Authenticity

“Is that real?”

How many times have you asked that question about something? How many times have we heard that question asked? It’s amazing really. Especially in today’s world where computers can dupe even the most qualified experts, reality is tough to decipher.

It’s kind of funny, really. What got me thinking about this is the whole scandal going on in Major League Baseball right now with Barry Bonds’ record and steroids. I got to thinking about it and realized that’s really the question everyone’s asking about baseball right now, “Is that real?” I love baseball. I’m even one of those few Americans hanging on to the sport that lulls on and can stand to watch it live. We’re making our second trip to Opening Day at Jacob’s Field next Friday to root the Indians on to another season. Hopefully, it’s a family tradition we can keep up. I love baseball, and I’m really pained to see all this stuff going on.

To think that all the baseball I watched when I was actually cognizant of what was going on might have all been a farce. A sham. A lie. It wasn’t actually this great evolution of hitters and pitchers, but instead was a pharmacuetical advance coming to reality. It wasn’t real.

Our culture is now caught up in false realities everywhere. Everyday people log onto this very Internet for a false sense of reality, often creating the lie themselves. People aren’t whom they seem. Stories aren’t real. Pictures aren’t real. We can’t trust anything. Not even baseball!

We are naive if we believe that this has no effect on our faith in God and our intention to reach those searching around us. They too are searching for something real. Isn’t that essentially what our human search is all about? We want something real; something worthwhile. Too often the church settles for shallowness and emptiness, passing that onto onlookers.

Sadly, American Christianity has created a false sense of reality within the realm of faith. In our churches we ask the question, “Is this real?” Prayers and sermons are shallow, reflecting a superficiality created by mass-market Christianity. True faith has gone the way of The Prayer of Jabez and the Health and Wealth Gospel. Solutions are proposed through small groups, mission statements, vision statements, and catchy logos ultimately creating a facade of shallowness which so many American Christians never break through.

I am not immune. I constantly fight the challenge of being watered down and overcome in the shallow Christian sub-culture we’ve created. Christian music, books, and coffee shops create as much of a sidetrack as the other things we harp on: sex, druges, and MTV. We’ve simply embraced this popular culture, put a Christian spin on it, and assume that we’ve cleaned up our act.

The church needs a long seminar on spirituality. I need a long experience in spirituality. Corporately . . . personally . . . we must come alive to the depth of spirituality. Prayer, reflection, and mediatation remain absent in much of our teaching and preaching. We hooray, horray people into an excited frenzy on Sunday mornings through appealing worship styles, but leave their souls often untended and untouched.

Before anyone, “Amen!” too quickly, by reflection and meditation, I’m not joining the “more Bible” clan, because most people who whine about not enough Bible being taught/preached want a fundamentalism brought to the front which will only stagnate and harm. We need more biblical literacy to be sure, but we need to open our minds wider to what God may be trying to tell us, and through whom he may be sending the message.

I am as guilty as the next. I must pursue and find depth in the midst of a culture that settles for shallowness, band-aid fixes, and quick thrills instead of relying on the amazing grace and steadfastness that God has always offered us and continues to provide even today.

As Soren Kiekegaard has so brillantly written about, “God is the only whole, satisfying, unifying reality in the universe. Only God is one, and he alone encompasses the good. To desire anything outside of God is not to will one thing, but a multiple of things, a dispersion, the toy of changeableness, and the prey of corruption! No desire can be fully satisfied when it is outside of God, and the individual becomes not merely himself but thousand-minded, and at variance with himself.” (as summarized by Richard Foster in Freedom of Simplicity – p. 71-72).

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5 thoughts on “Authenticity

  1. Good thoughts. Very timely. So much of Christianity (at least from my perspective) is a mile wide and an inch deep.If people would go deeper into Christ, we wouldn’t have to beg them to be involved, teach classes, live holy lives, share Jesus with their neighbor, etc.–

  2. Hey, Adam. I certainly agree with what you say regarding the need for depth in our relationship with God, but I believe you take unfair shots at a couple of things I am hoping you can expand on.Are you saying that small groups only provide an illusion of depth? If so, I must disagree. Small groups are where I’ve consistently established the relationships closest to what God intends. We pray for each other, encourage each other, hold each other accountable, and work to bring others into these same relationships. I realize not all small groups share this same experience, but that is the fault of the individual(s) as opposed to a shortcoming in the concept of small groups themselves.I also feel like you’ve thrown out the good with the bad in attacking the Christian subculture. While I agree that Christian books and music should never be an end in themselves, they are a marvelous aid in helping folks walk the Christian path. Throw out this subculture and all we are left with is a pop culture whose values are often in conflict with our own. Is it not better to have these items as an alternative to the decadence we see and hear most every time we turn on the TV or radio or are looking for something to read in our spare time? We certainly fail if these things become substitutes for a relationship with God, but for many folks the Christian subculture truly serves to enhance that relationship.Thanks, Adam. I appreciate the discussion.

