Tribalism

xenophobiaSome months ago a person told me a minister shouldn’t speak about politics. In a way (just a partial way ..) I could also agree with him but I suppose that in some occasions to remain in silence in front of some events means to share a part of the responsibility and this is true mainly for a minister when these events touch the core of the moral values he is meant to proclaim.

Well, this morning I had a look to the results of the European elections and an element deeply upset me: all over Europe the ultra-nationalist right is advancing and gaining positions. Somewhere this phenomenon is glaring (I’m thinking about France or Denmark, in example, not to speak about the continuous growth of the scaring “Golden Dawn” in Greece). Somewhere else, it is just a symptomatic trend (and I can think about Austria, about the resumption of a xenophobic party like Lega in Italy, partially about the success of Ukip in Uk, mainly if it’s true that before or later they will ally to the NF).

We all know the one of politics is often a world on its own, that very often what looks like being dangerous now looks like being less dangerous in the long distance, in the periodic sinusoidal curve of the electoral trends. So, why to get worried?

Well, to be honest, the fact is that I can’t but link this success of the extreme xenophobic right with the anti-Semitic regurgitation of these last days, with the terrible and absurd events of Brussels and of Créteil and with many other “smaller” events taking place all over Europe. Which is the link between the elections and these crimes? In a factual sense very probably nothing links the two elements but it’s a matter of “air du temps” as the French say: if someone thought all our mental borders about races were going to be swept away by the globalization, by the melting of ethnic groups, by what we often call tolerance … well it’s quite clear he was wrong. And this is devastating, not only for the crimes it provokes but as it tells us how hard is to fight with the ghosts of our deep heritage.

Probably I feel particularly sensitive in this field, not only for my origins but mainly as the woman I am going to marry is a Jew, proud of her heritage (and why shouldn’t she be proud of an heritage that, in the end, has shaped such a large part of Western culture?) … It is from a chat with her that I understood the depth of the problem, not only in relation to anti-Semitism but in relation to any “anti-something”. After the Brussels crime she told me: “You know, I can’t justify the ones against the Gypsies, but, as the Gypsies are so often accused to steal, I can at least understand their reasons. The same is for the immigrants: not to help them, to exploit them, to refuse them are horrible crimes but they are a real flow here and I can realize the reason for which some people get afraid. But for us, for the Jews … which pervert though could ever justify racist acts against us now?”

Oh, yes … for sure you will always find someone acting against the Jews as they want to act against the Israeli government, not understanding the equation Jew = Israeli government is everything but correct. For sure you will always find someone with Nazi nostalgias shouting against the “plutocratic Judaic lobby governing economy” (this has always been a quite mysterious element to me as I visited tens of former Jewish ghettos and I always found very poor neighborhoods and not villas!). You will always find someone even speaking about “deicide” although such a thing, if not so tragic, would just be ludicrous …

But, come on, I’m sure (or, better, I deeply hope) all these exalted idiots represent just a minimal percentage of the ones voting xenophobic parties: perhaps they could be the ones committing real crimes but what about the silent majority not supporting them but, at least, not blaming them so much?

The point, in my opinion is that all these people simply don’t need a cause to hate and this is the scaring thing! They just find justifications, one after the other, to give reason to an atavistic feeling that lurks within them: tribalism.

Let’s face it: it is something existing inside of all of us, in a way. It’s the heritage of our history or, better, of our pre-history, of the millions of years in which a tribe had to preserve its hunting area from the penetration of any other group in order to survive. It’s the little Malthusian germ implanted in the deepest part of our brain: keep your resources for yourself, possibly enlarge your hunting territory, drive away all the ones wearing different colors, speaking a different language, praying a different God. They are “the others” and they are dangerous for our existence!

“The others” is the key word, and this key word is becoming a mantra in times of crisis: a mantra often repeated by the ones interested in repeating it, even more often simply perceived at subconscious level, something totally irrational which needs to be rationalized with tens of different excuses.

Is there a cure against this thin, terrible virus? I think so!

The only cure is education to rationality, tolerance, openness. Not a mere bunch of good intentions, nice promises and rhetorical words, ma a real practical example of the capability of any idea, any culture, any faith, any position, gender and ethnicity to co-exist sharing and growing together because of this sharing and not creating primitive borders and private hunting territories.

Well, I suppose this is where our Denomination can say something to the world … and I suppose much, even too much is still to be said to go overour paleolithic tribalism!

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Loving my “open community”…

communityIt’s almost Christmas time: a very important moment for any Christian religious community. In this period I often happen to think about my own community, here in Italy: such a mix of different opinions and positions I sometimes wonder how can we form a community… but we do, even if in a way that could appear strange to the majority of all other religious denominations.

