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."

2020/08/06

Three times miraculous manna

If you have over two million people in a desert, and that is what the Bible implies for Exodus (600,000 men without women and children), you have over two million people marching through the deserts and wilderness and you have a big problem. Every single day you need for them over two metric tons of food (based on the humanitarian daily rations).

            Biblical authors recognized this hurdle and offered a neat solution. All those people received manna, miraculous food dropped by God directly from heaven (almost like those humanitarian daily rations). They received it for all the forty years of their wilderness wandering.

            After the Bible was written, rabbis familiar with the Sinai climate and geography realized that there was another problem. After all those forty years and two million people, there should had been a mountain of waste, about 30,000 tons. Although desert climate would perfectly preserve it, the waste was not there, it was missing.

            They came up with a lovely and elegant solution. Manna was miraculous food and ergo it miraculously did not leave any waste. That explained provisions and missing waste but a rabble-rouser might ask, “what about human physiology?” How could anyone, besides carnivorous Texans and Wisconsin cheeseheads (I know I know those are stereotypes), deal with no residue diet for forty years? It might be an utter torture! No wonder the Israelites were so ill disposed and grumpy all their sojourns in wilderness. Unless, of course, they were provided with miraculous plasma coated gastrointestinal tracts.

            Enough of this fundamentalistic silliness! Exodus is not to be taken literally, but it can still be taken seriously. Exodus is a saga (In a similar manner as Odyssey or Anabasis) and it is a thrilling and formative legend. Within it, manna, that miraculous food from heaven, is a parable, a powerful and important parable.

            Join us this Sunday as we explicate this parable and rejoice in divine loving care, and divine will for all the hungry.


Picture from our Deacons' Thursday Meal Program during pandemic.


2020/07/30

Being Followed

Have you ever had that uneasy feeling that you are being followed?
     Unfortunately these days in America that might not be a paranoid delusion! It is done by the secret police. Peaceful protesters are being literally snatched from our street and pushed into unmarked civilian cars by governmental agents. It happened in Portland and this Tuesday (the 28th of July) it was filmed here in NYC. Nikki Stone was kidnapped and detained by secret policemen in an unmarked car, allegedly for some minor infraction.
     I grew up under a totalitarian regime in central Europe and would never believe I might see anything like that in the United States. This is the stuff of hard-core nightmares. Please, don’t take it lightly! My dear late friend Rev. Diana Austin was similarly kidnapped in the 1970s by Argentinian Junta and almost did not survive and her friend Elisabeth Käsemann, a daughter of a famous German Theology Professor, was “disappeared” from Buenos Aires street and murdered in a sacred detention center.
     Plain-cloth agents kidnapping pedestrians in unmarked vehicles is NOT normal! We must not be silent, we must identify with the protestors and demonstrators. And in 96 days (from this Friday the 31st of July) we all  must go and vote and thus express our revulsion over this state of affairs. We must resist this abuse of power and at the same time we must resist fear.
     In Judaism and in the early Church there was a lovely legend that people of God escaping from Egypt were also followed on their journey across deserts from slavery to freedom. But they were not followed by any agents, they were followed by a mysterious life giving source of water. According to that legend (first ever recorded in 1Cor 10:4 and then mentioned by Philo and in Talmud) the spring of water followed them, wherever they went. And that is going to be our text and our theme this Sunday. On our journey to freedom, we are supported by a divine gift of refreshment and strength. So, do take heart! We are being followed by sweet, refreshing divine blessing. And don’t forget, in November go and vote. 

