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."

2016/07/27

Forgotten Religion

There is an alternative take on religion, a completely different religious world from what is generally perceived as religion today!
    I realized it as I entered Ke‘ekÅ« Heiau at Kawa Bay of Hawai‘i Island. I tried to visit this open-air worship space for a number of years and had been always prevented by high tides and strong surfs. Now I finally stood by the entrance and it was clearly an active place of worship and also undisputably closed! As I stepped over two crossed wooden poles, I knew I was trespassing! Intellectually, the visit and assessment of the shrine was uneventfully routine, but my guilty conscience triggered in me something deeper. I became painfully aware of an alternative religious paradigm. While my own religion and all modern religions try to pull people into their churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, gurdwaras... there clearly was a type of religiosity, which wanted to keep people out!
    From that April Monday last year I have been brooding over it. I refreshed some of my old academic readings, I searched some new religious and anthropological literature. And I formulated for myself a tentative typology of this old/alternative form of religion: 
  • As mentioned earlier, this is not a missionary but stewardship religion. (In other words its primary goal is not to multiply believers but to safeguard and preserve its essence.)
  • In consequence this is a religion with strong internal, not external validation. (While missionary religions measure themselves by numerical success, this religion aspires for inner faithfulness and integrity.)
  • This religion is in its essence oral over and against textual. (Stories and laws of this religion are passed orally rather than fixated in writing and worshiped as this or that holy scriptures.) 
  • It is a religion of immanent deity instead of transcendent deity. (Put simply: God/s in this religion is present in the world rather than above and beyond it.)
  • It is a religion which concentrates on orthopraxy rather than on orthodoxy. (This religion is not about doctrines and teachings and what to be believed, but it is primarily about how its followers are to live out and practice their religion.)
  • This religion is not anthropocentric but rather ecocentric. (Humans in this religion are not the center of the universe and measure of everything, they are an integral part of the ordered network of existence.)
  • This religion is also primarily about terrestrial rather than celestial salvation. (This religion is about helping people find harmony in this world and this life and not pointing them to heaven and to afterlife.)
  • As result of the previous points the theology of this religion is primarily inclusive over and against exclusive theology of many current religious systems. (Modern religions and confessions antagonize each other based upon minuscule differences in their doctrines.)   
I confess, this is a highly schematic typology. There have hardly ever been these extreme types in their pure form. But I am convinced that all current religions grew up from the old type, and in one form or the other preserved some traces of it. The old style might be largely forgotten, rejected, suppressed, even persecuted against by modern forms of religion - but what I call here the old religious paradigm represents our shared roots. I think that in our times of growing religious antagonism and intolerance, it might be important and spiritually enriching to become aware of it and search for the remnants of our forgotten religion buried deep in the traditions of our own faith.

2016/07/19

A Handwritten Prayer

The study of the Bible and its ancient manuscripts saves me from fundamentalism and religious intolerance. The more we know, the better we are protected against bigotry. Allow me to take you along and show you how I spent Monday afternoon (my day off) this week.
This snippet is from the Sinai Bible, the oldest surviving, almost complete Bible. It was produced, hand written, in early IV century C.E. most likely in Alexandria. In this picture is the text of the Lord’s Prayer from the Gospel of Luke (11:2b-4). And here is my working translation of the original text as written by the hand of the first scribe:

    Father,
    Your name be holy!
    Your kingdom come!
    Your will be done as in heaven, thus on earth!
    Our daily bread give us by day!
    And forgive us our sins,
    as even we forgive our debtors!
    And do not turn us in for trial.


    The Gospel of Luke contains a shorter version of Lord’s Prayer while Matthew (6:9-13) has a longer version, and the original Luke version was probably even shorter than what we have in our text. The green field with the text Your will be done as in heaven, thus on earth! is absent from the oldest preserved fragment in the Bodner Papyrus No.75, which predated the Sinai Bible by another century. Most likely this petition was inserted from the Gospel of Matthew or from church liturgy.
    What makes this picture interesting is the great number of manuscript corrections. Blue circles in our picture represent grammatical corrections and textual additions. Red circles and pink fields represent deletions. On the margins of our textual column are also two larger textual inserts. One on the lower right side was later erased (yet, thankfully, still remains readable), and the one on the upper left margin was questioned by a later scribe (by a dot beneath the tilde mark in the text). Both these larger insertions attempted to include a petition deliver us from evil into different places of the prayer and again came as a borrowing from the gospel of Matthew.
    In total, there were at least two, possibly three or more correcting hands (scribes) who made at least twelve changes or corrections of changes in the space of three verses. Think about it: twelve textual variants in this short prayer, twelve! And this is one of the oldest biblical manuscripts and an important source for our biblical translations. Now you know why an honest study of the Bible is the best vaccination against Christian fundamentalism, biblical literalism, claims of the biblical inerrancy and all sorts of religious bigotry.
    Don’t get me wrong, I do not dismiss biblical text or Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. I actually find them greatly fascinating and inspiring. For this reason I invite you to come to worship this Sunday and pray together this deeply meaningful and transformative prayer of our Lord as we seek its true meaning for us today.

