If you read this blog then you already know that I’ve spent the last four days at a Taize Pilgrimage gathering at Red Shirt Table on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I’m writing this on our trek home. I calculated the time and the mileage- the journey here took me just as long as it took me get to the Taize community in Burgundy, France and it will take just as long to return home.
The same is true for hundreds of the others who gathered this weekend and that should tell you all you need to know about the power of the Taize community and the grounding, foundational role it plays in the faith of Christians all over the world. I’ve met pilgrims who came here from Poland, France, Spain, Korea and Italy.
I’m too tired to write much now- especially on my phone of all things- and I’ll reflect more later, but I wanted to take a moment to share a few observations on the nature of the event itself.
As I posted earlier, the Taize community understands its mission to be a ‘pilgrimage of trust on Earth.’ All of life, the brothers believe, is a pilgrimage wherein we embody our trust in the Creator by extending trust (in the form of hospitality, listening and reconciliation) to others. In their community in France, this mission gets realized in how the brothers welcome 5K pilgrims every week from places around the world- places, it should be noted- that often have nothing in common and much in dispute once you extract Christ from the equation.
This same emphasis on ‘trust’ has been paralleled by the pilgrimage gathering here at Red Shirt, as we (and that ‘we’ is mostly very white and across the board Christian) are only here because of the trust and hospitality extended to us by the Lakota. No small thing when you consider we’re the only outsiders of this number gathered in this part of the reservation since the “Incident” at Wounded Knee in the 1970’s.
This pilgrimage weekend was the initiative of Robert Two Bulls and his Father, both Episcopal priests. It’s their land we camped on. It’s their bulls we ate. And it’s their trust in the possibilities of Christ’s reconciling work that has brought us here.
When it comes to reconciliation, the Two Bulls and the Taize Brothers see eye to eye on methodology. Or rather, you might say, theology. That is, they both share the conviction that the everyday, simple practice of Christian faith is itself an act of and means towards reconciliation.
Christians need not defer to the more ‘professional’ realms of politics, economics or social science (none of those disciplines have been particularly benevolent to the Lakota in the past anyway). Instead, the Two Bulls and the Brothers share the belief that the historical issues here are complex, the politics messy and the solutions seemingly elusive but, in the meantime, people of faith- no matter how different- CAN sit down and share a meal together, open their home to strangers, share stories and prayer and listen.
And that’s all this weekend has been about. There’s no ‘work project’ or charitable, mission activity- reservations have enough of those and seldom do they yield any sustainable good.
There’s no issue advocacy, passing around of petitions or voting on resolutions- which surely would have dominated this weekend had it been sponsored and run by a denomination (UMC) like my own.
And what teaching there has been about the history, culture and suffering of the Lakota has been first-person, told unrehearsed in small groups or around a meal.
In a culture where Christians of both liberal and conservative stripes defer to politics for hope and change, the Two Bulls and the Brothers would remind us that, for Christians, real change comes through our solidarity in Christ. Indeed a few hours in a place like this and you realize, given the tragedy that is omnipresent, Christ is the only bridge, the only common ground, upon which we have any hope of meeting.
And I think that’s where Taize (here at Pine Ridge or in Burgundy, France) intersects with Emergence Christianity: the conviction that everything must begin with the Gospel authentically embodied and practiced in community.
I’ve always like the rhetoric of Stanley Hauerwas’ maxim: ‘The Church doesn’t have a social ethic. The Church is a social ethic.’
Liking that rhetoric and understanding it are two different things because I think this is first time and place I’ve had any real notion what the hell Hauerwas means.
As Brother Alois, the prior of Taize, said:
“In going to Pine Ridge we want to listen carefully to the story of the Lakota people, and listen together to what the Spirit is saying to us all in our attempt to create a world of solidarity and peace. Only by coming together beyond our differences in a climate of prayer and sharing can we find new ways forward.”
“Forgiveness is God’s act of New Creation performed on the relational level.
Saying ‘I’m willing to listen to you or I forgive you’ is one of the ingredients that ultimately culminates in what Isaiah describes as a New Heaven and a New Earth.’
The surprising thing for me in all this is how disempowering and ennobling an experience this has been.
The Rule of Taize spells it out like this:
‘It is Christ himself whom we welcome as a guest. So let us learn to be welcoming; our hospitality should be generous and discerning.’
White Christians from the States aren’t usually in the objective part of sentences like that one.
We typically think of ourselves as welcoming people in Christ’s name and chiding ourselves- sometimes a bit self-congratulatory- to see Christ in the stranger. But here, we’re the ones being welcomed by people- Americans…more so than us even- who’ve gotten the shaft from my people at nearly every turn, past and present. And that is a humbling (in the sense of stripped bare) experience.
It also means that in some way I am Christ to/for them and maybe that’s the greatest leap of faith of all, for being welcomed here to Pine Ridge by the Lakota leaves me feeling not a little like a blinded Saul being welcomed, nursed and cared for by Ananias, Saul’s former victim.