On optimists, pessimists, and patriots

Last week I published a little post on the current controversy surrounding my alma mater, North Greenville University. My take—that NGU got the Gospel wrong—resonated with a lot of people and ruffled the feathers of a few others. Then there were the ones who thought I was being played in the hand of Satan. In other news, I love the Internet!

I wrote that post, critical as it was, as a friend of the university, not a foe. Let me riff off of Chesterton to explain what I mean.

In chapter five of Orthodoxy, Chesterton writes of optimists, pessimists, and patriots. He is talking about places, countries, and the universe, but I want to apply it to our discussion of North Greenville University. Chesterton described two curious men running around during his childhood, the optimist and the pessimist. To the optimist, everything was right and nothing was wrong. To the pessimist, everything was wrong and nothing was right. The optimist “thought everything good, except the pessimist, and [the] pessimist found everything bad, except himself.” The problem for both men was their detachment from the thing in question; they each lacked both loyalty and love.

He goes on to use Pimlico, a small area in central London, as an example:

“Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing–say Pimlico. If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be fore somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles.”

The man who loved Pimlico was a patriot. The patriot loves Pimlico for no reason, therefore nothing can make him cease to love Pimlico. He is enough of a pessimist to change the dreadful place and enough of an optimist to think it worth changing.

So what does this have to do with North Greenville? In our discussions of the current situation we need to know if we are optimists, pessimists, or patriots. To the optimist, nothing NGU does is ever wrong. These are the connoisseurs of Kool-Aid who have never once looked the least bit sideways at anything at NGU. If North Greenville does it, it is good. If you criticize it, you are bad. That the university is in the sty it is currently wallowing in is due to having too many optimists in chairs that should have been occupied by patriots.

To the pessimist, nothing NGU does is ever right. This group is represented by the disgruntled ex-students who got expelled and now bash NGU on Facebook every chance they get. Also included are the hyper-secularist jihadis who drink craft beer in the West End and make themselves feel better about life by rejoicing in the calamity of Christians. The pessimist would have been shouting profanity from the rooftops even if the trustees would have dealt openly with the President’s departure the very hour they learned of the alleged misconduct. Nothing will ever satisfy the pessimist.

According to Chesterton, the problem with the pessimist is not that he chastises, but that he does not love what he chastises; he has no primary loyalty to it. The problem with the optimist is that, “wishing to defend the honour of this world, [he] will defend the indefensible. … He will be less inclined to the reform of things; more inclined to a sort of front-bench official answer to all attacks, soothing every one with assurances. He will not wash the world, but whitewash the world. “

When a patriot looks at North Greenville he sees both glory and grime, not one or the other. He is like the guy who knows how good egg rolls go with chili-cheeseburgers and he knows that he will smell like the Thai and I for three days. He loves the university whether or not it appears glorious and he loves it in spite of the grime.

When I wrote How North Greenville Got the Gospel Wrong, I wrote as a patriot. I did not write because I want NGU to be hated, but because I want NGU to be holy. Not because NGU is bad, but because it is good. Not because I don’t care about the university, but because I most certainly do care.

The pessimist will not like that I care. The optimist will not like the way that I care.

So to the pessimist I say: I love North Greenville. I love the longtime, faithful professors who have served students for decades, taking little pay and many headaches. I love the staff who understand their work as a calling from the Lord. I love the coaches with whom I worked for three years—they care about wins and they care about souls. I love the students who have gone out into every domain of society under the Lordship of Jesus. And yes, we have our quirks—those tacky painted PVC-pipe fences and the no-crossing-the-curb-at-the-girls-dorm rules and the twelve names on every building, just to name a few—but they are our quirks. Worse, we have our sins. But let us not crucify the university. Let’s crucify the sins. And forgive them.

To the optimist I say: the manner in which the President’s departure was handled was—by all appearances and what is publicly known—well below board. He was given a hero’s farewell and six-months pay and no one was the wiser to the accusations leveled against him and the real reasons surrounding his retirement. We were all led to believe—though no one with two wits about them actually believed it—that the President had, of his own accord, decided to fade quietly into the night. This was the latest episode in the culture of unaccountability at NGU. We are children of the light and should not abide such shade.

However, I am very appreciative of the current move toward greater transparency. I am genuinely grateful that university officials are meeting with various constituencies to explain the university’s actions. I pray that these conversations are fruitful and forthcoming and move the university toward healing. But I am going to be listening with one eyebrow raised so high it will appear that it is trying to high-five my cowlick. These are the exact same individuals who went on radio silence for eight months. And now they are going to spill the beans on themselves? Color me skeptical. I mean, when you hold all the information, it is quite easy to paint a soothing picture—in this case one of those creekside mountain churches by Thomas Kinkade, but without the spooky ghost-glow emanating from the inside. When you own all the paints you can hide those creepy orange hues in the corner of the attic in a box labeled “legal reasons.”

Chesterton’s patriot hated Pimlico enough to change it and loved it enough to think it worth changing. North Greenville is worth changing. Let’s start with a culture of accountability and transparency. Let’s start that with a full explanation of last January.

I will conclude (for the time being) my thoughts on the current situation at NGU later this week with a post titled: North Greenville and the Inexhaustible Mercies of Christ.



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