Random Blog Clay Feet: March 08, 2008
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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Reservations about 12 Tribes

I keep picking up more clues about the underlying control that is likely going on in the 12 Tribes communities. Coming from the background of living around groups that desperately want to appear correct and godly but buy into the belief that there must be a certain amount of coercion involved to accomplish this end, I recognize certain looks and words that speak volumes as to what may be going on behind the scenes. This is not to say that I am looking at a full-blown cult or that this group is diabolical or evil – I am not saying that at all. But there are certain things that I see that I firmly believe will be absent when the true family of God is matured and assembled in the last days revealing the true glory of God as never before seen in history and only glimpsed for a short time after Pentecost.

While I believe that most of these people are much happier and peaceful and loving than the average person in most other religions, I also sense that there is a lot of stifling of personal inquisitiveness and individual exploration of truth. To keep unity in these communities it is becoming clear both from the thoughts expressed and from the clear absence of anything but Bibles and church-produced leaflets around the home that there is very strict rules likely in place about what followers are allowed to read, think or even question. I have several times picked up an intense sense that even my presence when talking about questions of spiritual things is seen as a danger and I seem to be watched carefully much of the time. I sense that there is reluctance to dialog openly unless there is indication on my part that I am willing to surrender myself and my beliefs to their authority.

I do not feel any danger or threat, but I sense that it would be quite certain that if I were to stay here very long at all, particularly if I were to join them, that there would come a great deal pressure to comply strictly with the clear-cut teachings formulated and propagated by the leaders of this church or I would soon be quite unwelcome. Even in the testimonies given by members it becomes very clear to me that they are very submissively and almost blindly following the spiritual guidance of their mentors and are not really doing hardly any personal thinking for themselves. They are only talking about how their own mind is embracing what has been fed to them through the approved channels. That frightens and alarms me.

There also seems to be an absence so far of certain basic ideas that are prevalent in the New Testament. There is little talk of the grace and a lot of emphasis on strict obedience. There seems to be a lot of attention paid to conforming to the rules of the community and there is also the enforced philosophy of working without receiving any wages. These are personal and unsubstantiated conclusions at this point however. There are pros and cons to this philosophy but I believe that in these communities there is likely little choice about this matter. I have heard absolutely nothing at this point about the cross of Jesus which in true Christianity should the centerpiece of the revelation of God. In fact, so far it seems that everything I have heard has been a pretty narrow band of uniformity in belief about their unique ideas on what they think is the three destinies of man.

This doctrine in my thinking reinforces the hierarchy model that I believe was introduced by Satan as one of the false alternatives to the government of God. In their doctrines they apparently believe that “holy” people are going to be the future rulers over “righteous” people and that the wicked are going to live in eternal torment of some kind. They also insist on consciousness after death and don't seem at all willing to study the Bible for themselves as individuals with an open mind. I have not sensed any desire on the part of a single person to discuss things from the Bible with a view to learning anything. I do sense that everyone is afraid to believe or even consider anything that has not come through approved channels of authority. It is likely that all “truth” in these communities must be pre-screened and pre-packaged before anyone is allowed to embrace it. And as a consequence anything outside of those parameters will be viewed with great suspicion at best. I got the impression that to try to discover truth directly from a study of the Bible is almost, if not directly, considered rebellion against the authority of Christ that they believe is invested in the body of believers and centered in their exclusive leadership.

On the flip side I have to say that I believe they have tapped into much deeper reservoirs or at least expressions of joy and peace and communal consciousness than most other churches are able to do. Because they are embracing the natural principles by which we were designed to live together in harmony they are enjoying the results of group-enhanced joy capacity and accelerated maturity the way we are supposed to grow. Unfortunately I think the leadership possibly believes that this can only be preserved by imposing strict control and maybe even a little intimidation to keep this balance in place. Personally I believe that God is going to someday demonstrate that He can accomplish these kinds of resulte much more powerfully and effectively by directly possessing the hearts and influencing the minds of people who will come together in similar communities empowered by the passion of His Spirit. It will look somewhat similar to what I am seeing here but without the element of fear used as the adhesive to hold it all together.

Overall I believe that there is much to be learned from this experiment in community but there are subtle dangers to be detected and avoided as well. While mixing in some fear and a lot of control may wash out anyone not willing to be controlled or to allow others to take over their conscience, I believe it will be seen that God's ways are even far more superior than what is seen here. I do believe that most of these people are very sincere and are loving God and their fellow believers much more than average Christians and I commend them for that. But at the same time I feel that they are also cultivating a spirit of exclusivity and some bigotry not unlike the other denominations that they look down on. I believe that the use of fear always compromises and dilutes greatly the real effectiveness of truth, and if God's ways were more completely embraced we would see results exponentially greater than anything yet seen today.

