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."



       In the beginning was the Word,
       and the Word was with God,
       and the Word was God.

This is the first verse from the gospel of John. An opening of a famous hymn to the divine Word. Some think it was originally a gnostic poem. Some others consider it to be a beautiful philosophical poem. It is also a beautiful creation story, New Testament creation story.
    What is translated in our bibles as "the Word" was in the original Greek text ὁ λόγος. Proper translation is "the word". But I believe that in this case it should be just transliterated as LOGOS. Why should it be transliterated and not translated? Because Ο ΛΟΓΟΣ was such a potent term in the Greek and Hellenistic mythology and philosophy that any translation would not do it justice. It should become a loanword.
    Think about other loanwords, all of them can be properly translated but there is much to be desired!  TATTOO can be translated from Polynesian languages as “poked skin”. GEISHA is literally “an art person” in Japanese. UKULELE is “a jumping flea (instrument)” in Hawaiian language (because fingers pluck strings so quickly). CURRY is just a regular name for “a sauce” in Dravidian Tamil and ZEITGEIST translates from German rather spookily as “time ghost” 
    If we want to understand more fully this beautiful biblical poem from the beginning of the gospel of John, LOGOS cannot equal THE WORD no matter how much we embellish it and load it with meaning. Just like curry is not another sauce and when I play the ukulele I do not play a jumping flea.

Join us this Sunday when we listen and discern the ancient enigma word play:
        In the beginning was LOGOS,
        and LOGOS was with God,
        and LOGOS was God.


Advent podcasts

In Advent 2019 I prepared with Peter Rinaldi these podcasts (Part of our ReligioSanity channel - We primarily upload to SoundCloud but our podcasts can be found also on Apple Podcast and other platforms.)
We always closed ourselves in the Rutgers Presbyterian Library and chatted about Advent and Christmas traditions but mainly about biblical and theological conundrums and provocative questions swirling about these preeminent religious holidays.

Sane Christmas 1 - St. Nicholas Day
Sane Christmas 2 - How Jesus Was Born In Bethlehem
(40 Years After His Crucifixion)
Sane Christmas 3- Delicately Talking About Mary's Virginity
Sane Christmas 4 - How Mary Became A Virgin Again
Sane Christmas 5 - Protoevangelium of James (Part 1)
Sane Christmas 6 - Protoevangelium of James(Part 2)
Sane Christmas 7- The Infancy Gospel Of Thomas


Un-confiscated Christmas

These are some toothbrushes confiscated by the “Homeland Security Agency” from the refugees crossing the US southern border. They were collected and photographed by Tom Kiefer when he worked as a janitor at the Border Patrol prison.
    This picture gives me chills. You need to understand that I was born and grew up in the Czech Republic under Russian occupation. Until recently I had occasional nightmares of living again behind border walls and electric fences and under the dark shadow of malevolent secret police.
      At that time toothbrushes and prisons had a special significance for us. It started with Vaclav Havel and other dissidents and opposition leaders. They could be picked up from streets and arrested at any time and put in prison without their families or anyone knowing for days. So they started to carry their toothbrushes with them just in case... Soon it became a coded saying. “I am taking my toothbrush with me.” It meant I am prepared to go to jail.  
    And here we are again! Loud, stupid, spiteful, chauvinistic propaganda with fences and walls on the border. Innocent people being put in jails, their families torn apart, children kept in cages, and even their toothbrushes being confiscated! Why? For what reasons? Just to be mean? Just to be even meaner than agents of totalitarianism?
    Thankfully, there is good news in all of this. Occupation of my native home lasted for a long time, but eventually it ended exactly thirty years ago. Borders were demilitarized and those stupid border walls came tumbling down and fences were cut by the very dissidents who came almost directly from prisons to become presidents, prime ministers and secretaries of government. It felt like a miracle, but it was not coincidence, there is a deep, because divine, logic behind it.
    The Christmas Gospel is bringing that message to us in this season. The abusive political power might look strong, but it does not have the ultimate word over our world. Join us this Sunday as we un-confiscate Christmas and seek hope for our world.

