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."

2017/04/20

In defense of Thomas

On the first Sunday after Easter we remember doubting or unbelieving Thomas.
According to the gospel of John; When the resurrected Jesus met with his disciples on the third day after crucifixion, Thomas was not with them. When they told him the great news, he did not believe, and wanted to make sure for himself. A week later, the first Sunday after Easter, he was given that opportunity and finally he believed. This is how Thomas got labeled as doubting or unbelieving. It was an unfortunate story with tragic consequences throughout the Christian history.

Firstly) It is almost certain, that the story of unbelieving Thomas got its final form as a part of a score setting between two streams (or schools) of early Christianity. One of those early streams was associated with John, and Thomas was the figurehead of another. In the Bible we have the Gospel of John, the Apocalypse of  John and three letters of John while writings associated with Thomas were censored, and many of them suppressed for millennia. Labeling and libeling Thomas clearly and unfortunately worked. Early Christian streams associated with Thomas disappeared and a substantial part of early Christianity richness and diversity was lost.

Secondly) Another unfortunate consequence of this story was disparaging of doubts and healthy skepticism among Christians. The story of doubting Thomas was often used to control and manipulate minds and doubts of lay people. After the emergence of modern science, which is based on skepticism, critical thinking and search for evidence, this biblical story contributed and justified growing antagonism between faith and science.

This year, this very weekend, on Earth Day we participate in the Science March to protect our fragile planet from the hands of narrow-minded, uneducated nitwits.  It is high time to rehabilitate Thomas, to reintegrate doubt and faith, religion and science. Critical thinking is an integral part of healthy faith.
At Rutgers Church we do not check our brains at the door.

2017/04/12

Radical Easter Hope

Have you ever wondered why resurrection and insurrection sound so similar? And why rising from the dead and uprising share the same original word root? Interestingly, this is not peculiar only to English usage (vocabulary).
     In Biblical Greek these words also share the same roots. In the Greek language resurrection (αναστασις) is closely bound with revolution (επαναστασις) distinguished only by a preposition
επι meaning above. And one word EXEGEIRŌ (εξεγειρω) can be used in the Bible to speak about rising from the dead and in today’s Greek newspaper about uprising.
     The very essence of language is showing us the disruptive nature of the Easter message. Now you also know why the early Christians were viewed with suspicion and why they were persecuted by authorities. They insisted that the convicted and executed "criminal" was alive among them and showed way towards the just and harmonious future. 
     In the very center of our faith is this inseparable hope, which binds together personal hope in death with personal hope in life and even more radically fuses together personal individual hope with the communal hope for equity and justice.
     The early Christians knew it, but then the church spent the better part of 2,000 years forgetting it, hiding it, and suppressing this radical hope.
     If we want to be faithful to Jesus and his resurrection and if we truly want to understand the marvelous message of Easter, we must return to the original roots of words and roots of our hope. We must not separate rising and uprising, the resurrection hope from the insurrection hope.
     This Easter Sunday we will take a butterfly, this beautiful post-biblical metaphor of resurrection, and apply it to our search for personal resurrection hope which is inseparable from radical communal hope of equity and justice.

2017/04/05

Brave not Stupid

A poster from the demonstration on the Central Park West.
Would you know how to organize an illegal demonstration?
      Well, you can learn from Jesus! His Palm Sunday entry to Jerusalem has all the characteristics of a well-organized public protest. Jesus and his disciples lived under what we would call these days a police state and so the preparations for their protest were made quietly and under the radar of authorities. We are told, for instance, that they used prearranged secret dialogue while picking up the donkey making sure that even the messengers did not know the full plan so that no one could spill the beans. All was done to minimize the danger of authorities disrupting the event before it even started. Jesus and his disciples were brave but not stupid, it is as if they followed modern guidelines for grassroots organizing under adverse circumstances.
     I know this strategy first hand from the time of growing up under a totalitarian regime. With good planning a main city square could look at one moment like it looks at any other day and just a minute or so later it can be filled with protestors who emerged from stores, cafes and morphed from what looked like regular pedestrians. Improvised banners, signs and protest props emerge from nowhere, slogans are adopted and quickly perfected before authorities can get their acts together. You see - flash mobs existed long before social media and I can attest that they are an exhilarating experience.
     Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem is one such special flash protest with a powerful message allowing people to participate and dedicate themselves to the vision of the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of justice, freedom and peace.
     Come this Palm Sunday to join Jesus’ flash mob shouting Hosanna! (Which can be translated - Freedom now!).

