Archive for category: Cynicism

JUSTIN CROSS | An Artistic Project We Need to Back… Immediately

03 Dec Andrew Byers
December 3, 2013

Dear Readers:

I have a number of friends God has jammed to the brim with gifts for bringing theology, pain, beauty, darkness, and joy into musical expression. When we deal with the most poignant realities of life, we must regularly appeal to more artistic media forms to honor the complexity and depth. We need songs and poems. We need singer-songwriters.

Justin Cross is one of these freakishly gifted friends of mine. And he needs some help. A good many singer-songwriters live in this odd tension of being gifted for song, yet unable to bring their artistic labors to birth without the practical necessities of expensive studio time and costly technical equipment. Justin has an album and it needs to make an appearance. We need songs that are honest about sorrow and pain yet pulsing with hopefulness, lunging lyrically toward some distant light, however faint.

His project is “Hope Where It Lies.” As of today he is $875 shy of his budgeted target of $3000 to see this album come to life. There are nine days left of the campaign.

I am writing this post to ask you to join me in helping him. It is a plea I can make with absolute confidence in the quality of work Justin is putting out.

Here is the link at indiegogo. And this is Justin describing the album from the indiegogo webpage:

“Hope Where It Lies” is a concept album. It tells the story of a man from youth to adulthood to the deathbed (and beyond?). The songs range from personal and reflective confessionals to rollicking and rowdy protest songs. The story is simple: It’s about a life from beginning to end. It’s about brokenness, heartache, joy, redemption, and (of course) hope.

I should also say that Justin’s work in this album is really special to me personally because he was at my side wrestling with issues of cynicism and disillusionment while I was writing Faith Without Illusions and developing the main idea driving this blog, the idea of “Hopeful Realism.”

This album comprises songs for the hopeful realist, my friends.

If you like what you see at the indiegogo site, check out his page at Bandcamp. Among the offerings, there is an Advent album ready to download….

Disillusionment, Cynicism, & Christian Eschatology

25 Nov Andrew Byers
November 25, 2012

More and more I am recognizing that my book on cynicism (see the icon in to the right)  is ultimately a pastoral exercise in applying Christian eschatology to our daily reality.

Cynicism arises from disillusionment.  When the rug gets jerked form beneath our feet and we find ourselves breathless staring up at the ceiling, wondering what hit us, only to remember, oh yeah, it was REALITY that hit.  Idealism cannot thrive in an ex-Eden world. But cynicism is just as untenable in a world into which Christ has come, from which He has ascended, and to which He will return.

Eschatology is why cynicism is not valid… at least not for Christians.

If there is an open hole in the ground of this earth—the empty tomb of Jesus—then something cataclysmic has taken place.  The resurrection of the dead, implied in a few places in the OT (Isa 25, Dan 12, Ezek 37) and discussed more openly in the literature of Early Judaism, has been jump-started into our present sphere by the “first fruits” (1 Cor 15) of Christ’s own resurrection.  The New Age to Come (this is language found in Early Judaism and throughout the NT) has lurched backward from the future into our current time, overlapping with the Present Evil Age.

In Faith Without Illusions, I cite George Eldon Ladd near the end. Here is a wonderful quote I just reread this afternoon:

Christ’s resurrection is not an isolated event; it is in fact an eschatological occurrence which has been transplanted into the midst of history. We are living already on the heavenward side of the first stage of the resurrection. This puts a whole new light on the whole human predicament. [1]

You can click on the About the Blog section for more on “hopeful realism,” the perspective alternative to cynicism and idealism I am calling for in the book. Ultimately, hopeful realism is both eschatological (“hopeful”—appreciating the work of God in the overlap of the Ages and anticipating Christ’s return) and cosmological (“realism”—recognizing the full brunt of fallenness that has plagued our world and our own hearts so disastrously).

The Kingdom is in our midst… and still yet to come.


George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1959) 44.

When a Dead Man Interrupts your Cynical Conversation (from Lk 24)

08 Apr Andy
April 8, 2012

[The meditation below is adapted from the last chapter of my book, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint]


Holy Week is not necessarily a “happy week.”  The truth is, many of us are disillusioned.  Prayers tossed skyward have been met with no reply.  Our eyes have scanned the horizon for an immaterial rescue.  Celebrating with the church calendar can be an embittering exercise for those disenchanted with the church or with its Lord.

