Easter, every day

untitled (2)So they crucified a man, a great man, accusing him to have the will to become a king. He didn’t step back: he had spoken of God and, perhaps, from God and he didn’t want to step back, though he could, deciding to be a real man up to the end.

Now he is dead and some mourn him. Me too I mourn him today. I mourn the loss of  a man who spoke about peace, love, justice. Symbolically I went to visit his tomb, the tomb of the body of a man, and meditated about what  he tried to teach us.

Then, tomorrow, someone will claim he has overcome. Men don’t overcome, gods do and Saul’s followers knew it well.  Tomorrow, for me, that tomb won’t be empty: men don’t come back from death and there will still be the body of the master.

By the way, he will have overcome. Actually, he has already overcome today, he has already overcome yesterday: he has overcome inside of me each time I remember his teachings, each time his words give me the hope a fairer world is possibile.

He has overcome and now lives forever, until someone will try to act according to his words and dreams.

Have a good Easter … every day of your life!

Catacombs

catacombsOnce upon a time … there was a Constitution, the Italian one, which stated, at its Article 19: “All citizens have the right to freely profess their religion in any form, individually or in combination, and to disseminate it in private or in public worship, provided that the… rites are not contrary to public morality.”
Once upon a time … but the Lombardy Regional Council must have forgotten it in last months, giving, with the typical bureaucratic zeal that characterizes the activities of the Italian State, full implementation to a Regional Law ( the 12/2005 ) for years rejected on the basis of its manifest impracticability.
What does this law say? To translate from “legal slang” is certainly not easy but, in essence, the provisions of  its “Title III – Rules for the construction of church buildings and equipment to religious services” can be summarized in the following three points:
1 ) Municipalities can contribute a percentage to the construction of places of worship for those religious associations recognized as such, which so request and which have a “widespread, organized and stable presence on the territory”;
2) no place of worship can be built outside of the areas given by the municipalities for the creation of places of worship or without the permission and contribute of the municipalities;
3) It is forbidden the use for the cult of any other place not specifically designed for cultic functions, if not through a formal change of the “intended use” of the place itself.
What does this mean?
In practice, if a religious community is not widespread, organized and stable on the territory (ie what happens to a plethora of “missions” of a large number of Denominations), it becomes impossible for it to keep its religious cults as it can’t build (given the financial opportunity to do so) a church or convert into church another building: a change of “intended use” is, according to security laws (not applied to most Catholic churches, those same churches that receive municipal aid), practically impossible!
Of course this applies, a fortiori, to those communities which, not having the funds neither to convert nor to build (something anyway impossible because of the criteria of “dissemination, organization and stability”) a place of worship, can no more rent halls for their functions.
Beyond the blatant violation of Article 19, there are a couple of problems with this law, promoted by the right wing xenophobic parties.
The first one is again related to the Italian Constitution, Article 20, which states, “the ecclesiastical nature and the purpose of religion or worship of an association or institution may not be a cause for special limitations under the law”. In fact, when any association of any other kind wishes to rent a room to meet, if this room is in conformity with the security requirements and the State commissioner is informed three days before the meeting, there are no problems, but this does not apply to a religious community that wants to perform a function and can’t do it just for the fact to be a religious community, in clear violation of the constitutional rule.
The second problem concerns the criteria of “widespread, organized and stable presence on the ground” that is patently illegal as the Italian Constitutional Court, judgment no. 925 of 1988, declared “no longer acceptable any kind of discrimination based only on the greater or lesser number of members of different faiths.”
But… who cares?
Is there a solution? Theoretically yes, but only theoretically .
Or, in fact, there should be private non-denominational places of worship to rent, which is in itself impossible as a non-denominational place of worship could, of course, in no way meet the criteria of “dissemination, organization and stability of a religious community”, or any municipality, in accordance with the Constitution, should have the foresight to build at least one of these non-denominational places of worship to allow (at controlled prices despite the obvious monopoly) Communities to rent them: we all know that municipalities will never do it without getting money from the state (and the state will never give the money in crisis times).
The result? The result is that in last months, in Lombardy, thanks to a law defined (and it is such a disgusting definition!) “Minarets destroyer”, already 24 communities of different Denominations have been left without a place of worship …
What a great result! Finally, the region that calls itself “the most European” of Italy, can now boast another first: it is the first Italian region to have reintroduced the catacombs!

