Crankiness. Most people find this posture rather annoying or just plain boring. Yes, there is the occasional H. L. Mencken, whose curmudgeonly writing is entertaining partially because of its cranky tone. But Mencken has a rare capacity for the mot juste, which makes one willing to suffer through page after page of cantankerousness to find the inexpressible one-liner that will knock one’s socks off.
However, crankiness ought to be rare rather than routine. Yet, it seems that in the writings of the two vocational groups to which I serve, crankiness is routine. I am a minister in a small, somewhat strict Presbyterian setting, and a classical Christian school teacher. I’ve read somewhere that there are something like 107 different classifiable feelings. But in the writings of some in these settings, all of these feelings are easily reduced to one: crankiness.
I’m writing this because this is a temptation that I’ve often succumbed to. I’m repulsed by it. Most of us find complainers insufferable, but we often notice that one is rejected from certain affinity groups without the proper undertone of complaint.
I understand the reason for crankiness. Pure and simple, the reason is a misappropriation of conservatism. Not 21st century American political conservatism, which is ill-defined and cranky in it’s own way, but classic conservatism. Classic conservatism at its root entails a sense of loss, a mournfulness that the tried and true heritage of the past is being rejected in favor of the new and novel. Classic conservatism sees an arrogance in this rejection of the past, a lack of humility and teachability, and a dishonor for one’s fathers and mothers by those in the present age.
However, this crankiness quickly turns into a requiem for the past and a scorn for the opportunities of the present. Yes, true conservatives do and should long for a celebration of the best of the past. However, what is required is not the proverbial turning back of the clock but the joie de vivre of seeing the opportunities of the present day and a creative imagining of a preferable future and the faith-filled steps and processes to bring this preferable future into place. A robust theological and philosophical vision must be brought to bear to face the “fallen condition focus” of the environments in which people serve.
Crankiness is not a fruit of the Spirit. It’s not enough to grieve the virtues of bygone eras. Biblically, the only “good ole’ days” were the ones before the Fall. While many “white-bread” American Protestants look back with longing at the fifties, one does not need to think too hard in questioning if our African-American brethren experience a similar longing. Crankiness is an unfortunate lapse into the flesh and a blessing of what is more properly called the lack of joy in our lives. Crankiness is the work of the flesh that the Christian must put off. Joy is the fruit of the Spirit that we must “put on.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice.” While this is easier said than done for a habitual pessimist like myself, this is the imperative of the gospel. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is what allows us to rejoice, even when temporal circumstances may not bring happiness or optimism. As long as God is present, all things are possible. This is what is cause for rejoicing, rather than bygone virtues or present optimism.