Christian Optimism is Boring.
After Trump won the Presidential Election (God, help us all), I was surprised by my Facebook feed. It was so…boring. Granted, every single post was election-related, which was expected, but nevertheless, I. Was. So. Bored. Why?
“Guys, let’s just all remember that no matter what happens tonight, we’re all people and we should unite, not divide…etc.”
“There’s one thing I know after this election. Jesus is the only King, and God is still in control…etc.”
When did Christians get so boring?
The thing I find most boring is not that Christians want to point out that, in the midst of difficulty, God is in control, or that we should strive to love and serve those who are different than us. What I find boring is how Christians seem to shy away from the ‘messy’, the difficult, the uncomfortable. Before the winner of the 2016 election was even announced, Christians on my Facebook feed were already pre-emptively putting out the ‘flames’ of heated debate like the good phlegmatics we’ve become. How lame.
I call this modern attitude within the Church “Christian Optimism.” Here’s what I specifically mean by “optimism”: a characteristic denial of whatever is bad, messy, uncomfortable, dark, unwanted, etc. in an attempt to escape reality. I’m referring to how Christians seem to have adopted a reactionary escapism to anything that could stir the waters. This is happening all the time, everywhere. For instance, we escape from the grief of death by having “life celebrations” instead of funerals. We escape the difficulties and dirtiness of our lives by cleaning up our houses/cars/appearances/language/etc. (SO BORING!) And now we try and escape from a political election outcome by appealing to cliché Christian axioms (that were conveniently ignored during the previous year and a half of the campaign). Where are the radicals?
Where are the radicals?
The story told throughout the Bible crosses millennia of history and never shy’s away from the messy, unfortunate, grotesque, and even evil. Song of Solomon is at least as sensual as a semi-pornographic romantic novel, King David coercively uses his power to sleep with a married woman and kills her husband, prophets walk around naked and eat poop, the Apostle Paul admits to being a perpetual sinner, and the People of God murder their God-made-man. The list goes on. And yet, the Bible is a book about hope.
I am NOT against hope. I wouldn’t be a Christian if I was. Christ and Saint Paul remind us often to “not lose heart” and to “be of good cheer.” We hope for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. I am NOT against hope. Hope is everything that we are riding on. That’s actually my whole point– ‘optimism’ (as I’m using it here), is not hope, it is a cheap counterfeit. Hope happens in the midst of darkness, not in its denial.
God has not called us to be nice, be happy, always have a smile on, quit drinking and cussing, and pretend that everything is fine when it most certainly is not. God meets us in the darkness and disparity of life. We find Him in the death of a loved one. We find Him in the clutches of addiction. We find Him in utter hopelessness. We find him, even now, in what some have called the crumbling of Western Civilization.
Immediately following the election of Donald Trump, I wanted Christians to actually comment on the election– To talk about the role of the Church moving forward– To talk about the idolatry of the Religious Right and the secularized ‘gospel’ of the Left. I wanted Christians to provoke people to think, pray, and debate with wisdom and grace, but not with fear. I wanted Christians to engage, not escape like sentimental cowards into the conclaves of arbitrary rhetoric. I was hoping that the Church would refuse the Religious/Political divide that has been assumed for so long and call the whole system into question with righteous judgment. Haven’t we been charged with judging the world? I was hoping that the Church would have something to offer.
‘Optimism’ is another thing that Christians have traded in for authenticity. Like ‘relevance’, ‘optimism’ is the last thing we need. What we need, and what the world needs, is the Church. The Church, full of hope. The Church that sings in the midst of darkness. The Church that confesses sin(especially the grotesque!) and receives absolution(not denial!). The Church that identifies and unifies at the Table and that then boldly prays “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.”