August 13, 2020

This Is Where I Live

Venn5This is a post that I have been meaning to write for a few weeks, since Chaplain Mike wrote his insightful post, “Another Look: This is not where I live“.  While I agree with Chaplain Mike, that real life happens outside of Internet Monk, I have a little bit of a different perspective.  This week’s post on vulnerability, brought it back to mind.  Of course I had been promising the review of Bruce Cockburn’s book but at over 500 pages I haven’t quite finished it yet.

I live a very siloed life.  With very few exceptions, those I interact with on Internet Monk I do not interact with outside of Internet Monk. Those I interact with at work I do not interact with outside of work.  These two groups combined make up no more than 2% of my Facebook friends.  My life is NOT like the Venn diagram pictured here.

I would have:

  1. An Internet Monk circle of interactions that does not bisect my
  2. Employement circle of interactions

Neither of these circles would bisect my other social groups.  My other social groups are also silos that have almost no connection to each other.  The one circle, however, that covers almost all of them  is Facebook.  They are composed of:

  1. My Extended family
  2. Past colleagues
  3. High school friends and acquaintances
  4. University friends and acquaintances
  5. Seminary friends and acquaintances
  6. Neighbors
  7. Friends and acquaintances from prior churches
  8. Friends and acquaintances from current church
  9. The local cycling community
  10. My kids school community, friends, and parents
  11. Other people who I met at some point in time in life, with whom I have made some kind of connection.
  12. Cool people (at least from my perspective) who don’t really know me, but I like to read their posts.  People like Scott McKnight, Rachel Held Evans, and Steve Bell
  13. Ex-Girlfriends.  Just kidding about that one.  I have no ex-girlfriends on Facebook.  Have always thought it would not be particularly wise to do so!

I of course have a number of other acquaintances who I do not interact with on Facebook.

There have been some occasional strange or even humorous connections between the siloed groups.  Recently I found out that my next door neighbor was friends with Internet Monk commentator Mike the Geologist and that they had even worked together.  I have few small world stories like that:  When visiting the parents of one of my best friends in Ottawa, I found out his mother and my great aunt had been best friends and room mates in Barbados. (It was really strange when she brought out photo albums with my family’s pictures in them!) Another friend from Ottawa, decided to travel across North America on his motorcycle.  When he visited a church in San Francisco, a young couple invited him home for lunch.  While they were in the kitchen preparing the meal, he decided to take a look at their wedding pictures. Suddenly they heard his exclaim from the living room: “Wait a minute, I know that guy, that’s Mike Bell!”  It was my brother who had invited him home for lunch!

For the most part, however, there is and has been almost no interaction between these groups.  Together they span the social, political, and theological spectrum.  That is why I find saying anything meaningful of Facebook so difficult.  Just last week I made what I thought was a fairly innocent and humorous political comment when resulted (after much discussion) in a very old acquaintance unfriending me.  I feel rather neutered on Facebook, for lack of a better term, knowing that having opinion on anything might upset more people than it is worth. Hockey, weather, animal pictures, and my children’s lives seem to be the only exception. People here are passionate about Hockey, but you tend not to lose friends over it.

At work I am in a management position.  I have to be very careful about what I say, and to whom I say it. In effect I self-muzzle there.  I do get asked questions about God, and we do have some discussions, but usually work life and the rest of my life are in very different compartments.

At church I feel like I am constantly looking over my shoulder, and constantly self-moderating my comments.  As a small group leader I have promised to follow the theological party line.  It has resulted in me biting my tongue on many different occasions. Mentally it is not sustainable.  As I a side note as a rule I don’t post links to my Internet Monk posts to my Facebook page for the reason that maybe five percent of my Facebook friends would “get” what I was saying.  The rest either wouldn’t care, or would be offended by it.

I think some of my most meaningful interactions are starting to come among the cycling community.  It is very different world that I am used to living in, and so I am treading slowly and carefully.

Even among family we cross the social, theological, and political spectrum and I have to be very careful of what I say, and to whom I say it.

Which leaves me with a very few close and friends and with Internet Monk.  The only places where I can be me and not have to worry about the backlash. The only places where I can be vulnerable.  If it wasn’t for Internet Monk I think I would be a quivering lump of jello by now, despairing that no one understands where I am at.  I am SO appreciative of the commentators on here. You guys are a lifeline to a guy who lives in a world where it is so hard to find kindred spirits. I am especially appreciative of Chaplain Mike who lets me way what I want to say without censorship, and usually with no advance notice (like today).

So this is where I live.  Internet Monk.  In many senses it is family, church, and friendships, all rolled into one.  Yes, it some senses the virtual is superficial, but I ask you this?  How many of your friends do you talk with at least once a week like I get to do here?  What are your networks like?  Do my experiences mirror your own?

As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome.


  1. Mike, I commiserate with you. But for ME, at my age of 63, I have begun to NOT care what various of my acquaintances might think or feel about what I say. I have generally begun to express myself while taking the tack that if they become offended then they just didn’t know me anyway. At this point I do not need, nor do I WANT, extraneous acquaintances with whom I must take great care when speaking. Not that I am being uncharitable or purposely offensive, of course not! It is just that I have enough energy to channel into a very small group that I am connected to.

    As for having different circles that only meet tangentially, yes, I concur! Even THIS forum does not meet my needs, for often I feel as if I am only passing through. Or, more aptly, as if I am stepping outside to sniff the air or to test the temperature. If I were to disappear tonight I doubt that anyone here would remark on my absence. And the same goes for many others as well. My circle consists of less than 10 people, one of which is only virtual. They would notice my absence. As for everyone else? Meh!

    • Oscar…..I know that you were not seeking feedback, but this ole’ gal would have a hole in her world if you were not in it. Same goes for many others…..I am reluctant to list my other inspirations and ‘friends’, but only for fear of missing someone dear here at five ah-hem without enough coffee.

      In general, I understand Mike’s non-connecting circles….who also come together for me on FB. I am neither as reticent as Mike nor as blasé as Oscar about self-censoring. I try to be kind and avoid nasty and provocative posts and shares, but I cannot avoid sharing my faith and the deep beliefs about life that emanate from my faith in God and His Church….

    • Same about the feedback thing as Pattie but your comments here are valued by me alot. Some here get me going in a different way but still where am I going to find that. On the construction site. Church where I have to guard what I say.

      Just so I don’t have to repost, I never understood why nobody on facebook had anything meaningful to say till now. I just deactivated and said good bye. Happened after someone from church posted he was berry picking and got 2 to 3 hundred likes from his 500 plus friends. I had fifty or so and stopped friending people I didn’t know. The only reason I did it was my sis was battling cancer and I would post a poem every morning about God. When she left I couldn’t see the sense in it anymore.

    • I for one appreciate your contributions here, Oscar, and would miss you if you moved on.

      • Ditto.

        • Thank you all for your kind words…NEVER THE LESS… if i, or anyone else who regularly posts here were to pass on, move on, or just become bored and quit posting, how would anyone really know what happened?

          My point is that, for ME at least, only those who have real time, face time contact are the most important in our lives. The people who we regularly see us, or talk to us in intimate communications are the ones we should spend our efforts in relating to. Facebook, IM, and any number of other virtual modes of contact, should not rate as more important than flesh and blood connections.

          There are always exceptions, Tokah comes to mind, who find important connections in less than traditional ways, but for most of us there are a few important people who we’d like to be notified in the event that we died.

          I have only one long distance friend with whom I communicate on Facebook and, occasionally, by phone, a person who I’ve met face to face only twice, who I want to be notified. He and I share a common experience in the Children of God cult and we also share the same Spirit. I’d miss George if he ever moved on and I’d make a special effort to fly out to his location for a memorial.

          But other than George, only those close to me are most important. Work…not as much, although after 37 years on the job I’m sure SOME may care, but my absence would be compensated for.

          This is why my comments above may seem a little, er, dismissive? If people in my circles cannot accept me the way I am, and for WHO I am, then too bad! Of all those who visit this site only Old Prophet is close, Southern California. Maybe sometime we could meet. Who knows?

