I believe

The Boston Globe published an article this week about how climate change is already being felt in New England. ”

“I tell my students that they’re going to be able to tell their children, ‘I remember when it used to snow in Boston,’ ” said Ray Bradley, an author of the study and director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts. “We’ll have occasional snow, but we won’t have weeks and weeks of snow on the ground.”

I’ve wrestled a lot lately with how – and why – people can vehemently believe something is true when the facts and evidence point to the opposite conclusion. The science has been saying for 30 years that our planet is warming. Walking around in a fifty degree January – the second year that’s been possible. Last year we had 11 straight months of “the hottest year on record”. This graph shows just how fast the change has been occurring, compared to geological normal shifts in temperature. It’s hard to look at these facts and understand how you can reasonably deny that the world is warming. Even if you find it in your heart to say this is totally a coincidence and has nothing to do with human causes (also a real stretch), we can *see* how the climate is changing. It’s literally cracking apart the Antarctic ice shelf. But even people in a position to know otherwise, such as our president-elect, claim that this shift isn’t taking place.

Why? If you don’t realize what’s coming, you can’t plan for it. If you pretend this isn’t happening, and oh, build huge buildings whose foundations are likely to be under water in 20 years, you may lose a lot of money. I get that it may be very expensive to cut CO2 levels, and that some current economic powerhouses will suffer. But it’s another thing altogether to decide not to plan for the inevitable outcome of that decision.

The vehemence with which people *don’t believe this* confuses me. I was thinking about it, and I realized I was missing a critical element. People think that what you believe changes the truth. I wonder if there’s some unspoken conviction that if we all BELIEVE the world isn’t warming, then in fact the world will not be warming. From that perspective, the persistent voices of climate scientists saying otherwise is a threat. They’re disrupting the concerted belief required to make global warming untrue. By disrupting the belief, they’re actually making global warming happen. If we just all believed together it wasn’t happening, it wouldn’t happen.

This explains both the solution they have (prevent global warming by believing it isn’t happening with the assumption that what is believed is true) and why they’re so vitriolic to opposing voices.

As a Christian, I think I understand where this mind set might come from. Christianity is rife with the power of belief. In the Gospel of Mark chapter 9, the very mindset I lay out above is preached:

23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark is at it again in Chapter 11:

22“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Let’s not forget walking on water. Peter does the impossible because of the strength of his belief.

But there are some things are, or are not, regardless of your belief in them. God does not require our belief in order to exist (and therefore unbelievers aren’t a threat to God – would you really want to believe in a God who needed us to exist?). This universe does not need to be believed in to keep spinning in its glorious order and chaos. Gravity operated unobserved for millions of years before we believed in it. Believing really hard will not make false things true. And failing to believe – even the most willful denial – will not make unwanted things go away. We need to be more careful in our thinking about where belief matters, and where the world is uncaring about what we believe to be true.

I was about ready to stop my thinking there, when Martin Luther King Day happened. My son came home with a copy of Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. Was this iconic, inspiring speech the exact same thing, only on the other side of the belief divide? I read it carefully for the word “belief”. And I discovered something remarkable – the difference I would invite you to embrace. What Dr. King believed was that it was possible for this post-racial environment to exist. He dreamed of a day when his four little children would live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. He did not believe we lived in that world already, or that such a world was an inevitable one. He only dreamed that it was possible.

And that difference – between believing that what you want is possible, and believing that wanting it will make it true.

So, let’s believe that it’s possible for us to decide whether to make the sacrifices necessary to not warm our planet any further … or to plan for living in a much warmer planet. But whenever you get angry at someone for not believing the way you do, ask where your anger comes from. If it comes from a conviction that belief will change the outcome, ask yourself if that is really true.


Thoughts? Where are some of the other places in our society where the belief itself is important? What are some things that really do change based on whether you believe? What am I misunderstanding here?

