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.