Greater Than Guilt

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This section contains all of Luigino Bruni's editorials of the series entitled "Greater Than Guilt" dedicated to the Book of Samuel and published in Avvenire from 21 January 2018


The Wonderful Laicity of God

Greater than Guilt/20 - Biblical humanism is an endless education for liberty

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 03/06/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 20 rid“If your heart does not wish to give in If it feels no passion, if it does not want to suffer Without making plans about what will follow My heart can love for the both of us”

Luisa Sobral, Amar pelos dois (English version by Igor Caldeira)

When we try to respond to a vocation, our existence moves between the memory of a great liberation and the waiting for the fulfilment of a great promise, between memory and hope. Everything takes place between these two banks of the river, and the great task of living is to learn to stay in the ford, without succumbing to the temptation of nostalgia for the bank from which we come or to the one telling us that the landing place was only a mirage. You don’t get overwhelmed by the water and dragged away by the current until you cling to the invisible rope that binds the Red Sea to the Jordan. Also because the closer we get to the other shore, the thinner the piece of string we are holding on to becomes in our hand.

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The Different Decorum of Women

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 27/05/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 19 rid“It was by the grace of God, not on account of his merits, that Noah found shelter in the ark before the overwhelming force of the waters. Although he was better than his contemporaries, he was yet not worthy of having wonders done for his sake.”

Louis Ginzberg The Legends of the Jews (English translation by Henrietta Szold)

It was religion that invented the homo oeconomicus, long before economy reinvented it. The first trading partner for people was God, because the economy in the markets was an extension of the economy in the religious sphere. The first currency that humanity knew was goats, sheep, lambs, sometimes even children and virgins, with whom men paid their gods, usually to put them in debt or, sometimes, to reduce the original debt they felt were overwhelming their communities.

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Memorial Stones for the Innocent

Greater than Guilt/18 - The executioners humiliate their victims by denying them the dignity of their name

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 20/05/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 18 rid“This I-Thou relation consists of placing oneself before an outside being, i.e. one who is radically other, and in recognizing that being as such. This recognition of alterity does not consist in forming an idea of alterity. (...) It is not a question of thinking the other person, or of thinking him or her as other - but of addressing that person as a Thou.

Emanuel Lévinas Proper Names (English translation by Michael B. Smith)

Dialogue is the thread that weaves our good and fruitful social relationships. Listening and saying, silence and words, phrases and gestures are the grammar of the reciprocal crossing (dia) of the word (logos). Dialogue is letting ourselves be traversed by the other while asking their permission to be traversed by our word. Crossing is a verb of motion that evokes time and space, places, names, flesh; it is always a creation of something new.

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The honour of the rejected

Greater than Guilt/17 - In the end, Saul’s ways are dusty, just like ours

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 13/05/2018

samuele 17 210x300Saul:
“Oh my children!...
I was a father. - See thyself alone,
Oh king; of thy so many friends and servants
Not one remains. - Inexorable God, 
Is thy retributory wrath appeased?”

Vittorio Alfieri, Saul (English translation by Charles Lloyd)

In every authentic reading, the reader has an active and creative part to play. He is not a spectator of the stories he reads, but a co-screenwriter and actor of them. In the special form of reading we call biblical reading, therefore, the one who reads receives the mysterious but real faculty to transform the characters into people, who, like all living people, grow, change, move and make some unexpected encounters. So it happens that biblical people begin to interact among themselves, to compose relational plots that are different from those thought and desired by their first author. And so the necromancer of En-dor becomes a friend of the father of the prodigal son, Jeremiah discovers himself as David's brother, and Saul becomes Job's travel companion in his misfortune, as he also ends up on the pile of manure, by a God who wants (Saul) or allows for (Job) their misfortune. Struck by divine punishment that’s greater than their (possible) sin, Both Saul and Job are wrapped in the silence of a mute God, who has no words of life for them - perhaps because, quite simply, he is waiting for ours.

