“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.
And 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