About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


Seaside Surprise

Would you know what this is? This isn’t a frozen over little puddle. When I took this picture, it was well above 80°F. I was on a lonely stretch of Pacific Coast, by the ruins of Lapakahi - a long abandoned Hawaiian fishing village. Basalt rocks, actually, there it is solidified lava, are covered with holes, cavities, dents and pits. And by the shore, just above the high tide line, those pits in rocks were filled with these glittering mirror-like panes of sea salt.
    Hopping over sharp edged cliffs and loose boulders and using just my small pocket knife I started to collect these white gem-like crystals. In less than fifteen minutes I had enough salt to serve our family for a full year. And let me tell you, it tastes unlike any other salt. It might be just Sodium Chloride but for me it has that deep umami savoury taste.
    It might be because it is not over-purified and still contains some other parts of the ocean. Or perhaps it might be just all in my head, because I collected it myself, I know where it comes from and I love and respect that historic place. This salt mining experience from Lapakahi village taught me to appreciate the humble salt and opened my mind for some of its spiritual significance.
    This Sunday we enter the Advent season and in Advent and Christmas this year we will seek inspiration and strength in some of Jesus’ early parables. As you can guess we will start with salt logion (saying).


Election in Forestan

A full week after elections we still had these voting booths stored in the corner of our community hall (Rutgers Church is a polling place). They looked lonely and abandoned, waiting to be picked up by board of elections truck. Today I looked closer and in-between two boards I discovered a folded half sheet of paper yellowed by age. I instantly recognized the handwriting I knew from other fragments of “Manhattan Bible of Henry Rutgers”. The old missive read:

Long ago, there was a far away land called Forestan inhabited only by trees. And it came to pass that trees decided to select their king.
First they considered a Sugar Maple of New England, yet dismissed this idea because it was too sweetly optimistic for their bitter souls.
Then they thought about an Apple Tree from NY, but they abandoned this idea because the apples’ symbolism did not fit their ideology; although they were in great need of education and health they were completely oblivious of this fact. 
The fruits of Georgia’s Peach Tree were dark skinned so the peach tree was left out. And here you must remember that bluntness is not racism, oh no! 
For a moment they looked even at the prairie grass; its ability to bend to every wind looked promising, but then they realized it protected the soil and waters of prairies and so even the grass was dismissed as an unfit candidate.
Florida’s Orange Tree was nice, but definitely not native, arriving from somewhere south and without documents. The mighty Sequoia from California, on the other hand, was patently native but was clearly overqualified to stand above all the trees and thus also left from consideration. And the Banana Tree from Hawaii was one of a hundred different species therefore such perplexing broad diversity was quickly distrusted.
In Forestan they were running out of options. Then a scrubby, twisted, thorny bush arose and proposed himself as their future king. “I will make our Forest into a Garden Again - a great wall all around is what is needed.” Mr. Brumble volunteered and started to make plans, “We will weed out all who do not fit in with our vision of a bristly monoculture forest.” He promised “I will cover you and protect you with my thorns and brambles and no one will touch you anymore.” Many were bewitched by this vision and thus it happened that Forestan selected its future king.

And if you think that Henry Rutgers wrote this fable all by himself, just read Jotham’s Fable in the Bible, Judges 9:7-21.  It is a gloomy reading but thankfully the Bible tells us also about other kings and other leaders with better credentials and real aptitudes to serve. On this Sunday, the last one in this Church Year, join us as we rejoice and receive strength from Christ the King!


