Saturday, October 3, 2009

A safe place

My last post was a review of the newly released book "Bo's Cafe." Some great comments were posted as Bruce McNicol, one of the authors, shared about the importance of having "a safe place." His comments as well as the discussion helped me to clarify my thoughts regarding safe places.

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?


john Lynch said...

Aida-(I just commented but I'm not sure it took, so here's my second attempt.)

I don't quite know where I'd be if God hadn't let me stumble into "safe places." I have experienced, like all of us, a series of unsafe places, but to pursue and cultivate a safe place I think God has used to heal and mature me in ways beyond my hope. A place that answers this question: "What would happen if there was a place so safe that the worst of me could be known, and I would discover that I would be loved more, not less in the telling of it?" I think the answer is that God would use that context to free us and allow us to stop hiding and bluffing and pretending.

Thank you so much for this blog. It is a good thing to walk with you and other new friends on this journey.

Aida said...

John, thanks for posting a comment. I have my blog on moderation so I have to approve the comments before they’re posted. I knew you were out of town so I didn’t expect such a quick response. Must have been that hotel coffee.

Like you, I’ve seen and been in many unsafe environments and for the hurting they can be disastrous. I know when I don’t feel safe, I pull back and put up a wall of protection. I think that’s normal and, in some circumstances, wise. My desire is to provide a safe place here on my blog or wherever I am where the hurting can stop the pretending so that they can be healed.

“Bo’s CafĂ©” has really touched one of the passions of my heart as you’ll see if you read the blog I posted over a year ago.

Deb said...

Hi Aida :-)

For me, a "safe place" would consist of people who are "other centered"...people who are more interested in relationships than they are with being "right". Being "right" and having to have all the correct "doctrine" has caused more harm than FAR...down through history...and STILL is!

I am soooOooo over believing that "I", "you" or any person on this earth has all the "right" answers!!! I also believe that we are very limited in our "vision" and can only see through a glass darkly at this point.

So, kick others and build relationships!!! Who cares what another person believes??? Does all the arguing and name calling accomplish anything but hard feelings and strife? Nope, I don't think so! :-)

Love is my answer! :-) Agape love....just loving them for who they are...period!


Aida said...

“For me, a "safe place" would consist of people who are "other centered"...people who are more interested in relationships than they are with being "right".”

Deb, that’s a great definition and some great thoughts. Like you, I believe in allowing people to have their own journey. It’s not up to me to try to control their lives or to try to manipulate them into doing what I do or believing what I believe.

I’m becoming more and more convinced of the importance of relationships. The relationships I have are important to me and people need to know that I love them enough to let them live their lives as they choose even when I don’t agree.

Craig said...

Hi Aida,
I don't think I would be enjoying my life as much if there were not places like this to open up and become aquainted w/ others on the Way.
I think for alot of people it might be easier to have the safety that the internet provides.Especially if they have encounterd or are living in abusive relationships.
What really excites me is the vast amount of different thinking, ideas and questioning that goes on. So much of this is forbidden territory in a church or organized setting. Or is simply too scarey for some to do face to face.
Safety and moderation provide the necessary atmosphere for us to grow. I have benefitted immensely from places such as these.
Thanks, Aida.
Deb Farrell

Jaden's Mom said...

Hi Aida,

Excellen post! I think the online "community" phenomena has created a sense of license with some of those who participate. People say things to each other online that are so abusive and hurtful, they would never say it to them face to face.

Years ago, I hosted in a chatroom that was meant for Christians to come together and discuss a diverse group of topics, from the mundane to the esoteric. When the room monitors were present, the conversations remained civil. However, if I entered the room withouth my "boots" on ("boots", as in, booting someone out of the room if they became abusive or disruptive), the conversations would become abusive, and quickly, if there were opposing points of view.