Such disillusionment is actually quite fitting for Holy Week.  On Good Friday, we recall those hours when the Lord of the church tossed his own unacknowledged prayers skyward and found the same horizons empty of deliverance.  Sharp disappointment is embedded within the Gospel passion narratives.  It is perhaps most personalized in St. Luke’s account of a conversation along the Emmaus road.

The Evangelist does not tell us why they are heading there… just how they are heading there.  Demoralized and deflated, the two disciples are trudging along a rocky road leading away from Jerusalem.

Away from Jerusalem.

Away from the noise of mobs demanding blood.  Away from the sight of cruciform posts with dangling bodies.  This may well be the most cynical conversation in the New Testament.

“What are you two talking about?”

An interruption.  The traveler had been edging closer to them as they walked.  These travelers are in no mood for an eavesdropper.  “They stood still, looing sad” (Lk 24:17).  One of the disciples, Cleopas, decides to speak.  It is not a very chatty response: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know what has happened?”

“Fill me in.”

They tell the man about Jesus of Nazareth.  He had been an impressive fellow, doing and saying stuff like no one else.  Died not more than three days ago.  “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

We had hoped.

“I might add something,” the disciple volunteered, “something odd.  Some women we know were making wild claims just before we left town, claims about seeing angels and not being able to find his body.  Not sure what that’s all about.”

Missing corpse? Yeah, whatever. We had hoped.

“Where are you two headed?”


“Mind if I join you?”

This new conversation partner changes the tone.  For someone who has not been following the news in Jerusalem, he has much to say.  The mourning disciples realize they do not want to bid him farewell.  They are thankful for his interruption.  He sticks around for supper. Then they see him. They see him.

We hope.  Faintly, at times.  But we hope.

The disillusionment of that first Holy Week was met with the abrupt explosion of Resurrection.  To prepare for Easter, let’s be ready to have our cynical conversations interrupted by a man once dead.  And if a dead man imposes himself on our disillusioned dialogue, you know something is happening.  When the Messiah vacates his tomb, something is stirring.  Something new and wild.  Something against the establishment.  Death’s establishment.  At the voice of the resurrected Lord, the cosmic superstructure of evil detects a virus in the system.  A wrench has been tossed into sin’s machinery.  The foundations start to pop with fissures.  It’s time to plug up the leak, to contain the fire, to reseal any open tombs.  Time for chaos to panic.  Time for Satan to go berserk.  Resurrection is God shaking his clenched fist in death’s face.  Resurrection is God whispering death threats in death’s ears.

The open tomb of Jesus is a hole in the system that cannot be patched, defying the persistence of all that makes us cynical.  The re-creating King has climbed up out of his grave.  Keep an eye on that horizon.  He is out there, loose, at large, roaming free—and returning at dawn.

Seasoned in Ministry… or Rotten? Maturing vs. Decaying

05 Apr Andy
April 5, 2012

I used to cut firewood every Autumn with my Dad.  We would drive the tractor into the woods bordering the fields of my grandparents’ farm.  He would cut the trees and I would split them and load them onto the old makeshift wagon my grandfather had built from plywood and an old axle.  Once we got our loads up to the house and finished all the splitting, the firewood ended up in the barn for months before it ended up in the fireplace.

The wood had to season.  Those freshly cut oak and hickory logs would only smoke and smolder in the fireplace with all that moisture locked in their grains.  Left in the barn over time, though, the pores and fibers would loosen with the gradual release of stored water.  A good fire in the hearth takes seasons to develop.

“Seasoned”—this is a term we sometimes apply to people who have persisted over time in their vocation, to those who have endured the ups and downs, the dry and wet, the hot and cold.  Consistent exposure to the elements over time… that’s what we mean by seasoned.

The seasoned minister has endured the business meetings, the hospital visits, the beautiful weddings, the somber funerals.  Laboring over the texts throughout the church calendar, maintaining fellowship in the face of potential schism, fielding complaints both legitimate and illegitimate—seasoned.

But such exposure can also leave us rotten.

In my attempts to season my own firewood, I have made the mistake of storing those freshly cut logs in the wrong place and in the wrong way.  At the touch of cold in the Fall breeze, I have grabbed logs to bring into the house and found them wet with mushrooms and rank with rot.  No roaring fire.

While writing Faith Without Illusions, I discovered that fellow ministers were often on my heart while thinking about disillusionment and cynicism in the church.  Continual exposure to the ecclesial elements can leave us sour and rotten.  But that exposure can also leave us seasoned; that is, strengthened by the course of experience and time.