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 …

So tsar Vladimir spoke..

vladimir-putin-patriarch-kirill-2012-4-6-12-11-3It’s around 8.20 here in Italy and, as every evening , I’m watching the news on tv (once a day a lash of optimism is something everybody would need).

Suddenly, in an ocean of war tragedies, political scandals, economical crises, environmental catastrophes, criminal attitudes and various humanity gossips, a fresh stream of pleasure hits my tired nerves: someone in this world finally praised Italy for something: “great, quite out of normality”, I think, curious to understand what present days Italy could be praised for.

Then, the sudden disillusion: the political leader praising Italy is actually the least  person in the world I’d like to be praised by: tsar Vladimir Putin of Russia. I don’t know why but if I have to think about all I hate about politics I can’t help thinking about this para-dictatorial, cold blooded Russian pseudo-superman managing to mix all the despotism of former USSR with all the slimy hypocrisy and lack of respect for the human dignity of rampant capitalism…

Immediately after this, the disillusion becomes disgust and shame when I get to know the core of his praise to Italy: “Russia won’t allow foreign adoption of Russian orphans by couples from USA or European States, but for the ones from Italy as Italy is one of the few remaining European nations in which homosexual marriages are illegal”. Great: to see my adoptive state praised to be primitive and tyrannized by a vetero-clerical oriented political vision and to be praised by the most narrow-minded male chauvinist dictator in Europe was all  could expect from life…

Ok. I admit there was nothing to be surprised about. In the end we are speaking about a former “spetsnatz”  (any memory of Beslan, when the Russian spetsnatz attacked the terrorists totally unconcerned by the presence of hundreds of young hostages on the fire line?). We are speaking about the person managing to become the puppeteer  of the new oligarchy led, tycoon enslaved, mafia pervaded, glamour shining Russia, whose capital , Moscow, has become the new “never sleeping city” with hundreds of clubs, while millions of Russians in the town suburbs have become the  almost “never eating people”. We are speaking  about the “strong man” hypnotizing the Russian electorate, leading the opinions of a slice of the world in an interested pseudo-pacifism that has forced, in occasion of the Syrian crisis, many pacifists to close their eyes and side him, the “strong man” not suffering any dissent from his line (any memory of  Lebedev, Litvinenko, Politkovskaja?). Finally, we are speaking about the man who, with an incredible poker face, a few days ago, in presenting  an icon to the pope, kissed the image of the Virgin after a large, blatant Orthodox sign of the cross (hey man, did you forget you were the director of FSB, the former KGB? Did you forget you worked for East Germany STASI for five years? Do you need to have a chat with some non-sold out clergymen to be reminded of the meaning to be a true Christian under your former lords?).

Here we come to the point.  What does Vladimir Putin pretend to be now in front of the Russian electorate? He shows to be the man restoring Russia to its previous power, defending Russian honour  and Russian heritage, including a Russian Orthodoxy he, former pioneer of the Soviet Communist Party, couldn’t care less about.

Unluckily, some elements of the Russian cultural heritage are deeply related to the most stubborn machism, unluckily to grow up in the army of a USSR in which homosexuality was seen as a “criminal deviation against the state” means something in the subconscious of a former KGB colonel, unluckily the Russian Orthodox Church, as many other Churches in the world, has never changed its vision about sexuality in last 1000 years.

The result of all these elements is in front of everybody.  Let’s forget about assertions like the one related to Mr. Berlusconi’s impeachment  in a judgment for pimping (“If he had been a gay they wouldn’t have accused him”): the two are close friends and many people understand why. Let’s forget about the clear violations of the rights of gays in Russia and the police abuses in occasion of some gay prides: well, unfortunately many people go on acclaiming such things as “acts of morality” all over the world. What shocks the most is the attempt to give to this total lack of mental openness a sort of legal status, with the new, just passed Russian law banning “dissemination among minors of information promoting the attractiveness of nontraditional sexual relationships and providing a distorted notion of social equivalence of traditional and nontraditional sexual relationships.”

