Lisa and I just celebrated our 35th anniversary by going on vacation. We had a wonderful time. We’ve been through a lot. We’ve experienced a ton of stuff, under a great deal of strain, and been through tremendous joys. Most of the time we believed it was so wonderful that it couldn’t possibly ever end. There’ve also been times when we wondered if we’d even make it to the next day. It’s been hard work but totally worth it. We are very happy together.
Before we left for vacation, we both decided it would be best if I left my computer at home and took a real break. I took my iPhone. As a result of spotty internet (since we were mostly always on the beach) and because I’m a terrible thumb-typer, keeping up with what happened in our Facebook group and responding was not only unwanted activities, but pretty much impossible. I’m not going to apologize for that. People do need vacations. What happened this week forced me to not micromanage our group and to learn some huge lessons about how we function.
I found it interesting how my suggestion to take a break until I return became a huge threatening pronouncement from on high that I will return in a blink of an eye and exact judgement. I did not intend to give the impression that I would through slight of hand magically fix this. I have no wise edicts to announce. I can understand how this can be triggering for some people.
I’ll have to admit this has been kind of triggering for me. Not the kind of trigger that paralyzes or destroys me, but it reminds me in painful ways of my last church, a wonderful community, that blew up in my face like an experiment gone bad. But I’m trying to face it head on so I can learn from it and improve as a community facilitator. This is important to me. I want to learn.
In a sense I’m glad I wasn’t here to take control, as I might be prone to do. Our virtues are the fruit vines that grow on the trellises of our weaknesses. Our light side casts a shadow making our dark side. I believe I’m a pretty gracious person who is known by some for providing safe spaces for people to be and become themselves. In fact, some people have said that I’m one of the most non-controlling people they’ve ever met. But I know myself enough to know that it’s because I’m also aware of my desire and capacity to control. So, while I was resisting every temptation from my dark side to manage what was going on, I let my light side lead me to leave it alone and learn from it. Some questioned the need of me to be a facilitator at all, while others wished I would come in and do something. Believe me, I felt this tension within my own heart.
I want to share with you a few things I learned.
I am sad Carol Wimmer left. I’m sad whenever anyone leaves. But I want to tell you why I’m sad she left. She’s a friend. We’ve communicated privately quite a bit. In other words, we’ve gotten to know each other and have learned to trust one another. I’ve made it very clear to her, gently of course because she’s my friend, that I don’t necessarily agree with her theology. Geez, ALL my friends have weird ideas. But she’s made it clear that she doesn’t require that from me. When I read her original post, what I heard from my friend was that she was delighted that she found the nerve to finally share her ideas with someone who didn’t silence her or make her feel ashamed to believe what she believes. She sounded like a young child excited to share with people she trusted that she took the risk to use her voice and wasn’t shut down. I detected no attempt to evangelize me. But, after she saw the initial responses to her post, she was surprised that anyone was hurt by what she said and quickly removed the post so no one else would get hurt. She also realized that her experience about being heard by a friend was not as promising as she’d hoped. Instead, she discovered that trusting us with her (to me) bizarre ideas was ill-founded and naive. She finally experienced in TLS what she had experienced in the church. She’s healthy enough to take care of herself and quickly left. I’m sad about that because I love who she is. I recognize myself in her from not too many years ago. I was into all that prophecy stuff hardcore. I was wondering where her journey would lead her in her personal development and growth as she learned to recognize and exercise her own voice and commit to her own personal journey towards spiritual independence. We won’t witness that as a community now. She’ll keep it to herself. I’m sad about that.
It’s about trust. I trust Carol, so I let her talk to me about her ideas. In fact, I do this with all my friends. Actually, I do this with all members of TLS. Or try to. I’m not perfect. I fail. But I endeavor to allow each and every person to share their stories without being criticized or corrected. TLS is not about correcting each other, but listening. We assume people want to grow and change, so we entrust them to that process and give them the space to do it. I’m looking at the long view. For me, it took many years to deconstruct and find a healthy way to reconstruct. I’m glad there are people who are patient enough with me to put up with who I am now. This is what gives me permission to grow. Not their pressuring me to change or conform. When people trust me, they will share more of themselves. When I trust, I will share more of myself. When we don’t trust people, we will be afraid to share ourselves. When people don’t trust us, they will remain silent. Trust, or love, is the milieu of volitional change.
