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."

2019/07/18

Precious Light

When Jesus said to his followers, “You are the light of the world” have you ever wondered how it might look? 
      On this picture is an oil lamp, a replica of an old terracotta lamp from the biblical period. It gave very little light. Thus in wealthy households they would use a number of lamps or alternatively they had lamps with several wicks and flames.
      We live in an age of relatively affordable electricity. One flip of a switch floods the space with light. One faint electrical bulb would need to be replaced with tens of oil lamps and cost would be prohibitive! Using an oil lamp will cost you a hundreds time more not to mention the side effects of soot and smell. In ancient times only rich people could afford a decent light. 
      When Jesus said to his disciples you are the light of the world - he also said to them, in God’s eyes you are precious. Join us in worship this Sunday when we look deeper into this beautiful and rich metaphor.

2019/07/11

Silly Salt?

Can salt be silly? Jesus certainly thought so! He said to his followers, “You are the salt of the world.” thus lifting up and validating his disciples. But he also gave them a warning - “You are the salt of the world, but don’t be silly salt!” Silly, stupid, moronic salt was the one which lost its purpose.
For a number of years I have been collecting my own salt  and I can relate to it. (H
ere I wrote more about it.)

             Salt certainly has a spiritual and even a metaphysical dimension. It is spiritually transformative to collect one’s own salt and then use it to spice up food and life, and at the same time to be aware of salt as an offering and an apotropaic (evil-repelling) agent.
             In Jesus’ time salt also had a sharp social justice (fair taxation) edge. Many of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen and they depended on affordable salt to preserve their catch. They struggled with salt monopolies and unjust taxation. (This may be from a different time and land, but remember for instance Gandhi's Salt March!)
             And these days we can extend the activism of salt into eco-justice. It is widely reported that sea salt is polluted with microplastic and table salt is produced with potentially harmful nanoparticles. From our current experience we can relate to Jesus’
concern for the purity of salt.

“You ARE the salt of this world,” Jesus says to us, “So, don’t be silly!” And thus we join in worship and activism to strive for the spiritual, social and environmental common good.

2019/06/13

Heavenly Hospitality

In the Bible, the Acts of Apostles (14:11-13), there is a bizarre story in which apostle Paul with his colleague Barnabas are on a missionary trip through the South Central Anatolia and are mistaken for the gods, Zeus and Hermes.
    Behind this bizarre misunderstanding is actually a beautiful ancient myth of hospitality. But unfortunately the misunderstanding of this misunderstanding is also connected with the growth of homophobia among the ancient Jews, Christians and Muslims.
    Let us start with the story of hospitality. It is nicely preserved and beautifully narrated by a gifted Roman poet Ovidius. He tells the story of Philemon and Baucis, an elderly poor couple who offered hospitality to strangers not knowing they were Zeus and Hermes in human form. Philemon and Baucis were rewarded for their hospitality while the rest of the hostile, hateful city around them was punished for neglecting their duty towards traveling strangers. (Interestingly, Ovid also situated this story to the South Central Anatolia)
    You might recognize that there is a typologically very similar story in the Bible (Gen 19). It is about two angels of the LORD visiting Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah. When I link these stories together, you can also realize why I did mention the emergence and growth of homophobia among the three Abrahamic religions. In all of them this story about hospitality and protection of strangers was twisted into the justification of vicious homophobia.
    Paul and Barnabas misunderstood and harshly rejected the genuine gesture of hospitality from the citizens of Lystra. They might not know the story of Philemon and Baucis and they did not recognize similarity to the biblical story because by their time the biblical story had been already influenced by homophobia. Soon afterwards the Church (together with the Synagogue and the Mosque) codified this misunderstanding for the upcoming centuries and twisted the story about hospitality into the foundational story of hatred.
    And this is something you might not know about the Bible. It is important to talk about it because only by talking about it and knowing about it we can undo centuries and centuries of viciousness and hatred and rejoice in the original story of welcome and hospitality.

If you come to our church this Sunday or if you know Ovid's poem,
you will understand why I picked this photo for this worship.
 

