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."

2020/05/21

Healing with Holy Anger

The Bible is aflush with stories about and references to the wrath of God. Together with many people I have always had ambiguous feelings about it. Throughout history the wrath of God has been used and abused by many demagogues and charlatans to push their own weird and abusive agendas.
            Yet there is just one instance in the entire Bible when we hear about Jesus getting angry. And I believe this one instance can help us understand and appreciate the holy anger. 
           In the gospel of Mark we hear about Jesus looking with anger exactly at those who were using religion to deny help to a needy person. Using religion which could bring liberation, healing and hope to this very opposite end -- to deny help and hope, using something intended as good to cause or perpetuate pain. That is when Jesus gave his opponents that angry look, decried their callousness and healed the sick.
            This is the only instance when we hear about Jesus’ anger in the entire Bible. Yet it was still quite shocking and problematic from the earliest of times. Matthew and Luke took over this Markan story but they intentionally and meticulously sanitized it, they left out any reference to Jesus’ anger from their gospels.
            Yet I am thankful that Mark preserved it. For me, angry Jesus is a real and believable Jesus. He was passionate about bringing divine help, his was the anger which brought hope and healing.
            This Sunday we will continue our series of worships on divine healing and we will rejoice in the holy divine anger which heals. Join us!

2020/05/15

Our pandemic in context

We are in the middle of a deadly pandemic caused by a new viral infection. Many people have died, many more were made seriously ill, we all felt the impact in one way or the other. Not having any vaccine or direct cure, governments around the world tried to slow the spread of the contagion by implementing different levels of quarantine (social and physical distancing). As a result all around the world (but especially in most developed countries) the economy declined rapidly, unemployment is higher than anyone remembers and social and political discontent is spreading. In our US situation it certainly does not help that we have an impotent federal government led by an utterly ignorant and incompetent president (probably the worst in national history).
            After two months in quarantine we are all getting restless and emotions are flaring. I know from first hand experience and from colleagues that pastors are dealing with an increasing numbers of intricate and ever more complicated pastoral situations. But we need to put our predicament into the proper context. If we think we had it really bad, being locked in our homes for two months, being unemployed and living with great social and medical insecurity, then let us think twice! Let us think for instance what our colonising ancestors did to Native Americans just two and half centuries ago!
            Some Native American Peoples lost 90% of their population within a generation or two because of the imported  infectious diseases! In the second half of the  18th century the well documented smallpox epidemy killed about 30% of the West Coast Native Americans in just a year or so!  And at least some of this disaster was man-made by the colonists who were gifting Native Americans with blankets intentionally infected with the smallpox (it is documented for instance in the correspondence between Sir Jeffery Amherst the supreme commander of the British in North America and Col. Henry Bouquet, the Swiss mercenary under British pay).
            Even in our pandemic hotspot which is our beloved cosmopolitan NYC, the death-rate has never approached 1% of population, not even among the most exposed groups with the possible exemption of the residents of nursing homes (numbers are not yet fully clear). Now think about the Native Americans losing the entire one third of their people! I do not write this to downplay and trivialize the suffering, hardships and losses in our days, I write this, because I believe that our hard-earned firsthand experience with pandemic can help us understand our history and what we did to native peoples specifically in America but frankly around the world (I know about similar history in Hawai'i). Let it be to all of us our firsthand lesson.

2020/05/14

"Unroofing"

Have you heard about Jesus healing so many ill people that they had to bring pneumatic hammers and cut through the concrete floors so that they could install substantially larger elevators?
            Well, of course not! I am making it up. Or more precisely I am translating a biblical story into our current idioms. But I do not feel badly about it because that is exactly what can be found already in the Bible!
            There is the highly memorable story when a group of friends brought to Jesus a person for healing and they could not get to him and so they lowered the ill to Jesus’ presence through the ceiling.
            The gospel of Mark is the oldest among the gospels and closest to the original Middle Eastern context. And so in the gospel of Mark we hear that they were digging (αποστεγαζω and εξορυσσω) through the roof - one must imagine flat roofs of that region covered with compacted dry mud.
            The gospel of Luke is written a little later and for a different Greek audience further north and in the urban setting and thus Luke writes about taking apart those picturesque tiled (κεραμος) red roofs of Italy and Greece.  
            You see, it’s all right to translate the Good News into our own context and situation!
Join us this Sunday as we continue listening to NT healing stories. Let’s see what unroofing might mean for us today in the middle of our own society need for healing.