          This has all been brought to a head for me by the news that my mother, who has been suffering from dementia, fell and broke her hip. I’ve seen elderly (she’s 84) in these circumstances slide quickly down that path to total dementia, or develop pneumonia, and then die. For me, my mother’s life is a signpost. She’s 21 years older than me, and since my father died some time ago I am looking at mom as an indicator of my own longevity.

          Wow, have I strayed from my original comments! Stream of consciousness, I guess…

  2. If it wasn’t for Internet Monk I think I would be a quivering lump of jello by now, despairing that no one understands where I am at.

    Not sure if I would put it exactly that way but I feel the same. When I discovered Internet Monk I had recently gotten out of a very bad church situation where I didn’t feel like I trusted any of the Christians I knew there. This site has been a blessing to me w/Mike Spencer’s and later Chaplain Mike’s writings in letting me know that I wasn’t the only person thinking some of these things.

    How many of your friends do you talk with at least once a week like I get to do here? What are your networks like?

    The friends I really trust – the ones I can be vulnerable around – don’t live around me anymore and I am lucky if I see them once a year. Which on one hand is rather depressing. But I am so grateful for them in my lives. I need to find more close friends near where I live…

    So, side question – have there been any efforts to have Internet Monk meet-ups IRL?

  3. I hope someday that you can find a church where the pastor encourages debate and questioning.

    I found a Lutheran church like that. We are that way because we are free to be so.

    Not that many Lutheran churches are not.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      If you are in or near a university town, the Lutheran church that serves the campus will often be this way. I imagine this would apply to other denominations as well, but don’t have first-hand knowledge.

      • While my pastor encourages questions and listens to different opinions or ideas…he never strays from the uniqueness of Christ and His gospel for the ungodly.

        That may be the only difference between us and many churches in or near university towns.

  4. My situation is quite different, but I am downright weird. =)

    My circles are:

    1. Church friends
    2. Gaming Clan/adopted family
    3. Traditional family
    4. The employees of businesses I frequent often and neighbors
    5. Internet Monk
    6. The ALS/MND community and Benign Fasciculation Syndrome community

    My biological and marital family, gaming clan, adopted family, and church friends could all look like that Venn Diagram up there. At our “boardgame into the next year” party you are likely to see a person or two from church, people I went to highschool with, my gaming group, and quite possibly my parents, too! Basically all my true friends and family are loosely intertwined via me, so inviting me somewhere risks a whole lot of other people showing up. This leads to awesome social crossover moments, like friend of mine who is a witch cheefully punching a church buddy in the arm for his bad joke over drinks and Smallworld.

    That this can happen is both because I am one of those “social glue” people, but also because I made the radical decision to live as the same person, no matter where I am. I’d rather be rejected based on an honest understanding of me than accepted on a false one. I have literally no fear of my friends and acquaintances meeting – they cannot learn anything about me they couldn’t have known already.

    I’m starting to branch out into more personal relationship with group 4, now that I’ve been living where I do for a few years. Right now we’re at the “Christmas Card” level.

    For all those groups of people, as well as anyone who’s met me in real life, certain things are immediately and physically obvious. I’m not sure how anyone who hasn’t met me can really absorb or react to those things, so I don’t know how I would have virtual friends. I can see how a more normal person might be able to, though. That leads us to my two online community types.

    I really like and care for you all here at Imonk. I would absolutely miss Oscar. I even miss our resident atheists! I post very honest things here. That said, of all of you, only Chaplain Mike has ever met me. I think I could really be friends with many of you, but it wouldn’t happen until we met and you got the chance to reject me out of hand or not. You are wonderful friendly acquaintances, though, and I pray for many of you. I’d love to meet Pattie for coffee in Farmville one day or drop into Miguel’s church if I visit the island.

    My participation in the online medical communities is very complicated. I have the closest thing to true friends there for folks who haven’t ever met me, and they know all the names I go by. I also moderate various forums and counsel those with BFS or health anxiety, and most of the people I do that for don’t know me at all. I have become true friends with some in the long term, having established trust and then met them in real life. I wouldn’t mind meeting others, but it hard when so many of us are so disabled. The anxiety that afflicts BFSers and others also makes it hard to be honest there, because anxiety prefers simplicity to nuance.