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The Holy Words of the Rejected

Greater than Guilt/16 - Compassion may explode inside every life. And so may the good

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 06/05/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 16 rid“The Baal Shem said to one of his disciples: »The lowest of the low you can think of, is dearer to me than your only son is to you.«”

Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim (English translation by Olga Marx)

Augurs, magicians and soothsayers are a recurrent note in the Bible. They embody a form of false prophecy that was widespread in antiquity and hard fought by the prophets, which represented a constant and very seductive temptation for Israel (to which it has often succumbed). They were the expression of an archaic popular religiosity that has never disappeared, and feeds a thriving business in our days, too. Biblical faith is not threatened by atheism, but by the replacement of YHWH with natural and simpler gods - yesterday and today, in faith and in life, where the eternal temptation is to convince ourselves that we are something smaller and more banal than the complex and beautiful reality we actually are.

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The Art of Embrace is Infinite

Greater than Guilt/15 - The art of life can be learnt by tasting the small instants of peace

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 29/04/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 15 rid“God is, in a sense, the other, par excellence, the other as other, the absolutely other - and nonetheless my standing with this God depends only on myself. The instrument of forgiveness is in my hands. On the other hand, my neighbor, my brother, infinitely less other than the absolutely other, is in a certain way more other than God: to obtain his forgiveness ... I must succeed in appeasing him. What if he refuses? As soon as two are involved, everything is in danger. The other can refuse forgiveness and leave me forever unpardoned."

Emanuel Levinas, Nine Talmudic Readings (English translation by Annette Aronowicz)

Every day millions of people do and say bad things and, shortly after or shortly before that, they say and do good things in all honesty. Because the human condition is simply the interweaving of evil and goodness. The Bible knows this ambivalent mystery of the person – perhaps the greatest mystery – very well. We can become intrigued or lost, we may lose the golden thread of life, but until our last breath we are still capable of goodness, because we are made in the image and likeness of an endless dance of mutual love, which no sin can stop. Cain killed his brother Abel, but he did not kill the Adam, the first (and last) man. And while Cain continues to kill Abel, the Adam continues, stubbornly, to resurrect him, every day. No wickedness of the fratricide within us is capable of destroying that original imprint of good engraved deeper into our being. In this sense, evil can be trivial, good can never. Evil has its own resilience, which can also be very big, but it is always smaller than the resilience of good. And it is this good that resists stubbornly to make us more beautiful than our many faults. That’s where the radical anthropological optimism of the Bible lies, which has saved the West after and amidst its most heinous sins – and which continues to save us.

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The Wise Hurrying of Women

Greater than guilt/14 - Re-sewing, re-healing, acting in haste brings about peace

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 22/04/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 14 rid“Goods are now to be seen as the medium, less objects of desire than threads of a veil that disguises the social relations under it. Attention is directed to the flow of exchanges the goods only marking out the pattern.”

Mary Douglas, The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption

Gift is a great word, and therefore it is an ambivalent one. Because if it weren't ambivalent it wouldn't be great, just as love, religion, community, life and death are great and ambivalent. The "capacity to give and receive gifts" is a possible definition of human nature, because gift says freedom, autonomy, dignity, beauty. Gifts received and given mark the decisive stages in our lives and in the lives of those we love, from the first gift of life to the last, when we give that first gift back a hundredfold, and it will be perhaps only at that moment that we understand all its value - and also the value and meaning of that last gift we are making.

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The Weak Force that Saves Us

Greater than Guilt/13 - Do not to kill, but save the name and cut the edge of the robe

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 15/04/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 13 rid«Caro male,
non ti chiedo ragioni
è questa la legge dell’ospitalità…
ti do riparo
proprio a te che mi scoperchi.
Non ti voglio bene male
ti so sapiente ti tengo d’occhio
e nido sono
di te che mi assapori
e poi sputi il nocciolo

Chandra Livia Candiani, Fatti vivo

There are many forms of conflict. Each era adds new ones, leaving those inherited unchanged. The Bible also knows several cases. The conflict between Cain and Abel, where a vertical frustration (between Cain and God who rejected his offerings) becomes horizontal violence (against Abel). The conflict between Joseph and his older brothers, where envy leads to the elimination of the envied one, sold to camel drivers on their way to Egypt. Or that between Abraham and his nephew Lot, due to the abundance of resources in a common space that is too small, which is solved by separation, thanks to Abraham’s generosity who leaves Lot the choice of land ("Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left”; Genesis 13:9).