Honestly, at the beginning of my ministry, coming from a much more “dogmatic” religious experience, I was a little shocked by so many and so different visions but, little by little, I fell in love with such an “open community”, kept together just by mutual love and respect and I’d like to tell you why.

What should, in the end, a religious community be? Should it be a hierarchical entity in which the members obey to super-imposed diktats (or dogmas), just showing their respect for “a superior authority” and sharing a feeling of common bond, probably even of common love in the end (at least till the moment members “follow the line”, more or less like in a platoon), in a sort of “military style” situation with “officers”, “sergeants” and “privates” under the presumed orders of a “general” (what a sad vision of spirituality, reducing God just to an imposing chief of staff!)?

Personally speaking, this is not for sure my vision of religion and, if we really think about it, such a kind of community can’t be even seen as bounded together by love. Of course there can be the one we can define as “vertical love” between men and God (just in case fear for God and judgment is not the final glue) but where is the horizontal love, the love among human brothers? If it exists, it is just a sort of “a posteriori” defined love, born from a common discipleship and conditioned by a common belonging and a common track.

If we are asked (or we simply wish) to love every human being indistinctly, regardless of any possible variable, this doesn’t look like being the best situation to achieve this aim: in a way, our love will remain “conditioned” by our feeling of common belonging and, even in the rare case we would love any member of our community, our love will express itself on the common ground of some shared convictions.

On the contrary, in an open community the love and respect for your neighbor, independently from his/her beliefs, ideas and spiritual track, will be the real glue creating the connection with all other members and this connection will express itself in the respectful exchange of ideas, in the search for a common action related to common aims, in the listening of the reciprocal visions and opinions for a common spiritual growth.

And, to me, this is, ultimately, the real goal of any real community: the common growth of all its members in the respect of each one’s single path.

I believe any relation with the Divine (or the Transcendence, the way we prefer to call it), is, in the end, absolutely personal: if it gets structured as a bilateral spiritual dialogue or it is just a reflection of our psychological need could be matter of endless discussions and, finally, is simply subjected to the faith of the single. So, what do we need a community for?

I would say simply to avoid the risk of a solipsistic, almost onanistic self-referentiality in the understanding of the voice of the Spirit working within our soul.

I will try to explain this concept with a metaphoric image. In a way, in our spiritual search, we are like people suddenly parachuted in a desert: nothing is explained to us in advance but we only have a sort of inner intuition that, perhaps, there could be an oasis somewhere in the distance. We find some traces on the path, here and there, and, sometimes, even road signs or small and large groomed trails but, in the end, any decision about the direction to take is just up to us. And, we all know, personal intuitions can be precious but, from time to time, they can also be misleading and prove only to be the result of our desires, of illusions and even of mirages. That’s why it is important not to travel alone: to ask for advice to the ones travelling with us, to exchange tips and suggestions with them, to know other people’s visions of the track… finally to understand that many eyes can perhaps see more than just two eyes.

But to have the whole think working you need two essential prerequisites:

a)      not to have just one “infallible” leader showing the “right way” to everybody, but just many different people coming from different tracks and able to have different points of view to share with the others;

b)      to have trust in what each one can give to all the others and this trust can only come from a shared love and from the belief that anybody has the image of God, of the immense, inside of him/herself and, therefore, is able to give something more to all the others.

About this last point there is a very nice Dervish story which, I think, can be very instructive.

