Monday, February 7, 2011


I loved Pastor Darrel's sermon this weekend.  First, I thought he did a great job.  But more than that, his topic--authenticity--speaks loudly to me.

I am the woman who likes to look as if she has everything together.  I put this in the present tense because although my behavior may not reflect this, I'm afraid I could go back to that place very easily.  Sort of like those 12-step programs where addicts who have been clean for ten years still identify themselves as addicts.

At any rate, in the old days, I didn't want people to see my weaknesses so I kept a healthy distance from my friends.  And for a long time, I didn't make a lot of effort to get to know new people because they might get a glimpse of my true self.

I shared my faults--once I had fixed them.

And I'm sure that people knew I wasn't perfect.  After all, no one is perfect.  I just didn't want anyone to know my flaws.

Secretly I criticized myself brutally.  I could never be good enough and so I didn't take a lot of risks for fear of failure.

And my criticisms extended to other people.  Not able to give myself grace, I couldn't give grace to others either.  On the surface, I was "nice."  I had been taught if I couldn't say something nice, I shouldn't say anything at all.  That didn't stop me from judging.

And I just assumed people would just me too if they really knew me.

Basically, I had no authenticity.  You could also say I lacked love.

I've just finished reading Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer, so the ideas from the book still swirl through my mind, connecting with Pastor Darrel's sermon.

Spencer writes:
I love outbursts of honesty.
If you are a typical adult, you live most of your life in a world of carefully contrived presentations and controlled expressions.  You say hundreds of things you don't mean, and you understand that others do the same.  "How are things?" "Great! How about you?" "Oh, I can't complain.  Hey, let's get together some time."  "Sure, that would be great."  
Social conventions, corporate culture, and the customs of casual human relationships all require that we sacrifice a good deal of honesty.  We're expected to smile, nod, and utter glib and meaningless comments every day.  If you choose to undermine this social contract, you will stand out, and you'll pay the price for doing so.   From Jesus to Martin Luther King Jr. to artists such as Woody Guthrie and Derek Webb, honesty that gives the lie to the conspiracy of pretense is a risky ride.   
This might explain the appeal that religion still holds for so many people.  Religion provides a blanket of insulation for those who are happy to go along with the superficial social conventions.  Religion tells us how to act and what to say at life's difficult moments.  Religion often provides a script of polite, stoic, pious, and acceptable behavior to insert into moments of great questioning, pain, and disappointment.  You don't know what to say? Just read the card, and we'll all get through this skit called life.  (162-163).
The thing is, there isn't much "life" when you live like that.  There isn't much connection to other people.  And at some point, you'll shut down and accept that this is all there is, or you'll begin living a secret life that offers a little excitement, or you'll get serious about being honest and authentic.

After shutting down for a few years, I got serious about my God questions. I got serious about honesty and authenticity--with God.

And as I grew in my authenticity with God, I felt God urge me to start a women's small group.  I looked at the group as a Bible study and focused primarily on content, but over time I began to see that in order to help women know God, I needed to get to know them.  And in order to know them, they needed to share authentically.  And for them to feel safe sharing authentically, I needed to share authentically.

What a round about way to honesty!

I found out that my weaknesses and my struggles are more powerful in helping people meet God than any Bible teaching I can ever share.  Granted, I look at these struggles through the light of God's Word, but it's the story that makes the Scripture true.

Spencer claims that the "life of faith ought to be marked by walking in the light of honesty.  It's particularly strange when we talk about the realities of sin, confession, repentance, and the cross but whitewash it all in favor of the nice face of socially accepted, domesticated religion" (188).

We can't live out our faith unless we quit pretending, unless we learn to live authentically.  The problem is that authenticity is messy.  Lives are messy.  We risk being judged.  We risk being rejected by people who don't understand us.  We risk conflict.

We gain authentic friends.  We gain true fellowship.  We gain life and love.  We gain connection to other Christ followers.  When we experience God's love and grace through other people, we learn to give that love and grace away.  Spencer observes that
Christians, no matter what their big struggles are, have a commonality in Jesus Christ and the gospel.  We're sinners saved by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone.  Our commonality invites us to be distinctively ourselves.  Jesus creates a community with honest spirituality, with no reason to adopt a false persona to protect ourselves.  We all fit in what Jesus offers us in the gospel.  We are free to be real, honest, and vulnerable.  (167)
Authenticity, honesty, and vulnerability allow us to see we are not alone in our struggles or our sin.

More than that, once we see we are not alone, we challenge each other, encourage one another, and pray for one another.

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