I was not a sports fan back in high school. Even so, when both the junior and the senior high school football teams ended up in the regional finals, every student felt an obligation to go and support them, especially since it meant the afternoon off school. The school bussed all interested student to Ivor Wynn Stadium, the home of the Hamilton Tiger Cats. Not knowing the rules of the game, for the first half I was constantly asking my friends what was happening. By half time, I was able to follow the plays by myself. As the game progressed so did the emotions of the students on both sides. At one point near the end of the game, an opposing player was running the ball towards our end, and our entire side of the stadium rose as one and roared “Get him!”, “Stop him!” “Kill him!”. When I sat back down, I thought, why was I wanting someone I didn’t even know to be injured? For what? A ball? I realized I was experiencing for the first time, a taste of tribalism and I didn’t like it.
Tribalism, “Us versus the Not-Us”, is what drives racism, sexism, political and religious extremism and war. Cheering for a sports team is, at first glance, a relatively innocent activity, but when passions are aroused to the point where opposing fans fight or riots occur because ‘our’ team lost, then something is very wrong. Tribalism encourages us to take sides, to identify with one group of people over another. Tribalism isolates us from others and to think of them as something less than human. Listening to and participating in the chants and yelled insults at that game, made me realize by dehumanizing the opposing players, I was also dehumanizing myself. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, my actions drew me further away from God.
The Orthodox Church has just celebrated the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ. It commemorates the time when Jesus took Peter, James and John to the mountain top to pray. As He was praying, He was filled with the uncreated light and Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Him.
Moses represents the Law and those who are dead, since Moses died before entering the promised land. Elijah represents the Prophets and the living since he was carried up to heaven alive. Jesus, as the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets, represents all people. Through His crucifixion and resurrection, He restores of all of creation, the living and the dead, back to God. The disciples were terrified not realizing they were witnessing the potential future of all of humanity; everyone transfigured by the uncreated light and restored to a right relationship with God by love.
As a member of the body of Christ, this is my tribe, the tribe of humankind. But it’s not an “us and not-us” tribalism, it’s “Us and Not-Yet-Us”. There should be no division between me and anyone else, even if they do play for the opposing team. God loves me, and them, and we are to love each other.
Christ calls all to salvation. He supplied me with all I need to build my mansion in heaven but I can’t build my mansion by myself. I need everyone around me, all the ‘us’ and the ‘not-yet-us’, to help.
Every heavenly mansion built is like an old-fashioned barn-raising event where the whole community would gather and build a barn in a day. In twenty days, twenty barns could be built. If each farmer tried to build his own barn by himself, probably no barns would be built. (And I speak from experience after having assisted my father build a 20 foot long shed/barn.)
Salvation is a community event. The more barns I help build, the sooner my own barn will be completed. The more people I choose to love in Christ, whether they know Him or not, the closer I draw to God and to transfiguration.
This is true tribalism, inviting those on the outside to come inside, to share life with the dying, to free the captives from bondage. This is the tribe of Christ, the tribe of love.