No laughing matter

I am convinced that God has a marvelous and healthy sense of humor. You have heard this and read this from me a number of times. Prophets can be sharp satirists, poking fun of pompous emperors, potentates and their empires. Also, any good storytelling, biblical literature not excluded, is composed of elements of suspense, surprise and comedy. And in the New Testament, Jesus’ parables are prime examples of subtle use of humor; they are short, surprising, to the point, yet often open ended...
    God has a marvelous sense of humor and wants to infect us with humor to keep us sane. Why? Because religious people have a tendency to take their religion and especially their religious-selves way too seriously. Religion without humor quickly degenerates into boredom or intolerance or even fanaticism. Humor is essential for our psychological as well as spiritual well-being.
    Of course, as always, there is a fine line between healthy and off-color jokes. The sharpest humor is found right on the edge. The Bible contains jokes which could go too far for many of us; take for instance profane (1Sam. 5), grotesque (1Sam. 18:25ff), and even toilet humor (1Sam. 24) to mention only a few borderline examples from just one biblical book. As always it is a matter of our personal upbringing, sensitivities and tastes whether any of these are up to or across the line of acceptable.
    Thus the Bible contains a number of what could easily be considered off-color jokes, but one kind of joke is clearly rejected, repudiated and reprobated. It is when the able and the powerful are poking fun of and ridiculing the disabled, the poor and the powerless. This kind of “humor” God does not find funny at all. And Jesus clearly shared this sentiment. This Sunday in the lectionary reading we will witness and will be able to rejoice as Jesus denounces the powerful for their political and religious ridicule of the powerless. Clearly God’s sense of humor is quite wide, but it is governed by the principles of divine justice.


Reformation with Refugees

This Sunday we will celebrate Reformation Day marking the day when Dr. Martin Luther stood up for the sovereignty of divine salvation. This year we will pay special attention to refugees.
      The Reformation challenged the very roots of the medieval authoritarian system of religious values. It was met with stiff resistance from the established and entrenched structures of power. Reformation was followed by a bitter religious cultural and political conflict. The Scottish Covenanters, Valdensian exodus across the Alps, Europeans killed and uprooted by the Thirty Years War, The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, Puritans escaping English civil war and persecutions... you have probably heard at least some of these stories.
      Reformation was not only a bright bolt of religious liberation, it also brought us this deep and intimate experience with religious persecution and exile. We must remember the persecution of our reformation ancestors not because we would like to instigate religious tensions, but so that we cultivate among ourselves a gentleness and sensitivity towards the religious exiles and refugees of our own days.
      Our own and our ancestors' experience with intolerance shall lead us to tolerance, the encounter with prejudice shall lead us to good will. We owe it to our reformation ancestors. Come to celebrate reformation Sunday with refugees.

Katharina Luther around the year 1530, appropriately and fashionably veiled.
(If some people these days have any problems with veils!)


Global Communion

Cathedral in Sk√°lholt.
When a religion goes global it is faced with some surprising challenges, especially if it insists on the rigid adherence and fossilized interpretation of its rituals (as is often the case).  Just look at medieval Icelanders.  In the year 1000 their parliament adopted Christianity as their national religion. Soon they were faced with a serious problem. Communion wine was very expensive and often not available at all. Icelanders could not possibly grow their own grapes so close to the Arctic Circle. And as much as they were audacious sailors, bringing barrels of wine in their open boats across the stormy North Atlantic wasn’t reliable enough. Resourceful Icelanders came up with a simple solution - they started to brew their local berries or substituted mead for wine. An ingenious solution perhaps, but it was soon banned directly from Rome. Communion was to be served only with wine, and the wine made from grapes. Sometimes it feels like wine growers had a really powerful lobby in Rome. 
    Protestant missionaries had similar problems all over the tropics. Grapes do not grow in the arctic and subarctic regions but they do not grow particularly well in the tropics either. Grape vines need a cold dormant season. In the tropics a vine grows plenty of leaves, alright, but hardly any harvestable grapes. And in addition to wine problems, the tropics presented also a problem with the bread. Before the arrival of missionaries it was virtually an unknown food. In the tropics, yeast is unpredictable and hard to work with and after bread is baked, it spoils really fast. Roman Catholics had their communion wafers, while Protestants kept on baking and serving strange approximations of wheat breads. Could it be that bakers had a similarly powerful lobby among Protestants?
    These are unfortunate examples of rigid ritualism, textual fundamentalism and lost opportunities to translate Christian faith to the climates, and into the lives and cultures of the peoples around the world. Thankfully these attitudes have been changing in the last few decades. I came across long, and learned tracts discussing with all sincerity the use of wafers in protestant worship and sometime even the use of other juices of other berries, as long as they are red. (As if the color was so important!) Some theologians are slowly recognizing that wine and bread are staple foods of the Mediterranean region while other cultures have their own staple foods. And as is often the case, these other staple foods and drinks also have their deeper symbolical meanings; cocoa in Mesoamerica, ‘awa or poi in Polynesia, tea or mochi in Japan to mention only some. Many of these foods and drinks (and their symbolisms) are well suited to be adopted and to help translate the deeper meaning of Holy Communion.
    This World Communion Sunday we will take Holy Communion global. So come this Sunday, taste and see that the Lord is good, God’s love endures forever and permeates the entire world (not only the Mediterranean corner of the world).

