Scary Diversity – When I found out how backwards I am

God does not talk to me.
I don’t pray about things, I think about them. For me the Holy Spirit is an abstract idea, someone who is mainly present in worship situations. I never raise my hands and I never pray together with others, standing in circles, out loud. On the contrary, I believe that I don’t have to pray about, or even pray for things because God will provide what is good for me and lead me on the best path anyway.

And then I came to the United States where everything is different.

God talks to my wife. Sometimes, she says, she can feel a “quickening” in her heart and she becomes very still and listens. She and all of her Christian friends pray about things before they make a decision. On Sundays they are so moved by the Holy Spirit, they often raise their hands in worship. They call each other brothers and sisters and stand in circles to pray together… out loud.

Am I less religious than my wife? Continue reading “Scary Diversity – When I found out how backwards I am”

The powerless Jesus

They call him the powerless Jesus. The statue in Sant’Egidio, a 16th century church in Rome is very old. Age and circumstances have left this Jesus without his cross… and without arms. All we can see is his beaten body, the pain on his face and in his eyes. He is dying, tortured and crucified. The sacrifice of sacrifices, the moment Jesus, the human was at his weakest, most fragile, most powerless. The moment when he was nothing more than a body, broken by ignorance, fear, lies and betrayal.

For some reason this statue touches me more than the average statue of the crucified Christ. Jesus on the cross always makes me sad, yes, but it also always makes me proud, makes me smile. This man sacrificed his life for me because he couldn’t help but love me, you, us so much. It is this unconditional love, the compassion for those who hurt him, the forgiveness for those who killed him that touches me, that makes me proud to be one of those beloveds.

The arms, outstretched and nailed to cross are for me the ultimate symbol of Christ’s love, the never-ending embrace, the eternal invitation to come and simply be accepted as we are. This was, this is what makes Jesus, the human man, so powerful: His ability to love, his ability for compassion and forgiveness.

Continue reading “The powerless Jesus”

A Christian Utopia

Sometimes these days it seems to be nearly impossible that the different Christian denominations can live together as neighbors and not just tolerate but actually accept and respect each other. When I look at contemporary Christianity and then remember the young man in the desert of Israel who spoke about neighborly love, compassion, simplicity and mercy, I almost feel ashamed because unfortunately I don’t see it all to often in the churches around me.

Having the truth means power. Power means profit. Profit means growth. Growth means (or so they say) that they have the truth.
As a German in the United States I can’t help but feel that this is what some denominations support and even encourage. It seems to be a similar to medieval times when the Catholic Church built its great cathedrals with the money of peasants who were afraid of hell fire. Today, it’s not called sale of indulgence anymore but the concept seems to be the same… and it still works. Are you really a good Christian if you do not sacrifice enough money and time for your church? Whatever “enough” means…

I have always wished for a place that was different.
A place where Christians meet as Christians, not as Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, etc..
A place where they can openly discuss the bible and its implications because the bible (and its meaning) are not written to be jealously guarded by a few select men. It wouldn’t make much sense to have such an important message like the bible and not make it available for everyone.
A place where everyone is welcomed as a sibling, no matter their race, nationality, denomination, level of education, sexual orientation or gender identity.
A place where people can focus on listening to God and be in intimate privacy with God without being disturbed by loud music, or a show act on stage.
A place where, as John Paul II put it: “One passes through as one passes close to a spring of water.”

Luckily, I found this place when I was 15 years old. It exists in a tiny village in southern France called Taizé. The ecumenical Community of Taizé, an order of monks, lives there surrounded by the peaceful landscape of Burgundy. They meet for contemplative prayer three times a day and incorporate aspects of several denominations into their services and lives.
But the best thing about these monks is that they do not keep that little Christian Utopia for themselves. They share it. They share it with the youth of the world. Since the 1960s hundred thousands of young adults have visited this community, shared the life of the brothers for a week, go to daily bible study, discuss the bible in small international groups and learn. They learn so much. About themselves and about others.
They learn openness, compassion, different opinions, cultural diversity, simplicity and above all that in all their differences and diversity they are all children of God. And that is how it is supposed to be.

Or again in the words of pope John Paul II: “One passes through Taizé as one passes close to a spring of water.” Pure, refreshing and entirely good for body and soul.

But why stop here? Why escape to far away monasteries for peace, silence and acceptance? The brothers of Taizé insist that their monastery is not a place to stay but a place to take wings. There is a reason why they have focused on the youth of the world for 60 years. It is us who make tomorrow. It is us who shape the churches, who shape the Christianity of tomorrow. It won’t be easy and it won’t happen fast. But ours is tomorrow’s world, if we dare to start shaping it today.
It’s good to know that we will always have that “spring of water” to strengthen us.