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."

2016/04/26

Bronze Age Surrogacy

Laqipum has married Chatala, daughter of Enishru.
Laqipum may not marry another woman except one in the capital. 
If within two years Chatala does not give birth to an offspring, she herself will provide a female-servant, and even after a child is born, she will have her servant under her control (Literally: "she can sell her whenever she wants").
Should Laqipum choose to divorce Chatala, he must pay five minas of silver and should Chatala divorce him, she must pay him five minas of silver.
Witnesses: (four names).


Can you imagine? This is an almost 4 thousand years old marriage contract! It was discovered ninety years ago by a Czech orientalist Bedřich Hrozný in the ancient city of Kaneš (now known as Kültepe in Central Turkey). The cuneiform tablet with this contract is kept by my alma mater Charles University in Prague. 
    But a marriage contract by itself would not be that special, a number of similar contracts survived. What makes this ancient document really interesting is the highlighted paragraph. To my best knowledge this contract is the first documented surrogacy arrangement in history and it predates by many centuries similar practices known from the Hebrew Bible.
     The ancient surrogacy arrangements as well as the similarly old adoption documents and adoption laws (like the Code of Hammurabi) attest to our species’ deep-seated, primeval longing for offspring. It might be also of interest that the oldest surviving examples of surrogacy and adoption are of a legal nature. Clearly from the earliest times people were aware of the substantial emotional load and recognized an urgent need for clear rational rules. Yet even the best rules do not release us from moral and religious responsibilities, as biblical testimony attests many times over.
    Come this Sunday to talk about some of the deepest life instincts, about their challenges and joys. Come to celebrate adoption, surrogacy and families in all their different forms and shapes as we mark Family Equality Day. In Sunday worship I will preach about biblical matriarchs and patriarchs and what we can learn from them. In the afternoon we invited several guests to share with us the challenges and joys of adoption and surrogacy in our modern times and our diverse families.
 

2016/04/21

Tree of Life

This Sunday we will celebrate the Earth Day.
And we will do it by lifting up and back to life an image of the Tree of Life. 


You probably remember it from the opening chapters of the Bible.
But it is present in the Bible from the Genesis to the Revelation.
And it is something which our faith shares with the oldest civilizations.
In some of the earliest records we can find depictions of the Tree of Life.
 

It is a tree which bears enough fruit to satisfy every hunger,
a tree which brings fruit reliably month after month.
Some branches are blooming, some developing fruits, some fruits are already ripe.
It is a tree whose leaves provide medicines for every illness.
Humans as well as animals reach for their healing properties.
Indeed it is a tree which brings harmony into the conflicted nature.
It is a tree in whose branches birds built their nests,
a tree among whose roots foxes dig their burrows,
a tree whose cooling shade invites and shelters everyone.
We can even extrapolate this image of a tree with a wolf resting with a lamb,
a tree in whose shade a calf, a lion and a bear can snooze together,
a tree under which a baby can pull a black mamba by its tail.
It is a tree which can be cut down and yet it will springs up back.
 

Ancient and medieval theologians and artists were fascinated by this image.
Unfortunately, modern people generally neglected it.
They did not know what to do with it.
It looks so mythical, so foreign, so unreal, so dream-like, so impractical.
But all these characteristics are its best and most powerful properties!
Ancient people and ancestors of our faith knew one important thing:
Only if we open our eyes for the impossible, it might become possible.
 

If we want to survive on our blue planet Earth, we have to dream dreamy dreams,
we have to imagine home and healing for all creatures,
we have to aspire for harmony beyond our current reach.
God planted the Tree of Life into human minds for a very good reason.
Join us this Sunday for the Earth Day worship celebration.
Help us to bring back to life this powerful archetype of the Tree of Life.


A ram guarding and/or nibbling on the Tree of Life,
a sculpture from the ancient city Ur dated circa to 2500 BCE.

