Archives For Taize at Pine Ridge

Taize-Pine-Ridge-2013Not being a football fan, I was only vaguely aware that pressure has been mounting in the business and political (both R’s and D’s) community for the Washington Redskins to change their name and mascot.

I know a slew of Redskins fans and the last thing I want to do is incite their wrath or to receive and respond to the types of shameful, ignorant comments you can read at the bottom of this ESPN post.

Here’s my two cents.

As I’ve posted, I spent Memorial Day weekend at Red Shirt Table on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I was there with a thousand other Christians from around the world for a Taize Pilgrimage.

We were all there at the invitation of Robert Two Bulls, a Lakota Indian and Episcopal Priest. We camped on his land, ate his buffalo, prayed alongside him and listened to his and his family’s stories of suffering and injustice.

Aside:
I’d never really thought too much about it until I was actually there, but how F-d up is it that America has sovereign nations within itself all due to our incredibly sinful, corrupt history towards entire people groups?

I was getting coffee Sunday morning, standing in line in the rain by the back porch of Robert’s little white church, when someone- another pilgrim like me- asked Robert Two Bulls about…

…yep, the Washington Redskins name.

The shame, anger, hurt, disappointment- you name it- that immediately crept across and through every crevice in his old face was heartbreaking and said it all. photo-3

The mascot is symbolic but not, primarily, for the past suffering and injustice meted out to Indians- the history we kinda half learn in history class after which we reassure ourselves that that’s all ‘history’ now.

It’s symbolic of how their suffering and injustice is very much a present-tense experience.

It’s symbolic of how invisible their suffering remains to an America that remains comfortably ignorant of them.

As I said, I’m not a football fan. My time at Pine Ridge, though, convinces me of one thing.

That a GAME is the only Indian issue in the American consciousness, the only Indian issue about which Americans’ are passionate enough to write hundreds of comments to online stories, is what the Church calls SIN.

It’s the stuff of Righteous Anger:

“Therefore, because you trample on the poor…I hate, I despise your festivals sports, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies games…But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

– Amos 5 (sort of)

The look on Robert Two Bulls’ face when asked about the Redskins’ name was, I would argue, costlier than any of Dan Snyder’s free agent signings.

As a baseball fan, I get the arguments about historic sporting tradition.

As an American, I understand the arguments about government staying out of business.

But as a follower of Christ, I get- rather I was recently knocked upside the head- that following Christ is about solidarity: God’s solidarity with us in Christ and our solidarity with others as Christ.

And there’s something deeply, bible-bad, wrong that most of us feel a greater solidarity with our favorite sports team than with those who suffer.

imagesIf you’re a theology nerd like me, trolling Christian blogs into the wee hours, you notice how many Christians are obsessed over the homosexuality issue. Perhaps rightly so.

Either way, the arguments tend to run one of two ways.

One line of argument is suggest that the progressive perspective runs counter to what Christians have believed over two millennia.

Another line of argument harvests writing from Paul and Acts to hold that current cultural shifts are the ongoing work of God.

Karl Barth might respond to both these arguments by asking: “Who cares?”

In concluding he prolegomena (§1.7.2-3) of his Church Dogmatics, Barth takes a last stab at keeping theology thoroughly biblical in a way that contrast with both Catholic and Modernist theology.

While Barth is aware of how theology is a deeply contextualized endeavor, he’s equally sensitive to how this fact is subject to losing the plot in one of two ways.

In one way, there is the (Catholic, Fundamentalist) danger of turning theology into a repetition of the past. Good theology becomes merely repeating what Thomas Aquinas said, say. Our understanding of what scripture is shackled to what John Calvin believed scripture said. Historical Christianity becomes tantamount to what the church today- and always- should believe and preach.

In another, equally fraught way, theology is always done within a particular culture, which can lead to us simply listening to culture as our defining standard.

This is the mistake of liberal modernism, of unreflectively assuming that what is happening in the world or in culture is equivalent to what God is doing in the world. Eventually, the danger is real that we end up with something that is no longer recognizably Christian.

The work of theology, as Barth understands it, is never simply or uncritically to affirm either what the Church once said and believed or what the world presently says and believes.

Because Christianity is always embodied by sinful people in particular locations, the faith of the past and the present must always be open to correction and criticism.

