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."

2020/02/14

Living, evolving God

In the Bible God is often called “Living God” in Hebrew 'elōhîm chaiyîm, 'elōhîm chai, or 'ēl chai once or twice even as chai yhvh. That is an interesting epithet. Behind it is the belief that God is not only a source of life, but also sustainer of life.
            But there might be more to it, the “Living God” remains a surprising, puzzling expression.  You might say that it is just a metaphor, a comparison, but even so - the main characteristic of the “living” is the ability to change with circumstances, the ability to change, respond, adapt and evolve.
            Thus the Living God is by definition a God who is changing in response to circumstances.
The Living God is by definition the Evolving God. That is the difference between God of stiff fundamentalists who characterize God as omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, eternal and unchanging. In fact it is even worse than a piece of stone because even granite changes over time.
            But the Biblical God, is NOT such a dogmatic monster. God of our faith is the living God. Living God in the relationship with the living world. God is reacting, adapting, changing, evolving.
            Join us this Sunday as we celebrate Charles Darwin and his discovery of evolution -
this fundamental principle of life. Join us this Evolution Sunday as we celebrate the miracle of our living, breathing evolving world and our living, co-evolving God.

2020/01/30

True Cyrus

Cyrus' Babylonian Cylinder
How could a major biblical prophet call a pagan emperor the Messiah?!
      Well, that is exactly what the prophet Isaiah did (Isa 45:1) when he called Persian Emperor Cyrus the Messiah (הַמָּשִׁ֧יחַ -- the anointed one) of the LORD.
      As strange as it might sound, Isaiah had a good reason for it and it was not only the liberation of the Judeans captives from the Babylonian exile and Cyrus’ decree allowing them to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple. Many other nations and peoples also recognized and welcomed this benevolent nature of the Persian rule.
      The Persian ethos was summed up by the Greek historian Herodotus (The Histories 1.136.2a) when he wrote that Persians taught their youth these three things: "To ride well, to shoot straight and to speak the truth." It might sound militaristic but it was certainly more than that, it was in essence more tolerant and cosmopolitan. 
        Join us on this Scout Sunday when we will discern how this triad corresponded with border Persian religious and cultural tolerance and made Isaiah call Cyrus the anointed one of the LORD.
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- And for those who read this far, here is a podcast about an almost identical theme - "I am the chosen one".
-- Another podcast about religious and spiritual influence of Persian religion over Judaism and Christianity - Persia in Jewish/Christian religion. 
--- And for instance here is an older column about Jewish Temple in Elephantine in Egypt which stood and was rebuilt/restored during the Persian period - Jewish Temples.

2020/01/16

Gathered to ancestors

When I was a little child, my maternal grandmother Emilie would often take us children for a walk in the cemetery. I hated it ... until I learned that she had lost her mother early on in her life. Then I understood.
            Later I studied theology and eventually received a doctorate in anthropology. And now I visit cemeteries on my own. In any place I live or go, I also try to visit local cemetery. Archeologists famously like to dig burials, but you can learn so much even without breaking the ground! Cemeteries are such a rich resource to learn about the living, about their culture, languages, and their society, about their struggles, their religion, their piety, their values, their lives. Sometimes it is inspiring and sometimes it is profoundly sad.
            When I moved to NYC, I discovered an impressive cemetery in New Jersey, very nicely laid up in an impressive grand scale design. It is called George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus. It was founded in the 1930s and for decades it was operated and strictly enforced as a white only place. This designation was changed only in 1958 after a human rights lawsuit. What a horrendously sad testament about suburban racism!
            But thankfully there are also happier cemeteries founded in and shaped by true and deep Christian faith. I caught a glimpse of it this Christmas in Bethlehem PA. In their God’s Acre - the oldest cemetery in the town - the ancestors of any race rest together side by side. That is for me a dream, a vision and an example showing us through the testament of a cemetery what a true community of faith can be and do!
            Join us this Martin Luther King Sunday when we remember and celebrate an inclusive community of God’s children.

2020/01/10

The Word of God?

This is the Bible I inherited from my paternal grandfather Rev. Emil Stehlik.



It was translated from the original languages and published in MDLXXXVII (1587) clandestinely by Unitas Fratrum (Moravian Church).


It survived the period of harsh contrareformation (1621 - 1781) and while in hiding the title page and several pages of the foreword were damaged and painstakingly redrawn and rewritten.



It is a study bible. It has substantial critical textual apparatus, translation notes and well chosen cross-references. And my ancestors used it for their bible study - there is substantial underlying and even written notes by several hands.


