Sounding distinctly above the jet-engine-like roar of the cappuccino machine was the booming voice of a silver-haired man who wore a large chrome cross around his neck. Although his companion signaled (repeatedly) for him to lower the decibels and use his “inside-a-small-coffee shop voice” instead of his “outside drill sergeant voice” he paid no attention and transformed the cozy atmosphere into a torture chamber. Instead of whips and chains, this guy used words, lots of negative, vitriolic words and attitudes on everything from fellow church members to the government to society in general.
All the other customers left after it was apparent he wouldn’t shut up and it seemed no one thought it worth the effort to engage him and ask him to pipe down. I was stuck there, waiting for a ride thinking about what an awful witness for faith he was as he said “everything is going to hell in a hand-basket.” I wished that he would at least have the decency to remove the cross from his neck.
Many people of faith (conservatives and liberals) truly believe that the world and American culture is getting worse every day. They look for evidence that reinforces a fundamentally negative worldview. Some give up trying to make positive change and simply adopt an attitude of looking forward to the end when God will straighten everything out.
I’m reminded of the famous line written by William Safire and spoken by then vice-president Spiro Agnew in which he talked about the press. The same could be said of way too many church folk.
“In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H Club… hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”
As I look around the American church today, I think it’s clear that the Nattering Nabobs have taken over and are killing the church because we all come across sounding like angry old grumps who don’t offer one bit of credible good news.
Many Things are Getting Better, not Worse
According to a recent CNN article by Steven Johnson:
Over the past two decades, what have the U.S. trends been for the following important measures of social health: high school dropout rates, college enrollment, juvenile crime, drunken driving, traffic deaths, infant mortality, life expectancy, per capita gasoline consumption, workplace injuries, air pollution, divorce, male-female wage equality, charitable giving, voter turnout, per capita GDP and teen pregnancy?
The answer for all of them is the same: The trend is positive. Almost all those varied metrics of social wellness have improved by more than 20% over the past two decades. And that's not counting the myriad small wonders of modern medicine that have improved our quality of life as well as our longevity: the anti-depressants and insulin pumps and quadruple bypasses.
Americans enjoy longer, healthier lives in more stable families and communities than we did 20 years ago. But other than the crime trends, these facts are rarely reported or shared via word-of-mouth channels.
There’s Never Been a Better Time to Live
There is not idyllic past where everything was perfect. Think about the past, torture, slavery, inequality, slaves, the horrors of child labor, the nonrecognition of human rights, mistreatment of those with mental and physical disabilities, etc. Things are not worse but our expectations are greater, for the very good reason that the seed that faithful people have planted which calling for more user-friendly world have taken root. There have been famines and droughts; earthquakes and tsunamis; recessions and depressions; hurricanes and tornados but there has been so much goodwill and outpouring of support from across the globe whenever something likes this happens.
Mr Johnson says the media has to find ways of better telling the story of the good that is happening and find ways to accentuate it. I think the same is true for the church.
Positive People Doing God’s Work
Yes there is still much work to be done, there is much wrong with the world and it would be naive to think we are on a march of steady progress to utopia. It seems the first job of a person of faith is to focus on the positive action that can be accomplished instead of becoming just another Nattering Nabob. (I don’t really know what a nabob is, but I’m fairly certain that it doesn’t have much to do with discipleship). The mission statement of the church I serve was developed prior to my arrival and it helps us re-frame our thinking. Instead of believing that the world is falling apart, we can endeavor to be: Positive People Doing God's Work.