And by the way, I have no doubt at all that among those vilified desperate refugees, among those detained in cages and those whose toothbrushes are now confiscated are the future Vaclav Havels, Nelson Mandellas, leaders, politicians, scholars  or industrialists in our or their original countries. So watch out what you do to those least of these!


Simple Gifts

This Monday I was making myself a simple supper – a slice of a rye bread, smothering of a vegan cream cheese and a slice of an heirloom tomato with a sprinkle of a salt and right as I was about to take my dinner to the table I was caught by sheer surprise. The slice of tomato looked like a beautiful star! And in a moment it also tasted heavenly in all its simplicity of rustic rye bread, the intense fragrance of a ripe juicy tomato and a few crunchy flakes of salt which I gathered myself half a year ago by the ocean shore. I savored every bit of my meal – the sight, the texture, the fragrance, the taste. My simple meal was tastier and happier than any elaborated banquet.
      This Second Sunday in Advent we will listen to John the Baptist. But before hearing any of his words we will hear the message through his dress code (coat of camel wool)  and diet (honey and locusts). He was an ascetic who was dressed and fed by divine providence yet in his time and place better than any royalty. Today we can translate his dress and diet into simple, locally sourced, sustainable, environmental, gentle living. That is and has been the model of divine providential care.
      I believe that the message of the blessed simplicity is always important for us to hear, but it is especially inspiring in this Advent season, while we are attacked and lured from every angle by sirens of consumerism.
       Join us to learn about and rejoice in the simple gifts.


Healing Community

Thirty years ago I was studying Theology at the New College of the Edinburgh University. The 1st of December was Edinburgh’s first AIDS awareness day. There was a big public campaign going on with buses, billboards and flyers with slogans “AIDS Concerns us ALL” and “Take Care”. 
    I arrived to Edinburgh as an international student from behind the Iron Curtain. Back in Prague we lived in semi isolation, there were few AIDS cases but in Scotland the situation was getting serious. There were more and more diagnosed cases and people were dying of AIDS every day.
    Although the world was changing rapidly around us with the fall of the Berlin wall and the Velvet Revolution in Prague, I could not stay immune to this other strife going on. My fellow theology students as well as congregations of the Church of Scotland where I worshiped faced the challenge of AIDS epidemics like true disciples of Jesus. They advocated for the ostracized, against prejudice, for needle exchanges and free condoms for sex workers. They took to hospitals and fought for proper care for those ill and dying.
    I know from the stories of those who lived through that period here in NYC how even more challenging of a time it was on the other side of the big pond (dark prejudice has its home among some American religious people). UWS presbyterians including our Rutgers Church were on the forefront of this struggle and they strived valiantly against prejudice and for dignity and love. This Sunday, the 1st of December is exactly World AIDS Day. On this day we will remember with sadness, gratitude to God and with hope for brighter times what it meant and still means to be a healing community.



Christ the King - Overcoming toxic divinity

A crucifix on the Charles Bridge in Prague with a (controversial) Hagios in Hebrew.
קדוש  קדוש  קדוש  יהוה צבאות --  Ἅγιος, ἅγιος, ἅγιος Κύριος Σαβαώθ
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
There is no doubt that Jesus preached the Kingdom of God. The kingdom he preached was unlike any kingdom of his time or any time, different even from any subsequent forms of government. Jesus not only preached the kingdom, he was also embodying it and living it out by touching and healing the untouchables, by eating with the outcasts, and by bringing hope to all the marginalized. His message and his practice were a challenge and even cardinal offense against all the abusive powers at that time and so as this radical agitator/organizer he was eliminated, he was crucified.    
    This Sunday we celebrate Christ the King and the Gospel reading is about Jesus’ crucifixion. In this contraposition of king and crucifixion is the radical reinterpretation of authority and power is present. It is the beginning of the end of the violent power and the beginning of the end of what we can call toxic divinity.
    Humans build their empires on violent abusive power and humans construct their theologies of supra natural divinity - in its center is the philosophical construct of a god as an abusive patriarchal figure who is an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent supra-natural being. The crucified Christ the king is the major challenge to it, a great opportunity and an open invitation to the radically new spiritual and theological realm of divine radical love, compassion and self-giving. Two thousand years later it is still underappreciated and still radical and seldom heard about: God who rules not by the force of abusive power but by the power of attraction.
    Come and join us in celebrating Christ the King, this new divine paradigm for spirituality and the world.