2019/05/23

Secret gospel and homophobia

Now imagine this -- a brilliant and eccentric American scholar researching an old library in a tower of an ancient Middle East monastery paging through medieval manuscripts reading ancient writings and finding by a chance a quotation from a thus far unknown secret gospel. That quotation was part of a letter from the second century which mentions an ancient esoteric sect. Mystical interpretations are involved, secret initiation and magical rituals. There is even a perceived sexual innuendo. All is wrapped in cutting edge linguistics and theology and also involves accusations of ancient, medieval or modern forgery. And then this unique manuscript mysteriously vanishes from the Orthodox patriarchate in Jerusalem. To the best of my knowledge the only thing missing in this plot is a murder, otherwise it could easily compete with bestsellers like Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” or Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.”
    But it is not fiction, this is a real part of recent biblical and apocryphal theology. Biblical theology can indeed be thrilling like best-selling mystery novels! And that perceived sexual innuendo played an unfortunate and important role as there were concerns about homo-erotic undertones. Thus Christian homophobia of the sixties, seventies and eighties and to some degree and in some circles even until now was likely behind the disappearance of precious manuscript. Without the physical manuscripts those accusations of modern forgery cannot be conclusively resolved in which ever way. This is how modern homophobia impacted biblical scholarship. That mysterious text is in almost every critical edition of early Christian Apocryphal Writings but with a note about its questionable authenticity.
    As we remember 50 years from the Stonewall uprising, and 50 years of struggle for LGBTQ rights this is something very few people might know about the dark legacy of homophobia in the realm of biblical scholarship.
    If you are intrigued, join us this Sunday to learn more about The Secret Gospel of Mark and its uneasy modern history tainted by homophobia.

2019/05/20

Album parable

Today I want to talk to you about Elephantine Papyri but first allow me to share with you this rather lengthy introductory parable.

Imagine you are a member of an extended family. In your family you have a shared family story handed down from generation to generation and part of this lore is also an old photo album. It is called “The Album”.
    You remember sitting with your grannie paging with her through all those old pictures and stories, naming people, remembering memories; here is uncle so and so, and this is great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War, this is a grandfather’s maternal cousin whose farm burned down to ground, and this is a great uncle who was a supreme court judge in some European country, this distant aunt married to a builder of a famous viaduct, and here is paternal nephew, he was a clergy and became famous missionary. All well documented in ancient sepia pictures and labeled with names and dates, organized into an easy flowing and persuasive family narrative.
    You even received your own copy of The Album when coming of age. It is a true family heirloom. The Album records occasional trauma, but nothing really troubling,  mostly it is a real source of family pride. Few minor glitches can be blamed on history, times and customs were different. All in all The Album shows and teaches deep and generally commendable family roots.
    But then, while cleaning an attic of a family residence a large box of ancient correspondence and documents surfaced. Those ancient documents were written in difficult cursives and in several languages. It took some efforts to decipher and even years later it is still not fully finished.
    First you noticed names, events and dates you knew from The Album, but then things started to become ever more complicated. Not everything can be put together neatly and there is no easy and simple narrative anymore. Family history is turning into something substantially different and so complicated! You realize that The Album, your family album is largely just storytelling. Some events clearly happened quite differently and some might not even have taken place at all.
    You also realize that the storytelling hiccups and gaps in The Album can be often explained with the documents from the box, just like some of the palpable tensions around this or that uncle and many of those annoying family taboos and strange behaviours can also now be explained.
    Reaction among the wider circle of relatives was quite diverse and divided. Some relatives threw the entire photo album into the recycling bin stating they always thought grannie was making things up and that it is all just babbling of a senile old woman irrelevant for their modern lives.
    Other relatives, on the other hand, became all agitated. They made the album into a real shibboleth. In their part of the family children still memorize The Album and are made to swear on the veracity of every single picture and name. In their family branch everything is measured by The Album and its assumed lessons. The Album, thus divorced from any history and reality, is used to push some extreme agendas.
    And you are in the middle of it. You love the old Album. You respect your grannie and her story as much as you are now aware that much of it was just fabulation. There are lessons to be learned from grannie’s Album just as there are lessons to be learned from the documents which surfaced in the attic.
    Even more importantly, there are truly deep insights to be learned on the intersection between The Album and the archive, deep insights and appreciation for the family history and for grannie with all her complexes, great insights for your own self-understanding and understanding of the world.


