Tim Frakes Productions

Perfect Storm: Reuven Firestone

I had the privilege of working with Reuven Firestone, Professor of Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College this spring in Pakistan with Intersections International. How many Jewish Rabbi’s do you know who hang out in Pakistan working to build peace and understanding? Rabbi Firestone is a mensch.

Rabbi Firestone published this article on Intersections website today, regarding the Israel/Palestine conflict in Gaza. It’s a good word. Perfect Storm

We are experiencing the perfect storm for violence between Jews and Muslims in Israel/Palestine. It’s the convergence of certain factors in religion, which when combined with the particular political impasse there cause many religious Muslims and Jews to see the conflict as religious, existential and life-threatening. This encourages a high tolerance for brutality in the name of religion, which then heightens the perception of impending destruction – which in turn encourages increased brutality.

Religions function like complex organisms. The cells of their bodies are the believers, tied together through the arteries of communities and sinews of shared ritual. Their muscles are movements of common cause, their brain a complex neural mix of theologies and counter-theologies, and their heart the center of moral vision. Like all organisms, religions seek homeostasis. Left to themselves, they pursue positive relations with their environments; they seek a state of peace.

Religions contain within them different vectors of religious thought and action. When undisturbed, the dominant vectors strive for meaning and balance with nature by providing for the physical needs of the body and the spiritual needs of the soul. With these needs met, believers care for the full environment in which they live. They act out the religious imperative by feeding the hungry and serving the needy both within and outside of the community of believers. This in turn radiates the expectation that humanity and nature can live together in harmony. In other words, religions are equipped and are eager to expend great spiritual, physical and material effort to bring real peace to all humankind.

But religions can also feel threatened. When the threat is perceived as serious, they react by promoting a different set of vectors that also convey authentic religious thought and action. These vectors support defensive actions, such as lashing out against perceived enemies through invective and verbal attack. When the threat is considered life-threatening, religions can unleash all their resources against it. History has shown how religious communities that feel threatened can engage in unthinkable brutality.

But feelings are not always an accurate assessment of reality. Sometimes an organism misperceives a threat and then endangers itself by reacting foolishly. Sometimes, in fact, an organism can err by aggravating a real but non-lethal hazard into a fatal deathtrap.

This is what we see happening these past weeks in Israel/Palestine. The essential conflict there is one over competing expressions of nationalism, neither of which accepts the legitimacy of the other. Nationalism exists in the world of politics where all things are negotiable. But the conflict has morphed over the years into one that is increasingly defined as religious, existential and absolute. This unfortunate development has infiltrated the political discourse on both sides even among those who are not religious. It leaves virtually no room for negotiation.

For the sake of their own survival, both sides must reconsider how they define their grievances. Classifying the conflict as existential makes it absolute, provoking and threatening horrible destruction. Re-evaluating the meaning of the conflict can move it toward something that is resolvable.

The political, social, cultural and counter-cultural leaders on both sides need to reconsider the narratives that they have created. They need to bring their communities back to a less threatening discourse. That requires re-summoning the traditional vectors of religious thought common to both Judaism and Islam which seek homeostasis and value dynamic relations with the Other. Such a move can bring the discussion around to enable positive problem-solving.

The confluence of events in this perfect storm will eventually pass. It will then be up to those on the ground to make the necessary repairs in order to stay afloat. That will require giving up certain dogmatic absolutes and accepting the reality that life requires negotiation.

Reuven Firestone is Professor of Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles and Senior Fellow at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC. His books include Jihad: The Origin of Holy War in Islam, and Holy War in Judaism: The Fall and Rise of a Controversial Idea.

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After Prison, Responding with Faith (Full Program)

In this new documentary I produced for WTTW Channel 11, the Chicago Sunday Evening Club presents the stories of three faith communities that are doing the difficult, but necessary work of healing the lives of ex-offenders, and standing with them as they reenter society. Our hope is to engage with communities of faith in deep dialogue around these issues.

