When we began our online relationship 2015, CC and I stumbled into a strangely unintentionally committed relationship with each other. I was (and in so many ways still am) a nobody who just left a youth ministry job and moved back in with his parents in order strike out into the wild west of entrepreneurship. I started a FB group so I could ask my friends advice, and all the sudden thousands of people were in it and I was in charge.
When we started, I had some very core wounds with the Church and was really launching my business with the hope of escaping the gravitational pull of the institutional Church. When we signed our first clients, a Tex-Mex restaurant and a sports tech startup, I called my brother, completely exuberant at having gotten out of the Catholic bubble in which I had felt so unaccepted and misunderstood. Somehow, sacramentality was core to my artistic inspiration, but in every church organization I always felt squelched, stifled, and shut down. It felt like I was the only one, and now I was happy to be free of the constant reminders of how different I was than the others around me.
Then we had the bulletin meetup, and the Facebook group happened, and I found that there were hundreds, maybe thousands of people who were like me. It was the strangest experience. It felt like I found my people––like they had always existed, and all of a sudden a portal opened in the universe and I could just beam into a conversation with anyone of my heros on any topic of my choice. It was the dream buffet:
“Ahem, yes, I’ll take Cory Heiman and Chuck Kinnane about Art vs. Catholic Propaganda at 2pm, and then jump into a vulnerable conversation with Erica Tigue about yoga and addiction in the evening over tea.”
So naturally, having newly quit my jobs, I basically spent all the time that I should have been looking for clients just doing Google Hangouts with generous strangers from the internet. We recorded some of these conversations and called them podcasts. Every day, I couldn’t wait to go back through that magic portal via Facebook to talk to these people who had, until that moment, just been the faceless people behind the badass life teen posters and the Blessed is She blog, but who were now my friends!
So we did the CC Summit and invited all these internet friends together and we met at a bar in Dallas and everyone discovered that I am much shorter than my internet personality had led them to believe. In fact, we all discovered that at least 30% of our impressions of each other had been completely unfounded. And we found that we actually liked each other a lot more in person than online. And, that none of us were as intimidating as we thought. (Except for Jared Zimmerer. He is actually as scary as everyone thought.)
We also experienced something that had already been present in the online versions of our conversations, but that we didn’t realize would become so potent. We had real love. Enough to dive into a crazy film collaboration where our money and reputations and beliefs were all on the line and in each other’s hands. We had so much love that JM’s bunkmate, Patrick, moved his family to Canada to join the Glass Canvas team (pretty cool, eh?). Some of us even had so much trust that they just decided to marry each other.
So that was a nuts weekend. One night after everyone left, while Marcellino and I were crashing, trying to polish off the full keg of Shiner Boc that was leftover from the Summit, we lit a fire in our backyard. As we stared in silence at the burning branches, we both felt a deep sense of omen. I searched to describe the feeling. It was like the sense of vertigo that comes after a date that was too good… one where you realize that you’ve fallen in love far too quickly, before you’ve gotten a chance to really know them, and now you are helplessly all in on something that could just evaporate in a second.
“We are all really friends now. Not like, just-discovering-each-other friends… real life friends.”
“Real life friends get in fights.”
“What if we get into a fight, and then it all goes away?”
“I don’t know, man.”
Our thoughts faded into the sound of cicadas and the crackling fire, and I went to bed that night with that omen weighing in my chest.
Since then, through some hard lessons and some hard conversations with Jason Jensen and Jm Boyd, I realized that fear of not belonging has been with me for years and years, and has driven my insatiable desire to work on admining the FB group or working on collaborations; I felt like I finally found a place where I could belong after many years of feeling so alone, like such a misfit. This energy has been both the wind in my sails and my Achilles heel. It leads me to overreact online when I feel my own belonging threatened by some unsuspecting girl posting about her logo design contest, or the… well… let’s be real I’ve shit on like every logo design contest post that’s come through the group.
We were in the impossibly white and modern offices of Glass Canvas (imagine officing inside macbook pro packaging) when Jason Jensen said to me, bro, you are dealing with an orphan spirit. You don’t trust God the Father has already accepted you, so you are going online to fight for your acceptance. To which I became very righteously indignant and angry, and horrified that someone from the freaking internet could see about myself more clearly than I could.
I’ve been unpacking that spiritual truth for many months, and I realize how culpable I am of this more every day. And I am not alone in the orphan spirit issue- I see the dynamic present in almost every person in this group. Perhaps it is why we have all been brought together. But for whatever cause, each of us has triggers- topics that we care so much about that as soon as we feel like someone doesn't value the thing that we do, we think, “I am so done with this FB group,” and turn off notifications, or (this is more my cup of tea) “He said what? Hell no. I am going to get out my sword…. Alright bro, get ready for the comment of your life.”
