Cynicism, Irony, and the Application of Charity

The aging couple was introduced to the church body. Long-term missionaries, they had served (or was it survived?) West Africa for over twenty years. I considered the statement, but instead of allowing space for a holy wow, my thoughts turned to more negative notions.

How does a woman wear tired like an accessory, a man’s carry sorrow like a knapsack?

How many churches wanted a piece of their story in the early days, before the results weren’t quite so world-changing as expected?

Certainly, there were colonial implications to their work; weren't they the embodiment of the "great white hope?"

Was this a complicit, parasitic relationship?

What does a couple do when their entire economy--their occupation, health, and home--is threatened by a ravaging disease, and why does God not eradicate the scourge?

How does the church economy value their effort, really? Can a relief worker return to the church economy after the work is completed? Will there be money for transition, for reintegration?

I tuned the questions out, took a minute to survey the room. I noted a gussied up hypocrite or two. I am a lawyer during the week, which allows me a window into the secrets of others. Some have tax issues; others nurse failing businesses. Some are contract-breacher; others are trespassers. I noted all of this less from a position of judgment, and more from a position of juxtaposition. Oh, the irony of we who lift our hands on Sunday, and scoop them into the mud on Monday.

This is my church. And though the noting of their hypocrisies were convenient in the moment, in all honesty I must confess--I am them.

How often have I contributed to the burnout of the missionary, given the promise that I would visit, or call, or support, only to renege? How often have I spoken holy words on Sunday, only to utter curses on Monday? Have I been the contract-breacher, at least in the metaphorical sense? There is no doubt.

They say that the younger generation is leaving the church in droves. Recent reports show that attendance for the Southern Baptist Church (the church of my youth) has been on the decline for seven years. Article after article discusses the mass-exodus of millennials from the church.  I don’t need statistics or articles to tell me what I already know, though—church attendance is down because my generation has become consumed with cynicism and a taste for pointing out hypocritical ironies.

Yesterday, I considered my own cynicism, my own penchant for noticing the hypocrisy of my fellow church attendees. I asked myself, “how does it feel to carry this load of negativity?” and the answer was “not so good.” So, I did that thing that the good book teaches us to do when the darkness of our own hearts creeps up on us. I simply uttered, “I’m done with all of that; teach me to love.”

Then, in a sort of Brave New World altar-building experience, I tweeted:

I tweeted this during church, mind you, so I didn’t expect much of a response. Apparently, though, I am not the only person tweeting during church. (Counterpoint: perhaps everyone really has left church and they are all sitting at home tweeting Brave New Church thoughts?) The tweet was retweeted, began to build momentum, and as it began to make the rounds a few thoughts occurred to me.

Maybe the millennial church, if only a small minority, is tired of the cynicism and the noting of hypocritical ironies.

Maybe we’re all ready to walk in a better, more hopeful way.

Even if it’s just a minority of folks, maybe we can lock arms, sing a few hymns, and decide that we’ve had enough of all of the negativity.

Perhaps we can live toward the coming kingdom.

These might be pipe dreams, and I'm not suggesting that we should not ask hard questions and push against hypocrisy. [tweetherder text="There is a way to move from the default position of cynic to the default position of wow."]Isn't there a way, though, to move from the default position of cynic to the default position of wow.[/tweetherder] Maybe it begins with extending charity to those around us, with the recognition of the beautiful people of both the local congregation and the church at large. That's my best guess, anyway. To that end, and in an attempt to make a personal shift, I pray in the words of St. Francis, “mighty God, great and glorious, enlighten the darkness of my heart. Grant me, Lord… a perfect charity.”

And if I'm employing proper scriptural imagination, my best guess is that perfect charity will drive out cynicism. Let it be.

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Scriptural Imagination and Ferguson (Part III)

In light of the Ferguson protests,  I’ve been exercising “scriptural imagination,” and reading the words of Jesus with fresh eyes. (Follow this link to read the entire series). Yesterday I examined Matthew 7:1-23. Today, I’m taking a fresh look at Matthew 7:24-29. Follow the hashtag #ScripturalImagination on Twitter for more renderings, and feel free to add some of your own.

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Matthew 7:24-29

The Two Foundations

Jesus drove the point home. “Everyone who hears and acts on my hard teachings—the teachings on secret prayer, mindful action, bearing the sorrows of others, and bearing peace—is like a wise person who builds their house on the high ridge of reconciliation outside the flood zones of violence. The rain of terror and violence may fall, the floods of oppression may breach the sandbag wall, and the winds of propaganda may blow and slam against that house to the point of great fear; and yet the house will hold strong. It will not fall, for it has been founded on the rock of a correct and active faith. It has been founded on the rock of my teachings.

"But what about those who hear these words of Mine and do not act on them, who opt instead for violent revolution, the terrifying teargas oppression, or who otherwise seek glory through contrived and false reconciliation? Or what about those who see a 'good crisis' and act in self-interest, self-righteousness, or self-indignation? They will be like foolish men who built a high-rise apartment complex at the lowest point in the flood zone. The rains of terror will fall. The floods of fear and oppression will come. The winds of propaganda will blow and slam against the building, and because the high-rise was built on an incorrect faith, it will fall. And its fall will be loud and raucous, and it will be broadcast on CNN for all the world to see.”

