17 September 2012

On Cynicism

When I was a sophomore in college, one of my professors spoke words that have held in my memory like few others.  He said "Cynicism is the threshold of discernment." As you can see, he spoke with great inflection.

The words eschew obfuscation well enough, but they hardly make real sense until they've been lived.  I had a sense of that while sitting in that class.  I even felt twinges of fear and discouragement, expecting to fail repeatedly in my attempts to be discerning.  It seems that, even so quickly, I understood a poetic implication of these words.

"Threshold" is a peculiar word. It's fairly well-known, but much less commonly used.  I mostly know it from the popular image of a groom carrying his bride "over the threshold."  It was years of hearing this phrase before I learned its meaning.  Following the wedding ceremony and all the pomp and circumstance, the groom is to carry his bride across the threshold, from the fanfare of public celebration into the privacy of their [home/hotel room/wedding night destination of choice].  The word connotes a thing to be crossed, a movement to be made.

As I tell the story, my movement began the moment I heard the opening professorial quote. That moment ushered in a long series of classes, friendships, discussions, Bible studies, travels, heartaches and joys (you know, life and stuff) that eventually left me a college graduate with a wealth of knowledge and a poverty of discernment.  Cynicism overthrew me, and I handed it the keys.

With a full-time office job at my school, I felt a deep lack of ministry.  With no one in my home life who shared my college experience, I felt alienated.  I thought I'd learned the depths of ministry, and my home church was too large an obstacle for me to overcome.  Clearly, they just didn't get it.

So, what did I do?  Obviously, like an adult, I pouted.  I criticized my church leaders on Sundays, and I sought higher-paying jobs the rest of the week.  Everything was terrible, and my circumstances had to change before joy could be found.

Did they?  Were my circumstances really the problem?  Those questions prompted two more, which were exactly what I needed.

Who did I see on a daily basis that appeared to enjoy his life?  A coworker.  I tracked him down, had lunch with him, and asked him about his joy.  The process of doing so even gave me the answer I wanted.  So very obviously, I needed to fill my mind with more of Christ.  I'd gotten so caught up in the distress of working a low-paying job doing work that didn't challenge me that I forgot all about pursuing the most important relationship in my life.

Once I began spending more time with my Lord, the second question came to mind.  Do I love my church?  This one hurt.  I grew up in my church.  Nearly all of my friends were from church (at least they were before college).  I'd met my wife at church.  If I didn't love my church, then...?  This proved a meaningless question.  Swallowing a lump of pride, I admitted that this broken body of believers was important to me, and that I'd do anything for them.  I refused to ignore their faults, but I committed to act toward the church in accordance with my love.

You may see it in my sparse writing history, but this movement happened around the time of my last post.  Once that commitment to love clicked in my head, I began to hear sermons differently.  I began to consider my pastor's heart instead of just his words.  I remembered how much he loves the people of his church and longs and strives to see them grow in godliness.  This broke my heart, leading me to ever deeper realms of repentance.

Have you crossed the threshold?  Are you stuck in cynicism and judgment as I was?  Let me assure you that the ability to critique another, of itself, does nothing for you.  Please, walk with me across the threshold of discernment.  The journey is long, humiliating, and doomed to repetition, but the scent of humbleness is sweet indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Tim, as sparse as your writings here may be - you have at least one reader who is very thankful for them! I've always appreciated your insight and on many occasions have been challenged (even if it was only to broaden my vocabulary!) While our conversations now are very few reading your thoughts here provides a small substitute.

    Thank you for sharing!