“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth…'” – Jesus in John 8:32
April, 2005 – I am relaxing on the beautiful grass in the open area of my college under the shade of cherry trees. It’s not like I need the shade. The Spring sun is pleasant and a welcome warmth after a long Winter. The yearbook has come out and everyone is milling about in the festive atmosphere looking over the new collection of memories. Its cover design looks like a layer of name tags with various names written in. One comically is a crude joke that somehow slipped the censors. Another one of my friends wrote one that says “Hello my name is…Athentic” an intentional misspelling of a new buzzword: authentic.
September 2006 – I am sitting on the same lawn at the kick off BBQ at the start of my senior year at college. Two of my female friends are loudly recounting a hilarious story from the year before. One of them had borrowed a laptop from a male classmate for a group project. On it she had found a video that was titled with a girl’s name. Thinking, rather naively, that it was a home movie she started to play it. It was a hardcore pornography video. They retell the story of their shock, disgust, and how another girl had to be brought in to finally figure out how to turn it. They are laughing. While the man is not named the sin is treated irreverently and shamefully at the same time. While smiling I swear to myself never tell any of them about my own struggle with pornography.
Authenticity is a buzzword for my generation; it is highly valued and highly praised. Everyone is authentic and everyone is real about life. In college I believed I was authentic. I cussed when I was angry to show how raw I was with my emotions and how in touch with them I was. I wasn’t as clean-cut in appearance or manners as I used to be, as if to say, “Take me as I am, not as I should be.” I was real about this life. I wanted the truth and I gave the truth, warts and all, because I was authentic.
In reality, during this time and through most of my life I was inauthentic and duplicitous. I routinely lied, denied my feelings, and ignored major problems – and I have met few people as disconnected from their emotions as myself. I was shallow in my relationships and feared any real intimacy. Yet I was fully convinced I was actually authentic. I really believed my own lies; I bought what I was selling everyone else.
This side of recovery, I see my attitudes back then were insane and would almost laughable if they weren’t so hurtful to myself and others. (Cussing as a sign of being in touch and expressive of one’s emotions?) How could I be a friend, a leader, or a boyfriend when I was “categorically incapable of honesty” to use a line from the Big Book. You can’t have a relationship with smoke and mirrors. How could I change when I was so deep in denial I was convinced, despite massive evidence to the contrary, that I was fine?
Thinking about my time in college and in the young adult group at my home church I think we have a long way to go in becoming an authentic generation. Like my friend’s intentional misspelling we play at the word but never quite hit the mark. In fact, in a bitter way my generation has encouraged authenticity and honesty while remaining as unsafe as any previous generation when it comes to recieving the authenticity of others. While calling for our peers to be honest and highly prizing authenticity and transparency, we lack the grace necessary to actually be helpful to those who answer the call. When someone around is is actually authentic and honest about their specific problems do we actually surround them in a loving helpful way or do we use the same broken tools a generation before us had? A quotation from C.S. Lewis comes to mind, “We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful.”
Accountability groups are a prime example of this. My first encounter with a Christian response to my problems with sexuality was an accountability group called “No Compromise”, which, living up to its name was designed to move people towards perfection in the realm of sexual sin. How the group functioned was that if you sinned sexually in the last week you had to share it with the group. The functioning principle here was that the shame that you felt by being honest with the group would prevent you from sinning in the future. Honestly, what kind of screwed up logic is that. Sexual sin is already deeply stigmatized and shamed in our culture and in our Churches, if shame was the necessary component to make people stop I would have a long time ago. This experience in high school was par for the course, as was the experience with my two friends making light of another man’s struggle. The Church, and my generation, has for the most part only added to my shame, self-loathing and disgust at myself that only served to reinforce the family codes of silence and denial about what was really going on.
While at the end of the day there were many choices on my part to stay in denial, despite a number of “off-ramps” that came up through life, it would take another kind of Christian community to help me leave denial for good. And I will talk about them in my next post.