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."


Bucolic demagoguery

When psalmist sings “The LORD is my shepherd” he makes a powerful political statement.
     Only modern people without understanding of ancient context could take it as an opening sentence of a funerary dirge or pietistic outpouring of faith. Everyone in the Ancient Near East was well educated in what I would call a "bucolic demagoguery". 

     Images, metaphors and vocabulary of shepherding were as old as first domesticated animals and always contained strong overtones of power and domination. The excesses of power were only mildly controlled by pointing to the self-interest of shepherds to keep a healthy flock.
  • In Sumerian epic, when Gilgamesh (a legendary Sumerian hero) behaves like a tyrant, he is reminded by his subjects, he should act like a shepherd. Gudea of Lagash (3rd millennium) is called “shepherd who leads the people with a good and steady hand.” Lipit-Ishtar (early 2nd millennium) is called “humble shepherd of Nippur.” Hammurabi of Babylon called himself a “shepherd appointed by Enlil”. Many Neo-Assyrian kings liked to portrait themselves as shepherds. In Egypt from Middle kingdom on, kings were called “herdsmen of all men” Amenhotep III is called “The good shepherd, protecting all people” Seti I “the good shepherd, who keeps his soldiers alive.” Merneptah calls himself “ruler, who shepherds you”. In Homer Agamemnon is called “shepherd of the host.”
Ancient Near Eastern kings and supreme rulers simply loved to call themselves shepherds and used that image for legitimation of their power. Their subjects, when their situation became unbearable, timidly reminded their rulers that they should behave like shepherd and protect their subjects.  
      If the psalmist sings “The LORD is my shepherd” he makes a powerful theocratic statement which contained strong anti-imperial and anti-monarchic edge.
      Many biblical parables and metaphors of shepherds (Cf. Ezechiel 34) criticize rulers for their abuse of power and lack of care for their subjects. Similarly, the synoptical parable of the lost sheep is an implicit political criticism of those, who allowed it to happen, and it contrasts the realm of God with the contemporary political arrangements.
       And when Jesus of the gospel of John says “I am the good shepherd” we hear Johanine community making a very powerful theocratic ideological statement. 

       The one who criticized neglectful shepherds of his day and sought hope in theocracy (kingdom of God), is here declared the Shepherd, ergo the King (ergo God).
Jesus himself (the historical person) might be quite surprised! (But that would be another chapter.)


Earth Day Walk

This Sunday we celebrate Earth Day, and we will talk about walking, journeying and hiking. Several weeks ago I preached (and wrote on this blog) about Highways and Byways. We investigated the difference between arrogant imperial highway systems and human-sized paths created by local people. We also observed how different road systems mirror different ways of life. Empires are built and sustained by an arrogant ideology often called “our way of life”.
    This Sunday we will learn from Jesus how to leave the imperial ways of life behind and choose and enjoy alternative paths of living. We can start with the very simple act of walking. Walking is a joyful and healthy act of defiance and protest. In our world it is a true prophetic alternative mode of being. In a car, we cannot hear birds singing. We cannot smell the fresh-cut-grass. We cannot see the morning dew on flowers. We cannot feel the fresh breeze in our face. We cannot touch a butterfly (we wash them off the windshield.)
    This alternative living starts even before we make the first step on our way. We need to return WALKING to our vocabulary and thinking. Imperial bureaucrats love words like TRANSPORTATION. Believe it or not, recently I even saw the monster-phrase FOOT-TRANSPORTATION. I prefer just to WALK. I hate being called PEDESTRIAN. If walkers are called pedestrians, drivers should be called "vehicularists" or even better, "motorheads".
    Thankfully we live in the most walkable (or if you wish walking-friendly) city in the entire United States. We might have the ability to walk, but we often live as if we were trying to compensate for walking, so we live our lives as if we were driving, flying, or piloting our lives as supersonic jets. In our city we can walk, now we need to re-learn a walking, slower pace ethos. Indeed walking is a joyful, alternative pace of living. This Sunday we will observe Jesus walk, and try to learn from him an alternative way of living.


Sunday of Theological Inquiry

Quasimodo Sunday (or more properly Quasimodogeniti)
    This is the traditional name for the Second Sunday of Easter. This strange name is derived from the opening words in medieval Latin: 1 Peter 2:2 “Be like new-born babies and desire genuine rational milk, which will help you to grow up in salvation!” (Quasi modo geniti infantes rationale sine dolo lac concupiscite ut in eo crescatis in salutem)
    On this First Sunday after Easter we will read the story of Thomas (John 20:19-29). Far from being unbelieving, Thomas became the first theologian, asking questions about faith, guarding himself from superstition and prejudice (wishful thinking), yet eager to learn and to understand. We will attempt to penetrate the Gospel of Thomas and to uncover Jesus’ parable unrecorded in the Bible. A similar similitude from the 2 Corinthians as well as the parable from the Gospel of Philip will help us crack this ancient yet lively conundrum of the Logion 97.
    We will stay true to the theological legacy of this Sunday. Even the affirmation of faith will be phrased in the mode of Apophatism. That is the traditional theological way in which faith is being expressed by declaring what we do not believe:
    We do not believe God wants us to stop searching, asking and learning.
    We do not believe God speaks only in church lingo and through stilted rituals.
    We do not believe God approves what people have done to the world.
    We do not believe God organizes the death of anyone even God’s own son.
    We do not believe God wills hunger and poverty for any of God’s children.
    We do not believe God approves abuse, torture and war for any reasons.
    We do not believe God cannot remould and reshape us and our broken world.

