Spiritual Practice: Finding Your Tribe

backlit dawn foggy friendship

When I say tribe, I’m not referring to a group of people you were born into, as in a Native American tribe, but in the popular understanding of the word: a distinctive or close-knit group, a group of kindred spirits, people you feel safe with.

Sadly, these are not always the same people as the tribe you were born into, though it is for some lucky folks. Also, your tribe will change over time depending on where you live, work, play and grow as a person. Sometimes, a change in beliefs or political understanding will move you from one tribe to another. Sometimes a job promotion or increase/decrease in your standard of living will propel you from one group to another.

The important thing is, we all need a tribe — people that “get us,” people that are safe. I recently met a young woman who had developed a great group of friends. Later, something happened that showed her they were not her tribe. They betrayed her deeply and gossiped horribly about her. She was devastated and is now having trouble trusting anyone else. That is a hard thing; betrayals can stick with us causing us to withdraw and put up walls of protection around our hearts.

My husband and I went through a tribe change when we started standing with the LGBTQ community. Our faith tribe, some family members, and many friends could not understand this decision and we felt exiled from that tribe. It was a very painful thing. But it was also freeing. We had been tiptoeing around on eggshells, trying to avoid rocking the boat in our tribe, and when we left, we could walk more freely. Suddenly, it was as if we could breathe, we could be ourselves, and we could advocate for justice. We remained close to many of our longtime friends, but it felt as if our tribal allegiance had undergone a seismic shift. Eventually, we found likeminded people with whom we could be more candid with about topics that were previously difficult to discuss. It took a while but we are now enjoying exploring a new tribal identity.

 

photo of a person wearing printed crew neck t shirt

How do you find a tribe?

  1. Look for people who might have the same interests as you. Perhaps in a church, community organizing group, book club, hiking group or political action group.
  2. Look for people you feel comfortable around.
  3. Try sharing a bit of yourself and see how that part of you is handled by others in the group. Are you welcomed or held at a distance?
  4. Not everyone you meet will fall into the category of tribe-worthy. We all have friends, acquaintances, and family members that we love, but that does not automatically make them part of your tribe. Don’t put all your energy into forming a tribe at work. Jobs can disappear and your tribe along with them.

Why do we need a tribe? Life is hard, and we are all busy. Having a small group of people you can be yourself with is important. You don’t have to agree on everything to be part of a tribe. The best tribes can challenge and disagree but continue to love and be connected. The best tribes can bring in new ideas and expose each member to new things. But tribes don’t just happen, they need to be cultivated. Meeting with people regularly is the only way to develop a tribe. Weekly or monthly gatherings, dinners, or any event where you can talk deeply with one another can lead to a tribe. You must take risks to form a tribe. Tribes can be healing. As we share our pain in the safety of a tribe, we can heal.

five women laughing

When we left our former tribe, we started a new one called “Shalom.” It was to be a place of healing for people from the LGBTQ family who had been hurt by the church. This became a tribe of safety and love, but it took over a year before we could all trust each other. After five years we officially dissolved the group, not because anything bad had happened, but because it had met its purpose. Everyone in Shalom, including us, had found safety and healing, and life had gotten better and busier for everyone. Everyone agreed it was time to stop our meetings which had gone from weekly for three years, to monthly for the last two. We will still be friends, but it was time to let the tribe scatter.

How do you know it’s time to move on from a tribe? Sometimes it is just natural as life and priorities change. But tribes can also become toxic, as what happened to the young woman I mentioned. If there is gossip, lying, or intolerance of who you are, it might be time to leave. If you find yourself avoiding the folks in your tribe, you might need to reevaluate. A tribe is somewhere you are not just tolerated, but celebrated.

Do you have a tribe? How did you find it? Have you ever had to switch tribes? I’d love to hear your stories.

 

 

Photos: Top pic 

Man in shirt pic

Women laughing pic

 

Spiritual Practice: Truth Speaking

protest

Warning: This is not a “how to win friends and influence people” post. You may actually lose some friends by speaking truth, but you might also gain some new and very interesting friends.

I’m not talking about truth-telling as in pointing out to your friend that she has lettuce in her teeth. That is a common courtesy, although awkward, depending on the depth of the friendship.

And I’m not talking about a fundy, stick your nose in my business, “Just speaking the truth in love, brother, you shouldn’t be dating her.”

I’m talking about the kind of truth-telling that happens when one looks at the world, at the dominant culture, and realizes that “we” have gotten off track. Telling the truth in that situation is much harder. People don’t like to hear that kind of truth because we don’t like to admit we’re hurting people with our words, actions, or laws. But that is exactly the kind of truth we need to tell in order to get back on track. It’s a prophetic voice.

*In his book, The Prophetic Imagination, theologian Walter Brueggemann writes, the dominant culture, now and in every time, is grossly uncritical, cannot tolerate any fundamental criticism, and will go to great lengths to stop it. It is the role of the Prophet to help “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and a perception” alternative to the dominant narrative.” 

