Authenticity* is hard, requiring vulnerability, openness, and an acceptance of the fact that we are all on a journey made up of unfulfilled dreams, dreams often inauthentic to who we would be if we could each just be the me God made me to be. To be authentic is to rip away the Band-Aids of “orthodoxy” or Church-ianity and be real with ourselves and each other.
Society calls us “lepers,” the way ancient cultures called lepers “lepers,” but we are lepers without the disease and that marginalization is raw, as raw as bears mauling boys for calling out a prophet: impiety tartar. I would use raw words, but Christian sub-culture has left me profanity neutered unable to achieve the cathartic release of swearing. The journal of my journey will be muted, my trumpets of profanity stilled by the privileged pious.
The journey we are on is personal, but also communitarian. Nobody can take the steps I am taking for me, but other people are walking too. We may not be going to the same place or doing the same thing, but we are united by our going.
I used to try to walk in the footsteps of other Christians, but I discovered an important fact: they were not me, they did not have my legs, and were not on my journey. Wherever I end up, it will be where I need to be not where someone has decided I should go. This will not be lonely, because when we all find our places, our special spaces, then we will all be together through being apart.
The acceptance that my pain is justifying, because it is my pain is difficult. It leaves me vulnerable to further marginalization. A professor friend just posted on the novel “Moby Dick” and referenced Sea World.
I have never been to Sea World. Most Americans have not been to Sea World and many people cannot afford to go to Sea World. For other Americans, the sight of other beings trapped into performing is sickening, but my friend gave no warning before using her analogy. I was forced to recall the one time I might have been able to go to Sea World, my entire family went, but I was forced to stay back working.
I felt “not there” and have never been able to share in the memories. When family pictures of the day at Sea World are shown, I am not in them. I am there by my absence, as so many Appalachians experience, we are the negative space of American culture: seen by not being there, forced into a stereotyped “almost heaven” by a consumer culture.
Vulnerable. I am left vulnerable by sharing this story, because so many people will not link, like on Facebook, or comment. Once again, in the failure of so many friends to give that simple “thumbs up” I will be the missing Appalachian male. It is here that the Gospel is best found, not in the seminary, the books, or the creeds, but beside my bed as I kneel coming to terms with the fact that I have never seen Shamu and that I shouldn’t see Shamu even if I could.
The journey cannot be avoided. I am in the middle of it and I must accept the road is the end while being the middle and the beginning. A wise woman once said to me: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Just writing this for me might be that step and for you might be your own step into a realized, authentic life. Dream a dream like Joseph or Jezebel, but dream your dream not mine.
*I would like to thank Matthew Lee Anderson for inspiring this post with his list of words he was sick of reading in blogs. He never writes this way, really. I do (he says . . . .elipsing) This is a parody, nobody, not even me, is ever quite this trite or heretical. Buzz words can outlive their usefulness… Authenticity is very good until it becomes another way for me to become inauthentic.