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Sanctuary: Worker Justice

Meet three three dynamic women advocating for justice in the workplace and in immigrant communities. Kim Bobo is the Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice, CJ Hawking is the Executive Director of Arise Chicago and Elena Segura works with the Office for Immigrant Affairs in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Sanctuary, is an in-depth documentary program that focuses on issues and ideas at the intersection of life and faith broadcast on ABC, WLS-TV,  and Channel 7.  This episode of Sanctuary is a production of Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries and Tim Frakes Productions and aired on Easter Sunday, March, 31, 2013 at 1:00 p.m., ABC7 Chicago.

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Gun Violence: The Faith Response

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn tragedy, I am re-posting this link. Gun Violence: The Faith Response is a half-hour documentary I produced this fall for Sanctuary, an in-depth documentary program produced by the Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries on issues and ideas at the intersection of life and faith broadcast on ABC, WLS-TV, and Channel 7.

Between January and September 2012, Chicago Police reported 2,632 weapons violations committed on the cities streets, parks, schools, homes and public buildings. In the same period, 384 were killed and 1895 were wounded.

The Emergency Stop the Violence Summit at historic First Baptist Congregational Church on the cities near west side drew religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Islamic communities, as well as police, government and civic leaders. The event also featured three victims of gun violence. These are their stories of faith, grief and hope.

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Immigration Protest Chicago

Tuesday, May 15, 2012. I took a morning Metra train downtown to hunt for early NATO protestors. A demonstration was scheduled for Federal Plaza. Apparently organizers couldn’t get their act together and the place was empty. Armed with my camera and Twitter, I learned that an immigration protest was brewing over on W. Van Buren Street. This is some of the raw video I recorded. www.frakesproductions.com

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Seminex: Memories of a Church Divided

This is a preview of a documentary I am currently working on about a divide in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in the 1970′s.

On February 19, 1974, students and faculty at the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod’s St. Louis Concordia Theological Seminary marched through the campus – out the doors of an institution, church body and well established educational system – and into self-described exile.  
This story begins in the 19th Century when a new method of Biblical interpretation known as the “historical-critical method”, tore many Protestant churches apart.
Were Adam and Eve real people? Was Jonah actually swallowed by a fish? Or, did ancient authors reflect their own historical situation when addressing the people of their time and place?

For Missouri Synod Lutherans, the full impact of these theological debates and culturally conservative verses more modern world views came to a head decades after other church bodies had divided and drifted apart. 
The debate ruptured the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod at a time of vast American cultural and social upheaval: Viet Nam, the Civil Rights movement and Watergate. For many students, faculty, administrators and Lutherans throughout North America, the events in St. Louis took a personal toll. The walkout would divide families, split congregations and have a lasting impact on the future of the church.

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Iraqi Voices Amplification Project

In October 2009, a small group of artists-photographers, filmmakers, musicians, and new media specialists traveled to Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria with Intersections International to meet and interact with displaced Iraqi refugees and to hear their stories.

(Short Version 7:38)

(Long Version 16:00 ) (Turn off the HD button if you experience buffering issues.)

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Forbidden Family

Forbidden Family is a story about the separation barrier and its effect on one Lutheran Palestinian family. I produced this video for the ELCA in 1995. This December I will be producing a new advocacy video for “Peace Not Walls.” This ELCA sponsored group advocates for peace and justice in the Middle East. In Feburary, I may be returning to Jerusalem to record footage with a delegation of Lutheran Church officials.

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Ready to Forgive: An African Story of Grace

This is the short version of a documentary Jim Quattrocki and I began recording in Northern Uganda in October, 2006. Kevin Jacobson helped with logistics. Jim Parks edited the progam and wrote some of the music.

This is an African story of God’s amazing grace. Northern Uganda has been at war for twenty years. Those most affected, a tribal people known as the Acholi, or Luo people, endure rape, torture, and child abduction. Thousands have died. Others are missing. Two million people are displaced.

Most live in squalid camps for internally displaced persons, protected by government soldiers they often fear more than the rebels. Despite all this, the Acholi are united in the belief that the only real solution to the problem is reconciliation and forgiveness. The Acholi are ready to forgive.

For more on this documentary go to the ELCA web site: www.elca.org/mosaic/uganda

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Night Commuters in Northern Uganda

This short clip is from a documentary I am producing for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It will air on NBC next fall. Each night hundreds of children come to night commuter centers run by the Church of Uganda. The are looking for a safe place to spend the night.

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