Among the many responses to my Notes from last week was this, from Joan Tufts: “ I hope that we can have another forum soon where all members of this Body of Christ can feel safe to express their feelings openly and where we can follow some simple rules of Responsibility Communication in Spiritual Relationships.” At our staff meeting yesterday morning, we came to the conclusion that we needed to do exactly that, so we will be doing a Conscious Conversation (and potluck dinner...) the evening of Friday, March 3. So, please check your calendar now, and add that event if at all possible.
When I called Joan this morning, and asked if she would be willing to help facilitate explaining the Responsibility Communication “Rules of Engagement”, she reminded me of one of my first talks as the Senior Minister of Unity of Birmingham. In a talk I entitled “Ground Rules”, I explained to those present what Christine and I expected from a healthy congregation. Some of those “ground rules” included not “triangulating” (that is, rather than going directly to the person or people one may have an issue with, going to someone else and asking them to be an intermediary) and not gossiping. To that, I would add “not sitting on an issue and developing a resentment” (which almost always end up being gossiped or triangulated, unless it blows up when one is triggered). And I would add that these ground rules are as useful in your family or your workplace as they are in church.
One of the things that Joan correctly pointed out was that one of the main reasons people gossip is that they don’t feel safe to express their feelings directly, so the feelings come out in what feels safe (which ends up being gossip). So I’d like to address that issue of feeling safe, as least as far as it relates to our church.
“Safe” does not mean we see eye to eye on a given topic. “Safe” does not mean that when we are done talking, I will suddenly agree with you, or that I will change whatever it is you don’t like to something that you do. And “safe doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to attempt to get you to a different level of consciousness on a given issue, because that’s a big part of my job. What safe means is that you will be listened to and understood. You will be honored for speaking your truth. And you will be loved for who you are, where you are on your soul’s journey.
Given the increasingly polarized nature of our culture, one of the things we are losing the ability to do is disagreeing respectfully, or even lovingly. And we are losing the ability to create a safe space for genuine dialogue that gives us the opportunity to evolve through the Hegelian dialectic (thesis; antithesis; synthesis). It is our hope that we can create exactly that sort of safe space at Unity of Birmingham, not just when we have a Conscious Conversation or Town Hall meeting, but every day, in every space. And I invite us all to begin finding opportunities in our lives to make it safe for those with whom we disagree to begin dialogue.
One last invitation: if you have feelings about anything, anything at all going on in our church, please come share them with me. Let’s have coffee, or lunch, or just make an appointment to come by for a talk. I don’t bite. Open, honest, direct communication is the sign of an emotionally mature, spiritually healthy church. Let’s build one of those, together.
With much love and many blessings,