Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Tribal Gods

You might have noticed that Celestial Lands has calmed down (less blog posts) over the past My mom and my nephew Lokiweek or so. That is because my mom came to Chicago to spend a week with us and hear me preach on Mother’s Day. It was the first time she has come to visit us (we have been to visit her) in over seven years. It was a wonderful visit, not only for touring Chicago but also for just spending time with the woman who gave me birth, over 35 years ago.

Now, my mother is a Pentecostal Preacher and minister. She describes herself as having “come out of the womb speaking in tongues”. She is as mystical a woman as I have ever met, with a charismatic personality, a mystical understanding of the Bible, and a compassionate heart. And, for the second time, I let her loose on a Unitarian Universalist Congregation on a Sunday morning. My mother was surprisingly reserved…

One of our church attendees, a fellow seminarian at my seminary, asked my mother if she was a Unitarian. It was just the opening my mother was looking for. There was a look of shock in my fellow seminarians face when my mother announced to the small crowd she had gathered that she was a Baptized in the Spirit Pentecostal Preacher of the Gospel. My seminarian friend then asked if she was upset that I was a Unitarian Universalist and not a Pentecostal. My mother responded with a story she had been told at a ministers conference a few years ago.

At this conference, which consisted of clergy from all over the world, the worship leader preached about the “Witnesses” in the gospel. Now, my mother, and many of the other ministers from America took the word “witnesses” to mean those who had actually witnessed the life and teachings of Jesus… the apostles, the disciples, those who had been healed by miracles. But many of the African clergy who were in attendance took the word “witnesses” to mean their ancestors… those who had walked the path of the African church before them, preached and pastored congregations.

One of the leaders of the African delegation and the minister who had preached the sermon argued the point endlessly over the next several days. The debate went from this one point into many different areas of theology, and they began to see how differently they each saw the Gospel.

At a point of frustration for the American minister, the African minister took his hand and said “Thank you for this conversation. We must have these conversations my brother in Christ, else we each end up serving our own tribal gods.”

It is too easy to spend our time in conversation with those who either agree with us, or who come close to doing so. We can spend our time in the circles in which we are comfortable, discussing and debating with those with whom our differences are minor. We can find deep affirmation in those conversations, but if those are the only kinds of conversations we are having, we end up serving our own “tribal”, or “denominational” gods.

We need to be comfortable enough in our faith to go out and have engaged and open conversations with those who disagree with us radically. We need to enter into those conversations willing to be changed by them… not converted, but changed. We need to see that the world does not all agree with us, nor will it ever, nor would we want it to. What a boring, static world that would be.

A parishioner said it best, in responding to my mom. She said that in her work she often spoke with people from very different religious and societal backgrounds, and it had profoundly changed her and continues to do so. She is a stronger Unitarian Universalist for having spoken with the African American women with whom she works. She has learned about her faith, and deepened her own understanding by sharing it, and by having it challenged by others.

I found the same situation was true when I attended the Army Chaplain School with over a hundred ministers from many denominations, all more conservative that I.

We have to find ways to move beyond tolerance of other religions, into active engagement with other ways of thinking. Respect is not enough, it is an easy out. We have to have these conversations with each other, my sisters and brothers, or we all end up serving our own Tribal Gods.

Yours in Faith,


3 Thoughts on “Tribal Gods

  1. Your mom is a very wise woman! And I agree with her—-we are enriched by all those different points of view we encounter, especially when we disagree with them.

  2. I continue to be amazed by Rev. Matt Tittle and his courageous blog “Keep the Faith” at http://blogs.chron.com/keepthefaith/ . It amazes me how he finds the time and energy to be as engaged as he is through that blog, often with people who disagree with him radically and vehemently.

    Yet, Matt stays calm, sane, and full of the spirit.

    We need these conversations for ourselves as much as for any other reason. But I understand how taxing they can be…

  3. David: Thank you for sharing yours and your mother’s faith with us. Both are powerful testimonies to the diversity of love that flows through us all. Blessings abound, Fred

Leave a Reply

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: