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."

2018/02/22

In Pursuit of Justice

I used to have a problem with the American concept of justice. So often justice was presented as consisting in retribution and vengeance, concentrating primarily on punishing perpetrators and not enough rehabilitating them or restoring harmony among victims an society.
After the horrendous tragedy in Parkland Florida I realised that at least part of American society, its young people, is able to get over the curse of retributive justice and envision and demand a higher concept of justice, which is often called restorative justice. Children and young people are more mature than many adults. They are not distracted with howling for blood, they stay focused on asking and demanding solutions.
That is the original ancient concept of justice. For instance, in the Bible, Greek justice, DIKĒ, was defined as what was customary, balanced and harmonious. Hebrew justice TSADAQAH was what was right, legitimate, lawful, a state of harmony and social health.
Moreover, Hebrew justice is described as flowing like rivers, springing like water, and like rain in a parched land. Imagine an arid or semiarid Middle Eastern land and you understand that Hebrew justice is not about punishment but about bringing and restoring life.
This Sunday we will hear a parable in which Jesus encourages us, his disciples, to seek this salvific, redemptive, restorative justice and never give up.

2018/01/30

Incendiary Fragment

In the boiler room of our church we have recently made an epochal discovery. In an old bucket of ancient ash, clearly from before the gas and even oil conversions, we found a partly-burned old document, completely charred all around the edges. After deciphering the old cursive we realized why some old pious faithful might be tempted to destroy this writing from the workshop of the Manhattan Bible of Henry Rutgers. Here is our attempt to reconstruct this single legible page:   

And then I saw a new heaven and a new earth:
for the old heaven and the old earth got reborn;
and all the garbage and pollution were gone.

And I Henry saw the Holy City, a new Manhattan,
coming down from heaven,
dressed up and adorned for a major festival.
And I heard a clear voice saying,
Behold, from now on God will dwell among people.

And I could not but notice some epochal changes,
There were no homeless people sleeping in the subway,
because God herself made their beds for them.
And there were no hungry begging for spare change
because God herself cooked meals for them.
Even overcrowded emergency rooms were no more,
because God herself dressed all their wounds without waiting.
Just note, and know, that many things we consider normal,
are not normal before God.

In that city all banks, hedge-funds
and wealth management firms went out of business,
and bankers and managers disappeared like cockroaches
after the light is turned on.
Because in that city the sidewalks were paved with diamonds
and streets were made of pure gold,
all the wealth was literally just dirt under their shoes.

And divine revolution continued,
I could not find in that city any churches,
temples, mosques, sanctuaries, synagogues,
tabernacles, chapels and shrines.
They were turned into homes for homeless,
into hospitals for the ill, into schools for the children,
into nursing homes for the elderly,
and those with high ceilings were turned into gyms
so that God can play badminton with her followers.
Only few examples of the most pompous sacred architecture
were preserved as museums of bigotry and religious wars.
God now dwelled in the world among people -
and all the religions went out of business,
no more need for all those endlessly feuding cabals.
    

 
Now you know, why someone wanted to burn this divine message. As has been noted above, this fragment is, without any doubt, just another example of a very late post-biblical literature. But its close affinity to the last chapters of the Bible (Revelation 21) can hopefully illuminate the radical nature of this otherwise often misunderstood last book of the Bible.
I wrote a several years ago about the historical religious background of this passage here: Sun City Dream.

2018/01/25

Egalitarian Allegory

According to the ancient Greek philosopher Xenophon (Memorabilia 2.iii.18), Socrates once tried to reconcile two fighting brothers by telling them that they were like two hands or two feet of one person. By divine design they were to work together.
    That is the earliest known version of the allegory of a human body. After Socrates, this image, this allegory became quite popular in ancient times among rhetoricians and politicians.  Four hundred years later, Apostle Paul used the same image to appeal for solidarity, cooperation and harmony among Christians in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12).
    Paul took this allegory even further. He likened Christians to the body of Christ. But is a human body the only alternative to imagining Church, Christ or God? The Gospel of John uses the body of vine to speak about interdependence of believers and Christ. Could not a garden (Genesis 2), vineyard (Isaiah 5) or even a forest (Psalm 104) be also a fitting image to teach us about God and plurality, diversity, mutuality and solidarity in nature and in Church?
    Join us this Sunday in celebrating beautiful allegories of mutuality and interconnectedness.  

2018/01/17

Umami catchers

Do you know what GARUM was?
    It was a Hellenistic fish sauce. In the Greco-Roman world it was like a soy sauce for Asian cuisine. The only difference being that garum was more an indication of social status. The rich people bought expensive fish sauce imported from distant provinces. While the poor used dreks left from the production of this fish sauce. They flavored their porridge with a paste of crushed fermented salted fish.
    Catching fish for the production of garum and slated or pickled fish was the occupation of the first disciples of Jesus. They were industrial fishermen. From ancient history* and archeology** we know they were hardly making ends meet and they were exploited. They paid their regular temple and imperial taxes. But as fishermen, they also needed to buy fishing licenses, they had to pay for use of the harbour (or just for docking or landing) and they had to pay tolls for bringing their catch to market.
    At the end, they had hardly enough to stay alive. They were catching fish which they had to sell (and could not eat), so that the rich could enjoy fermented pleasures. They must have felt like a little fish trapped in a large and unjust exploitation net of fees, tolls and taxes. Are we surprised that many of them were ready to leave behind the tools of their exploitation and follow Jesus joining his reform movement?
    That is how Galilean fishermen heard the call to unite with nothing to lose but their nets in which they themselves felt ensnared (To paraphrase one well-known German philosopher).
   Let us rejoice this Sunday in leaving behind umami business to capture the true fresh and just zest of life.
--------------------------------------------
* For instance the Galilean town Magdala was also know in Greek as Tarichae - which literally means "a place for processing (salting and fermenting) fish". Or for instance a biblical scholar, K.C.Hanson, reconstructed from different ancient sources a complex Galilean fishing economy.
** I wrote about a discovery of the Galilean fishing boat in one of my earlier blog posts.