When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their politicians and pundits.

 

*Photo by Debra Sweet, Creative Commons via Flickr.

Scriptural Imagination and Ferguson (Part II)

In light of the Ferguson protests,  I’ve been exercising "scriptural imagination," and reading the words of Jesus with fresh eyes. (Link to the series). Yesterday I examined Matthew 7:1-6. Today, I'm taking a fresh look at Matthew 7:7-23.

Follow the hashtag #ScripturalImagination on Twitter for more renderings, and feel free to add some of your own.

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Matthew 7:7-23

The Narrow and Wide Gates

“You’ll have to put down your weapons, crawl out of your MRAPs and tanks, perhaps lay aside your possessions, prejudices, and maybe even your picket signs to enter through the narrow gate. The gate wide enough to accommodate all the artillery, television trucks, helicopters, militia members, gangs, provocateurs, and even well-meaning activists, empties onto a violent and wide road that leads only to war and death. Too many well-meaning men follow the masses through that gate to their peril.

"The gate of peace and reconciliation is a very slim—in fact, it’s a super-tight fit—and only the smallest empty-handed children can fit through it. It takes great imagination to find this narrow gate. Stop walking with the masses. Strip naked! Get on your hands and knees, and search for the small entrance that leads to life and peace."

A Tree and its Fruit

"Beware of the provocateurs, anarchists, and activists looking to make a big name on a legitimate crisis; they seem to take the side of peace and reconciliation (have you heard the term 'sheep’s clothing?'), but they only fight for their own agendas. You will know them by their hate-filled backpacks, how they hide within the crowd and pitch bombs over your heads at the police. Their weapons of warfare belie their intentions.

"Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor strawberries from AR-15 assembly lines, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears the fruit of anarchy and violence.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a factory of warfare cannot produce organic, farm-raised, homegrown tomatoes (the kind you ate straight from the vine as a child; remember those?). The truth is, sooner or later these factories of violence and the societies that build them will go into the fire, just like every sick tree that bears rotten fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

"Look closely; do you see it? You will know the reconciling children of God by their fruits.

"And one more thing: not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ cares about the kingdom of heaven. (Not really.) But he who does the will of a peaceful and reconciling God? He will enter the good and eternal kingdom. Many will say they belong in the kingdom, will say 'Jesus, did we not enforce law-in order in your name?' or 'did we not bring peace to a riotous, raucous crowd?' or 'did we not picket and protest for justice in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, ‘You did all of this for your own gain, which is its own sort of lawlessness. Did you take off your riot gear and join the protestors? Did you lay down your picket sign and talk with the police? Or did you just engage in a war of words? Get out of here. I never knew you.'”

*Photo by Craig Dietrich, Creative Commons via Flickr.

Scriptural Imagination and Ferguson

In light of current affairs, namely the Ferguson protests, I've been reading the words of Jesus with fresh imagination. His teachings seem more and more relevant with each passing day of protesting, and so, I thought that perhaps it'd be a good time to recast the teachings of Jesus into the modern context. Today, and every day this week, I'll be exercising my scriptural imagination, will be recasting Matthew 7. I'd like you to engage your own scriptural imagination, to begin the process of apply specific passages to the world around you. Also, follow the hashtag #ScripturalImagination on Twitter for more renderings, and feel free to add some of your own.

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Matthew 7:1-6

Judging Others

Jesus said, “do not curse the ignorance of others unless you want your ample ignorance exposed and judged. For in the way you condemn others and wish for their damnation, you will be condemned. And the standard you use to judge ignorance will be used against you. Consider the implications of that.

"[tweetherder]And why do you look at the Molotov cocktail that is in your brother’s hand, but do not notice the AR-15 that is in your own?[/tweetherder] Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the rock, the cocktail, or the picket signs out of your hand,’ and you haphazardly spray rubber bullets across the crowd? You hypocrite, first lay down your guns, your teargas, your tactical gear, and your PR campaigns and then you will see the path of reconciliation.

“Do not Tweet righteous indignation to the racists, prejudiced dogs, or even to the indifferent. Do not throw your wisdom before the enlightened swine of the twenty-four hour news cycle. Do not engage the bully-pulpit. They will waste your time attempting to make your wisdom appear foolish. They have boots made only for walking on you, and that’s just what they’ll do.

Prayer and the Golden Rule

“[tweetherder]If you really want reconciliation and not just a war of words, pray and it will be given to you[/tweetherder]; seek peace and an end to violence, and you will find it; knock on the doors of the oppressed and be ready to listen when they let you in. Those who pray in earnest for reconciliation receive it, and those who seek peace find it, and to those who knock with a willingness to listen, doors will be opened.

"Let me ask you this: when your son asks for supper, will you give him homemade bombs and loaded sawed-off shotguns? Or, when a child asks for toast and eggs, will a father give him riot gear and a gang-load of submachine guns? If you know how to give good, sustaining, and nourishing gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give what is good to those who ask!

“In everything, therefore, treat all people—the violent, the peaceful, the ignorant, the wise, the prejudiced, and the enlightened—with the patience and thoughtfulness with which you want to be treated. Try to emulate your Father, God. This is what the Law and the Prophets were all about."

*photo by Shawn Semmler, Creative Commons via Flickr.