Amid our culture of pluralism and ambiguity there always needs to be a constant and deliberate defining of terms. Some so-called "buzz words" are thrown aimlessly around like drunken punches in a bar fight, hoping to strike a gut reaction from some poor innocent bystander. We all know these words. For some they sting deep in our literary senses, knowing the cheapening and overuse of beautiful words like "organic,' "communal," "authentic," and "missional" will somehow lead to the unfortunate and early death of these because all the meaning will have been stripped away.
But what if these words weren't cool anymore? What if we took them at face value, and instead of dressing them up in equivocation and placing them in our smooth, confident sentences for all to admire without ever asking what in the world we are really talking about, we would begin to flesh out what these verbally aesthetic appellations actually mean?
This became clear for me a couple nights ago while I was at my local free trade hipster coffee shop. Prior to this, I had dinner with some friends who have been trying to live life together intentionally, being open and honest and loving one another, not matter how its makes them look, and was super encouraged by the example set forth in this group's lives. So, after dinner I headed over to grab a cup of coffee and read. Now, I am consistently not cool enough to hang out at this particular establishment. I even wore my V-neck and skinny jeans, and still felt a bit out of place. If this was five years ago I might be able to hang, but now that I am in my mid-twenties, with responsibilities and a few extra pounds it just won't work. As I sit reading, enjoying my two and half dollar cup of french press, my ears perk and I tune into a conversation being had by two 18 year old scenesters with hebrew tattoos, wearing "To Write Love On Her Arms" shirts and brand new TOMS. One girl started talking about a local college ministry she attends(which most people at this coffee shop, including the owners also attend), trying to convince the other to come check it out, saying that is real and authentic, and maybe they might fit in there. Now, I have been to this event a few times, and while it a great place to meet people, hear a great worship band, and be moved by an attention-grabbing, entertaining speaker; I don't know if "authentic" is the best word to describe it. So, I pondered this girls choice of words for some time, wondering why authentic and real was the phrase she landed on. Then I came to a realization. Authenticity is a really cool word, but actually being authentic is not.
Now, we live in a day where the prototypical example of this new generation of Christian community includes nothing more than proximity and affinity. Community for us simply means that you are in close proximity to other Christians and/or share common interests and perspectives. The only problem with that is the Bible. We see in the Book of Acts that those who believed in and followed Jesus "had all things in common" and "suffered together for the sake of the Gospel." We do not create community. Jesus is the only one that can create community; because Jesus' idea of community is "all nations, tribes, languages and peoples" coming together to worship the King and bring hope to the world around them. Only then will we truly begin to understand words like authenticity. You see, being authentic is not cool, because it's messy. Being authentic means you have to be vulnerable, imperfect, laid bare for all to see and hopeless with out a Savior. I experienced this at dinner before my little epiphany. these people were not "cool" in the way the people at the coffee shop were. There were young married couples with kids and regular old God-glorifying jobs, overworked singles sacrificing dreams for the sake of the Gospel, and starving college students with emotional baggage and souls heavy with life. These people cannot afford to be cool. All they can do is enter into community, receive mercy, and in turn go out into the world to give mercy to as many as God would allow them to. So, my admonition to you is to stop trying to be cool, because you are missing out on so much life; ugly, messy, fumblingly beautiful life, to drop the persona and pick up reality, because cool has a momentary shelf-life, but authenticity will never grow old.