Tag Archives: Cynicism

Grappling With "Never"

“And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” Luke 1:20 (NIV)

“I don’t know what to with never,” Wendy confessed to me one afternoon.

There are some moments in this life journey that are etched indelibly in my brain’s memory bank, and this is one of them. When the two of us were married Wendy inherited two teenaged daughters. Still, we had always desired to have a child together. After multiple surgeries and what seemed like endless months of fruitless attempts to conceive, Wendy’s admission of fear as we stood silently in our despair on the back porch felt like a giant weight on our souls.

The story of John the Baptist’s parents in today’s chapter holds a special place in my heart. There is so much happening in the subtext of Zechariah’s conversation with the angel Gabriel that is completely lost on any reader who has not walked through the long, depressing, desolate path of infertility.

A few of observations:

  • I find it ironic that Dr. Luke diagnoses Zech and Liz’s infertility as “Elizabeth was unable to conceive.” Perhaps there’s more to this story than is told. Nevertheless, having walked this journey I know that it’s also possible the low sperm count or poor motility were the culprits of their childlessness. Of course, this medical knowledge was not available in their day, but it makes me sad that Elizabeth got the blame.
  • I’ve been digging into the theme of exile on this chapter-a-day journey over the past months. The truth is that Elizabeth and her husband were in a personal exile of their own. When you are walking the path of infertility you realize that the vast majority of people don’t understand and it’s usually emotionally painful when they try. Furthermore, you’re not sure you want to talk to those who’ve been through it themselves. Those who walked the path and ultimately conceived are just a depressing reminder that it hasn’t worked for you. Those who never conceived are a reminder that “never” is a possibility which you don’t want to face and don’t know what to do with (a la Wendy’s confession). Infertility can be horrifically isolating for the couple going through it.
  • When the angel tells Zech “Your prayer has been answered.” My husband’s heart shoots back with a cynical “Which one?” If Zech’s heart was like mine, then there’s a section of it calloused over from month-after-month, year-after-year of fervent, unanswered prayers and wiping away his wife’s river of tears.
  • When Zech asks Gabriel “How can I be sure of this?” he is, once again, being defensive and protective of the hearts of both his wife and his own. Infertility is a vicious cycle of summoning faith, raising hopes, and having them dashed again and again and again and again. The last thing the elderly husband wants to do is put his wife through it one more time.

It’s easy for the casual reader to point the finger at Zech’s lack of faith. I’m sure many Jesus followers will hear messages this Advent season comparing Mary’s simple acceptance of Gabriel’s message to Zech’s rather obvious doubt. My heart goes out to the dude. He’s been made the Steve Bartman of the Christmas story for two thousand years, but I get where he’s coming from.

In the quiet this morning I find myself contemplating the long-term effects that disappointment and unanswered prayer can have on one’s spirit. As for what to do with “never,” Wendy and I worked through it together with God. We discovered, and continue to discover, deep lessons about joy, grief, faith, perseverance, character, maturity, and hope. At the same time, there is a lingering sadness that rears itself unexpectedly at odd times, which in turn pushes me back to the lessons already learned. I plumb their depths once more.

Still, if Gabriel showed up in my office this morning and told me Wendy was going to have a baby, I totally believe that the subtext of my reaction would land somewhere between sarcastic and cynical.

Zechariah would understand.

A Cynic’s Confession

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV)

When you live in Iowa, you get a larger dose of American presidential politics than most. Iowa is the first state in the parties selection process for presidential nominees. Therefore, Iowans tend to have a more generous dose of candidates, surveys, and political ads before everyone else. I kind of like it, in the general sense. About 95 percent of the time the major media outlets ignore us here in flyover country. If there’s not a tragedy, natural disaster, or the need for a heart warming Americana story, then they prefer to keep their cameras and microphones grounded on the coast. It’s nice to have the opportunity for our thoughts and opinions to matter for a few months.

At the same time, I will admit that the whole presidential circus gets a bit silly at times. I was once avidly involved in the political process, but confess that I have become jaded and cynical the further I’ve progressed in life’s journey. I vote regularly and do my civic duty, but I am increasingly appalled at how elected leaders look out for themselves and leverage our collective future to solidify their personal standing in the present. I’m talking both sides of the aisle here.