What does this new pillar of Tsar Vladimir’s thought (let’s not forget that the main author of the bill, Alexei Zhuravlev, is a member of Putin’s ruling party in the State Duma), mean? It basically means that you cannot publicly say anything positive about being gay or tell a child that there is nothing wrong with being gay or being raised by gay parents! The aim of the law, according to the Russian government spokesman is “to protect children from psychological trauma” and pertains to “those parents who do not conceal their same-sex sexual relationships” but  the message sent to LGBT people is clearly “If you don’t want your kids taken away from, you you’d better keep your mouth shut”. Particularly ironic (if not tragic) is that just days later, in his much discussed New York Times interview, Putin urged the Americans not to forget that “God created us all equal”…

God… What a strange world on Putin’s lips… But, perhaps, this insisting of the tsar on religious matters gives reason of the further turn of the screw ,in an already homophobic environment, against the LGBT rights in Russia (with Putin closer and closer alliance with the Orthodox Church) and of the linkage between the Russian situation and the Italian one: in both countries the weight of diktats from the “national” Church (Orthodox, as said, in one case, Catholic in the other) is heavy in politics, so heavy to allow, in a favourable social environment, resistances and preclusions to any opening towards a natural recognition of homosexuality as a normal sexual orientation not liable of any moral judgment.

To try to discuss the reasons of the ecclesiastical position (at least of the position of many ecclesiastical realities) about homosexuality would be really too long here. Only by the way and parenthetically I’d just like to mention the confutation of four very common misinterpretations:

1) the idea that the Bible defines homosexuality an “abomination”. Well, for the ones knowing some Latin (like the majority of Church people should), I’d like to  remind them that “AB OMEN” means just “not desirable” (which was perfectly understandable in a nomadic society of 4000 years ago, in which the idea of procreation was so strong to be defined a “will of God”, as obviously necessary in an environment in which, for a tribe, number meant power) and not a sort of “monstrous behaviour” as later intended by Middle Ages commentators;

2) the often quoted destruction of Sodom doesn’t take place, according to the majority of modern exegetes, because of the “sin” which later took its name from the city but for the lack of hospitality and charity of the Sodomites;

3) clear episodes of homosexuality are present also among some of the most notable and loved Biblical characters (think about King David and Jonathan, but it’s not the only case) and this is not, in any case, reason for their condemnation;

4) in the New Testament, only Paul condemns homosexuality (well, a condemnation by Paul about anything related to sexuality is nothing shocking, coming from a clearly sex-phobic writer) but not a single word of condemnation is ever pronounced by Jesus.

Moreover, the most important point, the one many Churches will never agree with, is that the Bible is not a sort of transcription of a dictation  by God himself (sorry for the “literalists”, but, in any case, over 300 major variations in the codes would make what we read today very far from any possible dictated text), but just the report of a religious experience lived by people influenced by their cultural environment, a cultural environment which has changed in time.

Anyway, whatever one could say or write, the idea of a moral repugnance of God towards homosexuality (why should God feel repugnance of a orientation which He gave to so many people?) will persist in many Churches, as well as the idea of un-natural behaviour of the homosexuals (it doesn’t matter if homosexuality can be constantly found in nature… well in this case you can always say it is a beasty behaviour… the roads of stupidity and narrow-mind thinking are so many and so creative… ), as well as the conception of homosexuality  as a vice which can easily be spread to young generations (who cares if almost all scientists agree that one’s sexual orientation is totally independent from the orientation of the parents? Who cares if you make people notice that generally speaking homosexuals are sons of heterosexual couples  and all the sons of homosexual couples result being heterosexuals?)…

So, for people like tsar Vladimir, it will always be easy to politically speculate  on the bases of a well-rooted persuasion (well, just if we don’t want to think that under such an inveterate hatred there could be, as often, unconfessable personal fears and instincts by Putin himself …) , so states like Russia and Italy will be able to go on thinking that an homosexual marriage is unthinkable, that homosexuals should live in total chastity, that God would be offended by people of the same sex simply loving each other and will go on creating an incredibly unfair categorization of their citizens in A citizens and B citizens with less rights than the others…

Honestly, Mr. Putin (I know you’ll never read what I write but… just in case…), it is already horrible enough that you think that for a Russian orphan your lager-style orphanages could be better than a loving and caring adoptive family of any possible orientation, but please, I beg, you, next time you want to praise Italy for something, in particular for its shamefully backward legislation, avoid doing it: any praise by a person like you sounds like an insult for all the Italians dreaming to live in a free, modern country.

Sardinia and the “will of God”

sardiniaWhich are the first images coming to your mind if I mention “Sardinia”? Probably you immediately think about the sandy beaches of the Emerald Coast, the yachts anchored in the harbor of Porto Cervo and the  rich show-offers spending their summer nights (and tons of their money) in Flavio Briatore’s “Billionaire Club”. Well you are right: Sardinia is also all these things and, actually, this is for sure the image the Italian tourist offices want to give about the island.

