When I was growing up, my parents sent me to a private Christian school, and we were often told that God lived inside each of us, that we were all God’s children, that we were all connected to each other, that we were brothers and sisters in Christ, and that God was in everything. As a child, this concept was too big for me to really comprehend.
As an adult, however, this concept did not elude me, it plagued me. I was not living in a way that honored the notion that “we are all connected.” Quite the contrary. I had my tribes: my political tribe, my cultural tribe, my family tribe, even my tribal college and professional sport teams. I had my flags and I planted them firmly in the ground, and I clung to them as if they were the breath of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness itself, and everyone else was an outsider who didn’t “get” how wrong they were in **their** opinions, beliefs, and tribal affiliations. The deeper I dug my heels into *my* opinions and beliefs, the harder my heart grew. My heart would race, my blood pressure rise, and a wall would begin to erect around compassion and grace in my heart, and only rage and righteousness, pride and arrogance flourished. And the people in my tribes agreed with me, encouraged me, validated me. We raged about our rightness. We threw our fists in the air at everyone else’s stupidity and ignorance. And we celebrated how wise we were. And then at night, when I would pray, I would pray that *they* would figure it out, that *they* would wake up, that *they* would come to their senses because, oh dear Lord, how could they not see how wrong and misguided they were? And these prayers were sincere because I believed my way was the only way to true peace.
Have you ever felt that intense, burning rage at the ignorance, stupidity, or blind arrogance of someone else and their tribe? Conservative or Progressive? Guns? Abortion? School mascots? Race? Police? Statues? Flags? Face Masks? LGBTQ+?
We have lots of tribes.
Looking in the mirror
Carl Jung postulated that everyone we meet is really a reflection of ourselves, that that which we do not like in another is but a reflection of the same issue that has not been addressed, acknowledged, or integrated in ourself. If this was true, I thought, I was in big trouble because there were a lot of people I didn’t want to be a “reflection” of.
In spiritual circles, there is the concept of dualism, a notion which states that we feel separate from the creative force which made us. We see this separation echoed in our tribal affiliations. To cling to our tribes is to cling to our separation from God. This was a tough concept for me to comprehend: to know that each time I took a side (in particular, a side that was grounded in indignation, pride, or arrogance -- which all of them were) was to keep myself separate from God.
Allow me, for a second, to explain. I could defend every belief, every concept, with something: a biblical quote, a governmental, fundamental right, a historical precept, but when I would bring this belief or opinion to the light -- to God -- and ask for a defense, I was met, again and again, with the same answer: Love more.
I didn’t want to love more. I wanted to be right.
How could I love my neighbor as myself when I couldn’t even handle their ignorant opinions? How could I learn that to love my neighbor was to love God? And, not only in word, but in deed, thought, and action. Honestly, many of my deeds (like Facebook posts), thoughts, and actions -- had they been said to the face of God -- would only bring shame: terrible, terrible shame.
When I sat back and really looked at why I dug in my heels, I could only accept that it was not for any other reason than I wanted to defend myself...but defend myself against what? A different opinion or belief? This was not bringing me closer to God. This only took me further away. To get closer to God, I needed to let go of the illusions I held about right and wrong and look only for that which would bring me closer to love. To love other people -- especially those who were diametrically opposed in every way to everything I stood for -- was a tall order, and I was being directed to love them more.
God issued a challenge. He held up a mirror. Could I look into it?
Every vehemently held belief that I had, they had one too. Their passion was just as passionate as mine. Their justifications were just as justified as mine. Who was right? Who was wrong? When I looked into the mirror -- how could I not see myself in the same way they saw me: was I not the exact same? Just as stubborn in my beliefs as they were in theirs? How different was I, really, from *them*.
The truth is that we were (and are) one in the same. Two sides of the same coin. And God, well, God sits in the middle. The only way to bridge the distance between me and *them* would be through love, because, yes, God loved *them* as much as He loved me, and the only barrier to that Truth was my egoic pride.
That is a hard mirror to look into.
So what happened after three or so years of deep reflection? Well, I buried my tribal affiliations, my “flags.” I look for the higher good now. My choices are choices based on what would benefit as many of ALL my brothers and sisters in Christ as they can. I look for what benefits humanity as a whole. It’s not one or the other, this or that, left or right -- it’s love and prayer that drive my choices.
Don’t get me wrong -- I am not perfect, by any means. The choice to move away from my opinions, my beliefs, my “tribes” is one that I must renew often. This is choice: a choice to love more, and many days I fail miserably. But when I pray, I no longer pray for **them** to see, but for me to see better, clearer, and with wisdom and grace. A painful truth is one in which you realize how wrong you have been. To neutralize a tribal affiliation -- that is an act of courageous love.
Since the early days of the COVID-19 shut down, the world has fallen into what feels like chaos. I see it on Facebook, in the faces of family and friends: everyone is trying to get their bearings, trying to determine which “tribe” to attach to. I am not. And I am so grateful for that. But, we are all feeling the shift. We know God is calling, trying to tell us something. We want to believe that there is a “reason” to all of this. What that reason is, I could only begin to guess, but I have a strong suspicion that part of it is God holding up a mirror for us, issuing us a challenge:
Move past your tribes.
Open your hearts.
Will you accept?
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.