Forming Faith Blog

Authentic Self, Authentic Community

Unless we experience love for our authentic selves from others, we cannot fully experience God’s unconditional love. Our communities of Christ must be based on a web of authentic relationships.

A group of young adults reaching out. We need to build authentic relationships within our congregations.
Doubt, Vulnerability, and Authenticity

This is the third and final week of a series on authenticity and community in our congregations. The first week, I looked at the reality of doubt and the question on how we deal with doubts in ourselves and in our congregations. Last week, I reflected on the power that comes in our relationships when we are allowed to take off our masks, lower our shields, and be vulnerable in a safe space. This week, I’m focusing on authenticity and the web of relationships within our communities.

Your Authentic Self

I have a friend who really likes the phrase “your authentic self,” as in “living your authentic self.” It can get a bit corny, but it is a critically important concept. As I wrote about last week, we put on masks, build walls, and hide behind armor to keep ourselves safe—emotionally, mentally, and sometimes even physically. We hide who we are at the core of our beings. This can be a necessary evil. We might need a “thick skin” to deal with an unfriendly culture at work or school. Or we might put on a mask so we can fit in at school or get promoted at work. In extreme—but all too common—cases, LGBT+ persons (for example) must hide a part of their being to avoid emotional or even physical violence.

It would be great if we could define “your authentic self” as the person you are when no one is looking. And that’s true to some extent. Unfortunately, sometimes we wear such a convincing mask that we even fool ourselves into thinking that’s the real us. Learning about—and living—your authentic self is a lifelong process of self-discovery and self-acceptance.

Unconditional Love

Christians, including me, like to talk about unconditional love, specifically the unconditional love God has for us demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That is how it should be. We are taught in 1 John 4 that the most important characteristic of God is love. Our teachings on grace remind us that we can never earn God’s loving favor; it is purely an undeserved gift.

However, our masks/walls/armors disrupt our experience of God’s unconditional love. These masks are specifically there because what we experience from other people is that love, acceptance, even decency is very conditional. Our masks are there to make us fit within the “conditions” others place on us. This is even and can especially be true within our own households and congregations. Our experience with others informs our understanding of God. We might be able to profess God’s unconditional love, but can we actually experience it? If we cannot safely show our authentic selves, then the answer is “no.”

Authentic Relationships

Authenticity is a critical hallmark of a healthy, loving relationship. If we must hide a portion of who we are from someone we profess to love (any type of love), then that’s a problem. Our masks, our walls, separate us from each other, and separation is the opposite of love. So, to become closer to someone, you need to reveal to them your authentic self.

Living authentically is not a binary, on-or-off state. There are levels, a multi-directional continuum of what of ourselves we share with whom. And the first person we need to be authentic with is ourselves. But, even when we only share part of who we are—as long as that part is true—then that builds authentic relationships.

Authentic Community

Our congregations, which is what I’m focusing on right now, are communities: groups of people gathered around something. But just because we all gather at the same place and the same time, maybe listen to the same sermon, sing the same songs, and eat the same cookies, doesn’t make us an authentic, strong community. A basic building block of community is relationships. Without relationships, we are just involved in parallel play.

A strong, authentic community is one that is built out of a web of authentic relationships. And this web is singular, not plural. If there are several unconnected relationship webs, then you have several communities, not one. A strong church community must have relationships that bridge all ages, all genders, all markers of diversity.

The Body of Christ

Our congregations must be strong, authentic communities. Paul might have been talking about the importance of each member in the Body of Christ when he used that metaphor, but it is also a fitting description of community. A body is not just a collection of separate parts. It is a series of interconnected parts. And we, as members of the Body of Christ, are called to incarnate God’s will for this world, as individuals and as communities.

As I mentioned above, our experience with others informs our understanding of God and therefore our experience with God. If our experience with others—especially if those “others” are supposed to represent Jesus—tells us that we must fit a certain mold to be loved and accepted, then that will influence our understanding of God’s love. Conversely, if we experience safety, acceptance, and love for our authentic selves by others—especially those representing God—then that, too, will influence our understanding of God’s love. As faith formation leaders, it is our responsibility to create safe spaces and opportunities for people across all diversities to foster authentic relationships in the context of God’s love. It is only then that we can be truly the Body of Christ.

In the authentic love of Christ,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

2021-2022 Faith Formation Resources

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