I can imagine you can relate to this parable. We all know different aspects and parts from our own families. But I wrote this parable about the Bible (the Album) the church (the grannie-representation of institutionalized religious memory) and about documents uncovered by archeologists, anthropologists and theologians in the last one hundred years or so. Sholars found many old archives and archeological records which are complicating the shared lore. Today we will talk specifically about Elephantine Papyri ....


Picture of today's village on Elephantine Island.

2019/05/16

Multidimensional Temple

This Monday I was in Hilo, Hawaii, preparing this Sunday worship while sitting on Moku‘ola (Island of Life) also known as Coconut Island in Hilo Bay. It was the original location of an old Heiau (old Hawaiian temple) and a holy place which was destroyed many years ago with only a few stones remaining. Yet that place still keeps a very special spiritual atmosphere.
    I was preparing a worship in which I plan to talk about an ancient Jewish Temple. And although it was a genuine Jewish Temple, it was not in Jerusalem, but rather it was on an island called Elephantine in the river Nile in South Egypt.
    There is not a single mention of this Jewish Elephantine temple in the Bible, and that is a problem. Because as a Jewish Temple outside of Jerusalem it was in the sharp contradiction of everything written in the Torah (Law of Moses).
     And furthermore, this temple and its community were in regular correspondence with Jerusalem and Samaria and existed with the support and blessing from Jerusalem. We would not know of its existence if not the so called Elephantine papyri that survived and was discovered in the late XIX and early XX century.
    For the biblical fundamentalists this ancient Jewish temple in Egypt is an utter conundrum and a stumbling block for their hardened, harsh and often abusive religion.
    In reality it offers us an intriguing new and fresh perspective not only for our understanding of the Bible but it invites us to embrace an alternative, multi-dimentional, more tolerant and inclusive self understanding of our faith.
    Join us this Sunday as we embrace this new and broader vision.

And for those who want more information, here is an older article I wrote about this Jewish Temple in Egypt some time ago.
 

2019/04/25

Church's Treasure

The second Sunday of Easter brings to us the story of doubting Thomas. Last year I wrote and recorded a short study about this apostle and truly ancient Thomasian tradition. 
      [Here you can read about Thomas among early Christians or here you can watch video clip about it.] 
      This Sunday I want to pick one story from this Thomasian tradition, the second chapter from the Acts of Thomas. But I do not want to completely give out that story, so instead here is a similar, yet later story from the early church.
      In the early III. Century Lawrence was a church deacon. He was responsible for the distribution of alms to the poor and thus he controlled substantial financial resources. Then a prefect of Rome demanded that Lawrence surrenders to the state all the church’s wealth. Lawrence promised to do that, but asked for three days to gather all that wealth. When those three days were over, he reported to the prefect. He was asked, “Where is that promised treasure?” Lawrence pointed to the poor, crippled, blind, and many other sufferers which he brought with him with the words: "Behold, these poor persons are the true treasures of the church.” 
And thus Lawrence became a saint, being executed for his devotion to the social justice.
      Our story from the Acts of Thomas this Sunday will have a better ending, but it is of a similar nature. It is also a biblical metaphor expanded into a legendary story and also has a powerful social justice message.
Join us this Sunday to hear about Thomas ministry in the legendary lands of king Gundaphorus.

Video version of this blog is on YouTube here. 
 
"Building castles in the sky" is an idiom which dictionaries define as "To create dreams, hopes, or plans that are impossible, unrealistic, or have very little chance of succeeding."
The second act of Apostle Thomas is very likely the beginning of this idiom and instead of duplicity its primary focus was on social justice.
 
 

2019/04/18

Singing Hallelujahs

The Christian salvation story is in great need of radical expansion. I am convinced that the Easter message needs to reintegrate with the entire creation. 

