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.

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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: Visioning

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I have often been skeptical of visionaries. I once worked with a youth group at a church where several young women came to me privately, confiding that God had told them they were to marry a certain young man. Unfortunately, they all named the same young man! I’m pretty sure hormones were speaking and not God.

Yet, I have experienced God speaking to me and others through dreams, visions, and intuitions as well. And, there are people who are particularly in touch with what God is doing in the world; they are careful observers, who can see what the rest of us might miss. We call these people prophets or visionaries. They are people who see beyond the status-quo.

Yet I believe we can all be in line with what God wants to do in the world if we just give ourselves time to listen. As in most spiritual practices, the ability to vision starts with quiet listening.

Here are some exercises you might try to begin a visioning journey:

Caution: If we get stretched too thin, we will not be able to stop and listen to God without falling asleep. Regular contemplative spiritual practices prepare our heart, mind, and soul to receive what God is trying to tell us. But, if you try to listen and get drowsy, honor your body by taking a nap. I believe we live in a chronically sleep deprived world. Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is sleep.

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Take a walk in nature:

Getting out into nature is also an important way to listen to the heartbeat of God. God’s creation speaks or creates an atmosphere for us to hear things better. Visionary Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was what they call a “landscape mystic.” Christine Valters Paintner talks about Hildegard in her book, Illuminating the Way, “that the geography of her world was a means of ongoing revelation into the nature of God.” I’ve found this to be true for myself. Getting out into nature, whether it’s a walk in the desert with my dog, or a trip with my honey to the ocean or forest always restores my soul, clears my head and helps me hear God better.

Make a visioning board:

Gather some magazines, glue and, scissors. Think about what things are most important to your true self and are in line with your values. This is not a wish list for material possessions or fame, but a chance to clarify what unique dreams, personality, and purposes God has given you. It could be goals, dreams, or desires. It could be things you don’t see in your life right now that you would hope to see in the future. Or it could be things you already see but want to continue experiencing. Begin to look for pictures in the magazines that represent those values. When you find them, cut them out glue them in any way you want on a paper or canvass. Keep your vision board near you to remind yourself what is important.

When I did this exercise, the things I noticed that were important to me were: time with my family and friends, traveling adventures with my husband, writing meaningful books, helping people grow spiritually, and empowering women. Three years later, this board still reflects my basic values and has been a way to say “no” to things that would take me away from things that are not life-giving.

Your board will reflect what is important to you. Let me know if you try any of these practices and connect with your inner visionary.

When you feel you have heard from God it’s always good to run what you’ve heard through spiritual friends you trust and the holy books you treasure. God is good and loving and wants you to be involved in your own healing, the healing of others, and the healing of the earth. The things you hear will line up with the loving nature of God.

Spiritual Practice: Truth Speaking

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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

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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: Pursuing Healing

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When I was in graduate school to be a marriage and family therapist, one of the requirements was to go to counseling yourself — to pursue your own healing. The wisdom was that you can’t take someone where you haven’t been yourself. I remember my husband and I going together to work on some marriage issues. I loved it while the therapist was talking to him, but when that searchlight turned on me, I felt naked and exposed. I hated it. Yet, I wouldn’t trade those three years of therapy for anything. First, it gave us a much better footing for our marriage, and second, when I transitioned to individual therapy I was able to deal with my mama drama and my daddy dysfunction. I was able to bring to light my own family of origin pain and, like a boil being lanced, let the poison drain away and the healing begin.

In the same graduate school program, I had a friend who somehow skirted the counseling requirement. I know it would have helped him as he was mostly raised living in a car and had some really important pain to process. But, he chose not to, and instead of becoming one a wounded healer, he became a wounded wounder. Through having multiple affairs, he wrecked the lives of his wife, children, and who knows how many others.

Therapy is not the only way toward healing. During the same program, I became acutely aware that I was the product of an alcoholic system. I learned that in these families there are predictable rolls the children play. My brother was the “clown,” my sister the “lost child” and I was the “perfect one.” Do you have a perfect friend? One who is always loving and kind and on-time for everything? Don’t assume that this friend’s attributes are coming from a place of functionality, we ALL have our battle scars.

A lot of my healing around family substance abuse issues came through books:

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Adult Children Of Alcoholics was foundational for me.

Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How To Say No To Take Control Of Your Life, gave me skills I wasn’t raised with. Books can be really helpful in our healing.

If you suspect you had a borderline parent or spouse, the book I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me: Understanding The Borderline Personality,  could be your salvation.

