I can identify with teen movies featuring a high-school loser who doesn't fit in with the in-crowd but desperately wants to. I've been there - out of the in-crowd, and deeply self-conscious about it.
Then there's the alternative to the in-crowd. For want of a better phrase, let's call it the "out-crowd," sometimes the "way out crowd" - the people who form a clique based around not belonging to any of the groups everyone else is in. I didn't even fit in with this "no-cliques elite," as I once described them in a poem. I wasn't completely friendless, but I never qualified for the kind of friends who had other friends.
Alienated? I felt it deeply. Especially at the age when booze replaced birthday cakes at parties and parents weren't around. It seemed heaven to be invited to such parties, yet it often seemed like hell to be there. Alienation is lonely enough when you're looking in from the outside, but it feels twice as lonely when you feel isolated in a crowd.
In recent times, alienation has received a lot of press. In tragic high-school shootings, it's often assumed to be a motivating factor. That may be true, but let's not jump to conclusions about all alienated teens. There are probably millions of kids around the world who feel as alienated as I did during my school days who would never think of taking out their frustration violently.
Considering things from a more spiritual vantage point, it may be that many alienated kids are actually more ready than most to explore a call in the Bible to "come out from among them, and be ye separate" (II Cor. 6:17). You could classify this as an invitation to choose to be alienated - alienated, that is, from dead-end materialistic values.
Mary Baker Eddy, author of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" and founder of this newspaper, knew what it meant to be true to that call. Although her discovery and implementation of Christian Science brought her spiritual and practical prosperity, she also encountered hostile opposition from theologians, the press, and others. Out of her experience she was able to write, "To obey the Scriptural command, 'Come out from among them, and be ye separate,' is to incur society's frown; but this frown, more than flatteries, enables one to be Christian" (Science and Health, pg. 238).
I may have spent more time chasing society's smile than its frown. But I'm learning that the spirituality and goodness that actually define me are more satisfying than popularity. It may not seem so to someone who is aching for friendships, acceptance, and peer approval. But popularity can't top loving unselfishly or feeling God's closeness, even in rough times. To live a spiritual life means listening for and hearing spiritual intuitions. It means living an adventure, conscious that God is with you, day by day. It's finding the gift of spiritual love and belonging - something that in-crowd inclusion and out-crowd exclusivity don't deliver. Most basically, it means no longer feeling alienated from divine Life and Truth - the infinite source of unselfish good.
The Apostle Paul described his understanding of closeness to the creator this way: "I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38, 39). Being persuaded that nothing can alienate us from God's love leads us to new friendships. And it also naturally leads to the knowledge that we always have the company of a dependable friend, God.
Don't let the world
around you squeeze you
into its own mould, but
let God re-make you so
that your whole attitude
of mind is changed.
Thus you will prove
in practice that the
will of God is good,
acceptable to him
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor