CM Tribalism

Sisyphus by Titian, 1549

A couple of years ago I heard Dick Keyes speak at a CMI conference I spoke at out here in California. He had two wonderful talks, one on imagination and one on heroes. At the end of one of his talks, he touched on the topic of Christian Tribalism - a term I'd never heard, but a phenomena I was familiar with.

He said that in order to cope with the reality of the world around us, Christians can tend towards one of two extremes. On the one end you have those who compromise and become so blended in with the secular world that they are indistinguishable from anyone else; you can't tell them apart from a non-believer. They have become saltless salt. On the other end, he said, "equal and opposite" is "Christian Tribalism" - a quarantined community with its own subculture that adheres to its own set of rules. Similar to the way musk oxen protect their young by building a barrier around them. They end up subordinating God's rules and voiding His commandments for the tradition of man. These two extremes exemplify two ways to destroy the bible: subtract from it or add to it.

As mentioned above, I had never heard the term "Christian Tribalism" before, but as I thought about it many times since then I couldn't help but draw parallels and notice the same phenomena happening in Charlotte Mason Homeschooling circles. On one extreme CM is no longer CM, it's watered-down, eclectic, anything goes with a touch of nature study and tea-time. On the other extreme it is a quarantined community with its own subculture adhering to its own rigid set of rules disregarding the whole truth of CM's.   

It's human nature. On the one hand, we don't want to take the time to learn about a thing, but we like some element of it so we adopt the part we like and call it a day. It's convenient, and if we call it CM we misrepresent its truth. On the other hand, we become obsessive and pedantic, exalting our own way of doing a thing, over and above its own purposes, to the detriment of others and the benefit of self.

I've definitely been guilty of the latter in my own home. My insistence on ordering our children's affections at times has gone above and beyond anything suggested by CM. In my pursuit of excellence for them, I've set aside their personhood and guilted them into cleaning the kitchen or finishing their school work. I've made them feel bad for wanting to play a video game or watch TV instead of read a book in their free time. Those kinds of things are my own kingdom's subculture's rules and not necessarily CM's. And the kids can completely detect the hypocrisy. It doesn't work to order the affections one. bit. In fact, it works quite well against it.

Charlotte Mason wrote:
The desire to be exceptional is in us all, and some of us prefer a bad eminence to none. Pride takes all sorts of unexpected action; and when it leads us to rest our right to distinction on some oddity proper to us, we are on the way to mania. ~Charlotte Mason, Vol. 5, p.406
When we find ourselves more concerned about our "right to distinction" than the families and children we are called to serve, we are most certainly on our way to mania, the prideful sort that crushes tender spirits and souls while splintering relationships and communities.

In a sermon last week, our pastor mentioned this quote by Charles Spurgeon:
The black devil of licentiousness destroys his hundreds, but the white devil of self-righteousness destroys his thousands.
I have seen and talked to too many moms out there feeling the burden of this kind of CM Tribalism. They feel the burden and the pressure of some subculture requirement never articulated by CM and feel less-than, discouraged, not-good enough. They pass the burden right onto their children in the name of CM. Their burdens are exacerbated as they scroll through an endless array of images on social media depicting people they can't be like, doing things they aren't doing. They are enslaved by a man-made subculture propagated by foolish pride. Mine, yours, all of ours.

Charlotte Mason said hers is a wide and generous education for all. Not just for the select few, not just for the ones whose lives are put together perfectly, but ALL. The messy ones, the dirty ones, the unfortunate ones, the lowly ones, the disorganized ones, the suffering ones, the difficult ones, the poor ones, the special needs ones, ... ALL. All can partake of this feast if you and I care to help them and avoid either of the two extremes. It was her hope and dream that we would, for the children's sake.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. ~Galatians 5:1
Give yourself grace; give your kids and others grace. Enjoy the time you have. Enjoy the beauty of it with your children. Know that you're doing a wonderful, beautiful thing.
Like the quality of mercy, it is not strained; certainly it is twice blessed, it blesses him that gives and him that takes, and a sort of radiancy of look distinguishes both scholar and teacher engaged in this manner of education... ~Charlotte Mason, Vol.6, p.27, quoting Shakespeare's Portia, from The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ~1 Cor 15:57


  1. Excellent! I feel inclined to mention that the quote at the end is from The Merchant of Venice (Portia)...

    1. Yes! Portia, from The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I. Thank you for pointing that out. The second part of the quote is from CM :) I will update the post to reflect it.

  2. What I see are mommas overwhelmed with a perception of perfectionism. We shared your lovely article in the Charlotte Mason Soiree Facebook Group.

    It's so helpful and encouraging to find other Charlotte Mason parents (moms, dads, aunts, uncles - whoever is presenting the feast to the children) who desire to learn alongside you and yet are honest about the fact that none of us have all of it wired -- not necessarily how we present the subjects, schedule our day, or apply Charlotte Mason's amazingly insightful principles in our daily parenting and serving.

    And with all the Charlotte Mason resources available in our information age, and so many fans of each resource, it's even more difficult to parse through where to start and what kind of expectation one should have oneself as one starts learning. If I can read 10 minutes per day, that's a great. But I don't read 10 minutes per day and can't listen every episode of even one podcast.

    I personally enjoy encouraging others as they're led to Charlotte Mason. And we enjoy praying for each other. Charlotte Mason is so different from what so many of us grow up with that we must regularly be reminded to give grace to ourselves and the others learning alongside us. Can't go wrong when we start with grace. Happy Thanksgiving, Naomi!

  3. So true Lisa, thanks for sharing and Happy Thanksgiving :)


Post a Comment