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."

2019/06/13

Heavenly Hospitality

In the Bible, the Acts of Apostles (14:11-13), there is a bizarre story in which apostle Paul with his colleague Barnabas are on a missionary trip through the South Central Anatolia and are mistaken for the gods, Zeus and Hermes.
    Behind this bizarre misunderstanding is actually a beautiful ancient myth of hospitality. But unfortunately the misunderstanding of this misunderstanding is also connected with the growth of homophobia among the ancient Jews, Christians and Muslims.
    Let us start with the story of hospitality. It is nicely preserved and beautifully narrated by a gifted Roman poet Ovidius. He tells the story of Philemon and Baucis, an elderly poor couple who offered hospitality to strangers not knowing they were Zeus and Hermes in human form. Philemon and Baucis were rewarded for their hospitality while the rest of the hostile, hateful city around them was punished for neglecting their duty towards traveling strangers. (Interestingly, Ovid also situated this story to the South Central Anatolia)
    You might recognize that there is a typologically very similar story in the Bible (Gen 19). It is about two angels of the LORD visiting Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah. When I link these stories together, you can also realize why I did mention the emergence and growth of homophobia among the three Abrahamic religions. In all of them this story about hospitality and protection of strangers was twisted into the justification of vicious homophobia.
    Paul and Barnabas misunderstood and harshly rejected the genuine gesture of hospitality from the citizens of Lystra. They might not know the story of Philemon and Baucis and they did not recognize similarity to the biblical story because by their time the biblical story had been already influenced by homophobia. Soon afterwards the Church (together with the Synagogue and the Mosque) codified this misunderstanding for the upcoming centuries and twisted the story about hospitality into the foundational story of hatred.
    And this is something you might not know about the Bible. It is important to talk about it because only by talking about it and knowing about it we can undo centuries and centuries of viciousness and hatred and rejoice in the original story of welcome and hospitality.

If you come to our church this Sunday or if you know Ovid's poem,
you will understand why I picked this photo for this worship.
 

2019/05/23

Secret gospel and homophobia

Now imagine this -- a brilliant and eccentric American scholar researching an old library in a tower of an ancient Middle East monastery paging through medieval manuscripts reading ancient writings and finding by a chance a quotation from a thus far unknown secret gospel. That quotation was part of a letter from the second century which mentions an ancient esoteric sect. Mystical interpretations are involved, secret initiation and magical rituals. There is even a perceived sexual innuendo. All is wrapped in cutting edge linguistics and theology and also involves accusations of ancient, medieval or modern forgery. And then this unique manuscript mysteriously vanishes from the Orthodox patriarchate in Jerusalem. To the best of my knowledge the only thing missing in this plot is a murder, otherwise it could easily compete with bestsellers like Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” or Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.”
    But it is not fiction, this is a real part of recent biblical and apocryphal theology. Biblical theology can indeed be thrilling like best-selling mystery novels! And that perceived sexual innuendo played an unfortunate and important role as there were concerns about homo-erotic undertones. Thus Christian homophobia of the sixties, seventies and eighties and to some degree and in some circles even until now was likely behind the disappearance of precious manuscript. Without the physical manuscripts those accusations of modern forgery cannot be conclusively resolved in which ever way. This is how modern homophobia impacted biblical scholarship. That mysterious text is in almost every critical edition of early Christian Apocryphal Writings but with a note about its questionable authenticity.
    As we remember 50 years from the Stonewall uprising, and 50 years of struggle for LGBTQ rights this is something very few people might know about the dark legacy of homophobia in the realm of biblical scholarship.
    If you are intrigued, join us this Sunday to learn more about The Secret Gospel of Mark and its uneasy modern history tainted by homophobia.

2019/05/20

Album parable

Today I want to talk to you about Elephantine Papyri but first allow me to share with you this rather lengthy introductory parable.

