Living the questions and trying to think theologically... and practically. Learning that these things are more synonymous than I once thought.

Location: Dallas, TX

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Messiness + Genuineness = Authenticity

Yes, I know that starting with a math problem looks frighteningly similar to my beloved pastor’s book ( If you haven’t read it go to http://www.relevantbooks.com/ and look at the sample chapter for Understanding God’s Will. Then order it for yourself :) Anyways, this is the easiest way I could think of to explain exactly what authenticity means to me. Let’s say you’re coming over to my apartment for a visit. If you are a cute guy, or someone else I feel I must impress, I would frantically clean my bathroom, throw my dirty clothes in the closet, and make the neatest piles possible of my mail and important paperwork. I would want to make a good first impression, especially if you’re a single male. Maybe this is just me being southern, but you generally want to put your best foot forward for company.

However, if you are my good friend Josh Brewer, who I know by now that I will never marry, I don’t care what my house looks like. I’m just glad to see you. You know I’m not the neatest person in the world. You’ve seen my unmentionables lying on the floor in my bathroom and my kitchen sink brimming with dirty dishes. The same would be true of my biological family. There are some people in life that you can let you guard down with. You don’t feel the compulsive need to hide all your mess from them because you know they’ll love you in spite of it.

Stan Grenz, one of my favorite theologians, says that ultimately, and I am paraphrasing here, being a Christian should be like being at home. I can quite honestly say that I am no where more at home than when my heart is aware of the love, presence, and person of Jesus Christ. Sadly, I can also say that there are so many churches that neither give the semblance of home or the warmth that comes from a family that truly loves each other. The good face put on for visitors is all too often a front to disguise the mess that is beneath the surface.

My wish for the Church is that we would give people a place to feel at home. A place where it is safe to let down your guard knowing that you’ll be loved, protected, and helped rather than being judged, looked down upon, or excluded. Sometimes church people make others feel that life is perfect and that we should always act perfectly and put on a perfect front no matter what. The truth is that life is really messy and faith can be too. For me authenticity means not expecting people to “have it all together”. It means letting people be real about who they truly are, not disguising hurts, doubts, questions, or struggles, but feeling comfortable enough to share them. This does not give people a free pass to sin, but it is actually the first step to helping people in the battle against sin- finding people who will love and help you. To grow in our faith, we’ve got to learn to be real about the messiness in our lives. We must allow people to do this.

How can our churches become places that feel like home- places of confession, places where we share our struggles, and places where we can voice our questions and doubts and feel safe in doing so? I definitely don’t have that all figured out, but I think it’s the right question to be asking. I hope it’s the question that churches will begin asking more and more.


Blogger Justin said...

A couple of thoughts:

Why is cleaning up the house for someone you want to impress not "authentically you?" Why can't your desire to impress someone be an "authentic" part of whom you are?
I get your point, but I think it's fair to say that it doesn't necessarily follow...correct? I guess my point is that the analogy falls a bit short if seen through to its end - but, don't they all? :)

Secondly, why is this desire to promote messiness such a big deal in the emergent circle? My brother and I discuss this a lot. Both of us like the emergent attempts and I don't really have a problem with the whole "messy theology." It just seems to me that messiness is a virtue rather than a problem. It's become very trendy to invoke this as part of one's journey to the cross, almost to the point where we accept it as a given without ever being completely devastated that it is so. We should be devastated by our messiness, right? Rather, lately it has become a virtue...which I don't think Yaconelli and others intended at all. I appreciate the fact that we as Christians aren't too pious to recognize it, but, sadly, it seems that it has become fashionable.

And, bear in mind, I sense that you recognize this - I'm not disagreeing with your post. It was a just a passing thought.

Sam put me on to this. All the best.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Janalee said...

I'm sure my analogy does fall short. Like you said the generally do. It is authentically, as a southern woman, me to clean house for company. But a clean house on a daily basis is not authentically me, yet I see you point.

However, I don't always equate messiness with virture or sin. I think the word that is closer to the mark would be reality. For example, my dad died two years ago, this coupled with other instances gives me a lack of trust in males. Is this sin or is this just a messy result of realtiy? Messy I think is the way you are, the way most of life is- not orderly, random, complicated, not always perfect, and yes at times sinful. There is a tendancy, especially in the south, to just pretend like everything is fine and dandy with life when it's not. Is it really ok in most Bible belt churches to voice that you are struggling with certain issues and temptations, that you question what you've always been told, or that you family is having serious problems, and more than anything you just need the family of God there to love you? No. We often choose to ignore reality. We'd rather not know about your dirty laundry or gossip about you behind your back. At least this has been my experience. I think this is what emerging churches are trying not to be. I think we're trying to see the whole person and not only the parts of one's life that seem tidy. Does that make any sense? I don't know that I'd say the whole idea of messiness is something we're trying to promote, but acceptance of the whole person is, and yes that is messy. Hope that helps. Thanks for your comment. I've enjoyed reading your blog.

9:16 PM  

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