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."

2011/12/30

Prayers Blowing In The Wind

This Sunday
will be the first day of the year 2012.
How do you want to start this New Year?
I invite you to open it in worship and with prayer!
Yet, they would not be just ordinary worship and prayers.
Join us in searching together for new forms and expressions.
Come to experience worship which transcends the medium of language.
Experience a prayer that can be so much more than just a theistic dialogue.
Help us to form a prayer which will permeate and chime in with the creation.
Psalm 104 is a marvelous and often missed and neglected creation hymn.
Surprising archaic poetical images celebrate the world and its creator.
One metaphor will lead us to prayers which can permeate the world,
and to a worship which engages more than just our hearing,
to a worship which fosters creativity and imagination,
and seeks harmony and peace for our world.
Our biblical text will be Psalm 104:4a;
we will embrace the ancient practice
of Tibetan prayer flags.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
And here are some pictures from our actual worship on 2012-01-01:

And after being asked by some neighbours and members who were not present on the New Year's service, we posted this explanation.
 

2011/12/23

Camping among us

The birth of Jesus was and remains a mystery and also a scandal. Theologically we can call it a mystery and scandal of incarnation.
       Matthew speaks about a single mother, and being born out of wedlock. Luke has Jesus born as homeless person and greeted by a bunch of rednecks (Don’t believe those bucolic caricatures! Shepherds were rough people.). 
       The gospel of John opens with a sophisticated hymn full of sublime concepts of Platonic and Stoic philosophy. And then John throws in a surprising coda, “The Word became flesh and dwell among us.” There could hardly be a statement more contradictory and scandalous in those times! The sublime essence of divinity and order (LOGOS) becoming a piece of flesh (SARX - just imagine it as a piece of flesh in the butcher shop). 
       John does not stop there, he continues his revolutionary provocation. This Word became flesh and it dwelled among us - but we should dare a more accurate translation - “It pitched its tent among us.”
       Clearly, this statement does not speak about a summer camping trip. This is about something more serious! Didn’t we ourselves hear this autumn about “grave dangers” and “the serious antisocial nature” of camping in public spaces and on university campuses? Didn’t a few campers provoke our political establishment to mobilize federal agencies and hundreds of riot police and even helicopters? You see, from Moses' Ohel Moed (The Tent of Meeting - a symbolical presence of God who liberates from slavery) through a mystery of incarnation until now “pitching a tent among us” still preserves this provocative edge. Pitched tents are and always have been more than just a place to stay; they represent ideas, they unsettle and pose important questions.
       Come this Sunday (Christmas Day) to wonder over, and be transformed by this marvelous provocative image, God’s presence among us in the tent!

2011/12/20

Discussing "The Power of the Powerless"

With passing of Vaclav Havel last Sunday I went back and quickly refreshed my memory and paged through his essay “The Power of the Powerless” from 1979. (I actually possess genuine copy of a samizdat edition which I helped put together sometimes around 1986).
I was astounded! It is an old document, but I found it surprisingly refreshing and inspiring. In the center is a sharp analysis of how power operates, how it exercise control over society, how it presents itself as just, fair and democratic, while not being anything of it, giving people impression of freedom, while catching them in snares of corrupted and corrupting power. In many places you can just substitute plutocracy for totalitarianism and Havel’s analysis reads as if it was written today.
But this document is not only an analysis. It also has a programmatic edge. It shows that even in quite adverse conditions it is possible to start forming small islands of alternative living (life in truth), dissident/alternative culture, seeds and saplings of truly civic society.
Just like in East Germany, Poland, or Czechoslovakia, churches have marvelous possibilities to participate, model and to shape this long-term intellectual and spiritual quest for waking up people and empowering the powerless and creating alternative models of living together.

Will you be interested in seminar discussion (Book discussion) of this interesting document?

--------------added on 2011-12-23
I would like to invite those interested for a home seminar on January 8th at 7p.m. In the spirit of the dissident nonpolitical politics we will gather for tea and discussion of this interesting document. Please contact me soon about your interest.

2011/12/16

Traditional Mytho-Poetical Christmas.

       What could the Traditional Children’s Pageant, Händel’s Messiah, and the Service of Lessons and Carols have in common?
       They come to us from different time periods, they certainly represent different refinement in style and form, and they reflect different past theologies. Yet, regardless of their differences, in all of them, magi intermingle with shepherds, angelic revelations coincide with prophetic dreams, gospels and prophets are combined in surprising ways, and any and every Hebrew prophet is made (nolens volens - willing or not) to speak about the Christmas babe. In one sentence, they all represent and brightly radiate that same contagious enthusiastic naive faith.
       This same faith has been with us for quite a while, at least from the end of the second century - "The Protoevangelium of James" would be a marvelous and highly entertaining example. In "The Gospel of James" (as it is also known) the miraculous births of John and Jesus are predated by the similarly special birth of Mary. And this is how the very moment of Jesus’ birth is described by James:  
       Joseph and the midwife stopped at the entrance to the cave, and behold, a bright cloud overshadowed the cave and the midwife said, ‘My soul is lifted high today, with my own eyes I have seen wonderful things; for salvation is born to Israel.’ And immediately the cloud lifted up from the cave and the great light appeared, so bright, that we could not see anything. A short moment later that light somehow dimmed, and we could see the baby, and he went and took the breast of his mother Mary. And the midwife exclaimed again, ‘This is my great day, because I have seen this miracle, never seen before!’ (Protoevangelium of James, chapter XIX, paragraph 2).
       All the rest of “The Protoevangelium of James” as well as the similar “Infancy Gospel of Thomas” are highly entertaining, captivating and evocative, just like our Traditional Pageants, Händel’s Messiahs, and Services of Lessons and Carols.
       Come to enjoy them with us this Christmas Season. Take them seriously but not literally. Be inspired, affected with this contagious, naive, mytho-poetical faith of Christmas. It possesses the power to transform lives! 

