Lately, I've been thinking a lot about safe places as they pertain to online groups. The question I've been pondering is: What is a safe place and is it really possible to have one? Relationships are messy and online ones where we may not know the people involved can be particularly messy.
In my involvement with online groups, I've seen a very disturbing trend develop as the volume of arguing and anger increases. This is true even of groups that have been formed for christians to share and discuss their beliefs. Because of the level of rancor, some groups have become, in my opinion, spiritually abusive. Anyone who expresses a thought outside of the accepted belief of the most vocal is subject to name calling and harassment of the worst kind. These abusive groups are usually unmoderated since moderated groups don't tend to experience this type of chaos and abuse.
Watching this happen has caused me to wonder . . . Is it realistic to expect these types of groups to be environments where everyone behaves? Should there be moderation to ensure proper behavior or is that setting up an unrealistic, unnatural environment? As I thought about these questions, I began to compare two groups that that I've been involved with - one is abusive and the other one has a spirit of love that permeates all of the conversations.
One of the responders to my post said that a safe place is not necessarily a "comfy" place and, as Bruce further elaborated on that statement, I began to see things more clearly. He said, "a safe place is not a soft place. An environment of grace is a place where the truth will flow most freely, the truth about who I am, how I'm doing, and how we're doing."
That's exciting! "A safe place" is a place where the members can open up and be vulnerable without being attacked. However, it will definitely not be a comfortable place because we'll give other members freedom to lovingly delve into those areas of our lives that we've done our best to keep hidden even from ourselves.
Like a wound that has been lanced to let out the infection, delving into those hidden places can be painful, messy and at times ugly. However, if we want to be healed, we need to submit to the pain and allow our community of friends to help us struggle through to freedom. I believe the only way this will work is if the group is free from abuse. Hurting members will not open up if instead of gentle lancing to bring healing, their wound is scratched and further torn open through abuse.
Some of us don't have a local community that we meet with in a face to face relationship. Our only community is online. Therefore, if we're to get beyond the hurts of the past, we need to find a safe place where we can be open and honest without fearing abuse.
This conversation regarding safe places has really excited me as I see the potential in the life of a believer where one exists. Like the authors, I hope we'll begin to see more safe places rise up - both in our local communities and online.
If you'd like to read my post reviewing "Bo's Cafe," follow this link. I invite you to share any thoughts you might have that will help us further process this concept of "a safe place."
Wouldn't it be great if we all had one?