"I'm On The Outside, On Which Side Are You?"
Some Brethren groups have no particular place that people who are non-members sit. Others, like mine, had a special section in the back for non-members, and people "under discipline." Some Brethren groups don't allow non-members and people "under discipline" into the room, even. This is about realizing that for whatever reason, you aren't going to be sitting up toward the front anymore, and maybe not even attending, period.

In my church, there was definitely an "inside circle." Certain families were in there. Movers and shakers. Their very expectations and assumptions formed what would transpire around them in their week. They sat toward the front. When they died, people continued to try to enact what they would have expected, and purge out anything they likely wouldn't have understood.

Others weren't in that circle. Wrong last names. They sat more toward the back. My dad kind of elbowed his way in and was soon working away, willing to spend endless time and what money he had on church stuff. Bible teaching, Sunday School, recorded ministry, gospel, youth recreational stuff, you name it. And he was hardcore. Too hardcore. Eventually they told him to settle down and be quiet. They wouldn't let him help in any way at all anymore. He had to attend, but shut up and watch silently. This crushed him. He didn't know who he was, now that he wasn't doing what he thought he was all about. I was young, so the memory stuck with me. I made a video and song about it.

In our group, if you were "in," then you sat in the meeting room several times a week and mainly heard how "we" were special. In a special position of God-given correctness. We were really the only Christian group in the world who were meeting according to the scriptures. We did things right. If you couldn't quite decide to "ask in," (to the Lord's Table, which they felt they charged admission to, policed and worked security for), you had to sit in the back with the others who were "out." There was a special section just for that, in a back corner. Apart. You were an observer, and not a participant. You had not spoken up and pledged your loyalty. It was kind of a Limbo position.

Once you asked for admittance, were vetted and were "in," if you were like me, you lived in terror of getting "put out." You got to move up and sit in with the rest, though. Gone, of course, were the days of yore when, if you were seen going to the movie theatre or a professional sporting event, you might be "put out." But still, celibacy outside of marriage, attending church quite regularly, abstaining from all public forms of entertainment, not celebrating Halloween and Christmas, not drinking alcohol, and maintaining a decent, white-bread, middle-class suburban, clean-cut white corporate image were all very much expected. They were the price of membership. It was unwritten, but wholly unnegotiable. And it was about how things looked. It was about apartness.

("Apartheid" means apartness. It's about separating human beings into two groups, protecting the "superior" group from the "inferior" one, and keeping the "inferior" one from participating or having a voice. Our church has that. It's called "separation," though. I'm "out" now, but I wouldn't agree to be back "in" if they asked me, which of course they will never do.)

If you didn't adhere to the unwritten, understood lifestyle guidelines, people talked. You "weren't going on well with the Lord." You weren't "walking right." You were "a bad testimony." You were "going where the Lord would not have you be." You would "lead others astray." And you felt your position "in" there crumbling with each passing week. It was in doubt. You were headed for shipwreck. You were "in," still, but people watched and waited for you to conform or be cast "out."

People who were "out" had shipwrecked. They were inferior. God loved them, of course, kind of, but He certainly would not bless them in their lives (He couldn't!), nor should one associate with them, for fear of getting some of their stank on one. Their lives were in the crapper. They weren't right with God. They couldn't do any good in the world. They couldn't teach anyone anything. Not like the people who'd never done a fun thing in their entire lives, and who didn't even understand modern colloquial English.

You know what? The really evil thing is that this dire "shipwreck" prophecy can be extremely self-fulfilling. Like cursing someone. Continually predicting people won't be able to handle something frequently has the effect of eroding their confidence and ability. Tell kids if they drink a beer they will turn out to be alcoholics and you are helping make that their expectation. This means that when they drink that beer, they may well be resigned to the predicted alcoholism, and hope for nothing better. They may try for nothing better.

At the height of the Victorian Age, there was a Plymouth Brethren child named Aleister who misbehaved sometimes, especially after he lost his father. So his mother called him the Beast of the Apocalypse. Called him the Anti-Christ. This became self-fulfilling. Increasingly, Aleister lived only to upset her and Plymouth Brethrenism as a style of living. It was a war.

As a teenager, Aleister wrote a pornographic parody Little Flock Hymn book he called Snowdrops In A Curate's Garden. He associated the number 666 with himself and wrote it on things as his symbol. He grew up to be called "The Wickedest Man in the World." Ozzy Osbourne sang a song about him. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin bought his house and lived and recorded in it.

But the thing is, just like some Brethren people live their whole lives and never dare speak up or object to anything ever, Aleister Crowley did nothing much with his life besides rebel and be a corrupting force. He never learned what he wanted to do, as something unrelated to the expectations of his society. He'd been raised to only consider what other people wanted him to do, and he never shook this. He couldn't move on from this ingrained preoccupation, so he only did what he believed people didn't want him to do. He only pursued blasphemy and depravity. He decided to sin better than anyone.