What Would Jesus Eat?

Jesus would not harm a living thing, right?
     We expect Jesus to be gentle, compassionate, caring and loving, a true physician of our souls and the Universe. But that is not a full picture. In the Bible we hear about few occasions when Jesus got really angry and once even cursed an innocent tree which then withered and died (Mark 11:12-14+20). It is a unique example of a truly arbitrary and brutal miracle. People are shocked and theologians are often lost and left without answers.
    Scholars studying ancient agriculture and economy might have an answer. I would like to illustrate it on my own experience. Twenty years ago we lived for a year in Louisville and we were surrounded with beautiful tobacco plantations - fresh green fields on rolling Kentuckian hills sprinkled with dark red tobacco barns. As peaceful and bucolic as it looked I wanted to curse those fields knowing for what they stood and what they meant - horrible addiction, deceptive, fraudulent advertising, serious medical health problems,  endless suffering and often early deaths.
    Or imagine cotton fields in the American South 200 years ago, in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi. Beautiful, well kept by so well-mannered genteel owners. But all of that southern cotton and plantation culture deserved divine curse, regardless how they looked - because they stood for endless misery and suffering of slavery and racism which lingers until now.
    When Jesus cursed the fruitless fig tree I am certain it was for what it represented. It represented the disintegration of society and Judean farming communities. It was a symptom of dispossessed little family farmers who were originally growing food but were replaced by expanding plantations of absentee landlords.
Jesus cursed the fruitless fig tree because he was angry over the fate of small family farms and in support of communities growing food for people rather than plantations of cash crops grown for profit.
    This weekend we will welcome again our autumn speakers, this year Ben and Lindsey Shute - our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farmers. Come on Saturday at 2 pm for a presentation and discussion and on Sunday at 11 for worship to talk about their farm and to ask What and How Would Jesus Grow and for us How and What Would Jesus Eat.


Fair Taxation Miracle

I love paying my taxes. You can tell I was not born in America.
      I love paying my taxes because I recognize that we need infrastructure, we need to pay for things which benefit all. Personally I think we need more bridges and less walls, more roads and less missiles and bombs. We can have an argument how much of which we need. But if we invest more in hospitals and nursing homes we would need fewer army, fewer police and fewer prisons.
      I love paying my taxes because I don’t want to live in a society where a growing number of people lives in slums, while ever fewer folks hide behind high fences and guards in their gated communities. I don’t want to live in slum and I do not want to live in a gated community either. For instance I love meeting all different people in NYC subway! What is all the wealth good for if one cannot walk a dog without a bodyguard? Even for the rich such life can turn into a reversed prison.
      I love paying taxes because I want to live in a just and equitable society. You can accuse me that I was clearly not born in the US and that I am crypto socialist. You might be right. But my reasons are not political or ideological. My reasons are theological and biblical and they go all the way back to Moses and Jesus.
      This Sunday we will hear about Jesus’ miracle of fair taxation. It is well known that Jesus performed a number of healing and feeding miracles. What happened with and to Zaccheus can easily match all those better known miracles. Join us this Sunday as we rejoice in fair taxation miracle.


Reading the Augsburg Confession

I was preparing for the Reformation Sunday re-reading the Augsburg Confession (of course I read it during my theological studies but this time I was reading it in English and thus somehow with fresh eyes). I got all the way to Article XI on Confessions:

Our churches teach that private Absolution should be retained in the churches, although listing all sins is not necessary for Confession. For, according to the Psalm, it is impossible. “Who can discern his errors?” (Psalm 19:12)

I stopped reading. What a bizarre argument from the Scripture?!

