Sunday, September 4, 2016

The pressure and politics - and pleasures - of isolation

One day recently, I was having a discussion about something with an acquaintance, when the topic turned to something on which the person and I did not share the same opinion.  

She asked me about it, so in spite of my better judgement, I gave my opinion, which I backed up with anecdotal (based on personal experience) evidence.  It stopped the conversation cold, and both of us commented on how awkward it felt, how inappropriate it was for us to even be discussing it. 

After that, I sensed a coldness, a withdrawal of respect, if you will, between us.  And it got me to thinking about the subtle pressure that comes to bear when two people don't agree on something - the social pressure to conform, for one side to convince the other and failing that, the removal of that thing from the list of things where one feels "safe".  

There is a lack of acceptance that is inherent in such differences of opinion; one side is unswayed by the other, and a (silent or voiced) agreement takes place where both parties resolve never to bring up that topic again.  Whether that is from a fear of confrontation, or from an unwillingness to entertain the other's point of view (belief, doctrine, attitude) again based on fear of being proven wrong or anger that someone holds to a different viewpoint, the result is the same: the walls go up and a whole other area is cordoned off with a big "Do Not Enter" sign posted, a "demilitarized zone" - a no-man's-land or an emotional mine-field.

I've been giving this idea some thought since deciding to leave the institutional church last summer.  And I've noticed that in some ways, and with some people more than others, the same process has been happening with people who had said to me that we were part of the family of God.  Yet when we decided to leave the physical house where they felt (to one degree or the other) comfortable, and where we did not, there was that same awkwardness, that withdrawal, that "let's not go there" mentality that just ... appeared.  Out of nowhere, it seemed, people who would laugh and joke with us simply avoided eye contact, or promised to keep in touch but didn't, or if they did keep in touch, there were awkward silences, things they felt they couldn't share, things we felt that we couldn't share - because we were in different worlds.  

And slowly, that resulted in isolation from a community we THOUGHT was based on more than just the name engraved on a plaque or painted on a sign near the church entrance.  It made us question whether the relationships that we had spent years developing were nothing more than a sham - whether they were based on whether we kept up our end of the contract, or whether we were "of use" to the community.  It all seemed so ... superficial, petty, and ... conditional. 

We made it clear that we were not leaving our relationship with God, but that we no longer subscribed to living life by traditions, rules, and the fear and shame that is behind those things.  We thought that those who knew us best would understand that this was not a rejection of them, but a personal decision.  And perhaps some of them did.  

Yet ... here we are.  God sets up times when we are in community with one or two other people and seeking His face - and He shows up; these times are wonderful and remind me of what the early church must have been like.  Yet for the most part, it's like we have died as far as relationships with some people are concerned.  

Don't get me wrong; our relationship with God has deepened and we are experiencing peace and joy more now than ever before.  Yet even that makes some folks uncomfortable; after all, aren't we supposed to shrivel up and waste away to nothing if we don't slap our fannies on a church pew somewhere? 

Photo "Bald Eagle Close Up" courtesy of
Tina Phillips at
More and more, I don't think so. I think that that mentality limits God in ways I am not comfortable with.  And truth be told, while there are some aspects of church attendance and traditional ministry that I do miss at times, in those moments, I usually just play the tape all the way to the end and realize that for me, it's not worth going back for just those few things.  

I kind of feel like Neo in "The Matrix" - I've swallowed the red pill (those who've seen the movie know what I mean) and now, things just don't look the same anymore.  And it IS isolating.  The very nature of that realization means that there ARE going to be topics I won't be able to discuss with certain  people, and there are going to be some people who won't feel comfortable being around me either. It isn't that they are wrong and I am right; it's just that we are in different places with different needs. Yet, for someone who all her life wanted everyone to like her and approve of her, it's a big deal that some people now ... don't - or they don't act like they do.

Accepting that is probably one of the hardest things about this past year.  As liberating as this lifestyle is, as wonderful as it is to look at life through the lens of God's unconditional love, it is still sometimes a lonely place - but one dear friend of mine turned that thinking around when she called it "the aerie" - the eagles' nest.

I like that.  True, there is isolation, but there are also many more updrafts, and the advantage of a bird's eye view, so to speak.  Things that seemed so huge: political wrangling, position, petitions, placards, pleading, proselytizing, pontificating, and pseudo-pious posturing ... seem so puny and piddling compared to the simple truth that God is God and I am not.  And I'm okay with that.

In fact, I'm better than okay with it.  I like it just fine!

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