I personally believe that when that time comes many of these people may likely be among those who move on to embrace the truth as it is in Jesus, or Yeshua as they like to call Him, and join with others coming from other various directions to make up the final display of God's true glory. I don't think any of us knows yet what that looks like or has the various aspects of truth in proper perspective to see how it all fits together. The pieces of total truth as it is in Jesus is still fragmented and different parts of it can be seen to be effective in different ways in many different groups and places. But just because some get better results than others in various ways does not mean they are right in all areas of their beliefs.

I have a real reaction when any group of people lay exclusive claim to being God's chosen people on earth. I don't care whether it be Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Adventists or the 12 Tribes communities, to claim to be the human organizational depository into which anyone who wishes to be saved must join is to place their idea of God into a very small box indeed. I do not believe that God is so arbitrary or so bound by human religious constructs that He is willing to limit the coordination of His activities or saving power through only one select artificially designated group of people wearing a certain label or performing to certain regulations. God's plan of salvation is much broader and more heart-based than anything we can perceive from the outside and we must not fall into the trap of creating Him in our narrow image. It is man that looks on the outward appearances but God looks on the heart where no man can ever look.

These communities evidently teach that obedience is a prerequisite for grace. That is at least what I heard in one of their testimonies and I would certainly welcome correction on this if I am wrong. But this thinking does seem to be reflected in their general attitude and demeanor. While I realize that obedience is far more important than nearly all Christians generally believe, it is also a real problem that most people's notion of what is really meant by that word is not in true alignment with God's view. The kind of obedience that is prerequisite to entering the process of being salvaged (salvation) is the obedience of responding to the attempts of the Holy Spirit to reveal to our hearts the incredible attractiveness of God in His real beauty. When we surrender to the allure of God from our hearts, that very response is the act of “obedience” that enables God to lead us step by step on the journey to be fully embraced by and synchronized with His own heart. It is God who works in you to will and to do of His good pleasure.

That brings me to one of the strong points of the 12 Tribes communities. They apparently have chosen to use the method of attraction as the primary way in which to grow their communities instead of the preaching kind of “evangelism” typically engaged in by some other churches. They use music, drama and most of all their radiant faces and beautiful children as living examples of what others could enjoy. This is truly God's method of evangelism as far as I am concerned and I wish that my own church would learn this lesson. But that is very unlikely to happen until after the mighty shaking time that will destroy the whole structure assembled by men and God reassembles the pieces the way He desires. Only then will God's methods be seen in their amazing effectiveness that will shock and surprise the whole world and bring on the final closure of this world's history.

I believe that one of the crucial elements needed to move ahead in perceiving and embracing God's plans is to maintain a very open, teachable mind and heart and not become dogmatic and narrow in our thinking. Too often we mistake dogmatism for orthodoxy and believe that once we “have the truth” that we no longer have anything to learn in that area. Whenever we adopt that kind of attitude we have immediately plunged ourselves into the thro's of rigid thinking and make our own opinions our gods. To make that even worse is to then think it is our job to impose our opinions and enforce them on those who look to us for guidance. This is to interfere with the personal guidance system that God desires to have in the heart of every individual to guide all of us into the true unity of the Spirit.

I want to enjoy the fellowship and love that these people share and far more. But I do not think it wise or even right to purchase it at the high cost of throwing away the much greater insights about God and the teachings of the Bible that I have been learning from Him over the past few years. To enter into the mindset that I perceive as prevalent in these communities would be to take a huge step backward into some of the misconceptions that promote legalism from which I have been slowly becoming freed for many years. For me personally that would be moving in the wrong direction while for many others coming from other backgrounds, joining these communities might be a dramatic step in the right direction. It may be all a matter of perspective and relative position.

I believe that I can learn a great deal from observing and learning firsthand the experiences of the heart that these groups have become skilled in doing together. I have no doubt about that and I hope they do not turn against me in fear or anger if they find out my feelings about this. If they do it would be an indication that my reservations about them would be sadly confirmed. I hope they are more mature than that and that we can continue to be friends and enjoy bonds of true love and respect. I would like to bring my wife and friends to visit one of these places and to continue to learn and grow from our relationship with them.

Communal Life Up Close

I am currently enjoying the hospitality of one of the communities of the religion known as The 12 Tribes. I took advantage of the relative close proximity of one of these communities to where I am working on my sisters house in Virginia. This is part of the very close network of communities that grew out of the original community started in Chattanooga Tennessee back in the seventies. I wrote about our experience with them at that time a little over a year ago after I re-discovered them on the internet. Ever since then I have been wanting to visit one of these communities to see firsthand what they are like. Of course I still desire to visit the one that has returned to their roots in Chattanooga, but all of the communities are very similar and I am getting a good glimpse of how life in the community operates in the few hours I have spent here so far. Of course much of what I think is very subjective and relevant to my own experiences in years of living around self-supporting institutions myself. But I also think I am old enough and have enough experience recognizing human nature and tendencies to also perceive some things even apart from those experiences.

