Friday, September 11, 2009

Days we never forget

i only remember one thing : the silence... the silence which comes after the sudden disappearance of human activity.

it was a warm fall morning, kids were back in school and the lightheartedness of summer has vanished. but the usually busy wide streets were desolate, empty, quiet. big blue fresno sky above us, also empty, quiet, planeless, with only a few daring birds to break the eerie peace.

the rest - what i will never forget - is the loud stream of news flashes, starting at 7 am, california time.
i’m not really sure of what i saw but i’m sure of what happened.
the phone rang; it was our good friend veron on the line, asking if we'd seen cnn. we didn’t have cnn anymore, only french satelite TV, as we were preparing to move to france. but the horror proved to be the same.
there i stood, in the living room, mouth open, eyes filling up with tears as the second tower fell.

we got dressed, no shower, and drove over to veron’s. spent the morning watching cnn. the phone didn’t stop ringing as everybody wanted to know where everybody esle was. safe hopefully. i finally called in to my job, telling my supervisor i wasn’t going to be in. i was shocked to find out some people had gone in. nothing got done anyways, as i learned later, for everyone was glued to the TV.

and still, outside, the deep frightening silence of doom. in our hearts, a sickness that would never leave, in our minds, a fear that would never die, in our eyes, the flames, the planes, the dust, the dead, the tears.

i will never forget that warm Tuesday morning of september, that morning when America saw the world as it truly is.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

on the communion of saints

let me start by saying that i'm not known as the 'touchy-feely' type. ask my friends, or my brother ... any of them.
but this morning, doing my little daily facebook inspection tour before getting on with my otherwise meaningless work, i noticed a message in my inbox. i don't get much of these. it was from an old friend, a person i had not seen in - oh dear - 20 years. i was happy, smiling (even my co-worker was wondering if i'd won the lottery or somethin'), almost ready to hug someone. I snapped out of it quickly, don't worry.

all morning i kept on thinking of the people i've known, here, there, in france, in california, in boston, in england, in germany, when i was young and foolish and now that i am old(er) and grumpy.
I thought of all the people who have helped me along the way, financially, emotionally, spiritually.
I thought of the people i have loved, the ones i have hated, the ones i have forgiven, the ones i have lost.
i thought of the ones i have hurt, dismissed, damaged. and the ones i have cherished, cared for, helped out.

for me, all these people, the good, the bad and the ugly, stand as a communion of saints on the altar of my psyche, a deep and rich reservoir of lessons learned, of tears shed or joys shared.
and this wealth, this depth of feelings and experiences, guides me every day, prevents me from making the same mistakes over again, and encourages when doubt overtakes my soul.

when i was younger, i could not understand that phrase in the new testament ... the communion of saints. yes, of course, all the saints of the early church. but that wasn't concrete enough.

now however, i am beginning to understand that it is the sum total of all those who touch us, in one way or another, and who shape our being so that we may fulfill our potential as children of god.
the communion of saints is not just the people we love - that would be too easy. it is also, and perhaps more importantly, those with whom we struggle.
the communion of saints is not just those who have left us, who have passed on, who have gone. it is also those with whom we live here and now.
the communion of saints is not just the 'good' people who have nurtured and taught us. it is also the bad influences, the ones who got us in trouble, the ones who made us do idiotic things, the ones who tore us away from our families and friends.
it is also the ones who don't think or act or look like us, who don't believe like us, who don't pray or vote like us, the ones who challenge us, who bother us, who disgust us.

yes, the communion of saints is the sum total of all those who touch us. and i also am a part of it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


With the discovery, in the 1950s, of the Nag Hammadi library, in Egypt, much has changed in the study of Gnosticism, and of Late Antiquity at large. Scholars have been able since then to examine and comment on actual texts, rather than relying on patristic sources, and offer a clearer picture of both pagan and Christian Gnosticism.

Among the discovered texts was a copy of the Gospel of Thomas, written in Coptic. Of later origin than the Greek fragments (Oxyrhynchus, dating circa AD 200), this Coptic version (written circa AD 350-400) is however a complete text.

