tipping points

Malcolm Gladwell made popular the concept of tipping points, the moment in the life of a project or idea or movement when its momentum shifts. It’s the moment when a person who is responsible for the idea/project/whatever loses control of it, in a sense. It takes off beyond their imagination. They no longer determine what happens… they’re just carried along with it.

i think we might have got to that point.

it’s a great place to be. mostly.

i realised when planning my week this morning that last week was taken up with everyone else’s agenda. I – literally – didn’t do a single scrap of work that i had planned to do: writing liturgies for prisons for everyday worship, planning two big workshops that are hurtling towards me, planning a series for the women’s group, getting back on track with emails, making bookings for the UK trip, cleaning up my office space.


[this illustrates the urgency of that…]

and while what i did do instead was great, it was always other peoples’ agendas.

i know that most jobs involve responding to other peoples’ needs, but this is letting other people change the direction of the project. last week i didn’t do anything that even vaguely looked like alternative worship, except talk about it at occasional moments. maybe that’s going to be the way of it. but a few more weeks like the last one and i’ll not have anything new to talk about, because i simply won’t have done anything…

last week was really one out of the box, i know that it was exaggerated, but it displays a growing trend in what’s happening. it’s wonderful, but is it right?

the other thing that’s been a little more disconcerting is the role this website plays in all of this. Websites are public, obviously – that’s part of their gift and part of their curse. i’m very aware that some people think this is a personal website, and that they are getting an insight into my personal life… that they know all about me because they’ve read it, and somehow that that gives them some right to tell me how i should live, what i should do, just where i’m wrong, etc. etc. [does anyone else get that? and why is it always from males…?!!]. I’m happy to be personally critiqued and held accountable, but – trust me – i have very good systems in place for that already!

so let me say…

the reflections and poetry that go up here are products of imagination. of course, some of them happen to reflect personal experience, but mostly they are exercises in empathy, good or bad.

i’ve begun to censor things i put up here – which i only realised when i saw the number of unpublished posts i have… i write stuff and then waver over the ‘publish’ or ‘save as draft’ option, and always edge towards the latter. i’ve avoided putting things up here over the last few weeks because i’m not sure who’s reading it, and what people will do with it.

we’ve been wondering whether to make this a private, subscription only blog, but that defeats its purpose, and will be the last resort. we’re looking at whether we can make some posts private – in particular, those that talk about specific groups – we’ll create a separate password protected page, and if people would like to read that section of the blog they can email in for the password.

i don’t know. we’ll see how the next few weeks unfold and take it from there… i would love to know if you’ve been in similar circumstances…

update: let me clarify that this isn’t an issue of personal safety. the moment i feel unsafe the website comes down, no question. it’s an issue of protecting people who are part of the project, of protecting a project itself that is fragile… of getting back a wee bit of control… of not being put off by the potential reaction of the thought police who seem to be waiting for me to slip up…

it’s also not directed towards anyone who leaves comments here. i really like people arguing about stuff on the blog… but anonymous emails really piss me off…

update 2: i need to say that while it’s disconcerting it’s not devastating, or even distressing. it’s just something that we have to take into account, and work out how to respond to…


  1. What you said really, really resonated with me – as a freelancer I struggle with how to keep to deadlines without letting others agendas get in the way. One thing I’ve found is whenever I begin a major book project, all hell breaks loose. This has happened enough that I am learning to recognize the warning signs and stop it sooner. I also force myself to take at least 1/2 day each week to go flyfishing or sailing as the water is how I really reconnect to God – I wasn’t able to take these breaks for a few months due to very tight book deadlines and it bit me in the end. Just now recovering from the bites.

    I find when I’m stressed and disconnected, I tend to make mistakes – e.g., emailing someone more than is necessary, asking the same question twice and generally having a mind that shorts out. I am not sure if this is the solution but when I was at Book Expo here in NYC, I picked up a bunch of books for my summer reading – made sure I grabbed the latest prayer book by Thich Nhat Hahn and a new book on Celtic prayer as I sense I need a refresher in the basics.