2016/07/13

Art of Quiet

New York City, for its size, has surprisingly clean air.
    Unfortunately we still have serious pollution problems and different than you might expect. Try to spy out any stars at night, for instance. Even on a clear crisp night you might barely catch sight of a few of the brightest stars and count yourself lucky if you can make out a constellation. It is because of NYC light pollution which can be visible from as far as the Catskills. And it is a true pollution problem with real environmental and health impacts. New York is proverbially a city which never sleeps but often I think it is because it has difficulty sleeping in so much artificial polluting light. And it is not a problem only for people; plants and animals are also known to struggle with so much artificial light being disoriented in space and time in consequence.
    Another serious problem is our noise pollution. We are surrounded with the constant clang of concentrated active life, buzzing and honking road traffic, rattle of helicopters, humming of AC units, blare of sirens, and all that noise is easily trumped by horrendous roar of subway trains. Even our parks are so noisy that it is difficult to hear any birds. And if you hear them, they sing at the top of their voices and their songs sound patently hoarse. Some people might not hear them at all because of their hearing problems caused by all that noise.
    Ancient spiritual exercises are silence, the art of quiet listening and contemplation. That is where the lectionary reading will lead us this Sunday. Meanwhile you can try it on your own as evening approaches any day; let dusk come on its own and with its quite pace; use that time to be silent with yourself and with God; and switch lights only after it gets truly dark. Such quiet time can be a true spiritual detox balm. 

Evening rainbow over Manhattan

2016/07/06

#hashtags @rutgers

Every summer we undertake an electronic cleanup of our office computers. Once in a while we discover some interesting or important files. This year we found a dust gathering disconnected hard drive in the church library and on it was what appears to be a fragment of an ancient e-mail from the collection of Manhattan Bible of Henry Rutgers. Here is all we were able to decipher and partly reconstruct:

Paul@ApostolicEnterprise.org
to beloved Henry@ManhattanBreweries.com
Grace to you and Peace from God our Parent and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Before all things, I pray that you are well and that you prosper on your farm in New Amsterdam.
I thank God at all times for your faithfulness and your hospitality to me and all our sisters and brothers. Your dedication to our faith and education of all is exemplary.
Dear brother, know that I plan to sail to your shores and hope to visit you soon, please prepare for me a small room. Before we meet face to face we can always use book of faces or as some call it face-book. I found it to be a useful tool in our ministry. Don’t allow it to be used only by evangelical fools for their self-serving deceptions. They steal all churches and engage in church identity theft, hiding behind reputable names but their self-righteousness is unRedeemable. In tears I admit that the message of the cross has many adversaries in our world and especially among those who call themselves “brothers” but know that hashtags of divine #socialjustice, #progressivefaith or #allarewelcome cannot be easily hushed!
I Cc Luke and Erastos who are also sending their greetings.
The Grace of the Lord be with your spirit.


Everyone can easily see that this is a pious forgery, since at the time of Henry Rutgers the name “New Amsterdam” had not been used for more than a century. But this false email letter, nevertheless, brings forward an interesting question of apostolic social networks and latest communication tools. Join us this Sunday when we worship with “#hashtags @rutgers”

2016/06/22

Dangers of Rhetoric

“Rhetoric is a dangerous craft.” I warned my son soon after we moved to the US and he returned from school with an assignment to argue both opposing sides of the same issue with the same efficiency. And for myself I thought: What a crude and simplistic proposition, as if there were only two sides to most problems! And wondered: Why is it that empires tend to indulge in rhetoric?”    
    “Rhetoric is a dangerous yet useful craft.” I told him. Familiarity with rhetoric can be quite practical since it is similar to advertising or, say, stage magic. All these crafts are composed of techniques, tricks and cunningness. Those who learn even a few basic tricks of stage magic will never be as gullible yet could still enjoy and appreciate a good performance. Knowledge of rhetoric is similar, students learn different techniques of oral motivation, persuasion and manipulation and in that process will hopefully be immunized against manipulations and trickery.
    “Rhetoric is a dangerous yet useful craft, learn its ropes, so you are not easily deceived.” I urged my son. Eloquence is not identical with truthfulness, in fact, those most eloquent are usually liars. And the best rhetoric flourishes must not replace ethical judgement and reality checks. Mastery of techniques of persuasion should not be used for low, deceptive or self-serving reasons.”
    “Rhetoric is a dangerous yet useful craft, learn its tricks, but never lose your integrity.” I asked of my son. Ultimately all rhetoric can be boil down to this simple premise: Telling people what they want to hear so that they are moved to do what the speaker wants them to do. I hope my son listened, after all he ended up studying physics and not humanities.
    This Sunday in church we will talk about modes, misunderstandings and dangers of biblical rhetoric. After the Orlando tragedy I instantly knew that this Pride Sunday I must deal head-on with our very own Christian “Satanic Verses” and their homophobic rhetoric. On Pride Sunday we will try to undo biblical homophobia and liberate ourselves from its dark legacy and curse. Even in the Bible, rhetoric can be a dangerous and dark craft.
  