I had this experience when I began to align myself with my LGBT brothers and sisters, which cost me my job with a large evangelical ministry. I was not trying to be a prophet or rattle any cages, but the very act of standing with my rainbow family was apparently enough to challenge the power structures of the dominant Christian culture. Once you see an injustice, you cannot un-see it and the way the “church” was treating my gay friends was clearly wrong. I felt called to stand up against this injustice and consequently was booted from my spiritual tribe. This was an excellent opportunity to know what it feels like to be a gay Christian. In the aftermath, I gained a wonderful, supportive rainbow family, and found a new spiritual tribe among affirming churches, parents of LGBT children, and others standing with them.

 

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Our job as truth tellers is, to tell the truth, then stand in that truth. My spiritual director once told me that staying in a difficult place was a form of intercession. The good news is, we are not responsible for the outcome, we are just called to stand firm. It can be hard and it can be lonely, but it is always worth it. Here are some ways to sustain your energy during times of truth-telling.

  1. Give yourself radical rest. This in itself is a statement to the dominant busy, consumer culture we live in. It is a radical thing to choose to stop and rest. Rest, Sabbath, silence, and solitude will restore your soul and sustain your activism.
  2. Meditation/prayer/yoga: These things help connect your body, mind, and spirit which can get burnt-out and disconnected during times of cultural upheaval and chaos.
  3. Dance with your friends. I love to watch Grey’s Anatomy, where the characters model a “dance it out,” way of dealing with stress. We also see this modeled in scripture. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, away from slavery and into freedom, his sister Marion whipped out her tambourine and led the women in a dance. When David returned with the Ark of God, he ripped off his clothes and danced. Dancing in the midst of pain, heartache, and push-back is a testament of hope, a celebration of battles won, or a prophetic statement that we believe they can be won despite evidence to the contrary.

What has helped you in your quest to speak the truth? I’d love to hear about it or stand with you as you find your voice against injustice.

 

*This quote and many of these ideas are from Christine Valters Paintner in Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics

 

Photo credit: protest

 

Spiritual Practice: Behold

tree stump

No matter who won or lost during this midterm election, some of us will be disappointed. My first reaction, if things don’t go MY way, is to crawl into a cave and curl up into a ball to hide.

Maybe it’s time for a broader perspective. At Eugene Peterson’s recent funeral, his son Leif summarized his lifelong message about God: “God loves you. He is on your side. He is coming after you. He is relentless.”

God is coming after us with relentless love. God won’t give up loving and pursuing us so that God can be on our side. God is not dismayed by elections.

On a recent Sunday, my pastor had the kids come up to the front of the sanctuary for the kids’ sermon. This is one of my favorite parts of the service as there is usually a profound message made simple. She asked the little ones, “when you see something interesting, or amazing or intensely sad, what do you say to your friends?”

They answered with phrases like, “Hey, look at this!” Which is exactly what she hoped they would say. She said that in the old Bible times they had a great word for that which we don’t use anymore: “Behold!” Behold means, “to look deeply or pay close attention.” She encouraged them to spend the week looking for God in the everyday things. like seeing a beautiful flower, or a  playful puppy, or experiencing something sad. Then to say to whoever was near, “Behold!”

She had them practice and it was really cute as they shouted, “Behold!” I could just picture them in the Walmart cereal aisle, arms outstretched to the Frosted Sugar Bombs yelling, “Behold!”

What a profound idea this is. Here I am, all set for political disappointments, ready to crawl into a cave when I should be looking harder for God in my neighborhood, in those I meet, in nature, in those who voted differently than I did. God is everywhere, in everything, and elections don’t bother a God who has a longer view of history than we do.

Behold!

beauty from ashes

Today, I was sitting outside and saw this old tree stump. It was starting to decay but there was something red on it and I got closer to see if maybe a fall leaf had settled on it. Nope, there was this beautiful, hopeful little red plant springing up from the decay. BEHOLD!

I was reminded of the verse that says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19

God doesn’t want us to lose hope. God wants to make beauty from our ashes and new life from our desolation. We need to put on our God goggles and look hard, pay close attention, and BEHOLD!

 

How are you coping post-election? This is a safe place to vent your pain regardless of your political affiliation.

Photo Credit, Mine.

 

Spiritual Practice: Displacement

displacement

Have you ever been in a place where you are the only one who looked like you? Maybe you went somewhere you didn’t speak the language, or the food was unfamiliar, or the customs were confusing. What did it feel like to be in that place? What you experienced is called a displacement experience.

For those who live in the margins, the non-majority folks, displacement is an everyday experience. Being a white, cis-gendered, straight person, I am rarely displaced. I live in a city where I’m in the majority. It is comfortable for me to be who I am here. Why then should I go out of my way to displace myself?

It is important to displace ourselves because this is often the only way to truly know the human experience of our brothers and sisters. How can we have love and compassion if we have never known what it feels like to be “other?” If I am to grow beyond my prejudices and assumptions, I’m going to have to start by displacing myself.

Displacement is the first, and easiest place to enter into honest dialogue about cultural, ethnic, religious and world view differences. If God is the God of all people, and we want to move closer to oneness with God and with each other, we will have to take steps to cross the barriers that separate us.

