Fundamentalism, identity and the Word of God

avec12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” (Matthew 10:12-14)

Dear Brethren,

I must say I am always astonished by the way the Gospel gives us messages able to fit any occasion even 2000 years after it has been written.

I confess these verses, the ones of Matthew chapter 10,  are constantly coming to my mind in these days in relation to very different elements and in particular to two big problems of nowadays society: identity and fundamentalism.

I’d like to start briefly commenting the incredible period we are living, a period filled with violence, hatred, death due to the recrudescence of the self-defined Islamic terrorism (self-defined as I hope we all know that the real  Islam is very far from the Wahabi fundamentalism inspiring the deviated, desperate minds and souls of a minority of the Muslim believers).

When the carnage at the offices of “Charlie Hebdo” took place I, as many others, didn’t  hesitate to publish the “Je suis Charlie” banner on my page as a sign of solidarity with the victims of an inhuman, vile and also politically absolutely stupid attempt to apply the most extreme censorship of the most extreme and ignorant interpretation of the Shari’a to the freedom of press. I absolutely don’t regret it as I deeply believe we must all stand up for our rights against any attempt of imposition of ideas with fear and violence, with menaces and terror. Jesus Himself asks to us not to be afraid when He says: “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” and, sometimes, also a symbol like a banner could be a way to “stand firm” .

However, a few hours later something  made me feel a little dizzy about that banner I had published. That something was the claim, coming from many parts, that the dead of “Charlie Hebdo” were “heroes of the Western civilization”, “martyrs of freedom”, “models for the whole world” (I am quoting randomly from different international newspapers), that the Muslim groups changing the banner in “Je suis AVEC Charlie Hebdo” were, in a way, siding the attack or, at least, not condemning it enough and that, as The Guardian published in an editorial, “satire has to shock. Being shocking is going to involve offending someone. If there is a right to free speech, implicit within it there has to be a right to offend“.

As often I am probably going upstream and I will surely be blamed by many for saying this but I deeply feel I must say it: I totally don’t agree with these ideas. To me Charlie Hebdo was and remains total rubbish, its drawings were and are in majority vulgar and just insulting and its cartoonists were not heroes, models or martyrs but just victims of the madness of the most misleading interpretation of a religion possible! That’s the way it is for me and I won’t lie.

Which doesn’t mean, in any way (I want to be absolutely clear about this), I can even distantly agree with the ones thinking that “they deserved it” or “they brought it on themselves”! They didn’t: nobody deserves to die or brings a murder on himself for a drawing and this is very clearly stated in the verses I am commenting, where the Master affirms: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. He doesn’t say: “burn their homes, kill them, destroy their towns” but simply “shake the dust off your feet” and leave them. And I suppose He says this for many reasons: as Jesus always condemns the use of violence, as any murder is the destruction of the whole universe according to that Jewish culture the Master never refused, as He speaks about mercy and love for everybody and, possibly, as mentioned, as violence is always the most stupid and counterproductive way to act. An example of this last point? Well, why not a couple as they are clearly in front of us? What about, in example, that big slice of the public opinion which, in France as well as in other countries, was front-line in blaming Israel for its political behavior and now is revising its positions  in the light of the victims of the blindest anti-Semitic rage? Or, what about the new public judgment about a magazine like “Charlie Hebdo” which, in the past, had been condemned even in courts for its lack of any refrain and was practically close to fail for the constant loss of readers?

With all the due respect for the victims, I won’t join my voice to the chorus of hypocrisy of the ones now suddenly changing their mind after the carnage! I repeat: to me Charlie Hebdo was and remains rubbish, exactly like some other newspapers and magazines from all over Europe incapable to understand the perhaps subtle but anyway existing border between satire and insult.

So, which is this subtle border? To me (and, as far as I can see, also according to many of the most important religious leaders of the planet) it stands in the defense and untouchability of anyone’s deep identity.