2020/07/23

Pillars of cloud and fire

Kīlauea - a pillar of "fire" here being bent by the trade-wind.
In the book of Exodus we hear that when Moses led people of God from Egypt, on their journey to freedom and the Promised Land, they were led by God in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.
            I personally saw those pillars in Hawai‘i. I saw the pillar of volcanic gases rising from the Kilauea caldera and at night the view was even more mesmerizing. That pillar of gases was shining red and orange being illuminated by the incandescence of lava lake.
            I have no doubts that was the image which biblical authors tried to describe. And it is not just another rationalistic explanation trying to explain biblical miracles. This recognition offers us several important insights.
            The first one is factual, geologic and geographic because the Bible does not describe just any volcanism. It clearly alludes to an eruption of a shield volcano. Hawaiian volcanoes are of this kind. But the same type of shield volcanoes also exists on the western side of the Arab peninsula all along the Red Sea.
            Theologians, historians and cartographers of the early 20th century were specifically locating Biblical events at Hallat al Badr volcano in the North West Arabia, but it does not fit the time. That volcano seems older than human history. There are, nevertheless, other much younger volcanoes further south. Some of them active in historical times. One eruption and its lava flow almost destroyed Medina in the XIII century CE. Another volcano on the border with Yemen erupted as recently as 1810.
            I am not saying that Exodus took place in what is today Saudi Arabia. But I am convinced that some biblical authors had the first-hand experience with volcanism in this broader geographic area. Just think about it! At least part of our faith tradition, and the one as important as  theophany, was anchored in the broader region of Mecca and Medina as it powerfully influenced the imagination of biblical authors.
            And that is the other insight we can gain. Shield volcanism is calmer, more peaceful than destructive eruptions of stratovolcanoes (like almost proverbial Vesuvius or recent American experience with Mount Saint Helens.) Lava lakes and lava flows on lava fields last for a long time and are truly awe inspiring, especially if you get closer.
            On Kilauea I finally experienced what Rudolf Otto meant by Mysterium tremendum et fascinans (Divine mystery before which we both tremble and to which we are at the same time attracted). Before I read about it, I knew about it, I studied it. On Kilauea, I experienced it in my entire body. I witnessed pillars of cloud and fire and was forever touched and transformed by this encounter and its intersection with my biblical faith. The glowing light, the radiating heat, the volcanic smell, the deep infrasonic hardly audible rumbling all of it touched not only senses, but permeated my entire body. Now I know first hand why the biblical authors used this image.
            On our journey we are being led by awe inspiring, dangerous, yet benevolent, yes loving and protecting God. Come to rejoice in divine exodic liberation, divine presence, protection and guidance. The march to freedom continues.

A "pillar of cloud" above Halemaʻumaʻu crater in the light of the rising sun. 

2020/07/17

Path through the sea

This week I want to invite you to a beach. Not for a swim, though, but for lessons how to walk on water.
            In the gospels we hear about Jesus walking on water. Most of the miracles Jesus performed were to help people, he healed them, he fed them, he even brought a few back from the dead.
            Walking on water appears to be one of very few ostentatious, arbitrary perhaps frivolous miracles. Nevertheless, this miracle is anything but capricious! It plays a very important role. Walking on water is a true epiphany story. Or to put it differently, the early Christian told this story to explain who Jesus was for them, to explain in a simple story his divinity. There are famous sea walking precedents, biblical and even millennia older.
            This Sunday we will rejoice in one of those earlier examples. We will actually hear about the entire community of faith following God and walking on water. And we all will be invited to follow. So this Sunday, Meet you on the beach! And don’t worry should it be choppy or even stormy, that is and has been part of the deal.      

2020/07/08

Radical Passover Feast

An orange represents the radical nature of Seder and thus can also indirectly illuminate the radical nature of our Holy Communion.
            When our Jewish friends celebrate Passover all aspects of their Seder feast become allegories telling the story of liberation from slavery. Directly in the Bible we hear about the significance of the Passover lamb and hear explanation of the unleavened bread matzoth.
            Then after the fall of the Temple and through the Medieval times the Seder feast was developed further. Each part plays some role and has some  meaning. Maror and Chazeret are two types of bitter herbs reminding of the bitterness and harshness of the slavery. Karpas is a vegetable which is dipped into salt water or vinegar and representing the tears of slavery. Charoset is a brownish part of apples, raisins and nuts standing for the building materials used for slave labor in Egypt.
            And then in the 1980s an orange, Tapuz, was added by Dr. Susannah Heschel. She protested prejudice against Lesbian and gay members. She picked an orange for its sweetness and fruitfulness to represent LGBTQIA contributions to their communities of faith. And if the orange has seeds even the act of spitting seeds represents spitting out, rejecting, prejudice which narrows minds and attempts to limit divine grace.
            Our Christian tradition of Holy Communion, Eucharist, came exactly from the same source of the Passover feast. Jesus’ last supper was very likely a celebration of the Passover feat. In gospels you can make out some early aspects of the pointing and storytelling of when Jesus takes bread and explains and afterwards also the cup.
            The Passover feast (Seder) is a remembrance and actualization of the liberation from slavery. In our Christian permutation it became a radical program of God’s new kingdom in which no one will be enslaved by any injustice or prejudice, in which no one will be hungry and all will share freely in a radically new community. Every time we celebrate communion we enact liberation from slavery and envision Jesus’ new kingdom and the orange (Tapuz) is a beautiful reminder of its radical nature.