A boy from a remote village was very ignorant but also very intelligent and wished to become wise. So he decided to reach the oasis in which a famous master lived. Once there, he met the old wise master but this last replied to him: “I am sorry, but my school is already so crowded that I can’t accept any other student!” The boy got very sad for this answer but, while he was preparing for his way back, the wife of the master came to him and suggested him: “Dear boy, don’t be discouraged. We need a servant to keep the schoolyard clean and, if you settle for room and board and sweep the courtyard twice a day, you can anyway listen to the lessons of my husband from outside and, perhaps, one day, some student will leave and you’ll be able to take his place…” The boy, with a new hope in his heart, accepted the agreement: every day he sat out of the schoolroom and listened humbly and patiently to the discussions that were taking place among the master and his students, then he meditated about what he had heard while cleaning the schoolyard. Unfortunately, he could have no contacts with the students and the master and so, after a couple of weeks, he begun to feel very alone. Time passed, a day after the other, and, a year later, the boy felt so sad and alone that, to ease the pain he had in his soul, he began to modulate his thoughts, produced by the lessons and the discussions he could hear from outside the classroom, in songs he sang while sweeping the yard. Another year passed and another again but no students left the school and the situation of the boy didn’t change. Finally, five years later, the poor boy was so sad and discouraged that he decided to leave the school. One morning he packed his things and, without a word to anybody, he set out toward the desert. As soon as he reached the desert he met a Bedouin tribe: everybody in the tribe looked like being very sad and the boy, curious, asked to an old woman the reason for all that sadness. “You see, my boy”, she replied, “we live here, outside of the oasis, our poor and hard life but we had a great luck: every morning and every afternoon the wind brought us a far singing of a wise man who was teaching us deep and important things. That singing gave us joy, hope and knowledge but this morning the wind brought us only silence and we fear that the wise master sharing his deep thoughts with us has died…” The boy suddenly understood that the old woman was speaking about him and decided to return to the school to bag to the master to welcome him back as a servant as, finally, even his humble work was so useful to someone. As soon as he arrived back to the school, the master came out of his class and, smiling, gave him his turban saying: “Finally you are back my dear son. I have heard you singing day after day, delighting in what you were learning and saying. You arrived here impudently and you have learned humbleness, you came here ignorant and you have become wise. Only one thing was still missing to you: to understand you were already a master and the responsibility that this entails. Now you have understood it but, equally, you haven’t mounted in pride and you are ready to start back working as a servant to help other people: you are my master now!

It’s a nice story, isn’t it? And what is really great is that, in a real, loving, open community everybody can be the master, the students, the boy and the Bedouins at the same time: everybody can teach something to the others, everybody can discuss all the opinions of the others, everybody can listen and rework the concepts he gets to know, everybody can get new, fresh hope from the words of his/her neighbors!

Moreover, this story opens to a corollary element which is important to discuss (or, at least, about which I often happen to meditate): the role of a minister inside of an open community.

Perhaps the presence of a “master” in the story can be misunderstood and one could assimilate the master’s teaching with the function a pastor should have inside of a group: actually this similitude would be the most erroneous vision possible.

In my opinion, one of the most common mistakes which is committed in many religious groups is to be minister-dependent: sometimes this is something formally held (in example in those denominations considering the figure of the minister as “ontologically different” from the people composing “the flock” because of the consecration), while in some other occasions this is a sort of “natural result” of the ministerial function inside of a group, a parish or a community.

Even not taking into consideration the fact that it is difficult to understand the reason for which a person, reflection of God like any other human being on Earth, should have a sort of “ontological mutation” only following to some formulas of consecration pronounced by another human being, a vision of the minister as detached from the rest of the flock can lead to some  misunderstandings.

  • As first thing it can lead to a sort of substantial if not formal hierarchization inside of the community which naturally leads to a passive attitude of the believers. In a way, they become like sparrows waiting to be fed by a sort of loving mother, unable (or, much better, simply too lazy) to develop their own vision detached from the one of the “leader”.
  • As second thing, how can we speak about a bond of love and reciprocal growth in the difference of visions when we finish to have just one, probably monolithic, vision? This, to me, is not a matter of love and respect but just a form of enslavement of many to a specific expression of the Spirit being possibly good for one person but not universally.
  • Finally, it is the feeling itself to be a community that gets lost. A community is a place of sharing, not only of ideas and visions but also of tasks, duties and responsibilities. In a pyramidal structure simply this sharing doesn’t take place: all responsibilities, choices, organizations are delegated to the minister who is seen as “the one in charge” of the good working of a community which becomes a “religious care institution” and no more a common ground belonging to all its components.

Which is, therefore the role of the minister in the community?

The first thing to say is that a minister is not strictly necessary for a community. In the Protestant vision, every human being is a minister and a totally lay community is, consequently, nothing so terrible.

This said, a minister is, finally, a person that, in my opinion, not so much in relation to a sort of “call from heaven” but rather to a particular personal interest, has just deepened a little more his knowledge about specific religion related elements. In a way, he is something similar to a religious consultant, not so different, in the end, from a lawyer or a business advisor: his role is to give “informed opinions” in relation to historical, social, organizational issues as much as he has studied these elements more than the other members, not to try to substitute the voice of the Spirit everybody feels or to impose a determined perspective which remains just personal and not general and valid for all. In this picture he (or she, obviously) can be a “professional coordinator” of the common activities (as this is his job and he is often paid for this and his consultancy) but never a person trying to impose his will.

If this is, according to me, the only role of the minister inside of a community, there is also another role he has in a more general, social picture: to be a sort of “bookmark” of the possibility of a “spiritual vision”.