I try to explain. Can satire touch anybody’s actions if they are wrong, ridiculous, blame deserving? Of course it can! Actually it must! To denounce mistakes and to put in the pillory anyone deserving it, with no exceptions and no obsequiousness for any power is the real role of satire. But actions are one thing and identity is something totally different. Identity, personal identity is the root of our being and it is formed by many different basic elements, many of which not even depending on the single’s will: your ethnicity, your nationality, your family, your religious values… To offend these elements means to hit the radical core bases of a human being and, therefore, to offend him/her in his/her entirety. And there are no exceptions: it is surprising how so many tend to adopt different systems of judgment and blame anybody mocking ethnicity as racist (Dieudonné’s case is quite exemplar in this sense) but consider anybody mocking religion as an intelligent secularist and free thinker. Actually I don’t think there is any difference: exactly as much a racist satire is anyway a disgusting act of racism, a blasphemic satire is a disgusting act of blasphemy. Period.

Identity matters, my brethren: identity is what shapes us as human beings and to respect any identity, in any occasion, in any situation, with no exceptions, means to respect the supreme creation of God.

I suppose there is something very important, a very deep teaching also for the Christian Unitarians in this idea. Because, you know, to respect anyone’s identity means, as first thing, to respect our own identity and to defend it.

I think in some occasions there are very deep misunderstandings about the meaning of being “liberal Christians”: to adopt a liberal view of a religion means to distinguish between a private sphere and a public sphere, not to try to impose your idea, not to blame or attack anyone for religious ideas different from yours. In no way it means to renounce to your idea, to your belief, to the claiming of the message you perceive as true in the name of a misunderstood generic, undifferentiated love for everyone (but for yourself, evidently) reducing Christianity to the lowest level of banality or in the name of a relativistic or nihilistic cowardy  masked as a sort of “mental openness” allowing anything to be said and done without objection, even “in our name”.

Identity matters and the Master Himself expresses this concept very clearly. What should you do if they don’t accept the message you take with you?  We read that you must “shake the dust off your feet” and we said that it means not to use any violence, coercion, intimidation to impose what you believe in. We must, anyway, understand that “to shake dust from your feet” is not, in the biblical culture, a neutral act, an act meaning: “ok, do what you want as it’s anyway the same”.  Dust is symbolic of a number of things in Scripture. Man was created from the dust (Genesis 2:7) and to dust he will return upon death (Genesis 3:19). The Serpent in Eden was punished by being sentenced to a dust diet (Genesis 3:14). People would often cover themselves in dust as a sign of mourning or repentance (e.g., Joshua 7:6; 2 Samuel 1:2; 15:32; Job 2:12; Nehemiah 9:1). Dust was also associated with poverty (Psalms 113:7). Indeed, God calls Israel, through the prophet Isaiah, to “shake off your dust” and to “rise up”. In this case of Matthew 10, as one can, in example, read in “Robertson’s Word Studies”, “shake off the dust (ektinaxate ton koniorton)” is a rather violent gesture of disfavor. In the Middle East travellers would often arrive with their feet caked in dust and hence foot washing was quite traditional. The Jews made this a theological and sacred issue though. Jewish customs and traditional teaching believed that any land outside of Israel was defiling, or at least its dirt was. This presumably caused some questions of conscience and consternation for those Diaspora Jews living outside of first century Palestine. Jews were to “shake off” any dust or dirt from outside lands when returning to Israel, or even off any imported fruit and food. The dust of a gentile land was equivalent to the defiling brought about by coming into contact with a corpse.

According to the philologist Edersheim, the very dust of a heathen country was considered unclean, and it defiled by contact. It was regarded like a grave, or like the putrescence of death. If a spot of heathen dust had touched an offering, it had at once to be burnt. More than that, if by mischance any heathen dust had been brought into Palestine, it did not and could not mingle with that of “the land” but remained to the end what it had been, unclean, defiled, and defiling everything to which it adhered. This, I suppose, casts light upon the meaning conveyed by the symbolical directions of our Master to His disciples in the moment He sent them forth to mark out the boundary lines of the true Israel, “the kingdom of heaven” that was at hand: they were not only to leave a city or household not receiving them, but it was to be considered and treated as if it were heathen. Even considering the fact that the Master was often quite extreme in His words and that surely we don’t need to take the passage literally excluding any “non-Christian” from our lives, it is quite clear that, given the prevalent attitudes to gentile grit and grime one could think that Jesus was suggesting to his disciples that if their Jewish hearers rejected the gospel then they should treat them as gentiles, shaking them off, and move on to more fruitful ground.  There is no neutrality in this, no indifferentism, no relativism.