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Mixed communities can generate

Greater than Guilt/12 - The art of life can be learnt by starting the journey

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 08/04/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 12 rid“Even as a boy I sometimes looked up with endless sympathy and respect into a half-withered female face on which it was written, as it were: life and reality have given me a drubbing. (...) And if we live, there’s something wondrous about it. Call it God or human nature or what you will, but there’s a certain something that I can’t define in a system, even though it’s very much alive and real, and you see, for me it’s God or just as good as God.”

Vincent Van GoghLetters, 193 (English translation by Diane Webb, John Rudge and Lynne Richards)

When a vocation is real and grows well, the "hosanna" of the crowd is always followed by the time of passion. It is always a crucial period, when the design and the task for that person begin to reveal themselves more clearly, because the dark background of events highlights the bright contours. So David, after his first success at court and in Saul’s heart, after his victory against Goliath, the women's song of glory ("Saul has struck down his thousands, / and David his ten thousands") now finds himself forced to flee and hide, because Saul wants to kill him. So the text now shows him to be a fugitive and a nomad wandering from city to city, his life in continuous danger, himself being homeless, vulnerable and poor. Like Abraham, like Moses, like Mary and Joseph. He too was a wandering Aramean, he too was in search of benevolence and hospitality; like us, like everyone else, who from the day we came to light became beggars for a good hand to welcome us and host us, never stopping to look for it, until the end.

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A friend’s promise is a real one

Greater than Guilt/11 - Love is one, but loves are many: eros, philia, agape...

di Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 01/04/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 11 B ridPeter..., do you love [agape] me...?” - “Yes, Lord; ... I love [philia] you.”
(...) “Peter..., do you love [agape] me?” - “Yes, Lord; ... I love [philia] you.”
(...) “Peter..., do you love [agape] me?

The Gospel According to John 21:15-17

Love is one, but there are many loves. We love many people and many things, and we are loved by many, in different ways. We love our parents, children, girlfriends and wives, brothers and sisters, teachers, grandparents and cousins, poets and artists. And we love our friends a lot, too. Human love is not limited to human beings. It reaches the animals, touches the whole of nature, even God. To say love, the Greek world had two main words, eros and philia, which did not exhaust its many forms, but offered a semantic register that was richer than ours to decline this fundamental word of life. A lexicon that was able to distinguish the 'I love you' said to the beloved woman from the 'I love you’ said to a friend, and at the same time recognize that the latter was neither inferior nor less true than the former.

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Work Can Win the War

Greater than Guilt/10 - The humble tools that add pages to the book of history

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 25/03/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 10 rid«…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.”»

Isaia 2,4

In the book of history that tells us about strong and overbearing winners and the weak and poor who succumb, we also find some different pages. That’s where the natural order is overturned, the humble are raised and the proud are defeated. It’s a few pages only, but their dazzling light illuminates the entire book, transforming it, changing its meaning and making the difference. These are other, different stories that reveal a second law of motion for humanity. That of Ann’s and Mary’s Magnificat, the prophecy of Emmanuel, the discarded stone, the suffering-but-glorified servant, the crucified-and-risen one, Rosa Park and those cooperative organizations and trade unions that have freed and liberated the victims from empires and pharaohs. Pages that tell us that the natural hierarchical order is not the only possibility, that anything can always happen, and that we are given a last chance even when everything and everyone says that it is impossible. It is this same fragile and tenacious law that explains why it is that in the cacophony of strong and powerful voices we sometimes manage to hear a little, different voice and we follow it. It explains why we were once able to believe more in just one little reason to go ahead and not in the hundred really strong reasons telling us to give up; or why we did not take the path of success and power at that crucial crossroads but the one we knew would make us littler and more vulnerable. Other pages, another history, a different law. Another road that we take because, perhaps, we see it as the only possibility of a more real salvation because it is narrower; or, perhaps, because we have meekly let our heart lead us to do so.

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The Economy of Smallness

Greater than Guilt/9 - Work is never an obstacle to our vocations

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 18/03/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 09 ridRabbi Bunam once prayed in an inn. Later he said to his disciples, ‘Sometimes you think you can't pray in one place and you look for another. But this is not the righteous way. For the abandoned place will complain to him: »Why did you not want to pray on me? If there was anything that disturbed you, it was a sign that you had the obligation to redeem me«.’

Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim

Saul’s decline intersects with the rise of David, the bright star of the Bible, perhaps the brightest of the Old Testament. He is the biblical character whose heart we know best - a word that, not by chance, appears already in the first account of his vocation ("Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart"; 1 Samuel 16:7).

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Heirs of the Hem of the Robe

Greater than Guilt/8 - We are citizens of a partial and unfulfilled land

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 11/03/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 08 ridIt is very difficult to find only one person in the whole Bible, whether righteous or not, who has not been let down by God, except perhaps Abraham and Jesus. But it is precisely from these denials that the man of faith learns to doubt every institution that he does not let itself be contradicted.

Paolo De Benedetti I profeti del re (The Prophets of the King)

After the consecration by Samuel, Saul begins to fulfil his mission as warrior king, a beginning that marks his tragic fate, narrated by perhaps the most compelling and beautiful pages of the entire Bible: “The Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen... (...) Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people began to slip away from Saul. So Saul said, »Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the offerings of well-being.«” And he offered the burnt offering (1 Samuel 13:5-9).

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Treaties are flesh and blood

Greater than Guilt/7 – The biblical type of covenant establishes mutual commitment and forgiveness

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire le 04/03/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 07 rid“I shall try to help You, God, to stop my strength ebbing away... But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that You cannot help us, that we must help You to help ourselves. ... I can already forgive God for allowing things to be as they probably must be. To have enough love in oneself to be able to forgive God!”

Etty Hillesum Diary, 1942 (English translation by Arnold J. Pomerans)

In many key episodes of life, a single story is not enough; it is too little. To say what happened on the day we first met, or when we heard ourselves called by name, a single voice is not enough. The story of those decisive moments has to be told many times, by different people, and by each in their own way. Things that are repeated become beneficial, to those who tell the story and to those who tell it. When this bio-diversity is missing, denied or torn, our stories become impoverished, the mystery of life escapes us. The multiplicity of stories can protect us from ideology, which develops when the chrism of truth is attributed to only one narration, while all the others are considered heresy. This multiplicity and variety of stories tend to disturb the modern man who is in search of agreement in historical data, but for the biblical writer it is a language to say the greatness and importance of the episodes he is narrating. The lack of greed and generosity of the Bible also emerge from the abundance with which its most beautiful stories are accompanied; as in the letters of love, where adjectives add up to saying what we can't really say - the Bible is a long and unique letter of love addressed to us, which often remains closed inside the envelope. The truth is symphonic, always.

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The Anointing of the Outskirts

Greater than Guilt/6 - Prophetic enthusiasm is ignited amidst ordinary life

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire le 25/02/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 06 c rid“ your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions. »

Book of Joel 2:28

The consecration of Saul, the first king of Israel, takes place once again amidst the ordinary affairs of life. Saul moved away from home in search of lost donkeys - valuable animals for the economy of his time. It is during this normal work mission that something extraordinary breaks into his life. Saul had left the house to go to work - and returned home as the ‘Lord’s anointed’. He had left to look for donkeys he did not find; instead, he found a vocation, a task, a destiny that he did not seek. This is one of the greatest episodes of serendipity. Not only it explains that unless we actually go to the bookshop in flesh and bone we will never discover the most important books that we were not looking for but were waiting for us next to the less important ones we were looking for, but it also makes us perceive something of the profound logic of spiritual life. The greatest goods in life are those that we do not buy because they are not for sale, those that we do not look for because we do not yet know that they exist, those that we receive simply because we are loved.

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The Necessary Guardians of the Almost

Greater than Guilt/5 - Recognising the wrong roads taken in life, and reconciling with them

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 18/02/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 05 rid«Vorrei passare come una tela
su cui lo sguardo crocifisso
spegne gli idoli.»