Imagine you are a member of an extended family. In your family you have a shared family story handed down from generation to generation and part of this lore is also an old photo album. It is called “The Album”.
    You remember sitting with your grannie paging with her through all those old pictures and stories, naming people, remembering memories; here is uncle so and so, and this is great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War, this is a grandfather’s maternal cousin whose farm burned down to ground, and this is a great uncle who was a supreme court judge in some European country, this distant aunt married to a builder of a famous viaduct, and here is paternal nephew, he was a clergy and became famous missionary. All well documented in ancient sepia pictures and labeled with names and dates, organized into an easy flowing and persuasive family narrative.
    You even received your own copy of The Album when coming of age. It is a true family heirloom. The Album records occasional trauma, but nothing really troubling,  mostly it is a real source of family pride. Few minor glitches can be blamed on history, times and customs were different. All in all The Album shows and teaches deep and generally commendable family roots.
    But then, while cleaning an attic of a family residence a large box of ancient correspondence and documents surfaced. Those ancient documents were written in difficult cursives and in several languages. It took some efforts to decipher and even years later it is still not fully finished.
    First you noticed names, events and dates you knew from The Album, but then things started to become ever more complicated. Not everything can be put together neatly and there is no easy and simple narrative anymore. Family history is turning into something substantially different and so complicated! You realize that The Album, your family album is largely just storytelling. Some events clearly happened quite differently and some might not even have taken place at all.
    You also realize that the storytelling hiccups and gaps in The Album can be often explained with the documents from the box, just like some of the palpable tensions around this or that uncle and many of those annoying family taboos and strange behaviours can also now be explained.
    Reaction among the wider circle of relatives was quite diverse and divided. Some relatives threw the entire photo album into the recycling bin stating they always thought grannie was making things up and that it is all just babbling of a senile old woman irrelevant for their modern lives.
    Other relatives, on the other hand, became all agitated. They made the album into a real shibboleth. In their part of the family children still memorize The Album and are made to swear on the veracity of every single picture and name. In their family branch everything is measured by The Album and its assumed lessons. The Album, thus divorced from any history and reality, is used to push some extreme agendas.
    And you are in the middle of it. You love the old Album. You respect your grannie and her story as much as you are now aware that much of it was just fabulation. There are lessons to be learned from grannie’s Album just as there are lessons to be learned from the documents which surfaced in the attic.
    Even more importantly, there are truly deep insights to be learned on the intersection between The Album and the archive, deep insights and appreciation for the family history and for grannie with all her complexes, great insights for your own self-understanding and understanding of the world.


I can imagine you can relate to this parable. We all know different aspects and parts from our own families. But I wrote this parable about the Bible (the Album) the church (the grannie-representation of institutionalized religious memory) and about documents uncovered by archeologists, anthropologists and theologians in the last one hundred years or so. Sholars found many old archives and archeological records which are complicating the shared lore. Today we will talk specifically about Elephantine Papyri ....


Picture of today's village on Elephantine Island.

2019/05/16

Multidimensional Temple

This Monday I was in Hilo, Hawaii, preparing this Sunday worship while sitting on Moku‘ola (Island of Life) also known as Coconut Island in Hilo Bay. It was the original location of an old Heiau (old Hawaiian temple) and a holy place which was destroyed many years ago with only a few stones remaining. Yet that place still keeps a very special spiritual atmosphere.
    I was preparing a worship in which I plan to talk about an ancient Jewish Temple. And although it was a genuine Jewish Temple, it was not in Jerusalem, but rather it was on an island called Elephantine in the river Nile in South Egypt.
    There is not a single mention of this Jewish Elephantine temple in the Bible, and that is a problem. Because as a Jewish Temple outside of Jerusalem it was in the sharp contradiction of everything written in the Torah (Law of Moses).
     And furthermore, this temple and its community were in regular correspondence with Jerusalem and Samaria and existed with the support and blessing from Jerusalem. We would not know of its existence if not the so called Elephantine papyri that survived and was discovered in the late XIX and early XX century.
    For the biblical fundamentalists this ancient Jewish temple in Egypt is an utter conundrum and a stumbling block for their hardened, harsh and often abusive religion.
    In reality it offers us an intriguing new and fresh perspective not only for our understanding of the Bible but it invites us to embrace an alternative, multi-dimentional, more tolerant and inclusive self understanding of our faith.
    Join us this Sunday as we embrace this new and broader vision.

And for those who want more information, here is an older article I wrote about this Jewish Temple in Egypt some time ago.
 