I think that monitoring these online communities is probably not the answer. I think that leaving each person to have their own journey is vitally important, and if one community or another is showing itself to be an abusive, unsafe environment, then it is time to move on. Find the safe place that is the safest...and the safest place is not, as you mentioned earlier, the most comfortable.

I have experienced a lot of hurt in both online and real life Christian communities. It wasn't edifying hurt at all, it was just plain, mean-spirited, unkind hurt. Still, that said, I am grateful for the experiences because they have helped me become who I am. I would not have such an understanding of God's grace if I had not experienced humanity's depravity in that regard. I think that every bit of our journey can be transforming, if we let it.

Still, a safe and right here in my own essential to healthy growth. Iron sharpens iron. We belong in community, and a safe community facilitates growth in a way we could never experience if we were to keep to ourselves.

Aida said...

Deb, I really believe safe places are essential especially while we’re still in the process of healing and the internet can provide a lot more safety than face to face contacts. I love feeling like I can go wherever I want to go. I’ve left some groups that I feel like I’ve outgrown and I’ve also left some groups that have become abusive. It’s been hard leaving the abusive groups because my heart breaks for the people who are being hurt and I want to help them.

I personally feel moderation is necessary in most groups We need to be free to explore new thoughts and ideas without feeling like we’ll be attacked and moderation does provide that freedom.

Aida said...

Jaden’s Mom, thanks for sharing. I’ve discussed this topic several times with friends so I understand your comment that moderation may not be the answer.

I believe forums that are not moderated should be open and honest in their terms of service and not say certain behavior isn’t permitted when it is. If they were honest about that, then folks could decide for themselves if they’re ready to venture into the atmosphere of possible chaos and abuse.

Everyone is at a different stage in their journey and I believe we should take that into consideration when setting up a forum. A lot of people have suffered extreme abuse and don’t know how to deal with it except to internalize it. In my opinion, they need to be given time and a loving place to heal before venturing out into the cold cruel world of unmoderated forums. Unfortunately, the world is filled with abusive people so in time, they will be subject to them again but hopefully by that time, they’ll be better prepared to deal with it. When soldiers are wounded, they’re not immediately put back into the battle zone. Instead, they’re removed to a safe place where they can heal. Only when they are healed do they go back into battle.

I suppose everyone will have different perspective on this and I don’t think either perspective is wrong. I’m glad there are moderated forums for those who need a place to heal and for those who feel like they’re ready, it’s good that there are also unmoderated forums. As I said before, I just think the forum owner needs to be honest and let people know what to expect.

lionwoman said...

Aida, thanks for posting this! I believe a safe place is very important. Lack of a truly safe place is why many Christians don't grow and mature the way God intended us all to.

I'm very grateful for the one safe forum on the internet where many of us talk. I have come to the conclusion that those who know they really live loved (or are truly seeking to get there) don't feel the need to attack everyone who doesn't agree with them.

I'm going to look for "Bo's Cafe" at the book store soon...

Aida said...

Amy, you’ve made some good points. When we’re already hurt and wounded and we have to fight off more attacks, we can’t always focus on what we need to in order to grow.

Last night, Charlie was watching a nature program about penguins and, in one scene, a penguin had come out of the water to feed its chicks. However, when it got to land, a seal was there waiting to attack it. So, instead of feeding its chicks, it had to flee in the opposite direction in order to prevent getting killed. It finally was able to lose the seal and then it returned and took care of its babies. However, it could have been killed and it would never have accomplished its purpose. I believe that’s what happens to believers who suffer constant attack before they’re ready to deal with it. In essence, they’re killed never to fulfill their purpose of growing in God’s love.

I’m also thankful for the FBN forum where we’re able to talk and share without being attacked by insecure members. It’s a great place to grow. Then, when we feel ready, we can venture out into the cold cruel world of online participation and join other groups that may not be so loving without being destroyed.

I agree. When we know we’re loved, we don’t feel like we have to validate ourselves so we can just accept others wherever they are on their journey.