Firstly, Psalm 19 is a famous composition. In its first part (verses 1-6) it is a beautiful hymnic rendition of a creation myth with some interesting Ancient Semitic parallels. The second part (7-10) merges it with the meditation on the Law (Torah) and the final part (11-14) wraps both parts into the author’s plea for innocence and protection from errors and from the perception of heresy. Thus in its final part the Psalmist intends to keep the creation myth and the revelation of Torah together and in harmony. The biblical half-verse 12a is quoted out of context and without understanding of its wider cultural, literary and religious context. (I know that at the time of Reformation, theologians did not have access to ANE literature and cultural context, but they did not pay attention to the context of the psalm itself anyhow.)

Secondly, even the terminology of this article is muddied. The article is talking about “confession of sins” but then it quotes the biblical passage which speaks about “errors” in understanding and teaching. (And the broader context makes it amply clear even in their 16th century understanding). Although there is an overlap between sins and erroneous teachings(thoughts), there is also a clear and large difference between these two terms both in theology as well as in everyday life.

Thirdly and most importantly, what kind of epistemology is it, to settle a need for thoroughness of confession or the lack of it by pointing to one biblical half-verse?! How could the authors even think that this is a satisfactory argument in matters of practical theology in deciding the need for thoroughness of confession or depth of self-examination?

All the other Reformation confessional standards are riddled with similar examples of biblical proof-texting. To a greater or lesser extent they all used the Bible (biblical text) as an epistemological jimmy which could be used, manipulated and twisted to open/answer any and every question and problem in faith and also in life. Here is the beginning of biblical fundamentalism (that original sin of Protestantism) and we have been struggling with it ever since.


In my computer I have a Biblical software (BibleWorks9). As a pastor I use it almost every day. It contains Bibles in all the original biblical and ancient languages and hundreds of different translations in dozens of modern tongues. Besides seven translations in my native Czech, there are also no fewer than thirty six English translations.
    Christian theologians have been pioneers of the art and science of translation from the oldest times of Hexapla of Origen of Alexandria (circa 240 CE) and Vulgate of Jerome (400 CE). The Reformation brought a further impulse in the development of linguistics and the theory of translation. Missionary activity of pietism took this endeavor global to languages all around the world. Thanks to theologians and Bible scholars we now have modern linguistics with diverse theories of translation and a full spectrum of translation strategies from word-for-word all the way to loose idiomatic translations.
    Interestingly, this Christian translation zeal stopped largely on the level of language, as if other aspects of life and culture did not need translation. Take for instance the elements of the Holy Communion - the bread and wine, the staple food of the Mediterranean. Viticulture (growing of grape vine) was introduced by monks and early Christian missionaries into regions as diverse as Scotland (11th century) on the northern side to the Caribbean (as early as 1493) on the south side. Needless to say growing grapes in these different climate zones was possible but it has never prospered there.
    One can only wonder why the Bible can be translated into local languages but symbols are bound by this strange fundamentalism of elements. Why the holy communion has never been truly inculturated and celebrated with the local staple foods. Join us on this World Communion Sunday when we try how it might feel to translate Holy Communion into the Mesoamerican context.


Blessed Cynics

Today I want to defend the Cynics. I mean the Cynics with the capital “C”. Not the modern derivative meaning - (a person who does not believe in selflessness). I just want to speak about this ancient Greek Post-Socratic philosophy school.
While other philosophers thought by their words, Cynics thought by their ascetic way of life. The Cynics were seeking EUDAIMONEIA - true, full, deep happiness which for them meant living in simplicity and harmony with nature. They often led an itinerant life in utter simplicity, in other words, life reduced to a bare minimum. There is an anecdote of Diogenes of Sinope, one of the early prominent Cynics - observing a boy drinking water with his cupped hands which led him to throw away even his drinking cup with the words, “A boy has vanquished me in living simply.”
Cynics claimed that things of great value were sold for next to nothing while useless things for abhorrent amounts. A simple meal of a cobbler was full of zest and better than a feast in a palace. Servants might be forced to obey their masters but the rich masters were even more tightly enslaved by their lust. Cynics challenged and attacked with their words and their way of life the dominant presumptions of the Greco-Roman society, or honestly any society which values class, reputation and wealth. The majority of society disliked this challenge and payed back with ridicule, pointing out that Cynics lived like street dogs and among street dogs and that is also how Cynics came to their name - KUNIKOS in Greek means “dog-like”.
Interestingly, early Christians shared many similar characteristics; itinerant teachers and preachers, nonconformist teaching and life; questioning established mores. Some educated biblical authors (like the evangelist Luke) hinted this proximity between Christianity and Cynics in their writings. One such Gospel story is coming up this Sunday about a person who held company with dogs. This story also radically questions our cultural paradigms.
    Join us this Sunday as we bless and learn from the story of a biblical cynic.