    Other than those communities and Imonk, I have no online social network. Honestly, even if I believed in them, I have enough to juggle already!

    • That’s an enjoyable, insightful read, Tokah. Thanks for sharing.

      Your first community – church friends – made me realize something weird about my own circles. I have TWO sets of church friends, those from the Presbyterian church that I attended when I first became a Christian and those from my current Nazarene church home. Curiously, I just realized I’ve NEVER had those two sets of friends meet! And do you want to know why? It’s because my Presbyterian friends don’t mind downing a brew now and then (and neither do I) while my Nazarene friends are “not supposed to” down a brew. How awkward would THAT be, having two sets of Christian friends together in the same house, some drinking and some frowning upon those that did?

      • To paraphrase a common orthodox monastic quote, “By keeping their eyes on their own cups.”

        Seriously, for people who choose to abstain from something, part of how you keep that spiritually healthy is to be careful not to judge those who don’t abstain. There’s a reason that during the hardest fast of the church year we pray constantly, “Grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother.”

        Your post did bring up a sadness of mine. I /don’t/ have two groups of church friends, because no one from my evangelical church kept up with me when I moved. The only person I still talk to from there was a pre-existing friend that I brought to the church in the first place.

  5. I subscribed to these posts almost over a year ago, and get and read them daily. I’ve been thankful for what they’ve had to say but haven’t commented much. I’d like to start doing so, more often (spirit of New Years Resolutions?) … Anyway, I often feel the same. I have a work group, I have my family, I have extended family, I have friends from high school, friends from my childhood and youth churches, friends from college, and friends from my current church… And they all seem so vastly different. I often feel I’m biting my tongue and worried what I’ll say may offend one or another of them. As my theological views have changed, and in some ways my politics too, I never want to offend anyone. But sometimes I wonder if I watch what I say to the point that I’m not actually being real or genuine in my interactions. That’s a tough, and sometimes blurry, line that I’m learning to walk.

    • I’ve had the same thoughts, Ashley — and Mike. It can be a lonely situation.

    • I think your comment harkens back to yesterday’s article/comments on transparency and especially TRUST. If you feel like you can post and not get hammered for what you say, you’ll post. (Or maybe even if you DO get hammered, you can handle the criticism.)

      I’ve gotten a lot of pushback for comments I’ve made here, but meh…it’s often one opinion/philosophy against another rather than a matter of “truth.” There’s value in the back-and-forth in that it shapes one’s beliefs and can even help change a belief to the better.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        If you feel like you can post and not get hammered for what you say, you’ll post.

        And here, or at Wartburg Watch, or Spiritual Sounding Board, you really have to work at it to get hammered. At TWW or SSB, the only ones I’ve seen getting hammered by the mods are apologists and yes-men for cult leaders and abusers.

  6. Yes. It’s interesting to consider our networks and how they interface with each other. I have an online friend who “friended” me on Myspace (does that even exist now?) years ago after reading an article I wrote for Relevant Magazine, and she turned out to be quite a support in prayer and encouragement while I was going through some difficult times…divorce, church disappointments, etc. Our friendship began with her emailing me with some heady theological questions when she was about 18.

    Today, she’s in her mid-20’s, and I’ve been able to offer her the same type of support as she goes through a difficult divorce, far from home and the comfort of family. Funny, I consider myself closer to her than I do many of the Facebook “friends” whom I know from face-to-face interaction, though we’ve never met, and likely never will.

    All that being said, I typically divide my acquaintances into five communities, which overlap frequently:

    1) Family
    2) Parishoners
    3) Co-Workers
    4) Close Friends
    5) Online Acquaintances

    However, they could be more easily placed into these more clear-cut categories, with no overlap:

    1) People who have seen me in my underpants.
    2) People who have not, and will never see me in my underpants.
    3) People who are going to see me in my underpants, but just don’t know it yet.

    And people wonder why I’m not more successful in ministry…

  7. I’m not on Facebook and do not interact on any other website than this. I’m not sure how I come across in writing here but in my flesh and blood world i’m generally a gregarious, humorous and congenial person. Still, I have a very small handful of friends. I don’t know how to have more than two or three or five. Of course there’s no quota but intimate bonds take lots of nurturing and there just isn’t time in a day for me. Anyway Michael, don’t worry too much about your unfriender there. You’re sure seem like the genuine article to me and if he or she doesn’t see that then they are missing something. I double friend you.