---------
A friend commented that Händel did not combine shepherds and magi. That is correct, but his libretto sets almost side by side "Emanuel" from Matthew and "Glory to God" from Luke in a very similar manner. And his treatment of Hebrew prophets is truly stellar example of mytho-poetic approach (Many OT authors would be truly amazed which of their words became understood as messianic prophecies).

2011/12/09

Jesus' literacy and prophetic preaching

Could Jesus read or write?
       In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus took the scroll, unrolled it, found the passage and read it. That passage was identical with our own upcoming lectionary reading from the prophet Isaiah for this Sunday.
       So could Jesus read and write? It is highly unlikely. Literacy was counted at under twenty percent even in the most educated parts of the ancient world,  and a Galilean village was not one of them. Literacy is a continuum. It can be categorized by the complexity of different texts. Level one is an ability to read a short message, a shopping list or a business receipt. The next level is the reading of a letter or a newspaper article. Unrolling the scroll, finding the desired text and reading complex prophetic poetry asks for the highest level of literacy.
       By the way, how many of our “highly religious” American compatriots would be able to find the prophet Isaiah in their Bible without referring to the index? I personally saw evangelical fundamentalists struggling to find Jonah, not to mention the prophet Habakkuk.;-) Can you imagine looking for a specific text on a scroll, without pages, without an index and without numbered chapters and verses, and doing it in a language which had not been commonly spoken for generations? Just imagine doing it in any other language than your own!
       In all likelihood, Jesus was hardly literate. When we hear about Jesus who unrolled a scroll and found a particular text, Luke might not have intended to speak about Jesus’ literacy, but instead he might have been hinting at divine providence. From the labyrinth of a scroll filled with highly complex prophetic Hebrew, Jesus read the passage about the joy of general amnesty for political prisoners, and the pardon of un-repayable loans. He proclaimed a new vision for the world. Come listen to Jesus’ preaching on this old prophetic text. From the prophetic text he preaches into our context today. Come to be surprised with Jesus’ radically new and timely reinterpretation of advent joy.

And for those who read as far as this:
On the matter of the emerging literacy, many of you might remember that Socrates (In Plato’s Phaedrus) spoke powerfully against that “new” invention of writing. He was worried that the event of dialogue and searching for ideas would become objectivised in the physical form of a written text (thus anticipating dangers of literalism, scriptualism and fundamentalism). And secondly he was worried that people would start trusting the written record and stop remembering the true essence of events thus losing an important hermeneutic function of tradition.
From an anthropological perspective it is interesting to note that almost all major world religions emerged around that boundary between oral, rhetorical and literary cultures. Non-literate people were not dumb, they only preserved their knowledge and wisdom differently. At the time of the emergence of writing the scene was set for centuries to come. The time is clearly coming when we move beyond this strictly literalistic world. It is a highly interesting process in which the written (tweets, blogs, wall-statuses) is becoming equivalent to the spoken, creating fast moving and developing chains of significations and re-interpretations. After centuries when "THE WRITTEN" was almost holy, it now becomes ephemeral in large segments of life. What interesting times!   

2011/12/02

Baptised to Re-Occupy the Land

What do you do when you see the land wounded, or people being forced from their homes which are then left to turn into ruins? What do you do when you see people losing their livelihoods, and becoming unemployed and destitute? What do you do when people are held hostage by their mortgage and loan holders? What do you do when the tax system is set up to burden poor people while the big owners are laughing all the way to the bank? What do you do when institutions which were supposed to alleviate social and personal hardships are not doing it? 
       You go and re-occupy the land! That is what John the Baptist did, together with many other prophets and popular leaders of his time. We will be talking about it this Sunday. They knew that their land, the Promised Land, was like a garden, able to sustain all the people. They knew that there was enough food for everyone. They knew that society, and the political as well as the religious systems, were supposed to function differently; they knew it from Moses and from the Prophets. They felt that it was high time for a new beginning, a new Exodus, for a new Crossing of the Jordan river, a new reclaiming of the Promised Land. And so they did it. They went to the wilderness, they went to the Jordan, they tried to return to their cities. They attempted to recapture the divine dream. 
       These are the origins of our baptismal practice. Baptism was not primarily personal or spiritual hygiene, as it was often (mis)represented! At its core was this broader and deep-seated religious, political and societal longing for a new beginning. A longing for a new start which would be fresh and just! In baptism we are sent to reoccupy the land, to reclaim the life for ourselves and for our God, to recapture the radical divine dream. And that is prescribed to us this Sunday in our lectionary reading from the Gospel of Mark (Mark 1:2-8).
Friday Message from Rutgers Church 2011-12-02 
---------------------------------------------
Popular movements reenacting the Exodus and the Joshua’s occupation of the Promised Land
according to Josephus Flavius writings Bellum Iudaicum – “The Jewish War”, and Antiquitates Judaicae – “The Antiquities of the Jews.” With few characteristic short quotations.
 

36 C.E. The Samaritan prophet who promised to lead people to the treasure of Moses on mount Gerizim. Killed and dispersed by Pilate at the end of his rule. (Antiquitates 18.85-87)
 

Between 44-46 C.E. Theudas lead people to Jordan River and promised to divide its stream like Joshua. “Now when Fadus was procurator of Judea, a certain pretender named Theudas persuaded the greater part of the mob to take up their possessions and follow him to the Jordan River. For he told them that he was a prophet and that at his command he could divide the river, providing them with easy passage. Saying these things, he deceived many. Fadus, however, did not permit them to take advantage of the madness, but sent a squadron of cavalry against them, which falling upon them unexpectedly killed many and took many alive. Capturing Theudas, they cut off his head and displayed it in Jerusalem. (Antiquitates 20.97-98)

52-58 C.E. “Deceivers and imposters, pretending to be under divine inspiration and fomenting upheavals, persuaded the multitude to madness and led them out into the desert, as if there God would show them signs of liberation. Against these Felix - for he supposed it to be the beginning of insurrection - having sent cavalry and armed infantry, destroyed a great multitude.” Later a certain Egyptian prophet (understand an Egyptian Jew) brought many to Mount of Olives and wanted to take Jerusalem by force promising signs of toppled city walls. Felix killed 400 followers and dispersed the rest of them. (Antiquitates 20.167-68 and 169-170 paralleled in Bellum 2.259-260 and 161-263)
 

