Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Safe space—the final frontier

I guess for me it started in conversations with people when I realized that my pat answers didn't totally fit, or weren't necessarily wanted. That the person I was talking with had some important things to say to me to help me gain understanding, and I needed to give them the space to talk. That the interaction I was having with someone was important because it gave them the opportunity to unload something, not because it gave me the opening to unload something.
Safe space. A place where ideas can be freely expressed without fear of being shot down, preached at or cutoff. A place where dialogue is the process, not monologue. A place where the goal is mutual understanding, but not necessarily solutions.
I've been thinking about this for quite awhile.
I've noticed that even our typical church discussion-type settings don't promote this, let alone our preaching settings. It seems we always have an agenda, an end goal, a predetermined conclusion—even when we ask others for their opinions.
I guess it comes from the preconception that we have the ultimate answer, the final word, the complete understanding on the subject at hand.
But this basis for intercommunication stifles it before it starts.
Can you imagine bringing up something that is pro-evolution or pro-abortion in a conversation with a church friend (or even worse, at a church small group)? Can you say “Shot down!” “Shock and horror”? How about an idea that disagrees with the prevailing eschatological views of your congregation?

No, we don't suffer fools gladly, or even doubters. So, people who have questions have to ignore them, or leave to find a place to safely discuss them.
If we are that hard on those who already are followers of Christ, how about those who are out there, scanning the landscape for a place to share, experience and discover mysteries of the supernatural. Are they likely to come in to our dogmatic little in-clubs? I really doubt it.
I guess this all comes from our modern idea of being able to have the complete and final answer for any question, and then feeling that it is our responsibility to pass that wisdom along. Too bad that we don't recognize that even our theology is a journey. Thinking that we have it nailed down is really just the final nail in our coffin.

But I think it has to start with me, personally, one-on-one. I certainly can't expect anyone else to change before I change myself.
And I can't expect to be able to either create or find something on a larger scale until I am comfortable with the concept in the most intimate setting of a conversation over coffee.

So, I'm trying to create safe space around me.
--Space where contrary answers are welcome.
--Where new understanding is desired.
--Where doubts with present conclusions don't cause gasps of horror.
--Where silence doesn't mean I have to pour forth all my superior knowledge.

Safe space is just that.
A place where a person can feel safe to be themselves, contrary opinions and all. Safe to vent their doubts and frustrations, hopes and dreams, questions and mysteries. Without reprisal. Without a sermon. Without arrogance.

I'm still working on creating that kind of space around me.


Alien Drums said...

What a wonderful gift to give -- safe space. I've spent most of my life in unsafe spaces. I remember 30 years ago in a church gathering when I said Christian faith and the theory of evolution were not mutually exclusive. My new wife, at the time, even looked at me aghast. She's learned to expect the different, and I think she now agrees with me. Thanks, Al.

shallowfrozenwater said...

i knew i'd like you Al.

Al said...

Welcome, Alien Drums. Around here, we are all aliens. It kind of makes us all feel at home.
SFW, I'm honored.


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