It is okay for a minister to be weathered.  There is surely no way a faithful minister can withstand the demands and frustrations (and joys!) of his or her vocation without some degree of scarring.  But those demands and frustrations can poison us so gradually that our slow decay is barely perceptible.

So… are you decaying or maturing?


Admittedly, all metaphors have their weaknesses.  I think this one is useful, but I would love to hear your thoughts:

Any counsel on how we can come out of the pastoral vocation as “seasoned” as opposed to “rotten”? 

What conditions induce decay in ministry?  What conditions promote a healthy maturation?

Conan O’Brien: “I hate cynicism”

10 Mar Andy
March 10, 2012

To all the folks who read (and made comments, to which I will soon reply) on my former post, I say thank you.  My sober reflections on Faith Without Illusions (my book on cynicism within and toward the church) has been quite difficult for me… but also motivating.  The more I consider the book’s content the more convinced I am of its pertinence.  I am trying to think of better way of getting the message out on the book’s one year anniversary.

(Photo from Wikipedia

So my latest idea is that I should ask Conan O’Brien to endorse it.  He would be keen, don’t you think?

I am not a late night TV watcher, but a good friend pointed me to the video clip below.  It’s where Conan bid farewell to “The Tonight Show” a couple of years back.  At the end he says this about cynicism:

To all the people watching, I can never thank you enough for your kindness to me and I’ll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere (Source: The Huffington Post)

So if anyone knows Conan, send me his address so I can mail him a copy!

Here’s the clip…

O’Brien’s Farewell to The Tonight Show

The Future of the Church: Cynic-Saints?

05 Mar Andy
March 5, 2012

Gospel Centered Discipleship asked me to write something about how we disciple cynics.  In working on the piece (“Discipling the Disillusioned”), I was struck with the urgency of that task.  If young (and not-so-young) folks are leaving the church due to their frustrations and disillusionment, then the future of the church lies in our capacity to reach them.  And they are out there, hovering out on the margins.  Maybe you… maybe me… the disillusioned souls who get branded (often self-branded) as cynics.

So how do we reach them?  Click on the link if you want to read on….

(And spend some time on the site.  GCD has some excellent stuff!)

The Heartbeat of “Hopeful Realism”: Already… but not yet / Coming… and now is

19 Jan Andy
January 19, 2012

The namesake of this blog is taken from a phrase my wife supplied as she carefully read through drafts for Faith Without Illusions.  Hopeful Realism is a perspective that holds rosy idealism and shallow optimism as incompatible in an ex-Eden world (hence, “Realism”).  But the perspective is “hopeful” because it holds that cynicism is incompatible with a pre-Parousia world.  That Jesus will make all things new drains cynicism of its legitimacy.

The Resurrection is the premise for a hopeful realist.  That Christ punctured a hole in Death’s impenetrable ramparts and then walked through it signals that something freakishly amazing is underway—the system (of evil) has a virus.  Not only is our world ex-Eden and pre-Parousia, but invaded by the powers of New Creation.  The hopeful realist has ground for hope not only because of Jesus’ forthcoming return, but because mysterious Resurrection powers at work even now, enlivening (cynic-)saints for divine service and seeping into darkened souls whose eyes are on the verge of opening wide.

So eschatology is critical for understanding idealism, realism and cynicism as perspectives in the life of faith.  If the idealists’ eschatological shout can be reduced to “now,” and the cynics’ eschatological cry reduced to “never,” the hopeful realists can claim “already… and not yet.”  I was reading the Greek text of John’s Gospel the other day and realized that the Johannine take on this can be rendered, “coming… and now is” (see Jn 4:23, 5:25).

The great challenge of the hopeful realist is to conjoin mourning with rejoicing.  We groan with creation (Romans 8:18-25) in longing for the day (the Day) when all things are made new.  We also rejoice that glimpses persist hinting that the newness is already underway.  Groaning and celebrating simultaneously—these are the honest joint disciplines for the hopeful realist in a world out of kilter, yet assured a new life.

Faith Without Illusions at Euangelion

09 Jan Andy
January 9, 2012

I check the biblioblog Euangelion at least a few times each week.  I had met Joel Willitts before, so I decided to sheepishly ask if he would consider taking a look at my book on cynicism for a possible review (giving him the freedom to review it badly if necessary, of course!).  He posted his comments earlier today, and you can click the link to Patheos (which hosts the blog) to check it out.