In a way this is what possibly makes of the “ministerial job” something more than just a job, up to justify the use of the term “mission”.  Going back to the similitude with the desert, many people think that to travel in a desert is more dangerous in the daylight than at night. Actually, anyone who had the experience to live in the desert for a certain period know that things work exactly the opposite way. It is true that during the day the heat of the sun is terrible but it’s also true that it is almost always possible to find some reference point, some scored runs, some caravans to join to. At night things are much different: the cold is as terrible as the day heat but, in the absolute darkness, it is much easier to get lost, to move in circles and to get discouraged. That’s way the nomads of the desert have the habit to stop travelling at sunset, to light fires and to prepare some hot tea for anyone passing by: the fires work as a “lighthouse” for the lost traveler who can warm up with tea before resuming his journey. Also in the life of a spiritual traveler there are moments of total darkness, “nights of the Spirit” in which desperation seems to have the upper hand, in which the “silence of God” becomes so stunning to make it impossible for us to believe in the existence of something transcending the phenomenal reality. Perhaps, it is just in that moment that the figure of a minister acts as a sort of “signal of a possibility”, a place to rest, to talk, to get some comfort, to remember you are not alone. A minister is just a “guardian of the fire” in the desert nights, trying to give some warm tea to the traveler passing by, not imposing a vision but reminding of an alternative. And, believe me, sometimes to be a guardian of the fire can be much more demanding in term of love and work than being the leader of an army of obeying soldiers! Yes, much more demanding, but also so rewarding …

Three ants

antsToday I’d like to share with you a short story I heard while I was studying in my interfaith seminary.

The title is: “Ants on the Himalaya”.

In a big anthill in Nepal three ants were fed up of their daily life, made of hard work for their community and of primary needs. They wanted something more, they had many fundamental questions receiving no answer and they felt there had to be something deeper and more spiritual in the life of any living being, ants included, than just to work, to eat and to procreate.

They spent many evenings speaking about how to find a spiritual reference point capable to show them the real sense of life and to address their meditations.

One day they went to seek advice from an old ant who had been travelling a lot before joining their anthill.

The old ant listened to them and then ruled: “My friends, if you want to find your spiritual path in life you must abandon this miserable place where daily necessities are choking your aspirations. You must travel to a much more spiritual place, on the mountains, where I have heard by some human beings that your spirit will break free and you will understand what you have to do to obtain a much deeper sense of life. If I were you, I would reach the highest peak of the world, an impressive mountain called Everest, where, for sure, you will have a flash of inspiration telling you where to address your walk in life and how to obtain an answer to your many questions”.

The three ants were very touched by the words of the old ant and the following morning they decided to leave their anthill to look for the “mountain of the spirit” called Everest.

Ants can walk very fast but they are small and Himalaya, the place where the Everest is, was very far from the anthill of our three ants, so they took years and years to reach the place they were looking for. Every day they had to walk very long distances in the cold, risking their lives to find something to eat and constantly needing to protect themselves from the many animals they met, often choosing wrong directions and losing many days of travel.

Their only consolation was when they stopped at night, exhausted by the long journey, and, once found a good place to hide, they spent hours speaking about what they would have found at their arrival. Sometimes they had different opinions: in example one could think about a direct vision of a superior entity, another about a sudden revelation, the third one about a valley full of food where they would have had nothing else to do but to spend the whole day finding answers inside of their souls. Although they had these different dreams, at the end of the day they were close friends, helping each other in the moments of difficulties and they had learn that, listening carefully to the dreams of all the others, each of them could perfection its own dream so to be encouraged to face new difficulties the following day.

Finally, after many vicissitudes, the group arrived to its destination, on the slopes of Everest.

It was summertime and the problem was that the ants, small as they were, submerged by the green grass, could have just a very limited vision of the surrounding area and couldn’t even see the high mountain they were looking for as it was too close to them.

So, after roaming around together for a while, they decided the best thing to do was to divide and to look around to seek the mountain called Everest separately, meeting at a specific spot in the evening to exchange information.

The area was very vast so the first evening nobody, after a whole day wandering around, had the strength to go to the meeting place. The same happened for several days and each ant became more and more isolated, only concentrated on its task to find the mountain.

Finally all of them found what they thought to be the Everest and each of them was so proud to be the first discoverer of the mountain that it ran to the meeting place, not to give advice to the others but to boast of its discovery.

