These days, the difference between being realistic and being cynical doesn’t seem to be that great. Indeed, it often appears that realism is cynicism—that an honest and clear perspective is one that does not trust, that assumes the worst. That’s not cynical, is it? That’s just really the way things are!
I have always identified the difference between a realistic person and a cynical one not as a difference in what each one sees (they see the same thing), but as the difference between seeing the same thing with and without hope. Maybe that makes me an optimist?
Here’s the thing, as a person of faith, my hope isn’t necessarily located within what I see. I don’t look at politics, for example, and locate my hope in a resurgence of this ideology or that one—this majority or that one—this person or that one. If we can only elect the right person … the right partisan majority, we can turn this thing around. Yeah, right. I don’t look at the church and locate my hope in the affirmation of this authority, the dominance of that theology or the adoption of any particular set of propositional beliefs.
It’s not that ideologies and theologies, beliefs and majorities, authority and leaders aren’t important. It is, however, that I locate my hope in my faith in God’s ongoing work among us. I locate my hope in the stories of God—stories of transformation and redemption, of possibility and wonder—stories I see still unfolding within and around me.
My “realism” is faith in what is ultimately “real.” And hope is the assurance of things believed in, the conviction of what’s been seen and experienced and is thus still anticipated.