Friday, February 13, 2009
The Making of a Cynic
When I was eleven years old, I sold all my 45's (that's records, you know. Vinyl, you know.) for $10. I was a record nut even then, and those of you who know me know that this was not in character for me. Here's how it happened, and what I learned from it.
Some of my family came to visit. One family member, seemingly understanding the naivete of youth and the opportunity to acquire something of value, told me that they would give me $10 for my records. Understand that, to me at the time, if someone in my family wanted to make a deal like this, I felt like it must be good and fair. Besides, you're always supposed to do what your adult family members want you to do, right? So, I did it. They were, even by the sheer volume of them, worth far more, and this person knew it.
I immediately had seller's remorse.
I'd always seen the world a little bit differently, but that age, that eleven to twelve years old period made me the truth-seeking, realist that I am. It also made me a cynic. I realized then that there were a lot of people who would try to get one over on you, even possibly a close family member. Let me say here that I make no apologies for what I'm telling you. It happened and it was not right. And, I never got the records back, not even when this person passed away. I loved this person before and after the sale, but like all of us, this person had their flaws, and I now see the incorrect behavior here.
I'm not an entitlement kind of guy; if you make a bad decision, I believe, you have to live with it. You can most likely understand why I feel that way, and in a way, this family member taught me a valuable lesson (unintentionally) about wisdom. The Bible has also, explicitly, taught me the same kinds of lessons about human nature. That, among other reasons, is why I love it. Reality and human behavior, to me, proves the wisdom in the Bible to be true.
Stuff like this in Proverbs tells me the Bible is right on target:
"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (15:1)
--Yep. That's how that usually works.
"A rebuke impresses a man of discernment, more than a hundred lashes a fool: (17:10)
--That's certainly how it is. You can't tell a fool anything, or even beat it into him.
But then there's this:
"Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life." (16:31)
--There are quite a few gray haired people who know no righteousness. They simply have good genes, I think. Does that make the Bible not true?
So, my question for you is, how do you read Scripture? I'll say this, if you're reading it like it's a math book, thinking that "if this happens, then that happens every time", you don't get it. There are assumptions of context and culture that we miss. While it's true that there is wisdom with older folks, not every every older person is wise or righteous. Age, as I've said many times, does not necessarily yield wisdom. Sometimes, my friends, a gentle answer does not turn away wrath, but that doesn't mean that it's not true most of the time, or that it's not good advice. God's word is true and infallible, but sometimes we miss the mark of what God is telling us, or how we are to comprehend it.
I got a book at church when I graduated high school. I didn't read most of it, but the title has stuck with me: "Don't Check Your Brains at the Door". In other words, don't stop thinking because of outside influence or situation. God's word is so complex and layered, and yet, the Gospel message is simple. We do a disservice to it when we simplify its complexity, or make complex its simplicity. Explicitly, do not check your brain when you open God's word. He doesn't want you to.
I've found that a lot of cynics are actually deep thinkers. They draw true conclusions (even if they sometimes skew negatively), but don't have answers on how to fix what they've concluded is wrong. That's where I differ: I'm a cynic who has a solution, The Solution. And, I'm really not oversimplifying here. Jesus is the answer. There is more nuance to it on how that answer plays out, but ultimately, He is still the answer.
A cynic would not shy away from that discussion, however; I refuse to feign happiness for the sake of the comfort of those around me. I will wrestle with the tough stuff of life. I dare say that there is a long list of Biblical heroes who would not do that, either. We should not be the stereotype of the "happy, happy, joy, joy" Christian who never seems to frown. Paul told all of us that we should tell the truth in love. Like love and marriage, you can't have one without the other. Sometimes, truth is tough. As Ecclesiastes tells, there are appropriate times for different emotions. Conversely, there are some of us cynics who could be a little happier now and then.
So, here I am, your friendly neighborhood cynic. I roll my eyes when I hear or read narrow minded commentary. I shake my head when the daily onslaught of human ignorance is paraded on the morning news. I get angry at those who live perpetually floating in the sky, their heads buried in a cumulus, oblivious to the hurt and the pain that so pervades our world. But I know Who can change it all, and change it all in you and me. I hope that you do, too.