They all arrived there almost together and the first one to arrive, as soon as it saw the others arriving, started shouting: “Come, brethren, come with me: I have found the place!” The others were rather surprised and, without saying a word, followed the first ant to a big rock right at the foot of the Everest. The boulder was made of pyrite and, through some breaks on the surface, was shining in the sun. “You see”, claimed the first ant, “this shining mountain must be for sure the place! We need to climb it and, at the top, we are going to meet our guiding spirit!”

The second ant burst out laughing: “How can you be so stupid?” he exclaimed. “Don’t you see this mountain you are showing us is just made of hard rock!  This can’t be the one we are looking for! Come and follow me and I will show you the real Everest”.

The other two ants followed the second ant in silence and, after few minutes of walk in circles, the three arrived to the other side of the same boulder. This one was the Northern side of the rock and it was covered with musk. “Here we are!” said the second ant triumphantly, “Here is the Everest: a green, soft, pleasant mountain easy to climb! At its top we’ll surely find the illumination we need!”

The third ant, shaking its head in denial, took the floor stating: “You are just two idiots! Come and see the real Everest!”

The other ants followed the third one too and, after a quite long track, they arrived to a second big boulder on the slopes of the Everest. This one, though quite high, was a flat topped rock and, mainly, was covered with the remains of the dinner of some climbers having been there a few days before. “Now you can easily see this is the real Everest! It’s a place full of food and, if you observe attentively, you can notice that, at the top, there must be a valley were we could live forever!” rejoiced the third ant.

“You are kidding me!” shouted the first ant. “What you showed to me are just false Everests, normal mountains having nothing special, while it’s clear my shining Everest it the only true one!”

“Do you think I am letting you cheat me after such a long travel?” replied the second ant angrily. “How can a special inspiring mountain be made of simple rock!!?”

“And what about the food? Only my mountain has plenty of food, so mine must be the real Everest”, the third ant cried anxiously.

In the blink of an eye the three ants began fighting one against the other, shouting and biting their former friends. After some times all of them were too tired and wounded to go on with the fight and each one left the others moving towards its own “Everests”.

The first ant spent weeks trying to climb the face of its mountain, cutting its legs on the hard rock, almost getting blinded by the reflection of the pyrite and having nothing to eat. The second ant, at first, loved to walk on the soft musk but soon realized that it was too slippery to manage to reach the top of its mountain and so settled halfway. The third ant ate all it could but after a few days the food got rotten and stinky and it couldn’t find anything anymore.

In the meanwhile summer came to an end and each ant, alone, not helped by the others, died for the freeze of the first snow.

None of them had even seen the real Everest overhanging them all: they had just seen small rocks being a small part of the big mountain.

Quite clearly this is a typical interfaith seminary story, aimed to teach how Denominations should collaborate and not fight one against the other, but I suppose it can teach something to us too.

Were the poor ants wrong? I don’t think so, at least they were not totally wrong.

Each ant had a dream, each ant was sure of its dream and actively worked to reach its goal. Each ant was a real believer, in a way, fighting against adversities to obtain something superior, a fuller sense of life starting from its own vision. I suppose this is exactly what every human being should do: if you believe in something, then fight for it, believe in it with all your strength, with no fear, imprinting your life to your believes!

So, what’s wrong with the three ants? Simply  the fact that they made their believes absolute, not respecting the paths of the others, making a dogma of their opinions and refusing any confrontation with different ideas.

So, the moral of the story, to me, is just one: believe in what is right to you and live the faith you have with all your strength, defending it against any absolutism of any other faith but never try to impose your faith to the others, never stop sharing your opinions with the others and listening to other people’s opinions, even if they are different from yours.

Mainly, before transforming your vision of God in a general dogma, remember we are all ants and God is the Everest.

Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s

images (2)Today’s subject was inspired by a comment to my last post (thank you Stephen!) about the lawfulness for a pastor to mix religion and politics. It’s for sure not such a new subject as the thing has been debated for centuries with many different answers given by different groups but I’d like, anyway, to give my opinion on such a difficult matter. The first answer coming to my mind in front of the question “Is it allowed to join religion and politics?” is: “absbolutely no!”. Religion attains to the spirituality of the single, while politics attains to the material world and we all know that, whenever, in the past or also in the present, the two spheres have been mixed, the results have always been troublesome. The examples in this sense are many: let’s think, just to mention some historical aspects, to the corruption of the post-Constantine church on one side or to the fanatism of any thocratical society, often reaching the point to justify any violence in the name of a presumed “love for God”.

The point is that different spheres can have different goals and the admixture of different goals risks to make one of the two spheres instrumental to the other, denaturing its sense, its methods, its objectives. In this sense, I can’t help feeling deeply in agreement with the motto “Free Church in Free State” and with many positions of my Anabaptist friends.

