Brother JOHN of Taizé. Friends in Christ, Paths to a New Understanding of Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2012. pp. 184. $22.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-000-6.
Reviewed by Francis BERNA, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141

Parables turn the world upside down and inside out. Their words first strike the hearer as odd, then amazing. Finally, if one listens carefully, the words ring true. Brother John explores the community of Taizé as parable in two instances. The first instance takes up the community as a lived expression of church as friendship in Christ. He briefly details the early history and highlights some powerful moments of his own life in the community. He finds Taizé’s attractiveness to young people, and their rich experience when they visit, truly amazing. A return to this point will follow.

The second instance of the ecumenical community as parable serves as the book's conclusion. The author describes how “a pathological act put an end to the life of the founder,” Brother Roger ( p. 167). After a brief moment of chaos, one of the brothers began singing Laudate omnes gentes (Give praise, all you people). Peace returned to the community as the people lifted their voices to the praise of God. The author writes, “Can we not see this as a subtle indication that the life animated by the Spirit of God is stronger than death, songs of praise more powerful than cries of hatred and fear?” (p. 167). He goes on to liken the ensuing days and funeral to the “great multitude” of Revelation (7:9), the gathering of people from every tribe, language and nation before the throne of the Lamb.

This second parable, particularly when connected to the text of Revelation, fittingly portrays the ultimate goal of the Church. The first rendering of Taizé as parable describes the way. Brother John describes well the challenges to the Christian faith in contemporary culture. He explores the commonly proclaimed tension between religion and spirituality. The reader can come to appreciate his distinction between lived community and institutional structures. Christian spirituality locates the believer in the community while recognizing the secondary character of specific structures. At the same time, the author makes clear that the community needs concrete and specific expression.

Brother John proposes friendship as the dynamic for both the internal and external life of the Christian community. Friendship transcends distinctions of office and ministry in the life of the community. A spirit of friendship allows different Christian Churches and communities to live in mutual respect. Friendship holds the hope of a deeper ecumenism. And, friendship provides a means for the Church to fulfill the Gospel mandate to proclaim Christ to the nations. The proclamation does not impose or coerce. The Church dialogues with others in a spirit of listening and by means of offering friendship to all. This is an experience of community that so many find when they visit Taizé. The community serves as a parable of possibility that young people find terribly attractive.

Friendship in Christ offers a depth of content perhaps not suggested in a quick survey of the text. Brother John provides a brief but thorough overview of the history of friendship in the West. He explores biblical and theological dimensions. And, he employs the technical language of res and sacramentum to develop an understanding of the nature of the Church as well as its mission.

Readers familiar with Taizé will appreciate the theological articulation of the community’s experience as a model for contemporary Christianity. Those less familiar with the ecumenical vision of Brother Roger will read a rich parable and its theological interpretation. Every reader can find a vision of hope for the Church today in the pages of this text with words that ring true.

TO ORDER BOOKS: - Continuum - Crossroad - Eerdmans Publishing - Liturgical Press - Orbis Books