The British rock group, Bastille, sings a ballad about the sudden termination of Pompeii. As he sees the city crumble, the lyricist unloads: “The walls keep tumbling down on the place we love…as the dust settles around us, we’re lost in the vices, the rubble or our sins.” As the destruction continues, the singer keeps asking, “How am I gonna be an optimist about this?”
Whether it’s our city, our nation, or our church that seems to be crumbling, we don’t want to let it tumble down. Even if we confess our vices, admit our sins, or take responsibility for the rubble of our poor choices, it is painful to see it fall around us. Many Americans who are embarrassed by politics or don’t appreciate the attitude of our president, similar to many Catholics who are ashamed of the church or don’t trust our leaders to guide us back to God, ponder similar questions about remaining optimistic. Our common tendency to let the dust settle is disturbing to some because, when dust settles, we often revert to business-as-usual but under more layers of ash. Though Americans don’t typically think that a new savior will arise from the dust, we are eager to rally around a shining politician who gives us hope or enlivening ideas that might become building blocks to restructure a promising vision. Some Catholics resist letting dust settle because it often dissolves into greater apathy, pushes religion to a point of irrelevance, and places God where He is no longer trusted. So how are we gonna be optimists about this?
At night when winding down or vegging out, I occasionally come across the TV show, Chicago PD. Its main character, Hank Voight, squad commander for a police intelligence unit, is unconventional, unethical, and unapologetic. He is crude, ruthless, and corrupt; he bribes, steals and lies. Though criticized by almost everyone, he is also admired because he gets the job done. He demands loyalty from his team. Though they don’t particularly like him, they know that they can learn much from him and they believe that Chicago is a better place because of his leadership. They neither pile-on with his critics nor rush to his defense; they remain loyal and, at the same time, leery. Though he admits his flaws, he has a very good self-image and is convinced that the city needs him. He reminds me of President Trump: whether you love him or hate him, you cannot deny his conviction in doing the job he was elected to do. Many citizens admire his ability to stabilize the economy and represent strength against foreign governments. Some of the same citizens despise his crude behavior and insults or question his ethics and morality, consenting that his style offers little, if any, dignity to himself, his office, or our nation. Nevertheless, I think that most Americans are proud of our country—some because of him and others in spite of him. Hank Voight is a fictional character with whom viewers sympathize, even if they hate him. I wish that more of us could sympathize with the president, even those who hate him.
Pope Francis was elected, in part, to take on corruption in the Catholic Church, facing similar challenges as Trump and Voight. Though I sympathize with church leaders, I wish bishops in the United States would more readily call upon others to lead us through the critical situations we face. But I’m gonna be an optimist about this and trust that the Holy Spirit will see us through. Even if the walls of the corporate church tumble down into dust, I trust that God will allow the church that was built on Jesus’ passion to rise from the dust, much as the first human rose from dust. I strive to be more like Voight’s team and focus on mission rather than personality. Criticism of leaders may carry some value, particularly if it helps restore dignity to their office but pessimism generally holds no value. Let’s be optimists about this. We can do that, in part, by sympathizing with the main characters.