-ISMS: Idealism.

“Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.” —George Carlin

Do you call yourself a realist? And do others call you a pessimist? Was there perhaps a time when you were a romantic idealist, envisioning things that could be if only we believed and persevered towards them?

I struggle with cynicism on a daily basis, which is not a surprise confession among those who know me well. Recently I’ve begun to own up to my cynicism, which is really nothing more than pride packaged together with a know-it-all perspective and delivered by way of humor. I like to think of myself as smarter than others, and able to laugh about how things actually work as opposed to the common view of how things should work. Cynicism and its cousin sarcasm are insufferable to live with.

It’s actually not ignorant to be an idealist, as long as one’s ideals are true. Of course, being true to one’s ideals is the next step. We are as much what we do as what we say.

In continuing these intermittent series on “-ISMS,” I thought it helpful to label another one that gets both bad and good press. Ideals set before us as something to aspire toward and attain can be a great motivator, but we get into trouble when we foist our ideals on others, expecting them to measure up. Consider the ideal of community, as described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it has sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”

Continuing on to the end of the next paragraph:

“Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

“… The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, pages 26-27; translated with an introduction by John W. Doberstein.

In the Gospel the real is better than the ideal. Let God shatter your ideals of community, for that is His grace to you to bring you something far richer, more beautiful, and more nourishing for your soul.


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