Tribal Integrity

cain-abel

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Genesis 4:8-9 KJV

The irony of Cain’s retort is that he was technically not his brother’s keeper- at least in the paternal sense- for Able was a grown man. He smugly asked the question to dodge the confession God was clearly importuning. Cain’s words are particularly aggravating because he was obviously not expected to be his brother’s keeper in that sense. What further revealed Cain’s callousness is that he didn’t desire to be his brother’s keeper in any sense.

Cain’s first sin was self-exoneration. In the very act of sacrifice, he revealed his own delusions of self-importance. He had prepared an offering that was displeasing to the Lord but convenient for himself. God chided Cain for his inward motives. His delusions quickly devolved into an entitled self-centeredness and then into covetousness. God compassionately warned Cain to “master his sin.” Instead he left his covetousness unbridled, and it resulted in the first murder in recorded history.

Human beings have always existed for worship of our Creator. Worship is not merely wrapped up in art or song but in the very activity of our lives. Our fellowship with God was always intended to be the hub of our existence- from it all else flows. When the parents of Cain sinned, corruption and brokenness became humanity’s inheritance. There is, of course, a greater inheritance gifted unto the children of God. But until death or the fulfillment of the second act of Christ’s coming, humanity will suffer the plight of our fallen nature.

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.”

Isaiah 14:12-15 KJV

Our befallen nature distorts our reality and predisposes us to see false gods everywhere, even in ourselves. The devil himself is our example. The story of Cain reveals to us the logical conclusions of our idolatry. His self-adulation deluded him into entitledness and thus covetousness. James reminds us “when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

The majority of mankind are not so murderous, but we do have a propensity toward individualism due to our delusional self-appraisal. To be clear, it is natural and necessary for one to pursue their own needs primarily, but the individualist pursues his own needs exclusively.

Humans have always been tribal by nature, and this has protected and enhanced civilizations throughout history. We are social beings who thoroughly depend upon one another. While self-concern is necessary to the success of the individual, and therefore to the tribe; individualism is damning to the tribe and therefore to the individual.
There are many variables that encourage individualism in a society, and one must be keen to break free from these influences. For they arrouse in us the greatest defects of our humanity- wantonness and vanity. Individualism may transpire into ruthless competitiveness or devestating indifference (such as neglect)- all of which diminish the integrity of the tribe. But there is another motivater that agitates our unity as a people. Fear.

I don’t mean fear in a legitimized sense. There are enemies of humanity ever pursuing havoc and seeking to goad a society into submission. They are the ones for whom fear exists. Fear is reaction. It is not a reaction that springs up to transform us into cowards. It springs up to motivate our preparedness for battle. Fear exists to be overcome, and it is overcome by tactical confrontation. In this sense, fear is an appropriate motivator. Unfortunately, fear is often treated more harmfully. In a society so motivated by comfort, virtues like courage become all but lost.

In modern western society this notion has become endemic. A successful human society has always been tribalistic. Tribalism requires that all men be keepers of their brethren, for both love and survival. Any threat to the integrity of the tribe must be dealt with properly, lest it corrode the entire society from the inside out.

In the 1980s the media helped to proliferate a pedophile scare. Anyone growing up around this time may recall the warnings to beware of perverts apparently lurking around every corner. My church even had its very own “Tickle Man.” He was a fat old man with a beard who would tickle random children. When his sordid, pedophiliac past was eventually revealed, the pastor promptly excommunicated him from the congregation.

Perhaps there was an uptick in perverts in the 80s. It’s hard to say. In the very least, a great many of them were put away or more carefully monitored. While monsters still do exist in our society, the vast majority within have, in the very least, a desire not to harm one’s neighbor. We would all be better for it if we took a step further.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves….”

Philippians 2:3 NASB

Christ famously prepares his disciples for their ministry by admonishing them to be “gentle as doves, but wise as serpents.” We truly have an obligation to be suspect of others. In any society, trust out to be earned. The trouble comes when we lose our ability to even issue trust because we are so motivated by a fear that is rooted in the toxic generalization that every peer is a probably threat. There needs to be a sense in which we can plan for the worst but give a benefit of doubt to presume the best about others. A society crippled by fear of one another will be a society easily subjugated. Even in the absence of threats of domination, a society will be totally maimed by fear.

The integrity of a society demands personal discipline coupled with deep love and servitude for one’s family and peers. Individualism (in the form of neglect or aggression toward others) and fear (in the form of total and general societal distrust) are the acids that deteriorate the fabrics of a society. These truisms are applicable to any society, though I would argue that a society is all the better off in the presence of shared creeds that regard the reason humankind exists at all. But that is another matter.

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Fresh Eyes

I manage a kitchen at a homeless shelter that sits on a one-way street in an industrial park. The road is often blocked with delivery trucks, construction rigs, fire engines, or commonly as I saw tonight- an EMT squad. I got into my car to leave, turned around at the sight of the blockage, and headed in the opposite direction to the main road. Due to light traffic, it easy to take for granted that these one-way streets are public. People frequently drive down them in the wrong direction. It is common to do so before becoming familiarized with the layout of the property. Tonight, I had no choice but to exit against the current.

I recalled the first time I ever set foot in the shelter. I went in for an interview, and then I returned to help serve dinner a few nights later. The shelter is newly built and generally well maintained, but the clientele turn general maintenance into an uphill endeavor. I remember the freshly painted but sickly color scheme that all of the walls wore like vomit. I remember the smell of human feces and cheap cigarettes. The smell of chemicals to mask it all. I remember the vastness of the building. Every corridor went into an endless and unknown expanse. Every door was locked, and what hid behind each one was a mystery. After a single night of volunteering I was eventually offered position which I then accepted on a whim.

Day after day I returned to the shelter. A year later the color scheme still looks queazy, but I am able to see through it now. On any given day, I might be greeted with aromas of soiled jeans and  sweats. Second hand smoke of the lowest grade cigarettes still lingers through several panes of glass. I recoil, but only briefly. I breath through my mouth until I can make it into one of the locked rooms where the scents cannot linger. I know every room and corridor in the building now. Despite its magnitude, there is little mystery in it anymore. It has all become so familiar.

I have experienced this sensation everywhere I have ever been employed. Familiarity shrinks the expanse that newness gives. Fresh eyes become stale. It is not that there is no mystery left. It is that I have stopped wondering. Is this not the natural response to anyone’s experience of any person, place, or thing- to develop this sense that one’s relationship with anything can somehow be exhausted? I may become bored of anything or anyplace or anyone, but it is not familiarity that causes boredom. It is a lack thereof.

Repetition brings about sensations of familiarity. In the absence of wonder, boredom sets in and makes one disengaged from the reality before them. When sensations die, when awe and curiosity cease, the experience of our subject becomes passive. We stop experiencing things for what they are, because what they are is always deeper than the surface. Boredom passively takes for granted those intricacies buried beneath. Newness always brings with it sensations of wonder that fuel interest and curiosity. As those sensations fade, it is only humility and discipline of the mind that allow us to discover new things. Familiarity transcends into intimacy. That which was familiar and stale is suddenly infused with newness. And so it is with everything.