The notion of a tribe as “people who have bought into my idea” completely misses the bigger picture of what it is to be part of a community…

There is a difference between asking “Why do we eat unleavened bread?” and asking “What do you regret?  What do you fear?”  The first is asking “Who are we?” The second asks “Who am I?” and “Who are you?”

The point of a sacred meal is that the people who partake in it are expressing their consent to be part of one tribe.  Our collective history, the story of who we are as a people, becomes more important than the stories of each of the members as individuals.

This is why the restaurant context of the agape idea is off.  There is no sense in a restaurant that the participants will meet again, will not only get to know each other as individuals, but agree to tackle the problems of life as a family with mutual interests.

In any society and any time the needs of the individual and the need to be part of a community will be a balancing act.  We want to make the most of our beautiful, difficult individual personalities and to live in an environment that gives us that opportunity, while at the same time none of that feels particularly meaningful if it is not put into the service of a larger community.  Have we tipped so far in the direction of the individual that we have trouble even conceptualizing what it is to be part of a tribe?

You are not part of a “tribe” unless you have a fairly strong answer to the question “Who are we?”

But What Are We Growing For?

A few years ago I was working as the newsletter editor at a Unitarian church. I happened to be working in a time of staff reorganization. The highly active volunteer church board had posted its goals and objectives around the church. All of the objectives were based on the idea of growth. We needed to do x, y, and z in order to grow.

What struck me at the time was that there was no explanation of why we needed to grow. Why was a larger membership needed? What could we do with more people that we could not do at our present size?

This is an older guest post which appeared on the Fighting Monkey Press Blog. Read the full article on our bias that bigger is better there.

"You can occupy everywhere, as long as your original purpose is something larger than one place. You can also get stuck anywhere, if your purpose is to stay in one place as though it was yours… Space is nice, it is often sacred and sometimes it is as simple to find as opening a door. Sacred space is open doors, with people walking through them, in and out, becoming authors of their own stories and moving beyond a tale of victimhood. It is nothing more- and nothing less than that."

— Donna Schaper, The Occupy Movement and Sacred Space


The opening sequence of the film (and the play) Fiddler on the Roof features Tevye joyously and unforgettably celebrating his culture’s traditions.

On the surface, Fiddler on the Roof is about a Jewish community in early 20th Century Czarist Russia.  More essentially, however, it is about the conflict between tradition and change.  Which traditions are simply outmoded and which are essential to our sense of history and balance as a community?  How do you allow for positive change without losing the value that comes with tradition?

One of the vital roles that religion plays in society is tradition keeper.  In the church and other religious institutions people record and remember the every day lives of their members.  The history that is kept in church is different from that taught in schools.  It is not the history of monarchs, kings, politicians and powerful political and economic interests.  It is the history of our seasons, our harvests, our births and deaths.  This is where our sacred ordinary lives are recorded, if not in name, in rituals that tie generations together.

The other side of this, however, is that in its role as tradition keeper, the religious institution tends to be the segment of society most resistant to social change. 

As Mark Twain wrote: “Who discovered that there was no such thing as a witch — the priest, the parson? No, these never discover anything. At Salem, the parson clung pathetically to his witch text after the laity had abandoned it in remorse and tears for the crimes and cruelties it has persuaded them to do.”

Does this tendency towards inflexibility mean that religion is inherently outmoded or bad? I do not think so.

The problem I see with the idealistic atheist argument, most poetically rendered in John Lennon’s Imagine, is the assumption that if you eliminated religion all of the world’s people would live together in peace.  If you eliminated religion you would change human nature.

If there were no religion we would still have all of the conflicts that arise when people try to come together in community.  There would still be tension between the needs and desires of the individual vs. the demands of society.  How much should a person compromise to get along?  When is conformity positive courtesy that allows a community to have a cohesive sense of being “us,” and when is the demand to conform simply wrong? 

If there were no religion, you might not have Catholics fighting Protestants or Muslims fighting Jews, but you would still have cultures and communities with traditions and ideologies that would inevitably come into conflict with those of the neighbors. You might be able to eliminate the use of sacred texts that would allow each group to claim “God is on our side,” but you would not eliminate certainty, inflexibility, and passionate belief in conflicting ideologies.  (Think Republican vs. Democrat.  They do quite well at vilifying each other without a Republican or Democratic Bible.)

This is not an argument for God or religion, nor against them.  What I am saying is that the question of whether “religion” is “good” or “bad” is overly simplistic and will not yield much in the long run.  It is more likely to serve as a distraction from the real underlying question of the role of the individual in society. 

"Libraries matter because people matter. For themselves, not for their spending power, or their ability to absorb and act on marketing messages. They matter because life is endlessly surprising, and we never know what might be coming next, or what we will need to know in order to deal with it. Libraries are the gateways to the world’s knowledge and culture, they matter because communities matter, and because our similarities are so much more important than our differences. We believe this unashamedly and we are not going to apologise for it."

— Why Libraries Matter at We Love Libraries

If I came to the conclusion that homosexuality was not a sin, there could be a rift in relationships with a number of people – people who probably thought I believed the way I did on nearly everything else just to be contentious…

I could do this with things that affected me more directly. I could explain why I primarily vote Democrat and consider myself a liberal. I could carry on a discussion about why I accept theistic evolution and have a real problem with things like the Creation Museum. I could talk about social justice and the importance of caring for the poor. But gay stuff? Why would I put my neck out on the line for that? I’m a straight, married, stay-at-home mom of four. What’s the up-side to me not just supporting gay rights, but going one step further and affirming gay relationships in the Church? 

Of course, if I came to the conclusion that homosexuality was a sin, there was only one person where there could be a relational shift. But that one person was important to me. She was a person with whom I had shared fake birthdays. She was a person who invented games with me. She was a person who had been my best friend during my unbearably awkward teenage years. And she was a person who wanted what I had – to share her life with someone that she loved.
"Gossip, i.e. the practice of people talking about others they know in common, has a bad reputation as being nothing but back-biting chatter, but sociologists see it in a much different light. In fact, gossip has two very important functions, building relationships and communicating social values. Gossip can be the passing along of negative information, sure, but it also is used to pass along positive information (who had a baby, who got a job), and to communicate value-neutral information that just happens to be interesting (who’s dating who). When you gossip, you not only bond with the person you’re gossiping with, but you are both solidifying your sense that the person you’re gossiping about is a part of your community. After all, they matter enough to be talked about."

What Awful Reality TV and Suburban Living Have to Do With the Tea Party’s Lack of Empathy | Tea Party and the Right | AlterNet (via linzyxxxxx)

(Source: sociolab)

"Anybody can create community with people who believe just like they do. The true test of community rests in the ability to create it with people who disagree with us"

— Lee Barker (Unitarian Universalist, minister, educator)

(Source: uuquotes)



I found this sweet message outside of a small bookstore in Wheeling, West Virginia.



I found this sweet message outside of a small bookstore in Wheeling, West Virginia.

(Source: Flickr / jschumacher, via shelftalkersanon)

"A powerful store of social capital still exists. It is called religion: the churches, synagogues and other places of worship that still bring people together in shared belonging and mutual responsibility. The evidence shows that religious people – defined by regular attendance at a place of worship – actually do make better neighbours. … Religion creates community, community creates altruism and altruism turns us away from self and towards the common good."

The Chief RabbiJonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Kingdom

In his article in the New Statesman, the chief rabbi builds on Robert Putnam’s recent research on the role of religion in public life. Sacks argues that religion and its institutions can, and should, play an important role in civil society — as an instructive model and a great convener of people. 

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

(photo: Dean Ayres/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

(via beingblog)