On Becoming a Post-Cynical Christian: Reflections on Wild Goose East

July 1, 2012 — 18 Comments

Wild Goose East ended a week ago and I’ve been reflecting on the experience. I went to the festival guarded, having heard that the previous year’s iteration was marked with tones of bitterness and cynicism toward institutional forms of Christianity, unimaginative rehashing of failed theological liberalism, and exploration of a bland and consumerist non-distinct “spirituality.” I was ready for more of the same, yet hopeful that the theme for the festival, “Exile and Return,” might offer a way forward.

In that regard, I was not disappointed. There were still plenty of angry people, many of them rightful so. They’ve been injured by “people of faith” and have a hard time reconciling the hurt they’ve experienced with a community that is supposed to be marked by God’s love for the world, in the world. For many, the anger developed into cynicism toward Christianity and “the church.” These people are in exile and sometimes it is helpful to be able to call it what it is.

Yet God doesn’t keep people in exile forever. Exile is not a destination, it is a waypoint. Cynicism can serve as a helpful defense mechanism to keep one from further injury. However, stay there too long and cynicism quickly turns into a vicious bitterness. I know. The land of exile is, more often than not, an uninhabitable wilderness. Even when it is not, it is manageable only through seeking shalom

Ian Cron’s remarks on becoming a post-cynical Christian were particularly helpful. Drawing from his own recent exilic experience, Cron spoke about the need to move through cynicism into becoming “people of the resurrection.” People find their way to Christian cynicism via many different routes: legalism, the vulgarization of Jesus and the Gospels, the business of church, anti-intellectualism, a general fatigue of certitude, and many others. At some point, however, each of us needs to ask, “Do I like what I’m becoming?”

Cron did not. He got to a point where he didn’t want to “live in Saturday anymore.” Here, Cron was referring to that day inbetween Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The immediate trauma of the crucifixion was gone but the joy of the resurrection was yet to come. Saturday was the wilderness in between.

Instead, he wanted to become a “resurrection person.” This is something easier said than done. Moving out of cynicism and into the resurrection requires grief. It’s much easier to be angry than to grieve. Anger gives the illusion of control whereas grief requires a certain abandon.

We invent great excuses for staying cynical. We confuse cynicism with enlightenment. It becomes our duty to remain skeptical and cynical so that we can unmask hypocrisy and the abuse of power in the structures around us. We see it as a service we offer to those poor, duped folks who have yet to see the underbelly of “religion.”

But prolonged cynicism more often is a mask for laziness and an evasion of responsibility. Instead of being the change we want to see in the world, we snipe about the forces working against lasting change and the hidden motives that drive apparent change. We totter on the edge of becoming conspiracy theorists. 

Cron found help in the life and work of St. Francis of Assisi, especially the Saint’s eponymous prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

For me, this is “return.” Cynicism may be the new black, but black is still the color of mourning. Cynicism should give way to grief, and grief makes it possible to experience resurrection. The way to return is through the resurrection.

Wild Goose offers a pathway of return. People in exile show up in droves, but among them are those who are moving through exile and toward return. I’m thankful that some of these conversations were elevated at Wild Goose and hope they continue to reverberate. Lord knows I need them.






Anderson Campbell


  • Suzannah Paul

    i appreciate this more than you know. that st. francis prayer i meditated on just yesterday, and it struck me as particularly potent. the way out is through, but we have to turn our focus out and up. stagnant naval gazing kills us and everything around.

  • Steve Knight

    Great reflections, Andy! Thanks for posting this. I’ve added this post to my Wild Goose Festival 2012 pinboard on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/knightopia/wild-goose-festival-2012/

  • Paul

    Thank you for stating this. In searching to find away other than Evangelicalism i have found so much hatred and cynasism form several of the leaders of this “movement”. I have read and heard so musch of what they dont like or no longer believe in but have found very little stating what they do like and do believe in,(there are a few blogs that i will no longer read beacuse each post stands to point out what is wrong with the established church. Its been a very discouraging road, The established church has given me a great heritage that i just cant turn my back on. Thankfully, there area few that are moving on and moving past their selfish hurt and “emerging” from it to a better way.

  • Anderson Campbell

    @Suzannah – Thanks for your comments. You are so right that “the way out is through.” Cynicism is something I think I’ll always struggle against. But it demands struggle, doesn’t it?@Steve – honored to have you read and comment. Wish we could’ve connected more at Wild Goose. Seems our communities overlap in a couple places. Thanks for the pin!@Paul – I understand completely. There is a lot of sniping done in the name of “truth telling.” While some of it is needed, much of it just serves to further widen divides. Hang in there. I promise you that there are plenty of pilgrims on that same discouraging road who are neither content with the way things are, nor are they content with just complaining. There are a few of us, rag-tag as we are, who want to sojourn on in hope.

  • Paul

    and Steve Knight is one of those that is rising above. Thank you Steve for holding my hand thourgh this dangerous intersection.

  • AngryNick

    Thanks for calling me out. As a Catholic kid a few decades ago, I always considered “St. Frank” to be the kind of guy I wanted to be when I grew up. There is no room for anger, cynicism, or complacency in that model. I’ll have to work on that. Keep it up!

  • Anderson Campbell

    @AngryNick – Good observation. We experience anger, cynicism, and complacency, but must choose to move through them and be all those things we say are missing from Christianity.

  • Elizabeth Chapin

    Nice post. Will you be going to Wild Goose West and do you think the tone will be much different in the West Coast iteration of the event?

  • Anderson Campbell

    @Elizabeth – Yes, I’ll be at Wild Goose West (and have my wife and daughters along as well!). I think that there will be some similarities and some differences in tone. In my experience, the cynicism and bitterness of former evangelicals toward Christianity is particularly potent in the Southeast U.S. (where I was born, grew up, and lived most of my life). Wild Goose East drew from all over the country, but there were a lot of folks from within a day’s drive of the site in North Carolina. The different spiritual climate in the Pacific Northwest will lend a different tone. I expect that there will be more talk about practical out-workings of justice and creation care. There will likely still be angry, frustrated, disillusioned Christians there, but I’m thinking that it will be to a different degree. I guess I won’t really know until Labor Day Weekend rolls around! You coming?

  • paula

    Thank you. God knows I needed to read this.

  • Anderson Campbell

    @paula – Glad God could use this post in that way. + 

  • Elizabeth Chapin

    Yes, I will be there with my friend Michelle Foster from GFES! I’ll miss most of the first evening, but am looking forward to it. Will you be hosting a GFES booth?

  • Anderson Campbell

    @Elizabeth – No, I won’t be. I expect that someone will, though. I’m helping to organize the Sacred Space opportunities.

  • Deanna

    Thank you so much for sharing this. You have put all that I have felt over the last few years into words, I am turned off by most seminary students(sorry) due to this fact “We invent great excuses for staying cynical. We confuse cynicism with enlightenment.” Thank you!

  • andrew

    reading this just makes me ANGRY!!!! . . . no just kddin. “not a destination” great post.

  • Anderson Campbell

    @Deanna – too right. seminary is sometimes a breeding ground of cynicism.

  • Anderson Campbell

    @andrew – thanks for reading. honored to have you comment on the piece πŸ™‚

  • Kim

    Thanks. I really needed to read this today.