Continuing Thoughts on Cynicism

I’ve written about cynicism here before, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately. See, I still find that I get along with older people much more easily than I do with folks my own age. Not older as in senior citizens (although I do have some wonderful friends who get movie theatre discounts); they can just be five or ten years older. Usually they’re thirty years old or older. Usually they have kids—grandkids even. When I moved to Nashville and began looking for a small group at my new church I knew I wanted to be in one made up of a variety of people. Joining up with the twenty-something-males-recently-graduated-from-college small group didn’t and doesn’t appeal to me at all. It’s highly unlikely I’ll learn from any of those people because they’re all in the same place of life as me. I struggle to believe I’d grow in such a group.

But here’s why I really didn’t want to be around those people. More often than not they just make me frustrated. There’s something odd about my age bracket, and while it’s not always exclusive to my gender, it’s more readily found within the male confines.

We confuse cynicism for wisdom. We believe our cynicism is passion. We think getting worked up is the same as getting things worked out. We view being indignant as being purpose-driven. We buy into the idea that criticizing is the same as restoring.

I have done that enough myself for the last four years. I don’t need to be around fellow men (or should we call them boys?) my age who do the same thing because I’ve got more than enough of that in me already, and for the last year I’ve been intent on trying to weed it out of my own heart, soul, mind. Because it’s ugly.

It’s ugly because cynicism epitomizes an ecclesiastical chasing after the wind married to hypocrisy that bubbles to the surface like dross, and yet we don’t scrape it off since we’re not even aware impurities are rising from latency to visibility for all to see. And when we don’t clean off the dirt, everybody can see our unwillingness to grow, improve, and mature, and we are shown to be exemplifying what cynicism really is at its base: selfishness.

I have nothing to say anymore to the twenty-something male who ignores a church’s Monday night free meals for the homeless, working poor, and disenfranchised because he’s so busy structuring his criticism of the worship style employed at their Sunday services, as if this is the important thing we need to be discussing. I have nothing to say anymore to the twenty-something male who thinks he speaks for a crowd of many when he speaks for a crowd of himself.

He is judge, jury, bailiff, stenographer, executioner, and funeral parlor director.

The reason I don’t like being around many guys my age is because they’re just too confrontational for me, and I don’t like confrontation. So I want them to stay away. I don’t want to hear their know-it-all soliloquy because nobody knows everything, especially someone only in their twenties. Wisdom takes time, and these boys’ time has been quite short thus far. To combine a lack of experience, misdirected fervor, and an unwillingness to listen only creates militancy.

And there’s too much good going on in this world to which I would rather marry myself. I’d like the theme of my life to be hope and not despair. This is why the handful of guys my age who are respectful, wise, peaceful, responsible, and mature are my closest friends, and the reason those friendships are so rewarding is because such men in their twenties are a rarity—hard to find, if you will. Usually a synonym of “rare” is the word “precious.” Those men are precious to me. I could start listing their names, but they know who they are. A couple of them are phenomenal writers, a couple of them are future physicians, a couple of them are teachers, and then there is a smattering of others.

And it’s those guys who are going to be world-changers. The others our age who keep up their endless cyclone of a whirling dervish that is their own cannibalistic cynicism will stay put, and I don’t know what will intervene for them other than what started to for me: older people who were patient with me and, for whatever reason, let me blow off steam, knowing one day I would be humbled and realize the foul taste of my own insidious self-righteousness.

Perhaps I should, thus, be patient with the twenty-something males now, but I can’t do that at this moment. Maybe that’s what I need to be working towards, but I simply don’t have energy for that yet. This is what cynicism can’t do: reveal to yourself areas you always need to be working on because selfishness convinces you there aren’t too many facets of your character requiring improvement. Possibly that’s why cynicism is so intoxicating—it’s quite attractive to believe you’re in possession of answers and no longer require reevaluation. Taking a second look at yourself is, after all, quite a tiresome task. It could make a person tired even to ruminate upon it.

But a lot of people seem to be thinking about it. The morning I wrote this two weeks ago just happened to be followed with a visit to my old college Bible study in the evening, and this very topic was brought up. The older generation is well aware of the youthful cynicism; the younger generation is, too, but would rather not talk about it on the surface. The older admires the young peoples’ vigor, yet dismays at the focal point of their energy; the younger generation becomes frustrated with the older, believing they lack passion and fervency. Here’s what I’ve noticed, though: the older usually reaches out to the younger, while the younger does not reciprocate, which is unfortunate since true work towards restoration can only happen in community.

I’m a huge believer in deconstruction, especially when it comes to applying it to the mess that American Christianity can often be. But I only believe in deconstruction because of what truly excites me—what can follow because of deconstruction—and that is restoration. But as my old college professor who led that Bible study said two weeks ago, “There has to come a point where you stop deconstructing and leaving a mess everywhere.”

Too often we youthful ones start out deconstructing to find the core of Christianity so that we can name it into existence and begin building up around that, only to lose focus. We get addicted to the process of breaking down and breaking down to where we eventually forget to be earnestly searching and seeking for what we hope to find (that is, Christ at his radical foundation), and when cynicism enters in, we get fed up and walk away with only destruction left behind.

Some members of the older generation bristle at the word “deconstruction” because it sounds too much like “destruction,” but the two are entirely different. Or at least, they should be, but when placed in the hands of the younger generation that often lacks the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, and revelation, the two inevitably become one in the same. And that is not something upon which we young ones should hang our hats as if it’s a stanchion of pride. But we do, and by doing so we alienate ourselves from believers who are truly seeking Christ and the restoration inherent in his ministry.

So now unity is out of the picture, which belittles and shoves aside everything Paul wrote about in his letter to the church in Ephesus. But dripping from between the lines of that letter is also the urging to put on humility, to cover ourselves in it. With humility comes peace, and Paul reminds us that Christ is “our perfect peace,” so to truly further restoration it only makes sense to draw nearer to his passion and not our own passion, for as great as my generation’s fervor is too often it becomes misguided and turns sinister, and I think we can name that into existence and aptly label it as a “hellish delight.”

Much love.

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1 comment
  1. Cheyenne said:

    Yes, Nelson. Yes.

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