Christmas Cards

The picture which made it on the Christmas Cards this year
The picture which made it on the Christmas Cards this year

Christmas Cards are a big deal to me. The process starts in the summer with the question: should I get a professional to take our pictures? Every four years it’s a no-brainer. We have a professional picture taken ever four years for our family portrait wall (usually by Coe). This year was one of the four. The pictures came out fantastically!

Sometime around Thanksgiving, often Thanksgiving proper, I go onto Shutterfly and craft my cards. (Their site is annoying, but improving, and their production values are excellent.) I usually make a calendar for the grandparent-set at the same time, so it’s a lovingly laborious process of going through all the pictures I’ve taken all year, spotting the highlights, uploading them, fixing them, etc. I place the order, and curse myself for not doing this two weeks ago so I could WRITE the cards during Thanksgiving, because I won’t end up having enough time to do them justice. (Please note: this happens EVERY YEAR.) Fall is my busiest time, so I really don’t have time to do this two weeks earlier, to my regret.

So there I am, on the 9th of December, with 100 cards and envelopes staring me in the face. And I begin.

I have two sets of addresses – my personal address list and the church list. The first list is about 60 addresses long, and then I send out all the remaining to my church brothers and sisters. This process probably takes me 20 – 30 hours over the coming weeks. I spend big amounts of time on weekends, and nearly every free weeknight. It takes me far more time than baking, shopping or decorating do.

Why do I do it? And why does it take so long?

Happily, the act of writing all these cards gives me a lengthy chance to think on that investment. And year after year I have come to the same conclusion: this time is not only worthwhile, but precious.

You see, I address the outside of the envelope, and then I write to the person I care about. Some people actually get a full sized letter in their Christmas card. There are a couple correspondents I have where our only communication is annually, at Christmas. For example, one of my college classmates died of Muscular Dystrophy a few years after graduation. We had been good friends in college, and I’d known his mother who had moved heaven and earth to give him a “normal college experience” even though he was very motion constrained. So I wrote his mother a sympathy card, letting her know what he’d meant to me. She asked me to keep in touch, saying it was nice to follow what his life might have been like if he’d been healthy. So, every year I send her a Christmas Card with an update on my life. (And of course, every year I remember my friend in doing so.) And every year she writes back with an update on hers. So the updates are huge – a baby born, a wedding, a big job shift, a move, a death in the family.

And that shows what’s precious to me about this whole laborious process. I take time to really think about the people who matter to me. I stop from my busy day and try to tell them how I really feel about them. Almost every year, there’s a name I take off my list. This year, I didn’t send a card to Grandma Jones because she is gone where no Christmas Card can reach. This sorrowful moment is also a reminder that I have no guarantees that this isn’t the last Christmas card I’ll ever send to the friend in question.

So, if this was the last card I ever send to this person, what would I want to say? If this was my last chance to tell them what they mean to me, how would the card be different? And then I try to write THAT card. (Note – this isn’t perfect. Sometimes inspiration fails, and sometimes I just get tired.)

Christmas is a time of counting blessings. We get and receive gifts. We connect to family and friends we don’t see as often. We lay down our busy lives and pick up our slower ones. We think about the year behind and plan for the year ahead. We think of what is meaningful to us.

There is nothing more meaningful, more precious to me, than you my friends. There’s no gift under the Christmas tree more dear to me than the ones that fill my mailbox this time of year.

Merry Christmas to you, my friends, and a joyful new year.

These are a few of my favorite things
These are a few of my favorite things

Peace & the Second Sunday in Advent

Today is the second Sunday in Advent. The four advent candles, for the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, stand for hope, peace, joy and love. Every week in this season of waiting we light another candle. The world gets a little brighter and we think on these things: what it is to hope, what a hope of peace looks like, how it is to feel joy, and the great love we believe God showed us in becoming human to be one of us.

