Sunday, April 16, 2006

MOVING BEYOND PROFOUND CYNICISM

EVERYONE IS SO UNTRUE. It occurred to me recently how profoundly cynical my generation has become. We disbelieve sincerity, reject the notion of certainties, question the validity of most authority, doubt heart change is really possible, and are sure most every one acts only out of self-interest. We take things at face value but don’t value that very much. Billy Joel’s lyrics reflect the perspective: “Honesty is such a lonely word, everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard and mostly what I need from you.”

CLOUDED YOUTH. My generation’s cynicism is not without reason. One of my earliest childhood memories is the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was four years old. I recall the extended national mourning that ensued. Those of us who moved from childhood to adolescence in the 1960's and 70's absorbed the social-emotional impacts of the Vietnam debacle, student killings at Kent State University, the struggle for civil rights, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and, to cap it all off, the Watergate scandal and the resignation of the disgraced Richard M. Nixon. And looming silently as a backdrop to this drama, was--is still--the omnipresent specter of a nuclear mushroom cloud.

FROM IDEALISTS TO CYNICS. So, the young idealists called to "ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country," became the drop-out generation, the drugged-out generation, the self-absorbed generation, the self-promoting generation, the ever "seeking" generation. We have pushed the divorce rate to record levels. We have clogged the courts with frivolous litigation. We blame everyone and take little responsibility. We use communities and people and then discard or disregard them. It appears that our collective generational response to the socio-political traumas of the 1960's is a robust and cancerous cynicism.

POWER SOURCES ROBBED. It occurs to me that cynicism might make sense, were it not for the Resurrection. But Easter robs cynicism of its power sources. Whereas cynicism would say you can’t count on anything, the Empty Tomb says there’s a least one thing that can be counted on. Whereas cynicism asserts that nobody is true to his or her word, the Resurrection indicates at least one Person is. Whereas cynicism charges that every act has a selfish motive to it, Jesus’ self-giving issues a counter. Whereas cynicism says nothing’s going to change the way it is, the Third Day has started that brings transformation and hope to every individual, community, and culture.

COUNTERING CYNICISM. Any of us would be foolish to let down our guard in a culture that breathes and breeds cynicism. At the same time, we would be foolish to yield an inch to cynicism’s ultimate claims. We are invited, as beneficiaries of the Resurrection, to live in counter to the widely-accepted cultural excuses and half-truths that pass for “the way it is.” More than that, it is the privilege of people who live in Easter faith to share the counter-claims and counter life with fellow citizens who do not realize that the way, truth, and life has been opened for all.

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