The Christianity of the past can never become what scripture is, our canon. Rather scripture must always bring the Christianity of the past and the present into critical, revealing light.

I think this is the refreshing both/and manner of Barth’s theology: a recognition that we must never be content with the faith as its been passed down to us because the Bible, as the living word of God will always correct where we have screwed up and carry us to fresh expressions in new times and places.

As you may know from this blog, I spent the Memorial Day weekend at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. That place is just one example of how the Christianity of the past got ample wrong and should not be accepted or rotely repeated without examining it in light of the converting, living Word.

We’re done with chapter 1 of the Dogmatics…on to chapter 2 and Barth’s treatment of ‘revelation.’

5127ee0225791.preview-620If 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. 5127ee0433ed6.preview-620

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.”

5127ee036396c.preview-620Or as Brother John put it in a bible study Saturday morning;

“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.

 

Taize-Pine-Ridge-2013I’m spending the next four days at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota as part of the Taize Pilgrimage of Trust. I’m joined here by 3 others from my church along with thousands of Christian pilgrims 18-35 from around the world as well as the brothers from the Taize Monastic Community in Burgundy, France.

The Taize Community was started by Brother Roger Schultz, himself a Swiss Reformed Protestant, in 1940 as an ecumenical monastery that would in its life together embody peace and reconciliation in postwar Europe.

What started as a small band of brothers from Catholic and Protestant denominations quickly grew to attract over 100,000 ‘pilgrims’ every year for a week at time. These pilgrims come from all over the globe, are primarily youth and young adults and for 7 days seamlessly integrate into the community’s weekly rhythm of fixed hour prayer (worship), bible study, and work.

As I tell people, think ‘Woodstock crossed with a Medieval Monastery.’

Every year the brothers of Taize take their community on the road in order to reconnect with former pilgrims and welcome others who might not be able to make the trek to rural France.

I’ve been to Taize a couple times in the past. The following are my journal reflections from my first pilgrimage.

Taize 2008 016

One of the brothers here yesterday described the community here as the hub or the spoke around which the entire world revolves. ‘We think of our community as the engine that keeps the world running’ he said.

And by ‘community’ he meant the the community’s rhythm of thrice a day prayer and worship. That if they stopped worshipping the world would cease spinning. Their worship, he believes, is what they owe the world.

It’s their vocation.

My first gut reaction to hearing him describe the world and worship this way was to dismiss it as so much pious speech.

That this was my first reaction I feel exposes something, a deficiency, in or about me.

As any good seminary student learns early on, ‘liturgy’ means literally ‘the work of the people.’ The work of the laos NOT the clergy. I don’t know if I’ve ever really grasped what this means until I came here.

Too much or too often our worship is not work (even though it can sometimes feel like work to endure a worship service). Seldom though do we think of our worship as work- as something we do for another.

What I mean is: our worship is most often driven by what people in the pews like or want. We evaluate worship based on its utility, based on what I want, how it makes me feel, whether it ‘feeds’ me or I got something out of it.

And just because I don’t sit in the pews doesn’t mean I’m not guilty too. I cater to that same utilitarian impulse with topical sermon series meant to get people’s attention while other pastors pack secular wisdom into the guise of sermons with series like ‘5 Biblical Principles for a Better Marriage.’

The unspoken goal of most worship is the experience it creates in the worshipper; liturgy becomes instead the work of the clergy for the benefit of the laity. Worship is to serve the needs of the people there. Why else would ‘performance’ be such a strong element of worship be it the choir standing up front as they would in a musical or a band playing on stage as they would at a concert?

What would it be like for a congregation to believe as firmly as Brother Whathisname that if they stopped regular worship their surrounding community would cease to exist? What would it be like for a congregation to gather every Sunday morning in the conviction that ‘this is the work we do on behalf of our little patch of the world?’

The worship here at Taize shouldn’t be so appealing to so many young people.

While all the chants sung here, which make up almost the entirety of the worship, are dated from the late ’50’s on (making them more contemporary than most traditional hymns) the sound is decidedly ancient.

There are no song leaders, no visible cantors, no choir or band up front to lead us. Nothing sounds remotely like anything you’d hear on the radio and yet thousands of people younger than me are sitting on their butts for nearly 5 hours a day singing strange, archaic-sounding music.