2020/07/02

Mystery of the biblical narrative genre


Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua Judges, Samuel, Kings - There is a great structural problem with all these Biblical books. If they were written at the time in which they want us to believe, they should have been written as epic poetry - And they were not. They were composed in prose.

           Just imagine Homer in mundane prose narrative! It would not do - it would be very strange. What is true about Greek culture is also true about other Ancient Near East literature - Gilgamesh is a poetry, the legend of Sargon is written in verse, Canaanite myths and legends are all poetry. Biblical historical narratives simply do not fit the time and genre.

           To use the Greek dating: All the historical books of the Hebrew Bible must have been written after Homer (as enigmatic as his dating might be). They must have been written from the time of Herodotus (c.484 – c.425 BCE) onward and considering their theme (Exodus and journey through Desert, or Royal Saga of David and Solomon) after Xenophon ( c. 430 – 354 BCE).

           And so, just like the oldest parts of the New Testament are not gospels but genuine letters of Paul (1Tes, Gal, 1+2 Cor, Phil, Philem, Rom) in a similar fashion the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible are not books of Moses, but some ancient prophets. Oldest recorded versions of Exodus could be preserved in Hosea, Habakkuk or Micah.

            Join us this Sunday, in July we will listen, learn and rejoice in the divine story of Exodus.

2020/06/11

Mark's Healing Sandwich

Evangelist Mark loved sandwiches.
            I don’t mean real sandwiches such as peanut butter & jelly
or BLT or cheeseburger, nothing bready and with garnish. Mark’s sandwiches are a colloquial name for his storytelling style which he liked and often used.
            Mark would open one story, then he inserted another one and after finishing the inserted one, he would finish the first one. The middle story was “sandwiched” between two halves of the original one. Properly it is called a stylistic or rhetorical interpolation or intercalation.
            But it was not just a stylistic caprice. It helped to propel and deepen the meaning. Mark juxtaposed those stories so that they could help interpret each other.
           There was also another implicit benefit. This technique allowed him to present the issue from multiple angles, from several viewpoints. Our human nature leads us to perceive the world in a simplistic dualistic way either/or; It is either this way or that way; either one has it or the other has it; either one is helped or the other is helped. It is actually an example of the zero-sum game thinking.
            Mark’s sandwiches, his interpolations, show us by default that things can be genuinely both ways. By the virtue of his style he leads us from Either/Or thinking to Both/And thinking. I cannot express enough how appropriate is this style especially for the gospel message.

Join us this Sunday when we will hear and learn from one such Markan healing sandwich helping us to understand and hopefully heal our deeply wounded and hurting times.      

2020/06/04

Pigs do swim

Pigs are excellent swimmers. I saw them swim and I know it was not an exemption. In the Bahamas there is a well-known beach where American tourists can swim along with feral pigs. It is a tourist attraction and part of many tourist brochures. The National Geographic, as well as other nature channels, made documentaries about these Caribbean beach loving pigs.
            Well, it is nothing special. In the Philippines, Ghana, Nicaragua and many other places in the subtropics and tropics there are pigs living on ocean beaches. Pigs simply love water, be it ocean, lake, muddy creek or just a puddle.
            And so, when I hear in the Gospels about a heard of pigs drowning in a lake I know that something is up. That story is not to be taken literally, there is something else is going on. It is to be taken symbolically and it has a deeper meaning.
          Join us this Sunday as we learn how Jesus challenged and overcame destructive demons of militarism, occupation and national and political oppression. Come to be empowered by the message that evil demons of division, desolation and wickedness can be overcome and cast out.

2020/05/28

Pentecost in Quarantine

After the COVID pandemic started and living in NYC, one of the hardest hit places in the world, we were forced to quickly internalize quarantine rules. And while we were confined to our homes a number of friends mentioned difficulties they had while killing time and watching old films and sitcoms. People in those films behaved so irresponsibly! Characters certainly did not observe any social distancing rules. One friend half jokingly reported how she almost started to yell at the TV “don’t do that, that is dangerous” when the sitcom cast started to nestle on one couch.
            I do not watch much TV, but I have similar feelings about some biblical stories. For instance the Pentecost. All the disciples were packed in one place and touched by fire. Look at any depictions of that event - disciples are looking like some human shaped candles with little flames above their heads! But the room is packed! It does not feel right!
            Putting aside our pandemic neurosis I realized that there is more to the Holy Spirit than just the Pentecost event as reported by Luke in the Acts. The Holy Spirit does not need shoulder to shoulder crowds. The Spirit has many different ways of working and permeating, empowering and transforming our faith, ourselves and our world.
            Join us this Sunday to celebrate Pentecost in quarantine. 

