Posts Tagged ‘identity

31
Oct
17

The Real Deal

“To thine own self be true.”
– Polonius, in Hamlet

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God,
and that is what we are.”
– 1 John 3:1, NRSV

“Authentic” is a word that has been crossing my radar screen with increased frequency lately.

Naturally, authenticity would be a theme that would come to mind on that annual holiday we spend dressing up as someone – or something – else.

It also popped up this morning on a local radio talk show. The guest was the owner of a restaurant in town that specializes in Ramen noodles. Yes… that is apparently a thing. During the show, many syllables and much air were employed in identifying the difference between authentic Ramen and… I guess the inauthentic variety.

Over the weekend I had the honor of officiating at the memorial service of a friend of my son’s who died of pancreatic cancer. He and many friends in attendance had spent most of their lives outside the institutional church. However, in the last months of his life, this young man experienced something powerful and convicting that led him to ask me to baptize him a month before his death.

I found myself wrestling deeply with the question of what an “authentic” celebration of his life might look like…. And then not being terribly sure I even understood the question.

Often we give very high “authenticity” marks to people in the public eye who don’t really take the time to weigh and carefully consider their words before speaking. We applaud them as “genuine”… “unfiltered” and “authentic.” We say that those folks are a breath of fresh air in comparison with the carefully crafted words of professional “spin doctors.”

And then it makes me scratch my head and ask, “So then what does the word authentic actually mean?” And then I follow up with myself and ask, “And how has authenticity become such a paramount virtue today?”

One answer I hear is that the word authentic must mean something like “core,” or “essential,” or “foundational.” It’s what is left over when you strip away all of the mystical window dressing.

hotfudge_sundaeBut then I have to ask, “Does that mean all of our efforts to enhance or improve something are fraudulent because they take us away from its ESSENCE? Should I just leave my vanilla ice cream alone and not add the chocolate syrup, whipped cream, chopped nuts, and a cherry… in the name of authenticity?”

I also hear authenticity being defined more along the lines of “raw” and “unprocessed” or that other phrase currently in fashion, “… like it is.” The implication here is that the more spontaneous and unplanned something is, the more authentic it is.

I am not going to lie… as a guy who writes and re-writes and tries to think carefully about words and what they mean, this definition offends me. I am sure it offends me because it seems to assign a higher virtue to unplannedness and spur-of-the-momentness than to thoughtfulness.

And personally, I think that is one messed up set of virtues.

MYRIAD are the examples I can give of times when my ill-considered, spontaneous words caused hurt and complication in a situation.

MYRIAD+ are the examples of times when slow, deliberate, thoughtful consideration of words brought light and healing.

Think about it: what would it look like if we all really followed Polonius’ advice to be “true” to our own selves?

The next, natural question is: which self are we talking about?

  • Is it the self that feels like punching a hole in the wall when the home team fumbles the opening kick-off?
  • Is it the self that can’t resist taking a second helping of apple pie?
  • Is it the self that has deep doubts about its talent or worth?

And are we really the ones to be trusted to choose which of these “selves” we are supposed to be true to?

I believe personal authenticity is all about being the fullest, most complete version of ME that I can be.

And so for me, that includes being every bit of the goofy, thoughtful, impulsive, tender-hearted, self-centered, creative, emotional, dim-witted, spiritual, energetic, joyful, deep, shallow, inconsiderate Russell Brown God made me to be.

But mostly, it means going back to the Source and reclaiming my identity as a Child of God; infinitely beloved by the One who created the whole Universe.

THAT is really who I am.

And it is really – authentically – who you are, too.

Blessings;

14
Mar
17

License Plates

011012-License-Plate-300x155“UBUIBME”

I am pretty sure – had he lived today in this post-modern, American culture – the Apostle Paul would have included my unique skill among the spiritual gifts he lists in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.

Yes… had he written that marvelous epistle in the 21st century instead of the first, I believe that right there alongside miracle working, healing, prophesy, discernment of spirits and wisdom we would find, “Personalized license plate deciphering.”

Call it a gift… call it a sixth sense… call it a silly waste of time, but unless the license plate is intentionally obscure, I seem to have an innate knack for quickly figuring out what these jumbled collections of letters are trying to communicate.

This one, however, took me a couple of extra minutes. UBUIBME. Initially I thought it might be a Swahili word of some kind, known only to speakers of that language. But then in a flash of inspiration it came to me: And it was a great message, too – “You be you; I be me.”

YES! Perfect! Great idea! Why doesn’t each of us just be fully who we are… no pretense, no façade, no phoniness, no personas invented for the purpose of public display. I mean, if we really take the words of scripture seriously we each know that, “… I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” just like it tells us there in Psalm 139:14.

Then maybe we wouldn’t have to spend so much time taking those silly Facebook quizzes that invite us to “discover your ideal pet,” or “figure out which decade you should have been born in” and all the others.

But then I stop and wonder: is that really a good idea? Can I really be all of the honest-to-goodness ME that I am when we are together? Can I… or even SHOULD I… let all of that loose on you? I mean, there are probably some parts that should stay “under the radar” just to prevent you from screaming and running in the opposite direction at top speed.

There also exists the distinct possibility that I might not be completely in touch with all of who I am… a seemingly important prerequisite to “being me.”

It is also true that for some certain percentage of us, the invitation to “go ahead and be the real you” is a tantalizing call to a level of authenticity we find truly liberating. At the same time we need to remember that for a significant portion of the population, the revelation of their authentic identity can bring suspicion and condemnation in some cases and genuine danger in others.

I am referring, of course, to those whose authentic identity is gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, or sexually inquiring. For these there is often great risk associated with standing up and being who they genuinely are. They have repeatedly encountered a world where some would require that the UBUIBME license plate be revised to include an asterisk and the caveat, “… unless you are LGBTQI.”

For the last six months it has been my great pleasure to sing with the Heartland Men’s Chorus (HMC) in Kansas City. In case you don’t know about them, HMC is Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus, this year celebrating its 31st year of existence. The chorus is approximately 150 male voices strong and generally performs three concert cycles each year, beginning in December with the Christmas concert. Prospective singers must audition in order to join HMC.

Of the 150 chorus members, there are about 10 of us who are not gay. And yet, from Day 1 I have felt nothing but a warm and open welcome there. And as long as I hit my notes and do the necessary memorization work, I am sure I always will be.

This warm and open welcome, of course, is exactly the opposite of the reception that most HMC members have received from straight society throughout their lives; condemnation, shame, rejection, isolation, discouragement, and disapproval has more been the norm.

And because of this sadly still-prevalent reality of our world, I have come to appreciate the incredible courage required for my LGBTQI brothers and sisters to stand up, speak out clearly and say, “THIS is exactly who I am!” Yes… they know that their declaration will inspire, give hope and courage, and solidarity with people still living in the dark closet. But they also know that this same declaration might well make their own lives a living hell.

On more than one occasion I have been asked if I would please adjust my identity so as to fit in better with my environment; however, I have never been bullied, teased, beaten, or killed because of who I am. Sadly this is not the case for millions of our brothers and sisters of the LGBTQI community.

I will end today on an upbeat, promotional note. If the issue of authentic identity is one that resonates with you on ANY level, please make plans to attend the Heartland Men’s Chorus spring concert: IDENTIFY. It will be March 25 at 8:00 p.m. at the Folly Theater, and March 26 at 4:00 p.m., also at the Folly. Tickets range in price and can be purchased at http://hmckc.org/order/.

You be you. No matter who you are. And I – God willing – will be me. And together we will reach out to those who live in fear.




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