Authenticity is the too Difficult, Give Me Plastic

Authenticity is a buzzword these days. Not that it is a bad value, but it is interesting that there is so much talk about something yet we all cannot seem to acquire it. In economic terms, there is a market for authenticity yet we cannot seem to meet the market demands. It makes one wonder if the decline of Church participation correlates with the rise of the "authentic" craving?

Many of my millennial peers are in pursuit of authentic experiences. Where previous generations may have collected stamps or baseball cards or porcelain frogs, many in my generation collect authentic experiences. We sit around and listen to one another's stories of travel. We brag about who has eaten the most authentic food types. We talk about what is "real" and what is "plastic". We compare notes on what new technology is rising in order to help us stay connected and (even better) give another platform for us to share our authentic experiences. 

Despite our expressed desires, we millennials are not good at authenticity in ourselves. We are just like any other generation that has come before us, we are more interested in finding our tribe (those who walk, talk, live and more like us) than finding authentic community. When our search for authenticity leads us to people that are just like us, we can be certain we are in a fabricated world full of mirrors pointed at ourselves. 

True authenticity requires that we engage with the world and not just our tribe. Because only when we engage with others that are not like us do we being to discover who our true "authentic" selves are. As Joan Chittister said in Wisdom Distilled From the Daily

"It is in community where we find out who we really are. It is life with another that shows my impatience and life with another that demonstrates my possessiveness and life with another that gives notice to my nagging devotion to the self. Life with someone else, in other words, doesn’t show me nearly as much about his or her shortcomings as it does about my own."

And so, if we really desire authenticity the first step is not to find those who are like us, but those who may not be like us. Authenticity does not begin with another, it begins within. Could it be that the desire for authenticity is not because we don't know if the other people or groups in our world are "plastic" or "real", but that we don't know if we are.

Law, Prophets and Wisdom - the order matters

Recently it was shared with me that the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) is divided into three sections: Law, Prophets and Wisdom. This was not news to me when I heard it, and it may not be news to you as well. What was news to me was that the order matters - Law then Prophets then Wisdom. The order matters because it reflects the maturation process. 

When we are younger we need clear boundaries to help guide us in ways to grow. We need the "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots" because as children we may not know what can harm us or the community. Every person that works with children knows this. When we are in this stage, if we do not have clear boundaries then we and society can run into chaos (see the biblical book of Genesis which takes place prior to the "Law").

As we grow we begin to question, push and challenge the Law that we received. This is sometimes seen as rebellion, and sometimes it is. Many times however this stage is one like the prophets who call out hypocrisy, call us to live what we said how we were going to live, get back to the roots/cause/why as to what we are doing. We see this in adolescents and teenagers. This is also the stage when we think we know the right way and that everyone else is "doing it wrong". The Prophet stage at it's best helps us know how to break the rules properly and at it's worst this stage can lead to resentment and arrogance. 

Finally (hopefully) we mature into the Wisdom stage. This is the only stage that is not a given in life. It is a given that you will have people tell you what to/not to do. It is a given that you will challenge those around you. It is not a given that we will mature into a stage that incorporates and transcends both stages.  While the Law comes with birth and the Prophet comes with growing up, Wisdom comes through intentional practice and learning. In the Judeo-Christian scripture it says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Put another way, humility is the beginning of wisdom. 

While these stages are on a fluid continuum - we can progress and regress in our maturation - it is the work of the spiritual life to move our roots toward wisdom. If we want to change the world, we cannot decree it or shout at others we can only model it.

That is where the rub is, if we model ways that we desire others to be then we have to be humble - a way of being that is driven by forgiveness and love than judgement and truth. I fear that our time is motivated to live like the later more than the former. 

Lent Advice From the John the Dwarf

We all have demons that, like any uninvited guest, take up too much of our time. In an effort to lessen the effect our own demons have on us we turn to the activity of talking about how much more awful the demons of others are.

"I may drink myself dumb, but I am not doing anything illegal."

"I may yell at my spouse, but I am not hitting them."

"I may engage in observing pornography, but I am not cheating on my spouse."

"I may gossip, but it is only to my close friends" 

"I am not perfect, but I am better than that person(s)."

Whatever the demons are we all can choose to live with them or work to defeat them. If you are looking to defeat a demon in your life, expose your false self, adknowledge where you are not doing so well, etc. then consider the advice from John the Dwarf:

“If a king wanted to take possession of his enemy’s city, he would begin by cutting off the water and the food, so his enemies, dying of hunger, would submit to him. It is the same with the passions of the flesh: If a person goes about fasting and hungry, the enemies of his soul grow weak.”