Heleno Oliveira, Se fosse vera la notte

To describe the greatest kind of moral and spiritual corruption, the Bible often uses words borrowed from the economy. And it does so because there is nothing more spiritual and theological than economics, politics and law. Faith speaks only with the words of life. And so there are no truer words to express the nature and quality of our spiritual life than wages, profit, taxes, bribes, finance, tenders, work, enterprise. These are the most theological and spiritual words available ‘under the sun’, which also give truth to the words of faith. Because if we do not know how to express spirituality with the words of economy, law and politics, it is very likely that those spiritual words are, in fact, prayers to idols, even when we say them devoutly, in temples, synagogues or churches. The Bible and its true laity knew this very well - we know it much less today, because we have forgotten the Bible and laity.

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The civilization of the homoeopathic gift

Greater than Guilt/4 - The almighty and defeated God teaches a kind of faith that changes everything

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 11/02/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 04 rid“The most beautiful poems
are written on stones
with bleeding knees
and the mind sharpened by mystery.
The most beautiful poems are written
in front of an empty altar, 
surrounded by agents
of divine folly.
So that, criminally insane as you are,
you dictate verses to humanity
the verses of redemption
and biblical prophecies,
and you are Jonah’s brother.”

Alda Merini, ‘Our Triumph’  (‘Il nostro trionfo’); in: The Holy Land (Vuoto d’amore; English translation by Stephanie Jed and Pasquale Verdicchio)

“In those days the Philistines gathered for war against Israel, so Israel went out to engage the Philistines in war” (1 Sam 4:1b). After the great and wonderful night of Samuel’s vocation the scene changes, and the winds of war blow over Israel. A people already known to Israel makes its first appearance - and will accompany and fight her for many centuries: the Philistines. They are an ancient people of the sea that exercised political and cultural dominance over the entire region, linking it to its own name (Palestine, Philistia: the land of the Philistines). The scene changes, perhaps the narrator, too, but some elements of continuity remain. Among them are Eli, his children, and especially the Ark.

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The Wonderful Art of Living

Greater Than Guilt/3 You can remain righteous even when you are weak. And listen without having heard

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 04/02/2018

The Master said, Piu grandi della colpa 03 rid 
“Those who make virtue their profession are the ruin of virtue.”

Confucius Quotes

There are many people on earth who are called and answer "here I am" even if they don’t know how to recognize the source of the voice that calls them by name. Yesterday, today, always. They are called by different and unknown inner voices lifted up by the love and pain of the world. It is really important to respond to these vocations that happen every day in all environments of the human race. But it is marvellous when there is an "Eli" next to us that first sends us back to bed and then reveals the name of the one who continues to call us. 

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Singers of the not-yet

Greater Than Guilt/2 The gift of children received as gifts is the grammar of existence

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 28/01/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 02 rid«Dammi da mangiare
dammi da bere …
Fame è misterioso
alza e abbassa regge lascia
ti reggo mi lascio.
Dammi l’acqua
dammi la mano
che siamo,
nello stesso mondo.»

Chandra Livia Candiani, Dammi da mangiare

God listened to Hannah’s cry and "remembered her" (1 Samuel, 1:19), as he had remembered his people enslaved in Egypt, after the first collective prayer of the Bible (Exodus 2:23). The biblical God is a God who knows how to listen, to everyone, but above all to the victims. The idols are deaf and mute because they are dead. YHWH is alive because he has an ‘ear’ and can listen, and can be awakened from his sleep, his inattention can be regained while we are in the boat and the storm is going on.

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The Great Prayer of Women

Greater Than Guilt/1 - The breathless words of the victims are worth more than any other

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 21/01/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 01 rid“The Bible knows lament. Lament is an extremely critical moment in the relationship with God, until God consoles man and man consoles God. Prophecy and liturgy bring laments back and forth between heaven and earth.”

Paolo De Benedetti, La chiamata di Samuele e altre letture  (Samuel’s Call and Other Readings)

Let us begin reading and commenting on Samuel’s two books. And the time of a new joy begins, a joy that can perhaps only be delivered by an intimate connection with the immense biblical text, and only sometimes. Above all at the beginning, on the Saturday of waiting, in that auroral joy that floods the soul before knowing if and what words will come from this new encounter with the in-finite words of the Bible. Before we know if and how we will be able to make them become a discourse about our time, our kingdoms, weeping, vocations, betrayals and prayers.

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