30.5.09

Meditations: The Problem with Cynicism


If attitudes were beverages then cynicism would be my energy drink. Nothing gives me a buzz like the false sense of empowerment that comes with churning out the gallows humor to get through a tough patch. I've been sarcastic as long as I can remember, or since I held a Steve Taylor 45 in my adolescent hands, whichever came first. But cynicism, that didn't come until my adult life.

Fresh out of college, I found a job at a mental health treatment center for children and adolescents. I grew up living a sheltered life; that Steve Taylor album caused hand wringing and a few literal tears with my mom. So I was unprepared to be submerged in the world filled with children and teens that were sexually, physically, and emotionally abused. Many of the children I worked with wrestled to understand the personality disorders and other diagnoses that controlled their moods and prevented them from living in normal homes. I got to meet their parents and observed how they too were broken by poverty and family pain. I watched large clumsy social service agencies attempt to help these struggling families, only to create as much hurt as they did help.

It was too much to process, until I discovered the underrated power of cynicism. I learned to label the horrors I was confronted with each day. I provided the running commentary through every treatment meeting and point out the hopelessness of the situations we were trying to improve with some dry humor. In the beginning, God let Adam share in his creativity by naming the animals. God left a small, human-sized piece of chaos for Adam to practice on. I think I was like Adam, but all wrong. I named the "beasts" in my work place, not to be creative, or to expel chaos, but to keep the these situations from touching me on an emotional level.

I've been thinking about Zarchariah's faithless response to Gabriel when he announced that God heard his prayers. Israel's salvation was coming soon. The priest's immediate response was a looping eye roll. I wonder if Zachariah had spent his life "naming his beasts" also. He had several. He was old. He served in a dirt-village, separated from the networking and the power that came with being a priest in Jerusalem. He spent his entire life living in an occupied and oppressed nation. He and his wife were barren. The angel was describing a possibility that didn't fit inside the world of realities that Zachariah had named. His only possible response was rejection.

The Apostle Paul calls Jesus the New Adam. I know this name of Jesus is used in scripture to explain how sin can enter and exit this world through the work of just one person. But I'd like to suggest an additional, more personal, use for this title.

If I could learn to stop naming my realities and my beasts, then my savior, the New Adam, might just start doing it for me. I would hear how he describes my challenges and then I could partner with him to replace Chaos with Kingdom.

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