A slide from a lecture on Gnosticism.

I grew up in glass-making part of Czech Republic. My maternal grandfather worked in the glass factory, he used to shape wooden molds for the glass-blowers. I still remember vividly my high-school summer jobs in a glass factory, especially the smell of burned beeswax used for lubrication. 


Easter Galilean Beach Barbecue

Just forget for a moment about Easter Sunday morning in Jerusalem, forget about the empty tomb, forget the vocabulary and doctrine of resurrection! All of these are quite late developments. Theological scholarship is certain that the earliest Easter stories about meeting Jesus after he was crucified originated not in Jerusalem; the oldest accounts with the deepest roots came from Galilee.
       The disciples were hit hard by the loss of their beloved leader. They were hit hard by their own betrayal and cowardice. But at the bottom of their deepest despair something happened. 
       First they did not have words for it; they did not know how to talk about it with each other, not to mention with the outside word. Only later they would start to call it resurrection. Only later they would find the powerful symbol of the empty tomb. Only later they would attempt to record, systematize and organize their thoughts and experiences. But something powerful had happened. My professor of the New Testament Dr. Petr Pokorný in his book "The genesis of Christology" calls it The Decisive Impulse. At first the disciples were crushed by despair, and then they became filled with joy. At first they were overwhelmed by fear, and then they found new confidence. Their leader was executed in Jerusalem, and then they met him in Galilee. Something powerful had happened to them, and they started to search for words and ways to share their experience, they searched for stories and metaphors to talk about their transforming experience. 
       Interestingly, the decisive impulse was closely intertwined with communal meals, just as it was during Jesus’ earthly life, the overwhelming majority of Easter stories are connected with eating. Since the earliest transformative experiences originated in Galilee, this Easter Sunday gospel reading will take us to the Galilean beach with a barbecue for the resurrection picnic.

This graphics is based on the ancient mosaic
from the Church of the Multiplication


Underground in Jerusalem

    When Jesus came to Jerusalem he knew he was in hostile territory during the proverbially dangerous season of the Easter/Passover holidays. By that time, he and his companions were well trained in avoiding capture. They had been running from religious and military authorities for quite a while, crisscrossing the Lake of Galilee, intentionally crossing administrative and national borders.
    Their arrival in Jerusalem was also well planned with prearranged signs, designated messengers, secret passwords, and highly symbolical means of transport (Mark 11:1-3).
    I still remember these methods from the time when I grew up under totalitarian regime. Some of our church and political activities were illegal. So we did not stay at any one address (where we could be picked up by police), we backpacked in the mountains. Private conversations and meetings were always done in the parks or in the gardens and on the move. (A minister friend once found a listening device in his living room chandelier.)
    Why did I call Maundy service on our Easter flyer “Clandestine Supper”? Here is why: Jesus sent two disciples with instruction, Go to the town and when you see a man with a jar of water (easy to get right, there were hardly any other men carrying water since this was traditional work for women) follow him and see which house he enters. Then give this message to the owner: “Teacher says: ‘Where is the room for me and my students to eat the Easter meal?’”  A very clever arrangement! They simply followed a stranger. For an outside observer it would have been almost impossible to know why and where they went. And the meeting room might not have been in the house they entered; that is just a simplistic conjecture based on clumsy language. This whole passage reads as though it was taken from an espionage textbook.*
    I simply do not buy that Jesus intentionally went to Jerusalem to be crucified. He was not a naive Galilean pumpkin, nor even worse, an omniscient divine narcissist with masochistic twitch. All of that got generated later by pious churchly philosophizing. Jesus took some serious risks. He knew it and he did his best to limit unnecessary dangerous situations. Yet he was certainly prepared for probable and tragic outcome, he knew the risks.
    Join us this Maundy Thursday at this Clandestine Supper. Jesus’ thoughtfulness, his courage, his vision, and his hope are breathtaking and they still inspire.

*Truth be said, it is difficult to know whether this vivid account dates from the time of Jesus or whether it reflects later experience of the Markan Church under persecution, in any case the latest date would be about 70 C.E.      

And for the Good Friday Service six clergy from our church have researched, discussed and prepared since January.
Why was  Jesus declared a sinner and crucified? How is the label of sin almost universally used to suppress dissent and enforce political, cultural and religious conformity? Why was Jesus called sinner and what truly constitutes sin? On the Good Friday service we will be looking into the dark corners of the human religious psyche, but also hopefully noticing some bright glimmers.