Here is an illustration of what might have gone wrong and why I think this reintegration is needed.
       Medieval art, especially from high Gothic times through Renaissance, often depicted baby Jesus with a bird. Sometimes Jesus awkwardly holds it, even clutches it. Later on, with some rising sensitivity, the bird is only gently touched. Occasionally the bird is being tethered on a golden string. 
      In order to understand what is going on, you need to know that the bird in these paintings is Carduelis Carduelis - the European Goldfinch. Goldfinches are associated with thistles, brambles and anything thorny. In those paintings this bird is a signal, a pointer and an omen foreshadowing the crucifixion. 
      I find it symptomatic of our treatment of nature in our religion. We made our religion all about us, and only us and about our individual salvation. Nature is used, like that bird in those paintings, as a stage or even worse as a tool and accessory to the great story of our own salvation. 
      I always felt badly for those pure birds in those paintings being so awkwardly handled by the medieval Jesus. Especially as they were made into those unwilling pointers to the cross and unwilling coincidental accessories to the crime of crucifixion while goldfinches are joyful and famous songbirds. 

Join us this Easter Sunday when we reintegrate goldfinches and all creation into the salvation story. It will not diminish its glory, it will amplify it! Let us all sing with entire creation our Salvation Hallelujahs.
And here is a video version of this blog - Singing Hallelujahs .


2019/04/15

You Can't Wash in Blood

Many Holy Friday hymns are simply awful. Especially those written in the 19th century. Have you ever payed attention to what they say? For instance:
    "In the Cross of Christ I Glory."
    "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."
    "Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,
        tell aloud the wondrous story of the cross."
 
And some other hymns, among many more, which point to the Holy Friday message:
    "Are you washed in the blood?"
    "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! ...
        Born of the spirit, washed in his blood."
 
Just think about it! Those are atrocious hymns with catastrophic theology. Their emotional landscape is exaggerated, histrionic, brimming with fake emotions and completely alienated from historic reality.
     For any sound mind the cross was nothing glorious - it was an ultimate form of Roman state terrorism. I do not know what kind of person can find murderous torture wondrous.
    I am from a family of Calvinist pastors and doctors. You do not wash in blood, when you treat grave injures, you need to wash blood off. Even as a theological metaphor it does not work. Washing in the blood appears only once in the Bible, in a marginal passage in Revelation, and anyhow it is about washing robes not persons. Otherwise the Bible makes clear in number of passages that blood is to be washed away. 

How much more truthful, genuine and sincere are especially the old African-American Holy Friday Spirituals:
    "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
       O, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."
   "They crucified my Lord and he never said a mumblin' word."
    "They Crucified my Savior and nailed him to the cross...
        He rose from dead, and shall bear my spirit home."

These are the songs of honest, sincere sympathy and experience and deep personal understanding coming from deep, firsthand experience with persecution, torture, and, yes, lynching.
      I am convinced that it was not a coincidence that in the 19th century white churches were singing about "wondrous crosses" and being "washed in blood" while black churches were singing about "them who crucified my Lord who never said a mumbling word."
      And when you put it this way, you know what is the most truthful singing. You know where the heart of God was and still is.

Come to worship with us this Good Friday. With the late Professor Dr. James Cone we will seek the true message of Good Friday and understand the cross through the lynching tree.

2019/04/11

Christian magic words


Christians do have their own genuine magic words. Magic words that go all the way back to the New Testament, the Greek Bible, and thus they have been used from the earliest church until now, some of them daily.
          They are genuine magic words according to anthropology and the study of other religions. They are often words transmitted or borrowed from different languages and almost as a rule do not make any sense in the language of their current users. As they are transmitted through generations and different languages their spelling is altered and their pronunciation is changed. The original speakers would have difficulties in recognizing them in their current form.

Here is an incomplete but substantial list of the New Testament magic words, starting with those most common:
Amen - derived from the Semitic root for something firm, certain and meaning something like “May it be so.”
Hallelujah - is actually an abbreviated Hebrew sentence “Joyful shout to the LORD!”   Abba - is an Aramaic word for a father, often used by Jesus and early christians. 
Rabbuni - was an Aramaic salutation or greeting used for Jesus “My teacher”.

Among these preserved and untranslated New Testament Semitism are also healing commands used by Jesus:
Ephphatha  - “Be opened!” For healing of a deaf person.
Talitha kum - “Girl get up!” For resurrecting a comatose or dead girl. 

