Monday, July 04, 2005

Death to my cynicism, oh Lord

People think when you become a journalist, you hand in your Bible, curse God, and join the campaign to defame the Church and all its people. I can assure you that's not the case.

What Christian journalists do acquire is much more evil: Cynicism.

Cynicism is en vogue these days. I watch VH1. There's more pith in the jibes of those commentators than an African greenhouse. There's nothing so sacred that can't be deconstructed with a carper's wit.

Cynicism is often confused with skepticism. A skeptic is simply waiting for evidence. A cynic cannot be convinced under any circumstances, because the world is inherently bad and there is no solution. To a cynic, there is no good (or God) except in those who embrace the absence of goodness (or a good God). There are many professed believers in the industry, but I doubt many have had the wisdom to attempt to reconcile their cynicism with their faith (and discover the conflict). The world just isn't that demanding. Sadly, our churches aren't, either.

I entered journalism with the intent of one day becoming a columnist and speaking a truth I did not see in my morning newspaper(s) as a youth. I wanted to become Paul of the 21st Century. I wanted to become a forceful writer who compelled readers with God's wisdom and truth.

Somehow I've been spit back out of the mouth of the newsroom and I often view the world with the eyes of someone who's been blinded by hypocrites, liars, thieves, and scoundrels. That is what the newsroom sees every day. To us, these are not evil people set aside from the rest of the world, these people represent the only world that can be known. Journalists develop a worldview based on this, and it accounts for our instinctive distrust of anyone espousing strong opinions of anything. Journalists start the day with the single assumption that everyone in the world is up to no good, and it's our job to reveal the darkness in everyone, to affirm the newsroom worldview.

This practice is called "seeking to uncover the truth."

You might say this is also a Christian worldview, but Christians still look through the hopeful prism of Christ. Journalists have no hope, and not even a prism. We only see darkness. I realized how harmful this was to my faith about five years ago, and made the decision to abandon my career at the metro newspaper I worked at three years ago in June. I knew it would be difficult to match my income (indeed, it's been cut in half), but I also knew if I intended to maintain my walk with God, I had to put away such a bleak influence on my vision.

I am still in journalism, but small newspapers are much more befitting someone of faith. You are allowed to be optimistic. Harsh skepticism is saved for politicians. The rest of the world is relatively safe from the poison pen.

However, it's a hard habit to break. I find myself falling into that trap short of a healthier alternative. When times are bleak, instead of relying on God, I find myself preparing for disaster. This was true recently when my wife and I were facing the reality of being low-income people in an economy that has quickly out-paced our earnings. With my wife on disability after major back surgery, all the bills I had danced around for 12 months had caught up with us.

At nearly the zero hour, a member of our church body put two and two together (our phone was disconnected, we politely declined outings that required us to spend money) and began to investigate a potential need. We weren't keeping it secret, but we weren't broadcasting it over the PA system, either. He asked, we told him, but we didn't want to burden anyone with our struggles, either. As much as we were in need, we had grown up middle-class, and people in the middle-class don't have a right to take from God's coffers or God's people. He quickly corrected our thinking. I wasn't really in position to debate.

About six hours after the investigation I had a sizeable check, double what we had asked God to provide for us (somehow, some way). When I prayed, I imagined us finding an old lottery ticket with some value, or state disability discovering an error in our favor and dropping a check on us at the last second (it happened once before when we really needed it). Instead, God sent his servant to look for us. We did not ask, but our church delivered for us anyway because their hearts were attentive to our needs.

It was hard for me to take the check but I knew I could not deny it. It was hard for me to take that check not just because it hurt my pride, but because it cut right through my cynic's view of the Church: hardened hearts, inattentive, lacking servants, selfish. It was hard for me to take that check because it forced me to confront my own hardened heart, my own lack of giving when I had money in my pocket. Boy, have I been looking the wrong direction when I went to criticize God's people. I should've been looking the mirror.

My worldview has taken a big hit because of this. My cynicism is in the process of bleeding to death, because it's been cut right to the core by a merciful act from a group people who owed me nothing, and did so in the name of the God we all proclaim for our own.

All I have left is a prayer: Death to my cynicism, Lord. Help me serve like I've been served. Help me be an attentive servant like the man who first came to my aid in an attempt to serve you.

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