Alone {guest post}


Ed Cyzewski lives in Columbus, Ohio, and is a seminary-graduate-turned-writer, amongst other things. I love his gentleness and his gift of encouragement, and I’m honoured to share his story with you today.

 

I eyed both Catholics and Fundamentalists with anger and suspicion for years.

 

I remember feeling guarded and uncertain when I met a Catholic guy at my evangelical college and when I ran into a fundamentalist in seminary.

 

Usually people have a story about pain and disappointment from either the Catholics or the fundamentalists, but rarely both. My grudge directed toward both was rooted in what they did to my high school years.
 

As a young Catholic teen, I attended a fundamentalist church with my dad while I was visiting him one weekend. Everything made so much sense to me. There was a passion in those people that connected with me in ways that never came to the surface during the liturgy. I wanted in.
 

These Baptists were amazing. They knew the Bible, they really belted out their hymns, and they had fun pot lucks and softball games. After experiencing an hour of repetition each Sunday, a Fundamentalist church was a real party for a bored teen.
 

Then the pressure started.
 

I was told to become a warrior by the Baptists. I shouldn’t be ashamed of the Gospel. I had to save my family and friends from hell. Why didn’t I evangelize everyone I met?
 

The Catholics told me I was in danger of leaving the one true church. The Baptists were dangerous and deceived. I could end up twisting the Bible without the guidance of priests who needed to tell me exactly what to believe.
 

There was no contest in my mind. When the Catholics pressured me to be 100% Catholic or 100% Baptist, I knew I wanted to be a Baptist.
 

That also meant that I needed to become an aggressive evangelist if I wanted to belong to their camp. Jesus wouldn’t acknowledge me in heaven if I didn’t evangelize and put pressure on my friends at my Catholic high school.
 

And so year after year, I wore down my friends and alienated myself from them. They ate up the Catholic message while I ate up the Baptist message. I was a dangerous fundamentalist in their eyes, and they were hell bound in my eyes.
 

Bruce
By the time I reached my junior year, no one talked to me. I could still sit at a table with my old friends. They didn’t mind my presence. They just didn’t talk to me. I was suffering for the Gospel. They were preserving the faith. We were faithful proxies for our own versions of fundamentalism.
 

I dreaded going to school each day. Most people have stories from high school about being picked on, and I wonder if that’s better than being ignored completely. At least you’re acknowledged. Every day ground into a quiet monotony where only my teachers had kind things to say to me.
 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I also alienated myself from my Catholic family by adopting the hard line advocated by the fundamentalists. In every way my high school years became the most desperately lonely time of my life. I lived for Friday night youth group at our new evangelical church because it was the only safe three hours of actual interaction with my peers.
 

It took a reunion with a lovely woman from my fundamentalist church to bring me to a place of peace with that part of my story. Years later we hosted a prayer meeting in our home, and one of our dearest friends from that group was a committed Catholic.
 

I have peace with my past now. My family and I have reconciled. I’ve made new friends. I can even process a bit of what went through my mind during those lonely high school years.
 

I still cringe a bit when a Catholic calls his/her church “the one true Church” or a fundamentalist pressures anyone to share the gospel in a pushy manner. I see the damage both have done because they’ve used acceptance into a group as a tool to turn adherents into recruiters.
 

“If you want to be in ‘our church,’ you need to defend and grow our church.”
 

How different things would become if I started out my faith journey by believing that we are accepted and loved by God without any strings attached. We don’t have to pressure anyone if we want to belong.
 

I’ve been welcomed into God’s people. Period. After jumping through hoops for so long, it’s still striking some days how easy it really is to belong to God’s people and how it easy it is to welcome others into his love if we feel accepted first.
 

 

 

Ed Cyzewski is the co-author of Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus and author of Coffeehouse Theology.

His imperfect and sometimes sarcastic blog about following Jesus is www.inamirrordimly.com.

 

 

 

Over to you:

  • Can you relate to Ed’s high school experience of utter loneliness?
  • Have you ever had that feeling of being with other Christians but like you didn’t really belong?

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11 Responses to Alone {guest post}

  1. Mia 10th October, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    Dear Ed
    I am so glad that you have made peace with your past and that you are able to talk about it. I pray for the day when I would be able to share what happened to me in the church world.
    Blessings

  2. Jonathan 9th October, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    Sorry about the duplicate post…

  3. Jonathan 9th October, 2012 at 11:57 pm #

    “If you want to be in ‘our church,’ you need to defend and grow our church.”

    I appreciate this statement very much. That was one of the things that disgusted me about church – and continues to disgust me. In my experience, it usually ends up with the promoter becoming the behavior police. I finally decided I would so much rather be a follower.

    Well done, Ed.

  4. Jonathan 9th October, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

    “If you want to be in ‘our church,’ you need to defend and grow our church.”

    I appreciate this statement very much. That was one of the things that disgusted me about church – and continues to disgust me. In my experience, it usually ends up with the promoter becoming the behavior police. I finally decided I would so much rather be a follower.

    • ed cyzewski 10th October, 2012 at 3:22 am #

      Ah, the behavior police struck during my high school years for sure! Not enough space to write about that!

  5. sarah louise 9th October, 2012 at 11:38 pm #

    Ed,

    Funny, I was just thinking about this–right now going to church is not about social interaction, for maybe the first time in my life, b/c I have gone back to the Catholic church, after much prayer and thought.

    And I also hate the “one true church” crap. I am in the Catholic church right now because I feel called. But I see others that I know that are in other areas of God’s Kingdom who are just as called as I am.

    I am in culture shock, but God has led me here, and God will lead me home. I can count on that much. But yes. It is a bit lonely. And I wonder if I’ve made the right choice. Only time will tell.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    xo,
    SL

    • ed cyzewski 10th October, 2012 at 3:23 am #

      Joining any church can be lonely. I’ll pray that God sends the right people your way.

  6. Dawn 9th October, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    Yes I can relate to the feelings of aloneness and being disconnected from other people and other Christians. I belonged to an exclusive sect for three years, and when I left the sect 19 years ago to marry “out” it took me about 17 years to shed those feelings of completely isolation and feeling disconnected from others. I share my story on this webiste (which isn’t my website) – my story is called “It’s Not All About Theological Correctness – The Power of Redemptive Love” 🙂 Thank you for sharing Ed.

    • ed cyzewski 9th October, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

      Those rules for belonging are so powerful and can leave us feeling more isolated and stuck than we were at the start. I wonder if some of it is the longing for deeper intimacy with a few people that drives us to make those choices?

      • Dawn 9th October, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

        I don’t know what it is Ed, but the feeling of “not belonging” can be overwhelming and very painful.

        It was only when I saw that real unity is when people unite across their differences/diversities that my healing came. Narrow sects tend to perceive unity as “sameness” (which members strongly imbibe), but once I began to see God’s love embracing diversity and that unity is closely connected to divine Agape love, the anomie and isolation feelings faded, and warmth began to flood heart and mind so that and belonging in a new way to a wide, diverse “mixed multitude” became exciting and opened up a whole new world for me 🙂

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