Here are five easy ways to displace yourself. Pick one, try it and share the results. If you are already from one minority culture, try one from a different group.

  1. One of the easiest ways to displace ourselves is to read a book written by someone who is not like you. Some of my favorites are:

Fiction: The Hate You Give, by Angie Thomas. (especially good on audio)

Non-Fiction: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum

Memoir: Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians by Justin Lee  

  1. Purposely go someplace where you are not like the majority of people in the room:

Visit an ethnic church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. Places of worship are still the most segregated parts of our society. Let yourself really feel what it is like to be unfamiliar with the culture of the church. There are black churches, Latino churches, Korean churches, Greek Orthodox churches, Muslim mosques, Jewish Synagogues…all will welcome you in, but you may not feel welcome there. This is a good thing to understand as it is often the experience of when a person of color, or a different region, or one of our rainbow family members visits your place of worship.

Take a trip to an inner-city ethnic enclave. Visit China Town or Little Italy; walk through Harlem; go to a gay bar or dance. How do you feel there?

Notice your bodies reaction to this environment: Are you scared? Are you anxious? Can you imagine that some of your brothers and sisters feel those sensations every day at work, or when a police car comes up behind them?

  1. Try a different ethnic food restaurant each month. How does it taste on your tongue? Do you like it? What would it be like to feed it to your baby? What can you learn from different diets? This is a fun and easy displacement exercise!  
  2. Invite someone different out to lunch, or even better, over to your house for a meal (ask if they have any dietary restrictions first!). Then open an honest dialogue as you get to know them. Be a learner, not a teacher.
  3. Watch a movie that is out of your comfort zone. Some of my favorites:

Black Panther (What Africa, undisturbed by European colonization and European cultural dominance, might look like, a sci-fi version of course, but still awesome.)

Love, Simon (When a gay protagonist is the star of a sweet, chaste film, like “Never Been Kissed,” it can open our eyes to the experience of our gay friends.)

The Sea of Trees (Learn about the Japanese suicide culture and deal with the truths of grief in the American culture and how they intersect.)

The Danish Girl (What does it feel like to have one body on the outside and feel like the inside doesn’t match? This will help build compassion for our trans friends.)

I’m still a newbie in this racial reconciliation dialogue but my friends of color have taught me that displacement is a good first step. In light of the things I’ve learned in the last twenty years, I wrote a book that helps put white people into a fictional displacement. It might be a fun and easy on-ramp for you to read. It’s called, Cracker.  

Some comments from reviews:

“Cracker is a must read as it takes you away to a world that we should all see, one that helps you truly open up your eyes to the magnitude of racism and prejudice against gay and lesbian’s. This story not only forces you to face your own thoughts on racism, but it also educates you on the history of oppression creatively through her vivid and strong characters. Cracker will change the world you see and the way you decide to treat people that are different from what you see in the mirror; it opens your eyes and your mind.”

“I recommend this easy to read yet profound book to teens and adults without reservation, and hope that it yields deeper curiosity, trust, and courage to love across difference in every reader.”

“This story made me keenly aware of (and question) my own beliefs in the most profound, imaginative way. Ann’s story riled me up and shocked and shook me to my core. Jacci challenged me and changed my perspective.”

Let me know which displacement exercise you try and what you learn from it!

Photo Credit

We are BUTT dust

dust

Okay, here’s my rant about politics and religion. I remember a day when people could agree to disagree without being mean spirited or villainizing each other. This has changed in recent years. In the past, I was proud to put a bumper sticker on my car during an election. During the last election, I was afraid to do so. I was afraid of having my tires slashed. Especially at church. Something shifted in our culture that has made us intolerant of each other. It’s like when politics or hot button religious issues come up, all Jesus said about loving your neighbor and turning the other cheek goes out the window.

I’ve decided the difference is that we have lost our sense of humor. We have lost our ability to laugh at ourselves. We take ourselves too seriously. We begin to think we are too important and that our opinions matter too much.

We need a global perspective. We need God’s perspective. We are a wisp of smoke, here today and gone tomorrow. We are fragile, fleeting creatures and need to treat each other with kindness. The verse from Psalms should put us in our place: For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. Ps. 103:14

I blew this one the other day. A friend of a friend posted a link to a blog I didn’t agree with and I said something mean. I hurt someone’s feelings because I disagreed with her. This is easy to do on-line because we don’t have to know that person. We don’t have to look in their eye, we can just anonymously jab the knife. I felt badly, immediately deleted my post, and apologized. Now we are Facebook friends!
But, who am I to treat a neighbor that way? If I’d been sitting down across from her I would have seen it in her eyes: here is a fragile soul, a wisp of smoke, a holy creation. Treat her with gentleness and respect. But I didn’t. I have broken the second greatest commandment.

I am Butt dust.

So, I’ve resolved to weather this election with humor — by laughing at myself. And with grace for those I disagree with and who disagree with me. It will be hard and I may have to grit my teeth and bite my tongue but I want to remember that I am butt dust.
Say it with me now, “We are BUTT dust!” There, don’t you feel better?

Photo Credit