“Authenticity” was once simply a descriptive noun, but in recent years it has become a distinct value in American culture. In a reaction against the staid and stoic or the phonily polite we have begun to praise the person who wears her identity on the outside. She is free, she is expressive, she is confident, and she is “authentic” in all circumstances.
For all the increase in authenticity, though, it doesn’t seem as if people are any happier. The reason for this is because authenticity isn’t inherently pleasing. While it is always good to be one’s self and avoid phoniness, what if a person is—as people often are—unpleasant? And what if a person values authenticity but not other traits such as respect or humility? What then? Well, then we have an authentic cad. And nobody likes that.
Society values authenticity in a particularly selfish way. We value our own “authentic” (i.e., unfiltered) expressions of opinion, emotion, style, or belief, but may God have mercy on your soul if your authenticity runs afoul of mine. We value authenticity only when it is beneficial to us and gentle to our sensibilities.
Now, Christians ought to value authenticity, and it shouldn’t matter much whether it is unfiltered, unpleasant immaturity. This is not to say we should be those things or condone them, but we absolutely must accept them from others. Authentic unpleasantness is simply the way some people are—people like Jesus’ tax collector and hooker friends.
Authenticity is the gateway to relationship. If we hope to build meaningful relationships with others we must be willing to absorb all manner of unpleasant authenticity. Interacting with others as they authenticate their own sinfulness is simply grace. Being authentic in relationship is the means through which trust is built, and trust is where our representation of Christ flourishes.
As society flails wildly in its attempts to find satisfaction in immature and voyeuristic authenticity (or is it authentic immaturity and voyeurism?) let us model the humblest and boldest expressions of it as well as the the most gracious and merciful receptions. Authenticity is not one-size-fits-all. Let our expression and reception of it be filled with the honesty to admit failure and flaw and the grace to grow in relationship with the foolish and immature and gain the trust that leads to influence.