59-62 C.E. Anonymous impostor under Festus promised salvation and rest from hard times taking them to the wilderness where they were destroyed. (Antiquitates 20.188)
 

Around 71 C.E.  In Libya Jonathan the Jewish refugee in Cyrene seduced people to wilderness preparing them for exodus. Catullus, local Roman governor, sent cavalry and dispersed them. (Bellum 7.437-40)

2011/11/26

Friday Message from Rutgers Church 2011-11-25

The NT vocabulary of time.
Have you ever felt trapped by Aristotelian time?
        What do I mean? I amen appointments piling up one on top of another, looming deadlines, missed opportunities, pressing responsibilities and obligations, inability to turn the clock back, counting days to the next paycheck, or fearing the next utility bill or a loan payment day.

I think we all know this feeling of being trapped by time, which the Greeks called CHRONOS. Chronos was supposed to be a god, in truth, it was and remains a monster. I mean trapped by this time which flows relentlessly yet without purpose; time with direction yet without meaning. This is to be trapped in endlessly flowing slimy time, trapped by time which we do not control, trapped by time which is used by others to controls us. Trapped by time, with who knows who is in control.

Thankfully there is another time possible. In the bible it is called KAIROS. It is a prophetic time, the time which breaks in, the time which enables us to break out. It is the divine time, time of divine opportunity, time controlled by our God and Saviour, it is an anti-chronos time. KAIROS is an invitation to an alternative perception of time, of ourselves, and of every meaning. KAIROS is the time of divine opportunity and an invitation to freedom. If you feel trapped by time, this Sunday’ lectionary reading (Mark 13: 24-37) is an invitation for you. The apocalyptic Jesus will teach us how to be liberated by Kairos time.


2011/11/22

Radical Advent Prayer

Do you know that every time when we say the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for Advent?
The second request of the Lord’s Prayer in Latin reads: “Adveniat Regnum Tuum.” In English: "Your kingdom come." 
     It’s clear that we are not praying for the speedy arrival of the pre-Christmas season with its whipped up consumerism and slowly awakening seasonal sentimentality. We pray and we await for a different advent. The advent of God’s kingdom! We pray for a radical change in how the world operates. How radical? Very radical. Just let us decipher and hear afresh the requests of this "advent" prayer.

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
What divine will is done in heaven, that is not done on earth? 
Well, we can start with the divine protection of all the vulnerable and the weak. In the Bible they are called widows and orphans. Their protection is so important to God, that it is repeated over and over again in the Law and by the Prophets. In the New Testament it even necessitated a complete reordering in the hierarchy of heavenly bureaucracy. Guardian angels of the little ones were lifted up into the presence of God, replacing the big shots of the cherubim and seraphim with all the archangels. (Matthew 18:10). 
       Just imagine elevating social services (guardian angels) before the ministry of war (I resist using that misleading euphemisms of ministry of “defense”). Just imagine, on a personal level, supporting the local food pantry and homeless shelters before leaving for Christmas shopping.  Modeling our lives according to heavenly orders – that is what we pray for in Lord’s prayer. This is the Advent we seek.

Give us this day our daily bread.
Hunger in Jesus’ Galilee was as real as it is in our world. These words were intended for, and were originally said, by those who were hungry or lived from day to day. For many of us, who are not hungry, these words have a different meaning. We pray for the coming of a world where everyone has enough and world abundance is shared each day. No one can expand his or her life by simply hogging up extra food or resources, (the main lesson from the story of the stupid wealthy farmer in Luke 12:13-21). 
       And no one can eat paper money, bonds, or bricks of gold. Ultimately all of it, in some way, is a social and societal (or if you wish economic) agreement that we will care for one another. Just imagine eliminating all the private commercial retirement funds and building up one robust and generous solidarity system. Anyway, it is always today’s generation that cares for the past one, and trusts to be cared for by the future one. Solidarity, sharing and mutual care is the daily bread we pray for and look for during Advent.

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Very appropriately, in our tradition, we use the words "debt and debtors."
Do you really believe that God was ever seriously concerned about anyone trespassing on someone else's property? We do not live in medieval England any longer. We are not warlords of dark ages for whom pillaging and trespassing was a capital offense. 
Similarly, the understanding of sin got highly spiritualized, psychologized, and detached from world’s everyday reality. Meanwhile, debts were clearly very close to God’s heart from the oldest of times.
       There are many biblical rules that attempt to control debt. Every seventh year there should be a remission of all outstanding debts (Deuteronomy 15:1f.) And the release of any debt slaves. (Deuteronomy 15:12f). In the agricultural society, the growing disparity between rich and poor was controlled by instituting a Year of Jubilee when all the land property was restituted to its original owners or their heirs.(Leviticus 25:10). Translated into our context, we pray and anticipate an advent of a world with lenient bankruptcy laws, a world where lending and mortgaging is controlled and regulated to protect the poor. We pray and promise not to torment or enslave anyone through money; freedom and relationships have precedence over money.

This is our Advent prayer: We pray and wait for the protection of the most vulnerable, for solidarity in sharing life resources, and for the elimination of enslaving debt. These are just three aspects of a radical divine world that we anticipate in Advent. So let us pray “Adveniat regnum tuum.”