If you’ve been sexually abused, the book On The Threshold Of Hope could guide you through it. I suggest you read this with a trusted friend.

Other things helped me during this time. Hypnotherapy, EMDR and Prayer Healing sessions helped me work through a rape I experience at seventeen. All three do the same kind of work in your brain, moving the trauma from the animal part of your (fight, flight, freeze) brain to the logic center where it can be processed logically. But, Prayer Healing has a divine component and I’ve seen people grow exponentially from it.

Over the last ten years, spiritual direction has kept me moving forward in my spiritual growth and development.

You can read about spiritual direction here.

The point is that no one is going to do the hard work of healing for us. God will bring people to help you and be with you during the process. God may even speed up the healing, but you have to show up and do the work.

Why pursue the work of healing? I believe it is the calling of each of us to bring the best, most complete “us” to the world. You were created to live a life only you can live. First, do no harm. So, get some healing, and do some good. The world is waiting for your gifts, your voice, and your compassionate action. Together, as wounded healers, we can help heal the world.

In what ways have you found healing? What has been most helpful?

Photo Credit

Spiritual Practice: Calming Anxiety

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I believe anxiety is running rampant in our society. We need to help each other learn to calm our nervous systems and relax. Short term stress can be good for us but long term stress can affect our health, our relationships, our sleep and our functioning.

Once I had the privilege of being with a group of 10 twenty-somethings for a retreat. At the end of their time we were talking about what they had to go back to, and I was surprised to learn how many of them live with debilitating anxiety. One fellow said that sometimes at night, as he lies in bed, he has to remind himself to breathe. That hurt my heart.

Later I was in a similar group of thirty-somethings. At the end of the discussion, a question was asked about “What is holding you back in life.” Every single person in the room said, “fear.” Again, I was shocked to see how many beautiful, intelligent people live in fear.

These two experiences made me wonder about anxiety and fear. Is this epidemic caused by something in our culture? Is it something in this generation specifically, or is it a combination of factors? I started asking friends for their opinions as I tried to sort this out and I’d love to hear yours.

  1. I went to a neuropsychology conference once on the explosion of childhood behavior disorders and it was postulated that children are now being incubated in an environment of low-grade stress, which is compromising their immune systems and lowering their resistance to disorders like ADHD. Could this same logic be applied to anxiety?
    At a similar conference, these disorders were linked to environmental toxins, again causing a compromised immune system and the easier triggering of latent issues like anxiety disorders.
  2. My husband’s theory was that we now have too many choices. Formerly, people grew up in well-defined cultures with their own rules, norms, taboos, and expectations. Nowadays, kids are members of national and international cultures defined by media and the internet. Choice is often equated with power, but perhaps too much choice can cause increased fear and anxiety.
  3. My daughter’s theory is that because we are constantly bombarded with stimulation that is anxiety producing, like horror movies, violent video games, the nightly news, and even the Discovery Channel, we learn about all the things that can go wrong — which creates this stressful soup we live in.
  4. One could make a similar argument about our inability to unplug. We are wired at the hip to our phones and electronic devices; we can stream movies, TV shows and music at any time from any device and we have forgotten how to be quiet. In my work with college students one thing mystified me. It is their inability to be alone. They told me they were afraid to be alone, and always texted or talked to friends if they were forced to be alone. What caused these changes? Could the neuropathways for peaceful existence that we’ve neglected by being constantly wired in have died off? Are they re-growable?
  5. I led a week-long seminar over spring break with college students. On one day they are required to be silent for twelve hours. It is the day of the week they fear the most. At the end of the week, it is the one thing most highly talked about and valued. But being alone means facing yourself. Perhaps part of our anxiety comes from not being at peace with who we are. IMG_9042

We could speculate on the causes all day but what do we do about anxiety?

No one should have to live with debilitating fear and anxiety. If you are living like that, get help! My husband, the retired therapist, saw a lot of people that came in with these symptoms. He taught biofeedback and relaxation techniques that really helped people learn to calm their own bodies. Learning to breathe deeply is the first step in relaxation.

Many times, fear and anxiety are linked to past trauma. These days there are wonderful healing therapies for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Look for specialists in EDMR or others who identify as a specialist in trauma or anxiety.

PTSD is triggered when a predictable set of occurrences happen at one time: A person, or situation that seemed safe, suddenly becomes unsafe. Something startles you, and at some point, you think you might die. This causes anxiety and fear to get “stuck” in the animal (fight or flight) part of your brain. The above-mentioned therapies can help move the trauma to the logic part of your brain where it can be processed and healed.