Candles & LEDS - the oldest and newest light sources
Candles & LEDS – the oldest and newest light sources

This weekend my family prepared ourselves for Christmas. We selected the tree. We brought down the boxes of ornaments. We hung one advent calendar and filled a second one with Hershey’s Kisses. We played The Kingston Trio’s “Last Month of the Year” and Roger Whittaker’s Christmas Album. We told the children the stories of the ornaments as we hung them: the sad stories, the funny stories, the happy stories. We discussed optimal ornament hanging strategies, and enjoyed the new LED lights we got with purple instead of pink making the tree significantly less orangy this year than last year. We watched Scooby Doo in a fit of nostalgia brought on by Thane’s Scooby Doo ornament, and the children were shocked to discover that it is actually pretty good.

Decorator and decoratee
Decorator and decoratee

Our halls decked, Adam and I decamped to my holiday Christmas party where I got to sing on the stage at the House of Blues, which was something I didn’t know was on my bucket list until I was standing under the bright lights singing.

All dressed up with somewhere to go
All dressed up with somewhere to go

I love this time of year so much. And I think what I love most about it is that it’s a joyous contradiction. It’s the season of lights, but instead of bright 100 watt bulbs we light our homes with, with have tiny 13 lumen candleflames. It’s the season of warmth as we turn up collars and look to the first snow-commute-disaster of the year. (Tomorrow, according to one report I read!) It’s a time busy with parties and cookies and cards and caroling and…. but it’s also a time of year when we slow down a little. We sit a little and look at the lights. This year I’m feeling the magic of the season in full force. Perhaps it’s because this year for the first time my children are full collaborators in the creation and appreciation of the time apart. We shall see.

Peace is a rare commodity in this world. The world keeps throwing up sorrows. Just this week, one of my friends was dead for two hours when his heart stopped Thanksgiving night. And blocks from my work, in the blink of an eye sixty people became homeless as their Christmas trees went up in a grand conflagration. In Aleppo, the last voices of the crushed citizens are going silent. Where is the peace? And if I find it in the walls of my own house, with my family and my tree and my Christmas music, well… should I? What right do I have to peace when so many live without it?

But then we come back to that first candle. I still cannot believe that despite two hours without a pulse, my friend was saved. (He just posted a hilarious status update “In my defense, I was dead at the time.”) Through a miracle past knowing, no one was killed or seriously injured in a fire that called firefighters from 20 neighboring towns. There’s no silver lining for Aleppo, but there is a sliver of hope at Standing Rock, where the Army Corps has decided to find a safer route.

The peace we have comes from the hope, not from the existing perfection. And we look forward to joy – the rarest of emotions – and to love, the foundation stone for our lives.

High Pressure System

Somewhere on the drive between Stoneham and Meredith New Hampshire, the seasons changed. As I wrote last week, I’ve spent the last few months without once feeling cold outside. I brushed past my beloved bathrobe – my constant companion while at home – and wondered why I had such a useless thing the other day. As we laded the family vehicle of burden with the heavy gear of our adventuring (bikes dripping off the bag like wax from a candle) I felt the familiar prickle of sweat across the brow of my back.

But over the glow of the campfire, I felt compelled to add a flannel shirt. And then a hoodie sweater. And as we lay under the canopy of stars, seamed by the Milky Way, I remembered that I really should bring an additional blanket on this last camping trip of the year, and that I’d long contemplated upgrading our sleeping bags from “useless” to “slightly useful”. I shivered in the cold, and it was strange.

I’d thought that my family was working our usual camping-weather-magic. You know, the rain dance kind of magic. I sent a note out to my coworkers promising a cessation in the drought, based on past successes there. The prediction that Hermine would land just about the time we’d be wrapping up led to a conclusion that maybe we should wrap up ever so slightly earlier, so we wouldn’t have to put away a wet tent. But I felt good – nay, noble! – in bringing the rains to our parched land.

(Aside: I’m coming to see a drought drought as being very similar to a romantic drought. The more desperate you are, the less likely you are to get lucky. Apparently our ground is so dry it just tears apart rain storms for the water before they can even form.)

