“Authenticity” has become a pretty hip word to use in the church scene these days. I gotta be honest, I use it all the time. It’s mainly because the word “authenticity” implies a sense of honesty with the reality of life. In our efforts to be real and genuine with the complexities of our current conditions, many of us have made it somewhat virtuous to speak out of our current reality. There is something provocative about hearing an honest and raw assessment of one’s self. We appreciate “being real” because it takes a great deal of effort and time for many of us to come to terms with certain imperfections in our own life. In watching a world pretending to be okay, we esteem the honesty of the “real” and “down to earth”.
If you’re like me, you probably grew up heavily motivated by certain obligations and moral imperatives. Whether it was intentional on your part or imposed by others, much of our lives were determined by objectives that we aimed to achieve. In the process, many of us have found that obligations have often forced us to ignore our reality. We would dismiss its relevance out of a fear that it may slow us down from getting to our destination. We had standards we wished we could have upheld and dreams we had hoped to reached, but after a few hits of failure and defeat we become disillusioned by the pursuit. We wonder why we tried so hard.
As we slowly discover our limitations we begin to realize the corroded state of our current reality. While keeping our head in the clouds we failed to recognize the ground we were standing on, the plight of our poverty and the warped shape of our character.
And so we’ve come a long way to finally accept the weaknesses of our life. We deserve to settle down for a moment and take a break. The journey to get here was a pretty exhausting one to endure. What more can we do at this point but to set up our tents and familiarize ourselves with who we really are. We might as well take the full tour of our reality while we’re here. But what I’ve found is that if we stick around, it doesn’t take long until we start idolizing the scenery of our messy lives. After pushing through its initial sting, we start reveling in its chaos. We wear jeans to church, swear a little more (to communicate our true emotions of course), and we probably cut off ties with acquaintances (they really weren’t true friends to begin with). We do these kind of things in reaction to a life governed by obligations and the easiest thing to do at this point is to ride that pendulum all the way to the other side.
For me, I found that my philosophy and theology began to shape itself around my unique quirks and current posture. Instead of sitting up straight I rationalize my crooked stance. When the realist in me begins to dominate my reasoning, every goal or ambition I have is quickly stifled by the weight of my reality. Instead of doubting myself, I doubt my aims. In my laziness I critique the disciplines, in my deceitfulness I dismiss integrity, in my sin I start doubting the purpose of purity. G.K. Chesterton puts it like this: “Nowadays the part of man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert — himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt — The Divine Reason.”
So in our efforts to be authentic, we need to be weary of defining ourselves merely by the current conditions of our life. We need to understand that the pursuit of a holy and righteous life doesn’t make us fake. The pursuit for righteousness doesn’t reside outside the parameters of our current state, it is interwoven into our identity. Christ is in us. He that lives within is the hope of glory. So there’s no need to restrain the holy ambition within us in order to appear authentic. We need to keep the hope alive amidst the complexities of life. We need to be able to hold the tension between our vision and our reality so that we can create a new condition that looks a little more like Christ.