This Week in Church: Unity and Tribalism

Welcome to the series wherein I share my take-aways from church. The things that, I think, are beneficial to all of us to know or think about, whether or not we believe in any church-related things.

I think that church can teach things that are beneficial to everyone, whether or not we believe in church-related things.

This week in church we talked about unity.

How apropos, the Sunday after an election, that we talk about unity. (Let alone, you know, everything that's been happening in the world for what feels like forever but is actually only a few years.) We've talked about it before, and it's kind of a big thing, so I'm sure we'll talk about it again, because it's kind of a big deal.

Here are my main takeaways this time:

Begrudging or manipulative unity is not real unity. Real unity comes from everyone freely agreeing that being together is more important than the things they disagree about, without pretending they no longer disagree on those things.

Humility is required to achieve unity. You have to be willing to see the value in the other person, to have real conversations with them, and to seek understanding. You have to be able to entertain a thought pattern without accepting it, step into someone else's shoes, and remember that your "rightness" may not be not the most important thing. That's humility! And it's hard!

"Each of us must turn inward and destroy in themselves all that they think they ought to destroy in others."
-Etty Hellesum
(Note: I changed the quote from gendered terminology, referring to "each of us" in male terms, to gender neutral terms, assuming that Etty meant this for everyone but was writing in a time when male was the default.)

This week in church we talked about tribalism.

After some conversations with an Indigenous friend of mine, whenever people talk about tribalism, my antenna goes up. Because I think we talk about tribes and tribalism wrong these days. We talk about tribes in terms of people dividing up to draw clear lines of us vs. them and justify war against the other. My understanding now is that while tribes do provide a clear us/them division, it's not about fighting or othering. It's about practicality, loyalty, and respect. The respect is for everyone, not just your own tribe.

So what this tells me is that, if we are indeed separating off into our own tribes, I want to try to approach others in what I think is the true spirit of tribalism: respect. When I'm in someone else's territory (whatever that means), I am going to respect their practices and their rituals. When someone's in my territory, I'm going to help them know what I expect and be gracious that they might not get it right. When another tribe does something that seems odd or wrong to me, I'm going to start by remembering that they have a whole different set of expectations and practices than me and respect that.


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