Perhaps it is because of its inclusion in the Nag Hammadi corpus that the Gospel of Thomas has been associated with Gnosticism, thus with heterodoxy. But a close study of the text would show that the Gospel of Thomas is as Gnostic as the Gospel of John. It is esoteric and somewhat dualist but lacks the Gnostic mythology and theology of, for instance, the Hypostasis of the Archons.

Why did the fathers and the council which produced the biblical canon reject the Gospel of Thomas? A first obvious, albeit sophomoric, reason may be that the text was not known by the time of the formation of the Muratori canon (circa AD 180) hence its exclusion.

Another and more accepted reason is that the Gospel of Thomas belongs to a category of texts called "wisdom literature." It is a collection of sayings, uttered by Jesus and gathered up by Thomas and his school. It presents an image of Jesus, not as the messianic savior, not as the incarnated Word, not as the son of God, as the canonical gospels do, but as a teacher, a wise man, a spiritual master. As far as the Church is concerned, a gospel which doesn't reflect the kerygma isn't worthy of the title "gospel" and doesn't deserve to be included in the canon. This is certainly what happened to Thomas, let alone to the Gospel of Philip.

A third reason for the exclusion of Thomas from the canon--and it is a reason which follows from the one above--is the lack of passion narrative. Albeit inspired by the Holy Spirit in their decision making process, the fathers who developed the biblical canon had a clear agenda: to fight heresy and the heterodox teachings of certain Christian groups such as the Marcionites (followers of Marcion), the Docetists, the Gnostics, etc. The passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus stood as the basic of the orthodox sense of Christian mythology. They ensured the reality of the life and death of the Son of God, at once real God and real man. The Gospel of Thomas lacking a passion narrative was not a strong enough source, a reliable enough witness to be included in the canon.

Do all these reasons for the exclusion of the Gospel of Thomas constitute a basis for heterodoxy? Not really. The litmus test for orthodoxy is whether or not the ideas expressed in a particular text reflect the general teachings of the Church. What are then the basic principles expounded in the Gospel of Thomas? We can divide the text into two main categories: the "source" sayings and the original Thomas sayings.

The "source" sayings or the Q parallels are those sayings which come from an unknown yet common source (or "Quelle" in German, hence the term "Q") borrowed by both Thomas and the Synoptic Gospels. Those sayings are wisdom sayings such as "Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom" which developed into the Sermon on the mount/in the plain in the Synoptics.

The other category of the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas are unique to the text and they give it its esoteric overtones. The principle behind them is however one which is found in the canonical gospels: "the kingdom of God is within you." The teachings of Jesus are thus "gnostic" (gnosis being knowledge) in that they help the believers/listeners discover or know the true meaning of their existence, of their origins, and lead them back to that state, the state of illumination, which is of course God. At that level, the Gospel of Thomas resembles the Gospel of John. Both are mystical, esoteric gospels. But neither one is truly Gnostic.

Now that the Church at large has transcended its original concern with christological heresies, it is perhaps time for Christian ecclesiastical bodies to rehabilitate the Gospel of Thomas, to try of understand it in the context of recent biblical scholarship and to use it for teaching.

Friday, June 19, 2009

BEZIERS 1209 - video (in english)

if the video takes too long to load, just click on the viewer to see it directly on youtube. it'll be much faster. thank you.


Much has been written on the role of women in the earliest times of the Christian Church, both from the conservative side and the feminist angle. On the one hand, the conservatives, mainly Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox divines, argue that women played a very small "yet important" (which is often added in a condescending manner) part in the life of the Church, but certainly not in any ordained capacity. On the other hand, feminist scholars have sought to prove that women did play a great part in the shaping of the Christian Church, even as ordained ministers.

