Something about the problem of tribe

Something about the problem of tribe

I read a few blogs. Ok, more than a few, enough to feel regularly overwhelmed with the catch-up reading.

I could stop. Or cull them down. I don’t because, generally, each unique post takes me to a thought previously unthunk, or fills my spirit with gratitude or lifts me closer to God. Who would want to get off that train?

Which is why I felt such perplexing consternation recently at the conclusion of a well-written, entertaining and poignant piece on ‘Tribe’. The writing expressed the joy the author felt when her female friends rallied around her through thick and thin. About how they stood guard in times of depression, house moves, marriage, sickness. This piece celebrated female friendship in all its glorious goodness, and at first read, I felt compelled to offer congratulations for the successful formation of said Tribe. I mean, isn’t that the mountain top of female aspiration right there? Carrie Bradshaw, Taylor Swift and Paleo Pete shout a resounding ‘Yes’! Apparently, tribes are terribly important for the modern woman, and this was a beautiful example of active friendship.

So why the angst?

I left the post for several days. My strategy for anything feather-ruffling big or small. All too often my first reaction, on slow deliberation, proves unsubstantiated and, in time, a kinder reading rises to the surface. I was willing to let this tribe thing grow on me.

It didn’t.

And it didn’t go away either. I was thinking ‘tribe’ pushing the pram to school and seeing ‘tribe’ smashed across articles from paleo food to vaccination. Did I mention I can be a little single-minded, o.k it’s true, but amongst the eye-rolling in my direction and comments about the ‘angry lady’ I believe there is a truth unspoken, and it is this:

To whom does glory belong? Our friends, or our Father in Heaven? To whom do we go for wisdom and comfort? Who is our shelter and strength, an ever-present help in trouble?

To keep this simple, I’d like to offer a couple of reasons why I feel compelled to protest this rising concept of Tribe amongst Jesus followers. I realise I run the risk of being barred entry from all future tribe events; baby showers, wine nights and so forth. I’ll try to keep it succinct.

Here we go.

First. The Bible does not talk about a tribe. It speaks of community. It speaks of the Body. An eclectic, non-homogenous mash-up from every persuasion. People you are instructed to love when doing so feels most impossible. People who get under your skin because they fail to guard, fail to support, fail to say all the right things at the right time and some who are simply downright unreliable. Those people, the Bible says, we love the most.

Next. The Bible points us to Christ crucified. The world points us to imitations.

In our relationship with Jesus, we are promised every form of contentment, love, satisfaction, joy and bonding we could ever need. The world offers us a poor replacement for these gifts, shiny plastic copies which momentarily glisten. Friendship is one. In the previous century, romantic love became the object of aspiration and fulfilment. Hitherto, marriage had been a predominantly practical affair. With the rise of feminism, women were told ‘no, men cannot satisfy us, goodness they could barely begin to understand our complexities’. Only female friendship of the most loyal variety will sustain us. ‘Honey,’ they said, ‘what you need is a Tribe’.

The idol of friendship was born.

Books such as the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, t.v series like Sex In The City, and community groups of every description from Paleo to Corporate Womanhood burst onto our dashboard.

You need to find where you belong, they told us, join a circle of sameness and be safe.

So we polarised. We legitimised keeping the undesirables out and the acceptable in. We do it with race; we do it over food choices, we do it to our own sisters at the church door. It’s not cool.

Lastly. If your tribe is a closed circle then, really, it’s a clique. Folks, we all know what that means. Access is limited, acceptance must be earned, and rules of entry, however dubious, are entrenched. Cliques are designed to keep outsiders…out. They are ugly and mean regardless of the marketing. I believe that there is a very faded, grey line between the two concepts and as people who love Jesus, who want to be like him, and who earnestly want the world to know him too, why even go there!

The Kingdom of God is inclusive – never exclusive – we can model that too. Let’s build community, the kind that doesn’t need a secret password.

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