2019/04/25

Church's Treasure

The second Sunday of Easter brings to us the story of doubting Thomas. Last year I wrote and recorded a short study about this apostle and truly ancient Thomasian tradition. 
      [Here you can read about Thomas among early Christians or here you can watch video clip about it.] 
      This Sunday I want to pick one story from this Thomasian tradition, the second chapter from the Acts of Thomas. But I do not want to completely give out that story, so instead here is a similar, yet later story from the early church.
      In the early III. Century Lawrence was a church deacon. He was responsible for the distribution of alms to the poor and thus he controlled substantial financial resources. Then a prefect of Rome demanded that Lawrence surrenders to the state all the church’s wealth. Lawrence promised to do that, but asked for three days to gather all that wealth. When those three days were over, he reported to the prefect. He was asked, “Where is that promised treasure?” Lawrence pointed to the poor, crippled, blind, and many other sufferers which he brought with him with the words: "Behold, these poor persons are the true treasures of the church.” 
And thus Lawrence became a saint, being executed for his devotion to the social justice.
      Our story from the Acts of Thomas this Sunday will have a better ending, but it is of a similar nature. It is also a biblical metaphor expanded into a legendary story and also has a powerful social justice message.
Join us this Sunday to hear about Thomas ministry in the legendary lands of king Gundaphorus.

Video version of this blog is on YouTube here. 
 
"Building castles in the sky" is an idiom which dictionaries define as "To create dreams, hopes, or plans that are impossible, unrealistic, or have very little chance of succeeding."
The second act of Apostle Thomas is very likely the beginning of this idiom and instead of duplicity its primary focus was on social justice.
 
 

2019/04/18

Singing Hallelujahs

The Christian salvation story is in great need of radical expansion. I am convinced that the Easter message needs to reintegrate with the entire creation. 

Here is an illustration of what might have gone wrong and why I think this reintegration is needed.
       Medieval art, especially from high Gothic times through Renaissance, often depicted baby Jesus with a bird. Sometimes Jesus awkwardly holds it, even clutches it. Later on, with some rising sensitivity, the bird is only gently touched. Occasionally the bird is being tethered on a golden string. 
      In order to understand what is going on, you need to know that the bird in these paintings is Carduelis Carduelis - the European Goldfinch. Goldfinches are associated with thistles, brambles and anything thorny. In those paintings this bird is a signal, a pointer and an omen foreshadowing the crucifixion. 
      I find it symptomatic of our treatment of nature in our religion. We made our religion all about us, and only us and about our individual salvation. Nature is used, like that bird in those paintings, as a stage or even worse as a tool and accessory to the great story of our own salvation. 
      I always felt badly for those pure birds in those paintings being so awkwardly handled by the medieval Jesus. Especially as they were made into those unwilling pointers to the cross and unwilling coincidental accessories to the crime of crucifixion while goldfinches are joyful and famous songbirds. 

Join us this Easter Sunday when we reintegrate goldfinches and all creation into the salvation story. It will not diminish its glory, it will amplify it! Let us all sing with entire creation our Salvation Hallelujahs.
And here is a video version of this blog - Singing Hallelujahs .


2019/04/15

You Can't Wash in Blood

Many Holy Friday hymns are simply awful. Especially those written in the 19th century. Have you ever payed attention to what they say? For instance:
    "In the Cross of Christ I Glory."
    "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."
    "Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,
        tell aloud the wondrous story of the cross."
 
And some other hymns, among many more, which point to the Holy Friday message:
    "Are you washed in the blood?"
    "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! ...
        Born of the spirit, washed in his blood."
 
Just think about it! Those are atrocious hymns with catastrophic theology. Their emotional landscape is exaggerated, histrionic, brimming with fake emotions and completely alienated from historic reality.
     For any sound mind the cross was nothing glorious - it was an ultimate form of Roman state terrorism. I do not know what kind of person can find murderous torture wondrous.
    I am from a family of Calvinist pastors and doctors. You do not wash in blood, when you treat grave injures, you need to wash blood off. Even as a theological metaphor it does not work. Washing in the blood appears only once in the Bible, in a marginal passage in Revelation, and anyhow it is about washing robes not persons. Otherwise the Bible makes clear in number of passages that blood is to be washed away. 

How much more truthful, genuine and sincere are especially the old African-American Holy Friday Spirituals:
    "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
       O, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."
   "They crucified my Lord and he never said a mumblin' word."
    "They Crucified my Savior and nailed him to the cross...
        He rose from dead, and shall bear my spirit home."

These are the songs of honest, sincere sympathy and experience and deep personal understanding coming from deep, firsthand experience with persecution, torture, and, yes, lynching.
      I am convinced that it was not a coincidence that in the 19th century white churches were singing about "wondrous crosses" and being "washed in blood" while black churches were singing about "them who crucified my Lord who never said a mumbling word."
      And when you put it this way, you know what is the most truthful singing. You know where the heart of God was and still is.

Come to worship with us this Good Friday. With the late Professor Dr. James Cone we will seek the true message of Good Friday and understand the cross through the lynching tree.