The problem stands in that word: “also”. What touristic brochures tend to hide is the other aspect of Sardinia, the dark one, so deeply in contrast with the glamorous vision of Emerald Coast luxurious life.

Forget for a moment about the small strip of the North-Eastern Sardinian Coast you already know (perhaps you were so lucky to spend a holiday there or, at least, you saw it through the many V.I.P. people’s photos on the pages of all gossip illustrated magazines of the world). What is, then, Sardinia? Or, better, what are, then, the 7/8 of the island?

Well, let me tell you that Sardinia is not only a sort of ethnical anomaly in Italy, inhabited by a proud, strong, hard working population of autochthonous origin (though the thing is very discussed) you can easily recognize even in the complex picture of Italian ethnical groups, with the only Italian dialect internationally considered as a language on its own, with such a peculiar moral code to result almost incomprehensible even for the “Continentals” (as they call all other Italians).

Again, Sardinia  is also this. But what is most important for the life of the Sardinians is that Sardinia, the real Sardinia, is one of the poorest areas of Italy, according to some statistics the second poorest region of the Republic. According to ISTAT (the Italian government’s statistics agency), in the first quarter of 2013, Sardinia reported 452,000 inactive people, 3,200 companies bankrupted in the past five years, and 928 companies bankrupted just in 2012: quite shocking data if you keep into account that the whole island has some 1.6 million inhabitants (but is getting more and more depopulated for the constant migration of Sardinians looking for a job abroad or in other regions).

In the past, the zinc mines used to be a great source of income and granite was also exported all over the world, cool was extracted in Sulcis area and there were also projects for plants for the extraction of hydrocarbons. In the past: now the mines, all owned by non-Sardinians, are closed, now the flourishing secular handicraft industry is languishing and only last year around 3000 craftsmen lost their job, now even the promising IT industry established by a local entrepreneur near Cagliari is living the effects of the crisis and of the international concurrency. Now 3 Sardinians out of 20 have no job; now 1 young Sardinian out of 4 can’t find a job. The reasons are many: the Island has been exploited by many non-local enterpreneurs later finding more lucrative to move their business in other European areas, there are objective high costs of handling goods (the costs to carry products from and to Sardinia are twice the ones in Italy and three times more than in Europe), the orography of the place makes it difficult to create plants, etc.

And so? So Sardinia is now living mainly on tourism (but, pay attention, just a few touristic structures are owned by Sardinians) on its beautiful coast and on the traditional sources of income, agriculture and sheep-breeding, in less famous areas.

It is in this frame that the cyclone “Cleopatra” hit the island. Probably some missed the piece of news as, in the end, what happened is just a sort of “miniature” of the Philippine tragedy. In brief: an incredible amount of rain devastated the North of Sardinia, many rivers overflew,  the area around the city of Olbia was the worst-hit (in some places the water was up to 3m -10ft- deep), at least 19 people, including four children, have been killed and a number of people are still reported missing after rivers burst their banks, cars were swept away and bridges collapsed, hundreds of people have been moved from their homes and hundreds of farms have been destroyed, while the sheep farmers have lost thousands of animals.

A couple of days ago, watching the images of the devastation in his land on tv, a Sardinian friend of mine was crying and asked me a question which heavily touched me: “Why is God doing this to us? Sardinia is already so poor! Does He hate us?

How many people thought the same thing? How many people thought the same thing in so many other similar occasions?

Well, I have just one answer to my friend and to all the others asking this question: God has nothing to do with all this, human beings have!

Is Sardinia a poor island? No! It is virtually an incredibly rich, beautiful island, part of an incredibly rich, beautiful world, able to give food and life to everybody, to grant work, wellness and wealth to everybody. It is… or, better, it could have been, probably it could still be…

In Genesis 1, at the end of practically every creative act by God, we read “And God saw that it was good”. Could anybody, having the luck to observe a pristine, untouched natural spot and the perfect mechanism ruling it, deny the truth of these words? I don’t think so.  Then, going on reading we find, after the creation of the human genre: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth”. Here we come to the main point. God gave us this world as a gift, He trusted in us, he allowed us to subdue nature… But he also ordered to us to be fruitful! Shall we refer that adjective only to the idea we must multiply? I would say this would be limiting: He pronounces this command in the moment in which He gives His gift to humanity! Be fruitful! It’s like if He was saying: “Look, this is all yours, I give it to you to administer, do the best you can to get fruit from this enormous treasure I fully commend to you all!

