Who Are My People?
But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.” He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.” Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.”
The Anointing at Bethany1
Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
We live in a tribal world, and Donald Trump is not the cause of it. The racial division in our nation goes back before our foundations… inherited from every nation that populated our country, including the Native Americans, some of whom engaged in tribal warfare even before European colonists gave them a common enemy. If there was one thing that the English, and perhaps the Spanish as well were able to do, it was to draw groups of people together, at least temporarily, under a common enemy. I say English and Spanish because up until the early 1900’s the Irish, Italian, Polish, etc. were not considered “white”. After WWI and WWII Germans were judged with much suspicion, even though it was their nation that helped market the idea of a superior “white” race. Scandinavians, French, and some of the Northern European cultures could pass in this country until they spoke, after which, their non-American, Non-British accent would give them away as a foreigner. So what we have called racism has really been more about hundreds and thousands of tribes that cannot seem to get along.
It goes even further when you factor in lifestyles. Economic status, job type, home neighborhood… these are all markers of identity by which we judge one another, and while someone from small-town Kansas might not care which part of New York City a person lived in, you better believe New Yorkers would. And they might judge the small-town Kansas person as being backward, unprogressive, and a whole line of prejudices that go along with it. Those outside our tribe are not always seen as a fully dignified human being, the way we consider our own people.
Writers, musicians, and other artists celebrate this growing emergence of tribalism because it simplifies marketing and allows the artist to create and perform for their own chosen group, rather than diluting their work down to a more general appeal. Seth Godin makes a living teaching this very concept.
There is loads of tribalism in Scripture, and a lot of sin that stems from it going all the way back to Cain and Abel – brothers (or sisters) who cannot tolerate being part of the same family. Jesus retells the story as that of a family reunion… of every tribe gathering together to worship God.2 I don’t see an explicit condemnation of tribalism, certainly not enough to be consistently repeated. If anything, the prophets and Paul, in Romans 2 imply that God speaks to us in our own tribalistic language, letting us all know that we belong to the wrong tribe and need to come join His own group.
No, I think that our unique edges are something God celebrates. They are not wrong, but they are incomplete. We are all like puzzle pieces, and God is the only one who can see the big picture of how we all fit together. We can exist on our own, but we miss our true purpose. It makes us all like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys who never really grow up, wanting to stay just as we are forever, but after awhile we begin to see that it just means that we don’t really fit in anywhere but among ourselves.
God wants our tribes to grow up. The tribes of rich and poor, the tribes of political alliances, the tribes of ancestry and neighborhoods… we all need to figure out how we fit together. We need to learn from each other and we need to lift each other up, because I am convinced there will come a day when the truth will be revealed: that we need each other.
Who do you identify as your tribe?
What other tribes do you interact with?
How is God leading your tribe to bring others closer to Him?