With my exposure to many different ministries and the insights learned especially from James Wilder about how we are designed to live in community, I have been keen to actually experience first-hand an environment that may actually utilize some of the principles I have been learning. I am also interested even more in experiencing and observing a group of people that I feel is motivated and relating to each other in the way the early Christian church functioned.

I am aware that many churches and organizations claim to be following that model but as we all know claims are usually not much more than that. They may use that example as a goal toward which they strive to work toward, but invariably it becomes evident sooner or later that either they settle for a nebulous approximation of that original demonstration or alternative means of motivation are employed at some point to achieve the desired symptoms of unity and Christian joy.

We arrived (my nephew and I) yesterday afternoon in time to get a look around the property before it got dark and enjoyed petting some brand new baby goats and visiting the large greenhouse they have set up.

A few women were in the spacious kitchen preparing food for the planned weekly evening Shabbot celebration but generally there were not too many people around. Most of the men work in the construction trade and spend their days working on jobs in communities nearby or in Washington D.C. where they say the commercial construction market is really booming. This community produces enough excess income to help support other communities that are still struggling to become self-supporting including the recent one restarted in Chattanooga.

As I chatted with one of the leaders last night about the various communities I learned that all of their restaurants are modeled on the original layout and design of the first Yellow Deli that we used to visit back in the seventies. The new one about to open in downtown Chattanooga right beside the University of Tennessee apparently looks very much like the original one that was located not far away back in the old days. The rest of them located around the country attached to other communities are all modeled on that same plan. I found this very intriguing.

I observed that the dress and demeanor of these people are very familiar from my days in self-supporting work but reflective more of the very conservative wings of those groups. There is a lot of striking similarity in the style of hair and clothing in all of the people here somewhat reminiscent in some respects of the Amish or Mennonite communities throughout the country. The men generally have somewhat long hair pulled back into a very short ponytail and the women wear their hair much longer with head-coverings, especially during the religious services. Also during the evening celebration most of the men wear a narrow band around their head that are all the same.

Of course these are merely external observations that may or may not mean a whole lot about the internal social structure of this society or the internal motivations of the individuals. That is an arena that I am very aware is up for more perception and very open to interpretation depending on what you choose to believe about these people. There is a very broad spectrum of ways you could view how these communities function based on one's bias and prejudices or willingness and open-mindedness for real discernment. These groups are quite familiar with the diabolical results of outside society fearful of what may be going on within these communities and sometimes trying to crash in and tear apart by force or slander the fellowship and the unique and different lifestyle that these people have chosen to enjoy. This has resulted in tragic horror stories, some of which I am familiar with and some which happened early in their development when we knew them originally back in Chattanooga.

But my real question is more along the lines of wanting to discern for myself how successful they are in reproducing genuine community in spirit. I am interested to learn how much the apparent external “success” comes from free, Spirit-led transformation that creates spontaneously the outward and inward close-knit society described in Acts or how much may be tainted subtly with the employment of close supervision, controlled and imposed thinking and carefully restricted access to outside ideas. I am very familiar with those kinds of controls and spiritual manipulation in attempts to produce spiritual uniformity and I am also all too familiar with the unintended consequences of those practices.

But at the same time I want to be painfully careful to be open-minded and not allow any of my own potential prejudices to taint my opinions. I want to maintain a close connection to the Spirit of God myself to guide me in understanding and perceiving what I am observing, not only in the externals which may not be that hard to produce sometimes, but much more importantly in the real motivations and internal transformation that produces those externals. To complicate this objective I also realize that each individual here is going to be somewhat different and there are always going to be variables due to faulty human nature and people ready to exploit or try to control others subtly but quite effectively.

At this point I am going to leave most of these questions open and I certainly do not want to rush to judgment. I am personally aware of the damage and pain that can be caused by people wanting to label others and put them into a box and not giving them a chance to present their own side of an issue or situation. I have been on the receiving end of that at times and I am sure I have also unfortunately been on the delivering end as well. But what I am really wanting to see for myself here is the answers to the questions from the heart side of me even more than the curiosity questions posed by my left-brain. I want to examine the fruit as Jesus invites us to do.