2016/03/24

Maundy Thursday Theology


Juan Masip (often named as Joan de Joanes) "La Santa Cena" 1562
What is wrong with this pious picture?
      Allow me a short excursion to some very basic biblical theology. According to the New Testament, Jesus of Nazareth ate a final meal with his disciples on the night before his death (1 Cor 11:23-25; Mark 14:22-25; Matt 26:26-29; Luke 22:15-20; cf. John 6:51 and John 13-17).
     Unfortunately these individual biblical testimonies are mutually incompatible. What actually happened at the "Last Supper"? We do not know. We do not have anything with which we could compare it. Well-known rituals of a Jewish Seder (Passover meal) date many centuries later (from early medieval times). Even the testimonies preserved in the Talmud are decades, and in some parts centuries removed from the time of Jesus.
       Was the "Last Supper" a celebration of a Passover meal at all? Most likely  not! Even individual biblical testimonies show substantial differences which were influenced by the theological interests of their authors. Gospel of John is prime example.
       The evangelist John on purpose leaves out any hints of “the Last Supper Liturgy” and replaces it with the ritual of foot washing with poignant departure from emerging superstitious and thus superficial sacramentalism.
       Combination of the foot washing ritual with celebration of the Holy Communion, as widespread as it might be in the lives of many churches, and as it is depicted on this painting, betrays an elemental misunderstanding of and disrespect to John’s theological intentions. Clearly it is easier to engage in sacramentalism rather than to take seriously "to love one another as Jesus loved us." the very commandment (in Latin MANDATUM) which gave this day its name.

2016/03/23

Gospel Singing Bowl

Come to celebrate with us the Good News of Easter. This year we will take a new cutting edge approach founded in the modern as well as postmodern biblical exegesis. It is a mouthful description, I know, but behind it is actually a quite simple concept. Imagine the Gospel as a singing bowl and the Easter story as a wooden mallet.
    Too often and in many churches the Easter story gets separated from the Gospel and on its own it makes as much sense as a wooden mallet without singing bowl; separated in this way it can actually make more spiritual harm than good. Fundamentalists can provide ample examples of fixation on the gushing blood or supranatural physicality (note the contradiction) of resurrection and empty tomb.
    This year at Rutgers we will take the mystical, postmodern approach and allow some nontraditional gospel texts ring with the good news of Easter. Join us this Good Friday evening and Easter Sunday morning as we take the Easter story, circle it round and round the Gospel and allow the Gospel, some of its unusual passages, to reverberate and resonate, ring and sing its surprising and powerful Easter Message.

2016/03/21

Manhattan Prophecy of Henry Rutgers

This Palm Sunday, Rutgers Church made a new and epochal discovery of another ancient-new manuscript. It was discovered on the other side of a paper in which the palm fronds were wrapped. The handwriting shared undeniable characteristics of the author of several earlier writings which we started to call “Manhattan Gospel of Henry Rutgers”. This time the text seemed to be an early translation of a Hebrew prophecy, we believe the one made by prophet Zachariah (possibly 9:9-10), and language was our well known Newyorkish. The writing was damaged by water and smudged by chlorophyl, but here is our best attempt for decipherment and transliteration:

Be thrilled to bits Rutgers parishioners!
    Be in stitches, citizens of New York!

Behold your president comes to you,
         The one who really understands justice,
    because s/he experienced injustice;
    only yesterday was released from Angola prison
    after 40 years in solitary confinement,
    finally s/he is fully exonerated!

Your leader is not a billionaire, s/he is just like me and you,
         and thus drives a beaten-up Honda Civic,
         sometimes rides a scooter to the office,
    yes, on free time s/he enjoys inline skates.

On your leaders’ behalf God
      will eliminate all the intercontinental missiles from Wyoming,
       and the nuclear submarines from Groton base.
all those buzzing drones sowing death in distant lands
    - they all will be completely cut off.
Remember, this is not any momentary political program or plot,
    this is the true divine desire and lasting divine will.

