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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Herd versus Tribe

A close friend of mine recently told me that mainstream Christianity had made her an asshole. The more we discussed the subject, it seemed to draw toward what happens to an individual when they become part of the “herd”. We discussed our individual rejections of the “herd”. We wrestled with the defiance of “herd mentality”. We resolved to maintain our independent critical thinking and never again follow the “herd.”

The victorious defiance that we shared was real. But…the more thought I put into the matter over the next couple days, the more I began to question if we were trying to function as fully autonomous disciples. It seems counter-intuitive to completely reject the herd as a means of redeeming the herd. (That sentence makes a lot of sense to me and, yet, when I read it the meaning gets tangled up in the syntax.) What I mean is that those of us on the front edge of a Christian reform movement which is driving the post-modern, missional, socially responsive changes that we are witnessing today in the Church have to sell more than just the message of “damn the herd”. Because everyone that buys that t-shirt automatically defines themselves as one group rejecting another group’s dynamics based on the precept that being a part of a group will always make you an asshole. Do you see the insanity of it? I want to be a part of a herd that rejects herds.

Over the last couple of days as I’ve processed our discussion, I remembered writing quite a bit about rejecting the herd and seeking a new tribe in my book. So that got me thinking about the differences between a tribe and a herd. I don’t think I need to drone on and on about the differences, but I will say that the most obvious distinction is that animals form a herd and people form tribes.

Maybe the real discussion is about being a Christian animal versus being a Christian human. I would argue that the Christian animal is concerned with little more than survival (receiving sustenance), procreation (increasing numbers), and preserving the integrity of the herd (worship of religion). By contrast the Christian human embodies the burning desire to question and reason—to seek knowledge and truth—to sacrifice safety and security for the sake of humanitarian efforts—to save and rescue other tribal members from the savages of neglect, abuse, and hunger.

Personally, I reject the institutional church because I don’t want to be fed from a trough—I want to feed from the land. I don’t want to be led by professional shepherds—I want to be interactive in the direction and goals of the tribe. I don’t want to be fenced in by traditionalism and culturally irrelevant ethos—I want to explore uncharted regions of faith and risk injury from time to time. I don’t want to be labeled a Christian beast—I want to be known as a critical thinker even if I’m wrong sometimes.

I want to reject the herd for the sake of being a part of a tribe. Maybe you don’t see the distinction, but there is one. The difference is huge! The tribe is an organism that works together and relies upon one another to meet the collective needs of the tribe. I like to think of primitive indigenous tribes and how they live with one another and for one another. I like to think about my tribe as one that is nomadic, dynamic, and culturally savvy. I like to look around me and see the tribal tattoos and piercings. I like to look around me and see a tribe that celebrates diversity and compassion. I like seeing a genuine acceptance of racial, sexual, and economic diversity in my tribe. And when I say it’s “my tribe,” I don’t mean that it belongs to me. I mean that I get to belong to IT as a contributing, learning, respectful member happy to be a part of something bigger than myself and more powerful than any of the single members of the tribe are independent of one another.

Are you a part of a herd or are you a part of a tribe? The answer will have a profound effect on your heart and soul. Jesus had a tribe of disciples that He led. He was also often found trying to get away from the herd of curious folks looking for healing, food, or hope without the understanding that Jesus was offering them entry into the tribe. He was NOT offering them admission to a herd.

If you’re suspicious that you might be mingling with the herd instead of participating in a tribe then chances are you don’t know yet how to engage scripture, religion, and fellow herd members with independent critical thought. It’s difficult to transition. It’s hard to reject something that has always been a part of your life. It’s physically, emotionally, and psychologically exhausting to engage the members of your herd with the message of a tribe. All you can do is leave the gate open when you escape. Some will find their way out. Some will do everything in their power to shut that gate back up.

The herd and herd mentality are powerful agents of persuasion. Do not underestimate their appeal. Most members of my tribe have experiences anything from 2 to 5 years of soul-searching transition, conflict, and self-doubt before ever finding our group. One member that I know of was subjected to such ridicule, shame, and spiritual abuse that he contemplated suicide. That’s right—educated and trained at Southwest Theological Seminary; this guy started asking too many questions about herd mentality and was shamefully cast to the curb without an inkling of concern for him or his family, how they would survive financially, or how it would affect every single aspect of their future. Another is a family member of mine cast aside by a church herd where the pastor of the institution wept at his shameful dismissal but in the end threw up his hands because major financial benefactors in the herd required his head on a platter because this family member had questioned the necessity of a new organ and sanctuary remodeling when 1/10th of that money could have funded an established program to house and feed several dozen homeless families.

We’ve all heard the stories and seen their effects, but we tell ourselves, “wow, THOSE guys are really messed up.” All the while the same things are happening in your herd without you even knowing it. Wake up! Analyze, pray, research, ask questions, seek, find, knock, open, pray again, and be sure to listen this time. Because the thing about being a member of the herd is that you don’t realize it’s a herd. Just like an asshole justifies being an asshole because they always have an excuse for their behavior. You have to separate from these things in order to really allow the blood to begin circulating to the independently critical thinking parts of your brain.

The gospel will not make you an asshole. Jesus will not make you an asshole. Even the being a member of the herd doesn’t make you an asshole. It is the hardening of one’s heart that creates the asshole, and that, my friend, happens when the complacency, laziness, and self-centered nature of the “herd” sets in. It’s simply that WE aren’t designed to be a herd. We are designed to be a tribe.

I’m looking forward to the next conversation with my close friend. I want to explore these thoughts and see if there is somewhere to settle on how to make the transition from herd to tribe more efficient and less damaging. It’s great once you get here, but the trip is murder. Maybe she’ll be able to help me release the anger and resentment I feel toward the herd. Maybe that’s my barrier of forgiveness that I need to breach in order to be a better member of my tribe. Maybe I’ve transitioned to the tribe but still maintain my asshole status. Maybe we’re all living in a constant state of uniqueness transition. Maybe God likes us that way. Maybe the potter likes molding clay more than He does putting it in the kiln. Maybe the journey is everything and there is no destination. Maybe I should wrap this up.

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