Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Losing My Cynicism

When you grow up as a Gen-Xer, cynicism is a badge of honor. It is part of your identity, and it is how you belong. Cynicism was the key that unlocked friendship with your peers, and you bonded with others based on your mutual disdain, disappointment, and hurt. And we Gen-Xers had plenty of good reasons to be cynical. We saw plenty of bad marriages, corrupt leadership, dysfunctional churches, and absentee authority figures.

A strange thing happened along the way of my 30s. I started losing my cynicism. And I think a lot of my peers have too. My first question, in relationships, in church, and in life is no longer "What is wrong with this?" I no longer think that my generation, or any generation, knows better than everyone else. I have started asking new questions like "What can I learn from this?" and "how is God at work in this situation or person that I don't fully understand?"

I think that cynicism gets challenged when one or more of these four things happen:
  1. You get married.
  2. You have children. 
  3. You become a leader. 
  4. You realize that you are the church, not only someone who is influenced by the church. 
It is in those stages that you are required to construct something, not just critique everything. You become responsible for the well being of people other than yourself, and no spouse, parent, or leader wants cynicism for someone else. No one wants to raise a cynical child. No one wants their husband or wife to become more suspicious the longer they are married. No leader wants a group of followers with scowls on their faces. And no one wants a church built on a foundation of skepticism.

The shift from cynicism to hope can be abrupt. When I became a pastor it was quite a shock to realize that I had become the object of cynicism rather than one of its many subjects. When my wife and I got married we realized that our skepticism about relationships could absolutely not extend to our marriage if we wanted to survive. When my good friends went from a large church they attended sporadically to a small community that required their participation and leadership, they were disoriented, even lost. But in time they came to create something beautiful, a community that became a harbor for recovering cynics.

Don't get me wrong: I still asking probing questions and have a healthy suspicion toward some institutions and people. But most of my new questions are designed to draw me in to a greater understanding and intimacy, not to protect me from those things, as my old questions did. In the end, cynicism is exhausting and poisonous and profoundly lonely. I am tired of holding the world at arms length. I don't want out anymore. I want in.