2011/11/18

Friday Message from Rutgers Church 2011-11-18

The Last Judgement? Is it about afterlife? 
NO! ABOUT LIFE! And its ultimate values.
 If you want to know what any given society thinks of itself, what are its fears and dreams, what are its hidden dungeons and highest aspirations, I would say: go and study its mythology diligently.
 If you don’t have the time, and if you need a crash course on society's ethical system and shared values, I will point you to its beliefs about the afterlife and/or final judgement (Judgment day). Anthropologically, as well as theologically speaking, these beliefs will not tell you anything about the realities they pretend to be describing. How could they? No one knows them! They do tell you in a most condensed way the society’s ethical and moral values. In a nutshell, doctrines about afterlife are in essence the most powerful and intense way of speaking about this life.
 And thus Classical Greek descriptions of Hades tell us a lot about the values of that society, what was considered foul and punishable, and what was highly thought of and celebrated. The Egyptian Book of the Death presents an archetypal image of the divine judgement (a weighing of a heart), with a long list of the renounced vices, thus providing an interesting insight into the morals of the Egyptian New Kingdom society. 
 In a similar manner Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno” allows us to observe the ethical values of high medieval Europe. Jewish and Early Christian Apocalyptic literature does not portent the future, but in thick prophetic colors, it paints a picture of a faithful resistance to oppressive Hellenistic empires.
 The lectionary reading this Sunday is the parable of The Last Judgement (Matthew 25:31-46). This parable goes back to the early church and (in some aspects) probably to Jesus himself. And, again, the true meaning and the message of this parable is not in predicting and describing the future. From the beginning this parable was a powerful vehicle to outline what were the core values of the followers of Jesus. What do we as Christian believe as the most important part of life? What, according to us, truly matters to God? In this parable we touch the heart of who we are or who we would like to be. 
 For all, it might be quite a surprise!
 
--------------------------------------------------------------------

New translation and dramatisation of Matthew 26:31-46

Narrator . . . . . . . . . . N
Jesus . . . . . . . . . . . J
Congregation 1 . . . . C1
Congregation 2 . . . . C2

N  When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
    and all the angels with him,
    then he will take a seat upon his glorious throne.
    And all the nation and peoples will be gathered before him,
    and he will sort one from another,
    just as a shepherd sorts sheep from goats
    - sheep will go to his right and goats to his left.
    And then the king will declare to those on the right -

J   Come, you who are praised by my Father,
    take into your possession the Kingdom,
    which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world.
    For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat,
      I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink,
      I was stranger, and you welcomed me in,
      I was naked, and you clothed me,
      I was sick and you took care of me,
      I was in prison, and you went to me

N  Then these righteous will respond -
C1 But, Master, what are you talking about?

    When did we ever see you hungry and fed you,
    thirsty and offered you drink?
    When did we ever see you a stranger and welcomed you in,
    naked and clothed you?
    When did we ever see you sick
    or in prison and went to you?

N  And the King will declare to them -
J  Truly I tell you,
   just as you did to the least significant in the world
   you did it to me.

N Then he will declare to those on the left -
J  Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal selfishness
   which consumes the Devil and his retinue.
   For I was hungry, and you didn’t give me to eat,
     I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me to drink,
     I was stranger, and you didn’t welcome me in,
     I was naked, and you didn’t cloth me,
     I was sick and in prison and you didn’t go to me

N They will be surprised and asking,
C2 But, Master, what are you talking about?

    When did we ever see you hungry
    or thirsty or a stranger or naked
    or sick or in prison,
    and we did not help you?

N And he will declare to them -
J  Truly I tell you, whenever you refused to help
   these least significant in the world,
   you were refusing to help me.

N And they will disappear into eternal oblivion,
   but the righteous will receive the fullness of life.

---------------------------------------------------------------------



Responses of Faithful Life (intended not only for liturgy)

I am hungry, ... and we give you something to eat,
I am thirsty, ... and we give you something to drink,
I am stranger, ... and we give you warm welcome,
I am naked, ... and we give you good clothes,
I am sick, ... and we give you fine healthcare,
I am in prison, ... and we give you another chance.

2011/11/13

Matthew 25:14-30 - Dramatised worship reading

Contextual translation attempting to capture the perception of contemporary hearers.
This reading was presented in worship of Rutgers Presbyterian Church on 2011-11-13 by the church youth.

N Or think about it this way.
   Some very powerful person went away for a long period of time.
   He decided to leave some large amount of money in the hands of three individuals.
   Each was assigned a large amount of money according to their professions.
1 The first person was the head of an investment bank called “Golden Socks”;
  he was given five hundred million dollars.
2 The second led chemical corporation called “Santa on Moon”;
  she was given two hundred million,
3 and the third one chaired organization called “Greens and Peace”;
  he was given one hundred million.

1 The first took the capital and in four years he made another half a billion,
  not counting the millions he made for himself.
2 The second, likewise, did the same thing with her capital.
  Her profit was unbelievable 19% year after year
  and a healthy CEO salary above it.
3 The third did not care about profit
  and went to save the planet from those two other guys.

N With a subsequent elections the powerful person returned to power
  and the professionals came to give him their reports.

1 The first said, With my position and all that money
  I hired and trained many mortgage brokers.
  They sold mortgages to everyone, even to people who could not afford them.
  I pooled those loans, divided them and regrouped them,
  insured them and sold them until no one could understand any of it.
  I made piles of money.
  I even made money by betting on the failure of my own funds!
  Now I have a full billion.
N The powerful man said, “Well done. You proved yourself.
  I make you my Secretary of Finance.

2 The second officer came, and she said,
  In my position and with all that money,
  I managed to hire scientists and I bribed lawyers and I bought public opinion.
  I genetically manipulated seeds of staple crops and I patented them.
  Now almost every farmer on the planet slaves for me, and if not, I sue them.
  And people happily eat my junk. And as result I more than doubled the money.
N The very powerful man said,
  “Well done. You have proved your worth.
  I am making you Secretary of Agriculture.”

3 The third officer came and said.
  “I am not sure I can claim any real success.
  I tried my best, we protested and stopped dangerous nuclear tests,
  we all but stop the commercial killing of whales,
  we slowed deforestation and the extinction of some species.
  But it was not I who can claim all these successes,
  I only recruited, trained and organized volunteers.
  And we can hardly claim any miracles, because so much still needs to be done!
  Earth is still here but we don’t have any money left.
N And the powerful man gave this officer a dressing down.
   “In your own words you were just half successful.
  How can I be impressed with your performance.
  I expect miracles, do I? Well, I expect that at the very least you made some profit!
  Why didn’t you invest at least in green energy! You are fired!
  My new Secretary of Treasury and the minister of Agro-business
  will run the environmental department.

