The Church of All Cynics


As I have traveled all over the world, I’ve met pastors, elders, administrators, missionaries, professors, students, and everyone in between, who are dying to spill their guts in frustration over their churches or The Church, or both. Usually bothThey suspect their churches may have grown over programmed and under challenged. They’re annoyed with the music, irritated by the message, embarrassed by the mission. They see wasted resources, lost opportunities, incompetent leadership, and unengaged participants, resulting in little by way of true life change for the people who make it through the door. And they want to be heard and affirmed, because even though they suspect they’re right to be concerned, they’re afraid they’ve grown overly critical.

So they find me, a known cynic, and together we moan and complain and wish and wonder about the future. We share our conflicted feelings, lamenting the way our great love for God’s Church clashes with our disdain for so much of what the Church says and does and is. More often than not, these conversations end on the same familiar note; Our complaints are valid and our disappointment is great, but we feel compelled to stay.

We are the Committed Christian Cynics. And we are legion.



Unfortunately, the Church doesn’t know what to do with us. This is partly because we have strong opinions about things that make some folks nervous, like human sexuality, and personal integrity, and global responsibility, and what Jesus really meant when he urged us to Love one another. And partly because, in our sincere efforts to tell everyone how dumb they are and how they’re doing it wrong, we sometimes come off as arrogant, condescending, know-it-all dickheads. Admittedly, we need to work on our approach. (I’m raising my own hand here, as I often need reminding there’s a world of difference between sharing concerns with gentle skepticism and spitting bitterness like an angry viper.)

The thing is, cynics are easy to write off as negative and pessimistic. The rest of the Church is quick to dismiss us as complainers, but maybe they shouldn’t be so eager to cast us aside, for the Christian cynic has a God-given burden to bear; We are the snarky, sarcastic, opinionated, face-palmers of the Faith. We carry the torch of critique into the Church — And we’re here to set shit on fire. We are pot-stirrers, tradition challengers, purpose analyzers, and push backers, and whether or not they know it, our churches need us.

You know why? 

Because when bad things happen to good people, Jesusy platitudes are no match for the cynic’s microscope. In our dictionary, nebulous Christian language has no meaning. By our calculations, sketchy church numbers don’t add up. We cynics see things in a different light, sift things through a different filter, examine things through a different lens, and that’s good for everyone. Does it make people uncomfortable? For sure. But a vocal critic can be great instigator of honest introspection and thoughtful evaluation.

When a stranger quips, “I’ll pray for you”, it’s the cynic who asks, “Really?
When a person says, “A short-term mission trip changed my life”, the cynic is looking for evidence.
When a pastor teaches “the Bible is clear”, the cynic wonders how they know with such certainty.
When the Church proclaims itself  “the Hope of the world” the cynic narrows her eyes, lifts her chin and challenges, “Prove it.” 

Our approval of All Things Christian can’t be bought with vague over-spiritualization or authoritarian proclamation. We require more. We ask hard questions and demand real answers, and it’s not because we’re just a bunch of jerks who get off on tearing down other people’s ideology. Sometimes, it’s actually because WE LOVE GOD and WE LOVE PEOPLE, and even though we’re kinda mortified by Churchy bullshit, WE. LOVE. THE CHURCH.

That’s why we stick around. 

We stay because we know that, while there are so many things wrong, this is the Church that made us, the same Church that introduced us to Jesus. And we’re still big fans of Jesus. We stay because we weren’t always this cynical; we remember what it was like to feel content with simply showing up to check the boxes of the good Christian life, and we remember how even that changed us. We stay because we honestly believe the Church can do so much better. We want to dismantle broken systems to build a healthier community of Christ followers. So we stay in The Church and (when we can) we stay in our churches because we love them, and because we’ve been cynics long enough now to know how a negative perspective can spark a positive change.

But let’s not pat ourselves on the back quite so vigorously, my cranky friends. Our beloved, broken churches have grown weary of our cynical ways, perhaps rightfully so. The problem is, Committed Christian Cynics might be good for the whole of the Church, but we can be kind of terrible for each other. Like, the worst.  

Cynics, pessimists, and opinionated dickheads are naturally drawn to one another. We’re actively looking to make eye contact with someone else who sees what we see, who hates what we hate, who affirms our observations and agrees with our assessments. To the natural optimist, it probably sounds like an awful first date, but when one critical thinker finds another, the ensuing bitch-fest is kind of refreshing. It’s so nice to realize you’re not alone, you’re not crazy, and you’re not just being a huge asshole about everything. We feel validated by each other’s complaints, but in the company of another cynic, a valid complaint against a broken system can quickly spiral into thrilling condemnation of everyone who doesn’t look, think, or act like us. See, we love the Church…but we also kind of love to hate the Church.

This is our downfall. 