***Now, let us take a break to comfort a terrified child who hears horrors lurking in the wind. I laid myself next to him and turned on a Youtube video of sleep hypnosis. I think you should all be extremely impressed that I made it back to my keyboard to finish my blog post.***

But, the rains have not come. The high pressure which has lurked over the northlands these last few months is fending off a determined attack from the warm waters of the south. These storms birthed in the womb of the Sahara, nurtured over the Atlantic crossing, trained in the placid waters of the Caribbean have had their attack shunted aside by the shield of warm, dry air that hovers protectively above us. There was no rain last night. There are great gusty sighing winds tonight, with spatters of rain. But there are not the pelting sheets of water that wash away the slough of Summer and turn roads into temporary rivers.

Still, it feels good to feel the pressure drop. We humans are far less attuned than our animal brethren to such things, but I think we still know when storms are coming on a physical level. The drop in barometry has always felt uncanny to me. I (as you may have noticed) get poetical. (My terrified son just called my sensible. He meant it as a compliment. But I am not so sure that I am always sensible. I am not so sure I wish to be sensible.) The winds feel wild and my heart rides on their wings. The autumn is coming. I’ve always been able to feel closer to my truer self in the clearness of autumn. And I can reach past sensibility in an autumn storm.

Outside my window, something rubs. There is a creaking complaint against the wind. The “sensible” homeowner in me (who has a litany of complaints, at the moment) does not believe that the scraping is either part of my house or in a tree that has reach enough to touch my house. It is a dry and whiny sound, like the last remembrance of superstition. I won’t be surprised to find a branch down in the morning, and that complaining screed forever silenced.

We are not the same, after storms. Even after storms that deal us only glancing blows, turned aside by the armor of our pressure. For many, this is no metaphor but instead tragedy. For others, it is a chance for us to escape, however briefly, from the ridge of high pressure that locks us in the clear-skied and consistent heat to a wild moment of low pressure.

A dry, hot summer

Mt. Rainier reflection panoramic. True color - no filter.
Mt. Rainier reflection panoramic. True color – no filter.

I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest. I was just home, and reveled in the depths of the blues and greens and whites of my mountain home. August adds a fourth color – the lions-mane gold of the grass fields baking in the summer sun.

The ruins near the river, where I used to adventure.
The ruins near the river, where I used to adventure.

But August in the Northwest is brief, and so much of the rest of the year I was trained to expect the muted grays and greens that are so much a signature of the region. You can go weeks with a fantastic view of Mt. Rainier, and never once see it through the clouds. I grew up with both times to go outside and venture down towards the creek to the remnants of a former era, and to plan to hole up in my room with a good novel and a steady rain tapping on my roof and walls. And the balance of my life tipped more towards novel-reading than train-track-travels.

I still look to rainy days as times of rest and contemplation. They’re times to shut off the extrovert and welcome the introvert. I crave that time to read, to think, to contemplate poetry, and to feel deeply. I spend my whole life talking and acting. I need time to listen and think. And I need rain to do so properly. (Although snow will do in a pinch, and fog can also fill in.)

But it hasn’t rained. This summer has stretched out hot and humid and gloriously summery. Night after night has been punctuated by the whir of the AC drowning out the sound of the crickets. The skies have gone overcast, but the rain has passed us by. In fact, my corner of the state is in an extreme drought – the penultimate level before you get classified as an exceptional drought. Trees are dying. Plants are withering. Grasses have gone sere. The land is baking under the heat.

The dying forests of California
The dying forests of California

And it’s not just Massachusetts. I went to California this spring – in what was supposed to be an El Nino deluge. I was shocked at what I saw. The air in the Central Valley was thick as sin and hung darkly over the even rows of orange trees. As I climbed up out of the groves to the woodlands, the trees stood stark orange corpses. The drought had claimed them, and was growing. The paths that should have been impassible with snow stood wide open in late February, up in the heights of the Sierra Nevadas.

Finally, I went home to Washington. The Evergreen State still surely holds it’s name. But drought was being felt there too. The burn bans were on. The firefighters were tense, waiting for the spark to begin their fighting once again. Even the lush lands of my youth are dry.