The result? Well, I suppose I don’t need to say anything, but, anyway, I will say something, just three things directly related to what happened in Sardinia.

1)      why is Sardinia becoming so poor and is so hit by the crisis? Because unscrupulous entrepreneurs and corporations from everywhere have decided to take advantage of the island and of its people until the thing was helpful and profitable (thanks to the State helps to the Island entrepreneurship), then to throw Sardinia to the winds when profits have diminished, without thinking about the fact that they were putting  thousands of people out on the street;

2)      why is the number of environmental disaster increasing year after year (actually some sources report an increase by 1000% in last 45 years) all over the world, Mediterranean Sea included? Should I need to say? Do terms like “hole in the ozone belt”, “global warming”, “melting of glaciers” or “air pollution” sound familiar to you? Just to mention, a few days ago the Warsaw Worlds Conference about Environment resulted in a total failure: too many countries were refusing to control emissions, to accept environment-friendly protocols, etc. Probably the politicians of this countries and the members of the lobbies controlling them feel safe enough not to care about the tragedies, the destructions, the dead their behavior is provoking: they are not the ones dying, they are not the ones losing everything… Just poor, common people are…;

3)      how could it happen that an announced typhoon could provoke 19 (an possibly more) dead in Sardinia? Go and ask to the construction companies that have built residential condos on the banks of notoriously dangerous rivers. Go and ask to the subcontractors that pushed up the cost of construction of dams till the point to force the stop work as funds were exhausted. Go and ask to the firms that built roads and bridges with sand and third choice materials to increase their profits. Go and ask to the local and national politicians who approved continuous building amnesties only to save their  luxury villas from demolition and to be able to raise new funds for their campaigns…

Be fruitful” meant something different from “be fruitful for yourself and your lobby filling your safes”: the world was a gift from God to all of us, not just to a selected bunch of crafty bastards!

So, don’t put the blame on God for what is happening: God gave the gift to us, human greed is destroying it and probably a few things are as far as greed from God and His plans if we read; “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon”.

And let me tell you that watching the images of the Sardinian disaster and of many other disasters before it, day after day I understand more the sentence: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”, but, in the meanwhile, people go on dying…

Good news: we are not that bad…

people huggingSometimes, reading my previous posts back, I realize I often get carried away by anger, disgust or indignation and I end up by behaving like the journalists of our news on tv: I just underline problems, bad behaviors  and negative aspects, giving the impression of a totally negative humanity.

Well, today I’d like to write about three episodes I lived or witnessed during last month and that go exactly in the opposite direction.

The first one is related to the soup kitchen I already talk to you about. I had been asked by one of the guys managing it to get to know the president of the association running the whole project: the meeting point was in front of the soup kitchen building and my friend, who was supposed to introduce the president to me, was a little late. Suddenly I saw a young rocker coming towards me. He was the typical kind of boy one is tendentially a little scared about:  you know, leather jacket with pentacle on the back,  black “Iron Maiden” t-shirt, leather half-gloves with studs, torn jeans and heavy military boots, the whole look being completed by a long uncultivated beard and hair arriving much below the shoulders. At first I thought he was one of the people the soup kitchen is taking care of but I must admit that when the guy started staring at me in a quite fixed way I got a little afraid about his plans. Then, very simply, he stood in front of me (honestly my eyes were wide open in that moment) and gently asked if was waiting for him: he was, in fact, the guy I was waiting for. We had a quite long chat and I got to know a little more about him: he is ending his studies at Milan University Medical School and he has already asked to join a “Doctors without borders” team as soon as he will finish his specialization in pediatrics; he has already been three times in humanitarian missions in Haiti and, but for organizing the soup kitchen, he also serves as volunteer on ambulances three nights per week (“Sorry If I look a little dummy today, but I had a double turn tonight and I managed to sleep just for three hours…”, he told me with a very embarrassed look, while I would have wanted to embrace him). The mystery of his look? He is paying his studies playing guitar in an emerging heavy metal band and, therefore, his way of dressing is just his “working uniform”.