If this is true at official, formal level, anyway, things become much more complicated at the level of the single Christian (or, more generally, believer).

The basic question we need to ask to ourselves is: “what does it mean to be religious?” Does it mean to pray, to read the Gospel, to take part to functions, to meditate on the Word? Yes, sure, all this things. But this is just the “level zero” of religion, a just passive, contemplative attitude to spirituality and the risk is the one underlined by Jesus in Matthew 22,32, when He says: “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living”. What does it mean? In my opinion it means that we are called not just to study our religion but “to take the cross” and to live it wholly, acting concretely, giving shape to our life on the basis of our believes. “Mary”, the contemplative attitude, and “Martha”, the active attitude, must live together and if Mary must be the root for Martha, Mary without Martha means nothing: it means to stand on the top of our ivory towers of theories, believes and pure theology without dirtying our hands in the streets, in the real life, it means to sit in the warmth of our parishes, isolating ourselves from the real world, happy of our cult without any practical side. This, to me, is not religion, this is just a theory of religion: to be religious means to me to act, to be what we preach, on daily basis, to give an answer to the wonderful act of love of God who, in a continous revelation, every single day calls as to be proactive, co-responsible people in the voluntary fulfillment of the plan of His Spirit we use to call Kingdom.

It is at this level, with this vision of religion that things, in the relation between religion and politics become messed up. We all, as humans, are not like a sort of wardrobe with many drawers we can open according to our needs: we are a unity of mind, soul, reason, feelings, wills, hopes. Politics, at least good politics, should be related to all these things, should have what we generally call ethics; religion, on its side, should also be related to all these things, should give us a vision of the world we internalize and, therefore, should give us a basic morality we adopt in ouf lives.  And, well, to have an ethics disjoint from our morality or a morality disjoint from our ethics would mean or to be schizophrenic, which would be pathologic, or to have a double standard, which would be unacceptable, or, as said, to live on our ivory tower not caring about the world around us, which would be selfish, pointless and surely not Christian (or religious). This is the point: if we really want ot be truly religious, we can’t set ourselves apart from the real world, from fighting against what is unfair, to work in the vineyard of the Lord, to try to lend a helpy hand to anybody in need, in any need, in a word, to get engaged. But to get engaged means, willy-nilly, to be in politics, with all our baggage of moral/ethical ideas and positions.

So, as a human being and as a minister (and, thanking God, the two things are not in contrast) I can’t be blind, deaf and mainly dumb whenever I see the human being violated by a lack of respect, when I see the world led by distorted values, when I see violence perpetrated agains the weak and defenseless or when I see war considered the only viable solution to conflicts: if I really believe in my faith, in the morality which comes with it, in the dreams and hopes that come with it, I can’t do without intervening, without getting involved, at least expressing my opinion as human being and as Christian, always in the total tolerance of any other opinion, even opposed to mine (which is, in my opinion, another important aspect of a really religiously moral position).

And this not setting my religion aside, but rooting my action in my religion, in the morality which comes from it, in my deep creeds which give the background for my positions. Is this to be a politician mor than a pastor? I dont’ think so: to me this means to try to be a brick for the Kingdom, wherever it is possible to get engaged.

 

“Who am I to judge a gay?”

gay-pope“Who am I to judge a gay?”. After this words from Pope Francis Italy and the whole World entered in a state of fibrillation. Was this Pope, who accustomed us to a rather new mental indipendence in comparison to his predecessors, opening to the LGBT world? “What an important step forward!”, someone said. “What a scandal!” someone else replied.

Well, I took my time to think about the whole thing and, actually, my conclusions could be expressed with a Shakespeare’s title: “Much ado about nothing!” Obviously I can’t know what turned in Francis’ mind but I simply try to analyze the situation. Pope Francis is, as I wrote somewhere else, a very good person in my opinion, a person full of love and charity, but I don’t forget he is also the absolute theocratic leader of the Catholic Church! What does this mean? Well, I suppose you don’t spend something like 50 years of your life in a Church, more so making a career in it, if you don’t agree with the basic principles of that Church.

I’d like, therefore, to remind to the many “enthusiasts” of the Pope’s new course what the Church he served for all of his life says about homosexuality. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated in 1992, accepts that the “psychological genesis of homosexuality remains largely unexplained“. Nevertheless, as Scripture presents homosexual acts as “acts of grave depravity” and “tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” being “contrary to the natural law“, the Catechism states that all homosexual acts “do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity“, and thus under no circumstances can they be approved. It is true that, theoretically, the same Cathechism adfirms that, though homosexuality is “an objective disorder” as it tempts one to do something that is sinful (the homosexual act), temptations beyond one’s control are not considered sinful in and of themselves and so, while the Catholic Church does oppose attempts to legitimize same-gender sexual acts, it also urges respect and love for those who do experience same-sex attractions.

