Answering with One Voice

In my last reflection I began to talk about tribal narcissism and how the perception that some identities or lives are more important that other lives is at the root of the racism that emerges from tribalism. With all the blood spilled in the Middle East recently, it seems quite clear that the dark legacy of ancient tribalism still persists and likely will persist as an unsettling part of the growth process of faith movements. Two of the most salient such examples are the ongoing horrors associated with the so-called “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) and the ongoing tensions inherent in the Israeli Palestinian conflict. In Sunday’s readings ( we learn about the animal blood sacrifice symbolic unification of twelve tribes that accompanied a blood sacrifice.  Since ancient times, bloodlines have insured the legal lines of property successions, secured peace through matrimonial bonds, guaranteed oaths, and determined the cultural identity of successive generations. Such bonds were the most likely to last and as such were given the heightened status of covenantal bonds. This covenant was a defining moment for the twelve tribes because they were able to transcend their tribal identity in order to find a new identity as a people. Uniting 12 disparate cultures through the blood of animal sacrifice was a way to cleanse a people of the divisions inherent to their fleshly origins. While tribes certainly still persist to this day, the modern tribal identities take various other forms: cliques, gangs, trade unions, corporations, political parties, fraternities, and online forums. The urge for tribal affiliation is natural, but whenever collective identities are formed, there is always the temptation to presume that these social constructs require differentiation from other groups to assert their identity.

When we examine the most dangerous tribes in the world, groups like ISIS, we notice that they retain a fundamentalist identity that links them to some exclusive tribal identity (religious, racial, ethnic, or gender). The danger of these groups is that unlike the tribes of ancient times, they have access to more advanced technology and have developed systems of thought and autocratic governance while still perpetuating (even basing their movement upon) a fundamental lie: that we are destined to be separate, competing groups. Separate groups have disparaging terms for one another, force other groups into ghettoes, torture without remorse, and go to war to preserve their sense of triumphal separateness. When the grumblings of a tribe become systematic, we see classically flawed ruling “ism”s like Stalinism, terrorism, fascism, and systematic racism. “Ism”s have a way of taking on a like of their own, segregating people and governing people through the subversion of their will to do good. Blood sacrifice is the foregone conclusion of this mentality of separateness, because blood has always carried the connotation of that which makes us fundamentally different. Racism is the culmination of the systematic division of groups based upon bloodlines, and as Martin Luther King once stated, the only natural logic of racism is genocide. With the graphic sprinkling of animal blood over the tribes of Israel, Moses was facilitating the grand tribal unification of bloodlines that would serve as the basis of Judaism as we know it. When St. Paul writes directly to the Hebrews of taking this unification even further, we are left to contemplate what it is about the invitation to “Baptism” that sets Christianity apart from the corruption of other “ism”s.

Christianity succeeds most when it is not just another “ism” for adherents to buy the newsletter, wear the regalia, and sing the refrains of the chorus. The God of “ism”s is an idol, a precious antique for which one person can retain sole possession. Christianity succeeds when idols are discarded in favor of the living God. Christian unification is achieved through the one “eternal Spirit” and can have no other goal than the unification of all bloodlines. (It seems illogical for one Spirit to be in competition with itself). Of course what should set Christians apart from the likes of ISIS is that those who receive the eternal inheritance of baptism are called, not coerced. Said another way, God’s eternal inheritance is not available to one exclusive bloodline (as the tribal logic goes) but rather to one inclusive bloodline that transcends division yet includes the 12 tribal identities. When Jesus presents the blood of the eternal Christ in the form of a cup, the disciples are not being waterboarded, and the invitation is even extended to the man who would betray Jesus. The call to “cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” The answer to the call will always be done with one voice, it will require us to let go of the tyranny of our sins and the sins of others, and to worship a living God that cannot be monopolized by any tribe of people.

Published in: on June 11, 2015 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  

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