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Friday, July 10, 2015

"A Wilderness of Mirrors" (Mark Meynell)

TITLE: A Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting Again in a Cynical World
AUTHOR: Mark Meynell
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2015, (224 pages).

Why are there so many cynics in the world? Why are there so many depressing commentaries and reports shrouded in sarcasm?  While wanting to be real, have people gone overboard with their pessimism? Is reality so bad? This is what author and associate director of the European division of Langham Partnership, Mark Meynell seeks to find out. He does it by first listing down the many reasons why society is feeling so cynical about things happening in the world today. Calling it a legacy we inherited, with the 9/11 terrorist attacks being the "sickening turning point" from confidence to cynicism. We have been let down by leadership. Rulers keep committing the same errors of yesterday, focusing on grand strategies while the public perceive their own needs being ignored. The Afghan rebels that the CIA had previously armed have now become threats to American security. People feel manipulated when false evidence were used to justify the Iraq war. Leadership have also failed to keep pace with changing realities resulting in frustrations over failed promises and breaking infrastructures. We are also deluged with information, and more sinisterly, false information. There is rampant plagiarism, fabrication of news, and manipulation of public opinions. People become more suspicious instead of trusting. That is not all. Even the healthy industry are guilty of contributing to the declining level of trust. As medical care becomes more specialized, professionals and administrators find ways to push the responsibilities away, to structures, to legal phrases, to power positions. The challenge for medical, pastoral, and professional caregivers is set. What then shall we do?

Instead of girding up our loins and to rush off into some proactive correction, Meynell does something quite surprising. The second part of the book tells us to mourn about the lack of trust. In doing so, we soon realize that the key factor is ourselves. We may battle the cynicism but not win over the cynic. We may win the battle but lose the war. We may be making progress on the outside but fail to make inroads into the inside. There is in this culture a "profound reluctance to trust," thanks to the damage done in many legacies and failed promises. Meynell shares about his experience in a Ugandan seminary when he interacted with students who were refugees from neighboring countries at war. There, he encounter corrupt regimes, and injustice. Part of the lament includes fury against the indifference by other world leaders; the local self-interests; the lack of faith among fellow workers; and the terrible injustice occurring. At the heart of it all, he is furious at God for allowing all these things to happen in the first place. In order to deal with cynicism and the pessimism surrounding much of our society, one needs to deal with the causes of them all. This means letting one plumb the depths of the pain of conflict and the sufferings of warfare. This means learning to re-examine some of the "masters of suspicion." People such as Darwin who essentially dispensed with the need for a Creator; Marx who blames all economic problems on social behaviours; Freud for teaching us to go on a witch hunt for dark motivations; and Nietzsche for asserting that all truth is invented rather than created. By the constant dislocating the past from the present, we live in a fragmented society with fragmented people. We are immersed in a "us versus them" paradigm which causes us to be defensive or offensive due to our subjective fears rather than reality. This gets worse when suspicions become paranoia, and paranoia turns into conspiracy.

Thankfully, Meynell does not end here. In Part Three, he shows us hope for the future. This is also where the author shines. It starts with a conscious decision to choose to embrace the reality of life's paradoxes. It means learning to trust without forsaking the benefits of "hermeneutic of suspicion." Rather than to wear a hat of distrust at all times, approach situations by asking: "Help me find reasons to trust." Know that we are humans living in sin, but also sinners forgiven by grace. Trust not in power regimes or rulers but trust in seeking the truth that liberates. Let absolute love touch absolute power. Let God deal with the absolutes of life, and to reveal to us truth as we need it. Hope is also found in a community of integrity. Examples like Jean Vanier's L'Arche community where people are constantly encouraged to seek and to live out true community. Build and become a "Cross-shaped Church" that reflects every characteristic of Christ. Between success-driven activities and servanthood, choose the latter. Know that power comes with responsibility. Gradually, readers will learn about the whole biblical story that is the basis of faith and trust.

I enjoy the way Meynell builds up his case. He has identified many real cultural challenges facing us today. One of which is Postmodernism that has grabbed our heads. The liberation of thought has brought about a deconstructed, a dislocated, and a disconnected world. This is the authors summary of Postmodernism.

  • "Does It Matter" >> "Whatever oppresses" >> "Break the chains" >> "Whatever you choose" >> "Who knows" >> "Unknown future"

Postmodernism knows how and what to free ourselves from. It does not know how to equip us for the future. Perhaps, many people have been so adept at criticizing the Church, lambasting the legacy of the past, and condemning the Christianity of today. Have such critics done the same to their own worldviews? Are they being fair about their sarcasm? Is postmodernism something that will give them hope and trust for a better world? Can cynicism save them? Perhaps, in painting the world of now so bad, we may have missed out the promises of God for the future. This book is Meynell's cry of hope amid a wilderness of despair. Well researched and anchored on historical developments, plus a profound understanding of the modern cultural psychique, we have in one book a chance to reflect on the world we live in. We have a way to analyze the backgrounds of postmodern pessimism. We have a reminder to look into the mirror to see what kind of role we are playing and how we should play out the future.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.


  1. I really appreciate you taking the time to write such a thoughtful review! thank you

  2. Hi Mark,

    Thank you for writing the book in the first place. I hope more readers would pick up your book and learn from the insights.

    With care,