Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The discipline of authenticity

The past two years have been, for me, a practice in the discipline of authenticity. When you experience a significant loss, you have, broadly speaking, two choices before you regarding your pain: to stuff or to share. There are, of course, a plethora of subtle degrees in between the two choices, some healthy and some not, but the polarizations are clear enough. One of the central questions posed to me by my loss was, "Will you be real?" The answer came, not in an automatic rational response, but deliberately, over time, through experiencing the landscape of grief and maneuvering the uncharted terrain within myself and in relationship with others.

This may not come as a shock to some, but I found the most challenging place to practice authenticity, at times, was in church or among other Christians. Though this may resound with cynics, with people who have been burned or turned off by church people, I do not write as one of those people. I love the Church; I am bound to the Church as I am bound to my family. There is no perfect church, just as there is no perfect family, but in some churches and some families there is a fuller degree of openness and authenticity than in others.

But I do not wish to make this singularly about grief, or my grief. I merely wish to make a point, that in the same way I craved authenticity as a person in grief, I crave it now in my everyday life, and I have a strong hunch that there are many who share this craving. I have developed almost an intolerance for falsity, beginning with myself and also in others, but particularly within the body of Christ, the Church. We cannot afford to be disingenuine. The rest of the world is searching for what is genuine and real and they - and collectively we, as human beings - can sniff out a fake from a distance. People with pain and questions and brokenness walking into a church need to see something other than a bunch of people who have their stuff together all the time, who cannot talk about their trials without wrapping it up with a Christian platitude and tying it with a "praise the Lord" bow. We need to move beyond merely talking about being people in process and actually allow ourselves to live it out in relationships with others.

I know many are already moving in this direction. I look forward to the day when the Church as a whole has made our peace with uncertainty, developing a level of comfort with not having all the answers for pain and suffering and injustice. What healing we will see when we've laid aside our bandaids, no longer fearing the pain of others, or for that matter, our own pain. To acknowledge pain and suffering and weakness is not to minimize, but to accentuate, faith in the strength and character of God. In fact, I believe it takes faith to allow the these emotions and experiences and questions to co-mingle.

I do not have a list of Christian disciplines that I practice religiously, though I am aware of practices that I intentionally seek to incorporate in my daily life, flowing freely from intimate relationship with God. Of these, it has become my aim, when I am around other people - those who know Christ and those who do not - to be authentic. To allow others to see that I love Jesus, but I am not immune from doubts and fears and anger and depression and heartache; that, though I may be shaken, I do not crumble. Not because I am "so strong," but because Christ alone is the solid foundation of my life and he cannot crumble.

If such is the case, what have we to fear in being real? In being fully real (something I have not yet achieved, but strive for), we experience a greater depth of being alive, not sheltering ourselves from the shared human experience of struggle and suffering. When I witness this authenticity in the family of God, it causes me, not to retreat in disillusionment, but to praise God for his incredible grace and faithfulness to his people, that he has not left us alone, not left us without hope, but lives among us and within us as a living testament of his glory and redemption. When people truly behold this kind of community, I believe at the very least there will be a curiosity and, hopefully more; hopefully, a desire to become part of this unique family, the hands and feet of Christ fleshed out in sweat and tears, joy and pain, joining with God in his beautiful, redemptive work among all of creation. It is my heart's cry to be part of this kind of family, this kind of faith community. Let it begin here, with authenticity.

I'll close, echoing Tolstoy's candid words in a letter he wrote:

Attack me, I do this myself, but attack me rather than the path I follow and which I point out to anyone who asks me where I think it lies. If I know the way home and am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way because I am staggering from side to side!

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