This week I found myself in Denver for a few talks. I had some free time, and went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
There were two special exhibitions that I checked out, one was an IMAX movie on Jerusalem, and the other was a display on Space Odyssey.
The Jerusalem IMAX documentary is quite well-done.
It features a colleague of mine, Jodi Magness, who is a leading archeologist of the second Temple period.
It is narrated by the extraordinary Benedict Cumberbatch, so yeah, awesome.
Jerusalem makes the intriguing decision to tell the story of Jerusalem largely through female voices—a welcome relief from the all too often male-dominated religious voices that dominate Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jerusalem uses the powerful narrative strategy of choosing three young women, similarly aged, one Muslim, one Christian, and one Jewish, to talk about their families and their attachment to Jerusalem.
The religious rituals are portrayed in extraordinary beauty. The heartache of the city, and the ongoing occupation, is minimized. [I do not recall if the words “Israel” or “Palestine” are even used in the documentary.] The documentary ends with a provocative question, wondering when the three young women are ready to be friends. The answer given in the movie is “not yet.”
I walked over from the Jerusalem IMAX to the Space Odyssey exhibit at the museum, which looked at humanity’s exploration of space. Here we were presented as a united humanity, exploring the vast uncharted universe facing all of us.
The exhibition ended with a quote from Arthur C. Clarke:
“Sometimes I think we are quite alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we are not. In either case the idea is staggering.”
Somehow the juxtaposition got to me.
There are hundreds of billions of galaxies.
Our own Milky Way is just one of them.
The Milky Way alone contains billions of stars.
The universe is vast beyond our wildest imagination.
And we fools cannot agree to share one square mile of the ancient city of Jerusalem.
Which brings me back to the Arthur C. Clarke quote.
What if we are alone on the cosmos?
What if this Earth is the one planet in the billions and billions of star that we can call home?
And what if we are so greedy, so selfish that we cannot share the square mile of the old city?
And what if we are not alone?
What if there are sentient beings in this universe?
What hope do we have of living in peace with other beings if we cannot live in peace with one another?
Let us hope that we heed the words of another astronaut featured in the exhibit.
“For those who have seen the Earth from space…the experience changes your perspective.
The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.”
Captain Donald Williams
May we as human beings honor our particularities and honor our differences.
One cannot overlook the political, economic, and structural issues of justice and injustice that have to be confronted, and overcome.
But we also need the human to human friendship.
Maybe there is hope for us just yet.
The three young ladies in the documentary have apparently struck a friendship.
Whether we are alone in this universe, or whether there are billions of other beings on gazillions of other planets,
we are not alone.
We have each other, and one way or another, we gotta learn to live with one another.
May it start in Jerusalem.