“Forget ‘we are easily misled.’ We are easily led… period.” – Justin Beniston
My friend Justin said this years ago and I wrote it down because it struck me as being so true. We, that is to say, human beings, are very easily led. Labels such as individualist, free-thinker, iconoclast, and innovator to which we are all trained to aspire do not fit humans very naturally. We are so much more communal, collective, traditional, and conservative than most of us care to admit. Though I am not sure why we are so hell-bent on being unique, autonomous creatures when we were actually made for each other.
We are all part of a tribe, whether we know it or not
When Justin quipped his memorable phrase in a cell meeting he was not deriding humanity for just being a bunch of sheeple or something like that. He was describing his experience in church, and celebrating how the cell helped him hold onto his faith in a new way. Many antagonistic atheists, of course, would tell you that anyone who is in a cell meeting or any other Jesus-centered gathering is definitely a sheep with their own wool pulled down over their eyes. This, however, would be another demonstration of Justin’s point. Your antagonistic atheist friend would simply be expressing the views of their tribe, characteristics of which include simplistic arguments that cherish cheap gotcha moments and relish the embarrassment of perceived opponents. It is uncanny how similar my conversations are with folks of that tribe.
I will deride the characteristics of their arguments which focus on hurting others, but I won’t deride their similarity. When they sound so similar they’re only being human. I act like that too. As a leader of a people centered on Jesus I depend on our communal understanding to lead the group. Our commonality is part of our strength. People seek out Christian community because they know they need support in believing in a God whom they cannot see and following the Way of Jesus which is very difficult because it is so distinct from what passes for normal in our society.
So choose a tribe that embraces your doubts
Trust is never easy. Faith is a challenge. Obedience feels nigh on impossible most of the time. We need each other and this is not a weakness. We need each other and that was how we were made.
Here’s something else Justin said: “It is easier to trust in a group when you’re not the only one doubting and needing to trust.” This is a unique hallmark that Circle of Hope can boast. Doubt is ok among us. Despite popular understanding to the contrary, the opposite of faith is not uncertainty. Though it varies from individual to individual, the opposite of doubt is much closer to fear or mistrust. Uncertainty is common in my experience of following Jesus, and Jesus said that’s how it would be way back when his disciple, Thomas, was demanding proof of his resurrection. Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). The author of Hebrews said it, perhaps most famously, “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see ” (Hebrews 11:1). We face this doubt together in Circle of Hope by being honest about it. Our group identity is centered on trust not certainty.
Of course we need to trust! Of course we doubt! We’re only human! Or better: We’re VERY human! (And that is a good thing.)
If everyone in your tribe starts sounding the same; if questioning the agreed upon norms and arguments becomes risky; if you’re lonely in your private doubts; it is really hard to keep the faith. This is true no matter the object of faith. Healthy groups provide a safe place for members to voice their questions, but if the group identity is based on a foundation that is so fragile it needs constant protection from perceived attacks, only the faith of the strongest proponents will survive. A group like that becomes an idea protection society. Faithfulness to the cause becomes recitation of the core principles and antagonism toward other thought systems. Sounds familiar right? Many churches function this way. Circle of Hope is attempting another course.
Jesus’ faithfulness is our example
Jesus demonstrated the human project to be loving faithfulness to God. Jesus was also a human do-ing in relationship with a father, God, not just a human being in relationship to the animating principle of the universe. God designed relationship with humanity to be parental and purposeful. Humanity has directions. Babies aren’t born with instruction manuals, but children are meant to become co-workers in an ongoing construction project with the Creator. Jesus summarized this project as “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind… and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22). Almost everyone I know, regardless of tribe, respects the second commandment to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” It’s elsewhere likened to “the Golden Rule.” Too many people think this is basic — as in easy, elementary, common — but I think the Great Commandment, as I like to call it, is really hard to do!
We aren’t very good (really) at the Golden Rule
Most people want to believe they are very good at making moral decisions. Everyone wants to believe they are generally a good person. There is nothing wrong with this desire, unless we are serious about wanting to BE moral and actually DO good. Wanting to believe in our own personal capacity for goodness is a recipe for failure.
In fact, humans are not very good at moral decision making. We do not choose good based on sober-minded judgments. Much more often, we choose whatever presents itself to us. We are products of our environment. It’s not just a cliche. Our environment and tribe is very, very influential in all of our decision making. Justin was saying this in a new way. If we drop the individualism act and embrace this element of our humanity we will be better off.
And that could be a OK if we admit it
We could see the fact that we are easily led as a positive attribute. Our relational, inherently communal orientation could be beautiful. Accepting this part of ourselves makes choosing our tribe all the more important. What kind of decisions do you want to make? Who do you want to trust? How do you want to be a part of God’s project for the world? (Do you wan to be a part of it?) Your tribe will help you answer these questions, and help you live up to your aspirations. You do not have to go it alone, and in fact, no one ever actually does anyway.
Those who claim preeminent individuality are much less successful at impassivity than they think. They are just covertly influenced. Blindness to what is functionally leading us is foolishness. Insistence on independence when we are naturally dependent creatures is misguided. Refusing to examine what influences us leads to all kind of evil. But awareness of the community that shapes us helps us to be and do what we hope.
Want to choose Circle of Hope (or come and see if you might want to?)
This is the way we are choosing in Circle of Hope. We say we are creating an environment where people can know God and act for redemption. We are seeking active participants who nurture our communally nurtured environment. We are a chosen tribe, a new chance at family. Each of us consciously choosing the influence of others because we know we are not as good as we want to be at making decisions that lead us in our chosen way — the Way of Jesus.
If you’re interested in joining up, let me know, [email protected]. In the pandemic, most of our cells are on zoom, so you can link up from anywhere.