- Phone: (612) 338-6500
- Mailing Address: 1501 West 54th Street, Minneapolis, MN, 55419
You’re probably thinking “typo,” or that I’m totally wacked, but I’m serious. Like tolerance, “authenticity” (or put another way, “being true to yourself”) is a core cultural virtue. To be honest I cringe when people talk about authenticity or “keeping it real.” First, it’s never been completely clear to me what being “authentic” or “real” means. Of course, if the only option is being “fake” then I’ll choose authenticity anytime. But does being authentic give me the right to be rude? Does it mean telling the cable company off when they mess up my bill (guilty)? Does it give me the excuse to slurp my soup, scratch where(ever) it itches or tell Aunt Martha her dress makes her look dowdy? Does it mean bailing on a friend or acquaintance just because they’re getting on our nerves. And does being authentic mean “telling all” (then watching people gasp in horror or think TMI).
I’m not arguing for a world of pretenders or posers. I want leaders who are real and genuine; friends who love me just as I am; to believe that when someone reveals something they are being true and accurate, not insincere and manipulative. I would hope that we’re all striving to bring consistency between who we are and who we say we are, a quality that is more accurately called integrity. But still I’m not satisfied.
The main reason the “authentic” movement troubles me is that to be “real” or “authentic” can mean indulging the sinful, fallen, inner core of our being. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he said (chapter 1-3) that we’re all dirty, rotten scoundrels. I know it’s not a popular sentiment, but it’s true. We’re all more sinful that we care to admit; a lot more sinful! “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Jer. 17:9
Frankly, being “authentic” or “real” often leads to destructive choices and dysfunctional life patterns. Paul, it seems, tells us to value something much different. “Inauthentic” may not be quite the right word, but it’s close. We need to come to grips with the notion that we’re born sinners and need rescuing. We need to see that offering ourselves to Christ is the key to the “good life”, not indulging the passions that lie naturally just below the surface. So, Paul would tell us, be inauthentic; don’t be true to yourself. Instead, acknowledge your sinfulness, as hard as that is, and be true to the person Jesus Christ has created us to be.
Our culture shies away from the idea of holiness and virtue. To refer to someone as holy is somehow off putting. But that’s exactly what God wants us to be. In Romans 6 Paul told his readers to “live a new life,” to be “done with” and “set free” from sin. He told them not to “let sin reign” in their bodies or be given over to “evil desires.” Instead, he told them to “offer every part of [themselves] to him as an instrument of righteousness.” So instead of being true to themselves, he told them to submit. Instead of being authentic, he told them to obey. The “benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” And authenticity? Well, if we give ourselves over to the sin that lurks just below the surface, it will, he says, “result in death.”
To live this new life means to start by acting like something we may not yet be on the inside. In Colossians 3 Paul compares it to putting on a new set of clothes. So here’s the deal; maybe we need to be a bit inauthentic; a bit phony; to pretend that we’re something we’re not quite yet. Will anyone be fooled? Probably not, but we can be transparent about that. So maybe the transformation we truly crave, to become holy, begins with just a little bit of inauthenticity.
NOTE: These reflections are inspired in part by the editorial “Strive to Be Inauthentic! The tortured Tom Branson of Downton Abbey” by Mark Galli.