Cynicism is the plank in my eye.
I am constantly fighting off cynicism, especially when I spend a lot of time shut up in my house (this describes at least half of the average month for me.) For anyone who is unfamiliar with the proper definition of cynicism, it is as follows:
An inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest.
I woke up this morning and checked my Twitter feed (my new morning habit, now that Facebook has left my phone.) I noticed two things immediately, one of which I managed to forget in the hustle and bustle of the month of January.
- Today is the Iowa Caucus, which begins in earnest the presidential primaries.
- Today is the beginning of Black History Month.
These two facts actually make it easy to get lost in cynicism – and it’s bitter cousin, Hopelessness. After all, what is motivated more by self-interest than American politics?
But, what could make us cynical and hopeless about Black History Month? Well, it’s that magical time of year where everyone argues about whether we need a Black History Month, whether Black History Month is racist by nature, why we can’t have a White History Month… Black History Month is a madhouse of cynicism, with several self-interested parties making waves about how self-interested it is to have an entire month celebrating Black History.
Pause, calmly, and think on this.
Being prone to cynicism and hopelessness on my best days, it would be very easy for me to spend this entire month ranting about how self-interested everyone else is, and how we should all be motivated completely by altruism, just like me.
See that’s the caveat that is often unspoken when the Christian blogger starts to get cynical/hopeless. Why can’t you all follow Jesus like me?
This is the plank in my eye, the log that I can’t see past to remove the speck in my brother’s eye: why can’t you all follow Jesus like me? Why can’t you all care about Black History like me? Why can’t you all support populist candidates like me? Why can’t you all be altruistic like me?
I might as well wear a T-shirt that says, in giant letters, “LORD, I THANK YOU THAT I AM NOT LIKE THESE OTHER WHITE MEN!“
The problem with cynicism is that we’re quick to see the self-interest in others, while ignoring it in ourselves.
The speck looms large, whilst the plank is ignored.
What does this have to do with either of the events that I pointed out?
Well, the Presidential Primaries represent the spirit of American democracy. It’s a time when a group of people come together, to vote for who their party’s nominee will be, who they will vote for when the general election comes around.
Think about that for a moment: we vote for the person that we want to vote for later.
There’s no greater expression of hope than an election. When I patrolled the streets of Ramadi in 2006, people wouldn’t even leave their homes. But, when I came back in 2008, I saw crowds of those same Iraqis lining up to vote. Voting gave them a sense of hope.
I read an article not long ago about a suicide bomber that detonated himself in the middle of one of those election lines.
The voters lined back up.
Hope is a bold answer to cynicism.
When I think of all the arguments and controversy that surround something as simple as a month celebrating the history of Black people, it would be easy to get cynical. I certainly have responded that way in years past.
But, today, I’m thinking of what Black History Month has to teach us. Black History Month teaches us so many important lessons about perseverance in the face of adversity, hope in the face of hopelessness, strength of spirit, courage… there are so many vital lessons to be learned from those giants of Black History (of American History), that it pains me that we only think about them for one month out of the year.
If we view Black History Month in the light of recent Black History, it’s easy to become hopeless. As I opined on MLK Day, it doesn’t seem like we’ve made much progress since MLK was murdered in Memphis. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Samuel Dubose… that’s only a fraction of the list, only the people who have died because of police abuses, and it seems like we’re adding to it every day.
But, if we view recent history in the light of what Black History Month teaches us, we can see that these moments of great adversity, these moments in history where we want so badly to sink into hopelessness… these are the moments when our hope shines the brightest, where our hope is the boldest answer to give, where the light of justice is blazing through the cracks.
Hope is what links the two events of February 1st, 2016.
Hope is what keeps us coming back to the polls, even when we haven’t seen an election change anything in a long time.
Hope is what drives us to continue to teach our children the value of Black History, even as the world around us seeks to marginalize it.
Cynicism is easy. Hopelessness is easy. These attitudes are the death cries of a broken spirit: a weak and ineffectual last gasp.
But hope, like love and faith, remains after everything else has failed.
Join me in giving a bold answer to cynicism today. Join me in countering hopelessness today.
Join me in daring to hope.
PS – If you live in a state that holds open primaries, please, please, PLEASE get out and vote. Politics won’t save us – only Jesus can do that – but following Jesus can mean giving voice to the kind of person we want leading the country that we live in.