THE BLOG
12/24/2014 12:06 pm ET Updated Feb 23, 2015

Br. Alois of Taizé on Racial Unrest, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel

Taizé is an ecumenical monastic order in Taizé, Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy, France, founded in 1940 by Brother Roger Schütz, consisting of over one hundred brothers from Protestant and Catholic traditions and about thirty countries across the world.

According to Wikipedia, "The community has become one of the world's most important sites of Christian pilgrimage. Over 100,000 young people from around the world make pilgrimages to Taizé each year for prayer, Bible study, sharing, and communal work."

Brother Alois is the first prior of Taizé since Brother Roger, who was brutally murdered in 2005 during common prayer with nearly 3000 youth present.

I had the distinct privilege of interviewing Brother Alois by telephone from France on December 5, 2014. A more complete version of this hour-long interview can be found here.

***

RTN: Since I first set up our call, St. Louis, MO has somewhat become an epicenter of social unrest and racial tension between black and white persons. I guess I wanted to ask, what words of life would you offer surrounding this issue? What are we to do, and what do we do with our discouragement at racial injustice and the seemingly slow pace with which people seem to wake up to it? What would you have to say surrounding all that has transpired to the level that you are familiar with it?

BA: [Silence]

Oh. Oh. It is impossible to say something from 'outside.'

[Pause]

I do admire the efforts that have been undertaken in the United States to overcome racial difficulties. So many people go beyond these.

But we have to be aware that within all of us - all of us - there can be experiences that we thought we had overcome already. Perhaps, we have to very humbly start in our surroundings, where we live, also here in Europe, to overcome these barriers, in a very concrete way, by starting to visit other people, by going to the other communities, by being close, by overcoming borders.

I remember in the nineties we had a Pilgrimage of Trust in Dayton, Ohio. I was there to prepare the meetings together with some other brothers. We had a regular prayer each week for several months during preparation, and we saw how important it was to have our meetings each week on the other side of the Great Miami River going through Dayton. Because on one side of the river was the white community and the other side was the black community, and I realized that the denominational borders were less strong than the river that divided the city in these two parts. I remember trying to bring people together, going from one side to the other, by inviting people from the different sides to come together in a prayer. To put ourselves together in the presence of God, and to ask him to take away from our heart all remaining mistrust, and racial response in our own hearts...

It is as important that our laws and our social systems are reformed in order to be more just - that all traces of racial attitudes that could still be resident in our laws and rules be reformed. Of course! But the struggle must go together with this personal commitment in order to be credible...It cannot just be only a political commitment without any personal conviction and attitude. This shouldn't be missing in our politics - a personal commitment for human society. We need politicians who are credible because of their personal commitment. We need both.

RTN: How do we do that hard work of the heart, where it is such an affront to the ego to realize that the vestiges of so many forms of injustice and sin are still resident? It is offensive to the ego to make such a suggestion. How do we adapt a posture of humility that enables us to look in the interior? How does that happen?

BA: I wonder if, not only as individuals, but as Christians, couldn't we ask ourselves in our churches, "What signs can we live now in order to show that we are ready to go beyond these tensions, beyond the borders?" Even in our churches we meet separately too much. I see it here in Europe - the immigrants often meet in their own churches, and the people of the country have their own churches. We should move beyond these cultural borders in our own churches. We could do a lot, and there would be a lot of potential, maybe people who would be ready if there was an animation by those responsible in this direction.

RTN: Who is Jesus, and what is his Gospel?

BA: [Silence]

When I think of Jesus I am always very astonished. How is it possible that this person, living 2000 years ago, had such a radiance, and was such a light? The incredible way that people believed in his resurrection!

In Jesus I always see two images:

One image is the person who healed people - surely, he was healing people! The one who was risen from the dead, the one who breaks all the borders.

And on the other hand - a very poor person, a very simple person.

Bringing these two images together is the work of the Gospels. When we read the Gospels we see both - the poor Jesus and we see the strong Jesus.

He is the one who told us that 'God is love...' There is no violence in him. No violence against any person within him. God is love. He tells us that, and he tells us that this is not just an idea, but it's the strength in the Holy Spirit he sends us from God that continues to animate the love of God among us...

And this is the heart of the Gospel! God is love. This is the truth. Jesus was also speaking of the truth of God, but the truth is that God is love. In a way this message is very vulnerable, but it has to be vulnerable, because love is vulnerable. Love is not imposing something! And Jesus did not impose, he accepted. He took the violence onto him. He didn't impose his message, because the message that God is love cannot be imposed! But this is the heart of the Gospel.

This is why we are living together here, in our community, to live this message. Brother Roger repeated the words of a Christian from the 7th Century: "God can only give his love."

A more complete version of this interview can be found here.