N And remember, The rich and powerful will get only richer and more powerful,
  while the poor, and the naive will lose everything, even their own future.

----------------------------------- -
Now, how does it make you feel? Righteous indignation?
That was exactly, how the original hearers did hear this parable of talents.
Primary targets of this parable were not little Galilean peasants or the powerless and poor people of any time and space. It was not intended to be spiritualized or used to “induce generosity” in middle classes.
This parable belongs to the category of parables called "Return of the rightful owner" (for instance Matthew 21:33-41 Parable of the vineyard, or Matthew 24:45-51 Parable of two servants). Parables in this category criticize misbehaviour of the rich and the powerful, and at the same time they utter a word of warning. These parables were intended for the elites, for the landlords, for the religious hierarchy and for all the privileged, wealthy and powerful. God is not indifferent to injustice. God knows about exploitation of the poor. Justice DOES EXIST and it is coming.
It is a theological disgrace, that this passage used to be interpreted as an apotheosis of venture capitalism and has been abused to “tame and milk” people of faith.

(This translation and interpretation is further supported by the Gospel of Nazoreans as quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea, and by historical events of departures and returns of vassal monarchs as recorded by Josephus Flavius.)

2011/11/11

Friday Message from Rutgers Church 2011-11-11

Misrepresented talent
How much does a talent weigh? And what would be its value?
Of course I do not mean talent as an aptitude. That is the most common use these days, but it is a secondary meaning, the result of centuries and centuries of Christian symbolical preaching and psychological sermonizing. (Wasn’t there some nasty character who said something about repeating things over and over again until they become a reality?) The word TALENT is a prime example of what we are against if we want to liberate ourselves from the bad theology which has influenced perceptions, culture, and even language itself. Originally TALENT was a unit of weight and a unit of value.

The oldest definition of TALENT in the Ancient Near East was “a weight of a person in gold” and would be about 110 lb. (You see, back then people were evidently much smaller and also slimmer.) The currency equivalent of the ancient gold talent would be approximately $2.8M today. Later, in Hellenistic times, a TALENT became lighter and was used to measure silver. In New Testament times a TALENT weighed about 80 pounds and its value in silver would be the equivalent of $40K today.

And so it goes. In order to understand the basic vocabulary of Jesus’ parables, we need to go back to his time. To understand his true intention and his revolutionary and liberating message, we need to undo (unlisten and unlearn) hundreds of years of really poor theology. For decades theologians knew that the parable of talents (Matthew 25:14-30) was not about individual aptitudes or encouragement for enterprising spirits and even less an apotheosis of venture capitalism. Unlistening, unlearning and in process being liberated, that is what we will do again this Sunday.

2011/11/02

Bridesmaids’ Sunday

A little bit of exegetical-religious background for this Sunday lectionary reading from Matthew 25:1-13. I am convinced that function of bridesmaids goes back to lower-goddesses of fertility, which are attending and sponsoring the marriage, and guarantee its marital blessing, fertility and happiness. Below I quote a delightful piece from Ugaritic mythological literature (XII. century B.C.E.). In this text bridesmaids still preserve their divine character. I translate/interpret their names in order to highlight their character and functions. In a similar way names of famous midwives from Exodus could also be translated as Fertility-bringing and Labour-groans. Could their origins be also associated with Koŧarat?

Song of Koŧarat The Canaanite fertility lower goddesses
(From the Weding of Nikkal and Ib KTU 1.24.40-50)
I sing about goddesses, about Koŧarat,
daughters of Hallel, the Bright-Ones,
daughters of Hallel, lord of Gamlu,
who descend to the garden-beds
and among the olive-groves,
who lead to success
with the blessing of Compassionate,
of El, who is merciful.

Lo!
In my mouth is their number,
on my lips is the sum of them:
Dowry, and Dower,
Love-Flame, and Womb-Opener,
First-Cry, Forever-Bearer,
and Goodness, the youngest of Koŧarat.

2011/10/28

Reformation with Kathy


Reformation Sunday 
"We tell our Lord and God plainly, that if God will have the Church, God must maintain and defend it; for we can neither uphold nor protect it. If we could, indeed we should become the proudest asses under heaven." This is “Tischreden CCCLXII ” one of the Table Talks, Luther’s famous pronouncements at the dinner table. Luther was a down-to-earth and witty entertaining speaker and writer. At home, at his table, he was relaxed and immediate and captivating. Luther was indeed a child of medieval superstitious and prejudiced thinking, but by the grace of God he was given a chance to glimpse a spark of the divine light of freedom. He stuck with it stubbornly, and regardless of his idiosyncrasies and flaws, that made him great. At the table he was not alone; he had the company of interesting interlocutors and above it all he had Katie, his beloved wife who kept that table in place and well supplied for all his friends and guests. Without Katie, we would not have Tischreden and there would not have been any reformation as we know it. At Katie’s family table we may observe the birth of a new culture, theology and mentality.
     Join us this Sunday for worship and a unique and almost revolutionary celebration; liturgical dance based on a hymn by Martin Luther -- "A Mighty Fortress" after the famous Cantata 80 by Johan Sebastian Bach. The dance and the homily will center on the wife of reformer Martin Luther, Katherina von Bora, an unsung heroine of the Reformation.

