Toxic Authenticity

Some people should never be told, “Just be yourself.” I have grown up in the church and have a nose for hypocrisy. Much of my life has been a search for authentic Christianity: people who are the real deal, who walk the talk, who are doers of God’s Word and not just hearers. I detest all religious priggishness and pretense, but there is a kind of authenticity that is toxic.

If someone told me to just be myself, I would have to ask, “Which self?” I am full of potential—not all of it good. I can discover, especially when tired, selfish impulses within me. When discouraged or depressed, I can speak faith-destroying words of bitterness—a wintry blast of despair. With withering wit, I can destroy every trace of hope in a young Christian.

Or I could get real and tell my brothers and sisters in Christ about their own shortcomings and immaturity. I could loose shot-gun blasts of authenticity and wound everyone around me. A part of me (one of my “selfs”) would relish crushing the naivete of young social justice warriors who think they alone understand racism and sexism. No one could accuse me of being a hypocrite or phony because my critique of myself would be even more merciless.

There is, however, this other self: one that rings true. As I pursue Christ, I am becoming the person God created me to be. I am a work in progress, so there is evil stuff around that claims to be me. What God says about who I am and what Satan says are at war in my heart and mind. When I say yes to what God says about me, I choose to do what is kind and speak what I know is true—no matter how depressed and discouraged.

It is here where Camus and Sartre get something right, our choices when fully owned create our authentic self. I have chosen to place my faith in Christ and God’s Word. I am existentially choosing this every day. Some might say that I am inauthentic because my choice doesn’t express every selfish or depressed impulse I have. But in Christ those impulses aren’t me anymore. I can be honest about them without serving them.

On a more down-to-earth level, I have learned from my wife and from Teresa, Peter’s fiancée, that being gracious to others is not being phony. Teresa has worked in customer service in many capacities and has a great ability to be charming and polite to even the rudest person—even me. It is simply putting others first. It is love.

It is too easy to excuse rudeness and meanness as simply being authentic or honest. We can easily let cruel and destructive words roll off our tongues under the guise of being genuine. We often justify this toxic authenticity as edginess, being a straight-shooter, telling it like it is, or having some prophetic license to wound.

When I stifle the reflexive motions of pride and vengeance by blessing those who curse me and praying for those who hurt me, I am truly myself—the self God created me to be. Choosing to be this new creature in Christ is the most authentic thing I can do.

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About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.

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