The Habit of Prayer
A Most Unlikely Religion

Being Authentic

Cover Being real and being authentic are terms much bandied about nowadays, and yet it gets very confusing if you consciously try to "be real" or "be authentic."  I wonder if authenticity is a target we can never hit by direct aim but, rather, is something that happens as we are faithful.

One of the magazines I read is Relevant, which has as its byline the phrase "God, Life, Progressive Culture."  The magazine is primarily aimed at Christians in their Twenties.  There is a longing in this magazine for authenticity, for a kind of Christianity that is not just white, middle class, and Republican.  However, the magazine itself features the same eye-grabbing graphics, advertising, and outsider critique that you might expect:  these are grown up church kids quietly rebelling against the evangelical establishment from within, from a place of faith.

Nevertheless, despite the attempt to "be real," one of the attractions of Relevant actually militates against this.  It is impossible to escape the fact that there is a definite "cool factor in finding your identity in the folds of this publication, listening to the music they feature, seeing the films they review, and reading the books they publish (yes, they publish their own books under the Relevant brand name).  Indeed, Relevant, and all its assorted offshoots -- web page, podcast, books, and clothing -- is really just a reaction to the mainstream Contemporary Christian Music market and larger evangelical subculture, another niche of style and product to buy into.

This probably appears too cynical.  I don't mean to be cynical. These folks are sincere, as are many in the CCM industry.  But they aren't more real than their counterparts.  They are simply offering a different stylistic cultural (or counter-cultural, however you look at it) niche.

All of this is disheartening in a way.  How, after all, are we to be authentic Christians.? Then again, I have to laugh at it.  I have to think we cannot ever get to authenticity by focusing on it.  It's a by product of the life of faith, a life focused on Jesus.  No magazine will produce an authentic Christian life in me.  There's no escaping the ordinary means of grace -- prayer, Bible reading and meditation, and long and deep participation in a worshiping community of faith.  These things are not attractive compared to a product like Relevant.  They will never be cool.  They can be downright difficult to maintain.  But there is no substitute.  We become real, meaning we become more of what we were created to be, when day in and day out we come to God through these means.