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."


Christ the King - Overcoming toxic divinity

A crucifix on the Charles Bridge in Prague with a (controversial) Hagios in Hebrew.
קדוש  קדוש  קדוש  יהוה צבאות --  Ἅγιος, ἅγιος, ἅγιος Κύριος Σαβαώθ
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
There is no doubt that Jesus preached the Kingdom of God. The kingdom he preached was unlike any kingdom of his time or any time, different even from any subsequent forms of government. Jesus not only preached the kingdom, he was also embodying it and living it out by touching and healing the untouchables, by eating with the outcasts, and by bringing hope to all the marginalized. His message and his practice were a challenge and even cardinal offense against all the abusive powers at that time and so as this radical agitator/organizer he was eliminated, he was crucified.    
    This Sunday we celebrate Christ the King and the Gospel reading is about Jesus’ crucifixion. In this contraposition of king and crucifixion is the radical reinterpretation of authority and power is present. It is the beginning of the end of the violent power and the beginning of the end of what we can call toxic divinity.
    Humans build their empires on violent abusive power and humans construct their theologies of supra natural divinity - in its center is the philosophical construct of a god as an abusive patriarchal figure who is an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent supra-natural being. The crucified Christ the king is the major challenge to it, a great opportunity and an open invitation to the radically new spiritual and theological realm of divine radical love, compassion and self-giving. Two thousand years later it is still underappreciated and still radical and seldom heard about: God who rules not by the force of abusive power but by the power of attraction.
    Come and join us in celebrating Christ the King, this new divine paradigm for spirituality and the world.


What Would Jesus Eat?

Jesus would not harm a living thing, right?
     We expect Jesus to be gentle, compassionate, caring and loving, a true physician of our souls and the Universe. But that is not a full picture. In the Bible we hear about few occasions when Jesus got really angry and once even cursed an innocent tree which then withered and died (Mark 11:12-14+20). It is a unique example of a truly arbitrary and brutal miracle. People are shocked and theologians are often lost and left without answers.
    Scholars studying ancient agriculture and economy might have an answer. I would like to illustrate it on my own experience. Twenty years ago we lived for a year in Louisville and we were surrounded with beautiful tobacco plantations - fresh green fields on rolling Kentuckian hills sprinkled with dark red tobacco barns. As peaceful and bucolic as it looked I wanted to curse those fields knowing for what they stood and what they meant - horrible addiction, deceptive, fraudulent advertising, serious medical health problems,  endless suffering and often early deaths.
    Or imagine cotton fields in the American South 200 years ago, in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi. Beautiful, well kept by so well-mannered genteel owners. But all of that southern cotton and plantation culture deserved divine curse, regardless how they looked - because they stood for endless misery and suffering of slavery and racism which lingers until now.
    When Jesus cursed the fruitless fig tree I am certain it was for what it represented. It represented the disintegration of society and Judean farming communities. It was a symptom of dispossessed little family farmers who were originally growing food but were replaced by expanding plantations of absentee landlords.
Jesus cursed the fruitless fig tree because he was angry over the fate of small family farms and in support of communities growing food for people rather than plantations of cash crops grown for profit.
    This weekend we will welcome again our autumn speakers, this year Ben and Lindsey Shute - our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farmers. Come on Saturday at 2 pm for a presentation and discussion and on Sunday at 11 for worship to talk about their farm and to ask What and How Would Jesus Grow and for us How and What Would Jesus Eat.


