Whatever: An Exercise Against Cynicism [justin]

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

A few months ago, I posted a string of thoughts dealing with multiple subjects. An old buddy commented the following about the the post.

Loved what you had to say today. A concern I have, however, is that most thoughts are on a negative slant, at least from my reading. I am not saying all, just most thoughts have a “things should/could be different” feel or almost a “warning” tone to them. I think this misses some acceptance of life/world on its own terms.

AuthenticMy buddy’s comment got me thinking. Perspective matters and in exposing the monsters around us we/I need to be careful to not become rooted in cynicism. (This could be in small areas or in grandiose things.) A lot of times I can fall into the fallacy of mistaking honesty as truth, which is not. Honesty is important, but it’s human. Truth is divine and often times takes into account the unseen. The church can often get tripped up in attempting, in earnest, to be authentic which translates into life as-is with no need of transformation. We are honest about the way we are, but then lack faith in who we are in Christ.

I’d be the first to admit that I swing towards the “negative” side of things on internal processing even though I greatly value, at least conceptually if not in practice, hope and thankfulness. Naomi (my wife) says that I’d be a horrible salesman because I’d tell the customer everything that the product won’t do. When I was in high school I made up a proverb and tried to convince my dad and brother that some wise, anonymous sage made it up. In every situation, one should expect the worst. If the worst happens, you won’t be disappointed; if the best happens, you will be pleasantly surprised. They snickered and said that sage wasn’t very wise.

The world isn’t the way it should be, and to believe it is for an extended period of time is too live in an illusion, an illusion that furthers the brokenness of the society around you. On the other side, we can’t fix all the problems in the world and to try to do so, will leave us frustrated and burned out. (Read this for more thoughts about the already / not yet tension.) We should be faithful to what we are called to, but out attitude in it all matters a ton. Listen to what Derek Webb shared at a concert recently…

I’m and idealist, and the other side of the coin from idealism is cynicism. because when you look at the world and you hope that things are the way they are suppose to be and they never are, as an idealist I always wish for things to be a particular way and they never are, so the easiest thing in the world to do is become cynical. And what cynicism says is, for this thing there is no hope. There is no hope that this is ever going to change. This is just how this is. And so what we do is just make fun of it or we form our arguments and walk away from it or ignore it. Whatever it is we just abandon it. Because there is no hope for that thing. That can be people, that can be ideas, that can be institutions.

Here’s the problem, if your life is the telling of a story where one day all things will be made right, which is what I’m up to as someone who follows this Jesus guy around. I’m suppose to be telling that story. There is a day coming, I believe it, I don’t think it’s foolish for me to talk about it cause I really do believe there is a day coming when the shalom of God, the peace of God, will be restored to everything that he has made, and he has made all things. That day is coming.

If I believe that’s true and yet there are some things for which I say… “no, no, no, this is not going to change, this is just how that things is” and cynicism makes sense here. Those two stories are incongruent, they cannot both exist so one has to go. My cynicism has to go. There is no place in the framework of all thing will be made right, that even this, will someday be made right. If that’s true, I can’t be cynical about it. I have to hope that it can change.  I have to. I don’t have any other choice.

All of these thoughts bring to mind this from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Originally I was going to distil this passage and list the things that I thought were true, honorable, just, etc. However, that’s not going to happen. One because I don’t have the bandwidth at this time, but also because in looking over the Greek and context, I’m not sure that they are meant to be separated out (though the nuances between the words are interesting). Much like the greatest commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength can be read as “Love the Lord your God with everything that is within you, with everything that is within you, with everything that is within you, and with everything that is within you”, so the Philippians passage could be put in simple terms as “think about whatever is worth thinking about.”

So to exercise my hopefulness and atrophy my cynicism, here are a handful of things that I’m thankful for which come to mind without trying to artificially mustering them up.

Eden is our four year old daughter. She’s pretty great most of the time, but she’s four and discipline of some kind is a daily occurrence.  Over the past 3 or 4 months, there have been a couple times where, after the clash of wills takes place between parent and child, she has come up to me and said: “I’m sorry that you got mad at me daddy.” It’s both a slightly hilarious word mix up and an endearing form of her apologizing with sincerity. The candor of her voice and her doe eyes are so sweet at these times, especially because it comes unprompted. Yes, she has seen apology exemplified from me to her when I know I’ve exasperated her, and yes, she has been told at times that she must make-up with her younger sister when she “accidentally” punches her in the eye, but at these self-chosen moments of reconciliation, it sparks a great hope within me. We are not machines. We are meant to grow. There are processes occurring in our hearts and minds both within and with-out, through divine design and grace, beckoning us into wholeness.

My other daughter, Lana, who is two and a half, is the definition of ex·u·ber·ant. The excitement and joy that wells up and overflows from her at times is incredible. I wasn’t sure if spontaneous combustion was possible before, but now I’m a believer. The great thing is that she gets so enlivened over the smallest things, that it brings an appreciation to aspects of life that are often overlooked as common.

The time change at the beginning of November shifts my evening commute to right around the time the the sun and clouds intertwine, bringing life to the sky. There is almost a surreal quality to the air during these times of twilight, and the cold helps you to feel the colors more. I remember on the west coast many years back, at a certain time of the year the sun would hit the bay at the right angle and shoot the solar aura down a few of the city streets, corralling the light, capturing its essence. My huge street-side work window would automatically announce the light’s presence, and if you would step outside, the air, the atmosphere itself, was gold. It’s the closest thing to glory I’ve experienced.

All throughout the Scriptures we see God’s people grieving the world, for things are not yet as they should be. But we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We must proclaim the goodness around us, rather than missing out on it. Monsters exists, but beauty will prevail.

5 thoughts on “Whatever: An Exercise Against Cynicism [justin]

  1. I love this. Well said.

    Fave: ” A lot of times I can fall into the fallacy of mistaking honesty as truth, which is not. Honesty is important, but it’s human. Truth is divine and often times takes into account the unseen.”

    Also, “Monsters exist, but beauty will prevail.”

  2. Dude…I can totally picture your dad laughing off your proverb. I am also very thankful for your girls…even when they suddenly become “too tirem” to do anything – at least anything they don’t want to do, that is. You’ve got some creative ones there 🙂

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