This series at the Commons, we are going through our values. It has been a great chance to look at our values in our new context of the MCEC and after some of the changes our community has gone through.
This week, I explored Authenticity. Authenticity is a bit of a controversial value among some of our Commoners! Our values are important – they help guide us as a community and allow others to see what we’re about. I think the concern is that words start off appropriately in our context but then become consumerized and used in ways that alter their original intention. When they become “buzz words” they can begin to get overused and lose meaning. I think the solution to this is to find the definition for such words in our own context. Randy did this well in a few blog posts down about the phrase, “neighbourhood church”
We see this in the Bible. We know that stories written in the Bible make sense in their context when they were written thousands of years ago and for us to use those words now, we have to find how they are relevant in our current context.
I shared the above video at the beginning of the service. I hope it does not offend anyone as it is meant to poke fun at all of us trying to lead church in relevant way to our communities. We as the Commons fall into many of these stereotypes (as much as we try and think that we don’t!)
The Commons defines authenticity as a way for us to appreciate that we are all on very unique life journeys and that we don’t all need to look, act, or think alike to be able to learn and grow together. For us, it’s less about being authentic as a group … and recognizing that we are all authentic and unique people.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10)
So it is not by your own morality that you are saved, but it is by His grace that we are and that we get to have a relationship with God. We don’t have to try to prove ourselves – to be something we are not. We are not saved by our own morals but by the grace of Jesus Christ
I can’t talk about grace without referring to the Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. He writes:
We secretly admit that the call of Jesus is too demanding, that surrender to the spirit is beyond our reach. We start acting like everyone else. Life takes on a joyless, empty quality. Every Christian generation tries to dim the blinding brightness of its meaning because the gospel seems too good to be true. Jesus says the kingdom of His Father is not a subdivision for the self righteous nor for those who feel they possess the state of secret salvation. The kingdom is not an elusive, well trimmed suburb with snobbish rules about who can live where. No, it is for the larger, homelier, less self conscious caste of people who understand they are sinners because they have experienced the yaw and pitch of moral struggle. They are the sinner –guests invited by Jesus to closeness with him around the banquet table. It remains a startling story to those who never understand that the men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their imperfect existence. Perhaps that is why Morton Kelsey said,
“the church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners”
Manning goes on to say,
The good news means we can stop lying to ourselves. The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of self deception. It keeps us from denying that though Christ was victorious, the battle with lust, greed and pride still rages within us.
I think that some of us who struggle with the word authenticity see it as an impossible task. That we cannot be truly authentic, genuine and honest because then we would say hurtful things …. Truths and thoughts that we have been keeping inside because as children we were taught to turn to our bracelets and ask, ‘what would Jesus do?’ … Jesus would be kind and not say hurtful things …
But another way to look at it is that we can acknowledge that we are often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful. Sometimes I am jealous and selfish and say rude things about people. Manning says, “when I go to church I can leave my white hat at home and admit I have failed. God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don’t need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to him. I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness.”
My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it
Mike Robbins is the author of ‘Be yourself – everyone else is already taken’ He sees Authenticity as a continuum between Phoney — Honest — Authentic
He says its about being honest … not necessarily saying every tiny thing that is on your mind but expressing your honest opinion … but then we worry – what if we hurt someones feelings … so you swing back to phoney – you try to say things instead that will not make them upset… Here our intentions are good but we are not being ourselves.
He says there Is something beyond honesty – authenticity. Authenticity takes courage … willingness to be vulnerable – to let people know who we are and how we feel.
Authenticity is the opposite of phony – its honesty minus the righteousness and plus the vulnerability
I want to side bar on vulnerability for a moment. Lots of us know Berne Brown – a research professor at the University of Houston. What she has found in her research is that, “Vulnerability liberates us from our erroneous and insatiable obsession with perfection – thinking we have to be perfect and can’t make mistakes, have flaws, or be human.
In other words, being vulnerable allows us to let go of the pressure-filled, stress-inducing, perfection demands we place on ourselves.”
“Vulnerability is also the fundamental element of building trust and connection with other human beings. Our ability (or inability) to be vulnerable is directly connected with our ability (or inability) to be authentic.”
