In the Western Church, we celebrate Saint Sylvester the First - a Pope who was the Bishop of Rome for over 20 years. He was a great 'tribal' leader, holding the church strong against heresy and division.
My message for the coming year is to "Choose Your Tribe" - by which I mean find a tribe that misses you when you're not there. You need a tribe that values you even when you cannot contribute.
Any tribes you currently belong to who make no indication that you matter to them when you're not there are not worth belonging to.
Let this year, then, be the year where you are defined by the tribes you leave, the tribes you join, and the tribes you lead.
Who gets the prestigious New Years’ Eve gig?
The answer is an early Pope, the 4th Century Pope Sylvester the 1st who was the glue who kept the church together in the face of heresy and division. Sounds like he was a pretty cool cat. Of course, having a couple of miracles attributed to him helped the legend, the narrative, the story. Works of what we think are fiction have him curing the Emperor Constantine of leprosy when Sylvester used baptismal water. Oh, and there’s the matter of slaying a dragon. He turns a dragon out of the Roman Forum and resurrects the Dragon’s victims.
Whatever the truth, Sylvester has had a powerful influence on ideas such as Papal Supremacy over temporal rulers and governments. He’s so famous that many cultures call 31st December, “Sylvester”!
Somewhat spookily, he died on 31st December 335 but perhaps that influenced the choice of this as his Feast Day. He was the Bishop of Rome for over 20 years.
Eastern Christianity makes its followers wait until the 2nd January.
OK, history and myths and legends aside, so what? Sylvester is a great metaphor for holding a tribe together against conflicting beliefs and the threats of the State and of the supernatural – supernatural evil. I sincerely believe this is the year to Choose Your Tribe – and to choose wisely. I guess that means also it’s the year to change your tribe.
Your tribe may begin with a local association, for example, “Dorset.” I’m a huge fan of Dorset, which I’ve called my ‘home’ since the turn of the Century. This is why I think sites like designedindorest.co.uk are important as hubs for local arts and crafts and trades – and our identity as Dorset People, Dorset Folk.
Your tribe may be centred on a product. Think Harley Davidson – more than a mere motorcycle. I’m always tickled at people who are passionate about Landrovers. I had a Freelander (if that counts) and it was the worst car ever! Clearly, this goes beyond the reliability of the product to a place in fans’ minds that accepts that the product says something about them. It gives them a group identity, a tribal identity.
Some of the most powerful tribes focus on a belief system which is then expressed in choices in music, clothing, rituals. I was delighted to bump into a bunch of Steampunks in Dorchester. I hope they are taking over! The dress code set them apart even before we spoke.
How about you? What tribes do you feel a part of? What tribes would you like to feel a part of? And this is an essential part of deciding which tribes to leave. If you’re not feeling missed by those tribes, if you’re not feeling valued by those tribes – leave!
Today, Penelope and I were chatting about the Jehovah Witnesses. There’s a powerful tribe if ever I’ve seen one. What’s the attraction? I think the attraction is the tribe itself – and the strong sense of belonging – and the strong sense of identity. They have a set of beliefs that are matched by a congruent and consistent set of actions and activities.
“People like us, do this…”
And, most importantly, if you were ever ill or absent, I am certain you would know you were ‘missed’ and that you were cherished.
Belonging is a powerful sense.
Belonging is a powerful state of being.
Belonging leads to a sense and state of wellness.
My prayer and hope for you and for me in this coming year is that we always make people feel missed when they pull away for any reason. That we make them feel great. And that we commit to encouraging others on a daily basis.
One of my favourite verses will take us back to the metaphor of Saint Sylvester’s Dragon. In the book of Hebrews it says,
“…exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called “today”, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (You can find that in chapter three of the book of Hebrews, verse 13.)
The Greek word for ‘exhort’ is amazing. It’s the word very similar to the one used of the Holy Spirit as the One called alongside to help. The Comforter. The Helper. The Encourager. The Advocate. The One you can call upon. Isn’t this the best concept for friendship? “Hey, you can call upon me…” Our mission is to be just like God! To be the Encourager, the Helper, the one called alongside to support, the one you can rely upon, your advocate, your fan, your ambassador.
But what about the dragon? Dragons (somewhat sadly) are associated with evil in the Bible… as, indeed, is “sin”. The idea in this vital verse is that daily encouragement is good medicine. Daily encouragement can protect you and I from the hardening of heart (and thus emotions such as compassion) that comes from “deceitfulness of sin.” If we are discouraged, it too easy to slip into a really dark place.
We need to focus on what we really want. Finding a tribe that encourages one another of a daily basis can protect us from the hard cynicism that leads to a bitter spirit.
I wish you joy this coming year, a tribe you can thrive in, a tribe that wants you, a tribe that misses you when you’re not there, and I wish you encouragement on a daily basis – day by day.
Joyful New Year!
With love from God’s Goth.