It’s About Our Theology; On What Becomes a Weapon
As a writer I go in and out of seasons of writing every day, and have been in a quiet period.
When I root into my emotional honesty, I can’t write as often. I can only write when I can receive the level of honesty that my body is ready to convey.
Writing recently has included a lot of subsequent naps and fits of cleaning and reorganizing.
My writing process alerts me to insights in facilitation, especially in what comes to the surface.
For the last year the primary theme I’ve been responding to is safety and facilitation.
As a disclaimer, I don’t believe in safe spaces or make reference to them. But I do believe in safety planning, and spaces designed deliberately.
When those spaces are linked to a shared belief system as they are for faith communities, safety is far more complicated and layered.
Two particular ideas stand out — meaning, and connection.
As facilitators and writers, we convey meaning and we nurture connection that includes both people and ideas. We offer information that includes questions and understandings while inviting engagement.
We make use of our lived experiences, and shared and unshared collective knowledge.
We disrupt and introduce associations and relationships.
We hold ourselves and the spaces we help influence whether we’re doing so well or inadequately.
We observe, react, and communicate on a repeating loop.
As I’ve thought about what I’ve learned and done well as either a writer or a facilitator, I’ve reflected on traps I’ve fallen into. Traps in this sense meaning dynamics I hadn’t prepared for ahead of time.
The category that best contains those learnings relates to both meaning and connection, and more specifically — what happens when what we offer, or how we contribute, is used to interrupt trust building?
When is connection not genuine?
When is meaning shaped by intentionally placed distractions?
When do we engage with ideas impersonally and uncritically, relying on an external reference?
What prompts us to hold onto the meanings we hold onto?
What motivates us to stay in the relationships we prioritize?
How do we gain muscle memory to ask ourselves questions like these regularly?
If I were writing this blog a year ago, I’d say these questions interest me as a writer and as a facilitator, but today they interest me for different reasons that are contextual and evolving constantly.
I am interested in these questions as a public theologian who primarily writes and facilitates on open-source platforms for faith formation. My examples for what are theological assertions have grown as I’ve curated these spaces and tried to support other leaders in more effective facilitation.
Even more specifically, my awareness of how we connect to God and each other has broadened, and the meanings that brings into all areas of shared leadership and spiritual education.
Within a climate where educators are chronically surveilled and retaliated against the case for this is not hard to argue, but perhaps labeling these questions as theological feels new.
This dialogue pits educators, institutions and caregivers against each other, and as monolithic in their beliefs. And none of this is contextual enough, reliable enough, or rooted in our deepening self-awareness.
In the absence of information that helps us locate ourselves in a discussion, we search for shorthand. We find a trusted referral, an individual we are in proximity to, or a precedent already set.
How can facilitators narrate conversations they are inviting others into without alienating those that already distrust changed ideas?
Unpopularly, I’d say we need to nurture meaning and connection more slowly.
We need to be on the lookout for red flags that erode trust and a commitment to learning.
I describe six ways that I’ve observed that facilitation is undermined to erode trust building —
Using candid discussion to surveille rather than generate shared understandings. This over time leads individuals to share nothing, share minimally, share dishonestly, or break confidences.
Making attacks on people’s individual experiences and skillsets to make them appear less credible, frequently to avoid conversations that further personalize others or clarify distinct points of view.
3. Emotional Honesty
Provoking emotional responses that by comparison highlight an individual or group of individuals as objective or reasonable rather than too close to an issue, or emotionally compromised.
Relying on uneven labor and emotional labor that exhausts or overworks individuals. Delaying agreements that state shared expectations or clear responsibilities that value our sustainability.
Structuring governance as removed from interpersonal relationships and defined power dynamics; valuing informality over explicit agreements and processes that are known and utilized.
Utilizing personal relationships to manipulate working relationships, failing to consider multiple relationships and roles that may be present.
When we stop assuming that trust is built, we work instead to build it with each other, and we observe actions that slow that work down.
We prepare differently.
We observe differently.
We react differently.
And, yes, we will communicate differently.
We are working alongside every internalized lesson about meaning and connection associated with God, in all areas of our lives together.
We can respect that we need more support in this work by admitting it’s vastness.
And we can respect each other by inviting trust in our spaces, and not just in God.
Safety and facilitation are layered and complex; but one thing they are not is assumed.