Tribal spiritual community

Photo credit: Matt via Flickr

Centuries of history have taught us that human beings are tribal by nature. Of course, most of us don’t need a history book to tell us that. We’ve spent much of our life trying to get in, fit in, and stay in the tribe of our preference.

If you want a reminder, think about your high school daze and how desperately you wanted to be identified with a particular group. I remember the options when I was in school:

  • There were the jocks (not a good fit because I wasn’t big enough or fast enough).
  • There were the cheerleaders (‘girls only’ back then, but you would not have wanted to see me in a miniskirt).
  • There were the brainiacs (my mediocre grades did not qualify).
  • There were the preppies (not wealthy enough to even keep up with their dress code).
  • There were the nerds (not a good fit for me, and besides; you don’t join this clique, you have to be elected).
  • I didn’t fit into any of these groups in high school, which left only two options: the invisibles and the rebels. I was often in both those groups at the same time.

And of course this desperate need to belong doesn’t end at our high school graduation; it haunts us the rest of our life. And I would like to think of myself as a person who is not trapped by the need to belong, but is that true? Because when I pull out my wallet and look at the cards in it, I see all kinds of evidence to the contrary, and these are just the cards I carry!

I am obviously someone who wants to fit in, and I am not alone. One of our deepest desires as humans is the hunger to belong, and whether we realize it or not, we spend much of our life trying to get in and stay in our chosen tribe. Most of us are willing to do whatever it takes to become insiders. It’s just the way we’re wired. Think about it: we were all created in the image of a relational God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perpetual community), so we are relational by nature, and you and I will only begin to experience life fully when we move toward healthy community. Your soul and mine will never be satisfied with anything less because our need for relationships comes from the very core of our being.

Sadly, some of us are continually sabotaging ourselves by ignoring this fact, thinking we can somehow love God while keeping others at a safe distance, yet love, by its very nature, can never be between God and us alone. Jesus made that clear in his statement about what is most important in life: loving God and loving others. These are such inseparable truths that Jesus offered the two as being one. Why? Because love is not static. It is ever expanding. Love always grows not just deeper, but wider. The deeper your love for God, the broader your love will be for others.

When we belong to God, we belong to one another, and our belonging to one another is not coincidental. In John 13, Jesus tells us, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My apprentices, if you love one another.”

What an amazing statement. This teaching so impacted the apostle John that when he wrote letters to the churches he served, he told them over and over to love one another. 1 and 2 John are filled with teaching about how loving others is integrally linked to loving God.

John echoes Jesus in saying this will be the defining mark of a Christ follower. Why? Because nothing so astonishes a broken, distrustful world as a community in which radical, genuine love is shared among its members. There are many people who have shared interests (everything from sports to music to cooking to politics), but it is the mission of the church to become a community of love, a circle of Christ followers who love not out of obligation, but from hearts overflowing with Jesus.

At the same time, these overflowing-with-love people are not perfect. A healthy community is not a place of perfect people. That place just doesn’t exist. The problem, of course, is that we are all hypocrites in transition. I am not who I want to be, but I am moving in that direction, and thankfully I am not person I used to be. And I need to be open and honest about being a work in progress. Honesty is the only context in which love can develop. Jesus invites us into a community where imperfect people can find acceptance, love, forgiveness, and a new beginning.

Have you found a spiritual community like that? A group where you can love and be loved, know others and be known by them? A body of believers where you ‘fit’ and have value? For it is here, Jesus says, that his followers will be marked and make their mark on the world.

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