I wrote those words down last week on a 3 X 5 card. It was in response to a question asked by my friend Kathy Escobar. She was leading us in a time of reflecting on our journeys of faith, particularly the shifts in faith* that so many people who grew up in the church go through. She asked us to write down, in 5 words or less, how we would describe our faith right now. And those were the first words I thought of: Cynical and Hopeful.
I know that people who are cynical of the church often get a lot of pushback here, telling them to stop being so angry. Stop being so bitter. To look for the good and stop focusing on the bad. But cynicism, for many of us, is an important step in our journey. I loved what Kathy had to say about cynicism and anger. She said that for those who have been hurt by the church, abused by the church, or pushed away by the church, cynicism and anger are OK! It’s ok to be pissed at the church and the systems and the people that caused us, or those we love, harm. Being cynical and angry is a part of the journey for those who have been hurt by church. For some that’s just a few steps in the journey. For others, it’s a longer and more winding path. But it’s part of the journey. (And furthermore, I almost always see declarations to not be cynical given by pastors and leaders with power and privilege. I see it used to silence critiques from those on the margins. Calling someone cynical is just another tool to silence someone. I hate that.)
For me, anger and cynicism were a vital part of the journey to hope. Because in spite of my anger and cynicism at the church, I found hope. I often refer to myself as a reluctant pastor. It seems that every time I try to run from the church, I soon find myself not only back in church, but serving in some way as a pastor. And that is because I see hope. When I stumbled into the little community at HOMEpdx three years ago in Portland, I was glad for a time away from traditional church, where I could learn from, and serve among, those living outside. And I saw there a beautiful community of people, loving each other in spite of every reason not too. I saw hope. And the hope I saw caused me to dive right in, and before I knew it I was an ordained pastor in that community.
And I continue to see hope. That doesn’t mean I am not angry and cynical sometimes. I sure am. When I see huge church buildings and huge pastor salaries and budgets, while people sleep outside in the same city, yeah, I am cynical and angry. When I see my LGBTQ friends getting told they do not belong because of how they were born, yeah, I am pissed. When I see a church focused on individual sin, but silent on the structural and systemic oppression all around us, yes, I am so angry. I never want to lose that anger at those things that hurt people.
But the hope persists. It persists because I see in the way of Jesus the possibility of a community that truly loves it’s neighbors, that truly welcomes all people, and seeks justice, and fights against systemic injustice, and tries to live differently in the world in order to love others. I want to see that happen. I believe that can happen. But it will need a little bit of hope.
Hopefully cynical, and cynically hopeful.
*Kathy has a new book out called Faith Shift. If any of this speaks to you, please check it out. And her blog. Both are worth reading.