Then, down south, the word came that floods, unheralded by named storm, had swept over the same battered folk who had suffered in Katrina were being drowned again in the relentlessness of the water.

I feel the wrongness of the lack of rain in my own home, and where I grew up. I’m sure those down south are looking at their lands and wondering where the line is between land and water after all.

Humans have always felt powerless against the weather. It’s always been one of those factors outside our control – almost reassuringly so. I wonder if that’s not really at the root of why we have done nothing in the 30 years since we were told that our actions would change the weather. Perhaps we didn’t believe we really could change the weather? Perhaps we saw our actions as immutable as a rolling storm – nothing we ourselves could stand against. I understand, somewhat, why the world hasn’t come together to prevent our actions from changing the face of the world.

A dramatic representation of how normal has changed

But what I don’t understand is why we haven’t prepared for the change we know was coming. What do we need to do differently as the sea levels rise? Which cities need to be abandoned, or protected? What steps have we taken to resettle the inhabitants? What seawalls built? I’m frankly gobsmacked that massive new development has been done just bare feet above sea level, on fill, in the Seaport District of Boston. I’m not entirely sure all those buildings will even be finished before they’re swamped. Those future residents will at some point have a nasty surprise, but we pretend like that’s an unknowable future instead of the near-certainty it is. We know it will happen. We even have a good idea of when. We just want to pretend it won’t.

I desperately wish I know what I could do to fight this. The voices that have been raised to warn have been laughed down, and beaten down over decades. The small economies of a single household pale by comparison the the vast wastefulness practiced by others. Keeping the thermostat at 68 in the winter means literally nothing – taken by itself. I wish that I had solutions for this problem, like I wish I had for so many others.

But I will say this – do not be surprised. Our world is changing. The Northwest Passage has been created by melting ice. The seawaters are rising. The rains fall more in some places, less in others. If you will not work to prevent it – and we have not – then we must work to live in the new world we have created.

And every hot day without rain just reminds me of it.

Timon of Athens and the Happiness Exchange Rate

I mentioned earlier that the book “The Last Safe Investment” had raised two interesting thoughts (which is two more than is standard from that kind of book). I explored the idea of “Tribe” in my earlier post about how Stoneham is coming together to help a kid with autism stay safe. (Three weeks until the big day! Buy your tickets now, or donate online!)

The second interesting idea had to do with “the Happiness Exchange Rate”. The idea is this. Past meeting all your basic needs, the purpose of money is usually to make you happy. (There are plenty of exceptions.) But we don’t always think very carefully about the happiness per dollar ratio we’re getting. For example, a new car would make me happy. I don’t need one – both of my cars run fine and get the job done, but especially the older one is getting a bit junky. A Saturday morning sleeping in, drinking coffee in bed and reading a novel would also make me happy. One of these things costs $25k (minimum). One of these things might set me back $10 in the worst case scenario for the novel.

Would the new car make me four orders of magnitude happier than the lazy Saturday morning? Would it make me two thousdand five hundred times happier than that novel? If we factor in the obnoxiousness of having to deal with a car salesman, I think that on the whole I’d be LESS happy with the car than with the caffeinated novel consumption. So the amount of $$$ it takes for a unit of happiness is much lower for the novel than for the car.

The authors make the point, however, that we’re really bad about judging how these things stack up against each other. They tell the story of someone who spent $200k on a bottle of wine, and described the experience as “nice”. Give me a $10 bottle of wine and great friends over a $200 bottle of wine any day of the week!

These ideas of friendship and money (and using money to obtain friendship) were one of the great themes of Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens”, which we just saw in Ashland. (A trip that was, I think, an excellent investment per unit of happiness.). For those unfamiliar with the work, Timon was a leader of Athens and a purveyor of the best parties. He’d host his friends. He’d wine and dine them and give them rich gifts. He’d bail them out if they ever needed bailing out. The money flowed from his hands to his friends in an unending torrent.

