Thursday, September 8, 2011


This is a huge thing I've been noticing and it affects everything I want to say about just about anything, especially related to the soul:

We are fundamentally wired to categorize and group ourselves and others.

This results in racism, and it also results in churches, and knitting clubs, and families. It is what it is: sometimes it's bad (racism), sometimes it's neutral (...churches?), sometimes it's good, especially when it helps reflect to you Who You Are and What Your Identity Is. We need to see ourselves in a group around us. We need to know we belong and we fit. (We need this so profoundly that a lot of us end up in cult-like situations - you're in one if they refuse to acknowledge that you are part of other groups at the same time, like your family or friends. Ahem, Orthodoxy as I experienced it and ahem, "communal" groups around Nashville... But I digress.)

This is also what limits us, often cripples us, from connecting with others on the deepest level and giving them the freedom to be who and where they are, and to grow.

A really interesting thing happened when the New York Times article came out: I had atheists, agnostics, Christians, and spiritual people all writing me thinking I was exactly like them and was part of their group. Which DELIGHTED me, because a) it's true, I want to be connected to all of them and b) that means my honesty captured enough of the disparity of life that it resonated with people beyond what tribe they are currently in. (When half of the Christians wrote, I did fear that there was condescension, judgment, and "pity" coming my way, because they/my former self tend/ed to be most worried when people are on the outside of the boundaries of what they've been taught gets you close to God.)

We all think the groups are fixed. We think if we are "Christian" we will be that, in that exact same way, for life (and some people are, but that is not often how wholeness is found). We think if we are "atheist," it will be the same. The way we define our soul or lack thereof group seems to be one of the deepest tribes we identify with.

But this is limiting. Hold your label lightly. It's only half of you, whatever it is. You need it, and at the same time it is still probably getting in the way of You being here. And you never know when you're going to shed that skin.

DON'T TRY TO GET PEOPLE TO JOIN YOUR TRIBE. Okay, you can debate for the fun of it (I'm certainly doing that here) and it's good to be where you're at and say what you think. But don't worry that the other person is doing worse off than you if they aren't in your tribe. If you've been told that, it's a lie. They are where they are for a reason and they probably need to be there (unless they are about to drink some Kool-Aid).

I'm trying to stick in the "outsiders" tribe right now, with one foot in all the others. Yes, all of them. I want everything that is good from everywhere to make itself comfy inside me. "Not possible!" everyone yells, because we all want to think our group is the best or that truth is mutually exclusive (I admit I'm partial to the Outsiders right now, but that's only because it's the best place for me, currently). A lot of this blog has been me claiming the "Christians Drive Me Crazy" tribe. And ironically, half the Christians I know would consider themselves a part of that club along with me. See how the labels are self-limiting even as I'm trying to use them all to convey something? :-)

The labels aren't the deeper truth, and the way to get to that truth is for us to love and listen to whoever is in front of us (focus on their name, because Names transcend groups and convey the individual as a world unto themself). We always can be stretched with our categorizing. A practical way of doing this is to play with symbols. Yesterday I wore a sweatshirt with the name of an Evangelical Wisconsin family camp I went to this summer on it. I would not place myself with the belief system espoused by that camp - it's not one of my core tribes - but it felt good for me to claim the name anyway and stretch myself by putting it on my chest. It is a place where I had a good time with my children and extended family. I love those people.

I've also taken to wearing my True Love Waits ring again. It was a gift from my family, it was a symbol of clarity and purity, and I am reclaiming it for myself because I am as valuable and whole now as I ever was. I'm wearing it because my 30-year-old self knows my value and purity have very little to do with my sexuality. And I am wearing it to break the negative powers of that movement, which has so much fear and shame in its shadow.

Play. Play with your groups, your labels, your tribes, your symbols. (I just put a clear Buddha on my dresser table - a symbol of the purity that can be found there - with a fancy gold cross in its arms that has shining mermaid-green stones embedded in it; a merging of the best of the East, the alchemy of suffering and perhaps the love of God, and the glory of femininity and myth, the three parts of my soul right now.)