Jesus' Radical Prayer II

The opening of the Lord's Prayer in the Codex Vaticanus
Matthew 6:9-11a
In Rutgers Presbyterian Church we use several different translations of the Lord’s Prayer. A number of these translations are based on dynamic equivalence. I personally prepared one translation which was primarily informed by the economic and social context of Jesus’ prayer and attempted to translate it into our current idioms. (Four Years ago I also summarized some of the exegesis and reasoning here  - Jesus' Radical Prayer I)


Loving God of the highest authority:
In other words - heavenly parent. But “father” in the Ancient Near East context was primarily a figure of authority, especially if that figure was situated in the heavenly realm.
May what you stand for be the measure for everything.
That is an attempt to convey the concept of holiness and divine kingdom.
May the world be shaped as your love will have it:
Translating a petition which asks for divine rule to come from Heaven down on Earth.     

Preserve for us and future generations enough for everyone to live:
with fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, a blue planet to inhabit.

In the Ancient Near East devastating famines were a regular occurrence and for many people in Jesus’ times their food security was a daily concern.
In our world the food security is also a painfully reality, but is ever more associated with an environmental devastation.

May our society be organized fairly, without anyone crushed by debt or need.
The original text clearly spoke about the debt-forgiveness. All other words (sins, trespasses etc.) are attempts to translate the original Aramaic word חובא which was debt/obligation/anything owed. Our translation is an idiomatic attempt to provide similar meaning of forgiveness of debts and social justice.
(By the way, the medieval “trespassing” was primarily aimed against the destitute serfs who were driven to poaching in the vast holdings of their lords.)

Let the police and courts treat people justly, regardless of their class, nationality or race.
The original text requests protection from “being handed over to judgement/trial” either to the corrupt Jewish authorities or to the occupying Roman power. In our times when prisons are disproportionally full of black men, the poor and the mentally ill (not to mention recent highly problematic detention of Mesoamerican migrants), I think this is an accurate contextual translation.

With thanks we now submit ourselves under your bright and loving rule for ever.

And together we say - So be it!
The closing doxology is not biblical and I took freedom to translate it from the broader Greek context translating “kingdom, power and glory” and final “amen”. 


Primal Bitcoins

I am almost certain that all of you have heard about Bitcoins, the best known veriety  of digital/virtual money or cryptocurrency. Now, imagine stone age bitcoins! They indeed existed and were used for hundreds of years in Micronesia on the island of Yap
    Those stone "coins" looked like large millstones and as such they had a physical presence but otherwise shared many characteristics of our modern bitcoins. The stone coins were mined on the neighboring island of Palau (and sometimes Guam) and brought over to Yap. But many of these coins were so big, that they were kept in one location, and when they were used for payment only their ownership changed.
    The bitcoins actually also consist of encrypted history of ownership and transactions (called Blockchain) which are preserved distributed among interconnected computers (distributed ledger). Similarly, the large stone coins of Yap did not change location but had a history of ownership and transactions which were preserved in oral tradition (like the blockchain) distributed among owners and witnesses (like the distributed ledger). Instead of relying on the  pier to pier computer network they rested and depended on a network of human memory and oral tradition.
    There is even a story of a large stone coin which sunk on its way from Palau to Yap. It ended up down on the bottom of the ocean, unretrievable and inaccessible, it could not be even inspected! But the people of Yap decided to treat it just like any other stone coin, thus making it into a real virtual currency.
    Why am I telling you all this? Because it is so uniquely picturesque! But also because Jesus in the Gospel of Luke hints at something very similar. Money, any money is just our social construct. Money is just a human game, a very serious human game. As long as the majority agree it is serious, but it is a game nevertheless, just like the stone money of Yap or our modern bitcoins. Other games with other rules are imaginable and certainly possible. It is a revolutionary liberating realization.
    Join us this Sunday as we rejoice in this freedom. Joining Jesus and his disciples in thinking about and hoping for the new divine economy of social, environmental justice. A radically different economy of divine grace.  


Heavenly Bread-Making

In our church we regularly pray to God as “the father and mother of us all”.
      This theological gender inclusiveness might sound quite radical, but only if you do not know the Bible. God as our mother is quite well founded in the Bible. It might not be a common biblical way of speaking about God but on the other hand it is not unheard of either.
    The Hebrew Bible is almost entirely patriarchal, but for instance in several special and tender passages the prophet Isaiah, for instance, speaks about God as a loving and caring mother. (Isa 49:15 or 66:13).  And Synoptical Jesus (Jesus in the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke) shares several parables in which God is portrayed as a peasant housewife.
    In one parable God is like a woman sweeping the floor and looking for a lost coin. (Luke 15:8+9) In another parable God is like a housewife baking bread for her household, and considering the amount of flour (42 litters ~ 9 gallons), most likely bread for the entire village. (Luke 13:20+21)
    Join us this Sunday for homecoming worship. At the beginning of the school year and the new season in our life together we want to rejoice in God’s motherly love and marvelous abundance of divine bread-making.


NRA apocalypse

Last week I was grappling with an issue on how to explain the original nature of apocalyptic literature. For centuries it has been abused to frighten good little people into obedience of the church or more often of different cults. It was used to make people put up with oppression and abuses of power. Apocalypticism was uprooted from its original context and made to promise afterlife (or after-history) rewards for the faithful.
    How to undo centuries of these misinterpretations? How to return, or at least outline, its original radical meaning? And then, in the pile of old newspapers I found this folded parchment with another writing from The Manhattan Bible of Henry Rutgers:  
An angel came to me, took me by hand and told me, “Come I will tell you what is going to transpire. Those with ears, listen, those with eyes, watch and see. 
    Be prepared and ready, the time will come when there will be shootings on almost a daily basis. Shootings in bars, in concerts, in churches and houses of worship, shootings in shopping malls and in workplaces and shootings in schools, even shootings of children in elementary schools. All of it will take place because the evil and death will have its reign. Little bodies torn by high power bullets, children bleeding to death and a grinning orange monster would suggest to arm teachers. Some of those shootings will have a direct inspiration from the highest office in the land.
    But take heart, that is not the last word over this world! The lamb will come and usher a new and safe world. In that new kingdom there will be no semiautomatic and automatic guns, no bump-stocks, no high capacity magazines. The NRA will be banished to the ever burning lake together with all its corrupt political henchmen, banknotes stuffed into their gaping power-hungry mouths. Even the 2nd amendment so blatantly misinterpreted and abused will be eventually blotted out and the angelic police will be armed just with smiles and shooting ranges will be detoxified from all that lead and turned into playgrounds.”

This fragment clearly does not date to the first or second century CE but nicely conveys  some of the aspects of an apocalyptic genre into our current idiom.
How do you feel? Does it really frighten you into obedience? Does it sound like a promise of the pie in the sky? Does it make you dull and submissive with the promise of a happy afterlife?