As I have been launched into my own journey more intensely over the past few years into learning to live from my heart and find much more balance in my own personal experience, my heart has become more and more hungry to observe and participate in the things that really nourish and feed the spirit and that causes one to really thrive. But at the same time, especially given my own personal history with other group's attempts to address that need unsuccessfully, I have some very sharp warning areas or a sense of intense alertness to subtle signs of certain elements that tend to poison the pure, sweet environment that I believe was experienced in the early New Testament believers. This is not to say that if any of these elements are present that the whole experiment is false or is to be condemned. But I am very sensitive because I know first-hand as well as second hand through the lives of friends how much inner damage can be caused to the heart while the externals continue to look very positive, religious and even very happy. I guess part of what I am saying is that happiness and conformity are not the only signs of successful unity in community.

Anyway, I have obviously gotten way off track here in capturing my observations of my experience so far. I plan to be here for another full day or more so I have a great deal more to learn. In addition I know that much of the real “politics” or dynamics of the relationships within this organization would be much more plainly seen if I were to spend a week or two working alongside of them on the jobs they do and observing their interactions when under a lot more stress or in conflict situations. That is when the real spirit and motivation of a group becomes much more clear but is often kept carefully concealed from outsiders. But that is really the core issues that interest my heart much more than anything else. How do they relate to dissent, to individuals who may be learning “truth” differently than the leadership approves of, who insist on listening to the Spirit personally and following their conscience while still desiring to have fellowship with other believers? That is the kind of things that tell me what the real spirit is within a group of people far more than outward success in cohesiveness.

At the same time the externals do reflect to a great degree what may be going on internally and much can be learned from those observations too. So I would like to finish relating my experience last night before I get side-tracked again too much.

By seven o'clock more and more people had arrived to enjoy their traditional Friday night celebration service to welcome in the Sabbath rest. I found this joyful and largely musical experience to be immensely refreshing to my spirit. Though I did not know any of the songs because it is quite evident that they have built up over the years their own repertoire of music reflective of their unique beliefs about eschatology and God, the spirit and communal nature of the music and Hebrew-style dancing was, like I said very refreshing. I guess I continue to use that word because my own heart cannot find any other accurate description describing its emotion.

It was clear that there was a certain routine or order in which they flow through their celebration time, but it was very full of a certain amount of spontaneity and genuine expressions of gratitude and devotion to “our Father”. There was a time of freedom for anyone to stand up and express some thought, belief commonly held by the community or recently learned teaching that they had applied to their life. At the beginning of this celebration everyone was served a saucer with a couple slices of tomato and homemade crackers along with some maté tea from one of their communities in Brazil. A little later everyone sat down at tables together and enjoyed their evening meal while interacting intentionally as community. Then the tables were cleared and again everyone gathered in the community room to participate fully in a couple more hours of rich, folk-style live music produced by excellent musicians while men, women and children joined in as they desired to dance around in circles in what was obviously well-learned traditions of Hebrew dancing.

I was very impressed as I watched the faces and interactions of the many people there how much quiet but careful attention was given to the significance of all the children. The children were quite unlike what Americans would term typical because they were growing up in a much more tightly-knit and caring community. To me they were refreshingly peaceful, calm and happy. They often enthusiastically joined in with the dancing with eagerness and were always accommodated by the adults who helped them move around safely and smoothly in the fast-moving circles. I was even amused to later watch one of the babies during a quiet time when many were sitting on the floor just enjoying the musicians. She was just at the point of learning to walk and was still very unstable on her feet. But it looked rather clear to me that she was trying to dance. The thought struck me that the children in this environment may learn to dance even before they learn to walk. I think that is really cool.

Near the end of the celebration time close to ten o'clock we were all served some kind of pie that was absolutely delicious. I think it was a type of Carob flavor but have never enjoyed one that had this light, delicate taste. I know my wife is going to want the recipe. After the final songs sung standing together and with great enthusiasm, the group slowly began to disperse to their various homes or rooms while some stayed around to fellowship a little more. I ended up staying up till midnight dialogging with a few men and trying to learn more about how they think and believe. Then we retired to our room and ended up talking for another hour before I could stay awake no longer.

This morning I understand we will have a time of testimonies, music and praise before eating maybe a light breakfast. Later others will again arrive to enjoy lunch together but generally they preserve the Sabbath day for people to relax, sleep or take walks. Then in the evening they will again have a large communal celebration and they said at that time all of the ones “in covenant” will break bread together. I am looking forward to spending a Sabbath in an environment unlike any I have been in for all of my life. I am learning a great deal and will take time to reflect on it again afterwards.

God, fill me with Your Spirit of peace, rest, joy and freedom today. Open my eyes, unlock my heart and unprejudice my mind to not only be discerning but to be refreshed and be open to thriving. Thank-you for what You are doing here and teach me Your ways. Show me the genuine methods You have that will produce the results of unity completely naturally and from the heart by the transformation and bonding of Your Spirit in hearts open to Your love.