“The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among them. So we remain alone with our sin, living lies and hypocrisy. The fact is we are sinners. But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great desperate sinner; now come as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you…He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone. God has come to save the sinner.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
The first four sentences or so of this Bonhoeffer quote was part of a sermon I heard this evening. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner… jumped out and danced in front of me. An amen almost escaped my lips.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like I could be my most authentic self in a church setting. Very few people know the inside me, or my backstory. It’s not that I pretend to be something I’m not, I’m just careful to be me only to a certain point in certain circles.
When I’ve taken a step or two beyond the surface layers of me, (and believe me we are still in PG or PG-13 territory here) I am greeted with polite, nervous smiles or pats on the hand, and that’s where the dialogue ends if it ever began. This deafening, irritating silence usually leaves me thinking, if that makes you nervous, wait until you hear juicy, dirty, raw part… and believe me, I know better after I hear *crickets* to share the juicy, dirty, raw part.
I’ve learned from my wounds. Bring rejected because I’m broken, human, and a sinner has left deep, ugly scars. Many people reject the authentic because authenticity is a mirror they don’t want to look into… and when they toss that mirror aside, it has a lot of jagged edges.
My scars have led me to a fellowship which is full of wonderful people (I wouldn’t call it pious), but I’ve never felt like I could be my authentic self. So I decided, this time out, to be the best sterile, cleaned up version of me that I could… the me I wish I could be, but am still far away from being… to see if that person would be loved and accepted. When I’ve had joyous things to say or share, I’ve felt like I belonged, but when I wanted to share my deepest, darkest secrets, I’ve felt apprehensive. I just don’t get the vibe that I should.
My spirituality is messy, always has been, and if I’m going to get messy, I need to find other messy people or keep my journey to myself.
Tonight I was reminded there are places I can go and be the real me and be accepted as I navigate my messy spiritual journey. A young man shared his raw, broken, authentic self with a couple hundred people and was greeted with shouts and applause as he told them that, though he went through a long, dark time of his life and really messed things up, God is still using him.
“We don’t have it all together,” I was reminded, (and in reality, when do we ever on this side of heaven?) but we’re on the journey together. I don’t know yet if that’s where I need to be or not, but I know a place to journey in authenticity is what I’m looking for.
For the most part, when I was at this church before, I thought I was being authentic, but all I was, for all intents and purposes, was a big, open wound. I didn’t have the ability to connect with anyone. Now, I believe I could be authentic and not suck the life out of anybody. I have hope that my messy self could connect and live in a community where opportunities abound to live beyond myself.
I find myself at a crossroad, but for the first time in my life, I feel like I have the tools to make a sound decision. I will not jump into anything, but I will not linger long.
We dare not be sinners… but the authentic me knows I am. Thank God for His grace and places to journey in authenticity.