Greater than the Former {Courage for the Church Cynic}

“I sense we are under a dark cloud of cynicism.”  (Jennie Allen, IF:Gathering, 2014)

Is that what we call that gray thing looming over me? I don’t sense it, I know this dark cloud of cynicism. It has become my security blanket, always with me in comfort and protection.

My story isn’t all that atypical, or at least not according to the blogosphere. I’ve spent the last decade being disappointed by the church–the big and little church. I read through the Scripture and my heart is impassioned with the beauty of God being present in the company of His people and those people being passionately dispersed in service to the needs of world. But you know, ideals give way to reality and then you wake up one morning and your nicely crafted and defended reality has sucked out all the life from  you. 

I like to say I can’t help it; I’m an ISTJ (well, in fairness, I’m one of those complex 50/50 sorts–sometimes ISTJ and other times ESTJ). I see what’s not working. I don’t go looking for it. It finds me and irritates me and frustrates me and eventually it just plain demoralizes me.

Oi! Ten years of cynicism will give you such a crick in the neck…and a log in your eye…and a heavy weight of fear in your heart.

…nothing like a healthy dose of Spirit-muscled conviction to set you straight.

Here is the danger I see with cynicism: It robs righteousness of its praise. Once it steals a little, it gets greedy for more. It doesn’t take long for it to bleach out every last shred of righteousness, peace and joy with words of criticism, judgment and hate. If justice is setting right what is wrong, cynicism will be of no help. It is hopeless, cowardly, and impotent. It is a thief; it steals and devours…just like its father.

Cynics are prisoners to mistakes, inadequacies, inconsistencies {always of others, of course}. They are bound by chains of perception. They are blindfolded from seeing beauty, goodness, and truth.  Cynics ninja acceptance and belonging; they are community crushers, unity destroyers.

Ironically, church cynics are so busy criticizing the church that they don’t see they are the most toxic force in it. Or so this article claims.

Ezra 3:12 tells of the Israelites in their restored temple. The text tells us that after years of captivity, with no land and no temple, they were finally brought back and able to resume worship. The first day of worship was a confusing time. “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy.” Can you hear the lament, the cynicism?  “This temple isn’t anything like the first one. It’s not as big. Not as fancy. Where’s the Ark? The Shekinah glory is missing. And some of these ignorant goofballs don’t even know this is a bad thing; they are ruining our vision. Listen to them rejoice.” Verse 13 says that the squalor was such that the people couldn’t distinguish the nature of the sound, but that is was heard from far away. Maybe it rippled through the centuries until it made its disgruntled I-give-up-I-can’t-take-it-anymore declarations of todays blogs and tweets and whispered goodnight confessions.

Cynicism is like that. It’s hard to distinguish, but it is loud…and it is distracting. It confuses the heart. It’s toxic for the soul of both the speaker and the hearer. 

The prophet Haggai responded to this situation with good news, “Who is left among you that saw the this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage…says the Lord; take couragetake courage, all you people of the land; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, a little, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts” Haggai 2:3-9. 

The latter splendor is Jesus and he is beautiful. I know the church fails. It falters. People can be more exhausting than the worst dog you’ve ever owned–the one that chewed up you favorite shoes, peed on your fabric sofa, and bit your child. It get it. The ideal of church …of the community there…is such a better ideal than the reality. But if we critique on and check out, we miss out. We miss Jesus–his presence as seen in our gathering, in his Word, in one another. If we care at all about justice, it must begin with setting right what is wrong in the house of God…setting right what has gone terribly wrong in me…and you…and us. 

Take courage, we are told. Three times. Take courage; do the work! Why? The Spirit abides with us to help us see the beauty and the goodness of Jesus…if we will just look away from what is wrong and give praise to the Righteous One.

“The latter splendor of this house will be greater than the former.” Oh what a change my heart will experience if I will speak this truth over every criticism. Cynic friend, will you join me in proclaiming this promise?

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