To make it short, if you have homosexual tendencies and you are living in perfect chastity you must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity, without any unjust discrimination BUT if, on the contrary, like the majority of human beings, you want to live your sexuality in a normal way… well boy, sorry but no way, you are just a sinner. Ok, one could say that, theoretically, according to the Catholic vision, anybody having sex outside of the marriage is a sinner. True, but the point is that if you have homosexual tendences you simply can’t get married, which makes the situation very similar to a dog chasing its tail.

We all know these things and, for sure, Francis does know them very well. Could he change the situation? Yes and no. As the “Vicar of Christ” he has the absolute power on any Church decision but, tendencially, he couldn’t, even if willing, go against one of the two pillars of Catholicism, the “Traditio Fidei”, so that, has the Traditio always showed to be against homosexuality, it would be very hard also for him to change anything in the Catholic position.

By the way the big question is another: was Francis expressing any personal opinion about a possible enlargement of the very strict vision of the Church about homosexuality? Well, I don’t think so! We don’t have to be cheated by the fact he is trying to purge the Catholic Church from the many deviations hidden inside of its body: one thing is to correct deviations to canalize the Church into a more Scriptural direction, another is to revolutionize a historical theological interpretation about such a delicate point. If we read what Francis really said we can easily see he said absolutly nothing strange for a Pope: 1) he readfirmed his humbleness considering himself a simple Christian and, as such, a person following the rule “don’t judge and you won’t be judged”; 2) he followed the Cathechism prescribing respect for anyone with homosexual tendences (if chaste). Nothing else.

What I ask to myself is the reason of all the hullabaloo about such a statement. Is it an opening? Not at all. It is, on the contrary, a reaffirmation of closure. I don’t even want to speak about the use of an expression like “The gays”, which I personally hate thinking to how unfair it is to define a whole human being using just one of the thousands of (natural) characteristics forming a person (how would, in example, a woman react being called “a blonde”?). What I’d like to ask to the Pope (and to any other priest or pastor with the same ideas) is just one thing: “Holy Father, why should you, anyway, judge a gay?” The verb “to judge” implies at least the suspect of a misfit. I am a man, a so-called heterosexual man: could anybody even think about the Pope saying “Who am I to judge an heterosexual male?” Which is the difference, Holy Father?

Again on theology, denominations and barriers

preach02Just a few hours ago a teenager contacted me through FB. He wanted to chat “about religion” and, obviously, he didn’t even know the meaning of the term “Unitarian”. He told me he is a member of the Church of Christ (well, not so surprisingly in the end, as the majority of Catholics wouldn’t have tried to contact a Protestant pastor and an increasing number of people leaving Catholicism are “crossing the line” just to pass from the dogmas of the Vatican to the dogmas of the most literalist denominations, finding good harvest places mainly in the South of Italy). So he told me he couldn’t find the term “Unitarian” in the Gospel and asked me if I knew the name of the “real Church” created by Jesus (of course in his mind the correct answer had to be “Church of Christ”, perhaps with a little of tautology) . When I answered that Jesus never gave a name to his Church (admitting he ever created one) and tried to explain that my opinion was the Jesus was trying to speak to everybody, the guy got quite upset but it was when he realized I don’t believe in the “deity” of Jesus (actually I had immediately told him I was non-trinitarian, but possibly he must have thought this term meant I had some skin desease or something similar) that his mind got blown away and he started accusing me to “cheat” people, to be an  apostate, an ignorant, something like the evil son of Satan and so on…
No problem! It was not the first time and it won’t be the last, I suppose, and surely I was not in the mood of quarreling with an exalted and brain-washed kid . But something he said made me think a lot. He wrote (I try to translate from Italian) “to deny the deity of Jesus is against the holy doctrine so, between me and you, someone is surely wrong, and as I know that Jesus Christ is on my side, it must be you, so I don’t want to talk to you anymore”. “Holy doctrine”, “Jesus Christ is on my side”… Well, the whole thing has its logic: quite clearly if you follow the “holy doctrine”, Jesus Christ must forcedly be on your side… What shocked me was the lack of any doubt about the “holy doctrine” he had been taught and he was reporting with a whole anthology of ready-made statements: not a single doubt in his mind, that was the truth and that’s it. There was no meaning for him in listening to my ideas as they were obviously wrong being different from his ones or, better, from the ones of his Church. So I started thinking about the power of dogmas, sticking to the mind of people like an imprinting, denying them the possibility to exert any form of free thought.
Oh, these fanatic fundamentalists…
But well, isn’t any theology, in a way or another, a form of dogma? Doesn’t any theology say, in a way or another, “guy, this is what you ought to think if you want to have Jesus on your side”? Doesn’t any denomination, in a way or another, tell you: “man, if you want to be in, this is what you must believe, otherwise you are out”?
Sure, some elements could be more rational than others, but the core doesn’t change: a dynamic of IN or OUT which, in the end, erodes room to the result of the free, absolutly personal contact with the Divine, with the Further, with the Spiritual, however we want to call it and destroys the bounds of love and brothehood among people.
Probably it’s an easier way to live a religious life: someone gives an intepretation, very probably even a honest one in his mind (certainly with no fear to be refuted by facts as none ever met God in person, was there to witness the correctness of reports written thousands of years ago or to say that things, passing from hundreds of amanuenses, were not written the way we read them) and you just have to believe this is the “holy doctrine”…
Yes, probably it’s easier… but so sad to me… so capable to build walls among people: IN/OUT, nothing in between, no dialogue, no personal growth, no personal engagement in an inner vision… In exchange you get a name, a label, an “identity” in a flooding World but… shouldn’t “human being” be enough as an identity? Shouldn’t “searcher of the Spirit” be enough as a label? Shouldn’t all the rest be your own personal experience to share in your community, if you want, in a bridge-building dialogue?
Well, the guy told me he was going to pray for my spiritual healing… Good! At least I earned two things from my late afternoon chat: something to think about and someone praying for me, which is never bad…

