Saturday, April 7, 2012

I value authenticity.

If you've been reading my blog or following my Facebook updates, you may be tempted to believe that I have it all together. After all, I untag myself in the photos I don't like, only write posts that paint me in a positive light, and I strictly control the information I release to the interwebs. Yet if you've spent any amount of time at all with me in person, you know there are quite a few missteps and shortcomings notably absent from my timeline. Every day I become more and more aware that I am a flawed human being in desperate need of grace.

I've lied, I've cheated, and I've lusted after that which isn't mine. I've been gluttonous with the pleasures of this world, I've sent others on the most treacherous harbingers of guilt trips (I'm especially bad at that), and I've been an all-around horrible witness of Jesus Christ. Now if your first reaction to reading my list is to compare it to your own inventory of past transgressions, then please stop. First of all, it's hardly an exhaustive list - rather just a sample of ways I've screwed up within the past 48 hours. More importantly, that's not how God looks at our sin. Thankfully, He doesn't rank us according to some complicated demerit system - we're all in the same boat here.

I think the difference comes in how we deal with our sin. Do we dig a hole and bury it as deep as we can, or do we expose it to light and deal with it? Do we bog ourselves down with guilt and regret, or do we accept the grace God so freely gives? Do we continually fall into the same stupid trap, or do we make a clean break with our old ways? 

When I was in college, there were a few Christian guys who I greatly admired and grew quite close to. A few years after graduation, I was shocked to learn that they were leading double lives, and were involved in some destructive behavior, unbeknownst to anyone in the Christian community. What's funny is their sin isn't what hurt me - it's college, everyone makes some bad decisions! - what really made my heart churn was they felt they couldn't discuss it with me. It made my seemingly close relationship with them, something I had highly valued, feel like a complete sham. 

On the other hand, I had some other Christian friends who were more open with their struggles, and they were promptly ostracized from the community. Not surprisingly, they fell deeper into their struggles and some left the faith altogether. When they stopped believing in God, the ones who had shunned them took it as validation of their judgement, saying "see, I told you so." Meanwhile, my response was simply "can you blame them?"

As I've written before, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes, and I like his diagnosis of this problem in the church:

"It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy"…"He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone."

Bonhoeffer's words struck me because I've always longed for a community where I'm not alone in my sin, and where others aren't scared to share their struggles out of fear of being ostracized. Yet now I've found an amazing community, and I'm finding it's still not easy to be candid about my vices.
Some of the great people in my community group

On a Saturday evening a few weeks ago, I messed up pretty bad. I hurt people I love, left them to clean up the mess I made, and had to suffer some consequences. Yet I couldn't stand the thought of being alone in my sin, so the following Monday evening, I sheepishly confessed my sin to my dear friends. Their responses marked a stark contrast to the kind of pious fellowship that Bonhoeffer warns of - they were filled with words of encouragement, empathy, and promises of future accountability.

A week later, I was still feeling some guilt about my actions, and my friend Brittany quickly scolded me. "Jay, guilt is NOT from God; you need to get over this!" she exclaimed as our friends all roasted marshmallows around the fire. She was right. I may have tattooed the word grace on my arm a year ago in Copenhagen, but sometimes I still need a verbal reminder of it from friends who are more concerned about my future than my past mistakes.
A photo of my tattoo - the Greek word for grace

While this kind of encouragement, accountability, and reminder of grace is quite wonderful, it still isn't enough for my friend Sarah. At a recent gathering of our community group, she brought up how it's really difficult to share your struggles with a room of 14 people, especially when it's mixed company. She recommended we split into groups of 2-3 people (of the same gender) occasionally so that we could create a better environment for authenticity. It was one of the best ideas I've heard in a long time, and I'm excited to see the fruit it bears.

The fellowship I have with my Christian community is the greatest thing I have going for me in my life right now. We throw parties together, we pray earnestly for each other, and we just plain have fun together. Yet what lies at the heart of what makes our community so awesome is the authenticity, and the encouragement, accountability, and living, breathing example of grace that flows from that authenticity. My prayer is that all of my friends pursue and find that kind of fellowship, in whatever form it may come, so that they no longer have to be alone in their transgressions.

Sarah and her husband, Justin, roast a heart-shaped marshmallow by the fire.
What I'm listening to during this post: "Empty House" by Delta Spirit


  1. "because I am made out of shipwrecks, every twisted beam
    lost and found like you and me scattered out on the sea
    so come on let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief
    and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach
    come on and sew us together, just some tattered rags stained forever "
    - "Wooden Heart" by Listener

  2. Someone told me a long time ago that you have to forgive yourself before you can forgive others. This can be very hard, as eloquently written in your blog.