2011/10/22

Friday Message from Rutgers Church 2011-10-21


Do you have impression that people (our global civilisation) have been getting progressively less and less brutal over the past centuries and even more so in most recent decades? I think that we would need some serious convincing, and that is exactly what Steven Pinker wants to do in his new book “The Better Angels of Our Nature, Why Violence Has Declined” which is causing quite a stir in intellectual circles. This Harvard professor of experimental psychology needs no less than seven hundred pages to make this point thus indirectly acknowledging that his claim is not that self evident.
    I have read about half of the book and it seems to be well-written, well-researched and full of statistical data. Even when the atrocities of recent genocides and world wars are counted in, Pinker observes that the general level of human violence has been declining. He claims that this process has been propelled by the social and cultural development of our species.
    At this moment I don’t think I am ready for any detailed argument. Yet, I would like to make two meta-observations.
    First, I am concerned. Whenever we humans start to speak loudly about our cultural, civilizational or political progress in eradicating violence, soon afterwards something bad has happened. For instance, the era of self-confident progress at the end of XIX century was followed by World War I. Thus, whenever we speak about eliminating violence I fear that it is just our wishful thinking; we might be subconsciously trying to persuade ourselves about our changing, developing and maturing nature.
    My second observation is positive and connected with our Sunday lectionary reading. Steven’s book indirectly documents that violence has a contagious nature, violence breeds violence directly and indirectly. How could this observation be positive? Because it implies that violence can be discontinued! The circle of violence can be interrupted. Anything we do which removes any form of violence from circulation will have a great positive impact down the road. This Sunday the apostle Paul and Jesus of the Gospel of Matthew will encourage us and teach us exactly that - how to model God’s motherly loving nature in our macho world and society.

2011/10/15

Coinage of blasphemy and coinage of hope

Coinage of hope.
This Sunday will be about money.
I hear it in my head:
     Click clank, swish,
     Click clank swish,
     Moneyyyy!, Get back!...
Now you know.
I grew up in the seventies
with Pink Floyd in my first cassette player.

This Sunday will be about money,
but differently, not about mammon,
not about those signifiers of value.
This Sunday will be about money
and its service to the ideology of power,
about its use for propaganda.

Just look at our own currency,
a directory of power-possessed males,
generals, politicians, wagers of wars.
And all of it is sanctioned, God forgive,
by “Trust in god”?!
This is a quandary not unlike the one faced
by biblical Jews and early Christians alike.

Can we live without this blasphemy?
Using plastic money? Is it any better?
Is there any way out of these snares?
I believe there is!
This Sunday we will hear
about a different coinage of God,
the ancient-new coinage of hope.

Jesus will teach us
how to deal with this manipulation,
with these imposing socio-cultural images.
They present themselves as the only truth,
and force us into binary options
of obedient soulless robots or exaggerated rebels.
This Sunday we will hear about another option,
God’s option,
about the divine coinage of hope.
Together we will return it into circulation.
        (Mark 12:13-17 and Genesis 1:27+28)

2011/09/30

Friday Message from Rutgers Church 2011-09-30

Church of open commensality 
Jesus was accused of being “a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and other sinners.”(Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34)
It was a hostile attack, meant to be dismissive and undermining. But it was anything but that. This comment was true, and on Jesus' side his behaviour was intentional! 
This observation marvelously grasped the essence of his ministry. Just look up all those parables about eating, feasting and preparing food. 
Then, even more importantly, look at how often the gospels speak about eating or feasting with Jesus. Even that famous miracle of turning water into wine in Cana of Galilee: it was not about a bottle or two, it involved no less than 100 gallons of choice wine: 100 gallons!
       Eating and drinking with others was at the center of Jesus' ministry. Jesus intentionally and provocatively gathered people around his table who would otherwise hardly ever sit together. 
A prostitute in the family living room of a city mayor. The homeless and beggars at the table with the business elite (those famously corrupt state contractors and bankers). Who could be surprised that so many people felt uncomfortable?! This radically egalitarian table community stood at the center of Jesus’ ministry. This was his primary way of modeling, anticipating and beginning to create a new order of divine rule (Kingdom of God). 
       Clearly, many people did not like it. They disliked it so intensely that they thought they could eliminate this vision by getting rid of this provocative visionary. Thank God their murderous plan did not work! Every time we celebrate Holy Communion we dine with the resurrected. We personally perpetuate and participate in this revolutionary salvific vision of a new divine order, where there is enough sustenance, enough hope, enough forgiveness and enough welcome for anyone willing to enter. 

2011/09/23

Friday Message from Rutgers Church 2011-09-23


Dysfunctional Biblical Family Values
Have you ever noticed how the Bible portrays family life? Abraham almost “sacrifices” his son in some kind of religious delusion. We hear about the tormenting and desperate escape of a pregnant surrogate mother, soon followed by her expulsion to the desert. Then there are several examples when mothers of faith are being “pimped” by their husbands for political and material profits. Or consider Rebecca’s misleading her elderly and blind husband to push forward her favorite son. There are siblings conspiring to murder their brother and settling on a “humane” solution of only selling him into slavery. We see a long history and well-established practice of dangerous intermarriages with close blood relatives. Remember the notorious love life of alpha-male David and the incest between David’s children? Or the Oedipean behavior of Absalom, or Solomon’s diplomatic harem, or his “the Arabian Night” affair with the Queen of Sheba? Oh, did I mention prophet Hosea with his strange style of preaching through his family life and names of his kids?  
It does not stop with what we call the Old Testament. We can continue with not unsubstantiated rumours about Jesus’s own parentage, or the attempts of Jesus’ family to have him declared insane and his reaction in disowning them and replacing them with a commune of his own making. We know about Jesus’s own blatant disrespect for the responsibilities of a son towards a dying father. Then there is Paul almost amusing family, and sexual advice hardly derived from any real family experience, tragically taken by some as a center of his religious genius and the holy writ itself. And all this menagerie of pathologies and dysfunctionality is just a short and brief list which I created almost in an instant and of the top of my head!
How is it possible? First, I think it is naked biblical truth-telling. Even the greatest and most celebrated heroes (to some extent even Jesus himself) are portrayed with honest realism. Second, it is the logic of storytelling and the means for stories to survive; only unique and somehow “ticklish” stories can make it down through the ages and generations. There is also a pedagogic reason - it is better and safer to learn from the mistakes of others. Finally there is a whole bunch of psychological, religious and theological reasons. As we observe models of behavior, and archetypes in action, our sense of morality is broadened; as we observe human merits (rather demerits) and divine grace in action, with Luther we can exclaim - “Sola Gratia” - By Grace Alone!
        This Sunday we will hear a unique intertwined, two-gospel parable about God’s own dysfunctional family (Matthew 21: 28-31 and Luke 15:11-32). Thus it is about us, about our families, about our society, but primarily about God and about the divine medicine of love and grace.