The Pope and the favela

imagesI got moved and I don’t feel ashamed in admitting it! I was watching the news on tv and had the chance to see a report about Pope Francis in a favela of Rio and to listen to what he said and I got moved and thought: “This is a man of God!”.
Yes, I am a Unitarian minister. So, what’s wrong?
I’m not saying I’m going to change my mind, I am not going to become a Catholic or anything similar: I am still horrified by the idea of a hierarchical Church whose leader is considered the “Vicar of Christ” and  infalible in proclaiming dogmas, I am still angry with all the luxury of the Vatican, with a Curia which, I hear, only now (too late and, I can presume, only for a slavish obedience to its leader) is moving towards a less wasteful style of life and I certainly don’t agree with so many Catholic religious ideas it would be too long to number them.

But this doesn’t mean I should pretend to be blind in front of a man like Pope Francis. Yes, I know what many people think: it’s just an image, just a good job by the PR of the Holy See. Well, I don’t agree: I am quite sure none would act concretely against the Vatican historical show off and against the paritetical Vatican corruption, none would be so naturally open to the people just for a good advertising campaign without a deep, radical conviction that this is the only way for a minister (actually for any human being) to be.

So I think Francis is really a good man. But… how can I judge him a man of God? Surely not as he is a priest, a bishop, the Pope: we all know an anointment is certainly not a guarantee for anything of this kind.
The answer is simple to me: simply I judge a man of God anyone having a preferencial option for the lasts on Earth, for all of them, for the poor, for the outcast, for the weak, for the ones put into any ghetto, for the ones having nothing.

We are called, as human beings, to love any brother and sister but especially these people simply as they have nothing and our love, any expression of our love, is, at least, something.
So I saw this people in the favela in Rio and I know tomorrow they will be as poor as yesterday, I know much more could be done for them in terms of material help, but I also saw they were joyful today and I also know Francis could have act like many Popes before him, just visiting a Country, meeting the leaders, spending some good words and going home, but he didn’t: he went there, giving, perhaps, a little hope. And hope is, exactly like food and money, something they need, something we all need.

Am I saying Pope Francis is a saint? Not at all: I guess no human being is a saint. I am saying I believe that he is a good man of God, that’s it.
Shouldn’t I say this as I am a Unitarian minister and he is the mighty Catholic Pope? Why?
Let me tell you I can’t care less about our theological differences: theology is just a human product, a vision and an opinion, a way the Spirit uses to mark a different track in His personal dialogue with each one of us. Acts count much more, life counts much more, taking position in favour of the outcast counts much more, giving love counts much more and is, in my opinion, the real core of any spirituality in the World.

Many centuries ago a man, Ferenc David, said something like “We don’t need to think alike to love alike”. Well, I think he was right!