As I read Paul’s admonishment to pray for “all those in authority” this morning, I was struck by just how cynical I’ve become. It’s almost to the point of being a fatalist. If I’m truly honest, I have to admit that I find myself thinking, “What will be will be and my prayers, petitions, and intercessions won’t make a bit of a difference.”

Then, I think of Paul and Timothy out there under Roman occupation  and sandwiched between persecution from both Jewish authorities and Roman authorities. Theirs was not a representative republic. They didn’t have a vote. The media of the day was not surveying everyone in Ephesus to find out what they thought, and Caesar was not pandering to the backwater Hellenists. Their political impotence was far greater than mine, and still Paul urged vigilant prayers for all in authority.

Today, I’m a bit humbled to admit how hard my heart has become towards those in governmental authority. I am revising my prayer list. If you’ll excuse me, I have a few petitions to bring before the highest authority of all.

The Problem of Power

source: allen brewer via flickr
source: allen brewer via flickr

Her leaders judge for a bribe,
    her priests teach for a price,
    and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,
    “Is not the Lord among us?
    No disaster will come upon us.”
Micah 3:11 (NIV)

As I write this the next Presidential election here in the States is 16 months off, but already the candidates are queueing up and the political machinations have begun. We had a family gathering at Wendy’s folks yesterday afternoon and casual conversation has already turned to be all about elections. It’s going to be a long one, I’m afraid. It’s times like this that I wish life had a fast forward button.

I am glad I live in a land with free elections and representative republic. As a lover of history, however, I’m constantly reminded that political power is a corrupting force. As Lord Acton observed, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Even in a system with checks and balances, I’ve observed that political offices (both elected and appointed) become places from which individuals and parties make rules to entrench their position and take advantage for themselves and their friends.

In the days of the prophet Micah, the situation was no different, as Micah observes in today’s chapter. God’s Message teaches that we live in a fallen world. Our sin leads us, despite our best altruistic efforts to the contrary, to make self-centric decisions for ourselves and our own. The more powerful and influential position we yield the more difficult it becomes to succumb.

Today, I’m feeling a bit cynical, but I’ve got plenty of evidence from events past and present to justify my cynicism. Perhaps that is why God’s Message exhorts us so directly to pray for our leaders and those in power. At the same time that I’m pointing the finger at politicians, I’m also mindful that power’s corrupting force is present in any human system from families to churches to companies to neighborhoods and service organizations. In my admittedly meager positions of influence I am aware of the negative affects power can have on me if I am not aggressively mindful, humble and accountable.

Two Different Audiences

The Mix

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. Ezekiel 33:31-32 (NIV)

This past Wednesday night I was given the opportunity of speaking to a large gathering of Middle Schoolers. Many years ago, I regularly found myself in front of this particular demographic. I stress many years ago, because I can’t remember the last time I was in a room that was such a boiling cauldron of adolescent hormones and perpetual kinetic energy. Yikes!

To be honest, I had a blast. It was a great group of young people, they were a gracious audience, and I was jazzed at the opportunity to share with them. As I’ve contemplated the experience the past day or two I’ve come to a couple of realizations.

First, while a room full of middle schoolers can be an intimidating audience, they are also an incredibly transparent audience. If you are boring them you will know it because their uncontrollable kinetic energy will lead them to start twittering, fidgeting, and whispering to neighbors. This is very unlike a room full of adults. Adults have very little kinetic energy. They are, for the most part, very tired, and they have learned over time how to pretend to listen to you while their minds are organizing their work schedule and task lists for the week.

Second, middle schoolers are at a stage of life in which they are asking big questions and making big life choices. This means that the opportunity for big life impact and influence is huge. If  you can succeed at getting through to a middle schooler you might just help change a life for the better. Once again, I find this to be very unlike an audience of adults, who are pretty set in their ways and cynical. Adults are big on saying they want to make a positive change in their lives (e.g. We have a closet full of Nike athletic wear saying “Just Do It”) , but rarely do they we actually change our thoughts and behaviors (e.g. We haven’t exercised since the Clinton administration…the first term, to be specific).

