Conquering the creep

By William O. “Bud” Reeves
Special Contributor

There is a pall of cynicism creeping across our land. Distrust, hostility and rancor characterize our public discourse, and every word of truth is under suspicion. Our culture has become so jaded that it is hard to believe in anything anymore.

The Gallup organization has been tracking American confidence in public institutions for a few decades. The most recent poll showed the most confidence in the military, small business and the police, followed by a relatively strong showing of organized religion. Ranking lower than the church were institutions like the presidency, banks, big business and—last in the forlorn list—Congress. (For the full list, visit gallup.com/poll/1597/confidence-institutions.aspx.)

Even in fourth place, organized religion has taken a hit in recent years. In the 1970s, the church warranted “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust from two-thirds of Americans. By 2013, that confidence had eroded to 48 percent.

Increasingly, we live in a society of people without religious affiliation—the “nones”—who profess to be spiritual but not religious. But when the dilemmas of our time cry for answers, what I hear from that segment is precisely that—”none.”

Better answers

I believe in better answers. I think people of faith can be catalysts for a renewal of our church and of our nation. I offer some strategies to conquer the creep of cynicism and despair:

Practice a disciplined spiritual life. It takes strength to battle negativity, and strength comes from God. We access God’s strength when we spend time in prayer, stay deep in the Word, enjoy the sacraments and practice holy conversations with fellow believers. These are the means of grace, and without a steady diet of them, our outlook becomes cynical.

Be trustworthy. Since I have been involved in discussions of deep change in United Methodism, the first barrier to renewal always mentioned is a lack of trust—in the “system,” between clergy, among laity. There has been too much heartbreak and disappointment over the years; I have experienced it myself.

We can’t make anyone trust. But we can decide to be trustworthy—honest, moral, straightforward in all our dealings and relationships. Establishing trust, we can move out of our comfort zones into the new land of change.

Say the good word. It’s always easy to join in the gripe sessions at work, at church or on social media. Injustice, hatred, prejudice and ignorance should continue to be condemned. But we are the people of good news, bearing the message of Jesus Christ to the world. Whenever we get the chance, let’s share what God is doing in the world and in our lives. As the old Johnny Mercer song goes, “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative.”

Seek experiences of renewal. It is easy to let the daily grind of work, family, even church wear you down. When we are exhausted physically, emotionally or spiritually, we tend to get disillusioned and cynical.

Conquer the creep by finding fresh ways to experience God’s grace. These can be organized, like a worship experience, a Walk to Emmaus, a Bible study or an educational event. Or it can just be a daily spontaneous act of revival—walk in the woods; sing a song; find a kid and go fly a kite!

Finally, to battle the cynicism of our age, remember that our hope is bigger than our trouble. Whatever trials you face in your personal life, career, family, church or in the larger world, God gives us the power to be “more than conquerors.” The difficulties of life are opportunities for the majesty of God to become manifest.

Holy Spirit at work

Paul says we boast in our sufferings, because they produce endurance, which produces character, which produces hope. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

Ultimately, it is a Holy Spirit thing. Creeping cynicism and despair are not the work of God. But we can overcome. We can be witnesses to the good. We can be part of the revival.

The Rev. Dr. Reeves serves as superintendent of the Northwest District.