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."


Jesus on the biblical catwalk

When I was in school, I got into trouble from time to time. Sometimes it was truly bizarre. One summer morning in those lazy last days of the school year I was stopped while walking from one class to another and ushered directly to the headmaster’s office. I could not figure it out. I was completely oblivious of anything I did or did not do in the recent past, and I was not even faking it! I received yet another reprimand and spent the rest of the day in the school suspension. It turned out that I committed a serious ideological offense by wearing a T-shirt. On it was an artistic representation of a Canadian Mapleleaf! Our good family friend lived in Calgary and sent us this innocent gift. But for the petty communist apparatchicks and ideology-minders, those Canadians were clearly like cousins of a devil and part of imperialistic archenemy camp.
    Then I heard from Prof. Charles Jones (In one of the lectures from The Teaching Company) about how in his college years in the late 1970's (roughly at the same time) he and his friends also got into fashion trouble. They wanted to advertise their school radio station with a T-shirt. On it was a station frequency, beneath the head of Karl Marx wearing headphones (!) and the slogan “the opium of the people”. The vigilant college administration banned it straightaway. Well..., no antireligious Marxist hints in good old Kentucky! Not even from a future professor of religion and culture.
    What we wear and how we wear it can indicate conformity, or register a protest; dress can display national, religious, cultural, political, or generational affiliation. Our dress is an important part of the semiotic codes - our clothes contain and are often used to send important contextual messages. This Sunday’s lectionary reading will place Jesus on the biblical fashion catwalk. One, often overlooked, verse (Mark 6:56) will offer us a rare opportunity to “read”, analyze and interpret biblical fashion, its historical contextuality, its deep religious meanings, and its import for our physical and spiritual well being and healing.


Let us rescue the princess

       A naive king, a night-dark queen and one playful princess; 
       a banquet hall with a royal ball in a castle with a dungeon; 
       a royal wedding, a wrongful beheading, divorces and courtiers; 
       noblemen and haunting ghouls and border wars of honor. 
This is an outline of the Gospel lectionary reading for this Sunday (Mark 6:14-29). It has many trappings of a classic European fairytale.
       If you come to worship this Sunday, I would like to invite you to step inside this story and help transform it from within. 

       We will have the privilege of rescuing a royal princess from vicious and false accusations of wanton murder. 
       In our quest we will cross the chasm of time and traverse a bubbling swamp of literalism. 
       We will poke some holes in the dark armor of immoral morality of preachers and confront their pet beasts of Misogyny and Prejudice with their seductive grins, corrosive spittle and mighty bites. 
       I am convinced that if we succeed in our quest, we will vindicate the princess, transform the story, change our self-understanding and gain new insight and joyful liberty.

A few supportive theses for this new interpretation of Mark 6:14-29
1) John the Baptist was not executed because of the whim and vindictiveness of Herodias.
Antipas married Herodias and divorced Phasaelis(Shaudat?), daughter of king Aretas IV of Nabatea. Aretas was offended, tension grew, and hostilities eventually led to a regular war. The situation was even more complicated because Antipas was a client prince of Rome while Aretas started as a vassal king but grew ever more independent of Rome. This was an unpleasant conflict along the edge of the Roman domain. In such a situation John’s criticism of Antipas marriage was certainly viewed as subversive and undermining the morale of the army in the run up to the war. John was executed, later Antipas lost the war (Josephus Flavius also reported that people also made this connection between John's execution and lost war - Ant.18.5.2.§116ff) and eventually Antipas lost the support of Rome and was sent to exile in Gaul. Herodias (because of her Hasmonean descent) was given permission to stay in Galilee, but she chose to accompany Antipas to exile. (She did love him!)

2) Biblical families (royal as well as ordinary) cannot be used to model modern style families.

This is an elemental genealogy chart of the broader Herodian family as printed in The Anchor Bible Dictionary III.179. It clearly shows the complex nature of the endogamous family. Peasant families from Judea or Galilee would look very similar, perhaps even more intertwined and complex, but there is virtually no reliable data to create such a chart. The Herodian family was unique because we have data, not because of its form. More on the endogamous model of families and societal impact is presented here: Sociology of family values.

3) In traditional religious/folk tales, misogyny is quite a common and popular form of prejudice.
The story of Herodias and Salome casts the main female characters according to the standard model of manipulative seductress (power-possessed women abusing their sexual attraction, in this case divided into two personae). Another biblical example would be Jezebel and Ahab. This traditional misogyny was considered so potent that it was used to denigrate the associated male characters. Ergo: Antipas and Ahab are presented as weak and controlled by vicious women. (But that is exactly the prejudiced misogynistic scheme!)

4) Implicit as well as explicit religious criticism of immorality of the rich is generally shallow and inconsequential.
From a systemic perspective lasciviousness, absence of good taste, arrogance and excesses of the powerful are mere symptoms and not root causes of societal discord and disconnect. Criticism of blatant symptoms is popular but is not going to change the rules of the game. The implicit criticism of the sexual immorality of the Herod Antipas family is missing true immorality: Quisling (slavish) attitude towards foreign occupation, cutthroat exploitation of the poor and powerless and forced modernization of society without appropriate social nets  (Hellenistic urbanization and latifundialisation/land-grab of the country.)


Enlightenment Music Therapy

What do you do, when you are exposed to toxic levels of political and religious prejudice, intolerance, narrow-mindedness, lies and hatred? I intuitively and subconsciously seek medicine.
    Most of the last week I spent with our clerk of session in Pittsburgh at the General Assembly of our denomination. We were there, together with many others, to advocate for our denomination’s unequivocal support for the same gender marriages. We tried our best and only time will tell... But at the same time I felt almost suffocated by the poisonous gasses of fundamentalistic ignorance, hateful obscurantism and pious hypocrisy of would-be friends. If this is a mainline denomination, one of the more progressive in our nation, what does it say about the rest of our society???
    I came home from Pittsburgh and I listened to full two and half hours of Die Zauberflöte. After a week of evangelical darkness I needed an antidote of enlightenment. The Magic Flute can provide just that. On the surface it might look like a simple fairytale, but under the surface there are deeper meanings. For me it is a complex parable of Theressian and Josephine reforms of the Austrian enlightenment.
    These enlightenment reforms had some serious pitfalls, yet the list of their achievements as well as their goals are nonetheless impressive for the 18th and early 19th centuries: 1) the social reforms of liberation of serfs and the taxation of nobility and the rich; 2) the institution of civil rights, the judicial and prison reform and abolition of torture as well as capital punishment; 3) the education reform with compulsory public schools; 4) the medical reforms with the beginning of public healthcare and hospitals; 5) religious reforms of tolerance, pluralism and curtailing the most conservative and totalitarian segments of the religious spectrum...
    The problem is, that although American society was born under the same star of enlightenment and although many founding fathers were strongly influenced by this movement, American society has never truly embraced and internalized this important stage of civilization. As a result, our society is perhaps technologically advanced, but at its core it remains essentially pre-enlightenment or seriously divided on many or all of these matters.
    I think that it is not a mere coincidence that one of the most progressive movements in our denomination is called “More Light Presbyterians.” I know that they are predominantly a GLBT advocacy group, but the symbolism and meaning are significant and deeper. After the week at our General Assembly I know that our denomination as well as our whole society deeply needs liberation from the darkness of religious prejudice and narrowmindedness and the presence and witness of progressive, loving, caring and enlightened communities of faith like our Rutgers Church. I hope you will join us this Sunday in our worthy endeavor of being more light alternatives of life and faith in this world.