The appeal, I think, is the brothers’ conviction that the world needs their worship as much as a body needs water.

 

Taize-Pine-Ridge-2013I’m spending the next four days at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota as part of the Taize Pilgrimage of Trust. I’m joined here by 3 others from my church along with thousands of Christian pilgrims 18-35 from around the world as well as the brothers from the Taize Monastic Community in Burgundy, France.

The Taize Community was started by Brother Roger Schultz, himself a Swiss Reformed Protestant, in 1940 as an ecumenical monastery that would in its life together embody peace and reconciliation in postwar Europe.

What started as a small band of brothers from Catholic and Protestant denominations quickly grew to attract over 100,000 ‘pilgrims’ every year for a week at time. These pilgrims come from all over the globe, are primarily youth and young adults and for 7 days seamlessly integrate into the community’s weekly rhythm of fixed hour prayer (worship), bible study, and work.

As I tell people, think ‘Woodstock crossed with a Medieval Monastery.’

Every year the brothers of Taize take their community on the road in order to reconnect with former pilgrims and welcome others who might not be able to make the trek to rural France.

I’ve been to Taize a couple times in the past. The following are my journal reflections from my first pilgrimage.

How Many Churches Would Tear Down the Sanctuary For Visitors?

The sanctuary here at Taize, taking off on the community’s founding mission, is called the Church of Reconciliation.

It’s hard for me to describe other than to say it’s probably not what you envision when I say monastic community. The floor is cement covered in thin, threadbare carpet. The building is wood and the inside walls are plain, unvarnished and unpainted. Icons of Jesus dot the walls irregularly and closer to the altar the side walls contain small, simple 18×18 stained glass images.

The floor has…no pews. Everyone, brothers and pilgrims, sit on the floor or on tiny (6 inches high) wooden benches they carry in with them. The floor sweeps down towards the altar area so that visibility in a space that can seat over 5K pilgrims is surprisingly good.

The altar area contains open-ended terra cotta pots stacked on top of each other, each with a lit candle inside, that together hearken back to the Christian catacombs. Stretched across the altar wall are two large orange sails that together look either like a dove, a cross, or the fire from the Pentecost story.

Or all three.

And that’s part of the intent.

Taize is radically ecumenical, deliberately using icons and symbols and liturgy that have open-ended meanings. They’re meant to be suggestive not prescriptive. It’s all part of welcoming pilgrims from all parts of the world and all traditions.

The sanctuary is simple, sparer in fact than many Methodist congregations. But it’s beautiful. Hauntingly, entrancingly beautiful.

And here’s the thing.

Taize 2008 016I read yesterday how, just after they finished building the Church of Reconciliation complete with an ornate stained glass rear wall, they anticipated more Easter pilgrims than the sanctuary could hold.

 

And guess what the brothers decided to do?

Add another worship service?

Nope.

Tell them sorry come again another time?

Not a chance.

Without thought, debate or church council vote, they tore down the new back wall of the new sanctuary and erected a circus tent so they could accommodate everyone in worship.

Do I really need to point out that this is the opposite of what most churches would choose?

 

Most churches…as soon as the building gets built the building becomes the focal point of the community’s reason for being. Giving is about giving to the building. Debates are always about the building, who can use it, who owns it, who can do what with it, who is not paying their fair share towards it.

Most churches…they put pictures of their building on the Sunday bulletin as though either a) you didn’t realize where you just drove yourself this morning or b) you’re here to join an organization/institution and not the Body of Christ.

Most churches….struggle to grow and attract new people because they’re stuck paying a mortgage and mortgage payments make for lousy sales pitches.

The brothers here at Taize, having a building prettier than most, still realize what many churches and Christians forget:

They exist to welcome those who are not yet there.

There is a provisional nature to the community here that is instructive. The brothers have a willingness and a readiness to be flexible, to change and adapt, to alter (attributes you likely don’t automatically associate with celibate monastics) all in the aim of welcoming new people- who won’t be back again until next year, if ever.

Nothing here- however important or beautiful or seemingly sacrosanct- is beyond alteration if it gets in the way of their mission. The only lasting thing they care about is your making a good first impression with Jesus Christ.

Not only does this radical hospitality jive with what even the most unchurched person associates with Jesus, I think its exactly what the most unchurched person most craves from his followers.