2020/05/07

Sons of Resheph flying up high

Early in April I was listening in to the conference of doctors  from my wife’s hospital. And a verse from the book of Job came to my mind:  “Surely humans are born for hardship  just like sparks are for flying upon high.” (Job 5:7)  It was a dark time in the hospital, Martina herself was running a mild fever while she lost the sense of smell and all our city felt like we were under siege.
      But there was another reason for remembering this verse beside the overall mood. Doctors on the call were referring to COVID 19 as “a dangerous beast they must not underestimate”. The twenty first century doctors were clearly personifying the infection.
     The very same is true about this biblical verse. In the Bible the illness is often personified, in this specific verse it is even deified (made into divinity). In the Hebrew original it actually speaks about “sons of god Resheph who are to fly high.” God Resheph was the personification of infectious diseases and his sons, sons of Resheph, were germs flying about like sparks from a fire able to spread and set up further fires. It makes so much sense!
      Modern doctors and bronze age religious wisdom poetry meet. Our human minds and our languages are keen to personify our adversities. It helps us to process our fears, our helplessness, our anger, our grief but also to find resolve and keep our hope.
      Join us this Sunday when we continue listening to stories about Jesus’ healings. This Sunday Jesus will deal with the personified fever and bring us hope and even new vision and resolve.
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And a caveat: I hope it is clear that I did NOT imply in any way that our current pandemic is God’s judgement or any form of punishment. God Resheph cannot and must not be confused or identified with God of our faith who is God of resurrection and life. 
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And an observation - When I mentioned those sons of Resheph, who were flying about like sparks from a fire high and wide and able to spread and set up further fires. Have you noticed? The Bronze Age poets in their mytho-poetic way had a better grasp, better understanding of infectious diseases than our president and his government. More and more I am convinced it is not a matter whether you think scientifically or mythically, the main thing is whether you are thinking at all!

2020/04/30

Touching a leper

Statue at the St. Joseph Church on Moloka'i
In the time of rampant Anti-Catholicism among British as well as American Protestants a faithful son of the Scottish Reformation defended publicly a Roman Catholic priest against the slander by the Congregationalist clergyman.
            It happened in 1890. The defender was the author Robert Louise Stevenson. The Roman Catholic Priest was father Damien of Molokai who recently died and the slanderer was Rev. Charles McEwen Hyde, an elite clergy among Congregationalists who was educated at Union as well as Princeton Seminaries.
            In the center was Father Damien’s selfless work in the leper colony on the island of Moloka‘i. When father Damien came to Moloka‘i the afflicted people were more or less dumped in the secluded Kalaupapa peninsula and left there to die. Damien was deeply moved by the plight of those in the quarantine. He gave himself to them, lifted their spirit, organized the community and made sure that the outside word would not forget about people quarantined there.  While caring for those most vulnerable and shunned by the rest of society he himself was infected with the Hansen’s Disease and eventually died of it.
            Damien was accused by Protestants for being self-appointed, headstrong, reckless and dirty (not hygienic enough) friend of the lepers. R.L. Stevenson defended Damien’s intention, his good heart, his selflessness, his faithfulness to God while his squeamish accuser would not set even a foot in the colony. Writing to Damien’s accuser Stevenson also predicted “if (in future the) world at all remember you, on the day when Father Damien of Molokai shall be named Saint, it will be in virtue of one work: your (slanderous) letter.” That is exactly what happened in 2009 when Father Damien was canonized. 
            This Sunday we will see that Damien had a direct and heavenly model in his endeavor of returning dignity to the sick. This Sunday we will rejoice in Jesus who broke quarantine rules and yet also kept them. But he above all transformed and humanized quarantine rules. Join us in worship of Jesus in quarantine.

And here is the open letter by Robert Louise Stevenson.
St.Joseph church built by Father Damien in Moloka'i his statue is standing next to it.
   

2020/04/23

What Would Jesus Do with his blood?

I have been a minister in America for almost twenty years and I have studied theology and religion for twice as long. But there are still moments of utter bewilderment over some aspects of American religiosity.
           A lady was captured on camera leaving an evangelical megachurch in the middle of a pandemic. She was clearly flouting quarantine rules. When she was challenged by a reporter about the dangers of infection she asserted emphatically and repetitively that nothing could possibly happen to her, because she was “covered in the blood of Jesus”.
         It gave me a pause. What a unique religious statement! It likely came from some feverish evangelical hymn. Still, what a strange and violent religious image! Some Voodoo (or Santeria) blood rituals come to mind but there is hardly enough blood for sprinkling. The closest religious parallel to being covered in blood could be taurobolium. That was an ancient practice in which initiates were showered with the warm blood of a bull which was sacrificed right above them. This ritual was also supposed to give participants astonishing supranatural powers or protection.
        I know that that lady was not covered by any visible physical blood. She meant it metaphorically and she almost certainly never heard about the ancient rituals. But parallels are uncanny.

Join us this Sunday in worship. We will ask: What would Jesus do? What would Jesus do with his blood in the midst of Pandemic? Join us in worship to reject selfish magical potions, join us to rejoice in true self-giving love.

2020/04/15

Hortulanus redivivus (Gardener revived)

Imagine the resurrected Jesus coming to you with a spade or a hoe! That is exactly the image you can find in many medieval paintings, book illuminations and on stain glass windows.
            It goes back to one ephemeral side sentence from the Gospel of John when Mary Magdalene did not recognize the resurrected Jesus and it explains “Supposing him to be the gardener.”
            But it is more than just explaining her mistake, her temporal blindness. It is a beautiful example of early Christian typological exegesis tying together the resurrected Jesus with the story of the Garden of Eden.
            But to me it has an even deeper function. This one sentence connects the Easter message with the beautiful, deep and meaningful ancient mythological tradition of humankind as a caring and gentle gardeners of our beautiful planet.
          This story of hortulanus redivivus will help us celebrate, the second Sunday of Easter, and at the same time Earth Day.

          Let us join our resurrected Lord and recommit ourselves to  cultivating and growing hope in the garden of this beautiful world.
Here is a link for our virtual worship on livestream:
https://livestream.com/rutgerschurchnyc/events/8967087