  8. I am fortunate enough to have one very close friend with whom I can discuss almost anything. Before I met this person, I had another very close friend to whom I once wrote critically about evangelicalism when I was starting to leave it—the response was, essentially, “Shut up. The church is perfect and if you have a problem with it the problem is YOU.” I decided that if a person that I was that close to could respond in such a callous and tone-deaf fashion to my honest thoughts and feelings, it was not safe to discuss my newfound theological leanings with any other evangelicals I knew—which at the time was EVERYONE I knew.

    So for a good while, before I met my current friend, iMonk was the only place where my doubts and criticisms could be discussed freely. Hence my choice of moniker—here I can say the things that I have to say under my breath everywhere else.

    • There’s an amazing beauty in friendships in which you can share doubts. I have three friends now who have all shared their doubts and pain with me, who are unafraid at sounding heretical when something doesn’t make sense, and to know that I can go to any of those three guys and say, “What the f*** does THIS mean?” is incredible.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I once wrote critically about evangelicalism when I was starting to leave it—the response was, essentially, “Shut up. The church is perfect and if you have a problem with it the problem is YOU.”

      i.e. “The Party Can Do No Wrong, Comrades.”

  9. I discovered the Internet Monk community back when Michael Spencer was still alive. While I wouldn’t consider myself a damaged Christian by any means, his focus on “Jesus-shaped spirituality” intrigued me. The more I came here and read, the more I became fascinated by the stories I heard, his own stories of being a part of churchianity and religiosity, his walk away from all that, and then other people’s sharing of churchianity and religiosity run amok. Clearly, the gospel accounts show Jesus as one who HATES that stuff and how churchianity and religiosity pull people away from God’s will, His grace, and His command to love others.

    This community has been HUGE in me checking my own walk and my own beliefs, and helping mitigate my own drift toward churchianity and religiosity. This community has helped me challenge stuff I see within my own church, within my own Christian friendship circle.

    This is where I live part of my day. And I’m grateful for it, and thankful for all of you who also consider this a place where you live, also.

  10. This is where I lived. Internet Monk, Stuff Fundies Like, and others were havens for me when leaving the old cultish church. Twitter and other broadly open social networks were safe outlets for me to express any doubt, frustration, or unapproved joy that came up. Yet there were always the trolls, the lurkers, the watchers of your soul who came to keep tabs and send me private messages “concerned” about me, my salvation, my testimony, whatever.

    This is where I don’t want to live anymore. What was healthy became recurring patterns of anger, excitement, rage, depression, commiseration, mutual misery and “bitterness”. I’m too much of a sponge, taking on thoughts and patterns of thinking from listening to others who seem persuasive to me. I recognize how unhealthy it is for me to continually walk the same paths online, lonely as ever…because even in this community, when you close the laptop, you are still alone in a cold, dark room. And yet the away from keyboard communities I’ve found aren’t the correct answer either, with too many pulls back into the old life that I want to cleave from completely.

    So…this is where I live.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Yet there were always the trolls, the lurkers, the watchers of your soul…

      …the Block Wardens, the Political Officers, the Informants, the Party Commissars…

  11. Rob Tyrrell says

    Started getting Internet Monk in email about 9 months ago. I cannot state how incredibly helpful the perspective of all your writings have been to my faith life. This one in particular, about the interplay of social networks reminds me of discussions we used to have in our fellowship about our “oikos”. Influence in each of these spheres, tests our practical ability to bring grace and truth in meaningful way.

  12. I know what you mean by silos of friends and about not being willing to really speak one’s mind for fear of offending. I have politically and religiously divided family so we just don’t talk about it much. My friends are all over the map. Recently, I’ve become involved in a community band and have begun to make new friends that way as well. There, we have something ready to talk about (music) which tends to be non-offensive (Coltrane vs. modern music may introduce some heat but not a lot of hostility).