There is identity, on the other hand, identity, the identity of a message to spread and witness with no imposition but also with no fear, the identity of a faith we have, we are proud of, we live and we must peacefully defend against anything: against the violence of any fundamentalism as well as against the more subtle (but, in the end, not less pernicious) violence of any blasphemic, vulgar insult to the elements shaping our souls, of any relativism diluting our beliefs.

Adonai echad, amen.

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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.

“Probably”… “possibly”… “perhaps”… and the power of love

i_dont_believe_in_atheistsDuring last weekend I spent some hours in a soup kitchen run by some former students of mine.

But for fully realizing how many people beyond any suspicion attend those places and how deep (even deeper than I thought) the crisis in Italy is, I was really admired by the attention, care and gentleness that those guys, a little over twenty, allotted for a huge number of elders, spending time, money and forces to help less fortunate people without receiving any subvention.

Well, I know some of those guys quite well: some of them are Catholic, with ideas being very far from mine, some of them are declared atheists, some others, actually the majority, simply can’t care less about religion.  And yet, observing their work, the only thing I could think about was that I was in front of some of the best Christians I had ever seen, people really putting into practice Jesus’command “And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5). I started thinking that, in the common idea of someone deserving salvation, guys like them, ready to give their time and love to perfectly unknown people in the name of a common human heritage, could possibly be in the first line of the so-called “saints”.

Could we say that they, at least the many atheists and agnostics among them, are probably Christians without knowing to be? Perhaps, but, I started asking to myself, would they ever agree with such a definition? Perhaps the point is just that they can’t care less about fitting into any definition. Or, perhaps, the thing is even more radical than this: perhaps the real problem stands in any attempt of definition of concepts like salvation, religiosity, necessity of faith…

“Possibly”, “probably”, “perhaps”… Returning home I began to think about how many times I happen to use these terms when it comes to religious matters.

Having Catholic origins and coming from Calvinism (though in its Remostrant form) it would have been impossible for me, up to some years ago, to live in such a lack of definitions and, even today, sometimes I ask to myself if so many uncertainties are permissible to a minister.

Shouldn’t I be the one leading the flock? Shouldn’t I be the one giving answers to questions? How could I proclaim the Gospel if so many “perhaps” crowd my mind? Shouldn’t I be monolithic in affirming my truths? In the end I proclaim to be Christian, I feel happy to be Christian, I love the teachings of Jesus, I try to be at least a little brick in the building of the Kingdom as much as I can: how does it happen that I can’t confine truth and salvation to Christianity, that I don’t manage to have the absolute certitudes of many other Christians that the true faith stands only in the Bible and that salvation is deserved only to the ones following my same path?

I have found three answers to these questions (and, obviously, I am not 100% sure of none of them).

The first answer stands at the real core of Unitarian Universalism and of its extremely anti-dogmatic approach to faith. Without fixed dogmas, institutional creeds and common superimposed beliefs, we are given the possibility never to absolutise our personal visions, in a total tolerance and acceptation for any faith and life-style not violating some basic principles of common living. It’s not always an easy way: on the contrary to the majority of the other Denominations, we are not given any ready-made path to follow (or, better, the path is, somehow, so large that, in many occasions, it is difficult to see its  borders) and the risk is to feel a little lost, from time to time, with so many doubts, so many possible interpretations, so many questions without a certain answer.

On the other hand, anyway, little by little I managed to understand that this is one of the most rewarding aspect of my faith, a faith asking to believers to be fully adult, fully responsible, fully self-determined in their decisions and evaluations. We are not asked to be like babies needing  a creeper to move and, at the same time, we are not elder brothers forced to hold our younger brothers on their way: we can walk together, hand in hand, reciprocally helping each other but each one using his/her own legs.

