This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

This morning I had a great conversation with a friend of mine, reminiscing on our old Sunday School class. We talked about how much we enjoyed discussing the variety of subjects we engaged with as a class. We talked about how exciting and at times uncomfortable our discussions were but also how much we stretched our spiritual legs in the process. It was a class I thoroughly enjoyed teaching but also just being a part of. The discussions were always open, honest, and tended to create or expose a lot of growing edges for those of us in the class.

For me, it was more than just a great class. It was a place I could truly be myself. I could explore the bounds of theological thought without worrying about it devolving into arguments. We didn’t always agree but we did always approach the time together as an exploration. I felt free to express some of the theological ideas I had been studying and refining, things that would be challenging to the status quo—which by the way, I think needs some serious challenging considering the state of the church. It was a place where I wasn’t afraid of repercussions or retaliation. I was just traveling with my fellow explorers. It was my theological/church safe place.

After our conversation this morning, I realized why it was my safe space: I could be my authentic self. I could say, ask, think the things out loud normally reserved for my headspace alone. So much of our conversation is guarded for the sake of propriety. It can be easy to lose track of the person you are for spending so much time ‘protecting’ the people around you or avoiding disagreement. Not that anyone should go out of their way to be offensive or antagonistic. We should, however, find a balance and be the people we are inside and out. The word for this is authenticity.

Authenticity is an interesting word because, like so many other words, it has defined, redefined, and post-defined. I found half a dozen definitions or ideas about the word from half a dozen different philosophers in one academic word search. For me, authenticity is being the same person with other people that you are in your head. Authenticity is the true self on display. This reminds me a scene from the show Friends where they are playing a game and one of them asks what another’s favorite movie is but follows it up by asking what their real favorite movie is. Authenticity is answering with the second answer first. 

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be authentic. 1 Timothy 1:5 reads, “The goal of instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” These three things make a good description for an authentic person. You cannot be the same person inside and out and not exhibit these characteristics. And when we are authentic people will know it, as they will know when we are not. I think our survival instincts may help us in this way but more than that, I think the Holy Spirit within us is a sort of authenticity filter. We recognize the difference in people being real (authentic) and people being fake.

The question to ask ourselves is How authentic am I? Am I the same inside and out? Or do I need to some work to reconcile myself to myself.