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broken liturgy and Peter Rollins

brokenliturgyLast night I attended broken liturgy with Pete Rollins.

Wow. It was amazing.

broken liturgy is, as the creative team behind it (John HardtChristopher Cocca, and Lin Preiss) will tell you, hard to describe.

It deconstructs liturgy and church (the tag line is "church undone") and at the same time is incredibly generative. It is avantgard and ancient. The MacBook sits on the piano. Hand cut figures are hand-placed on the the digital projection screen. It does not promise answers. It offers an experience, which is open to whatever you bring to it. It doesn't explain. It doesn't tie things up neatly at the end. The lights just come on. The ending is liminal: no permisson, no instruction, no dismissal. (Unlike my Lutheran tribe, which can't leave a room unless someone says, "Go in peace. Serve the Lord.") It is music, poetry, art, and story, beautifully and carefully combined. And it is broken. Over pints afterward, the team and Pete recounted some of the hiccups in the program and also noted that that's kind of the point. We are broken people—and this is a liturgy by and for broken people.

The False Promise of Escape

The language of brokenness is familiar to many in the church, thanks in large part (at least for me) to Henri Nouwen. And yet, as Pete Rollins, brilliantly laid out in his message (as he does in his books), we often just pay it lip service, meanwhile treating liturgy as a quest for perfection, and promising people perfection, salvation, the escape from our ordinary lives—if only they would come to Bible study, worship, pray constantly, and serve on four committees. We talk about brokenness, he said, but we act as if we are still on the quest for perfection, as if we as clergy have all the answers, desperately covering up the fact that we are full of shit like everyone else.


As a ministry practitioner, the message was clear: look at the ways you undermine in your actions the very graced-based theology you proclaim. Rollins likened his experience as a kid when the world promised him a rocketpack, which he could use to escape his mundane life. In the same way, the church promises us wings to escape our daily realities. He said, "I did it all and still nothing. In fact, when I finally got to the center of the church I realized it was the most cynical place of all." He said, don't make church into people's only sacred object—their only means of grace. Rollins said, "There is no burning bush. But the world is on fire." That is, church and liturgy are not meant to help you transcend this world, they are meant to push us more deeply into it—and that is where we will find God. In the mundane, the ordinary, the bullshit, our suffering and that of others. 

Room for Ambiguity

broken liturgy makes room for ambiguity with its ambient music, spoken world reflections which are a combination of poetry, memory, images, and deep truth rushing up between them, and in the slowly evolving work of art emerging before over the course of the hour on the screen. It invited response at the deepest level and resisted telling us what to do, think, or feel. 

Experimental and Provisional

broken liturgy is experimental and provisional—as the life of faith should be. Each liturgy is unique and may or may not be repeated. Like IKON in Belfast and New York, it is inspired by the work of Pete Rollins, who joined the group for the first time last night. Learn more on their website.

Here's a short video with music and images from a recent broken liturgy: 

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