    I get more than my share of nasty comments – I respond to those who are genuinely inquisitive but there are a lot of haters out there that have this global rage that never calms down or even has a positive end in sight – and I don’t have the cosmic energy to deal with that.

  2. bec

    Hey Cheryl,
    I’m a chronic procrastinator so I don’t really have much to add to the “other people’s agendas” stuff, but re: the public/private…I’d be really wary of creating “private spaces”, simply because nothing on the web is particularly private. It’s very hard to delete anything, and it’s hard to make anything particularly secure. When I started my blog, I decided to focus on “professional” stuff for that very reason – I don’t want it to stray too much into the personal, just like I wouldn’t want to publish anything particularly personal in an academic journal!! I still think real life is best for personal conversations…

  3. I hear what bec is saying and share her sentiments. As much as I’d love to be free and open, I’ve had a few experiences where I’ve been stalked and harassed as a writer. Hence, there are a few prescautions I have taken to protect myself both on and off line (e.g., use Post office box, don’t have a home phone, and don’t use master screen name as business email. changed the age of my MySpace page.) These harrassments pertained to my profession as a writer BTW so it had nothing to do with any personal information I released but rather a piece I wrote that got them either upset or enamoured well beyond a point where it was appropriate.

    Can you require that people identity themselves before posting blog notices? Seems the problems are coming from the anonymous folks. Just a thought.

  4. Kel

    Cheryl, I’m sorry to hear that blog boundaries are becoming an issue. I for one have appreciated your openess and this forum in which to read, learn, throw in a 2 cents worth comment here and there about things that are near and dear to my heart. While I love visiting and participating in others blogs about these topics, I have purposefully chosen not to touch on those topics very heavily on my own blog. Having worked in Christian publishing in the past, I’ve learnt that there are more than a few ungracious, arrogant and uneducated people who take great delight in attacking the personal spirituality or lifestyle of anyone who writes something they don’t agree with.

    Boundary blurring doesn’t only happen in blogs. An article of mine was published in a newsmag and the publishing company wrongly gave my personal email address to people who “wished to respond”. Then other people looked me up in the phone book and rang my home to “respond”. Perhaps some of this has also happened to you – especially now that you’re becoming a regular columnist in The Age. It is hard. It is uncomfortable. And only you know what your boundaries need to be.

    may He guide you, protect you and let you know you are loved more than you can imagine.

  5. Cheryl

    thanks everyone.

    it’s not the comments on the blog that worry me – not in the slightest, i welcome them! it is, as Kel identifies, the personal stuff – emails sent personally, which mean that people have searched pretty hard to find out how to contact me, etc. some of those emails – and i’m talking a couple of months ago now – were pretty low and offensive. i took steps then to be protected, so i’m really comfortable with that.

    it’s really now an issue about protecting people who are part of the project… and also about the assumptions people make about how much of the website is personal. which is not a lot.

  6. Thanks for the clarification – i love how Jonny keeps us informed of his latest projects and appreciate you for doing the same. If you feel the outside comments are starting to hinder the creative process, you might want to switch to more private means to have parts of the dialogue kept from public view and then open it up when you feel it’s ready. Glad to hear it’s not a crisis as the original post made it sound as though you were at your wits end.

  7. bec

    Cheryl…I know it doesn’t help a great deal, but (a) you’re certainly not the only person to have ever experienced this, and (b) it helps to have someone to laugh with. I know that I for one have been enormously entertained by the emails, letters etc that are received by some of my Muslim friends who are on the speaking circuit!! Please don’t misunderstand me here: I’m not advocating passing things around to be laughed at and gossiped about, but it definitely does help to share things with people, and externalise and objectify them a bit. Sometimes you need someone else to p*** themselves laughing at something you’ve received, or to tear it to shreds and storm across the room to throw it into the bin, in order to see it for the loony, paranoid, hateful stuff that it is.

    I don’t have any suggestions as to how you might protect others…

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