For me, the word “tribes” conjures up an almost primal image of humanity, it transports me to a time when groups of people wandered the wilds, not so very different from their neighbours in their rituals and paintings and languages. Yet this image is also laced with conflict – a clash of tribes over resources, over ideology, with the winner subjugating the loser. Imagine further, I ask myself – what about those times when tribes banded together against a common enemy? Perhaps this was the next stage, an incarnation of the saying “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” And tribes could also come together through bonds of marriage, to settle disputes in a peaceful rather than a militant way. The recognition of our similarity has grown with time, but not everyone sees that we are one.
And so what are the tribes of today? The world is so interconnected a tribe can be based on almost anything, from sports teams to yoga enthusiasts to groups who roam the city on chocolate sampling tours. Of course, the traditional divisions still exist: race, creed, nation. But in such an interconnected world, there’s no excuse to say “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” as it’s so easy to learn about and understand others!
I have grown up in a family descended from Western Europeans, who are notorious for their almost-forceful hospitality – “you want? You eat!” In my experience, Italians and Croatians always put the guest first – feed them if they’re hungry, clothe them if they’re cold, ask them how they’ve been. Ultimately, a glimpse into someone’s home is a glimpse into what they hold dear, and this in turn stays with us. I still have an origami fan a Japanese exchange student made for me when I was five, and I remember when my Vietnamese students lit incense in front of a Buddha statue for good luck, and taught me how to make rice paper rolls.
By “Uniting the Tribes” we will be extending our hospitality: sharing what we hold dear, exchanging wisdom. We all struggle with many of the same things: shame, anger, war. We yearn for the same things: peace, love, justice, and, ultimately, a sense that there is something greater than us. Searching for meaning in our lives is ultimately what unites us. I want to welcome others into the home of my heart, and I want to be welcomed by them, because we are all on the same journey. I learned this on an interreligious exchange in South Korea, where there was much emphasis on gift-giving as a mutual and sustainable practice geared toward peace and prosperity.
When one makes a journey, one takes on the role of a hero who rarely goes alone. There are always others who help the hero: guides, friends, hospitable strangers. And the hero often comes back to his or her community with a broader understanding of the world, ready to share insights with their community. We cannot help it, by our very nature we are social creatures, and so a world of united tribes is a world in which there are more helpers on the journey, more friends, more hospitable strangers. We are moving past the complications of oppression to the resolution of a deeper understanding of the world and God we share.