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On The Other Side Of Cynicism

On The Other Side Of Cynicism

There’s only one thing that I’m an expert in. Cynicism. Perhaps it’s my Canadian identity. Perhaps it’s my Generation X label. Perhaps it’s my Bible college education. Perhaps it’s my Christian cultural upbringing. Maybe it’s all of the above, but let me tell you, I am a master at cynicism.

I can tell you everything that’s wrong with everything in the Church and beyond. I can’t stand minor Christian celebrities, and I laugh at the spirituality-of-the-month syndromes (Prayer of 40 Days by God Chasers in Toronto or Pensacola, anyone?). If it’s the new thing, then I’m suspicious. If everyone likes it, then I don’t. It’s kind of fun to not accept just anything but insist that I look for the pure truth of it all. I think I’ve seen enough in 27 years of the Christian ghetto to know that if this is the Church, then I’m not really interested.

And yet, in spite of all my wise words (and cracks) and despite my late-night musings with others who share my drug of choice (not crack), cynicism doesn’t leave me with many options. Recently I read the story of the prodigal son and realized that Jesus wasn’t telling this story to the lost but rather to the Pharisees, who were incredibly cynical about what Jesus was doing. Jesus ends the story with the older brother having to make a decision. Would he persist in his own cynicism toward the father’s love or would he lay it down and believe that truly everything the father had was his?

This is now the question that haunts me, even as I continue to try to poke holes in the Christian bubble that I live: “What is on the other side of my cynicism?” What will I do with all of my thoughts about what is wrong? Unlike the older brother, my story continues on, and I can’t stay still any longer. This too is the challenge for those of us in the emerging church and generation of leaders. We’ve made some strides because of our cynicism toward Church Inc. and all the garbage we have seen, but now what?

I think cynicism is a normal part of transformation. The problem for me is I fell into the temptation of thinking it was the highest point I could achieve. What’s better than being the critic of everything in the Church, not falling for the latest tricks and scams, and helping the spiritually incompetent see the errors of their ways? Yet cynicism can never be the final destination. I’m not denying my belief that we need to question everything, but I don’t want to live in cynicism any longer.

I’m too tired for it.

I think there are two choices on the other side of cynicism. One choice is self-destruction. Self-destruction will take place if I stay in cynicism because I will never grow or change or let anything touch me … even if it’s somewhat flaky or not totally accurate. I’m not talking about bad theology (whatever that means) but things I don’t understand or possibly can’t conceive God doing. The death cry of any cynic is, “That can’t be God!” Eventually I’ll wrap myself in a cocoon of cynicism so tight, with all my cynical friends, and we’ll slowly choke ourselves, our creativity and our desire to touch the world.

The other one is hope. Hope that perhaps everything within the Father’s kingdom is truly mine. Hope that I don’t need to be wrapped up in servitude to what I think truth is (whatever that means). Hope that tomorrow can be different because I can make it different. This doesn’t mean I will turn off my brain and stop questioning everything I see around me. Rather it means that now I have to come up with alternatives and suggest some answers.

Am I selling out? No, I’m growing up.

Maturity is the foe of cynicism. I don’t think that I can spiritually mature and justify cynicism in my life. If hope is the belief that God will bring a better tomorrow, then my cynicism doesn’t allow for that alternative. But knowing more about who God is and how He desperately wants me to be victorious means that I need to put childish things behind me. Like I said, it’s part of the journey but never the destination. Maturing into Christ is the destination, and despite what some have said about his own cynicism, he brought hope and real alternatives to the world. That’s the maturity I want to see in my life and in the lives of the emerging generation of leaders I work with.

So that’s my choice. Even now I fight with myself because I feel like this is too simplistic. Perhaps it is, but I know it will be a vicious fight, trying to kill my flesh daily while trying to retain the identity God has given me. I think we need a Cynics Recovery Group. I’d be the first to sign up. I’ll even bring the cookies.

[Sheldon Armitage loves Jesus, his wife, his baby-to-be and coffee. He works with emerging leaders in Europe.]


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