On the background of this poster is a facsimile from the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the oldest Greek codices.
The homophobic “Satanic Verses” from Romans 1 are in the upper right corner.

2016/06/15

Sent to prison

In 1987 I was standing in a crowded hallway of the Courthouse in Prague. I was there with a large group of protesters to attend a process with a group of jazz musicians. They were in court for a “criminal act” of organizing jazz concerts without prior authorization, and for publishing books and magazines about music without permission from censors.
    Our crowd could not possibly fit into the courtroom and even the long hallway was almost blocked. At the end of the process the “criminal musicians” were given unsuspended jail terms of up to 16 months. No protest chants were allowed in the courthouse so we thanked them for their defiance and bravery with an improvised yet most elaborated, truly jazzy, applause which I have never heard before or after. 
    This and similar experiences of perverted justice shaped my understanding of the justice system. The aging totalitarian regime with its flimsy legitimacy exposed the deep and universal truth about any justice system - it is nothing else but our human construct. Even in democracy it is so, as much as we would like to pretend otherwise.
    In 2016 America we might not live under totalitarian regime, but the degree to which our society is racist, sexist, politically or socially corrupt, the justice system is bound to reflect these realities and, unfortunately, all can witness it in our policing, courthouses, jails and prisons.
    Biblical prophets and apostles (not to mention God Godself) are calling us to raise our voices in protest of disproportionate incarceration and unjust treatment of racial, ethnic, religious, gender and social minorities. Human justice always has been and always will be our imperfect human construct in need of prophetic and apostolic challenge and reform. 
      Throughout the history many outstanding people of faith spent time behind bars and thus demonstrated the limits of human justice and challenged its merits. Apostle Paul will lead us this Sunday to question, to challenge, to protest as we mark June, the Torture Awareness Month abroad and in US prisons. 

 

2016/06/07

Connecticut and Hawaii

Cornwall Congregational Church
This Monday I traveled to Cornwall in Connecticut, a short two hour drive from Manhattan. I visited this picturesque and forgotten corner of Connecticut because of my interest in Hawaiian religion and history. In this small town there used to be, in the early XIX century, a famous seminary operated by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The New England Evangelicals trained there a small group of young men from all over the world (Native Americans, Bengali, Chinese and also Hawaiians and other Polynesians) to be missionaries to their respective nations and tribes. 


   
Plaque commemorating
the Foreign Mission School
The core idea behind the school was surprisingly thoughtful for its time - the native people were recognized as the best messengers of faith and excellent interpreters (translators) of Christianity to their own people. Unfortunately there were a number of problems attached to this good idea: New England Congregationalists and Evangelicals infected these young men with one of the most intolerant and narrowminded strains of Christianity. They also intentionally indoctrinated them with western cultural exceptionalism. And all this endeavor (as laudable as it was in some of its intentions) was built on the swamps of latent New England racism.

Portrait of Henry Opukahaia,
probably the most famous student.
    Evangelical parishioners were moved to tears when listening how the young native men escaped wild heathen rituals and idolatry. New Englanders loved to hear about distant lands and strange peoples with their bizarre pagan rituals. Parishioners applauded their guests’ brave escapes, especially if some of the storytellers had run away from grave dangers, allegedly even human sacrifice. Evangelicals rejoiced in eloquent recounts of their sincere conversions to the only salvation found in the “blood of Jesus”. In Cornwall they offered to these young men generous hospitality. But then two students fell in love with local girls and went to marry them. And all hell broke loose! Cornwall erupted; effigies of those couples were burned. Supportive and more open minded clergy married them anyhow. But soon afterwards, without the local support, the school was closed and dissolved. 

Original grave of Henry Opukahaia
    The official explanation for the closing of the school was, and remains till now, that the harsh Connecticut weather was not suited for the natives coming from warmer climates. And indeed a number of students died there, I personally visited Cornwall in order to find the original resting place of Henry Opukahaia from Hawaii. But of course young men did not die of climate, but of typhoid, tuberculosis and the like. It was a dark foreboding for Polynesians who would be soon won over for Christ and sent to heaven in large numbers. Same western missionaries were eagerly spreading their version of Christianity together with western infectious diseases. But that will be another story.