The second episode is just something I saw coming back home from work by subway some days ago. Some five-six stops far from mine a young Indian father with his possibly 7 years old daughter got into my wagon and sat on the only empty seat in front of me, putting the little girl on his knees. Up to here nothing strange. What attracted my attention was what the man seating beside me did as soon as the two Indians sat: this middle aged man, with a serious, almost grim, aspect probably due to the fact he was wearing a long black raincoat and a hat lowered on his eyes, extracted a block and a pencil from the leather briefcase at its feet and started sketching the image of the girl. I feel a little ashamed in admitting that, observing the whole scene, the first idea which came to my mind was very negative: was he a maniac? Some sort of disgusting pedophile? A child molester? The impression got stronger and stronger when I noticed he was drawing faster and faster, like under a sort of raptus and he was keeping the block so that the people around couldn’t see what he was outlining. To my surprise, just one stop before mine, the man tore the sheet he was drawing on from the block, gave the sketch to the girl without saying a word but with a large smile and got off the subway: the girl was so happy of this little gift that, laughing, she started showing it around: it was just a very well done portrait of her embraced by the arm of his father.

Finally, also the third episode took place on the subway. Yesterday, while I was going to work, we all noticed the young Arab getting into the wagon: typical Arab tunic, long beard but without moustaches, mark of Allah on his forehead, shiny (some would certainly have used adjectives as “excited” or “wild”) eyes and, above all, a big backpack in his hands. In short, he was the terrorist’s prototype to which hundreds of images have accustomed us. Milan is inhabited by thousands of Arabs but, possibly, this one must have been particularly responding to the  common image of a fundamentalist if, when he sat down, something like 30 pairs of eyes were staring at him and, mainly, to his backpack, now between his legs. You can imagine the shock when, a couple of stops later, he stood up leaving his backpack on the seat: though nobody moved (nobody wants to be the first one to look fearful) probably thirty people (me included) were praying in that precise moment not to be victims of a bombing attack. Actually the Arab guy made only three footsteps to lightly,, almost fearfully, touch the shoulder of a pregnant lady who had just entered the wagon, to offer her his seat. The two started chatting (as much as the quite uncertain and basic Italian of the guy allowed) and very soon the ones around discovered that the guy was an Egyptian religious student just arrived to pay a visit to his uncle, the Imam of one of the Mosques of Milan (a very moderate Imam, as far as I know), he loved Italy but he had caught a bad cold (so, that’s way his eyes were so shiny)  and he was also an expert in pregnancies already having three sons.

Well, what do I want to demonstrate with these three minimal, everyday examples?

Perhaps I could say they teach us never to judge at first sight, never to try to evaluate people we don’t know basing our judgment on stereotypes we constantly absorb from mass media always ready to instill terror for the others (we all know that bad news sell more than good ones), making us always suspicious that anything terrible can be done by everybody. But I know many could answer me we live in a hard world and to pay attention to the ones around us is much surer than to trust in them. I don’t know: I actually prefer to give trust to a human being up to contrary test, just as it makes me live better, in a less paranoiac way, but I couldn’t say in theory they are totally wrong.

Or, perhaps, as a Christian minister, I could say that a human being created by a loving God as reflection of Himself can be sometimes weak, sometimes distracted, often misguided but can’t be fundamentally evil, can’t be a beast destroyed by the “original sin”, by the mark of Satan or by anything else so many depressed and depressive preacher have always tried to say to demonstrate our fundamental inner negativity. But I know a multitude could answer that for any positive action I could mention, they could mention ten times more bad actions of human beings. I actually believe things work the opposite way but I can’t deny from time to time we can be capable of really horrible things.

So, I am not going to say anything, I declare I don’t want to demonstrate anything with these small episodes.

I only know they cheered me up, they gave me hope and, therefore, I just want to share this hope with you: isn’t hope something we all need?

A logic God and the dogmas

god-explainingWe all know one of the most important characteristics of our being Unitarian Universalists is the refusal of every dogma. Have you ever asked to yourself the reason for this position?

I suppose the first question we have to ask to ourselves is “what is a dogma?” In definitional terms a dogma is “a truth which can’t be explained with the reasoning but which must be believed only by faith”.

What’s wrong with this? Actually many things.

The first and most important thing which is clearly unacceptable derives from the definition itself. If something can’t be explained by reasoning, it consequently falls into the category of the unreasonable things. So, the question immediately coming to my mind is: given that the capability to reason is one of the most important and distinguishing gifts we received from God, does it make sense that this same God giving us the “Logos” could show Himself to the human beings in a way so openly denying His gift?

