June 4, 2019

Risking Authenticity

Over the past few years, I’ve leaned into what it means for me to live as authentically as possible in every area of my life. By no means is this a practice that comes easily or without fear. Authenticity – to open ourselves to the world as we are – can be scary. It requires vulnerability, humility, and courage. What will people think? Will they still like me? Will I be welcome?

The scariest place to do this can be the church. For all the talk of being a welcoming place where we worship a loving God, many folks do not experience church as either of those things. I have friends and acquaintances who want nothing to do with the church for this reason. They think Jesus is pretty cool, but often they don’t see people who call themselves Christian acting like Jesus. What they see is judgment, rejection, and hate. To compound the matter, when enacted by people claiming Christianity, these three things are justified by certain theologies and interpretations of scripture. Essentially, “God tells me it’s okay to hate you,” or, “My beliefs allow me to discriminate against you and here’s my supporting argument for why you should be okay with that.” Who wants to be authentic when the risk is finding out that self-revelation can mean rejection?

My lens is that of a Queer Christian, non-binary, but seen as a woman for most of my life in the church. I am blessed to know people across a wide range of LGBTQ+ identities and religious experiences. The hurt caused by the church in our community is palpable. We also have incredible stories of triumph; so far, mine is one of them. Also, I am in long term recovery from alcoholism and addiction. The same could be said of the recovery community as of the LGBTQ+ community when it comes to church. Some of the most popular meetings are on Sunday mornings. People often find more acceptance, love, and welcome in a recovery community than they do at church.

In recovery, we know we are broken and in need of healing. The brutal self-honesty required to get and stay sober forces us into an authenticity we didn’t know we needed. We have accountability in our peers who won’t co-sign our B.S., but who focus on lifting us up, reminding us who we really are, and pointing us to the texts which contain words which give life to our recovery. One of our principles is about attraction rather than promotion – when people see how our lives change, they want to know how we do it. When a newcomer shows up and finds a room full of people being authentic and learning to enjoy life, they see a different way is possible. Then, as we say, we love them until they can love themself.

Being supported in my authenticity in a place where I know I will not face judgment, rejection, or hate gives me courage to lean into being authentic in the church. Even when it is scary. This is true for others I know who rely on a community outside the church to love them as who they are when the church won’t.

As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement, I see us moving closer and closer to a church where authenticity is welcome and wanted. We have a long way to go, but we are making progress. Collectively we are starting to confront the complicated history of our church, such as our involvement in the slave trade. We are working on what it means to live into our baptismal vows and Christ’s commandments when it comes to dismantling racism and fully including the LGBTQ+ community in the life of the church. We are entering into conversations about how to make our liturgy more inclusive of non-European/Anglo cultures. And we couldn’t have shifted toward any of these movements without someone having the courage to be authentic, show up as their full self, and take the risk of living their authenticity into their church life.

More and more of us dare to take the risk of authenticity. Others see how our lives change and they want to know how we do it. The church sees how this builds up the kingdom of heaven and takes steps to find its collective authenticity. We admit that we are broken and in need of healing. We work toward brutal honesty. We step up to accountability, refuse to co-sign our own B.S., focus on lifting up our members, remind them who they really are – beloved beings made in the image of God – and focus on the texts which give life to our tradition and our life together.

Authenticity is aspirational, but it can be actualized, one day at a time, one step at a time. The more people who take the risk of bringing their full selves to the church, the closer we can get to the church being a safe place for all people to come and experience the love of God. The more the church leans into authenticity, the closer we can get to the image of the feast envisioned by Christ, everyone gathered around the table, breaking bread together.