Since I've walked away from the church I'm beginning to see many aspects about the church culture I couldn't see while inside. For years I've heard the term "Christian sub-culture", and I knew there were things about us that were a bit odd...no, strange, but the reality of it didn't really come into full view until I was out. I think being inside the cocoon of religion keeps you from seeing how we really look to others outside...there is no way to see how we appear to the outside world until you're out.
One of the most obvious and disturbing things I see is that the friendships I had within the church were rooted solely in the church culture. Now that I've left I find that most of the friends I did have weren't really friends after all. Our friendship was completely dependent on the church setting. Although I have many other things in common with these people besides church they're not enough to keep the friendships going. I tried to keep connected with people, but what I realized was that I was putting out all of the energy to keep the friendships alive. It just wasn't worth the energy - it made me exhausted and frustrated. I battled with constant feelings of rejection. Friendships consist of a give and take, and I felt tired of being the one dragging along a one sided relationship.
I'm learning that there are huge risks associated with leaving, and one of them is loneliness. The church provided a social setting for me that I felt comfortable in. There was always a Bible study, small group, invitations to the church only elite potlucks and parties. Leaving it meant leaving all of that behind. The hardest part of it is I realize that those friendships I had within the church weren't built on the foundation of Jesus' love. They were social friendships much like the cliques in high school. When you leave you fly off the radar - you simply cease to exist.
Now I find myself asking this question: Who is my social Christian circle? Answer: I don't have one. I have a few Christian friends who are like minded; people who I know I'll be friends with for a very long time. People who are very out of the box non-religious folks. I can say crazy off the wall things to them and they don't cock their head to one side and say, "Yeah, uh huh..." or give me the deer in the headlights look. I have a few friends, (I can count them on one hand), who are still part of the system. Sometimes I wonder why they put forth effort to remain friends with me...but I'm glad they do.
Then I have friends who are not part the church. I refuse to call them non-Christians - that just sounds demeaning honestly, doesn't it? The Non people from the country of Non....come on, really? I used to see these people as a conquest, but now I see them as friends and I love being with them. They show me aspects of life that I've never seen before...and the really amazing thing is that they didn't give me the time of day until I was out of the system. I don't blame them one bit. I used to be scared of them, ...no, terrified! It was as if they had a lethal disease I could catch. Their sin was contagious. But now I'm seeing that I'm just as much a part of humanity as they are. They're God's people too, and I feel honored that they give me the time of day. I see in them a part of life, beauty, and even God that was obscured from me within the church walls. They have been one of the delightful unexpected surprises waiting for me to discover along my journey and I feel as though I have only just scratched the surface of who they are.