2020/05/21

Healing with Holy Anger

The Bible is aflush with stories about and references to the wrath of God. Together with many people I have always had ambiguous feelings about it. Throughout history the wrath of God has been used and abused by many demagogues and charlatans to push their own weird and abusive agendas.
            Yet there is just one instance in the entire Bible when we hear about Jesus getting angry. And I believe this one instance can help us understand and appreciate the holy anger. 
           In the gospel of Mark we hear about Jesus looking with anger exactly at those who were using religion to deny help to a needy person. Using religion which could bring liberation, healing and hope to this very opposite end -- to deny help and hope, using something intended as good to cause or perpetuate pain. That is when Jesus gave his opponents that angry look, decried their callousness and healed the sick.
            This is the only instance when we hear about Jesus’ anger in the entire Bible. Yet it was still quite shocking and problematic from the earliest of times. Matthew and Luke took over this Markan story but they intentionally and meticulously sanitized it, they left out any reference to Jesus’ anger from their gospels.
            Yet I am thankful that Mark preserved it. For me, angry Jesus is a real and believable Jesus. He was passionate about bringing divine help, his was the anger which brought hope and healing.
            This Sunday we will continue our series of worships on divine healing and we will rejoice in the holy divine anger which heals. Join us!

2020/05/15

Our pandemic in context

We are in the middle of a deadly pandemic caused by a new viral infection. Many people have died, many more were made seriously ill, we all felt the impact in one way or the other. Not having any vaccine or direct cure, governments around the world tried to slow the spread of the contagion by implementing different levels of quarantine (social and physical distancing). As a result all around the world (but especially in most developed countries) the economy declined rapidly, unemployment is higher than anyone remembers and social and political discontent is spreading. In our US situation it certainly does not help that we have an impotent federal government led by an utterly ignorant and incompetent president (probably the worst in national history).
            After two months in quarantine we are all getting restless and emotions are flaring. I know from first hand experience and from colleagues that pastors are dealing with an increasing numbers of intricate and ever more complicated pastoral situations. But we need to put our predicament into the proper context. If we think we had it really bad, being locked in our homes for two months, being unemployed and living with great social and medical insecurity, then let us think twice! Let us think for instance what our colonising ancestors did to Native Americans just two and half centuries ago!
            Some Native American Peoples lost 90% of their population within a generation or two because of the imported  infectious diseases! In the second half of the  18th century the well documented smallpox epidemy killed about 30% of the West Coast Native Americans in just a year or so!  And at least some of this disaster was man-made by the colonists who were gifting Native Americans with blankets intentionally infected with the smallpox (it is documented for instance in the correspondence between Sir Jeffery Amherst the supreme commander of the British in North America and Col. Henry Bouquet, the Swiss mercenary under British pay).
            Even in our pandemic hotspot which is our beloved cosmopolitan NYC, the death-rate has never approached 1% of population, not even among the most exposed groups with the possible exemption of the residents of nursing homes (numbers are not yet fully clear). Now think about the Native Americans losing the entire one third of their people! I do not write this to downplay and trivialize the suffering, hardships and losses in our days, I write this, because I believe that our hard-earned firsthand experience with pandemic can help us understand our history and what we did to native peoples specifically in America but frankly around the world (I know about similar history in Hawai'i). Let it be to all of us our firsthand lesson.

2020/05/14

"Unroofing"

Have you heard about Jesus healing so many ill people that they had to bring pneumatic hammers and cut through the concrete floors so that they could install substantially larger elevators?
            Well, of course not! I am making it up. Or more precisely I am translating a biblical story into our current idioms. But I do not feel badly about it because that is exactly what can be found already in the Bible!
            There is the highly memorable story when a group of friends brought to Jesus a person for healing and they could not get to him and so they lowered the ill to Jesus’ presence through the ceiling.
            The gospel of Mark is the oldest among the gospels and closest to the original Middle Eastern context. And so in the gospel of Mark we hear that they were digging (αποστεγαζω and εξορυσσω) through the roof - one must imagine flat roofs of that region covered with compacted dry mud.
            The gospel of Luke is written a little later and for a different Greek audience further north and in the urban setting and thus Luke writes about taking apart those picturesque tiled (κεραμος) red roofs of Italy and Greece.  
            You see, it’s all right to translate the Good News into our own context and situation!
Join us this Sunday as we continue listening to NT healing stories. Let’s see what unroofing might mean for us today in the middle of our own society need for healing.