The Shared Bread of Tomorrow

The Voices of the Days/14 - We have to learn again about leaven sharing and dough making

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 12/06/2016

Surfinia rid

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, (...) And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. (...) ...and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet (...).

Ezechiele 37,1-10

In order for our life together to be good and happy we must know how to hold together different realities that are opposing each other. Creating unlikely and unforeseen alliances between persons and dimensions that common sense would keep separate and distant. The words "charisma" and "institution" aren't simple; they say something of this dialectic and confrontational nature of good life.

Charisma and institution are values, something similar to the "active values" of the enzymes. When the "institution value" and "charisma value" are absent, the bread does not rise, the milk becomes cheese for the absence of rennet. Institutions without gratuitousness and the excess of charis-charisma become inhuman, asphyxiating, ugly and sad places; and if the charismatic experience is not supported by structures and rules, it cannot last, it shatters and evaporates. Institutions and charisma are co-essential like flesh and bones, spirit and body, intelligence of the hands and mind. They are co-essential and different. The institution is something adult, strong, hierarchical and male. The charisma is young, weak, fraternal and female. The institution is Peter, the charisma is Maria. The institution is and should be cautious. The charisma is and should be unwise. The institution avoids risk, the charisma loves it. The institution conserves, the charisma innovates. The institution remembers and maintains, the charisma forgets and changes. The institution preserves us from death, the charisma generates and regenerates new life. Without gratuitousness you cannot live, you can only survive. Without charis the bread is always unleavened. Our grandmothers kept the yeast by giving a small portion of the dough to their neighbour, who added it to the dough made with new flour and then passed it on (or back) the next day, so everybody could leaven new lumps of dough. The wonderful circuit of the reciprocity of bread.

To understand the logic and the valuable role of the charismatic value it is useful to think of it as a continuation of the prophetic principle that we find as a strong and central idea in the Jewish and Christian Bible, but also in other major founding texts of religions and civilizations, and, with specific and beautiful traits, in the life and activity of great poets, writers and artists. If we read the Bible and human history from this perspective, we quickly realize that the recipients of the prophecy are primarily the powerful, the strong, the kings, the temple, the religious and political institutions. The prophets come for the conversion of those in power.

When the prophets are lacking, or when they get silenced, institutions are closed in on themselves, they forget about the poor, they trample them, sell them, oppress them, and they become structures that feed the privileges and income of the rich and powerful. The prophetic word is always a concrete and historical one. It always speaks in the present, even if it was written thousands of years ago, although the most normal and common way to defuse the power of prophecy is to think that is not addressed to us here and now. When Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew condemns the "scribes and the hypocritical Pharisees", we do not understand the power of that word if we forget that the "hypocrites" were the leaders of the Christian communities for whom Matthew wrote (not only those of the time of Jesus). They were the leaders of the first churches in the late first century, and already wanted themselves be called "rabbi" and "master", like all the leaders of all communities after the prophets are gone. The prophetic word converts and saves us only if we feel that it's uttered and written for us, for me.

The prophetic profile is not only expressed in the words of the prophets. We find it in life and in the words of many biblical characters and books. Job, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, The Song of Songs, the Psalms, David, Revelation and many letters of Paul contain prophetic pages that are added to the words of the prophetic books - which, in turn, not only contain prophetic words. The prophetic principle does not coincide with the activities of the prophets or with the teaching of the prophets. It is more and less: there are no prophetic words spoken by the prophets, and there are words of the prophets that are not prophetic.

Sometimes prophecy is a collective experience, involving more people. Around the prophet communities are formed, and / or more prophets share the same lifetime. A particularly important prophetic phenomenon consists in communities and charismatic movements, which are formed around one or more people with charisma, of a spiritual, political, civil, cultural or artistic type. These collective realities have the specific feature of fully identifying with the charismatic-prophetic function. Therefore, the inevitable risk of such communities and charismatic movements is in not recognizing that even inside them, and starting from their rise, the charisma coexists with the institution. The charisma produces its institutions naturally and necessarily, which, in order to stay generative and genuinely charismatic, must continually reconvert to the original charisma, recognizing and valuing their prophets. But being "prophets by vocation and mission", charismatic communities do not feel the need to accommodate and enhance the prophets that are born to them, and generally fight them as false prophets. And so they begin their decline, because a charismatic institution does not become just an "institution and nothing more" if it is able to give space to the bearers of the prophetic dimension inside it. Paradoxically, the least hospitable places for the prophets are the prophetic communities in which they arise. Nobody is a prophet in these homelands, because the institution itself absorbs every prophetic dimension, it becomes a monopolist of the charismatic principle, and it does not feel the need of an internal charismatic critique.

Wise charismatic governments know how to host unaligned and critical characters, recognizing their co-essential role. They see them as providence and salvation, and they welcome the criticism that necessarily arises from them. Knowing and learning that beside the good grain of the prophets there will always be the weeds of false prophets.

The institution writes statutes and more and more detailed regulations; the charisma changes, transforms and simplifies them. When the government of charismatic communities is composed only of persons totally aligned with the vision and the words of the institution (which almost always happens), they actually lose prophecy and generativity dramatically. Prudence harnesses prophecy and innovation, rules and words of yesterday become the straightjacket of tomorrow.

The most valuable quality of those who govern charismatic communities is the ability to identify the prophets scattered in the suburbs, and give them space and attention, giving up unconditional consent and the absence of criticism. It is disagreement, and even a natural dose of conflict, what tells about the presence of the charisma in institutions, especially charismatic ones.

Like any prophetic voice, the first vocational task of these is to prevent and combat the disease of idolatry, which occurs naturally when the prophetic voice ceases to exist or is suppressed in charismatic institutions. The first and unavoidable temptation of all the prophets is to identify their own voice with that of YHWH, losing consciousness that only some of the words they utter are different, and that all the others are like everyone else's words.

In the rare cases in which the prophets are left to live and work in the community, the real miracle of the resurrection of the original charisma may be performed. The institutions that preserve a charisma have a natural tendency of becoming tombs containing the skeletons of the first prophetic event. They can do everything possible to keep the memory and the memory of yesterday alive, yet they remain funeral cults. Without resurrection the dead remain in their graves, it is the law of all life. The only good elaboration of mourning for the original charisma of the founders is its resurrection. New flesh, new blood, muscles and nerves that restore a new body from the old one that's been reduced to a skeleton. Each generation must perform the resurrection of their old and new skeletons. But only the imprudence of the prophets is capable of becoming from the handful of leaven inherited from fathers a multiplied bread to feed the hungry masses today.

The prophecy is able to operate all this, it knows how to breathe the spirit on the bones of the skeletons to make them come back to life. Without prophecy, there are only two types of sad fates charismatic experiences can face: either they end with the death of their founders, or become mere institutions reminiscent of something that no longer exists - as a photograph of a party or a distant friend. Because graves can get emptied and the photo can take blood and flesh, what's needed is only and simply prophets.

But there is also a good news: the prophets are there, although it is difficult to find them. As the spirit, the prophetic word blows where and when it wants. It doesn't let itself be caged by trades, it escapes common sense. It is found in unlikely places. In Miriam's hand over the Red Sea, in the ass of Balaam, in old Simeon, and especially in many silent gestures. The truest prophetic words live among the poor, the young, the uneducated, among those pushed to the peripheries, the desperate and the failed ones, on the mouth of mothers, at the bedside of the dying. To meet the prophets of whom we all have a great need we just have to look for them where they are not supposed to be. And beg them to breathe the word into our bones. And then learn how to raise from the dead.

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