Dr. Saul Levine, Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego, writes that “belonging is our blessing, tribalism is our burden.” He notes that, “We humans are a social species, tribal by nature. We’re given to gathering and communing in familiar groups. “Belonging,” our capacity and need for empathy, compassion and communication, is in our DNA.” However, when this desire to belong is taken to an unbalanced or addictive level (the shadow-side), it can manifest in animosity towards the “other” along with all sorts of malevolent behaviors such as deep bias, exclusion, oppression, and even violence.
I believe that the “good” desire for belonging is a remnant of the Divine within each of us. It is a soulful invitation to connect with those around us, to commune with one another, and to seek out relationship– the very place that God often “hides” in plain sight. The egoic pull towards more tribal thinking, which brings along with it that host of ill behaviors, is yet another mind-made trap which springs from duality. The addictive need to separate ourselves from others, to judge those who do not conform to our world view, to distance ourselves from what we perceive to be wrong, unrighteous, unworthy, etc., only adds to a great ocean of suffering.
The radical gift that Jesus brought was a way out of that mind-made trap– freedom from the pain of duel thinking such as tribalism, but it is not easy. Even the disciples themselves often fell prey to the tribal lens that God was on their side (as the chosen people of Israel) and everyone else was “over there,” and that way of thinking continues to this very day with many of Jesus’ followers. Jesus’ teachings and actions sought to show that there is no division between God and humans, and therefore if all of us can be equally present with God we can all be equally present with one another. Several times in the Gospel does Jesus invite us to eat of his body and drink of his blood. This invitation pulls us into that radical unity where the very essence of the Christ becomes one with our own body in this world. If we can capture a shred of that reality, then we are one step closer to banishing the walls of tribalism forever. Our highest level of consciousness (salvation) is not when we simply can say I no longer “see” the other, but when we truly can no longer even conceive of an “other” of any kind. When we live into the true reality that God is fully present with creation just as creation is fully present with God, then we have finally shattered the illusion of duality and we are indeed living in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus knew that this was not an easy path. There is a reason he stated that he is the “bread of life” over and over again. He knew that we would need to gnaw on that reality for quite a while before we began to see the truth. But– invite us he does. Let us never forget that God’s unending grace and love is forever calling us into a wonderful freedom from the chains we have created, so that we can become the incarnation of Christ in this world and with one another, no matter who we are.