This is great to me: a real constant possibility of choice, of affirmation of responsible freewill, a daily critical acceptance of what we believe God is asking to His people, a true decisional capability in judging what is right and what is wrong, in keeping the direction we have autonomously chosen in any circumstance and in front of any person. I cook my life with my own recipe, choosing my ingredients every day, choosing my cook book every day and  never denying that any other recipe could be good as well although I prefer my own. And, folks, sometimes the dinner is not perfect but a real dinner prepared by my hands is, in any case, better to me than eating industrial homogenized baby food.

I deeply believe this is really Christian too! Isn’t any man a reflection of God as written in Genesis? This means nobody can take decisions for anybody else, can read and digest things for anybody else: we all have the strength and capability to judge events, readings, people on our own as we all have the sparkle of God inside of our soul and the guidance of His Spirit, whatever path we decide to follow. Moreover, this is also the way I interpret the passage of Matthew in which we read : “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38). We don’t find “my cross”, or “a superimposed cross”, but “his cross”: I suppose this means each one must decide and choose the way to follow the path and example of Jesus, which, in my opinion, is the path and the will of God, the path of the perfect love. And this  even in the case the person choosing that path of love doesn’t feel like calling it the Christian path.

My second answer is a consequence of the first one. To me the real expression of the will of God is, as said, love and, in particular love for human beings, for all human beings. In any human being I see the mirror of my God and I deeply believe that to serve the human beings in any form is the highest way to serve God. This is, I suppose, the meaning of the Great Commandment and this is the best expression of the spirituality of a person to me.  As said in other posts, I think theology is absurd in itself, being a pure speculation on an unknown object, more, on an unknowable object of thought. I could agree with a vision or the other but, in the hand, what could tell me whether I’m right or wrong? I think only faith, but faith is a personal element, depending on hundreds of variables. What stands, what really matters is love, the most universal element, perhaps the only one: the love I feel for the others, for my neighbors, the love I show in any action I take, even the little ones. And love has as many forms as the human beings are. So, on which bases should I judge a person, an action, an idea, on which bases could I think about revelations, salvations, sanctities (if any sanctity could ever exist)? On the bases of human ideas varying in time, space, environments, changing from person to person or on the expression of the only universal value practically all cultures consider a divine attribution  and all people consider as a source of goodness? So love, given love, factual love is, to me, the only discriminant element to judge a human being a person of God, a real believer in the values which are, in my opinion, the deepest expression of my God. And it doesn’t matter if his/her motivations are different, if his/her ideas are different from mine, if he accepts or not a role I would tend to give him/her, actually only on the bases of my beliefs: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8).

Finally,  my last answer comes from a verse I have always considered a little mysterious: “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). I have thought a lot about it, mainly in my seminary years. What did Jesus want to say? Was he just speaking about the purity of children? I don’t think so. Jesus was speaking about conversion, not only purity: what’s the meaning of converting to the faith of a child? Well, the answer I gave to myself derived from the memories of my childhood. At that time everything was plain and simple. In a way, God was the glue keeping the world together. He was the responsible for the creation, preservation and destruction of everything as He was the only one ever present, ever existing. Mainly, He was, in a way, a sort of synonymous of “Goodness”: if something was good, it came from God, that’s it. No other specifications were necessary, no denominational boundaries, no rules and subtle distinctions, absolutely no theological, legalistic, creedal exceptions of lawfulness.

Too simplistic? Perhaps but I wouldn’t say so. Rather, this means to me to give full room to the Spirit of discernment given to all of us and to get, I repeat this once again, full responsibility of our judgments, without external ready-made paths to follow.

Yes, I know: the risk to get lost is much higher, the engagement in the classification of any act is deeper but freedom has always a cost and, honestly, a God allowing me to be totally free in my self-directing, in the choice of my path, a God who recognizes an adult in me, who doesn’t force me to follow an handbook in the pursuit of what I consider the goals of my life is to me a God trusting in me and a God I can, in exchange, really trust in.

So, I will go on considering “saints” (in a very terrestrial meaning of the word and in the limit of what I can see of their actions, as I really can’t believe in the existence of any “total saint”) also people proclaiming their atheism, not having my same ideas, not following my same path, but acting according what I, perhaps following other directions, consider “good”, consider the strength of love.

So, I will go on having my own beliefs, following the meaning of what I understand of the words of my Master Jesus and I will go on proclaiming my vision, full of “perhaps”, “probably”, “possibly” where I don’t understand so well, full of “could be as well” where I will meet different visions (which doesn’t mean to deny my vision but to admit the possibility of different interpretations and different paths), full of possibilities to make mistakes, to get lost but also of the rewarding experience of a God always respecting the human freedom and free will.

Only on one thing I have no “perhaps”, “probably”, “possibly” but only 100% certitudes: that wherever I meet people able to give free love to any human being I will meet a soul mate, whoever he could be, because day after day I get surer and surer of one thing, that my God has no name but Love.

Neither bond nor free?

scicli-ansa.jpg_415368877I must say that personally I don’t particularly like the figure of Saul of Tarsus (or Paul, if you prefer): though it is not difficult to recognize in him the real popularizer of the Christian faith, generally, in my vision, the price he decided to pay to allow a generalized acceptance of the Gospel, the betrayal of too many elements of what I consider the real message of Jesus Christ, is too high to allow me to appreciate his teachings.

This doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate some of his ideas. In particular, there is a sentence of the “Letter to the Galatians” I always loved as, in my opinion, it perfectly expresses the deepest meaning of the so-called “Christian freedom”: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

Well, I was thinking about this sentence a couple of days ago, watching the news on tv reporting about the umpteenth carnage of immigrants on the Italian shores.

Probably, the majority of the non-Italian readers (and, perhaps, also some Italian one) don’t even know what I am speaking about and that’s not surprising, after all: the life of a bunch of Africans trying to escape from violence and starvation doesn’t look like being so important to get to a level of international resonance.

I’ll try to report what happened in brief. The beach of Scicli, near Ragusa, in the Southern part of Sicily, is a wonderful place, so nice to be the location of some popular movies of the Italian television, so nice to be the destination of many tourists in summer: it’s a great place to live but not even Scicli is a great place to die. Unfortunately, death is what awaited thirteen Eritrean guys who tried to land on that wonderful beach: their boat ran aground a few meters far from the shore and their Libyan “ferrymen” forced them (and the many others on the boat) to jump into the water, kicking and whipping the ones who tried to resist. Some of them could swim and reached the beach, many couldn’t (when you are a child in Eritrea the priorities of your parents are rather different from the ones of many Western European parents taking their kids to swimming lessons) and had to be saved by the few local lifeguards, fishermen and tourists on the scene: many but not all of them and the thirteen crosses now present on the beach of Scicli remind us of the ones who were not saved and drowned a few meters far from their “promised land”.

There are many things one could say about this event: one could remember that these dead come after other ten dead some days ago on another Sicilian shore, after too many dead on all Southern Italian coasts in these last years; one could express all the crap any human being should feel in front of new slave traders earning on the desperation of poor people escaping from incredible life conditions and looking for hope, new slave traders using the same inhuman methods of all the slave traders along history; one could praise the efforts of the people of Scicli who managed to save many human lives. Any word would, anyway, be just rhetorical and empty in front of the image of thirteen bodies of young men lying on the sand because someone considered them just like a ballast to get free from.

But this is not what I want to speak about: I hope we all share the same feelings in front of scenes like these.

What made me think about Saul of Tarsus’ words is, in fact, something else. Thirteen people had been killed (I suppose nobody could disagree about the fact that to throw a person unable to swim into the sea is a murder) in the most terrible way possible, with a ferocity with no comparison, as just another episode of a long list of other misfits of the same sort taking place almost weekly, but the news on television dedicated to this event only a three minutes report: twenty minutes on thirty of the same edition of the tv news were, on the other hand, dedicated to the risk of a political crisis provoked by the maneuvers of a party of the coalition governing Italy.

I don’t want to enter in the details of this possible political crisis, now already averted: the whole thing looks to me so shameful that it would be even degrading to mention it. What I’d like to underline is the incredible (at least to me) imbalance in reporting the two pieces of news: three minutes about 13 dead being part of a continuous carnage of poor people dying to look for hope, twenty minutes about a possible political crisis due to political maneuvers.

