I was standing in the kitchen, talking to my husband, when he began to yawn. As most wives would, I teased him for his insensitivity. He replied, "I'm just being authentic."
In case you haven't noticed, the "authentic" label is not just for antiquities or ethnic restaurants anymore.
One Thousand Gifts author Ann Voskamp recently posted on her blog: "I have felt it—how no one wants anything of anyone but to be honest and real and to trust enough to take off the mask."
I have felt it, too.
I am neither 20-something nor the least bit trendy. Still, authenticity has worked its way into my conservative evangelical life, making a regular appearance in my conversations with fellow Christians.
Chances are you know someone who's blogging or talking about being authentic: authentic life, authentic relationships, authentic community, authentic worship.
Christianity Today's website designates "Authenticity" as one topic to classify its articles. Amazon.com sells more than 100 books under the search term "authentic Christian."
Authentic is one of those slippery, know-it-when-you-see-it buzzwords. When I queried Andy Crouch, CT editor at large and author of Culture Making, about the word's origins, he pointed me author Keith Miller. "His 1984 book The Taste of New Wine was a best-selling Christian distillation of both 1970s encounter groups and AA-style spirituality. I'm pretty sure his work was the catalyst by which authenticity became a specifically Christian aspiration."
So authenticity is transparency and admission of failure. It's the rejection of pretense and hypocrisy. It's truth-telling about all areas of life.
I believe Christians can do authenticity best. We serve a God who is always truthful. Never lies. Never deceives. Has, in fact, defeated the Father of Lies. But I fear that without biblical thought, we may accept an inferior and postmodern version of tell-all, tolerate-all authenticity.
So, I propose five principles for being an authentic Christian.
(1) Authenticity proclaims the reality of the Bible.
In Numbers 13, God commands Moses to send 12 spies into the land of Canaan. Forty days later, they come back with fruit and a report.
Ten of the men tell it like they see it: fortified cities, strong people, and a fear of being squashed like bugs. Two of the men tell it like God sees it: "Let us go up at once and take possession for we are well able to overcome it."
If the spies came to our churches today, which group of men would be praised as "authentic"?
Being authentic means that God and his Word define what is real.
Last Sunday, I had an imperfect experience of corporate worship. The kids were squirmy, the sanctuary was hot, and my mind wandered. That's the truth.
But the Scripture adds an even greater truth to my experience. God, the Creator, declares that worship is good. Therefore, by faith, I declare it good too.
Whatever we say about our experiences, our report must also reflect God's truth.
(2) Authenticity doesn't excuse sin.
Elizabeth Gilbert's phenomenally popular Eat, Pray, Love was the memoir of a woman seeking an authentic life. Its first page bears the motto: "Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth."
But for Gilbert, living authentically includes adultery, hedonism, blasphemy, and so on.
Gilbert's type of authenticity is easy for Christians to reject. Her sins are "obvious." But are we on guard against more subtle sins?
Recently, in "The Double-Reach of Self-Righteousness," Tullian Tchividjian cautioned a generation of Christians who say, "That's right, I know I don't have it all together and you think you do; I'm know I'm not good and you think you are. That makes me better than you.'" Pride is not authentic.
Selfishness, love of men's praise, lack of joy can all lurk, undetected, around our authentic edges.
I have a friend who wants me to be authentic. She wants to know about my arguments with my husband, the sin of my children, and what I dislike about church. For her, authenticity seems to involve not only removing my own mask but exposing the sins of others, too. This is unkind. Everything that is done in the name of authenticity must also be done in the name of a holy Christ.
(3) Authenticity seeks the good of the Body.
In 1969, Hillary Rodham (now Clinton) gave a speech at Wellesley's commencement. Her remarks champion authentic conversation about women's struggles in a male-dominated world.
I have to admire her kind of authenticity, for she was promoting authenticity for the sake of a common cause. She wanted these women to be authentic so that all women could have a better life.
Christian authenticity is likewise other-focused.
We live transparently, not to unload our own burdens and thus walk more lightly alone, but to intentionally share the burdens of others and carry them to the same grace that liberated us.
(4) Authenticity honors wisdom.
Christians seeking to be authentic rightly value humility. We recognize that we are broken.
But sometimes, in our quest to avoid the appearance of pride, we question our God-given ability to shine the light of wisdom.
Singer-songwriter Christa Wells expresses this in a song: "So friends don't take me wrong on those days when I sound too sure / Of the things I say." Wells writes insightful meditations on the Christian life, but she is intentionally tentative.
This habit has a long root in the spirit of the postmodern age, in which all truth is elusive and dogmatism is the unforgiveable sin.
But the godly life is not merely a pooling of experiences; it is the confident application of God's truth to individual circumstances. We have the Greater-Than-Solomon, who gives wisdom liberally to all who ask. We honor the Giver by using his valuable gift. Seeking wisdom and speaking wisdom must have a place in an authentic life.
(5) Authenticity points ahead to a perfected future.
Every pilgrimage has a final destination. Christians who are authentic about the struggles of this life should also be authentic about the perfection of the next.
In Lewis's The Great Divorce, travelers from hell step off a bus onto heaven's grass. It is so razor-sharp, so real, that it cuts their tender feet: "The men were as they had always been … it was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance, so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison." (p 21)
For Christians, our true self is found in Christ, and we are on a pilgrimage to become more like him. As 1 John 3:2 says: "We are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet appeared." A greater reality awaits.
So, like Israelites singing the Psalms of Ascent, we ought to look up from our dusty feet and ahead to the even more authentic glories of Zion and her King.
That's for real.
Megan Hill lives in Mississippi with her husband and three young sons. She tries to be authentic, but when people come over, she still hides the dirty dishes in the bathtub. She writes Sunday Women, a weekly blog about ministry life, with her mother.