An Authentic Life: Keep It Simple

lbs walt whitman poem short

With Parker Palmer, I don’t really like being told what to do. I am so glad, in this instance, that he overcame his issues with authority and shared these instructions from Walt Whitman on how to live an authentic life:

“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any [person] or number of [people] — go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families — re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.”

— Walt Whitman, preface to Leaves of Grass

Today, as I examine my own soul, will you do the same? And then, perhaps, might you share with me the ways in which you live out your great poetry in your world?

To Be or Not to Be: Authentic

african child face paintA recent post on Christianity Today’s on-line publication muses on the virtue of inauthenticity. The author suggests that the quest to be authentic translates to sharing whatever it is that one has on mind. He continues by making the connection to manners as, in essence, an act of inauthenticity, but a virtue, nonetheless.

The concept of authenticity, however, is meant to encourage a genuine regard and concern for the other. So, to wave off the embarrassed waitress who spilled hot soup with an, “I’m ok,” is an authentic care for the feelings of the other. Authentic does not mean indiscriminately stating every thought that comes to mind when ever one feels or thinks it. Politeness is not necessarily inauthentic (though it certainly can be—as well as manipulative and condescending). When I have heard wounded people describe the hypocritical life of those they’ve observed in church and outside it, the desire for authenticity is not that they say what is on their mind more often. Rather, it is that their concern is more for him or her (i.e., that she not be judged by their lack of integrity, rather, disclosing that it is often difficult to consistently live out those standards).

There are blogs and articles, tweets and posts that wax opinions from one position or another, stating one thing as fact and another erroneous. What is missing in those that pertain to the church and God’s Kingdom is a sense of regard for the other. It is how I should act, what I should say, what perspective I must have. Saying whatever one thinks whenever one feels it is not authentic—it is rude and undisciplined, without self-control. It is also very self-centered. Manners in the truest sense (my opinion) have others in mind. The problem is that we are not usually taught the why behind the manners, so we act politely because it is expected, and then lose integrity (the word that I think the author was actually looking for when describing the disconnect between inward feeling and outward action).

But that is much like the way liturgy and church practices operated over the centuries, isn’t it? We do things because we are told to do them; say the prayers because it is expected. We cover our mouths when we cough and try not to belch in public. When I teach my children to observe polite behavior at the table, I tell them it may be ok to belch when we are at home, but it might make someone feel uncomfortable if you were to do so in public. Sometimes we do things to help put others at ease, even if it isn’t necessarily a problem for us. Be all things to all people, Paul desires. Observe their conventions to communicate that I genuinely care for who they are—practices, habits and all.

It entails explaining; it is teaching. It’s guiding and mentoring (discipleship). It is storytelling. It’s community. It is understanding why we behave and speak in certain ways for the sake of the other—sometimes saying the wrong thing, often times doing the selfish thing. But it is also sticking with it. To be authentic is to be committed. To let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no’ suggests that I intend to work it out with you. I intend to know you. I mean to love you.

Please don’t say everything that is on your mind today. You may not even mean it, and will possibly be embarrassed by it, tomorrow. But if you do say something without thinking on it first, I will genuinely stay with you to work it through. Of course, to be an authentic person can only truly occur when one knows who one truly is—that is, as created in God’s image. And, to know that can only happen by knowing God. That is where the habit of spiritual practices comes in, the authentic crux of the matter—and, that is for another post (though, of course, already in many of my previous posts . . .).

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10.24, 25)