I’ve decided I cannot and therefore will not change anybody. When someone joins TLS, they are implicitly committing themselves to change. They want permission to change themselves. And I love watching it happen. I’ve discovered the best way is to let us just process out loud with no fear of being corrected or criticized. Of course we each believe our own opinions. But I know that no matter how much I might differ or even disagree with them, that if they are committed to growth, these may very well change in their own time. They don’t need my help. All they need is a safe space to do it in. Permission to grow at your own rate as you see fit is the greatest gift.
I also want to recognize and remind us that there are a lot of people who have triggers. Some are suffering from PTSD, or PTSS (syndrome rather than disorder which isn’t as bad). Or abuse. Or silencing. Or shaming. I recognize this. And when TLS was becoming known as a safe space, it also became a rich concentration of wounds and triggers. So, when you have a group with a richer concentration of wounds and triggers, and you add to this a kind of 24/7 group therapy session environment with no breaks ever and just one facilitator, it becomes not only an unnatural but an impossible scenario. No one would dare entrust themselves to that kind of context willingly. Triggers should be respected. Wounds should be protected. How we can do this effectively while being free to express ourselves is a critical question.
It made me realize that my original vision for The Lasting Supper has been either violated, forgotten, or ignored. I take the blame for this for not articulating it more often and more clearly. I will accept that perhaps I have violated it myself, or forgotten it, or ignored it. Perhaps I have allowed TLS to become something other than what it was meant to be. I’m all for things taking their own shape, but not when it devours a better good, not when it becomes a parasite that devours the host.
For example, one statement that I worked long and hard on in developing the values of TLS was this one:
“We promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person; we treat each other with respect, compassion, equality and dignity; we make no assumptions about others’ spirituality, beliefs or opinions; we encourage others in their free and responsible search for truth and meaning; we listen before we speak. We expect you to respect these values on the site at all times.”
I would like TLS to return to that. But we won’t if we believe community is most important rather than personal growth. It’s learning how to be free while not violating the freedom of others. That’s what’s important and finally may result in healthy community.
The Lasting Supper is not an opinion testing site. Rather, it was meant to be a place where resources from our own experiences that would provide people with tools to use on their journeys towards their own spiritual independence. Community was not the core purpose. It was an unexpected but welcomed spin-off. Now it’s become the central value of TLS. What this means is that the pressure to do whatever it takes to keep the community together and happy becomes paramount. If we were offering stories or question about our searches and discoveries for deconstruction and reconstruction without them being criticized, judged, or corrected, then an incredible pool of resources to help others grow would develop. Plus, we would discover amazing friends on similar paths and enjoy community as a bonus.
It was spiritual independence first, community second. Now it’s become community first, and no other vision can survive in that context.
The burning question in my mind right now is: “Is a Facebook groups the best platform for this to happen?” I remember when we switched from using our forums on our main site to the Facebook group. The sudden thrill of instant gratification was exhilarating. But as it grew it became more and more unruly and unmanageable. I’m only one man. I had admins and others who provided wise counsel, but many of them have left since this last week’s episode. It seriously makes me wonder if Facebook is the best place for TLS to practice community. In a word, it’s not working. I mean, 95% of the time it might. But that 5% is enough to damage the good. Like an abusive husband… he might be the perfect man almost all of the time, but that one time a year he beats his wife to a pulp demands that it is unhealthy for her to stay in it.
I’ve come to no conclusions yet. But I promise you I’m thinking and working on it all the time. I will figure this out. With your help I hope.
It’s been suggested to me that I’m just in this for the money and that it is a business and don’t really care about people or spiritual things. People are allowed to believe what they want about me. But people who love and trust me know better.
I just want to clear something up: my total monthly profit for TLS is less than $1,200 per month. WHAT? Am I crazy? One day I will provide a report to prove how crazy I am.
So, I’m doing a lot of thinking for my own personal health and for the community health of TLS. I really do want this to work. I know it is a valuable service. Many people have been saved by it. I really want to keep doing it. But only in a way that is healthy for everyone.
I know this letter has been randomly written, but it’s from my heart. Thanks for listening.
I trust you. I hope you will trust me. I will try to be trustworthy.