When the club of Committed Christian Cynics comes together we immediately get to feeling smug and superior. Sometimes we buy into our own hype so hard we start to believe everything we think, and we think everyone who doesn’t agree is an ignorant fucknugget. We feed off each other’s negative energy, waiving the critic’s torch wildly, recklessly, rushing to set fire to anything and everything we deem unworthy, with little concern for the people who might get burned.

I used to think it would be awesome if there was a church just for us, the critics and complainers, the people who see all the problems so clearly and obviously. This church, The Church of all Cynics and Complaints, would have the most thoroughly critiqued worship gathering, programs, and pastors on the planet. Can you even imagine?

The Sunday morning service would boast a respectful variety of cool music, old hymns, and secular one-offs, but, instead of praise hands, we would raise our arms to give the songs we can’t stand the middle finger. Sermons would be laced with trigger warnings – pronouns avoided at all cost – but, just in case, Xanax and self-care rooms would be available to anyone traumatized by ideas, stories, or words they didn’t appreciate. Instead of an offering basket, we would pass an orphan, stuffing cash into his little pockets until an usher came by to scold us for creating dependency and fostering an early childhood attachment disorder. 

Newcomers would receive a welcome tote sewn by Malaysian sex workers out of fabric scraps locally sourced from the dump by junkies and hipsters. Inside, they would find a beaded bracelet, handmade by children recently rescued, sunburnt and hungry, off of rafts floating aimlessly in the Wisconsin Dells. They’d get a recycled paper bookmark that firmly declares “WORDS MATTER! Except for bad words, bad words don’t matter at all!”, and a coupon for 20% off the tattoo of their choice*.
(*excluding embarrassing tribal flash**)
(**not that anyone is judging***)
(***yes, we are)

The culture of this carefully curated church would be painstakingly pain free, restrictively liberating, and exclusively inclusive. The Church of all Cynic and Complaints would encourage its members toward a kind of self-obsessed self-awareness so they may grow to be courageously cautious as they follow Jesus. The church motto would be: 

You Be You!
(But maybe try to be more like me.)

In short, it would be uncomfortable and terrible for virtually everyone involved, and nothing good could come of it, because no one could ever do anything right. EVER. Every effort to engage each other would be dissected with the intent to find something wrong. Every fresh attempt at art and music and storytelling would be squashed by the potential to offend. Every act of service, every generous gift, every friendly gesture would be stained by the suspicion of ulterior motive. A Church of all Cynics and Complaints couldn’t help but be critical to the point of paralysis.

Honestly, it could never work, because when too many critics emerge in one space, it creates a toxic environment. 

But if we think of the Church as a body, I mean like an actual living organism, then try to think of the cynic as bacteria. Some bacteria are good and necessary in order to keep the body healthy and balanced, right? But when too many bacteria get together, it knocks the whole system off kilter as they breed and fester, eventually poisoning the body against itself. Good bacteria shouldn’t be ruthlessly eliminated and bad bacteria shouldn’t be blatantly encouraged. This is the difficult balance the Christian cynic and the Church must strike with each other. 

Remember when Jamie Lee Curtis smiled and sold us probiotic yogurt to help us poo? The Church should embrace the critic with that same kind of enthusiasm. Churches need to learn how to receive criticism well, understanding that sometimes it’s actually helpful and might even be exactly what they need to gain forward momentum. At the same time, it’s up to the Committed Christian Cynic to hold the torch of critique with care and concern for the rest of the body. We have to turn our keen eyes for observation on ourselves, asking ourselves the hard question: Will I be a probiotic or a paralytic to the Church? Am I poop yogurt or bitter poison?
 I don’t know about you, but I wanna be poop yogurt.

Through open dialog and thoughtful critique, I hope to shed light on Church fallacies and set fire to ugly Christian facades, but as long as I claim to carry this torch in one hand, I have to carry the burden of responsibility in the other. I have to remember that cynicism is contagious – and it can be dangerous. I have to respect that once someone sees something by the light of the cynic’s torch, it’s nearly impossible to unsee it. This enlightenment might lead people to new insights and greater freedom in their faith, but it can also be painful and traumatic, like watching their childhood home burn to the ground. If I’m the one holding the match, it’s up to me to honor this process with patience and humility. 

Especially since sometimes we, the cynics, are just wrong.

We don’t like to admit this out loud, particularly if we’re the arrogant, opinionated dickhead type, but we’re not always right and we most definitely do not have everything figured out. The nature of a cynic is to be better at demolition than construction, and a lot of us are still learning how to dismantle and dispose of outdated church language, tired programs, harmful missions, and rusty old ideas without completely discouraging the optimists and innovators around us. 