Fair Taxation Miracle

I love paying my taxes. You can tell I was not born in America.
      I love paying my taxes because I recognize that we need infrastructure, we need to pay for things which benefit all. Personally I think we need more bridges and less walls, more roads and less missiles and bombs. We can have an argument how much of which we need. But if we invest more in hospitals and nursing homes we would need fewer army, fewer police and fewer prisons.
      I love paying my taxes because I don’t want to live in a society where a growing number of people lives in slums, while ever fewer folks hide behind high fences and guards in their gated communities. I don’t want to live in slum and I do not want to live in a gated community either. For instance I love meeting all different people in NYC subway! What is all the wealth good for if one cannot walk a dog without a bodyguard? Even for the rich such life can turn into a reversed prison.
      I love paying taxes because I want to live in a just and equitable society. You can accuse me that I was clearly not born in the US and that I am crypto socialist. You might be right. But my reasons are not political or ideological. My reasons are theological and biblical and they go all the way back to Moses and Jesus.
      This Sunday we will hear about Jesus’ miracle of fair taxation. It is well known that Jesus performed a number of healing and feeding miracles. What happened with and to Zaccheus can easily match all those better known miracles. Join us this Sunday as we rejoice in fair taxation miracle.


Reading the Augsburg Confession

I was preparing for the Reformation Sunday re-reading the Augsburg Confession (of course I read it during my theological studies but this time I was reading it in English and thus somehow with fresh eyes). I got all the way to Article XI on Confessions:

Our churches teach that private Absolution should be retained in the churches, although listing all sins is not necessary for Confession. For, according to the Psalm, it is impossible. “Who can discern his errors?” (Psalm 19:12)

I stopped reading. What a bizarre argument from the Scripture?!

Firstly, Psalm 19 is a famous composition. In its first part (verses 1-6) it is a beautiful hymnic rendition of a creation myth with some interesting Ancient Semitic parallels. The second part (7-10) merges it with the meditation on the Law (Torah) and the final part (11-14) wraps both parts into the author’s plea for innocence and protection from errors and from the perception of heresy. Thus in its final part the Psalmist intends to keep the creation myth and the revelation of Torah together and in harmony. The biblical half-verse 12a is quoted out of context and without understanding of its wider cultural, literary and religious context. (I know that at the time of Reformation, theologians did not have access to ANE literature and cultural context, but they did not pay attention to the context of the psalm itself anyhow.)

Secondly, even the terminology of this article is muddied. The article is talking about “confession of sins” but then it quotes the biblical passage which speaks about “errors” in understanding and teaching. (And the broader context makes it amply clear even in their 16th century understanding). Although there is an overlap between sins and erroneous teachings(thoughts), there is also a clear and large difference between these two terms both in theology as well as in everyday life.

Thirdly and most importantly, what kind of epistemology is it, to settle a need for thoroughness of confession or the lack of it by pointing to one biblical half-verse?! How could the authors even think that this is a satisfactory argument in matters of practical theology in deciding the need for thoroughness of confession or depth of self-examination?

All the other Reformation confessional standards are riddled with similar examples of biblical proof-texting. To a greater or lesser extent they all used the Bible (biblical text) as an epistemological jimmy which could be used, manipulated and twisted to open/answer any and every question and problem in faith and also in life. Here is the beginning of biblical fundamentalism (that original sin of Protestantism) and we have been struggling with it ever since.


In my computer I have a Biblical software (BibleWorks9). As a pastor I use it almost every day. It contains Bibles in all the original biblical and ancient languages and hundreds of different translations in dozens of modern tongues. Besides seven translations in my native Czech, there are also no fewer than thirty six English translations.
    Christian theologians have been pioneers of the art and science of translation from the oldest times of Hexapla of Origen of Alexandria (circa 240 CE) and Vulgate of Jerome (400 CE). The Reformation brought a further impulse in the development of linguistics and the theory of translation. Missionary activity of pietism took this endeavor global to languages all around the world. Thanks to theologians and Bible scholars we now have modern linguistics with diverse theories of translation and a full spectrum of translation strategies from word-for-word all the way to loose idiomatic translations.
    Interestingly, this Christian translation zeal stopped largely on the level of language, as if other aspects of life and culture did not need translation. Take for instance the elements of the Holy Communion - the bread and wine, the staple food of the Mediterranean. Viticulture (growing of grape vine) was introduced by monks and early Christian missionaries into regions as diverse as Scotland (11th century) on the northern side to the Caribbean (as early as 1493) on the south side. Needless to say growing grapes in these different climate zones was possible but it has never prospered there.
    One can only wonder why the Bible can be translated into local languages but symbols are bound by this strange fundamentalism of elements. Why the holy communion has never been truly inculturated and celebrated with the local staple foods. Join us on this World Communion Sunday when we try how it might feel to translate Holy Communion into the Mesoamerican context.