“Authenticity is what gives us freedom to be ourselves and be comfortable with who we are, and it’s also what gives us access to connecting with other people in a meaningful and genuine way. This is the true power of authenticity and when we embrace it, even though it can be uncomfortable and scary at times, we give ourselves and those around us one of the most important gifts of all – the real us. There is no destination called authentic. Authenticity is a courageous process and a way of being, not a possession or an accomplishment.”
Authenticity as a process helps me see it as a more realistic and appropriate value. It’s not something we can check off our list – as if you say “Yup! We got it. We’re authentic! What’s next on our Christian to do list!?”
And I think that’s why using the word authentic in a consumeristic model is not appropriate. It is over used and can end up hurting people.
Matt shared some thoughts, saying that Authenticity as a word is a signifier for how we justify spending our money to purchase items that gain status within our social groups.
And when it is used this way, we actually end up hurting others.
For example when the farmers market was being renovated – the city tried to advertise it as making way for authentic foods – under the guise of progressive values of living healthy, building community and preserving the environment … this ended up denying some local families their spots at the market since the market has long featured vendors selling imported foods – Asian fruit, Colombian coffee, Polish baked goods, etc.
Andrew Potter who wrote the Authenticity Hoax and he talks about how “we live in a world that is increasingly dominated by the fake , the prepackaged, the artificial: fast food, scripted reality TV, and facebook “friends”. But people everywhere are demanding the exact opposite, heralding “authenticity” as the cure for isolated individualism and shallow consumerism. Restaurants promote the authenticity of their cuisine, while condo developers promote authentic loft living and book reviewers regularly praise the authenticity of a new writer’s voice”
“We seek authentic in a multitude of ways, looking for a connection to something deeper in the jeans we buy, the food we eat, and the music we listen”
“We are looking to replace the God concept with something more acceptable in this world
which leads people down a multitude of paths that include the worship of the creative and emotive powers of the self. The search for increasingly obscure and rarefied forms of consumption and experience; as well as sometimes a violent hostility to the perceived shallowness of Western forms of consumption and entertainment.”
Now, we are judged for not our consumer patterns “Oh, that’s not organic? Oh that’s not fair trade” I don’t think this is what makes us authentic. I see authenticity instead as who we are in Christi’s eyes.
“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)Lets go back to this line:
My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it
That is hard for many of us. We think we have to fix ourselves before God can do work within and through us. This is not the case. Robbins writes, “There’s no amount of self improvement that can make up for a lack of self acceptance. We live in a culture that is obsessed with self improvement. We turn on the TV, look at magazines, take classes, read books, listen to others, surf the web and more – constantly getting various messages that if we just fixed, changed, and improved ourselves a bit, we’d be better off.”
Shane Koyczan is a spoken word poet. He speaks from a very dark and difficult childh hood. I share this because I think many people can resonate with his emotions. He shares this:
“Stand up for yourself … hard to do if you don’t know who you are. We are expected to define ourselves at such a young age. If we don’t do it – others do.
And at the same time you are being asked who you are, you are being asked who do you want to be.
You Are told you must somehow become what you are not, sacrificing who you are to inherit the masquerade of what we will be.
You accept the identity the others will give you.
He says, I will love myself despite the ease with which I lean towards the opposite“
Brown speaks on connection as well. She says that “connection is why we are here. It is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. People who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging.”
I believe we can find this through Christ. That feeling that we are loved and that we do belong. “But it takes the courage to be imperfect. The compassion to be kind to yourselves and then others. There for you will have connection as a result of authenticity. It’s a willingness to let go of who you think you should be to just be who you are
If you work from a place that says “I am enough” you stop screaming and start listening. You are kinder and gentler to the people around you and kinder and gentler to yourself” (Brown).
If we can read the word of God and truly believe that He loves us as we are – Just as we are – We can in turn have such a huge impact on our community and in the kingdom.
Its looking at yourself and knowing you are authentic because God made you in his eyes. You don’t have to try to be authentic – you already are.
The Rich and the Kingdom of God – In Luke 18 we’ve got a verse about little children and Jesus saying ““Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” He puts this beside a verse with a rich ruler asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Children contrast with the rich man simply to show that you don’t have to DO anything … because there is no question of children having yet been able to merit anything. The kids have not done anything to deserve it. Jesus’ point is that there is nothing that any of us can do to inherit the kingdom. We must simply receive it like little children.