I am a curmudgeon. Not all the time. I’m capable of having my heart warmed. But too often I look upon those around me with scorn for failing to live up to my high standards (that is the standards I have for them). It feels like United Methodism is filled with curmudgeons like me. We’re very good at diagnosing the lack of faithfulness and inspiration that we see in the sinking ship around us, but I wonder if our curmudgeonry itself is what perpetuates the tail-spin of our denomination.
Every curmudgeon has his/her own standards of faithfulness that others are failing to live up to. Usually this involves some kind of nostalgia for the “good old days” when everything worked well and people believed the right things. This nostalgia is coupled with a contempt for the present in which nothing is working and people are either incompetent or corrupt or both. Nothing annoys a curmudgeon more than a glib optimist, which is basically the opposite of a curmudgeon.
Curmudgeonry feels like honesty. Curmudgeons assume that people who focus on the positive are unwilling to face reality. The way you show that you trust in the blood of Jesus is to throw all your dirty laundry out on the front lawn. Curmudgeonry also arises from a need to grab hold of something concrete, to be able to name the source of all our problems once and for all. There’s a sense that we have “solved” our problems in the very act of diagnosing and deconstructing them.
I don’t know how to do better than curmudgeonry. My academic background is partly to blame. As an English major, I was taught to look for the hidden meaning in texts, which applied to people means distinguishing between what they say they’re saying and what they’re really saying. Deconstruction is almost instinctual for me. I don’t know what to do with sincere people who aren’t cynical or broken in any kind of obvious way; I usually file them in the glib optimist category.
I wish that I could learn how to cast an imaginative vision rather than satisfying myself with poignant analyses of dysfunction and unfaithfulness. I don’t want to be a cinder block in the hull of the sinking ship of Methodism; I want to be a bucket, or better yet a paddle. Jonathan Martin preached in one of his sermons that we fundamentally misunderstand prophecy if we think it’s only about naming what’s wrong in the world today; it’s about proclaiming the kingdom of God that is coming into the world despite all evidence to the contrary. With God all things are possible; may He turn our curmudgeonry into prophecy.