King in disguise

All around the world you can find a common folklore motive in which the king disguises himself and travels incognito among his subjects.
    There are many fairy tale examples, legends, sagas, examples in literature and even modern TV versions of Undercover Boss. This motive of a powerful figure in disguise goes back as far as we can see, for instance Odysseus returns to Ithaca just like that.
    But the true origins of this motive are as old as mythology and present themselves as divine visitors in disguise. Zeus and Hermes visit Philemon and Baukis (I wrote about it several weeks ago) or Demeter also visits Eleusis in disguise as an older Cretan woman Doso to be a nanny of unfortunate Demophon.
    The same trope is known also in the Bible. YHWH visits Abraham under the holy tree of Mamre (Gen 18), an incognito angel visits Gideo and the future mother of Samson has a similar encounter.  And of course in the New testament there is a famous story about Jesus walking unrecognized with two disciples to Emmaus.
    The primary purpose of this folklore motive of an incognito king or god is to reveal or test the personal character of those unsuspecting hosts. 
    Join us this Sunday as the folklore studies help us to solve an old theological conundrum between salvation by faith or salvation by deeds. Join us as we rejoice as the community of Matthew 25 and meet our Lord in those most vulnerable of our world.


Very Hungry Caterpillars

This spring we decided to plant on our balcony not decorative annuals but just different green herbs. We planted oregano, parsley, two different kinds of thyme, marjoram and sage. I watered them faithfully and all were doing very well except for one lemon thyme. The parsley had been doing exceptionally well, growing into a lovely thick pillow overflowing from the planter.
     But then last Sunday morning a disaster struck! I opened the door to inspect our little herbal garden and our exuberant parsley turned into a bunch of stems and sticks. I looked closer - our parsley got all consumed by about a dozen hungry caterpillars. I quickly identified them as swallowtail caterpillars. By pure coincidence a day before on my hike in Bear Mountain I photographed some beautiful adult swallowtail butterflies.
      On Sunday after worship the hungry caterpillars on our balcony were just about finishing the last few remaining curly leaves. I quickly ran to our nearest grocery store and bought them another bunch of organic parsley and one small bunch of dill. I triple checked that the greens were organic, this time not for our family’s health sake, but for the health of those "pesty" caterpillars. You know, without those hungry caterpillars, there will be no beautiful butterflies, after all!

Why am I sharing with you this environmental fable? Surprisingly, or perhaps not, Jesus once told a very similar parable warning people against our zeal to eradicate what we so eagerly label as pests without even thinking about consequences. Try to guess what parable it might be? Come this Sunday to celebrate the intricate interconnected beauty of our world and divine as well as natural purpouse for pests and misfits.  

And here is an adult Eastern tiger swallowtail


Pedestrian Jesus

Just as we were hearing about the prosecutions of Scott Warren in Arizona (for giving water to migrants in Arizona deserts) and the arrest of captain Carola Rackete in Italy (for rescuing drowning migrants in the Mediterranean Sea), pastor discovered in the box of one of our church defibrillators yet another fragment of the Manhattan Gospel of Henry Rutgers. It is just a fragment starting in the middle of sentence.
... they would not stop accusing him and attacking him.
So Jesus stood and told them. Imagine for a moment that you are not in New York City but somewhere deep in Mid-America on a busy street. And now there is a person who runs into the street at the stop light or even outside of a pedestrian crossing while running from a mugger or from a burning house. And that person gets hit by a truck and is badly injured. Now, what would you do? Would you call the police to give that person a ticket for breaking traffic rules? Or would you rush to give them first aid and call the ambulance?”
They darkly grinned and responded - just don’t try this on us you little clever Jesus! Aren’t helpers also stepping into the road and breaking the rules? They shall go to jail too. Under our government according to our taste, no acts of kindness will go unpunished...
Here the fragments suddenly brakes again.

It is unlikely, that this fragment dates to the New Testament times. But we know that Jesus had similar arguments and we also know that any threats would not stop him from helping those in need. Come this Sunday to hear what Jesus did, when he met distressed and hungry multitudes far away in the wilderness.


Folded prayers

In March 2017 we folded origami cranes in worship. We invited Janet Aisawa a dancer, choreographer and performer to teach and help us. We took several pews from our sanctuary and put in tables and chairs around them. While folding origami cranes we experienced that prayer can have different forms.
    This was a form of prayer for Sadako Sasaki who died of leukemia in 1955 as a consequence of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. In the Japanese culture origami is indeed a religious practice and art.
    Not everyone is good with words or public spoken prayers. Origami is different. It is about calmly folding and creasing paper step by step and at the end, blowing up the crane, giving it a three-dimensional form and thus bringing it to life. It certainly has spiritual calming and a reassuring dimension.
    And our cranes which we had folded in March made it all the way to Hiroshima. Janet Aisawa took them there for the annual remembrance of the bombing on the 6th of August.
    Although this Sunday we will not be folding cranes, in close proximity to anniversary of Hiroshima Bombing, we will learn from Jesus how to subdue and overcome our current religious, racial and national prejudices.



