The Art of Authenticity (3 of 5)

“It’s the real thing” – this was Coca-Cola’s slogan back in the day, when I was a kid. Looking back now, I’m struck by just how esoteric a slogan it was. I’m almost certain their point wasn’t really about metaphysics, as much as it was about authenticity – recognizing that the longing for authenticity is primal . . . that on some level we all just want to know what’s real – what’s genuine. In a world where so many things seem so tenuous, where people are so mired in the context of their own agendas – we’re all looking for something more reliable, more certain. So what about you – how authentic are you?

Let me catch you before you answer, and remind you that just beneath your carefully maintained persona on display for everyone else’s approval, is a person who intimately knows all of the fear and pride, self-doubt and self-preservation that preoccupies you 24/7 – and right now that person is likely beginning to pump the breaks on offering an answer. Because the first step to being authentic is being honest with yourself – to own the fact that there are aspects of you that you’d rather not have exposed.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m suggesting that we remove all social filters, as if being authentic equaled being obnoxious and inappropriate – that’s just being a jerk. But we shouldn’t allow social etiquette to inhibit us from being redemptively vulnerable with one another – which is where you share your genuine struggles as a form of truth telling that invites others to share their struggles, creating a safe place for bearing one another’s burdens. Such a naked honesty doesn’t come natural – so it takes practice and finesse before it becomes incorporated into your personality as a natural skill set . . . this is why I say there is an art to authenticity.

mask-1And even though it wasn’t likely the intent of Coca-Cola’s slogan to raise the question of metaphysics – authenticity (being “the real thing”) inextricably finds its significance in the metaphysics of aseity . . . separating what exists contingently from what exists in and of itself. St. Thomas Aquinas addresses this with the mind-blowing concept of ipsum esse subsistens (the act of being itself) – that because God’s existence is not contingent . . . he is the very essence of existence . . . and it doesn’t get any more real than that!

In Acts 17:27, 28 Paul is making his bedrock case before the Areopagus – that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’”. Therefore, because our existence is contingent on God, our ability to be real and authentic is inseparable from our relationship with God. In this sense, our longing for authenticity is a longing for God. So as we are being conformed to the image of Christ – it could very well be said that we are becoming more real . . . more authentic.

This is from my Chiaroscuro Collection

All of This Is Mine

All of this is mine
The vaulted sky and everything beneath it
The ever-widening hole in the ground
Denying light and cataloging everything I desire

These folding chairs carefully arranged
To view the cataclysmic event of my fall
The polished surface of my achievements
Measuring me in preposterous effigy

This mirror of self-approval promising
To hide me from the honesty of light
The Sisyphus Stone of fear I hold at arms-length
Keeping it from crushing my will to continue

Every word on this page attempting to emerge
Hemmed in by my self-aware need to explain
O, would that I could, strike a match and watch it all burn in holy fire
To stand apart and laugh wildly with the freedom of having nothing at all


The Art of Forgiveness (2 of 5)

It has been my experience that what is profound, often comes wrapped in an elusive simplicity – such is the case with forgiveness. A quick census of any group of people would likely return a generally correct definition for forgiveness – albeit, one that almost exclusively emphasizes its contractual aspect. And if the same group were asked about their personal habits of forgiveness, most would no doubt view themselves as reasonably forgiving – each offering their particular caveats and conditions. But if asked about unforgiveable actions – invariably, each would provide at least one unforgiveable deed . . . only serving to indicate just how superficial their appreciation for how forgiveness really works.

You can learn a great deal about someone talking with them about forgiveness. For some, it is what I imagine it would be like to have to negotiate with a person wearing an explosive vest, threatening to blow themselves up unless their demands are met – except with the person choosing to withhold forgiveness, they seem almost completely unaware that the majority of the damage done will befall them. Others view forgiveness as a mythical incantation, when once spoken can dispel any harmful consequences by jettisoning the offending event out of existence. But for most of us, it usually takes on the cognitive dissonance of some emotional combination of these two extremes.

As it is with everything, our tendency to control and manipulate forgiveness invariably distorts our understanding of its innate beauty and grace. But in Alexander Pope’s minimalist axiom “To err is human, to forgive is divine” we discover an insightful primer about the underlying truth of forgiveness — without God, forgiveness is impossible! In Matthew 6:14, 15 Jesus provides us with a very important formula regarding forgiveness – the way we experience God’s forgiveness is inextricably tied to how willing we are to forgive others. This isn’t to say that God’s forgiveness is conditional, but rather that our experience of it, our ability to feel forgiven, is in direct correlation with how we forgive.

imageThen Jesus gives us another insight in Matthew 18:21, 22 by framing forgiveness in an idiom of speech that suggests that forgiveness is to be offered in a perpetual state – completely dispelling any notion that forgiveness is a static event. This is what makes forgiveness an art form. As with all art forms, there is a learning curve specific to each occasion of forgiveness where the artist becomes vulnerable — willing to leave behind a piece of themselves in the process . . . trusting that God will inhabit each oblation.

All of us are called to be agents of reconciliation in this world — therefore our capacity to forgive is an essential protocol . . . as it was forgiveness that allowed us to be reconciled to God. There are choices we make that close us off from all that is life giving – and then there are choices that enrich our lives, deepening our appreciation for every moment we are given . . . but the choice to forgive ushers us into the presence of God’s heart like no other choice we make.

This is from my Chiaroscuro Collection

An Uncommon Treasure

Unwrapped and left out in the open
In the full warmth of the sun
Where anyone might find it
An uncommon treasure
Taken by the grateful and greedy alike
Inscrutably it sets the captive free
Setting aside the need to explain
Causing the auditioning truth to speak
Into the dark echoing hollow of vengeance
To find absolute peace in surrender
Like a rare and ponderous jewel
Left out in the open
In the full warmth of the sun
Where anyone might find it
Forgiveness is a gift
Best offered unwrapped