      It is only the volume four of a six volume set - this one contains the prophetic books and when I preach on Isaiah or Habakuk I still sometimes look into it for exegetical insights of my ancestors (they can be illuminating).
      This family Bible is our great treasure, in its form and shape is preserved an uneasy history of my ancestors but also their theological heritage - heritage of theological thinking and seeking. They clearly treasured their bibles, hiding them from confiscations, hiding them for diligent study. But as valuable as the bible can be, it is NOT the Word of God. Any bible only points towards the true Word of God, which became flesh. And that would be the theme of our worship this Sunday - the preexistent divine LOGOS which became flesh and is shaping nd reshaping the universe through light and life.


2019/12/31

LOGOS


       In the beginning was the Word,
       and the Word was with God,
       and the Word was God.

This is the first verse from the gospel of John. An opening of a famous hymn to the divine Word. Some think it was originally a gnostic poem. Some others consider it to be a beautiful philosophical poem. It is also a beautiful creation story, New Testament creation story.
    What is translated in our bibles as "the Word" was in the original Greek text ὁ λόγος. Proper translation is "the word". But I believe that in this case it should be just transliterated as LOGOS. Why should it be transliterated and not translated? Because Ο ΛΟΓΟΣ was such a potent term in the Greek and Hellenistic mythology and philosophy that any translation would not do it justice. It should become a loanword.
    Think about other loanwords, all of them can be properly translated but there is much to be desired!  TATTOO can be translated from Polynesian languages as “poked skin”. GEISHA is literally “an art person” in Japanese. UKULELE is “a jumping flea (instrument)” in Hawaiian language (because fingers pluck strings so quickly). CURRY is just a regular name for “a sauce” in Dravidian Tamil and ZEITGEIST translates from German rather spookily as “time ghost” 
    If we want to understand more fully this beautiful biblical poem from the beginning of the gospel of John, LOGOS cannot equal THE WORD no matter how much we embellish it and load it with meaning. Just like curry is not another sauce and when I play the ukulele I do not play a jumping flea.

Join us this Sunday when we listen and discern the ancient enigma word play:
        In the beginning was LOGOS,
        and LOGOS was with God,
        and LOGOS was God.

2019/12/24

Advent podcasts

In Advent 2019 I prepared with Peter Rinaldi these podcasts (Part of our ReligioSanity channel - We primarily upload to SoundCloud but our podcasts can be found also on Apple Podcast and other platforms.)
We always closed ourselves in the Rutgers Presbyterian Library and chatted about Advent and Christmas traditions but mainly about biblical and theological conundrums and provocative questions swirling about these preeminent religious holidays.



Sane Christmas 1 - St. Nicholas Day
Sane Christmas 2 - How Jesus Was Born In Bethlehem
(40 Years After His Crucifixion)
Sane Christmas 3- Delicately Talking About Mary's Virginity
Sane Christmas 4 - How Mary Became A Virgin Again
Sane Christmas 5 - Protoevangelium of James (Part 1)
Sane Christmas 6 - Protoevangelium of James(Part 2)
Sane Christmas 7- The Infancy Gospel Of Thomas


2019/12/19

Un-confiscated Christmas


These are some toothbrushes confiscated by the “Homeland Security Agency” from the refugees crossing the US southern border. They were collected and photographed by Tom Kiefer when he worked as a janitor at the Border Patrol prison.
    This picture gives me chills. You need to understand that I was born and grew up in the Czech Republic under Russian occupation. Until recently I had occasional nightmares of living again behind border walls and electric fences and under the dark shadow of malevolent secret police.
      At that time toothbrushes and prisons had a special significance for us. It started with Vaclav Havel and other dissidents and opposition leaders. They could be picked up from streets and arrested at any time and put in prison without their families or anyone knowing for days. So they started to carry their toothbrushes with them just in case... Soon it became a coded saying. “I am taking my toothbrush with me.” It meant I am prepared to go to jail.  
    And here we are again! Loud, stupid, spiteful, chauvinistic propaganda with fences and walls on the border. Innocent people being put in jails, their families torn apart, children kept in cages, and even their toothbrushes being confiscated! Why? For what reasons? Just to be mean? Just to be even meaner than agents of totalitarianism?
    Thankfully, there is good news in all of this. Occupation of my native home lasted for a long time, but eventually it ended exactly thirty years ago. Borders were demilitarized and those stupid border walls came tumbling down and fences were cut by the very dissidents who came almost directly from prisons to become presidents, prime ministers and secretaries of government. It felt like a miracle, but it was not coincidence, there is a deep, because divine, logic behind it.
    The Christmas Gospel is bringing that message to us in this season. The abusive political power might look strong, but it does not have the ultimate word over our world. Join us this Sunday as we un-confiscate Christmas and seek hope for our world.

And by the way, I have no doubt at all that among those vilified desperate refugees, among those detained in cages and those whose toothbrushes are now confiscated are the future Vaclav Havels, Nelson Mandellas, leaders, politicians, scholars  or industrialists in our or their original countries. So watch out what you do to those least of these!