I really appreciate Joel’s emphasis on my conviction that cynical, jaded, and disillusioned Christians may be the most suited demographic to bring reform to the church in the West… if they forsake their  cynicism.

The folks God so often enlisted in His program to reform Israel were not idealists reeking with cheery optimism and full of trite platitudes for the downtrodden.  The prophets, sages, and tragic-poets of Israel were often trodden down themselves by the very people they were called to love and embrace.  But God’s call on them demanded a movement away from a disengaged cynicism.  The modern-day cynic-saint  is someone who discards their idealism but not in exchange for an embittered vocation of deconstructing the messed up people of God.  They embrace a realism that will be grim at times, but ever hopeful of a breaking dawn….


A Cynical Donkey

02 Nov Andy
November 2, 2011

photo from

Since writing a book on cynicism, I have been wondering about the portrayal of cynics in literature and film.  So far the list is quite short: Melvin Udall in As Good As it Gets (played by Jack Nicholson) and Ivan Karamazov in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.  Holden Caufield of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was suggested by a reader.

I have a new cynical character to add—a donkey named Benjamin.  I just read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a brilliant work of satire that darkly criticizes totalitarianism.  Benjamin is the old cynic who seems unimpressed with the flowery rhetoric of progress so persistently flowing from the lips of the pigs (the one fittingly named Squealer is responsible for the propaganda).  Benjamin has a heroic moment when he tries to mount a rescue operation to save Boxer, the beloved workhorse on Animal Farm.  But in the end, Benjamin is cynically resolved to the disastrous fate of the so-called “liberation” from human rule (ultimately exchanged for pig rule).

I think Orwell has to allow a cynic to be the (almost) hero.  “Almost” because Benjamin is really not very heroic.  There can be no actual hero on Animal Farm because totalitarianism eliminates all heroism.  There can be no daring individual acts.  All such acts end in death.  On Orwell’s Animal Farm, it may well be that cynicism is not just a optional disposition.  For the wise like Benjamin, it is a duty.

“Hopeful realism,” is a disposition that somehow penetrates beyond the implacable barriers of oppression.  Totalitarianism cannot be total if God is indeed King.  Imagination beyond the realm of the see-able, feel-able, and know-able is required, but the hopeful realist believes beyond the tyranny of the current status and, in an almost desperate stretch of faith, lunges toward some hope in the deep, black, darkness.

For Orwell’s purposes, Benjamin seems to do his job.  He perceives the reality of tyranny, at least somewhat, which allows him to share in the knowledge of the reader.  But he cannot see beyond that tyranny, a character dynamic that evokes the reader’s pain and sympathy.  As an old cynic, he has been accustomed to accepting harsh reality.

The faith required for seeing beyond the parameters of a totalizing power is enormous… seemingly impossible at times.  As I write, I am aware that many today are hoping and believing in God’s in-breaking power under the grip of such apparently insurmountable forces.

The only God who will do as the object of that sort of imaginative (yet real) hope is a God who can raise the dead (2 Cor 1).  Only a God of empty tombs suffices for the prisoners on Animal Farm… and for the prisoners of sin, empire, and the Evil One.

Karl Barth and ‘Hopeful Realism’

18 Oct Andy
October 18, 2011

I am reading Church Dogmatics VI.1, sections 57-59, and I just had a moment.  Okay, I have all sorts of great moments in reading Barth so far, but something that stood out this morning is the comment below.  The reason it struck me is because the hopeful orientation of the Christian to the incoming (and currently in-breaking) power of the new age of salvation is unstoppable, providing for us the disposition of hopeful realism rather than idealism (an illusory denial of the death and injustice of our ex-Eden world) or cynicism (the embittered embrace of current reality without hope in a future reality).  This re-ordering of our disposition is the premise and challenge of my work in  Faith Without Illusions.  Here is Barth saying something that sounds very similar (and with greater clout!)….

“…perhaps [the Christian] is most clearly distinguished from the non-Christian by the fact that, directed to the great hope, and without any illusions, he does not fail and is never weary to live daily in these little hopes.  But this necessarily means that he is daily willing and ready for the small and provisional and imperfect service of God which the immediate future will demand of him because a great and final and perfect being in the service of God is the future of the world and all men, and therefore his future also.”  [1]

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics; ed. G.W. Bromiley, T.F. Torrance (vol IV.1, The Doctrine of Reconciliation; tr. George W. Bromiley; London: T & T Clark International, 2004), 121-22.

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