Moreover, if these dogmas have no explication and don’t fall into the kingdom of logic, who can decide about the acceptability of their assumptions? Even more radically, who can enunciate them in the moment they refuse any self-evidence?

The common answer to this question is, generally speaking, that they come from an “inspiration” by God, which immediately turns the question into another: “what is an inspiration by God?” Once again starting from definitions, an inspiration can be considered (or, better, it is considered) a sudden revelation about a truth given by God to a single person or to a group of people.

Now, if we try to analyze this last definition, it is impossible not to see that it ends up clashing with some basic common beliefs of the Christian faith. Aren’t we all made after the “image of the Father”? Aren’t we all His sons in the same way? Why, therefore, should the Father choose only some few “elected” people to reveal His will and to disclose His mysteries? And, if God wants the salvation of His sons, the salvation of all of His beloved creatures indistinctively, why should He choose such an indirect way to reveal His ways? Why should He privilege some of His sons in respect to all the others? Ok, I know the immediate answer to this last objection: this is also the way He used to let us know His will through Jesus. Even forgetting about the fact that the strongest supporters of the dogmas are the ones also claiming about an ontological superiority of Jesus (or, more exactly even his divine being), a superiority with no comparisons with any other human being before and after him (a thing, this last, by itself denying the possibility of an equal role of “bridge between God and men” for anyone else), two more things must be said.

1)      All along his preaching Jesus never affirmed anything going against the logic and the rationality: his preaching, in its continuous underlining of the need for a pre-eminence of love, was, in many occasions, opposed to the morality of his times but never irrational (meaning with this something going against what we would now define “Aristotelian logic”). The same, for sure, can’t be said about many of the dogmas and of the rules which were later stated by his followers: let’s think, just to give a couple of examples, to the Trinitarian affirmation that “1=3”, clearly against the principle of identity , or, to come to more recent statements, that, as mentioned, all men are equally beloved sons of the Father but one of them is “infallible” speaking as a leader for all, which clearly goes against the principle of non-contradiction.

2)      Having a look to Church history, what clearly emerges is that in the definition of dogmas there was nothing divine and, on the contrary, they were just human products aimed to impose some hierarchic figure as “heavenly messenger” just to strengthen his power, in a political picture which, once again, is by far removed from the message of universal brotherhood of Jesus. This point is really central: in any occasion dogmas have always been tools of power in the hands of someone using them to subjugate the others. All councils have, historically, been examples of the attempt to impose an idea as “sacred” denying the validity of another idea and to destroy the claim of an equal “sacralized power” by someone else.

In this context, what is the most incredible thing to me is that these dogmas, as well as many “moral prescriptions”, though being, as any other human product, localized in time and space, have become, in the moment of their rise to a special role”, crystsllized, a-temporal and eternal, forming the basis on which to build new theories and to give new prescriptions endorsed by the previous statements. This system of self referentiality is just another example of a totally a-logic way to proceed: I state a datum basing its validity on another non-verified datum, in a process aimed only to form a corpus of suppositions given as absolute consequential truths.

The result is just to transform a message rooted on a bond of love linking God and human beings reciprocally and human beings to human beings in a cage of rules, prohibitions and ancient fantasies, ending up with a distortion of the original core of the teaching.

This doesn’t mean that humans can understand everything of God: the unbalance in the relation between Infinite divine Being and finite capability of vision of the human genre surely doesn’t allow it. This simply means all the black holes we will necessarily always have in our understanding of God can’t be filled with absurdities, fictionally derived rules and human created assumptions. Mainly, this means that we must never abdicate to the use of reason and we must never absolutise a human attempt to make us believe there are dark shadows in the divine logic governing this world.

Wherever we turn our sight on nature we can see there is a perfect consequentiality, a sharp mechanism governing the creation: everything makes sense, everything has a sense and a consequentiality, everything tells us about a logic God. Surely you can say God is not subjected to His own laws (it is what many people claimed for centuries) but the question stands: why should a God who created a world according to a perfect shape based on some laws deny the same laws only in the moment in which He refers to Himself, in the moment in which He reveals His will to the highest peak of His creation?

In our experience God is logic, human beings not always are: where could illogic statements come from? It’s up to us to decide.