2011/09/20

Preparing the New Rutgers' Book Discussion Group

After successful summer book discussion group when we read Gerd Theissen's The Shadow of the Galilean  I am now thinking about opening a new book discussion group.
All of the books are either short or easy to read or they share both of these characteristics.
The books are not selected because I swear by them, but as a trigger for our discussions.
Most of these books I have already "tested" in a small group/seminar setting and they generated interesting discussions. If you like to join us and/or have preference let me know - ostehlik@rutgerschurch.org
Andrew

---------------------------------------------
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Cost of discipleship - very interesting and important theological and political text. Can be accompanied with several films/documentaries on D.Bonhoeffer. Can be accompanied with discussion of the Barmen Declaration - part of the Presbyterian Book of Confessions, can be accompanied with selected Letters from Prison - an exposition of further radicalisation and deepening of Bonhoeffer’s theology.

Martin Buber: I and Though - we can have interesting discussion about Jewish hermeneutics and linguistic philosophy. Tangentially this can be accompanied with discussion of his interest in Chasidism and about our modern idealisation of exclusivisitic or esoteric movements. Even further tangentially as one of the very early Sionist Buber can offer very interesting insights in Near Eastern situation.

John Caputo: What would Jesus Deconstruct? - discussion about Social Gospel, Evangelism and evangelicalism, postmodern philosophy (please don't confuse with religious postmodernism which is just a religious mush) and Derrida etc.I only recently discovered this Syracuse professor of philosophy, very engaging thinker, can help us provide some clarity to thinking about our faith.

Richard Dawkins: The Selfish Gene (can be accompanied with a PBS film on evolution) discussions about faith and science. Might be interesting to discuss an early book of an author who later became vociferous critic of religion. Possible discussion about the difference between faith and religion.

Carl Gustav Jung: Terry Lectures (Psychology and Religion) or Analytical Psychology : Its Theory and Practice (The Tavistock Lectures) - Opportunity to discuss Jungian psychoanalysis, import of Jungian psychology for the study of religion, Jungian interest in Gnosticism.

John Shelby Spong: The Sins of the Scripture - episcopalian bishop and biblicist grappling with biblical fundamentalism, can be accompanied with some films - Selling God or an episode from Red Dwarf (on religion and fundamentalism)

Slavoj Žižek: The Fragile Absolute (Or Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting for?) - an international celebrity Marxist philosopher and psychoanalyst originally from Post-Yugoslav Slovenia. Very challenging an amusing writer, in this book defends Christianity and attempts reconciliation between Marxism and Christianity.

2011/09/17

God is not a free-market-capitalist

The picture: Rising unemployment, chronic underemployment, people trapped in the vicious cycle of loans and morgages, crushing fear and the devastating reality of loan defaults and repossession of property, unfair and out of balance taxation, disproportionate emphasis on defense and military spending, poverty driven work migration, homelessness and near homelessness, use of modern tools of communication to control people’s minds and project official propaganda, astronomical and growing difference between haves and have-nots, official religious structures offering cheap and emotional fixes or short escape trips. 
     I am not speaking about our society, this is an image of Jesus’ Galilee and one way or the other an image repeated throughout the Roman Empire.
     For several decades a new generation of archeologists dedicated themselves to diligent and meticulous unsung work and techniques, such as the tedious canvassing of the countryside for every shard of pottery or remains of little farmhouses and farm installations. “There is no question that we now know more about the world of early Christianity than any previous generation since the end of Antiquity.” (Quotation from R.Hosley and N.Silberman - biblical historians and interpreters of archeology.)
     And for all those who are prepared and keen to listen and to have their eyes opened, it is a deeply transformative knowledge. Liberated from religious sentimental and ritualistic baggage, the biblical message suddenly starts to speak to the real world in which we live, and it starts to address our fears and our dreams, first by verbalizing them, and secondly by offering models of alternative thinking and living. It is a process of re-unifying and healing our faith and our lives again. This Sunday Jesus will talk to us about unemployment, how the economy of scarcity breeds crippling greed, and why God is not a free market capitalist. To paraphrase and combine Martin Luther or Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Divine grace is costly, but free and certainly not for sale!