The Committed Christian Cynic needs to challenge the Church with Truth for today, and the Church needs to meet them at the door with Hope for tomorrow. For as much as the Church and the cynic are frustrated, annoyed, and exasperated by one another, we actually need each other. We make each other better, stronger, healthier, and more productive, but only when there’s room for criticism to sharpen the Church and for the Church to soften the critic.



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17 Comments

  1. Ron Clifford on March 2, 2018 at 10:17 am

    Brilliant, and cynical with a dose of reason and love! Its as though you are in my own head and have the hutzpa to actually say it. I was having a “Cynical Ron” week and this just hit me square in the face. I swing between Cynical as F&#k (I still can’t immortalise my mental vocabulary to type) to being a gentle and compassionate encourager. I’ve come to know encouragement is one of my highest spiritual gifts but a healthy dose of cynicism and honest talk? of course, I pre-ordered your book….

  2. Katrina on March 22, 2018 at 5:09 am

    THANK YOU for being a cynic to the cynics. This is exactly what I needed to hear today and am encouraged that I’m not alone.

  3. Vico Re on March 26, 2018 at 8:29 pm

    Consider this cynic the anus in the Body of Christ…

  4. Jeff on April 4, 2018 at 5:38 am

    It’s nice to feel a part of something again: the intestinal gut flora of The Body. While I’m no longer the one to raise a ruckus about things or even show up in a church too often (I might not even fit in well with most of the other bacteria), your writing really hits home with me. I hate what modern Christianity has become; I hate that the problems are institutionalized; I hate that too few seem to see it or care. I’ve given up on trying to change it, and I hate that too. But I still love God and do my best to love people. And I really like your writing so far. Glad I found your site.

  5. Ashley on April 5, 2018 at 8:50 pm

    After 4 years of being an arrogant asshole cynic, I’m finally coming to the point of balance. Thanks for writing this. Funny how God uses year old blog posts in perfect timing.

  6. Haley on April 9, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    Wouldn’t use the word cynic as much as, we put our brains before the heart, we’re analytical and tear apart even conversation to get to the truth of it. Analysts more than cynics. We want proof. We always know the benefits and negatives of everything from the church carpet to the music…..and a church full of us would be a church burning down disaster, nothing would ever get done, except us talking about what should be done.

  7. Jen Dean on April 11, 2018 at 10:13 am

    Jamie, thank you so much for writing this. Cynicism, unchecked, can lead directly into elitism. And isn’t that the sickness of us all? After I did my season of “missions,” and the scales fell off, I prayed fervently that I could be a bridge to the church and remain humble as I called out the BS. Because what I learned most of all is that I’m the problem. It’s hard for me to rain down hell fire and brimstone when I remember I’m the problem. And I’m probably the problem in ways I have no idea I’m being the problem. ‘Cuz I’m seeing a tiny piece of the story, have been lucky enough to have something revealed to me that maybe some others haven’t yet. But what about everything else I don’t know that I don’t know??

    This was a beautiful and humble and powerful piece about unity. And that was Jesus’ final prayer for us. Thank you!

  8. James on April 15, 2018 at 2:24 pm

    I have just finished reading your book, and now I’m tearing through your blog and I just want to say Thank you! Do you even realize how brave you are!? The things you wrote about in your book, your teenage years and your views of the church have given me so much hope. I recently started going back to church, sort of. I attend a non denomination Christian church group for young adults – just 2 weeks ago. 3 weeks ago I returned from teaching over seas in Japan. I know what’s it like to live abroad, and the fact that you wrote about religion and living abroad and everything about your life all wrapped up into one little book that I happened to stumble upon at Barnes and noble is absolutely mind blowing to me. I should probably add that I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, one month and 4 days sober.
    Raised Catholic, the things you felt in the church were feelings I experienced at a very young age. So I, ofcourse rebelled, but I was also always to afraid to speak up. Atleast until I was a teenager. I struggled with crippling anxiety revolving around God and truth and religion and your book came at the perfect time. I’m giving Jesus a second chance, and I feel so empowered and for once NOT alone in my views. The icing on the cake, is that I have been writing all down. I have some 40,000 words of my own personal memoir/journal thingy already written, and after reading your book I am determined to keep writing. I doubt it will ever show up on the shelves the way yours did, but I need to write this, and now I’m less afraid.
    You know those one sided celebrity relationships you talk about in the Stripper from Reno post? Well you are know one of those celebrities, so congratulations! Haha
    Seriously though, I am now obsessed with you because your are me in a different body and a different life and I can’t belive you are even real and that (thank God) people are listening.
    Your book is helping save people from abandoning Western religion (or religion all together.)
    So thank you so very much.

