Many of us are coming to the realization that “it’s coming.”
By “it,” I mean the holiday season. Maybe you got out of bed today and stared at yourself in the mirror wondering, “Am I ready for this?”
For many people, the holidays infuse a joy and hope that they don’t tap into from January till October. It’s almost as if November initiates a perfectly choreographed nationwide release of serotonin for those who get all jacked up on deep-fried turkey, pumpkin spice latte’s and reruns of the movie “Elf.”
For me, it’s a little different.
It’s not that I have bad memories of Christmas past or didn’t get the Atari game I wanted as a child. It’s not that I don’t want “tidings of comfort and joy” to be lavished over all of humanity. I honestly love the lights, food and the friendliness I get from even the surliest checker at the grocery store this time of year. In recent moments of reflection, I’ve realized I’m a cynic.
As a pastor, I often see behind the veil of unbridled happiness into the pain that exists in the shadows. You’ve no doubt experienced or witnessed true pain in your time on earth. This pain doesn’t disappear for the holiday season. In fact, for many, it’s magnified and this season becomes one of outward joy and inward sorrow, loss and unmet expectation.
This knowledge leads me to question things that appear to be inauthentic. Authenticity has become one of the core ethos in many churches of today, and for Alliance Christian Fellowship, it’s no different. It’s truly the first step in reconciling a relationship with our creator — seeing things for what they are. There is no shortage of illusion in our “Instafacetwittergram” society. We scour our hard drives for the best pictures or footage of ourselves and create a perfectly edited digital collage to present to the world.
Over time, the chasm between who we truly are, and what people see, becomes wider and more difficult to cross. We long for love and acceptance but wonder if it exists beyond the walls of our projected selves.
While there is certainly much pain and anguish in the world, what if there is also more good than we realize?
Cynics are comfortable acknowledging the pain, but sometimes miss the joy, wonder and awe that exist all around us. Inside all of us, is a little cynic. It’s the part of us that effectively disengages from expanding our perspective. It’s what keeps us from learning, growing, tasting new things and exploring the truth for what it is.
There’s no shortage of cynics in our society. Many are quick to celebrate the failures of political parties, celebrities or professional athletes, but their victories and successes are often overshadowed or unrecognized completely. A true cynic takes pleasure in taking shots at the deficiencies of their environment but won’t raise a finger to help make things better. I’ve found myself in this type of apathetic criticism before and it only ends in discouragement.
Vice or virtue?
So, is cynicism a vice or a virtue? As with many issues, scripture speaks to the topic. In 1 Corinthians 8:2-3, Paul says, “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”
We’re reminded that our knowledge of reality is both limited by our experience and skewed by our agendas. While being shrewd is encouraged by God (Matt 10:16), being cynical can be a real barrier to experiencing the true joy that’s found through faith in Jesus and a true knowledge of God.
Maybe you’ve looked into the church and thought, “Is this for real?” Or maybe you’ve gazed into a mirror wondering if there really is “joy” to be experienced this holiday season.
Either way, let me encourage you to see the good that will manifest itself throughout Alaska in the next couple of months. Try being cynical of cynicism.
This time of year, more than any other, there will be evidence of Jesus at work in our state. I hope we don’t miss him.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)
Brian Cook is a pastor at Alliance Christian Fellowship in Eagle River.