Safe Spaces

Safe spaces have gotten a lot of press over the last year or more.  The concept seems to be the creation of physical spaces – indoor or outdoor – where those inside are protected from ideas, events, and repercussions of things that happen outside the safe space.  It seems like a nice idea.  How many of us don’t long to crawl back under the covers, or inside a pillow fort, or otherwise have a sanctuary where we don’t have to deal with the self-defined unpleasantness of this world from time to time?

The term invades our social consciousness and language quickly.  Yesterday at our monthly pastor gathering, a colleague talked about creating a safe space during a Bible study for members to discuss the recent terrorist attack in Orlando.  I think what he meant was that the Church provides a place where believers can talk about the issues of the world around them theologically, where our faith in a God who has created everything and offers redemption to everyone can help us explain and interpret what happens around us and our responses to it.  Many people don’t feel comfortable trying to do this other places, with people who don’t share our fundamental understandings of the universe.  We might be mocked or criticized and therefore we crave the safeness of like minds.

It struck me afterwards that a fundamental tenet of my faith as a Christian is that safe spaces don’t exist.  Not in this world.  Not in any sort of reliable, absolute way.  We gather together as the faithful in worship, and this is a beautiful thing.  But it isn’t safe.  Churches get bombed and shot up.  Bible studies get interrupted with gunfire and murder.  Our homes and families should be safe places but often times they are not.  Part of the integral way I see and live out my faith is that safe spaces are an illusion, and I shouldn’t expect them to be there.  If I am blessed with an uninterrupted Bible study, praise God!  If, routinely, we gather for worship and all come and go peaceably, praise God!    But these things are purely a gift.   They are not guarantees, they’re simply habitual expectations.

As such, part of my job is to remind my people of this, just as I remind myself and my family of this.  Safe spaces are a blessing in this world, but they are not a right, and they are not impregnable.  We live in the same world that crucified the Son of God for healing people and feeding people and restoring sight to the blind.  He was pretty clear that we shouldn’t expect much different treatment.  But some of us have gotten used to different treatment.

Church needs to be the place that proclaims this constantly and repeatedly.  My safe space is Christ, and only Christ.  And that safe space is not the expectation that my life should be free from suffering and pain and loss.  Rather, that safe space is that regardless of what I suffer in this world – bodily or spiritually or otherwise – He is with me.  He will always be with me.  Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  He walks with me towards it, into it, and through it to the banquet on the opposite side of the Valley.  That is my safe space.  In the meantime, I rejoice when I am blessed to be with people who understand me and love me.  But I recognize that these things are often fleeting, and I fix my hope on my Savior and what He has promised me for eternity.

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