Crowley was actively engaged in trying to systematically sear his Brethren-trained conscience as with a hot iron. If there was anything that disgusted him, he would do it and try to learn to like it. Gay sex, intravenous drugs, eating human excrement, spying for Germany during WWI, demonic rituals, corrupting young people, making people have sex with animals. All in the same day, sometimes.

And eventually he died, an impotent, shrunken little sex-addicted, heroin-shooting, depraved shell of a man who'd done unforgiveable, weak, horrible and disgusting things to himself and everyone around him. He outlived most of the younger people who'd flocked to him, and a few of his own neglected bastard offspring.

You don't want to be anything like that. Not even on a smaller scale.

You need a conscience. And you don't need it to work like a finnicky smoke detector that goes off every time someone farts. You need it to work. You need to train it. Having a conscience so hypersensitive that it predicts doom and shame with such regularity that all it does is encourage that to happen? That's not what the thing was designed to do. Nor is it sensible to damage it so that it doesn't work at all. You need it. Properly adjusted. This may take some living.

I know from experience how troubling both the being "in," fearing getting put "out," and also the being "out" and wanting back "in" (but being left "out" there) are. They are both very troubling places to be. A kind of Limbo. (Or maybe Purgatory?) I've been in both of those situations and I remember what it's like. (I'm not anymore, which is a relief.) It was hard. They are "between" places, and they feel very unstable.

When I was there, I needed to talk to people about it all, and there weren't a lot of people I connected with or who would talk freely about it. Mostly there were "in" people advising selling my absolute soul to stay in, and there were people who'd gone "out" and to other churches, who desperately wanted me "out" of my church and straight "in" to theirs. The desperation of both extremes made me skittish.

Christians aren't all herd animals, honest. But one would tend to think they were, if one wasn't clearly a different kind of animal/Christian entirely, one's self. Once one moves on from questioning how one can be a real Christian, yet be so different from the various uniformly outspoken Christians vainly opening up shop in town each Sunday to fewer and fewer people, one can get on with living a life.

But the "between" is hard, while it lasts. Decisions need to be made. If you're "in," or are considering asking "in," do you have any limits? Any at all? Are there boundaries you don't want crossed, in terms of how much membership is going to cost you? How much it might stunt your lifestyle and mess you up, choke you off and starve you? What you'll do to avoid being sent to sit in the back?

If, on the other hand, you're "out" and really don't want to be, exactly how far would you be willing to go, in order to get back "in"? Would anything you could attempt ever be enough to win back the approval and support of this imperious Christian group? Will the group in question ever really accept the real you? Or will you have to "lie with your life," and feebly pretend to actually be someone more suitable to them, whether God is maturing you in that direction or not? Will you be able to live the life God is pouring into you, or will you have to be a play-actor/hypocrite?

If you've left a human religious system like the one I was raised in, it can be very hard, especially at first. Often, exactly how hard it is depends on how young you were when you first started being associated with a group that isn't exactly a cult, but can get cultish in certain areas. It also depends on how "into it" your family ever got, and how much of it you yourself bought into and tried to live out.

If you invested everything in it, assuming it would pay off, sacrificing everything, and then being sacrificed to Moloch yourself by people you trusted, that's the hardest. But you know which side your bread's buttered on, at least. If the system mostly seems to work for you and your family, the realization that God might want more for you might be long and difficult in coming.

If you've left, though, for whatever reason, this means a change has happened somehow. And more people seem to leave than stay. Many more. It's not a unique thing to leave. Not at all. The ones who stay need to be "we small, precious (correct) few" somehow. And generally they get that from those of us they exclude, or who didn't have the stomach for staying.

To learn about what this traumatic "leaving" process meant for others, I put up an anonymous survey, left it up for a week, and then blogged about what people had to say. It was very interesting.

But it messes with your head. As with actual full-blown cults, various church groups and other human communities can start to define how you see yourself, and how good you feel about yourself. They can get you wired up with "buttons" anyone at all can push. These buttons can be pushed to flood you with feelings of acceptance and pride, or of guilt and shame and fear, depending on their whim. For a long time after you move on, you may still find you have these "buttons." Certain key phrases or words can be loaded with a huge amount of power, when said to, or around (or even by) you.

As for me, I "left" my community in my thinking, feeling and living, but for some time still attended as much as I could. I tried to hold onto my membership. Fought being sent to that back row. I was terrified that the direction in which I'd grown as a person, the strengths and insights I'd developed (been given by God), and the path I felt I needed to take in order to know God and not just a Christian group, would all result in my actually formally getting kicked "out."

