My Two Cents / Readings

The Linchpinism of 12 Tribes


So I’m currently using my metro commute time to read Linchpin by Seth Godin. Linchpin’s about Art–what art really is and the change-makers who aren’t afraid to take risks and expend emotional labor to share with others. It keeps reminding me of 12 Tribes.

Last October Cynthia and I almost ran out of gas delivering Square Foot Gardening boxes to a charter school on the grounds of 12 Tribes. Cynthia runs Square Foot Gardening San Diego and we spent time working together last Summer/Fall writing, running random errands, negotiating with carpenters, hosting gardening events, and installing gardens in places like Head Start schools. 12 Tribes is a group of people who call Jesus by his Hebrew name, living intentionally together, welcoming strangers, cultivating and living off their land, cooking up good food, and selling produce and coffee at their Yellow Delis and at nearby farmers markets. Some might call them a commune.

We felt excited and curious driving the curvy clay hills to the homestead just outside San Diego. I had almost gone to live and farm at a 12 Tribes community near Asheville, NC a few months prior but had been somewhat freaked-out and skeptical by the communal-like jargon found online and opted for two other farms instead. Cynthia’s son, Brad, had wwoofed at 12 tribes and they both loved buying green drinks at 12 Tribes’ Yellow Deli and their farmers market booths around San Diego.

We parked in a bit of gravel near a tree line and dodged the sprinklers in the grass up towards the main house. Agave came out to meet us. (Her name wasn’t exactly “Agave” but something very similar—I just remember that her name reminded me of Agave Nectar). Avocado trees grew up from the hills behind the main house where lots of long-haired women in dresses were working on lunch and chasing kids around. I’d read that 12 Tribes called Jesus “Yashua” (Yahweh’s Salvation — mighty and powerful to save us from our sins). Agave used it once in our conversation. We had to wait a bit for the man we were coordinating with to come in from a field or something so Cynthia asked for some green drink, and Agave took us out on the front porch.

“What are the tents for?” There were dozens of tents made out of burlappy blankets and thick wooden sticks in the grass between the porch and a larger, more-permanent looking outdoor tent. “We sleep outside for the festival.” Turns out 12 Tribes practices holidays from the Old Testament. Agave explained that they were sleeping outside for a week or so (something about the Israelites wandering around the desert) and the last two days would include a big celebration with lots of foods and outdoor games. She invited us to come back for it, but we both had to work. (Bummer!) We walked off the porch, wandering around the tents where Bibles sat on people’s pillows or on little outdoor tables beside their sleeping spots. 12 Tribes gathers collectively every day to read the Bible allowed, but everyone also makes time to read and rest on their own.

Agave quietly shared some of her story with us and what 12 Tribes stands for: to love their Creator with all their heart, mind, and strength, and to love one another just as He loved them. Being just ordinary human beings, we are far from perfect in our love, yet, in hope, we persevere. Our goal? That the kingdom of God would come on earth as it is in heaven, so that love and justice can rule on the earth. Sound impossible? It would be, were it not that the Son of God came to earth to redeem mankind, to set us free from the curse of sin, and to enable us to love. Because we have come to see His worth and our own desperate need, we have surrendered everything in order to follow Him. Our hearts and our homes are open night and day to any who are interested in our life or are weary of their sin and want to know the purpose for which they were created.

Anyways we met the guy who we came to meet, laid out the gardening materials, checked out their trippy Peacemaker van from back in the day, met one of their wwoofers from a random midwestern state, said “Goodbye” to Agave, had some really good salads and a chocolate chip cookie at the Yellow Deli roadside RV on the way out, and barely made it to a gas station with the help of a McDonald’s worker who we stopped and got directions from.


I was only at 12 Tribes for 1/2 a day, so not 100% sure what I think about the whole thing—-but it was beautiful. Relaying the positive vibes over the phone the next day, the general response was something along the lines of “aren’t they separating themselves from the world? Aren’t Christians supposed to be IN the world and not of it?” Maybe……..but they’re ‘IN the world’ selling at farmer’s markets, running cafes, inviting anyone and everyone to come live with them, and hosting wwoofers from all over the world. Who’s to say that we (members of unsustainable, consumeristic, western cultures—sorry for the buzzwords) aren’t the ones “of it”? Yes, I would say they somewhat live in a bubble. But it’s a voluntary bubble—and who doesn’t live in a bubble to some degree?? Like many things, it’s not black or white. Everyone has their own standards of ‘normal’ and negotiables.

In Linchpin, Godin says: Imagine a stack of 400 quarters. Each quarter represents 250 years of human culture, and the entire stack signifies the 100,000 years we’ve had organized human tribes. Take the top quarter off the stack. This one quarter represents how many years our society has revolved around factories and jobs and the world as we see it. The other 399 coins stand for a very different view of commerce, economy, and culture. Our current view might be the new normal, but the old normal was around for a long time.

Ironically, 12 Tribes’ way of life is actually a very old one, but their way of living is “new” to many of us in the western world. 12 Tribes are people oriented–they display personal responsibility for themselves, their land, and their communities. They’re artists because their way of living is not mechanized, they invite others to join in, and their ideas are different, risky, involve emotional labor, and changes people to think a little differently about how one might live. From Linchpin: Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. Art that matters is given as gifts that tangibly tell a story, shifting our perspectives and bringing about a better understanding of what it means to be human and that we all are. A visit to 12 Tribes will do that. Because they’re artists. I’m sure their way of life is not perfect but as Godin says, Art is never defect free.


“The gift is to the giver, and comes back to him…” -Walt Whitman

Random Fact: One of Godin’s other famous books is called “Tribes“……..muy interesante.


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