I went to a high school football game Friday night.
We showed up in time to see the second half of the junior varsity game, the one with players from the school my wife works at. I hadn’t been to our town’s high school for a game in a few years but the experience was familiar: parents and younger siblings sat with their gazes fixed on the game, while the players’ fellow students in the stands were as apt to be fixed on each other as the action on the field. I confess we got caught up in some conversations too as we saw old friends arriving for the game.
Then the JV game was over and as we waited for the varsity game to start I saw a lot of movement to the left, down the track that circled the football field. Fifty students started gathering together, one of them directing the others to get in some semblance of order, one kid running through the ticket gate at the last moment with a pair of huge cymbals hanging by their straps from his hands.
The pep band had arrived.
I wanted to quit band in 8th grade, but my older sisters convinced me that I’d miss out on a lot if I didn’t stick with it. They were right.
In high school, band brought everyone together: jocks, brainiacs, cheerleaders, thugs, gearheads. I didn’t belong to any of those groups, but I still found myself in the concert band, buried deep among the woodwinds where no one could see – or hear – me playing my tenor saxophone. By the time I graduated I added timpani to the sax as an instrument to perform on, became the drum major my junior year and student conductor the year after, and played in the Concert, Marching, Jazz and Pep Bands throughout.
I was the ultimate band geek.
I loved my tribe. It was the place where people from all the other tribes could join together without concern for whether they belonged. Everyone belonged, even the people who were odd, or a pain, or stuck up, or whatever their hang-up was.
My hang-up? I was the most obnoxious teenager the ’70s ever produced. Yet I was never an outsider in band. Neither was anyone else. If you could play the majority of the notes in a song right, you were in.
Building a Tribe
In Jesus, we’re told:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28-29.)
Paul wrote those words 2000 years ago, so this is nothing new. In fact, it wasn’t even new for God’s people at the time. Approximately 1400 years before Paul, Moses told the Israelites how to live for God and explained that these same rules applied to non-Jews living among them too:
You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord … . (Numbers 15:15.)
The Israelites – a tribe that became a nation – certainly considered themselves to be Abraham’s seed, as Paul used the phrase, and would have known from Moses’ writings that to God there is no difference between them and non-Jews when it came to who could be considered part of the people of God.
This is how God builds his family. No matter what group someone is from, the family of God has a place for them.
I try to remember that when I write.
I went to the West Coast Christian Writers Conference last February. Conference Director Susy Flory and the entire organization she heads did a wonderful job bringing in seminar leaders, plenary speakers and talented musicians to make the weekend conference instructive and worshipful.
My friend Keri Wyatt Kent led the platform and marketing track:
One thing I appreciate about Keri’s take on platform and marketing is she doesn’t make anyone feel intimidated by using arcane language or acting as if it’s a matter of getting into some hard-to-crack inner sanctum. She speaks instead of how to connect with people and use the skills you already have to tell them about your writing. This is the kind of book marketing I can get into. And even though I was at the conference for the non-fiction track, she asked me to stop by her third session to talk to her students about how I build connections with people on-line.
Do you want to know what I didn’t tell Keri’s students? I didn’t give them five easy tips to build a tribe of blog followers. (Neither did Keri, by the way.) Not that I know five easy tips to build a tribe, but even if I did that’s not what I would teach when it comes to making connections with people on-line.
What did I tell the writers in her group? I told them that people like and need encouragement in their lives, and that I try to bring that into my writing here on the blog and when I leave comments on other people’s sites.
For me, blogging is not about building a tribe. It’s about honoring God and encouraging people, as the phrase in the banner at the top of this page puts it. The best way I know how to do that on-line is through being in community with people. It’s what social network types might call a virtual community but I think it’s actually quite real if done sincerely.
It also means not trying to build a tribe. In fact, I’d rather foster community than be its leader. Sure there might be more like-minded people here than those who disagree with me, but I still want those who disagree to feel the same hospitality is extended to them as to those who agree with something I write.
After all, whether I think one way or another on a subject is irrelevant to the fact that even those I disagree with need encouragement in their relationship with God.
I hope you agree with me on that.