Or almost unending. Athenian – and Elizabethan – economics are very similar to ours. If you spend more than you earn, you eventually run out of cash.

Timon assumed that his great generosity had bought him true friends, who would be as generous with him as he had been with them. When his messengers knocked on their doors, however, they were turned away with feeble excuses. The giving was a one way street.

The entire second act takes place on a rubbish pile while Timon rails at his erstwhile friends, names himself Misanthropous (hater of humans), and provides an army of invading Athenian soldiers (also rejected by an ungrateful Athens) the funds* with which to sack and raze the city, before he commits suicide.

Methinks that either Shakespeare (or his co-author Christopher Marley) may have had an experience that stung, somewhat. I suspect that one or more persons in the audience were red-faced at the incredible ingratitude on display.

One could definitely argue that the happiness exchange rate of Timon’s gifts was… poor. What he thought he was getting with his money was not in fact what he got.

Our vacation was rather indulgent. We ate some great meals, saw five great plays (“Great Expectations”, “A Winter’s Tale”, “Timon of Athens”, “Yeoman of the Guard” and a riotous “Twelfth Night”), spent some time at a great spa and got a lovely piece of jewelry for our anniversary. Having this sendup of spending in the middle of our indulgent vacation was both a timely reminder to remain moderate, and an interesting juxtoposition.

I think it’s worth thinking carefully about where our spending is habitual, where it FEELS like it will make us happy, and what actually makes us happy. Feasting my friends at my house makes me happy – although I don’t do so thinking that doing so “earns” me anything from them past perhaps their friendship. Hiking and camping make me really happy. Reading makes me happy, especially in cozy situations like around campfires or in cafes. Writing makes me happy. Playing board games makes me happy. I love singing. I confess to digging hanging around with my friends and maybe a glass of wine. For the most part, these are moderately priced things with great happiness exchange rates.

I really don’t want or need a fancy car (although as some point I’ll probably need a new car). I take no pleasure in expensive clothes. (They just worry me, since I’m guaranteed to spill something on them.) 70% of the time, I’m disappointed when I eat out. (I could make it better, the restaurants are too loud, they make me wait too long.) My tastes in wine or drink are moderate. Spending a lot on high quality options doesn’t make me enjoy them more. I should do less of these things, or avoid them altogether, since the happiness exchange rate is poor.

The book inspired me and the play reminded me nourish and flourish the activities that make me happy with a great exchange rate, and despite seeming like I “should” like other expensive things, to question whether they make me happier than other cheaper (and healthier?) options.

Does this concept ring true? What are some of your excellent happiness ROI activities? What things have you tried that have just turned out to be a waste of money? And what are the very expensive things that are totally worth it to you anyway?

*Which he ironically finds buried under the refuse heap where he’s sleeping.

Tribe

I recently read a book called “The Last Safe Investment: Spending Now to Increase Your True Wealth Forever” (by Bryan Franklin and Michael Ellsberg). The authors came and spoke at my place of work about their theses – and we had time for questions and answers.

The book had two interesting concepts in it, for thinking about. The first was about Happiness Exchange Rate. In my perfect world, I’d write a blog post dedicated to my thoughts on that topic, so I won’t go into more detail here. (In the actual world, you should probably just read the book to find out for yourself, because intended blog posts are a loooooong way away from reality.)

The second interesting concept was Tribe, and how a Tribe both helped you get money (which you could use to make yourself happy), it also just plain makes yourself happy.

This was a weekend for Tribe.

A small part of my tribe
A small part of my tribe

There are few things that make me feel richer than dwelling on my friends. This weekend, we held the first annual “Flynn’s Fiery Feast” – to provide that critical third gathering between Piemas and Mocksgiving. For those who don’t follow me regularly, those are two “made up” holidays in November and March where 30-40 grownups and associated children get together and eat a lot and play board games and enjoy each other’s company. The people represented are a venn diagram of several social circles: college friends, gaming friends, internet friends, church friends, family, neighbors and a small handful of coworkers. (It’s also fewer people than I’d like to invite, but after about 50 humans in it, my house is just too small to add more. Don’t think because you’re not at that party we aren’t friends – we are – the parties just can’t get much bigger.)