Not to side with either side in particular, it would, however, be impossible not to give credit to the feminist camp and to their analysis of the situation; the New Testament record alone supports their premise. Women were, from the inception of the Christian movement, actively involved in its welfare. For example,
1 - Some of Jesus' followers were women, and what is more, prominent and wealthy women (see for example Mark 15: 40-41 and Luke 8: 1-3).
2 - The Book of Acts, which deals with the development of the Christian movement in Jerusalem and with the missions of Peter and Paul, also speaks of influential women, both of Jewish and Pagan roots. For example, we hear of a certain Mary, the mother of John Mark (possibly the author of the Gospel of Mark) who ran a house church in Jerusalem (Acts 12: 12). We also hear of the conversion of Lydia, a prominent business woman in Philippi, who upon hearing the message of Paul was baptized, as well as the rest of her family, and supported the Christian effort.
The Book of Acts, as well as many of the Pauline Epistles mention the particular offices held by women in the earliest Christian Church. Acts 21: 9 notes that Philip (the evangelist) had 4 unmarried daughters who were prophets.
3 - Paul in Romans 16: 1 calls to our attention Phoebe the deacon, one of the three holy orders, along with presbyter (priest) and overseer (bishop). Paul, on several occasions (Romans 16: 3, 1 Corinthians 16:19, even Acts 18: 2), mentions Prisca (or Priscilla) and her husband Aquila, traveling preachers and fellow tent-makers like Paul.

More examples can be found without leaving the Canon of Scripture, pointing to the reality of a female presence in the life of the early Church, from running house churches (since the Church with its many edifices was not yet established) to serving as deacons to prophesying. However, other more tangible records of the role of women are not as readily available as scholars would like.

Yet in his essay On the Veiling of Virgins (written circa AD 204), the early Church father Tertullian wrote:
It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the church; but neither (is it permitted her) to teach, nor to baptize, nor to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, not to say (in any) sacerdotal office. (Chapter IX)

By letting his audience know what is not permitted of a woman to do in church, Tertullian is shedding some light on the very role of women. By addressing these issues, he is confessing that these forbidden actions occurred. Women did baptize, teach, preach and said the office. In other words, women functioned as deacons, priests and bishops. And that was perceived as a great problem by Tetullian.

This quote is very revealing. It points us to a particular direction in our assessment of the formal part played by women in the early Christian Church. However, scholars must continue to dig for more tangible information. Where exactly did women function as ordained ministers? Under what conditions? When did they cease to perform these functions?

The debate has only begun.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Long live the internet

by means of welcoming you to this, my humble journal, i would like to shout « long live the internet ; long live web 2.0 ».
why such exuberance ? - you may rightfully ask – the internet has been an integral part of our lives for years and there is nothing new about web 2.0. isn’t everyone awaiting web 3.0 anyways ?

i know, i know, there is nothing new. It’s just that i found myself yelling at my TV the other night (yes, i talk to the TV) as i was listening to an interview of andrew keen. there’s probably a good reason i hadn’t heard of him before and now i wish i still hadn’t. the dude went on and on ranting about the infamous ‘cult of the amateur’. you may have heard of his book – if you haven’t, don’t bother.

now, i don’t want to sound like an old fart BUT my experience of the web harkens back to the mid 90’s. remember, the internet, in those days, was slow and somewhat lonely. sites were rudimentary or sometimes bright and very tacky. we joined ALT-groups and engaged in minimal searches via altavista and hotbot… (ach, I’m verklempt… talk amongst yourselves)
slowly but surely, the cyber country road became the information superhighway (first time i heard Al Gore talk about it, i was in grad school and i could not even fathom what he was raving about). and the building of that superhighway wasn’t only because of the work of a handful of silicon valley geeks. it was also the doing of average curious minds who taught themselves HTML. In other words, the painstaking labor of thousands of amateurs, with a deep yearning to share knowledge. sweet lord, i built my first website on webtv… that’s dedication, trust me.

the internet has always been and ought to continue being the playground of the ‘amateur’, of the person who is not afraid to share his/her passions, ideas, creations, beliefs, fears, thoughts. and what’s wrong with that?
so what, if there are thousands of juvenile videos and inane blogs on the web ? so what, if hundreds of idiots poison wikipedia with sophomoric arguments ? so what, if zitty teenagers want to spend their evenings on facebook? so what ?

the beauty of the internet is precisely that : the sublime and the moronic, intertwined, coexisting, challenging each other. for there is an equal amount of intelligent, insightful, useful sites, blogs and videos on the net. there are a lot of scholars or other wise intellects who use the internet because it’s quick, it’s interactive, it’s international. and they still publish books and articles but why not ALSO use this new open and free medium, even if it does inevitably fall prey to idiocy ?

the bottom line is this: discernment is the one tool the surfer must possess. and that tool ought to be applied to information shared by amateurs as well as by the so-called professionals.