2011/09/14

Biblical argument for the same gender marriage

Why we celebrate gay marriage in Rutgers church.
(Written for church newsletter)
     This summer, New York State finally changed the law allowing people of the same gander to marry. The Marriage Equality Act was passed by the State Legislature, signed by Governor on the same day, and thus became effective on July 24, 2011.
     Unfortunately our denomination – the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.,) is less progressive than the secular authority of our state. Our denomination unequivocally allows ministers only to bless same gender unions in special ceremonies. However, our denomination is slow to embrace change and our church law is completely unclear about ministers conducting marriages in states where “gay marriage” is now allowed and legal. [Please understand that this article and blog was written and published before our denomination (PCUSA) changed its Book of Order - the church' constitution. Actually this article was part of our campaign striving for this change.]            
     One of the strongest biblical arguments (at least in my opinion) for gay marriage might surprise you. It comes from the Ten Commandments, a biblical passage which has been otherwise widely abused and misinterpreted by conservative evangelicals. The seventh commandment in the traditional translation states: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” In the Hebrew original there are just two words, a negative particle and a verb. I do not want to go into any detailed linguistic analysis, but anyone can understand that when two original words are translated by no fewer than five words, there is a substantial interpretation going on even on this most elemental level of language translation.
We might be in for some more surprises if we decided to understand and interpret this commandment for our times. The Biblical concept of adultery was quite specific and technical: A man could commit adultery only with someone else’s wife, thus undermining the other man’s marriage. A woman could commit adultery only if married, and it undermined only her own marriage (or more precisely, the marriage of her husband to her). 
Thus adultery was a hostile act that undermined the committed relationship of another male member of the society. It is clear that this legal and moral concept was fully rooted in the culture of a patriarchal society. Thousands years later, we do not live in patriarchal society any longer. This commandment must be re-interpreted. Quite often its meaning is simply expanded into any area of sexual morality. That is a clear example of what is called “easy-gesis,” a lazy interpretation that completely misses the main point.
The original intention of the biblical concept of adultery was: undermining someone else’s committed intimate relationship. This concept must remain at the center of any attempted modern interpretations. Our current social structures and definitions of relationships are different, but their protection should remain central to this commandment. 
We also need to recognize that, in our modern times, there are different ways to undermine other people’s relationships. One of ways of undermining other people's commited intimate relationships could easily be self-righteous religious campaigns against the same gender marriages! They vociferously reject providing security and protection to same gender couples. De facto they publicly break the seventh commandment and they achieve it regardless of their own marital fidelity. (Just try to visualize it! It would almost be an amusing idea, if it were not so sad.)    On July 24th, New York State finally extended its protection to the same gender committed relationships. We rejoiced in this change in our congregation, and we extend our recognition and protection of committed and loving relationships to all our couples. We want to live, as faithfully as we can, according to the tenets of our reformed faith and in harmony with biblical testimony. We hope that our denomination will soon find clarity in this matter, just as it did in the matter of ordination of LGTB deacons, elders and ministers.
Once again, Rutgers Church is offering its cultural and theological leadership.

2011/09/09

Friday Message from Rutgers Church 2011-09-09

     This Sunday (2011-09-11) we will worship in the shadow of the tenth anniversary of a great national tragedy. This original tragedy has been subsequently dwarfed by even grater and still ongoing suffering which our political and military leaders chose to inflict on countless and diverse groups of people around the world.
     Our Worship Committee, with our new interim music team, prepared a deeply meaningful service of worship and reflection with the creative and beautiful use of music.
     As a basis for my meditation this Sunday I selected an unusual reading - a little known (unfortunately) agraphon from Fatehpur Sikri. “Agraphon” is a name for a word (a saying) of Jesus not recorded in the four biblical gospels. I chose this particular saying because this agraphon itself, its form, its existence, its multi-religious and multi-cultural background, powerfully embodies the hope for our world. Its message has the power to deepen our spiritual lives and understanding, uplifting what is truly and ultimately important.

---------------
And if you have read this far, here is some theological teasing provoked by my most recent readings (John Caputo: The Weakness of God) 
     Almost all human religious thinking and religious expectations presume and sometime postulate God as omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. So how come, how is it possible, that the world is so full of unjust suffering and tragedies?
     Now what if this theodicy quandary is all wrong? What if these divine attributes are just delusions of our natural human religiosity, even worse, idolatry, the production of idols? What if God is personal but not a person at all? What if biblical testimony has been true all along? I mean that famous self-revelation EHYE ASHER EHYE - "I am who I am." What if Martin Buber had good inkling by presuming God to be embodied in a grammatical category of the essential pronoun? What if we need to take it even further?
What if God is not “embodied in a noun or pronoun” but is “an un-embodied active verb”? What if the best way of speaking and thinking about God is not in characteristics and descriptive adjectives, but in aspects, tenses and adverbs? What if Jesus spoke in parables (stories) to capture exactly this active, dynamic, verbal, happening, becoming and encountering the nature of God?
     What if God is not embodied in top-down power structures of rulers, priests, armies, and institutions? What if God is present and active in a much more elemental and essential manner? By the very virtue of being a verb, the grammatical principle of change, what if God is undermining all the powers of the status quo in the most essential manner? What if God is the persistent presence of this unembodied, weak, yet persistent potential for encounter, change and love?
     What if God is a verb opposing fanaticism, militarism, nationalism and narrow-mindedness in any form? What if God is a verb of longing for peace and forgiveness? What if God is a verb of companionship and sympathy of the downtrodden and suffering? What if God is an event of journeying with the lonely and the abandoned? What if God is a verb of sublime pro-existence (who exists for others)? How is this divine verb changing the verbs of our world and of our own living?

2011/09/05

An explanation of the title

The Title of this blog is actually a quotation from an ancient epos preserved on a cuneiform tablet (KTU 1.3.iii) dated circa 1200 BCE.
     It is a part of a message of god Baal to goddess Anat asking her to abandon her bellicose inclinations and to come to him in her more life-affirming form, so that they can build up together his palace (a metaphor for the orderliness of the Universe):

"Bury war in the earth,
set strife in the dust,
pour a libation into the midst of the earth,
honey from a jar into the midst of the field.
   Grasp your spear and your club;
   let your feet hasten to me,
   let your legs hurry to me.
For I have a word that I would say to you,
a message that I would repeat to you:
   A word of tree and whisper of stone,
   the sighing of the heavens to the earth,
   of the abyss to the stars, 
  I understand the thunder
  which the havens do not know,
  a word unknown to men,
  which the multitudes of the earth do not understand.
Come, and I shall reveal it to you,
in the midst of my divine mountain Ṣaphon,
in the sanctuary on the rock of my inheritance,
in the pleasant place of my victory.

I like this gnoseological riddle of disseminated and hidden knowledge and especially this notion that epistemology is essential for peace. 
     Centuries later similar ideas appeared in Psalm 19:2ff, Hosea 2:21ff, and even some hints in Paul's letter to Romans 8:18ff. The religious insight of this mytheme is clearly integral, although hidden part of our judeo-christian tradition.
     I believe that this ancient riddle remain the task before any curious person and I invite you to search and listen, observe and feel with me on following pages for the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the depths and heavens, the abyss and the stars.
---------------------------
P.S. June 2014
I just came across a biological and gnoseological model called Umwelt by its proponent Estonian biologist Jacob von Uexküll. It presents an alternative model of perceiving and understanding nature as the complex flow of signs and communication between all its individual living parts. Here is an English translation of one of his essays.