Though Questioning Everything
I was in a dinner conversation in which one table mate said to another, “Tell me, exactly what do you mean when you say he is real?” Our fellow diner replied, “He is authentic.” The first person asked, “Authentically what? Authentically human?” My friend felt caught in a battle of semantics, but I was actually sympathetic to the questioner. What does it mean to be authentic?
I do not believe it is accurate to say someone is authentic. There is no magic point of authenticity in one’s past or future. There is no authentic self, only authentic living. Authentic living involves constantly creating and reinventing oneself.
Authentic living is a journey undertaken not in some vacuum, but in a complex world of relationships, where actions have consequences. My decision to transition involved authenticity. It was important to be on the outside the person I had always felt I was on the inside. Many people thought I was brave and courageous, while others said I was selfish and foolish. Both reactions were heartfelt. I was in the middle, wrestling with the veracity of these disparate voices. It took every ounce of wisdom I could muster, but all of that was an essential part of living authentically. Without the reflection and reaction of others, my attempt at authentic living would have been little more than an exercise in self-absorption.
As a child, living authentically is impossible. We can only hope to have an environment in which those who care for us provide reasonable boundaries that are clear and supportive. We hope for parents who are able to delay their own gratification so they may attend to our needs, assure our safety, and provide us with a solid sense of self. That is the kind of environment that enables us to strike out on our own. For all of us, the time comes when we must differentiate from our families of origin. Still, some refuse to leave, enmeshed in a family system so toxic it irreparably damages their souls. For most of us, however, we eventually muster the strength to start out on our own. It begins in fits and starts in our teens and is not completed until we are in our 30s or 40s. Only then are we able to become who we truly know ourselves to be.
I was speaking with a delightful woman whose father is an Evangelical leader of national influence. We were talking about ways in which she can find gratitude for the home in which she is no longer welcome. I suggested, “Well, at least you are not cowering in some corner. Your parents gave you enough security to find the strength to be true to yourself, in spite of their objections.”
This woman is living boldly, honestly, and authentically. I wish her parents had the capacity to feel the pride they should feel for their extraordinary daughter. Of course, her parents would tell you they have rejected their daughter because they are also striving to live authentically. But I believe there is a difference between parent and child.
This woman’s parents have determined that authentic living is not determined by them, but by the church of which they are a part. They have passed along the painful and difficult responsibility of making up their own minds and ceded that power to others, choosing to be unquestionably obedient to the boundaries established by their church.
Their daughter, on the other hand, has decided to follow the words of M. Scott Peck, who said, “The path to holiness lies through questioning everything.” To be holy is to be whole, accepting full responsibility for how you choose to live. It is deciding which tribal land will be yours and which expression of spirituality will be yours. If that sounds like hard work, it is because it is, harder than most of us want to do. That is why it is so much easier to allow someone else to determine the boundaries of our lives and the limits of our curiosity.
When I was in Bible college one crusty old professor said, “Your problem is you think too much.” He was actually correct. In that environment my thinking was a problem, both for the professor and for me. The professor chose to live out his days within the bubble of Fundamentalism. That was his right, and by all appearances, he was comfortable. But his journey was not mine. I chose the road less traveled by and I have no regrets.