And for the curious or knowledgeable a quiz question with a small reward -- Would you know who was that "Well-known German philosopher" and what would be his wording of that quotation Fishermen unite, you have nothing to lose but your nets? Write me by email or talk to me after worship.

2018/01/04

Epiphany Today

This is an icon of "Our Lady who brings down walls". The icon was commissioned by Benedictine nuns from Emmanuel Monastery in Bethlehem. It is written (that is the proper verb used for painting icons) by Ian Knowles on the 26ft tall Separation Wall dividing Israeli and Palestinian Bethlehem.
    History teaches us that walls do not really work. Roman border fortifications including the famous Hadrian Wall in Great Britain did not work. The Chinese Great Wall as impressive as it might be, was actually only a small part of many constructed over a number of centuries and considering the amount of work and endeavor, those walls also did not work, all were eventually abandoned. We all know the history of the Maginot Line (French defenses before WWII) and I personally experienced growing up behind the Iron Curtain. I vividly remember rejoicing over its fall (you might recall pictures of the end of the Berlin Wall).
    All such walls are in fact a treatment of symptoms instead of real underlying problems. They are delusional, ineffective and relatively short-lived. They are manifestations of some deeper political, moral or spiritual bankruptcy.
    This Sunday we will celebrate Epiphany. A deeply meaningful holiday rooted in a picturesque legend about the wise-ones paying a visit to the newborn Jesus. It can hardly escape anyone that such a journey would be extremely difficult if not outright impossible to take today. Just imagine religious officials traveling from Afghanistan and Iran, crossing war-torn Kurdistan, Iraq and Syria eventually arriving to the towering Separation Wall and its dangerous checkpoints.  
    Yet right there is the deepest meaning of this Epiphany story. Early church created and embraced this story because it went to the roots and addressed the causes of misunderstandings and animosities among the peoples, cultures, races and religions. It taught the early church an alternative, positive and constructive vision for our world. Vision of the rational, multi-cultural and multi-faith world without walls. Join us in celebrating this beautiful and deeply meaningful holiday.

2017/12/28

Aloha kākou!

Aloha kākou!  This is a beautiful and deeply meaningful Hawai‘ian greeting.
     Many people would know that Hawai‘ians are greeting each other with Aloha which means "love". But the meaning of this word actually encompasses a full spectrum of tender loving feelings from compassion, mercy through pity or sympathy to kindness and grace.
     The other word of this greeting, the pronoun kākou, is even more profound. It is an inclusive we (plural you and me). Aloha kākou should be interpreted as, "May there be love between us" when speaking to a group of people. While, Aloha kāua is reserved for greeting a single person.
     This "inclusive we" creates a spiritual space of mutual affection and friendship in which both the greeter and the greeted are united.
     Come this Sunday, on the brink of the Old and New Year, we will learn about and find hope not only in Hawaiian but also in similarly deep Hebrew (and Arabic!) greetings of love and peace.

2017/12/21

In those days... ...Christmas today.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This first census took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.... (Luke 2)

This is the story which for many of us unlocks Christmas. But already the 19th century theologians knew that this date introduction had serious historical and factual problems.

1) Emperor Augustus was known for getting his empire organized. There were even some censuses in different provinces. But there was never any decree coming from his court and certainly not about any universal or world-wide census during his reign.
2) Quirinius (in full name Consul Publius Sulpicius Quirinius) was indeed an efficient Roman civil servant. He even was a legate in Syria, but it happened at least a decade after the presumed dating in the Gospel. Jesus was most likely a teenager when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3) The Roman administration as mentioned, did initiate registration of people, but they did it in their current residences, not in their ancestral homes.

So, Luke’s dating statements do not make much sense from an historical perspective. But Luke wrote them for some reason. In a situation like this, it can be helpful to translate, transplant or project such difficult or obscure text into our own context. And here is my attempt:  

It happened when Trump has taxed the entire world while giving himself a big fat cut. It all took place when Chris Christie ruled over NJ and everyone was required to register with ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement).

Of course this is also an historically and factually inaccurate exaggeration. Nevertheless, you all instantly know what I am talking about, don’t you? It is about abuse of power, about unjust taxes, about people uprooted from their homes to homelessness, about families torn apart by abusive bureaucrats, about poor and little people who suffer most...
    And this was Luke’s intention. This way he conveyed to us the setting, the context into which Jesus was born, the very context into which God sent us the divine  flash of hope. While the abusive and the powerful engage in their "things", a fragile yet resilient and resistant hope is being born. We all are invited to join and rejoice in this divine newborn hope.