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.
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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