that Netanyahu has poisoned Israel’s relationship with the United States. Who’s calling the kettle black? All Israeli politicians court American Jews and the American political establishment as central to Israel’s future. Is such foreign dependence any way to run a country?

Israel trumpets its independence. It is also dependent. The hope of Israel was to be free of foreign powers. Jews would chart their own destiny. Yet Israel is so entangled with foreign powers – or foreign power because it now is almost exclusively dependent on the United States – that it’s hard to imagine Israel going its own way or charting its own course. So far Israel has managed to have it both ways. Israel is dependent. Israel charts its own course.

If you’ve noticed, having it both ways in personal and collective life is a fantasy that often derails in a gory mess. A true friend of Israel and Jews would tell it to us straight. If you’ve noticed we don’t have many true friends.

Interesting that last night in my IMAX debut, I mentioned the Holocaust and Rachel Corrie as examples of real bodies I envision when the topic of body and self is raised. The Holocaust in horror, Rachel Corrie as the engaged prophetic. It seems that the audience simply accepted the framing as logical and to the point. Who could quibble with their presence in my narrative?

Such was my IMAX night. We all have our campaign trails. Some have viewers in the millions. Others have audiences of a couple of hundred.

Who’s to say which audience is more important or if either of them is important at all. Power seems to march to its own drummer until it marches to a new drummer.

The obvious warning: Be careful which drummer you march to and which drummer might arrive on the scene.

Whether it’s the television screen or the IMAX experience, history eventually has its own statement. That statement can be brutal. The iron fist is more evident than the hand extended in peace.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of Future of the Prophetic: Israel's Ancient Wisdom Re-Presented.
Posted in American Jewish Community, Israel/Palestine

{ 2 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. yourstruly says:

    a steady regression in human relations ever since

    the first freedom fighter
    after the hunter-gatherers
    settled down
    10,000 years or so
    ago
    someone (most likely a male)
    fastening a rope of one sort or another around someone else
    (the progenitor of the class struggle?)
    with that same someone else (at that time, could have been almost anyone)
    having but two choices
    fight or figure out and work on different ways to regain what’s being taken away
    hopefully peacefully
    otherwise?
    the heretofore unthinkable
    considering what’s become of us since we gave up hunting
    and so it’s been ever since
    except 7 billion of us now
    compared to how many back then?
    along with all the developments down through the ages
    progressive vs not so
    with the deadend lying straight ahead
    what with time running out
    yet one sure solution’s yet to be tried
    standing up together
    7 times ten to the ninth strong
    all for one and one for all
    where one is in control of one’s own destiny
    if not from the get-go
    not long thereafter
    leaderless, yet everyone a leader
    as during those magical 18 days in tahrir square
    + the occupy movement here & there
    except this one time it has to be everyone everywhere
    once
    that’s all it’ll take

  2. RE: “she proclaimed that the Bible had been brought to earth
    by aliens” ~ Marc Ellis

    MY COMMENT: I have it on good authority that they also built the pyramids!