Some Thoughts on Authenticity

Two conversations I've had in the last week compelled me to write this blog post. I had the first conversation with myself (not unusual) upon reading a NYTimes article this weekend lamenting the proliferation of the word "authenticity" as a badge of honor and something to be sought after. I didn't know hyping your authenticity was a cultural trend but the author cited multiple instances recently in which celebrities, politicians, and other people famous for being famous claimed authenticity as a principle character trait. Like you probably, I find it hard to be authentic and be aware of it at the same time. The second conversation occurred last night with a ministry colleague I respect who knows our church very well. He reflected on our ability to appear authentic without trying too hard. Having read the article earlier in the week, this made me happy.

The tremendous advance of technology, wars that last forever against movements instead of nations, the emergence of a global economy, and the pervasiveness of the internet are all forces that will define my generation. Some people have made careers describing the impact of these forces. Others have made money promising to tell us how to defend against them. And still others promise to teach us how to take advantage of them. But there is one force that doesn't get talked about much - surprising revelations of duplicity (the opposite of authenticity) by individuals and institutions.

Consider the heroes that have fallen in the last 15 years: a skirt chasing President, Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, Bernard Madoff, steroid injecting cyclists, sprinters and sluggers. Consider also the institutions: Enron, Ohio State Football, and even the church - thanks to hypocrisy that every one can see but us.

Andre Agassi, an icon of my generation, sold cameras in the 90's with the tag line "image is everything". In 2009 the tag line came true when he admitted that his trademark mullet was a wig. The frequency of these revelations makes the next betrayal less surprising than the last. The shift we've embraced to defend against the inevitable malaise that comes from getting your heart ripped out over and over is that we now expect the worse until we're proved wrong. Once upon a time our default posture was to assume authenticity first. Now we assume duplicity and marvel when the other shoe doesn't drop.

I think churches that don't recognize this shift and admit that the trust barrier has been lifted for anyone claiming to know the Truth will continue to be surprised when merely opening their doors on Sunday morning (or evening) is no longer enough.