A safe place. That’s the concept that is often used to describe a good environment for a youth ministry. I know I used it when I worked with youth to describe our program and I have heard it used on numerous occasions by others. But if we’re being honest, I think a safe place is something that we look for, something that we want, something that we need no matter how old we are. Feeling unsafe often causes us to create different mechanisms, different safe-guards to ensure that we will be safe. We drive through certain neighborhoods and we lock our doors. We enter certain places and we hold our bags a little tighter. We walk into the presence of certain people and we watch what we say. All because we don’t quite feel safe there.
Author Brian McLaren, in his outstanding novel A New Kind of Christian, describes the initial encounter between a struggling pastor and someone who would later become both friend and mentor: “While he walked over to the trash can, I remember a strange feeling coming over me. The best word I can use for it was safety: this guy is safe to talk to – he understands, I thought.”
The church has not always been a safe place. The church IS not always a safe place. I've heard stories in the past from people who have been hurt in various ways by "the church." One of the problems though, is that we often swing the pendulum back too far in response to these "un-safe" experiences. And that's not right either. Often, in order to be perceived as safe people, or as a safe place, we hide behind dishonesty. We project something we're not, we wash ourselves with in-authenticity and we become worthless as witnesses.
What I love about McLaren's book & the relationship between the pastor (Dan) and the teacher, (Neo) is that they argue, they disagree, they even "fight." They're not hiding behind anything, they're real with each other. Neo is safe, and yet there's a bit of him that is un-safe. You can come and talk, but don't expect to leave feeling settled, just the opposite. Neo leaves Dan often feeling unsettled, because Neo's safety is not inauthentic.
In CS Lewis' the Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, there's a great exchange that happens between Lucy and Mr & Mrs Beaver about Aslan:
"if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
See, Mr. & Mrs. Beaver are safe. But they don't try and wash over the fact that Aslan is scary. They don't pretend he's a pussy cat. He's a lion. To extrapolate that out, I think it's important that we, as Christians provide people both with a safe place & person to talk with & to, but we can't pull punches. God isn't safe. But in this world, safe isn't what we ultimately need. What we ultimately need, is good. And beyond anything else, God is good. Jesus is the ultimate good news. And fortunately for ALL of us, that good news isn't safe to us and our sin...