Your new leader will finally and truly commit to the UN,
    accept the International Criminal Court,
and will sign all the international treaties and conventions:
those against torture, and against landmines,
    and against cluster bombs among others...
      Not by might but by inspiration,
    your leader will rule from the North Pole to the South,
      Not because of the military power but because of the power of ideas and love,
    from Greenwich Meridian to Greenwich Meridian,
    people around the world will listen to what s/he will say.

2016/03/13

Riding with Hope

Have you ever met a prime minister on a street? I know, the US doesn’t have prime ministers, so have you ever met, say, the President or the Secretary of State? Just imagine, shortly after the Velvet Revolution, almost 25 years ago now, I saw Czech Prime Minister Petr Pithart leaving the Parliament and walking along the sidewalk, probably for a lunch in one of the nearby restaurants.
    Those were the heady days of the newly found freedom after the collapse of totalitarian regime. In those days a dada-ist Society for the Merrier Present gifted the newly elected Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel with a red scooter so that he could get faster from one corner of Prague Castle to another. And he did use it! It was remembered decades later in many obituaries by world news-outlets: for instance BBC, The Economist, The Guardian, CNN, even NYT!
    The “presidential scooter” was a mere trifle among his real achievements of the thoughtful resistance to the totalitarian regime, his participation in the dismantling of the Iron Curtain and peaceful transition in Central Europe. But the presidential scooter clearly captured the imagination of many and made it into history books, and rightly so. That scooter was a song of joy, an outburst of hope and a mockery to all the pompous and self-obsessed politicians with armored limousines, bodyguard gorillas with squeaking earpieces and regiments of secret agents and sharpshooters all around. That red scooter was a symbol of the playful imagination over against the drab bureaucratism of power.
    When Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey he made exactly such a statement and a prophetic gesture which is still remembered two thousand years later. Join us this Palm Sunday in celebrating the alternative vision of politics, life and religion. And if you or your child/ren have a scooter, bring it along for our Palm Sunday Scooter Procession.

2016/03/03

About the Joy of Repentance

The joy of repentance? Am I joking? What kind of joy may there be in repentance? Isn’t it an exemplary contradictio in adjecto - contradiction in terms? Not in the slightest! But I don’t mean repentance as commonly understood, but repentance in its original Biblical meaning.
    In English, repentance is predominantly associated with negative feelings. The word is derived from the medieval practice of penance as self-affliction in an attempt to “atone” for “sins”. And in Penitentiaries these feeling of guilt were not even voluntary but were forced by institutionalized punishment.
    All this misunderstanding of repentance came from Latin paenitere which meant “to feel regret or guilt.” The Medieval church used and abused this linguistic coincidence and kept entire continents enslaved for centuries by guilt and fear while suppressing the fact that the biblical repentance had very different meaning.
   
Marc Chagall - Return of the Prodigal Son
   The New Testament word for repentance was METANOIA. This word had nothing to do with any feelings of regret or guilt. This Greek word meant “the change of mind”, a “thorough reorientation of understanding and thinking” which you can visualize as a sudden and radical enlightenment.
    Repentance in the Hebrew language is TESHUVAH and it takes us even further away from any medieval misunderstandings of guilt and fear. Repentance in Hebrew meant “turning around”. To repent meant to reorient living; in the religious sense it meant to return back to God, and thus to put one’s life again in harmony with the divine will.
    Biblical repentance, in Greek and especially in Hebrew, is not burdened with guilt and is not manipulated by fear; biblical repentance restores harmony, brings integrity and leads to well-being. Biblical repentance is cathartic, liberating and curative. Thus “the joy of repentance” is not a contradiction - it is its ultimate goal, its ultimate fulfillment!
    This aspect is marvelously captured in this Sunday’s Gospel reading of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Come this Sunday to rejoice in healing, liberating, restorative repentance.