Hungry for a Tribe – musings on isolation and consumerism

A recent New York Times article (you can find the link over on my twitter account @raincitypastor) describes the gnawing hunger our culture has for belonging to a tribe, and how those longings are fulfilled in a tribe.   This longing has led to an explosion in self-help podcasts on all manner of subjects ranging from the development of morning rituals, to cold showers, meditation, and coffee made of mushrooms.

What’s going on?  Why does Joe Rogan have 30 million podcasts downloads each month?  And, more cogent to this blog and my own musings: “What needs are being met in the plethora of self-help broadcasts that the church is failing to meet?  Should the church be meeting these needs?  How?”

My observation:  In contrast to our longings for community, our consumer culture isolates and leads to paralyzing confusion.

C.S. Lewis postulates in “The Great Divorce” that hell is that place where we get whatever we want, but the result of having our particular consumerist desires met is that we become isolated.  In our zeal to build a customized life, we find ourselves increasingly isolated.   Rituals that once bound people together, such as church attendance, prayer groups, or whatever have fallen on hard times (for reasons I’ll address next).  The result is isolation and confusion.  I’m alone, and I don’t know what to do in order to live better.

Along come podcasts which call people to what are offered as life giving rituals.  Whether it’s morning meditation, fasting until lunch, or a daily cold shower, purveyors of ‘primal wisdom’ are calling people to rituals.   The value of rituals are that I now “know what to do” because someone has offered a prescription of practices that lead to life.

Second, I now have a community, if only  virtual, who share my values.   These podcasters have, in other words, tapped into a need that the church, long ago, stopped meeting.

Don’t dismiss the podcast bros merely as hucksters promoting self-help books and dubious mushroom coffee. In this secularized age of lonely seekers scrolling social media feeds, they have cultivated a spiritual community. They offer theologies and daily rituals of self-actualization, an appealing alternative to the rhetoric of victimhood and resentment that permeates both the right and the left. “They help the masses identify the hole in the soul,” Karli Smith, 38, a fan who lives in Tooele, Utah, told me. “I do feel the message is creating a community.”

My Proposals

#1 – Elevate the Value Of Rituals – in past eras of the church, the pervasiveness of  consumerism, individualism, wealth disparity, and nationalism, gave rise to a counter response called “monasticism”.  They became “The Desert Father’s” or “The Benedictines” or “The Celtic Church” which thrived beyond the structures of the Roman Empire, or the “Confessing Church” in Germany during the rise of the Reich.  All these communities called people to various rituals of prayer, fasting, Bible Reading, service, and more.

I will continue to work at this in the church I lead.  I’ve written a book  in order to help people develope “Rule of Life” rituals.   I wrote this because the hyper-individualism and consumerism that is American Evangelical Christianity is horribly ineffective.   Perhaps, in our desire to make faith accessible, we’ve lowered the bar so close to the ground that self-denial, rituals, or challenges regarding the use of our time, money, or bodies never happen.  The result of this is that we end up with nothing to offer or nothing to say.   As a result, the church has been relegated to the dust bin of irrelevance for an increasing percent of the population.

Here’s how The NY Times article suggests that these podcasts are filling the gap:

Don’t dismiss the podcast bros merely as hucksters promoting self-help books and dubious mushroom coffee. In this secularized age of lonely seekers scrolling social media feeds, they have cultivated a spiritual community. They offer theologies and daily rituals of self-actualization, an appealing alternative to the rhetoric of victimhood and resentment that permeates both the right and the left. “They help the masses identify the hole in the soul,” Karli Smith, 38, a fan who lives in Tooele, Utah, told me. “I do feel the message is creating a community.”

To the extent that the church can once again elevate and create a culture where faith has particular practices, and to the exten that the practices offer a real path to wholeness and transformation, the church’s light might once again begin to shine.