In the liturgical setting we have already mentioned Amen and Alleluia. There are also worship exclamations:
Maranatha - “Lord, do come!”
Hosanna - “Save, please!” or “Do save!” 

      All these words have the characteristics of true magic words. They are preserved from their original language(s) and they are repeated as sounds often without understanding of their original meaning. They are used because of the ancient tradition, out of respect to their original use or for the perceived power or religious potency.At that was something you might not know about the Bible and your faith tradition.
       Join us this Palm Sunday as we listen to the people and especially children surrounding Jesus at his entry to Jerusalem and hear, learn and adopt one of these words- Hosanna. It is often used as one of those magic words, but it is way more precious and meaningful. Join us in prayer for liberation. 

2019/03/26

Special Grass

Grass near Pu'u 'Ula'ula of Mauna Loa
At least once a year my wife and I love to spend several days hiking in the Hawaiian snow. Yes, there is regular frost and snow in Hawaii. At 13,000 ft (4,000m) the air is thin, the head is spinning and the going is tough. All around is a volcanic wilderness with spectacular lava formations but completely devoid of anything alive except a few spiders persisting on insects blown up there by the wind. Even other hikers are a rarity - the highest number we had ever encountered were five in one full day. After the year-round crowds of Manhattan - this is our mountainous hermitage. Hiking cleans our heads and sharpens our senses. And then, after a few days spent in almost complete solitude without any telephone, electricity or running water we are ready and happy to return to civilization, but first we need to descend from this frozen high altitude desert. Coming down at the altitude of 10,000 ft we come across our first grass. Just a few small bunches of tenacious, hardy grass, but grass nevertheless. After days spent among just black, brown, gray and red rocks, the grass is so green and alive. Grass is so underrated! Every single blade is like a harbinger of life.
    Yes, I know that the Hebrew Bible grass has a reputation of ephemerality and impermanence. It is undeserved reputation and rightly corrected by the Synoptical Jesus who lifts the humble grass of the field above the beauty of the legendary monarch.

Come and join us this Sunday celebrating the beauty and diversity of grass, any life including the humankind.

Video version of this blog (with few more pictures and videoclips) is here on YouTube.

2019/03/22

In Praise of Silence

This Sunday, the third in lent, will be about the gift of silence. My granddaughter reminded me recently what a great gift it really is! We were playing with rattles and learning how to crawl and then it was about the time to take a nap. After such a flurry of activity that was not easy. I carried her on my arms, sang her Czech and Hawaiians lullabies, even one which I made up myself years ago for my children. Her eyes were getting narrower and narrower, with few inevitable reverses of course. At last, the narrowest chinks closed and her eyelashes merged and locked followed with a little twitch in her legs. My grand-baby was finally  asleep, breathing deeply. Time to put her in her day crib. Here she is surrounded with some of her toys - a crescent and stars. Shhhh. Silence is indeed a great divine gift!

2019/03/07

Recounting Divine Glory


This Sunday is the first in the season of Lent. This year we will follow our Presbyterian devotional called “Awaking to God’s Beauty” and the Book of Psalms will be our guide.

At first, people worshiped under the open skies, in some nice or special places; in a holy grove, by a brook, at a spring, or on a special hill or a mountain.
     Soon after, people erected a stela or created a stone circle, built an altar. Those were the beginnings of the first shrines which later grew into temples.
     Those ancient temple complexes were still built and decorated and organized as sacred models of the world, informed by the local mythological cosmology.
     In the center was the holy of holiness, a divine habitation, surrounded with a place restricted only for priests, then a space for the local devotees and finally for anyone else. Basins and pools represented oceans, large pillars were mountains upon which the sky rested and columns stood for tall and splendid trees (especially their capitals preserved that notion). Some of this architectural cosmology is present in cathedrals till this day.
     Over time the divine became more and more confounded into the walls of temples, cathedrals and churches. On this first Sunday in Lent the 19th Psalm will encourage us again to return back to nature and to open our eyes and all our senses to the divine beauty all around us. Come and join us in the worship.