Are the journalists to blame for this? I don’t think so. What the journalists were doing was simply to be prone to the will of the audience and, I suppose, this is a part of their job (although many things could be said about the way media could address the interests of the audience).

What is really painful to me is this will of the audience. Why are people more interested in a possible political crisis than in the unfair dead of thirteen people? For a very simple (and, in a way, even understandable) reason: a political crisis would put Italian economy in danger, would probably touch the wallets of all the Italians. I know we are living a hard period of economic crisis, I know life is becoming a hard business for too many families, but, honestly, I can’t help thinking that there must be something very wrong in a society in which a 1% increase in VAT becomes much more important than a sort of continuous massacre of human lives, in which the decisions of a political leader about the stability of a government have more appeal on people than the dead of thirteen desperate people trying to find a better life (or simply a life) and drowning a few meters far from the European shores.

And well, I’m not just speaking about Italy: the American shutdown related to the so-called  “Obama’s health care reform” tells us we are in front of a world trend. Money stands first, human being’s dignity and life just follows in the queue of values.

So, I think about those words, “there is neither bond nor free” and I feel very sad, I feel we are not so different from the young rich man who spoke to Jesus, I feel we are so far from the kingdom of brotherhood we have been asked to build… Mainly I feel the bond ones were not, as many could think, the thirteen young men whipped to jump into the water and killed by desperation and human cruelty: if we go on thinking that the welfare of our wallets is more important than the life and dignity of any of our brothers we’ll be the bond ones, the slaves of our selfishness and social myopia, forever.