#2 –  Stop behaving like Gnostics; Recover the Body – These podcasts, for all their flaws, are seeking to speak to the whole person.  Meditation.  Cold Showers.  Mushroom Coffee.  Finding your tribe.  Serving others.

Wow.  It’s clear to me that an appeal of podcasts is their capacity to address the whole person – spirit, soul, and body.  It’s not that I agree with everything offered (“Mushroom coffee?  Really?”).   The reality though, is that God cares about the whole person, and too often the church doesn’t.  The church’s failure to address the whole person is central to why so many are leaving the church.   Paul prayed that we’d be “set apart” and “made whole” in every way: spirit, soul, body.

I’m presently working on developing a discipleship pathway that addresses the whole person.  Such a pathway must include not only practices of prayer and generosity for the spirit, but doing soul work related to our brokenness so that our time use, money use and relationships all move toward wholeness.  Finally, we must also address the body work related to sleep, exercise, and making wise food choices.

What would it look like if God’s people were functionally tribes of people (called churches) committed to life transforming practices that will empower people to serve and bless the world out from a place of ongoing movement toward wholeness?  Such a church would shine as light in the midst of darkness, would become food in the midst of people hungry for meaning, belonging, wholeness, and ritual.  We hunger for these things because God has placed ‘eternity in the hearts’ of all people!  Thanks be to God that our world is hungry.  It’s high time we begin building cultures that become the food we’re meant to be.

I welcome your thoughts…

 

2 thoughts on “Hungry for a Tribe – musings on isolation and consumerism

  1. Thank you for this, Pastor Richard. I’m looking forward to your new series.

    I’m reminded of Richard Foster’s Renovare/Celebration of Disciplines. Also I’m in the middle of Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor: A Memoire and am so struck by what he is saying about the corporate nature of worship. He says this about the design of the church they were building:

    “By placing the pews around the matrix of the font-pulpit-table, we wer making a statement: we can’t hear God’s love being spoken to us without at the same time looking into the faces of our neighbors, whom God also loves and commands us to love.”

    May I suggest two other causes?

    Radical individualism.This society says that we are responsible (and solely responsible) for who we are.

    The loss of our Civic Commons. Our built environment has prioritized private space and dis-invested in small scale, shared spaces. (e.g. -our streets, once public and shared space, is now only for mobility) We go through our days without meeting or knowing our neighbors, and so lose the bonds of community and the chance for other people to affirm who we are.

    It’s no wonder that incels and hikkimori –and general social isolation has grown while our politics has polarized and radicalized.

  2. It seems that today’s (church) society longs more for constant change than what the Lord gives though His indwelling Spirit. Are we perhaps trying to “create” or “adjust” what He has promised to give? Sometimes the longings are purely nostalgic…like I wish I had John Walton’s 1929 Ford Pickup…until our Manitoba winter sets in. I think Uncle Screwtape would encourage Wormwood to “keep them in a constant state of longing for something other than what IS”…like the REAL fellowship, or the REAL deeper life or the REAL original church. Somethings in the Christ-life will never come from books and programs. I’ve yet to see a “7 Steps to being Persecuted for your Faith” book or “Hardship 101”. These things build depth of character, empathy for one another and love that endures. There is a great danger of the church seeking to be so relevant that it succumbs to the fads of this age. (I have this picture in my head of the Grinch holding his hands over his ears…”Noise, Noise, Noise! But replace “noise with “Fads, Fads, Fads”!) How on earth did the patriarachs of the faith ever “make it” to the great cloud of witnesses without a book and a program? “And Enoch walked with God”, “And Noah walked with God”. “Abraham was a friend of God”. “David was a man after God’s own heart”. Why are we so needy for “programs” and “instruction” while we already have the proclamation of creation, the written Word and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? With what we already HAVE, are we not already equipped to “Love the Lord your God…and your neighbor as your self”?
    That said, I have read and benefitted from your books. Bless You Richard for your teaching at CHBC 1994.

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