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.

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.