Prayer and meditative practices can help relieve stress. There is an app I use called the Insight Timer that has hundreds of guided meditations. You can choose the length and theme or just use the timer to sit in silence.

In my opinion, one of the most commons things that cause stress is having a calendar with no margin – that is, no room for contingencies. I learned the hard way that life is what happens in the margins, and if you have no margin in your schedule, then when life happens (the car breaks down, your mom needs your help, a child’s project is due…) there is no room and everything becomes stressful. I’d encourage a strong examination of your schedule with a trusted advisor to see how to create margin in your life.

The best short term cure for anxiety is to get your mind off yourself. Anything you can do to think outside of yourself will help. Call a friend, take the dog for a walk, gaze on something beautiful, serve the homeless, or go to a funny movie. All of these things will help, at least temporarily.
Let me know what you have found helpful in getting rid of your fear and anxiety!

Picture of stressed woman

Spiritual Practice: SoulCollage®

 

FullSizeRender (2)You may have heard about, “ SoulCollage® ,” it is a fantastic spiritual practice and you don’t have to be an artist or even crafty to enjoy it.

I experienced it as part of the retreat at Mercy Center. We were taken to a room with pictures that had been ripped out of magazines. These were laid all over the room and stacks of National Geographic magazines were available as well.

On each table were glue sticks, scissors and a small piece of cardboard, about the size of a half sheet of typing paper.

The instructions went like this. Get a question in your mind like, “What is it you want to say to me?” or “What is next for me?” or “What do I need to know.”

Then we were to walk around and look at the picture and see which 2 to 6 of them “chose us.” This might be because we were drawn to them because they were beautiful or repulsive or intriguing.

As I walked around there were two pictures I was repelled by; one was a toxic looking lake with bubbles that looked like blisters on its surface. One was a bride that was wearing such a huge dress and sat in front of ridiculous flowers that it reminded me of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Both of these pictures I picked up and put down several times along with one of a confused looking giraffe, one of hands pounding red hot metal on an anvil, and an archway through rock into a beautiful vista featuring a road with trees and a lake in the distance seen through the rock tunnel. I had no idea why I picked these pictures.

Then we were told to arrange the pictures to fit on the cardboard. This process took a while. Some people had pictures they had to leave out, some had to go for more. Once you got them arranged you were to look at the collage and notice how each picture related to the other.

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In my picture, the toxic lake was at the top. The stunned looking giraffe was up in that lake. The hands and anvil, an eye-drawing red, were in the middle. In the lower left corner was the bride, just her torso, looking with love toward an unseen groom. Her hand was visible, resting lightly on his in a fun, flirty way. And in the bottom right was the rock tunnel to beauty and adventure.

Then we were supposed to journal using the prompts:

“I am the one who________.”

“I am the one who________.”

This is when the tears started flowing for me. I had no idea that this activity would reach past my mind into my heart, giving me words and images for something I didn’t even know I was experiencing.

Looking at the lake:

“I am the one who was trapped in a toxic environment.”

“I am the one who was labeled toxic by those I loved and trusted.”

Looking at the Giraffe, I saw his confusion, as if he was stepping out in the mist to find a person there. He appeared stunned, confused, and afraid. It’s like that with a trauma brain; when a person or place that formerly seemed safe turns unsafe. My trauma brain had been triggered by some circumstances and I was that giraffe.

I knew that the hope was in the anvil. God was using these situations to mold me into a better person. But it felt like a pounding. It hurt. Metal does not easily yield. Yet, I trusted it. I trusted God.

Then there was the Bride. That look at her intended was full of love, and fun and promise. I’d lost that look and I wanted it back. I was done with the toxic lake. I was ready to move on from the giraffe to the bride.

Next, there was the hole in the rock looking out at a beautiful view. A new adventure was waiting for me if I was ready to let go of the old, toxic place and step through to new life.

What great freedom we have when we can let go of the old things that are holding us down and move forward into a new adventure. Are you ready to let go? Is it time to come out of the cave, to see with new eyes what God has for you?

This exercise was life-changing for me. SoulCollage® is a trademarked experience now and you can probably find someone near you that offers it, but I also think that if you get some magazines and see which pictures draw you, put them into a college, and ask yourself the questions I’ve listed above, you’ll be surprised what you find. Your soul is waiting to speak to you.

Let me know if you give it a try!