I struggle with pornography. I am an alcoholic. I don’t care about the homeless. I have a hard time believing my prayers do anything. I love the movie Gigli. These confessions (except for the last one) have become common place in our Christian communities today.
In bars, coffee shops, apartments and even in church people are being authentic. People are sharing the corners of their hearts that for so long remained hidden. Communities are shedding light on areas of their lives that had for years been left in the dark.
Authentic community, authentic faith and authentic Jesus are the cry of the new generation.
We don’t want to be fooled anymore. We don’t want to be gullible anymore. We want to be us with people that don’t pretend to be something that they aren’t. Just add water relationships, plastic pastors and immaculate images have induced gag reflexes like that of Lloyd Christmas upon finding that Harry Dunne was sweeping Mary Samsonite, I mean Swanson, off for a day of skiing in Dumb and Dumber. We want flawed. We want imperfect. We want real. And this kind of corduroy rather than polyester faith is a growing and refreshing influence in the world today.
But as our generation has attempted to flee the “traditional” model of Christianity with perfect leaders, pristine theologies, hollow rituals and performance driven faith, it has not been able to fully evade it and it is now invading our most cherished value, authenticity. The banner of authenticity that our generation has waived is in danger of being tainted, soiled and becoming one of the very things that we are so desperate to escape.
The truth is, authenticity is becoming as traditional a religious method as singing “Amazing Grace,” uttering the Apostles Creed or avoiding tattoos and drinking. It is becoming a mindless ritual that holds no meaning. One that we somehow believe makes us more spiritual. It goes something like this.
A group of twentysomethings will be drinking a beer, talking about life, Lost and sharing their stories. Someone will begin to share about their past, perhaps describing the strained nature of their relationship with their father. Words like broken, wounded and bitter will get thrown around. As the individual finishes their story, the others in the room will feel a deep connection, believing that this individual has just bared their soul in an authentic way.
But what really happened, many times, is that this individual has just performed a powerfully hollow ritual. They have figured out what they can share in this community in order to make everyone else think that they are being authentic and making them happy. Simultaneously, they withheld all things that are difficult to share, anything that might bring discomfort, and anything that they are truly wrestling with. At the conclusion of the exchange they are accepted by the community, their heart has remained completely hidden, and they somehow believe that God is smiling. Herein lays the danger of authenticity and the proof that “religion” has infiltrated the ranks of authenticity.
We, as humans, always learn how to play the game of religion and spirituality. We adapt. It used to just be that we could go to church, memorize a few Bible verses, not party too hard in public and avoid Tarantino movies, and we were confident that we were OK in the eyes of everyone else. And now, we are simply adding authenticity to that list. It is simply lengthening the works oriented faith list that must be executed in order to make God and others happy.
Many show up at church to appease God and others. Many quote the Bible thinking it makes them a better Christian. Many vote Republican because they think God is red. And now many are “authentic” because they think it is what you have to do to be a good or relevant Christian. All of these things can be incredibly life shaping, when they are done for the right reasons. Ultimately, this is a question of motivation. It is the motivation that makes all rituals beautiful or hideous, freeing or enslaving.
So what if we were to be authentic because we wanted to be. What if we were to be authentic for the sake of being authentic? Maybe we ought to be authentic because our hearts are being changed from the inside out and we are set free to be our beautifully messy selves. For many of us that may mean that we are authentic enough to say, “I don’t want to be authentic.” (Wow, the chills just ran down my spine. That feels like blasphemy or the worst of four letter words.) But unless we are authentic, authentic is and will be nothing more than the new tradition.
Authenticity is something that we need to fight for. We need to fight for it by believing that authenticity does not make us better Christians, but it is a better way of life.
So what will we do? Will authenticity, something that is so beautiful, become another thing that people 25 years from now are trying to evade? Will it be simply one more component of religion?
I certainly hope not.