concerning cynicism and happiness, and why optimists have no business dealing in the rubric of hope


No one denies that I’m a cynic.

I’ve been this way for some time. I tend to expect the worst from nouns. It’s that simple.

Society and ecclesiastical subculture tell me that being cynical is something bad, that I have some kind of moral flaw for expecting something less than the best possible outcome. (That same ecclesiastical subculture also seems to be allergic to the notion of name it-claim it, while asserting–properly or otherwise–that everything works out for the best for God’s children.)

Yet, it is this same defect that, after having endured/survived adolescence, teendom and the young adult wasteland, has drawn out the happy. Perhaps you’ve noticed this page has been seasoned a little differently lately. And it has. Though I was never particularly keen on moving to the holy city of middle America, this has turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made as an adult. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Kansas City, a tough city with a sense of place largely disposed by cities with a surplus of hipster cache. But it wasn’t the right fit, sadly, and we went through hell to get out of there.

There are some wonderful people there, though, and the perhaps only church in the universe where I know they’re doing things right. The barbecue. The Plaza. Laugh-O-Gram Studios. 18th and Vine. A nightly assurance that Jack Harry would make a complete fool of himself with his self-important sports segment at 10.23ish. And none of it truly clicked. Except for the little furball we found in our backyard. He clicked, amongst other things.

Here, though and oddly enough, things click. And I would have never thought they would have. Tell me anytime in the last 9-12 years that I would be in Mecca, and I would have ripped your throat out. Nonsense. Of course, the moral of the story is that we don’t have a clue when we’re young. Which is precisely why the most important ministry in the church is to people who don’t have a clue, because in remaining clueless, they are somehow sanctified. Clearly.

Regardless of my current state of affairs, it is time to slaughter the sacred cow that moos cynicism is a bad thing. Not only should we not swallow anything without examining the contents first, we oughtn’t expect anything to work for the best simply because one tries. We can be pleased with trying, but at the same time, we ought to be crushed with failure and cautious going forward. Simply moving from a solitary confinement situation back in Wisconsin was not happiness-eliciting. Changing scenery for scenery’s sake is not fundamentally gleeful. Happiness is not that superficial, or artificial. To be happy is to not be impressed with anything prima facie, but to be open to the notion that nouns will, when given the opportunity, dazzle us. Cynicism, then, is to set the bar low, as it should be, and let the world take you by surprise.

What claim, then, does the optimist have to happiness? If everything works out for the best, then about what is there to truly be happy? It is setting one’s self up to be let down, and if we’re constantly blowing sunshine up each other’s backsides, eventually, we’re going to get rectal sunburn. (And we wonder why people flake out when things don’t work out quite right!)

What need does the optimist have of hope? Things end well doesn’t need hope, it is a naturalistic expectation of insane proportions. If the optimist truly believes in the best outcome, there is no necessity for hope, faith or risk. It is a Calvinist proposition, at its core. Everything that happens is ordained and is therefore good, giving the naturalist all she needs to sate the problem of evil leviathan. Instead, let’s face the facts–life can and will inexorably suck. It has, it does and it will. In the light of this suckitude, the cynic’s response is to reject the state of affairs and pour energy into making things right, or better. Innovation and creative imagination are both best left to the cynic, for the optimist has, at her core, no need to innovate or create.

Cynicism without hope is despair; optimism without discretion is masochism. Both lead to self-destruction. And hope, then, has a new design, one that reflects the life of a prophet/priest, and not the wild-eyed happy fluffy bunny existence of the blisslessly naive.

So, this is an ode to the survivors, to those who endure and think rose-colored glasses make one look like special John Lennon. The world and all of its joy belong to the cynics, the damaged, the flawed and those with a depth of being which comes only with the experience of being let down, frustrated, depressed and have the courage to live with guards. Eventually, those guards can be let down, and we begin to infuse life back into culture. The optimists can continue to be drugged with the notion of glasses being half-full, while the healed/-ing cynic will take the half-empty glass and end the dilemma by simply topping it off. To have life, and life more abundant, or something like that.

I am a cynic. And, given the way things are right now, we could certainly stand to have a few more.

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