By matthewkelley

Yearning for the Authentic

February 5, 2009

Throughout human history, there has never been a shortage of men and women willing to point humanity along the right path. Nor have the needs of the human family ever been a secret: food, shelter, purposeful work, companionship, freedom, forgiveness, acceptance, and love. In every age, there is an abundance of people who are able to articulate the truth of these matters and announce their social implications particular to that time. These people stand at the crossroads and point humanity down a path they have never traveled themselves. In our own age, there is certainly no shortage of books, tapes, courses, radio shows, seminars, retreats, and television programs – all of which speak to these needs in various ways.

But amidst this abundance, there is a great poverty. It seems in every place and in every time, the shortage is always of men and women willing to lead humanity along the right path with the example of their own lives. In each moment of history, authentic lives are ever so rare.

Appearance vs. The Authentic

Our own age seems to be governed by illusion and deception. We have built a whole culture based on appearance. Everything looks good, but scratch just below the surface, and you will discover little substance. Appearance has become a standard. We have grown so numb to the realities of good and evil that lying and cheating have become almost universally accepted as necessary evils. So we tolerate them, as long as they are performed in the dim light of “respectability.” Occasionally, in the midst of this cultural darkness, the great light of the human spirit shines forth with honesty and integrity. At those times we seem surprised, even taken off-guard. Honesty, loyalty, and integrity seem almost out of place in the modern schema.

But beneath the surface, under the guise of appearances, this age like any other is made up of people like you and me. And if you listen carefully, if you look closely, you will discover that the people are hungry. Created to love and be loved, we feel a restlessness, a longing for more, a profound discontent with our lives and with our culture. Our hunger is not for appearances, but for something of substance. We are hungry for truth. The people of today are starving for the authentic, thirsting for the tiniest droplet of sincerity, aching to experience the genuine.

Why Has Christianity Been Rejected?

At this same time, Christianity has been largely rejected. There are many people who faithfully attend church each Sunday, but increasing numbers are choosing not to come to church. This is particularly true among younger generations.

Those of us who call ourselves Christian do so because we believe that the life and teachings of Jesus Christ are the personification of truth, sincerity, and authenticity. If this belief is correct, if the people of this age really are hungering for truth, sincerity, and authenticity, then as Christians we must ask ourselves, Why are they not enthusiastically embracing Christianity? Why, in fact, are so many people so hostile toward Christ and his Church?

I sense it is because the people of today believe that Christians, Christianity, and perhaps Catholics in particular, are as much a part of this culture of appearance and deception as anyone else. Their desire for truth has not diminished, but people have become wary, doubtful, skeptical, and sadly, even cynical in their search for truth. And to be honest, I cannot blame them for their attitude. I do not agree with their position, but I understand it. And perhaps more importantly, I can see how they arrived at that place of philosophical confusion and theological desolation.

The cause of much of this confusion is the unprecedented proliferation of words, symbols, images, and every manner of communication in the latter part of the twentieth century. People are tired; they are worn out, overloaded with information, and overwhelmed with the social, political, and economic climate. They are not striving to thrive, they are merely trying to survive. This is a tired culture.

The Cry for Help

More than ever, non-Christians and non-practicing Christians are sending you, me, and all of Christianity a message. Though they are not aware of it, they are indirectly giving witness to the Gospel. For within the message, there is a profound challenge for you and me to embrace a life rooted more fully in the example and teachings of Jesus Christ. Their message is clear, unmistakable, and disarmingly simple. Our siblings, parents, and children are sending us this message, as are our friends, neighbors, and colleagues. They are saying, whispering, crying out, “Don’t tell me, show me!”

Their plea comes from a longing deep within them and represents their great hunger. They don’t want to see another television evangelist, they don’t want to read another book or hear another tape about Christianity, and they don’t want to hear your amazing story of conversion. They want the real thing. They want to witness someone, anyone – just one will do – living an authentic life. Someone whose words are spoken by the authority of his or her actions. Someone striving humbly but heroically to live by what is good, true, and noble in the midst of and in spite of this modern climate.

They are not sending us this message merely to sound the childish cry of “hypocrite.” Rather, theirs is a natural cry – a cry for help. They are saying to us, “Don’t tell me, show me!” because they are so hungry for a courageous example of the authentic life, a life lived to the fullest, in this day and age. Seeing the conflicts and contradictions of our lives, they cry “hypocrite” out of their hurt and anger, because the disappointment of discovering that we are not living the life we espouse robs them of their own hope to live an authentic life. They are calling out to us like sheep without a shepherd, wanting to be fed, wanting to be led to the pastures of kindness, compassion, generosity, forgiveness, acceptance, freedom, and love.

I have heard this cry a thousand times, but the words of one man echo in my mind like a bad dream that keeps returning to haunt a terrified child. They are the words of Mahatma Gandhi. He is a man for whom I have great admiration – a man whom I believe strove with all his might to live an authentic life. I have studied his life and writings extensively, but one passage stands out. It speaks to me with a clarity that pierces my heart.

In relation to the well known fact that Gandhi read from the New Testament everyday and often quoted the Christian Scriptures, a reporter once asked him why he had never become a Christian. He answered, “If I had ever met one, I would have become one.” In his own way, Gandhi was saying, “Don’t tell me, show me!” and simultaneously revealing his yearning for an example of an authentic life.

With all this being said, I believe there is also a desire within each of us to live an authentic life. We desire not only to witness authentic lives, but also to live an authentic life ourselves. We genuinely want to be true to ourselves and true to God. At times, we have perhaps resolved to live such a life with all the fervor we could muster. But, distracted by the sweet seduction of pleasure, possessions, or power, we have wandered from the narrow path. We know the truth, but we lack the discipline and strength of character to align the actions of our lives with that truth (cf. Matthew 26:41). We have given ourselves over to a thousand different whims, cravings, and fantasies. Our lives have become merely a distortion of the truth we know and profess. We know the human family’s need for kindness, compassion, generosity, forgiveness, acceptance, freedom, and love, but we have divided our hearts with a thousand contradictions and compromises.

At every moment, the entire modern world kneels before us, begging, pleading, beckoning, for some brave man or woman to come forward and lead them by example of an authentic life.

Amidst the abundance of this age, which at times may seem all-prevailing, there is a great hunger in the people of today. We have a universal hunger for the authentic.