Blessed Cynics

Today I want to defend the Cynics. I mean the Cynics with the capital “C”. Not the modern derivative meaning - (a person who does not believe in selflessness). I just want to speak about this ancient Greek Post-Socratic philosophy school.
While other philosophers thought by their words, Cynics thought by their ascetic way of life. The Cynics were seeking EUDAIMONEIA - true, full, deep happiness which for them meant living in simplicity and harmony with nature. They often led an itinerant life in utter simplicity, in other words, life reduced to a bare minimum. There is an anecdote of Diogenes of Sinope, one of the early prominent Cynics - observing a boy drinking water with his cupped hands which led him to throw away even his drinking cup with the words, “A boy has vanquished me in living simply.”
Cynics claimed that things of great value were sold for next to nothing while useless things for abhorrent amounts. A simple meal of a cobbler was full of zest and better than a feast in a palace. Servants might be forced to obey their masters but the rich masters were even more tightly enslaved by their lust. Cynics challenged and attacked with their words and their way of life the dominant presumptions of the Greco-Roman society, or honestly any society which values class, reputation and wealth. The majority of society disliked this challenge and payed back with ridicule, pointing out that Cynics lived like street dogs and among street dogs and that is also how Cynics came to their name - KUNIKOS in Greek means “dog-like”.
Interestingly, early Christians shared many similar characteristics; itinerant teachers and preachers, nonconformist teaching and life; questioning established mores. Some educated biblical authors (like the evangelist Luke) hinted this proximity between Christianity and Cynics in their writings. One such Gospel story is coming up this Sunday about a person who held company with dogs. This story also radically questions our cultural paradigms.
    Join us this Sunday as we bless and learn from the story of a biblical cynic.


Jesus' Radical Prayer II

The opening of the Lord's Prayer in the Codex Vaticanus
Matthew 6:9-11a
In Rutgers Presbyterian Church we use several different translations of the Lord’s Prayer. A number of these translations are based on dynamic equivalence. I personally prepared one translation which was primarily informed by the economic and social context of Jesus’ prayer and attempted to translate it into our current idioms. (Four Years ago I also summarized some of the exegesis and reasoning here  - Jesus' Radical Prayer I)


Loving God of the highest authority:
In other words - heavenly parent. But “father” in the Ancient Near East context was primarily a figure of authority, especially if that figure was situated in the heavenly realm.
May what you stand for be the measure for everything.
That is an attempt to convey the concept of holiness and divine kingdom.
May the world be shaped as your love will have it:
Translating a petition which asks for divine rule to come from Heaven down on Earth.     

Preserve for us and future generations enough for everyone to live:
with fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, a blue planet to inhabit.

In the Ancient Near East devastating famines were a regular occurrence and for many people in Jesus’ times their food security was a daily concern.
In our world the food security is also a painfully reality, but is ever more associated with an environmental devastation.

May our society be organized fairly, without anyone crushed by debt or need.
The original text clearly spoke about the debt-forgiveness. All other words (sins, trespasses etc.) are attempts to translate the original Aramaic word חובא which was debt/obligation/anything owed. Our translation is an idiomatic attempt to provide similar meaning of forgiveness of debts and social justice.
(By the way, the medieval “trespassing” was primarily aimed at destitute serfs who were driven to poaching in the vast holdings of their lords.)

Let the police and courts treat people justly, regardless of their class, nationality or race.
The original text requests protection from “being handed over to judgement/trial” either to the corrupt Jewish authorities or to the occupying Roman power. In our times when prisons are disproportionally full of black men, the poor and the mentally ill (not to mention recent highly problematic detention of Mesoamerican migrants), I think this is an accurate contextual translation.

With thanks we now submit ourselves under your bright and loving rule for ever.

And together we say - So be it!
The closing doxology is not biblical and I took freedom to translate it from the broader Greek context translating “kingdom, power and glory” and final “amen”.