We laughed and joked and caught up and ate and played board games and sat around the fire and had an awesome time. I felt like Scrooge McDuck, swimming in his gigantic pool of gold, surrounded by a real wealth of love and warm feelings. And then my friends helped clean up before they left. Seriously, people. It doesn’t get better than that.

Bryan and Michael say in there book that a Tribe is key to wealth – not only because it gives you the happiness that you’re theoretically trying to get enough money to have, but because it can help you in a thousand practical ways. And I’ve seen that play out for myself. Perhaps the tightest Tribe in my diagram is a group of moms who get together about once a month, and chat often on Facebook. This group of ladies is mostly just for fun. We do talk about parenting books, and exchange ideas about how to make our lives and the lives of others better. We support each other in fitness, borrow each other’s steam cleaners and babysitters, and know we can put out an all-call for whether someone has condensed milk handy (so we don’t have to go to a store and interrupt our baking).

Stuffing eggs for an egg hunt
Stuffing eggs for an egg hunt

But we also provide a backstop for each other whose depth may appear hidden. One of our moms’ husband was in a near-fatal car accident. For a few weeks, we delivered home made, love-stuffed meals and snacks. As you read about last week, one of our moms needs to raise $15,000 to get her son a service dog. The fundraiser is being led by the other moms, bringing together pretty amazing skills and collaboration. For a few months our regular chat is being replaced by party planning, and no one has said anything but “how can I help”? It’s this amazing sense of knowing that someone has your back (especially with little family in the area), to have a group of people like this.

Bryan and Michael describe a Tribe this way, “Tribe is simply a networked group of friends bound by their caring for one another and for a similar aesthetic for life. But when a group of friends become networked – when each knows the other – something else, not available from simple friendship, emerges.” (The Last Safe Investment, Franklin & Ellsberg, p. 277) They talk a lot about how important it is that the relationships are not “hub and spokes”, but a matrix of connections. They talk about how key shared values are to a tribe. And they go WAY FURTHER from my happy groups of friends to actual communal living.

They also have a Silicon Valley-esque focus on entrepreneurship. I asked when they gave their talk if this sort of group of people wouldn’t have the effect of compounding inequality. (Rich people with rich friends would be richer. Poor people with poor friends would not.) They assured me their Tribe cut across income. (In retrospect, however, I’m curious if it cuts across class. I wonder what degree of disparity in educational attainment and opportunity a Silicon-Valley-based-tribe actually has. Not, mind, that my Tribes are that much more class diverse.) They also talk a lot about how creating repeated opportunities for people to come together can create Tribe. (Which was actually my proximate cause for finally getting around to scheduling the long-contemplated third holiday.)

Coming out of the book talk, I started chatting with my coworkers about the topic, and realized something.

Quick: describe a group of people who have relationships with each other (not around a central figure), who come together very regularly, who cut across generational & class lines, who support each other, and who have strong shared values.

Does that ring a bell?

I realized, in that conversation, that the Tribe is the Church. That hole left in society when people walked away from both theology and communal worship is a gaping one, and it needs to be filled. It makes sense that groups and ideas like this one would be developed to plug the gap. But I also think that maybe churches need to see themselves a bit more like Tribes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we saw ourselves as a group of people who come together because of shared values to support (and enjoy) each other, and then to turn our collective will towards service towards each other and the world? When we say “my Church” – how many of us imagine the building? The steeple and communion table and pews? Instead, it would be awesome if we thought of that great cloud of friends we have in the church. Take Jesus and the disciples – there was a Tribe to be reckoned with. (And they didn’t even have a building!) The early church actually did take it all the way to communal living. I think that as a congregation we can aspire to that same sense of joyful security that I get when I think of my friends.


Do you have a tribe? Who do you lean on in times of trouble? What do you do to build up your connections? I’d love to hear how this concept looks from your point of view!