2017/03/22

Lithic Pillow

“Are all stones alive?” Asked American ethnologist, Irving Hallowell, to his Native American interlocutor, Alec Keeper, when he noticed that in Ojibwe language stones are grammatically animated (treated as alive). The elder thought about it carefully for some time and then responded, Some are.”
    Some stones are indeed special. They might look like any other stones, but they mark special places and represent special events. In upstate New York, for instance, I was aware of several native American cairns. In my Central European homeland I visited Celtic and some older Megalithic monuments and of course everyone knows Stonehenge and perhaps menhirs of Brittany, Cornwall or Ireland.
    Biblical tradition also mentions special stones infused with deep meaning and significance. Some stones are truly crucial to what is called “salvation history” - core stories of our faith tradition. This Sunday one such stone will open our mind for the deeper understanding of sanctuary as a place of rest, place of protection and divine assurance. Come this Sunday to rejoice in the divine message conveyed by one special biblical lithic pillow. 

(Correction: in the first paragraph I originally named the Ojibwe elder as William Berens, who was one of the main Hallowell's sources, but Alec Keeper was the one who made the famous comment about rocks.)
   


Navigation Heiau (Maka o Hule) on Kohala coast of Hawai'i. 

2017/03/08

A church in the wall

In this church I preached my first sermon. The history of this picturesque church in Prague goes all the way back to 1178. As you can see even from this small picture, it is a unique and bizarre structure, over centuries it was rebuilt many times and in many different styles - Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Throughout its long history it was a parish church, a seat of radical Reformation, it was deconsecrated and turned into a warehouse and apartment building with some stores, before it was reconstructed and made into a Protestant church for university students. But for most of its history this church was part of the Prague city wall - hence its name St. Martin in the Wall. The south wall of the church was integrated into the fortification of the Old Town of Prague. Although the church wall was hardly thicker than the rest of the city wall, it was, nevertheless, its safest part. Noone would ever dare to attack the city through the church or even enter the church armed and in hostility!  This historic little church is in fact an embodiment of the very old and revered concept of sanctuary. In Lent this year we will talk, learn and celebrate sanctuaries - these important sacred spaces. Why we need them, how we can use them and why we must protect them.

2017/03/01

Rooster puzzles

1) In the book of Job there is a delightful little verse 38:36 with this many widely and wildly diverse translations (and probably some more which I did not find):
- Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? or who hath given understanding to the heart?
- Who has put wisdom in the clouds, or given understanding to the mists?
- And who has given to women skill in weaving, or knowledge of embroidery?
- Who put wisdom in remote places, or who gave understanding to a rooster?
- Who has given the ibis wisdom or the rooster understanding?

Can you imagine more diverse translations? One Hebrew word (טחות) is rendered as: the inward parts, the clouds, skill of weaving, remote places or the ibis! While another Hebrew word (שּׂכוי) is translated as either the heart, the mist, embroidery, or a rooster. So what is the right translation? No one knows! And enough said about the biblical inerrancy of the fundamentalists!

2) Why should the bible declare that chickens are endowed with special understanding or knowledge? Ask any farmer around the world - chickens are proverbially stupid. There are stories about chickens running around the yard and even surviving for weeks after their heads had been chopped out. Clearly, chickens’ need for a brain is not particularly great! Chickens are perceived as uniquely unintelligent birds, unless you consider their ability to welcome dawn and announce rain. But that is another puzzle.

3) Roosters are known to predict dawn with annoying accuracy. But how do they do it? Some biologists think that it is because of their inner circadian clock. I have a different theory. I developed it when I started to take long exposure night pictures. I realized that dawn arrives hours before actual sunrise. Long before my eyes can notice absolutely anything my cameras start picking up the first photons scattered in the atmosphere above the eastern horizon. Then, when it is still almost invisible, roosters begin crowing. Similarly, rain must also be preceded with some subtle changes in luminosity. Roosters, after all, might have this special skill of very sensitive eyes.

This Sunday we will engage further ornithological mysteries, metaphors and legends while we fold origami cranes and send them to deliver our prayers for nuclear disarmament, peace and understanding among nations and peoples.

2017/02/27

We are stardust

The entire world, buildings, streets, trees, meadows, hills and sheep, our entire planet, ourselves included, almost all of it with the exception of hydrogen, is the product of nuclear fusion. That is when two atoms of hydrogen fuse together in a star into an atom of helium and a lot of energy which we can see as light. Later two atoms of helium produce an atom of beryllium still further an atom of beryllium and an atom of helium produce an atom of carbon. And so on and so forth, there are many different fusion processes and reactions each time producing different elements and large quantities of energy - that is why stars shine. Some elements, especially those heavier (from oxygen up - and thus almost everything around us), were formed in collapsing and exploding stars called supernova. Thus almost all elements are in fact the ash from shining and often dying and exploding stars. We are indeed stardust! Come this Ash Wednesday to take this reality in and celebrate this awesome, transformative miracle of creation; ash and new life, the end encoded with fresh hope.

The remnants of supernova called Crab Nebula (By NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll).
The cloud is now 64,660,000,000,000 miles across and expands 930 miles per second.