We curmudgeons have many role models. I included quotes from W. C. Fields and Andy Rooney in my last post. Lewis Black is a more contemporary example in the same vein. In the fictional world you have Statler and Waldorf (the old guys in the balcony on the Muppet Show), Maxine (the grumpy lady from Shoebox greeting cards), Archie Bunker, Grandpa Abe Simpson, and, though I have never seen the show myself, Hugh Laurie’s character on House. We have no shortage of people to look “up” to.
Unfortunately, one of the things all these people or characters have in common is their undiluted negativity. Their entire focus seems to be on what is wrong with the world, rather than what the alternatives might be. They can be classified as misanthropes. One of W. C. Fields’s most famous one-liners is, “I am free of all prejudices; I hate everyone equally.”
The point of curmudgeonliness is, of course, to mine one’s dissatisfaction with the world as it is for comedic effect. But that’s not enough for me. As a person of faith, I can’t stop with the world as it is. I must look ahead to the world as it should (and, by the grace of God, will) be.
Liturgically speaking, we are smack in the middle of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, the festival of Resurrection. And I believe in resurrection. Not just the resurrection of Jesus, but the great resurrection that will take place at the consummation of all things. Resurrection speaks of renewal—a new heaven and a new earth where the old things have passed away and behold, God makes all things new. Resurrection speaks of life that overcomes death, of hope that flourishes even in the midst of despair.
That’s why I call myself the Hopeful Curmudgeon. I am a curmudgeon because I look around and see that the world is a mess. People do ridiculous, stupid, hateful, and cruel things every day. The strong trample the weak and very often blame them for getting trampled. The poor get poorer and the rich don’t give a damn. Greed and violence and self-centeredness hold sway in individual hearts, in corporations, in communities, and in nations. Even in many places of worship the values of the world seem to carry greater weight than the values of the kingdom of God.
I see all these things and can’t close my eyes to them. I am neither a Pollyanna nor an escapist. This is the world where I live. This is the heritage I have been bequeathed. It is my duty to look at the world with clear eyes and not try to wish its ugliness away.
But it is also my duty to act in whatever feeble way I can to change the world—to live the countercultural values of the kingdom of God, to shout about injustice and refuse to shut up until enough people have joined the shouting to be heard, to see just as clearly as I see this world a world that has been redeemed and renewed. That is what makes me hopeful.
I close this post with the words of another Hopeful Curmudgeon, and one of the finest songwriters I have ever come across, the late, great Mark Heard. This is from his 1984 album Ashes and Light, from a song called “Washed to the Sea”:
I'm not a man you might call optimistic
Sometimes it pains me to see what I see
But truth is a river that is sober and slow
And tears will be washed to the sea
And tears will be washed to the sea.
Amen, Brother Mark. Amen.