Holy Mountain?

On this video you can see remains after an Ancient Hawaiian industrial operation near the summit of Mauna Kea.
- - -
What has been happening on Mauna Kea has been fascinating for any student of ancient and modern religion. "Protectors of Mauna Kea" can serve as an illustration example of the use of religion for political (nationalistic) ends.
My academic qualification has been in the study of the Ancient Near East bronze age religion (more specifically Ugaritic Mythology). Over the last decade (unable to travel to Syria) I have been studying Hawaiian religion. I visited Hawaii more than a dozen times and even started to learn the Hawaiian language to better understand the cultural and religious mentality. 
I have also visited the summit region of Mauna Kea a number of times and I know that there are geologic features closely associated with the Hawaiian deities and religion. To the best of my knowledge there were never any signs of ancient (pre-contact) religious structures in the summit area.
At the same time I know that the mountain was NOT untouchable and ancient Hawaiians (still living in stone age) used the summit region for a major mining operation - quarrying hard basalt rock for their tools (mostly adzes). Substantial mine dumps (tailings or spoil tips) near the summit can be still observed. On this video is a mine dump the size of about 5.8 acres and the total area with signs of mining covers about 100 acres! By the way - this can serve as a prime example of the environmental impact of even the stone age cultures!
Ancient Hawaiians used the mountain for a major industrial operation (within the context of their technology) and modern Hawaiians are in the process of turning it into an untouchable holy mountain and making it into a substitute issue to voice their political, national and religious grievances.
This is how religions evolve, morph and transform and respond to ideological demands, how holy mountains are born.
#Hawaii #MaunaKea #HawaiianReligion

Close look at refuse chips from pre-production of adzes.
An example of one smaller outlaying workshop with tailings of basalt chips.


Colorful Pearls

This Sunday we will listen to an enigmatic commandment of Jesus not to throw pearls before swine.   
    While researching the subject I learned that the knowledge of pearls came to the Mediterranean and the Western World quite late with the conquest of Alexander the Great from today’s Iran and India.
    The English word for a pearl came from Latin perla. But the more common Latin name for pearl was margarita which came from the Greek ho margarites which itself was a loan word from old Persian marvarit.
    The luster of pearls led to Italian, French and Spanish names for daisies (le margherite, les marguerites, las margaritas) and eventually gave name to a famous Mexican tequila drink the Margarita. 
    From Iran and its old Persian word through the Mediterranean all the way to the popular Mexican alcoholic drink - This is how our world is interconnected. If we ever sent all English words to their original homes, the English language would lose about 3/4 of its vocabulary and a substantial part of its grammar.
    Diversity, borrowing and distant integration is not only a feature of languages and peoples. The entire world is like a beautiful and colorful pearl, diverse and interlaced, immeasurably complex and beautifully simple.
    So, don’t throw pearls before swine! Join us this Sunday as we embrace and celebrate the beautiful diversity of our world and the original and surprising meaning of this often misunderstood Jesus’ commandment.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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, because that was a great problem. You need to understand that a Jewish Temple outside of Jerusalem should had been an anathema it certainly was in the sharp contradiction of everything written in the Torah (Law of Moses).
     And furthermore, this temple was not some rough heretical operation at its time. The community gathered around this Egyptian Jewish Temple was in regular correspondence with Jerusalem and Samaria and existed with the support and blessing from Jerusalem. Any memory of this Jewish Temple in Egypt was almost entirely suppressed. We would not know of its existence if not for the so called Elephantine papyri that survived and were 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 - broader and more tolerant than the biblical fundamentalism.
    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.


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.