So many of us have experienced the pain of being rejected by the Church or by certain groups in the Church. The natural response is to crave to carve out a place where we can belong. Whether it’s via the discussions about liturgy, or an anime style icon, or a conversation about World Youth Day’s (God awful… see?) Logo, or architecture, or a post about diversity in the Church, we all have moments where we question whether or not we are really going to be accepted in this group, where our most immediate response is to either check out, or to pull out our guns and fight for our belonging.
In this past post about race, I can see that dynamic still incredibly present in many of us, including myself. Strangely, because I happened into starting the group, I happen to have the keys, the power to say who belongs and who doesn’t, and yet, somehow, even I still feel afraid of not belonging too. How screwed up is that?
The paradox of this all is that when we engage in conversations in order to fight for our belonging, we often destroy what we hoped to create in the first place. The fear of not belonging becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, where the overreactions and regrettable public denouncements (or pronouncements) that we make because of our anxiety works in others the same fear and anger that caused us to over react. And so they get their guns and fire back, and we find that our deepest fears were confirmed, and get even more incensed... and so we are both driven further and further away from each other while fighting for the same thing that we both wanted in the first place. Belonging.
So what is the way forward? The admins all realize that we can’t police members of the FB group into being friends, or caring for the other real life people on the other end of those undulating ellipses at the bottom of the FB thread's. Is the dream dead? Are we too big, too divided, to immature to enter the promised land of Belonging? Was the belonging that we felt when we started the group back in 2015, and tasted at the CC Summit just a mirage?
The answer is, if we are willing to trust that there is actually a God, and that He is actually our Father, and that He is actually good, the dream of true community isn’t just possible, its His will for us. But the only way to enter it is to empty ourselves and walk through the narrow gate of holiness.
I don’t say that in the pius, “everyone just pick up your rosaries more,” sort of way. I mean it in the way of the mystics- of separating from the rest of the world to dive deeply into the ugly, brambled self, where our most painful memories are manufacturing weapon grade fear-gas, and where our pride raises walls and turrets against love-- where the child in us still resides and cries for love, and further, to invite God and his people into that place as well.
The Call of The Creative
I truly believe that the call of the creative- the call of every artist, is to usher in a New Garden- to turn back the work of sin, to show the rest of the world how to remove those protective but prickly fig leaves by being the first to do it ourselves. What makes this community (when we are at our best) distinct, is that we have largely despaired of the analytic, apologetic, and rhetorical, and instead have placed our bets on communicating with beauty- by opening up and MAKING, and therefore offering others concrete experiences of our innermost landscapes.
After that exchange on Saturday I was up all night, stewing in my anxiety, and on Sunday, I hiked into the creek where I spent so much time when I was growing up. I followed a shard of the creek that I had never explored, up from the suburbs into undeveloped land. After going for hours I was exhausted, cut up by thorns, poisoned by hundreds of bushes of poison ivy, and I stumbled unexpectedly upon the most magical space I think I've ever seen. In the middle of a forest, with no other house or path or road in site was a bench, and a blue glass star hanging from the bough of a tree over a statue of St. Francis and a nine ft tall cross.
Awestruck, sat in the bench, keeled over by the completely unexpected and undeserved gift of little Catholic shrine in the woods, and after a few moments I began to cry. The sun was setting into gold behind the towering trees, crowning their edges with a copper gleam, and I knew that my belonging was never in a facebook group. It was here, in my God, and it wasn’t up for grabs.
If I am going to be able to participate in community that doesn’t evaporate, or avoid devouring others in my own ravenous hunger for belonging, I have to learn how to venture into the brambles of myself, and find the Father who loves me. Only then can I mount the grace of those monstrous words, “I am sorry,” and “I forgive you,” and “I just want to understand,” and ride them out of the freaking facebook platform, out of dms, and into real life friendships with strangers who crave belonging just as much as I do.
Ill part with a poem from Hafiz:
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise
Someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a
Full moon in each eye that is always saying,
With that sweet moon language, what every other eye in
This world is dying to hear?
P.S. I learned how to talk about these things from so many of the people here.
Sam Sorich, Erica T, JM, Cory, Matt M, Chuck and the countless others have called me into the scary but beautiful place of vulnerability and have forgiven me through my mistakes. This facebook group is far more valuable than a place to show off your work or get other people to side with you on something you are annoyed about. It can be a place where you start lifelong relationships with people who can teach you how to love. Maybe remember this next time you want to talk about something. Try getting on a google hang with someone you want to meet. Don’t be surprised if you stay on the call for two hours longer than you planned. Or want to marry them. Haha.
If you don’t know me, and you have been offended by something I said back in 2017... or three days ago- you may find that IRL I'm more accommodating than my fb writing style might have suggested. #iammorethanmyfacebookprofile
And finally, if you don’t know the people who I have mentioned in this blog, maybe try reaching out to them. Three years ago I learned that they will talk to just about anyone- because they talked to me, and if they were willing to talk to me then, you’ll be just fine.