I love the church! But I love my little tribe more.

Nancy Gibbs gave a wonderful speech which was adapted for TIME magazine titled How we Deserted Common Ground. The piece is directed to journalists but is worth reading because she is a very good writer and her insights are always helpful.

In Gibbs' article she cites Yale Law professor Dan Kahan who said, "What people 'believe' about global warming doesn't' reflect what they know, it expresses who they are." Clearly this is not limited to global warming. To make the case, Gibbs also cites a southern Democratic Senator who said the debate over gun control is "about who you are and who you aren't." 

When we are more concerned about our personal brand, our ratings, number of likes, and retweets, every issue is not about the issue but a proxy discussion for how we desire to be seen. It stands to reason that the debates in the United Methodist Church are also about "who you are and who you aren't." 

And therein lies the difficulty of the situation we are in. We are so insecure of who we are in Christ that we have to constantly define ourselves as something else. "We are orthodox Wesleyan." "We are the prophetic voices of God." We are arguing with others in order to show them who we are, all the while unaware that who we really feel we need to convince is is our own tribe.

A large reason we continue to be entrenched is because if we give the impression that we are not 100% with our tribe then we risk our tribe abandoning us. And hell hath no fury as a tribe who eats their own for not being pure enough for the tribe. So in order to avoid being cannibalized by our own tribe, we take steps to prove our tribal devotion which moves us farther away other non-tribe members. 

This is why we all have words and ideas that we don't like to use. Conservatives do not like to identify themselves as social justice advocates (even though they they are) because even as they believe in social justice they don't want to give the impression they are liberal. And Liberals don't want to talk about how they are orthodox (even thought they are) because to do so means they could give the impression they are conservative. 

Much of the arguing in the church that divides us farther apart is rooted in efforts to convince our own tribe of who we are. And there is no greater devotion to the little tribe than being willing to break the larger Church for the sake of the little tribe.


The Spiritual Movement From Mimicking to Imitating Jesus

In a few places in Paul's letters, he speaks about imitating him or imitating Christ (1 Corinthians 4 and 11 also in Philippians 3). In my translations the invitation is to imitate not to mimic. I raise this for consideration because at least one distinction between imitating and mimicking is the direction of trust. Here is what I mean.

My sons are four and nine years old and they will, as children are prone to do, mimic my behavior. They parrot my words and mirror my actions. They trust that by mimicking me they are learning the things needed to survive and do well. Likewise, Christians trust Jesus and mimic him. Jesus shows us how to live and in mimicking him we grow and learn.

The direction of trust when we mimic flows from the student to the teacher. This is flow is inverted when we imitate. 

As my sons grow older, it is my hope that they would slow their mimicking and increase their imitating. This movement requires that I as their father trust them to act in ways that I would hope they would act. I will not be able to control their actions or be present in every situation for them to know how to mimic. I have to trust my sons in order for them to imitate me. I have to give them freedom of choice and the possibility of failing or, even experience pain. 

Likewise, Jesus is no longer physically present walking with each of us. We are not able to mimic him when it comes to contemporary problems and issues. How do we mimic Jesus in the face of the climate crisis? How would we mimic Jesus in knowing the ethicacy in the science of genetics?

Those who trust Jesus, over time begin to see that Jesus trusts us. Jesus does not desire us to stay at the mimic stage (all be it an important stage). Jesus desires us to mimic him so that we can move to imitating him. We will mess up. We will feel pain and suffering. We will miss the mark and participate in sin. The Good News is in part the reality that as imitators of Christ we are forgiven and trusted. 

It is safe to mimic Christ. It is faithful to imitate Christ. Asking "what would Jesus do?" is a question for mimicking. Asking "what is Jesus trusting me to do/be?" is a question for imitators.