I need a “Tribal Allegiance.” I need to know where I come from and how it defines me. Much help is required as I try to define, “me.” This is why the old Marine commercials were so powerful on me as a kid, “The few, the proud, the Marines.”
I wanted to be part of a few. I wanted to feel a deep sense of pride. I wanted to become a Marine.
I never attained entrance into that tribe. I never landed myself squarely into any Tribe. I spent my life from the age 19-21 searching for God knows what, and acting like a buffoon. I had nowhere to belong. Everything I held tightly showed itself transient. It all slipped away or rather fell away like a bomb from a plane with no concern for the lasting impact.
I returned to college (for the 2nd time) and studied theology. In my 2+ years away from school, I thought I had finally landed into a Tribe. The Jesus tribe. I was in the Way, headed toward the Truth, and living the Life. I was reading my Bible. I was praying and even started a prayer journal. I found a church. I served constantly. I longed to be a part of this Tribe.
In my studies, I was blindsided by a deeper, bigger Christ reality. The reality that my Tribal search would fail me (even and especially if it was a Tribal search for Jesus). It would leave me wanting. Ultimately, this search did not start with me, nor will it end with me. Generally speaking, every person ever has entered into this search. This Tribal need is what allows “the powers that be” to use propaganda to get their subjects to invest in a certain set of beliefs or an idea.
My professors challenged this desire within me. They pushed me to interpret the text in different, new, and inclusive ways. I had spent my life using the Jesus story to exclude others. I wanted a clear cut understanding of who was in and who was out. They pressed me toward a bigger picture where the teachings of Jesus are no longer used to bully others into doing what I find correct. Rather, these professors taught me to see the teachings of Jesus as inclusive, barrier-breaking truths.
These barrier-breaking truths were used by the early church to push back on the propaganda truths being spread by the Roman Empire. These teachings broke down the tribal realities and opened up a world which allowed Hebrew, Greek, Slave, Free, Male, and Female to dwell in unity and have genuine love for the other.
Weirdly enough, today’s Christian America has co-opted a few of Jesus’ teachings and uses them to exclude entire groups of people. The early church tried to do this with Moses’ law on circumcision. The majority Jewish church was uncomfortable with the inclusive work being done to include Gentiles. They were irked by Peter and Paul working toward a full immersion and inclusion without first being circumcised (Acts 10&15). In other words, they must look like us to become one of us.
What are the barriers we set up for the sake of safety and comfort?
I can think of a few, but I will let you come up with your own.
Ultimately, my thought process is this: “We want a tribe. We want to be included in a tribe. We want it so bad that we will exclude anyone different than us to protect our tribe. Jesus pushed his context beyond their tribal mindset. He saw the outsiders in their made-in-God’s image nature. He refused the preconceived notions of entire groups of people. Rather, he loved The Other (Samaritans, women, lepers, blind, poor, crippled, etc.) beyond the comfort level of those around him.”
We have tried for long enough integrating our American virtues with Jesus virtues and acting as if they are headed in the same direction. The value Jesus places on the life of The Other is far different than the value we place. He allowed his life to be taken for their sake; we will allow abuse on their life for ours. He was called a friend of sinners for their sake; we make sure no one (outside the Tribe) can call us their friend to protect our image.
Somehow, we have gotten into bed with power. We have replaced the subversive power of the Jesus story with a diluted, deodorized, declawed version which finds its roots in safety. We have, like Thomas Jefferson, clipped and erased the parts that challenge us with tangible love of neighbor. We replace it with, “all men are created equal.” Which means, all men ought to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get their life in order.
What we miss in this scenario are the times in which we were pulled up by our powerful families or friends by our bootstraps while we whined, wept, and tried to wiggle out of it. We cannot recognize our own history of empowerment.
When I say “we” I am generally speaking of what Dr. King called the “White moderate.” I am part of this class. This class of people that continually look at progress and say, “let’s put that in a holding pattern – we aren’t ready.” We were wrong when Dr. King was pushing us toward inclusion. We are wrong in a lot of areas today.
May God give us eyes to see and ears to hear where we need to push beyond our Tribal instinct to include The Other.
Grace and Peace,