Global Communion with bread but also with potato, mochi and poi,
with grape juice, but also with coconut milk, green tea and cacao.


Enlightenment and Religious Tolerance

Can Jews, Christians and Muslims live in peace with one another without prejudice and hatred? Can people of different religions and confessions coexist? We are not the first ones who ask this question. While we ponder this question with fear and anxiety, there was a time when people asked it with anticipation and hope. 
    The first church which I served right after my ordination was founded in 1785 and in its old sanctuary (it had two sanctuaries!) was an altar with this Latin dedication (shown here on the picture) to the Holy Trinity and with respectful thanks to the Emperor Joseph II and his successor Francis I.
    My predecessors were not a bunch of sly toadies. They were genuinely thankful to Joseph II, the exemplary Enlightened Monarch. After dark centuries of religious persecution, the Enlightenment finally brought reason to the matters of religion, and with it eventually came the long overdue freedom of religion and the freedom of individual conscience.
    Today, the seductive sirens of religious, cultural, racial and national intolerance and chauvinism grow ever louder and stronger. It is good to remember the ethos of the Enlightenment, this formative intellectual, cultural and spiritual movement. On this side of the Atlantic, the Enlightenment stood at the cradle of the United States, her Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. In Europe the Enlightenment grew up from the dark centuries of religious intolerance and wars and presented alternatives of reason, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
    I rejoiced when Chris Jones offered to perform in our church a pivotal excerpt from the play “Nathan the Wise”. When Gotthold Ephraim Lessing wrote it, it was so radical, that the official church made sure it was never performed during his lifetime and the book was put on the index of prohibited books. Why? Because it advocated for religious perspectivism and tolerance - the conviction that Judaism, Christianity and Islam complement each other.
    This Sunday is our Homecoming, we enter our new program year with the hopeful message of Enlightenment and Tolerance.


Hieroglyphs with Susan Brind Morrow

This weekend we will welcome to Rutgers the published author and poet Susan Brind Morrow. She will bring to us her love and deep interest in Egyptian Hieroglyphs and more specifically the Pyramid Texts.    
    In the Bible and our Judeo-Christian tradition Egypt does not have good reputation. The Torah (the Law) specifically branded Egypt inseparably in the phrase “the land of Egypt, the house of slavery”.  It is a clear moral, political and religious judgement. The law and prophets admonish contemporaries as well as all the descendants (including us) never to return to Egypt. Why then to do it, against the explicit biblical warning?
    Firstly, for two months in the series on Forgotten Religion we did something like that. We checked and revisited the truth and validity of the assumed postulates of our faith tradition.
    Secondly, and more importantly, according to the most recent scholarship there is a two thousand year difference between the Egypt of the Bible and to the Egypt of the Pyramid Texts.
This is roughly as large a difference as between some current fundamentalist megachurch and the band of Jesus’ disciples.
    We do not dismiss Jesus, his ministry and his teaching because of some distant corruption of his teaching. To the contrary we go and search diligently for his true ethos and his deep insights. And that is what we want to do this weekend with ancient Egyptian texts. Susan Brind Morrow recasts the Pyramid Texts as an important religious poem, arguing that these immaculate engravings describe not only a foundational religion and philosophy but a radical way of viewing the world.