Action Figures

Guest blogger Rabbi Jennifer Krause is the author of The Answer: Making Sense of Life, One Question at a Time.

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With the Jewish High Holy Day rush behind us, peoples’ Monday-morning quarter-backing this week will have little to do with what their rabbis said – or didn’t say – in their sermons, and potentially more to do with what presidential hopeful Barack Obama said in his.

No, Obama was not speaking this past Shabbat about the recently celebrated holiday of Simchat Torah, but rather offering some words at a Sunday Sabbath service in Ron Carter’s Redemption World Outreach Center. During his talk at the South Carolina evangelical church, Obama closed his remarks by asking the assembled congregation of 4,000 “to pray that I can be an instrument of God in the same way that Pastor Ron and all of you are instruments of God.”

Also this past weekend, the NY Times Sunday Magazine featured a company called one2believe in anticipation of the December holiday blitz . One2believe is a toy manufacturer whose “Messengers of Faith” line includes Biblical action features like Moses, Esther, David, and Noah. Its “Tales of Glory” series features a “Jonah and the Big Fish” set of figurines, and “Spirit Warriors” offers kids a chance to create their own WWE smack-down between 3-inch versions of Samson and Goliath.

I expect the next several weeks of verbal political smack-down will bring an up-tick in God-talk amongst presidential candidates from every side of the aisle, as they – and we – move towards the first official high holidays of voting: the primary elections.

This is not to say that all those who talk the talk will or are doing so in an insincere or unreflective way. Yet it is important to note that phrases like “instrument of God� are not necessarily slam-dunks, particularly if you know your Bible and if you understand the complexities of what it means to be a person of faith in the world. All of those one2believe action figures called “Messengers of Faith� – Moses, Esther, David, and Noah – had their moments of glory, their triumphs of leadership.

Yet they also were human beings – not superheroes – who struggled with their own humanity, at times running from leadership, stumbling upon it by accident, or excelling in the public sphere while wrestling mightily in the private. For what it’s worth, capturing Jonah with his “big fish� and calling it a “tale of glory� may be appropriate for a child’s view of the Biblical tale, but it misses the point of the story when read, as we just did on Yom Kippur, with grown-up eyes.

It is precisely when Jonah is with the “big fish� that he is running from the moment in his life in which God has called him to service.

What does it mean for a potential president of these United States to be “an instrument of God,� or, for that matter, for any one of us to be one? And if Senator Obama had been speaking in a synagogue this past Saturday, as we began a new cycle of reading the Torah with the story of the world’s creation in Genesis, would he have asked that we offer him the same prayer?

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