    • -> “…we have something ready to talk about (music) which tends to be non-offensive…”

      Oh, cermak_rd…have you forgotten all the flaming discussions out there about “worship music”…?!


      • Fortunately my band is not a religious one! In fact, it meets Wed nights which would exclude any people who want to have worship services on that night. I’m guessing from the names that most people are at least culturally Jewish or Catholic, or at least from families of that tribe when they got to the area.

    • (Coltrane vs. modern music may introduce some heat but not a lot of hostility).

      Hmm, I thought Coltrane WAS modern music.

  13. I don’t LIVE here but I do come at least once a week-the highlight of my Saturday mornings! Some of it is because, as Mike said, “At church I feel like I am constantly looking over my shoulder, and constantly self-moderating my comments.” Bingo. I’ve recently been reading Richard Rohr but can’t really share it with my church family because they’d all judge me because he doesn’t tow the party line, not even the Catholic line. I have friends not of my church family that I can freely discuss shifting views of God with, but never at church. Oh my no!
    My views on religion have changed as I get older, as well as my political views, but in my area, and among most of my family, not voting straight ticket Republican or having the notion that maybe everyone in the world doesn’t need to carry a gun will get you ostracized pretty quickly.

    • OldProphet says

      The really,really,really, sad thread that has been in so many of today’s comments is that you can’t share stuff in your own church because your would take flak, be misunderstood, be criticized, be confronted, be shunned, be on “the list”, be labeled a complainer, be labeled a troublemaker, etc. Is this what church should be?,

  14. OldProphet says

    I don’t use any social media. I can’t stand Facebook. I have lost touch with al high school and college friends. I only follow imonk and WW. I read voraciously and pray a lot I dumped the city and moved to the desert. Unless I know you, I tend to disclose very little but to serve God’s people thru ministry is the joy of my life.

  15. Your post is exactly why I had to stop using Facebook. The intersection between my former fundamentalist world (including family) and my newer worlds was very damaging to relationships. Something humorous in one world was misinterpreted and found scandalous in another world. I had to go back to separating those worlds.

  16. I dislike Facebook but since so many friends are on it, I read it a couple times a week. I *never* post anything personal about myself. I don’t trust the site. I just put “Likes” and little encouraging remarks on it as needed, and sometimes I watch funny videos.

    • OldProphet says

      Facebook is idiotic. A guy I know lists his profile as an 84 year old married man, (he is 50). He lists his birthday as in 1930! I wonder how many other people mislable themselves so as to hide their true identity. Yeah, Facebook is REALLY important. Not!

  17. Klasie Kraalogies says

    It can be difficult. We have stopped attending church, but even while we did, and actively participated, we were isolated, since we weren’t part of the core etnic ‘of prairie German descent’ group- so some actively tried to exclude us. We live in a predominantly Mennonite community, and if you are neither a Mennonite nor a Hockey/skidoo/football fanatic, you are an outcast.

    I now work myself, so my community is a wide range of people, mostly far away whom I keep in contact with by phone/Skype/ LinkedIn/ email. We are immigrants, so old friends and family are mostly 10000 miles away. Facebook helps. This blog helps.

    I’d be quite lost without these electronic mediums. But that said, it is still bloody hard being yourself even on these forums. Internetmonk is one of the best safest places though.

  18. Hi Mike,

    I guess I can relate a bit to what you are saying, although you are extremely blessed to have so many Venn diagram interactions. I would probably have 3 or 4.

    IM is an important part of my communal spiritual encouragement, along with my Christian Meditation group (my plug for and sometimes church. I have 1 close Christian friend that I see fairly regularly and some social contacts at church. I’m stuck in between a High Church Anglican “rock” (for my catholic “fix”) & a low church Evangelical “hard place” (good biblical exposition). Even so I am wary of some “liberal streams” in the former and it is far away from where I live. The low church is good for my small son as they have good kids programs.

    I recently started attending Taize as I can’t always make it to the meditation group.

    Before I moved to the burbs in Sydney, I actually found more fellowship with my non-Xtian friends. The common ground was a lot broader than people at church and we actually spent time with each other. In fact I went to an Asian church at that time & had more interactions with them than when I was in anglo territory… & I’m not Asian.