  3. Just a few thoughts…1.) Trust is such a huge issue in this society. There is a mindset that you can not trust anyone and Satan uses that to his advantage. So much so that we will assume the worst about the motives and heart of anyone that doesn’t agree with us. I fear our lack of trust of other people and more importantly God are the real reason we don’t experience “spirituality”. 2.) Shallow and emptiness are in the eye of the beholder. What may seem shallow to one, may be just what another person needs. Once again..that lack of trust causes us to throw out critical labels very quickly because we don’t trust people. Being critical has become a right of every American and it’s tearing our churches and culture apart. 3.) Theological depth is overrated. I’ve been reading a lot of blogs written by the “theological” and I find several of them sound just as critical and unmerciful as the ones they want to condemn. I often fall into the group they are condemning. My response is always I would never want to talk to this person because they don’t seem loving or compassionate. They wouldn’t listen to me anyway because I am just not that deep. Maybe there is a reason that Jesus wanted our faith to be child like. I also find that most of the entries are about the thoughts of men (what men say about God and Jesus) and rarely include personal experiences of faith in practice. Perhaps I just haven’t found the right blogs. But I would like to see some that after they discuss radical ideas usually worded as “the church should be doing this…” then go put it into practice in his/her own life that very week and share the results. I guess I hear too much theory and not a lot of practice. The practice probably goes on, it is just not written about. 4.) And last one. I liked the quote especially the words he used…”the toy of changeableness”. I am not opposed to change and would like to see it happen in many ways in the churches. But it can be a toy and sometimes a drug…where a person’s faith is dependent on the church changing in a way he agrees with. Just some thoughts. Thanks for letting me share them.

  4. OK . . . I only have a second, but I wanted to thank you guys for your comments, and your criticism. I think it is all valid. I am currently in this period of my life, and my faith, where I am struggling through this stuff. As for Christian culture . . . it is a great “positive alternative” as one Christian radio station I listen to refers to it, but I sometimes question the integrity of the art. Copies of something real is cheap. Copies of popular culture (which I agree is cheap) is doubly cheap. I guess it’s that little left part of my brain calling out for the church to produce and express artists without the right brained confines we’ve so often restricted. Think of the great Hallelujah chorus. It transcended culture. It was Christian, yet it was progressive even for the culture. Contemporary examples that I see are Jars of Clay – cutting edge (at least they were back in the day), Christian, but yet trendsetting, Mel Gibson sort of did this with The Passion. I’ll expound later, but I’ve got to go to a track meet. Suzie, I appreciate your concerns and think they are valid too. It’s something I’m immune to because my personality leans towards skepticism and sarcasm. Much of the rhetoric out there is just that, but you are right in saying that action is happening. I just had lunch with a youth pastor at a UMC who asked that question on economic grounds, “Who’s moving beyond philosophy and paradigms and actually doing something?” I met another guy through this blog who lives in the Hilltop area of Columbus (not a great part of town mind you) by choice to live among those poor and downtrodden who Jesus was so concerned with. Xenos Fellowship here in Columbus is doing amazing things in that area. I love stressing the praxis of all this, but don’t forget the importance of depth and backing. It’s what led liberal theology astray fifty years ago. It is the fallacy of the social gospel. If we settle for action only and don’t stress the “meat,” we are easily decieved. As for the condescending tone you sense, hopefully not from me :-), I know that’s a real challenge for many in the emergent vein of thinking. I’ve heard some guys struggle with that. Emergent cohorts are encouraged to be productive and initiative-driven rather than criticism and, well, bitching and moaning cliques which they often are. The discussion moves forward. Thanks for your correctives. I’ll let it simmer some more and post when I have more than five minutes. Thanks guys. Barry – good to see you check up on me now and again . . . 🙂

  5. Sometimes I used to think you sounded that way, but getting to know you has helped me realize you don’t always mean it that way which could be the case with the others I read. I just don’t know them so of course some of the rhetoric comes across harshly. A lot of the blogs I was referring to are ones classified as emergent. Even the idea of cohorts kind of turns me off. No one leaves their churches (which I like, the last thing we need is more churches), but instead they just meet in these groups of others who are equally enlightened to talk about how terrible their churches are and then try to secretly infiltrate the churches they presently intend. I know that is a simplistic and extreme description and I certainly know that all are not that way. That is just my gut reaction. It seems very elitist and “secret club” like. Even McClaren’s blog title “A new kind of Christian” seems somewhat gimmicky and divisive. Of course, I have only read his blog and not his books which I know I should do to really understand him. I also think the emergent movement may face a difficult challenge in seeking to avoid being institutionalized. There will be groups out there wearing the name emergent that don’t necessarily reflect emergent thought. Kind of like what the churches of Christ face as well. I just wonder is this whole postmodernism thing real or is it like Y2K. Just another overblown trend of thinking. David and I worked with inner city kids for five years. They didn’t really think much about whether they were generation y or whatever the title was then. They thought and talked about staying alive and staying faithful in the face of the world. And what worked with them was one message from our church…”You are loved and you are safe.” They came for that. I remember seeing these rowdy teenage boys, some who had been diagnosed with “ADD” sitting through some of the most boring services. They put up with it because they knew the people involved loved them. Thanks for the reply.

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