Eventually, it did. Right to the back row I was sent. It wasn't easy for me then. I was programmed to feel like a failure, like a pariah, like an outcast, like a reprobate, like a heretic, should I be attacked by my group. Could I view myself as a Christian, with a real relationship with God, while groups of Christians felt I wasn't fit to eat in the same room with? People I now watched worship, seeing only backs of heads?

I met people from other churches. I checked out their worship, though this hurt my chances with my own, which "needs" people to break off all connections to "lesser" churches. Back then, there weren't a lot of people I met who were "between" like me. Mostly there were chipper, perky (or at least, serenely resigned) blinkered church folk, and there were other people who wanted nothing to do with Church or Christians. I had trouble finding dissatified Christians who, like me, stayed both Christians, and dissatisfied with how we roll, mostly, here in North American Christendom.

I've talked to so many people about what exactly happened when their church group or family "went wrong," or when they encountered manipulative, predatory, soul-crushing, life-extinguishing forces at work in them. Every story is a bit different, and every story is also surprisingly connected to all the other ones. And there are always panicked people trying to shut down discussing "that kind of thing." Best not to dwell on it, they say. Best to learn from it, I say. You had to suffer through it, after all. And "not thinking about it" isn't an educator's number one approach to learning anything.

I don't know if I, or any of my friends, or the authors I've read or any of that can be of help to you and your life. But in case any of it can, this site is here to put it out there. Drop me an email. Go creep/join Caryl's Brethren Believers Uncensored Facebook group. Go on my blog and ask an Ask A Wikkid Person question, letting me know whether this is a private question, or if I can post it on my blog with a pseudonym/false name of your choice, so other people can be involved in the thinking. Doesn't matter if it's a serious question or not. Just reach out.

Would be nice to think each of us is special and unique, but actually, we can all learn a lot from each other's stuff. Which is good. The price of being unique is no one understands. The fact that we aren't gives us hope. So ask me things relating to stuff in your life, or ask me about mine. Send me poetry, writing, videos, songs, thoughts, drawings, cartoons, whatever.

Be yourself. Express yourself. Share it with other Christians. Trust them not to judge. Trust them to be open. And if they can't do that, point it out and give them a few decades to learn. And pity them a tiny bit, if you can.

Sometimes I think that the main point of being a Christian today is to connect to other people. Not to correct other people so much as to connect. I am trained to correct only, and not connect. So I'm trying to correct that. (kidding)

Connect. With Christians and nonChristians. Not to preach at them only, and not only to provide them with very conditional acceptance, if they think, live and do what you expect them to do. Talk with them to "get" them. To deal with who they really are and where they're really at, rather than dealing only in stuff you imagine, or which you think is simple, or ideal.

Connect. You know: like Jesus did. The only people he really corrected/judged were the pious religious people of his day. That's it. When he was done talking to adulteresses, drunks, thieves or whoever, they didn't primarily come away thinking of his narrowness, his unattainable idealistic standards, and his piety. They came away feeling known. And appreciated. And this interaction wasn't a miracle. You don't have to be the Son of God to do it. You mainly have to listen, take an interest and care. You have to be willing to see yourself and lessons to be learned, in that other person, who is every bit as much God's handiwork as your own good self. You have to be willing to deal in reality, something you can't do if your "spirituality" is about making things up and trying to claim to believe them.

Sometimes I think the greatest Satanic victory of all is to keep us always divided and alone. Thinking "I, only I, am like this." And "Why hast thou made me thus?" It feels like death. And sometimes, we're feeling alone because we're waking up, and becoming more alive than other people around are quite comfortable with. And "alive" feels wild, unpredictable, not guaranteed, unplannable and crazy.

Be more alive every day. Connect to people around you. Even "wicked" people. Connect to me. I want to hear from you. And I know other people who, like a whole lot of people in the bible, are "outside" what is mainly going on in "Christian circles," and seeing and thinking and feeling things that the "inside" people either don't believe in or don't want to know about and deal with. We do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. We are a community. We find each other. We connect by internet, phone, text and in person.

Seek God. Actual God. If He exists, He can find you while you're seeking Him. If He's real, He doesn't need you to imagine Him, or other people to tell you Who He is. Some of us can't go and sit in the back row in a room with a huge circle of people and feel like we've certainly "found God" in there, and that He "showed up." Some of us are suspicious we've only felt a contact high from a human group experience just like a football game or rock concert. Some of only get that feeling at a football game or rock concert, and not at church. Some of us have to go out alone and meet God out there. Not everybody understands when we do. Isn't that a sheep wandering off alone? The bible is full of people going off alone and having unique and personal experiences of God.

If you're like those solitary seekers, do it. And share your experience with other people afterward. Your face just might be shining, like Moses'. Go and scare everyone with it.