The cynic, the skeptic, the quitter, and the creator

cynicalThe world needs cynics and skeptics.* We need those people who question whether something is worthwhile, those people who are inclined to question accepted positions.

Show me a list of great reformers and revolutionaries, and I’ll show you a list full of cynics and skeptics. They looked at their present system and were frustrated. They questioned its viability and truth. And we’re glad they did.

But what does the cynic do with his discontent? What does the skeptic do with her doubt?

You generally have two choices.


The first choice is to quit. It seems to be the most popular choice, and it comes in a few different forms…

You can literally quit. You believe your company is actually making the world a worse place. Or you come to believe the non-profit you volunteer for is more interested in helping its executives than helping others. Or you begin to realize that committee you spend so much time on will never actually accomplish anything. So you quit. That’s not a bad option. It may be exactly the option you need to take right now. Vote with your feet. Quit wasting your time on something unproductive or counter-productive. If you can contribute something better in the world, maybe it’s just best that you walk away from the places where your contribution isn’t helping.

You can mentally/emotionally quit. You’ve probably done this before. Maybe you’re doing it now. You’re still there, but you’re checked out. Probably characterized by complaining, criticism, and/or apathy. That might be the best you can do while you weigh your future options. It’s surely not the best long-term plan. Though it seems that a number of people choose it for the long-term.

At its very worst, that mental/emotional quitting can lead us down the pit of despair – a “so what?” attitude about everything. The person who gives up on all the diets, grabs a tub of ice cream, and turns on the TV. The idealists among us may be most at risk. I’ve watched some people who study theology end up in a state of hopeless apathy. They can’t see how the faith and Church of their theology could ever be actualized, so they just give up. Or they get overwhelmed by all the moral decisions that they can’t fit into a black or white box and just give up trying to decide or do what’s right. Others resort to fundamentalism to ease the confusion.


Your other option is to create. Take a line from George Bernard Shaw: “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’ ” Create the change you’ve been seeking.

Perhaps you can do this from the inside – without quitting. You can remain in your current position and begin working toward the change you seek. This is surely a difficult path. Especially if you don’t have much authority. The existing system is in place for a reason, and it’s not likely to want to change.

Your best and most personally difficult option: model the change yourself long before you call for it elsewhere. To take some areas you’ve heard me talk about over and over… You think the standards the Church is using for compensation are unbiblical and unjust and will be one of the clearest signs to future historians that we capitulated to our culture? You better be taking pay cuts and refusing raises before you suggest anything to anyone else. You believe accountability, vulnerability, and openness to change are lacking and needed in pastors’ lives? You better have some serious structures in place for those in your own life.

Your next best step is to make proposals. Don’t just lay out the problem with how things are. Lay out the plan for doing something better. And again – don’t expect to be successful. The cynic in me says that the system that allowed you to get cynical isn’t too interested in taking on the difficulties and sacrifices required to make a change.

And of course, if your modeling and proposals don’t affect any larger change from within, there’s some question about whether it’s time to try creating something new from the outside, instead. That may be because you got kicked out. Isn’t that how it has happened with most “reformers”? They tried to reform from the inside, were kicked out, and ended up creating something new on the outside.

And that takes us all the way back to the top. When do you quit so that you can create without all the trappings of the status quo? When do you keep working internally to affect a larger change? Perhaps you wait until you get kicked out. Perhaps you wait until you get converted to the status quo way of thinking. Perhaps you accept the small, sometimes unidentifiable, progress you’re making within. Perhaps you get out if you don’t see something big and immediate. Wise discernment in this will surely be the hardest part of what you do. There’s no clear answer here. Be prepared for lots of people with lots of opinions, regardless.

I talk to no small number of cynics and skeptics in the Church. And I’m okay with that. Actually encouraged. It can lead to some good change. So long as that frustration goes somewhere besides complaining and emotionally/mentally quitting. What are you doing with your cynicism and skepticism?


* A note: I’m using “cynical” throughout to refer to the attitude that questions whether something is worthwhile. I’m talking about the cynic who is frustrated with the current system/approach. I’m using “skeptical” to refer to the attitude that questions the generally accepted positions. I’m talking about the skeptic who isn’t so easily convinced by the status quo philosophy. I know these words can have other meanings — ones that are wholly negative, in my opinion. I’m not suggesting those meanings.

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