  9. Arloa on April 20, 2018 at 9:51 am

    Hi Jamie, I appreciate your thoughts, if not always your language….but then, I’m old. I, too, am an analytical person. I was born and raised the daughter of long-term missionaries. I saw first-hand the varied branches of Christianity trying to work in a strange culture. Sometimes together, sometimes not. I thought it all glorious and yet so “earthy” and un-glamorous and sometimes futile. Then I came to the USA. I was appalled at the American church, at my peers who claimed to be Christians, yet I saw no real commitment or Jesus-relationship in their lives. But, even as a teen-ager, Jesus showed me I needed to walk in forgiveness. I knew things they didn’t know. They, obviously, knew things I did not know. It was another venue for “cross-cultural” communication. Americans need Jesus as much as any other people group. Although I still often think thoughts similar to your “what the ****!” I’m learning (not perfectly) to turn to Jesus and ask him, how do I point this out in a way that will be heard? Not necessarily watered-down, but also not a trumpet in the ear that turns people deaf. It can be very discouraging. The great thing is, we are not responsible for others. We are not responsible for results. We are responsible for being obedient….which means we need to hear Jesus clearly. We must unstop our own ears to hear his truth and then speak it, and not just speak it, but then live it. When people see us truly living Jesus, then they listen to our message, which really isn’t our message, but Jesus’ message.
    We do all need each other. We are all part of The Body of Christ. Every living thing (including the church!) changes. Cells die, new cells are made; wars against disease and damage are waged, yet we need challenges to our immune system to keep it strong.
    And yet, God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, forever. If our Source does not change, how is it that the Church changes? There is no analogy that can completely fit every scenario. It is still a mystery and we still live by faith. We are “being conformed to the image of his Son.” – both individually and corporately. As each individual becomes more like Jesus, the body as a whole becomes healthier and more like Jesus. Each of us, and each of our experiences in life play a role in helping to shape each other, if only a tiny bit, or in an internal manner that hasn’t yet manifested in a person’s outer life.
    Sometimes we need cattle prods, like the cynic. Sometimes we need the anointing salve of a healer who touches our wounds gently. We all are vital. We all are accepted by Christ.

  10. Jesse on May 6, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    “If you hate your parents, the man or the establishment, don’t show them up by getting wasted and wrapping your car around a tree. If you really want to rebel against your parents, out-learn them, outlive them, and know more than they do.” – Henry Rollins
    Stick “church” in the right spots and it works pretty good.
    Come to Scum of the Earth Church.
    Glad you’re back.

  11. Kristin on May 11, 2018 at 1:54 pm

    Of all the things you’ve ever written, this is my HANDS DOWN most favorite. As a “non-critic”, although I appreciate the critics making me think and seek God on issues and areas I may have not pursued before, so often I feel judged and condemed by the critics to the point where I don’t always even feel safe or accepted to share an alternative thought or idea. There is so much talk of “tolerance” and yet I feel that there is little tolerance for the fact that I may have a different opinion. And that’s OK if we disagree. I don’t dislilke the “critics” because we disagree. Case in point, cussing makes me cringe and I personally don’t think followers of Jesus should use that language but I still read your blog and accept the fact that we disagree on this issue (and other issues) while at the same time I also agree with so much of what you write too). I so appreciate that you are willing to admit that sometimes the cynics are wrong too because I really feel like there are so many writers and authors I can’t read anymore because they are so passionate about their opinions that they can’t listen to an opposing viewpoint or consider that maybe they are wrong. Thanks so much for sharing this article.

  12. Kristin on May 11, 2018 at 2:03 pm

    Meant “cynic” not “critic”. 🙂

  13. IC on May 21, 2018 at 2:33 am

    I totally think we need a church of bacteria!!! Maybe I’m wrong, but I want to connect with cynics and doers. I want to revel in our pain and find a way to move on from there, backing Jesus rather than some dusty old church-formalities. Maybe after a while, we’ll create our own lame formalities, but what the hell, it’s better than being pukey whenever I go to normal church.

  14. Blog de nouvelles de Damaris on June 4, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    […] cynique. En soi, ce n’est ni grave ni mauvais et ça peut même être positif parfois.   ( Sisi, on sert pas qu’a râler) Mais  je dois faire attention à ce que ce cynisme ne s’intoxifie pas (trop) […]

  15. Cheryl F (Melbourne, Aust) on June 9, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    Yep, poop yoghurt – that’s now my ambition. Just discovered you and loving your straight-talking style. I’m now giving my friends permission to use the ‘poop yoghurt!’ warning phrase when they think I overstep the line into judgemental attack. It’ll raise some eyebrows from those not in the know, but having a bit of mystery is always a bit of fun too.

  16. Joseph Clarke on August 15, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve never felt so attached to a blog before. I also write about similar topics, and it’s so refreshing to know that I’m not alone. Thank you so much, I can’t wait to read more soon!

  17. Committed and Slightly Ostracized Christian on August 20, 2018 at 9:22 am

    Turn them tables over.

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