A true Thanksgiving

gratitude-2In a few days, in Italy, where we follow the Hungarian liturgical calendar, we are going to have one of the most joyful celebrations of the Unitarian tradition: the Thanksgiving day.
What is this celebration? Just the time when we want to say our thanks to the Entity which we consider superior to us, however we call it: God , Spirit of life , the Transcendent …the names don’t matter because each of us knows exactly who he is going to speak to.
Why do we say thank you? Maybe we think that there is little to be thankful for at this time when everyone, some more, some less, are touched, sometimes even in depth, by an economic crisis that seems to limit our horizons and our hopes. Or we think that everything that we have achieved is the result of our work, of our efforts, and that our successes have nothing to do with anything transcendent.
Yet, I just wish we stopped for a moment to reflect on a datum, to answer to a question: which is the essential element that unites all times of joy we have ever lived, we live and we will live in our lives? Which is the necessary condition for any feeling of happiness that has at any time touched, touches or we wish will touch our hearts?
You have five seconds to find an answer within your heart:
… four
… three
… two
… one …
Okay, found it? I am sure you have, because the answer is so easy to be contained in the question itself : the necessary condition to know at least a moment of happiness in life is life itself and it is for life, for our lives and for the lives of those we love that in a few days we will give thanks to God.
Yes, I know , most likely some of us are thinking, or at some time in their lives have thought, it would have been better never to be born, that life is just a great suffering without meaning, a continuous accumulation of problems and problems .
It’s true: sometimes life is just like that! Life can be complicated and not, as some say, especially now : it always has been, in every age, at every latitude. The complication is a constitutive part of life so that when, for whatever reason, it flows too placid, like a slow lazy river, in the end we like it less, it appears to us as dull, monotonous, even harassing and we end up trying to complicate it  on our own, at least a little bit, perhaps even inadvertently.
Why? Because the force of life, its true beauty, stands in every small achievement, internal or external as it could be, in every step we take, no matter how difficult it may be, in every obstacle that we overcome with the consciousness of having done our best.
But life, which is also this, is not only this. Let’s forget about sad medieval or counterreformation philosophers and theologians speaking of life as a kind of battlefield, a difficult test to earn heaven or hell. What a sad vision these people had to have about God to make Him just a kind of judge or referee, intent to measure with a precision balance how much faith we have shown, if we have always been obedient to laws , if we have suffered and cried for the wounds of Jesus, if we were always strong in faith in the face of adversity!
Let’s forget that God of pain, that little sadist God who already knows how things will end but, the same, tests us by placing before us a stake after another. That God is not our God, that God is the product of sad,darkened, depressed minds, locked in prisons they have built with their hands, both physical prisons, made of cold and wet cells of monasteries, and mental prisons, made of dogmas and inviolable formulas. That God is the result of a human thought which closes its borders, which limits its gaze.
Our God, the Deity we believe in is different : our God is a loving God, who created us with love and for love. He is a God who Himself is love and, as such, He is a God of the possible, a God of hope .
Did you happen to be in love? Not of God, I mean, but of a man or a woman ? What is the first gift that springs inside of us when we are in love? Beyond any connotation or any momentary specification, the first gift of love is hope and, with hope, joy.
Another “five seconds question”: can you remember a time, during last year, in which at least for a moment you felt full of joy and hope? Try to visualize it and to remember what you felt. But be careful: you must not think about great joys or incredible moments. I do not think many of you this year have won the Lotto or have had a promotion that has doubled your salary or have had a turning point in their lives: these are rare things, drops of impossible that sometimes fall on this or that life but they are not, after all, part of the lives of many. I am referring to a very simple moment: a sudden revelation, a kiss, a hug, a handshake that made us feel human warmth, even just a glance that we did not expect.
Here we are, let’s try to visualize that moment. Five
… four
… three
… two
… one …
Done? How did you feel ? Well, I guess. I do not see you, but I’m sure that at least some of you are smiling: to remember a moment of joy and hope is, somehow, like living it again .
Well, now, after having thought about that moment of joy, try to think that it wouldn’t have existed if you hadn’t been alive, if at a certain moment of the long flow of time God had not decided, in an unexpected and free act of love, to create us, to give us life .
Don’t you feel, now, a little bit more in love with life? I hope so . And being in love with life means being in love for the sake of the One who gave it to us . Don’t we want to say “thank you” to Him? At least a small “thank you”, even only for that instant?
Of course we are all polite people and perhaps you have already thanked, at least in your heart if not verbally, the person who gave us that moment of joy, warmth and hope.
But there is the necessary condition of which we have spoken: if you have felt it was right to say “thank you” for a moment, isn’t it right that we say “thanks” to the One who made this moment possible and, hopefully, will make many other moments like that possible?
So, let’s say thank you to life, to the force of life, to the possibility of life and, in doing so, let’s say “thank you” to the One who gave us this force, this possibility. Let’s thank God and say it together, because together, holding hands at least virtually, our thanks from a whisper becomes a roar inside of us, it becomes a new force of life and hope.
This would already be enough. I do not believe in a God that spends his infinite time listening to praise and aggrandizement as a king sitting on his throne: I believe, though, in a God who loves and, as such, loves to be loved and there is no form of greater love than to feel gratitude for the love that you receive.
Yes, that would be enough. But something more is perhaps possible.
You’ll certainly happened to go to dinner with friends or relatives. What do you do when you go? Well, we said we are polite people, and as such, most likely we bring flowers, chocolates, a bottle of wine with us: in short, anything that could tangibly show our gratitude and our love. It is not necessary, we all know: the true friends know that love does not depend on a small gift, which is just something more, a way that, when there is a bond of love, just goes to show deeper feelings. It is not necessary, but we do it and we feel good doing it.
Well, what I’d like to ask to everybody, if you can, if you feel it is right, is to do the same to God: bring a flower to life, bring a flower to God, resolve to do it and do it really.
How? Please do not bring flowers in front of a statue or picture: a statue or a painting can’t care less about our flowers, rotting there until someone throws them away.
It is not in a statue or an icon that we have the image of God, but in our brethren, in those who share with us the inexhaustible gift of life. It is to them that we can bring our symbolic flower, trying to make their lives at least a little less complicated: let’s give an helping hand, let’s give a little help to those in need, let’s give a smile to those who receive too few smiles, let’s pay attention to those around us, let’s donate a bit of human warmth. For each person we will be agents of joy and hope for, we will say thank you to our God for our lives, we will be partakers of that great stream of love and hope that is life itself, the same life for which we are giving thanks to God.

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.

 

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…