The more things change, the more they stay the same. In today’s chapter we find Ezekiel struggling with the same issues 2500 years ago. His fellow Jewish exiles in Babylon loved gathering to hear his messages, but there was a big disconnect between their ears and their hearts.

Today, I’m thankful for young people and all of their boundless energy and untapped potential. I’m thankful for adults whose hearts and lives remain spiritually pliable. And, I’m praying for those of us who have frayed and severed connections between eye/ear and heart; Praying that a little spiritual reconstruction might take place and restore the potential for positive heart and life change.

Damage Control

I will be careful to live a blameless life—
    when will you come to help me?
I will lead a life of integrity
    in my own home.
Psalm 101:2 (NLT)

Politics has always been a dirty business. Things have not changed in the nearly 3000 years since King David penned the lyric to this song. As I began to read the lyrics I was initially impressed. David is making several declaratory statements about who he is and what he stands for. Click on the link to the psalm above and count the number of times “I will” appears. At first I was intrigued and impressed at the statements, and then I get to the last line:

My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked
    and free the city of the Lord from their grip.

It was then that it struck me. Psalm 101 is a campaign commercial.

It’s morning in Jerusalem.
Hope. Change. Forward.

This psalm is a set of idyllic promises that only the Son of God could meet. Scholars muse that the song may have been written as David took over the tenuous united kingdom of Israel which, in middle-eastern style reminiscent of today’s headlines, had two major factions and several smaller tribal factions threatening his power. They think it might be David’s inaugural address, if you will. Everything is looking up. Everyone is excited. It’s a political honeymoon for the golden boy, the shepherd turned warrior, the national hero turned monarch. David steps into the spotlight and declares that his reign will be the ideal. He will be different than his maniacal predecessor. It fits. I get it.

Perhaps I’m cynical when it comes to politics, but as I read it over in light of the last verse I wondered if the psalm might have served a completely different purpose. Fast forward about twenty years after David’s idyllic inaugural. His life is falling apart. His own home is fractured. He is beset by multiple scandals in his personal life and administration. In almost Shakespearean fashion, David’s own son is leading a bloody coup against him. We are a far cry from the hope and glory of his early days.

It leads me to wonder. Could this psalm have been a way of publicizing his repentance and spinning his way out of the public scandals that threatened his reign. It’s damage control. You can almost hear the political consultants whispering in David’s ear:

“David. Your majesty. I know it looks bad but you’ve got to go back to what made you popular in the first place. Write a song. Get back onto the Billboard charts. People loved your rock star image. You’re not too old. Think Elvis in Vegas. The big comeback. You gotta make the people fall in love with you again.”

Today, I am thinking about my own cynicism. Whether you want to think of this song as an inaugural address or as damage control, it reminds me of the inescapable truth that we are a fallen people. All of us fall short. We want the ideal. We want to believe that the ideal is attainable in our leaders and in ourselves. We fall for the idyllic campaign promises only to be grossly disappointed. Then we start the cycle all over again.

But the truth is that my own life reads like David’s on a smaller, less public scale. I’m no different. I’ve made countless declarations to which I’ve fallen short. We all fail, disappoint, and fall short.

We don’t need a politician. We need a savior.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 4

A dry and thirsty land. Elisha said to her, "This time next year you're going to be nursing an infant son."

"O my master, O Holy Man," she said, "don't play games with me, teasing me with such fantasies!" 
2 Kings 4:16 (MSG)

Promises feel profane to those whose life experience sit in opposition to that which is promised.

Mary was young and naive when Gabriel told her she would conceive and bear a son. We applaud her faith in joyfully embracing the message. Seriously, she had no concept of the pain of barrenness. That was not her journey. She would experience a different kind of barrenness and pain 30 years later.

The promise of a child is another thing altogether to a woman who has believed and hoped for years, and has nothing to show for it. Promise that woman she will conceive and you'll be met with Sarah's sarcastic and cynical laughter. You will feel defenses rise. You might even get the biting reply of the Shunnamite woman telling Elisha and God, in certain words, to keep their promises to themselves.

Promises are an encouragement to some. They are a burden for others.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Eric Rice