 

Taize-Pine-Ridge-2013I’m spending the next four days at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota as part of the Taize Pilgrimage of Trust. I’m joined here by 3 others from my church along with thousands of Christian pilgrims 18-35 from around the world as well as the brothers from the Taize Monastic Community in Burgundy, France.

The Taize Community was started by Brother Roger Schultz, himself a Swiss Reformed Protestant, in 1940 as an ecumenical monastery that would in its life together embody peace and reconciliation in postwar Europe.

What started as a small band of brothers from Catholic and Protestant denominations quickly grew to attract over 100,000 ‘pilgrims’ every year for a week at time. These pilgrims come from all over the globe, are primarily youth and young adults and for 7 days seamlessly integrate into the community’s weekly rhythm of fixed hour prayer (worship), bible study, and work.

As I tell people, think ‘Woodstock crossed with a Medieval Monastery.’

Every year the brothers of Taize take their community on the road in order to reconnect with former pilgrims and welcome others who might not be able to make the trek to rural France.

I’ve been to Taize a couple times in the past. The following are my journal reflections from my first pilgrimage.

Incarnating the Gospel: You are the Sermon

For years I studied preaching. ‘Homiletics’ is the official discipline, part theology of preaching and part the art of rhetoric. As a Protestant pastor, my bread and butter is the preached Word- that’s our tradition, our reason to be as Protestants. Many more people call me ‘preacher’ than call me ‘Father’ or anything like that.

And I like to preach. I enjoy the spiritual discipline of having to contend with a text every week, to dare God to speak or not speak to me and, ultimately, through me. Likewise, preaching is how I’ve learned to establish and build credibility with congregants. When I looked impossibly young to be a pastor at the very least my preaching reassured skeptics that I might know how to do a few things reasonably well.

And so it’s strange to me to worship in a place like Taize.

TaizeHere, we worship 3 times a day, between 45-90 minutes each time, every day of the week. Most of the worship is singing the short, repetitive, beautiful chants Taize for which Taize is now famous. The worship includes a scripture reading, usually in several different languages and then silence. Long periods of silence. Where my own congregants can hardly cease rustling their bulletins long enough to achieve silence, here at Taize the silence- of 5K plus pilgrims sitting on a cement floor, mind you-can last anywhere from 10-15 minutes. In the mornings, there’s Eucharist that is celebrated in a boldly ecumenical fashion and evening worship on Fridays and Saturdays mimics Good Friday and Easter.

 

But there’s no preaching. No sermon. Really hardly any spoken word at all- the songs are indicated not by announcement but LED signs on the left and right of the simple but beautiful sanctuary.

 

At the beginning of this week I thought this lack of preaching was surely a deficiency. ‘Doesn’t there need to be sermon?’ the Protestant on my shoulder kept asking. ‘Doesn’t the Word need to be proclaimed’ the Calvinist in me kept wondering; preaching is part of Calvin’s definition of worship in fact.

 

Now that it’s been a week here however I’ve changed my mind.

I now realize the silence is sufficient because the life of the community is its own witness to the Word.

 

The brothers and pilgrims here spend every moment together, studying scripture, sharing their stories, working together, eating together, worshipping and relaxing together.

In most churches, you need the sermon in order to ‘illustrate’ how to ‘apply’ the biblical text to every day life. And in most churches the starting presumption is that the connection between biblical text and every day life is forced at best.

But here at Taize it’s the opposite. It works in reverse. Their life together points to the truth of the biblical text. Acts chapter 2, the Sermon on the Mount, Paul’s Fruits of the Spirit- they’re all on display here both in the brother’s life together and in the hospitable, trusting way they welcome visitors in to that life.

They don’t need a sermon here. They are the sermon.

Together they’re- we’re- incarnating the Gospel in its essence: serving, sharing and worshipping. This is Church, or at least Church stripped of all the unessential, non-Gospel accretions that weigh many congregations down and fog the essence of what a life lived together in Christ looks like.

The word ‘incarnational’ gets bandied about a lot lately in its relation to the emerging future church. While I’m sure that term can mean many things to many people, I think the closest approximation is right here.

If incarnational is the buzzword of the emerging church and ‘intentional community’ its manifestation, then the Church of the future started in 1940 when Brother Roger rode his bicycle to this tiny little village.