Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Titanic events

The Religion & Theater students have their second "religious observance" to attend this weekend: Palm Sunday. (The first was a Purim service or Purimshpil.) Explaining its significance and its place on the cusp of Holy Week, I came up with a perhaps inspired analogy. James Cameron's blockbuster film "Titanic" (1997) started with a scene in the present in which a computer simulation showed how the ship went down and how long it took. I recall swooning reviewers noting that something which one might have thought would lessen the suspense of the film actually made it that much dramatic. At every point in the ensuing (long) film, you felt you were somewhere along the way to that tragic but also precisely definable sinking. That, I said, is what Palm Sunday does for Holy Week. (Until Easter.)

This seemed to work for a lot of students, not just those unfamiliar with the idea but also some who know it. It also let me make the distinction between (some) contemporary and pre-Shoah theologies clear. "What's the boat that goes down?" I asked. In contemporary services, it's the church, it's all of us (all of us who do the palm business but quickly turn on Jesus, and need to be reminded on Ash Wednesday, with the ashes of last year's palms, that we are dust), so unworthy to have been saved by Christ's redemptive sacrifice. But not so long ago it wasn't us (or just us) but them: "the Jews."

The analogy works well, almost too well, in forcing an acknowledgment of the anti-Judaism which structured so much of traditional Christianity.

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