For the sake of full disclosure, I must begin this article with a confession. I am a Subway-aholic. I don't mean I love riding around in subterranean trains designed to boost the public transport system without creating a metropolitan eyesore (I don't think New Zealand has this kind of technology yet). Instead, I'm talking about the Subway of the sandwich speciality. You probably know the one - Eat Fresh! Jared the Subway Guy! The healthy fast-food alternative!
This type of Subway has captured my heart and stomach on many occasions, with the local staff knowing both my first name and my preferred sandwich option. I have both laughed and cried at Cambridge Subway, mentored young people and been discipled by others there, planned business opportunities and discovered the joys of ranch dressing. From the selection of the bread right through to the last bite of the cookie, Subway lunch is an addictive ritual that I participate in at least once a week, finishing with a smile on my face and carbs in my stomach.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a sign on the glass front of Subway that I had never been aware of before. Glowing brightly in all its neon-tubed brilliance were a few words that were attempting to sell the Subway-experience. They were not drawing attention to the taste, size or value of the sandwiches. Nor were they highlighting the great service or opening hours of this branch. Instead, shining for all to see, were the bold words, "We Bake Our Own Bread".
Aching for Authenticity
One hundred years ago, these words would have been common-sense - and could not be used as a means to make your store stand-out from the crowd. In the days of self-production, a sandwich shop would always make their own bread, sourced from local products to satisfy their local market. The food that was consumed then was the genuine article - made locally from natural - not modified - vegetables and animals. Now days, with the mass market of production and consumption - we no longer bother to question where our food comes from. We expect our Big Mac to taste the same at each McDonald's we go to around the world, and we don't imagine the KFC staff having to butcher, pluck and prepare the chicken. But at Subway, they attempt to promote something different - bread that is locally made. Bread made here that is not a carbon-copy, but bread that is the genuine article. Subway make authentic bread.
In a culture of superficiality, authenticity stands out like a cup of coffee on a frosty morning. Authenticity is more than eye-catching - it is heart engaging, and draws our very selves towards the authentic one. Obviously, this goes beyond locally made bread, but is a truth that reaches to the very depths of our humanity; the truth that we cannot truly live until we learn to live truly authentically.
Brene Brown is a leading researcher in the field of human interactions and connection, exploring the links between identity and relationships. During her recent research on people who live whole-hearted lives, Brown discovered that the one common factor with all of these people was their willingness to be vulnerable and authentic. In her publication of her findings, she wrote, "Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path."
Fig Leaves and Facebook Pages
In my few years as a Youth Pastor, I became convinced that people are driven by the desire to be accepted. Deep within each of us is the yearning to hear a voice that says, "I see you and I love you". Unfortunately, as we strive to be accepted by others we end up changing and compromising our selves in the process, resulting in a shadow-version of our true selves being loved, while our true self is hidden in the dark. In our culture of boob-jobs and make-overs, Facebook pages and bravado tales, we know story after story of people who have tried to change and hide their selves in their quest for love.
Each of these stories is an echo of Eden, where we read that after breaking their relationship with God (by their act of sin), the first thing that Adam and Eve tried to do was hide. Their nakedness - which before was a sign of their true authenticity and selves - was now something to be hidden. Yet fig leaves and animal skins are a shallow cover for the depth of true humanity we were created to exhibit.
With the desire to be authentic beating in our hearts, matched by a fear of shame and rejection if our true selves are known, we can plod a lonely path through life, never allowing others to go beyond the surface of our existence. No matter how many accountability groups we join, or how many times we talk about "living intentionally" - we can easily hide behind Christian jargon and pretence, while our soul struggles in the darkness.
The Naked Self
As I read the gospels, I am struck by how authentic Jesus is. Here is a man who seems to be totally comfortable within his own skin - not driven by public sway or opinion, nor one to shy away from conflict. In his discussions with Nicodemus, the Phoenician and Samaritan women and with Zacchaeus, Jesus models incredible vulnerability as he communicates with the depths of these hurting yet desiring people. Further, as Jesus was breathing his last as he hung on the cross, near naked and covered with blood, pus and sweat - Jesus did not hide. The world saw the full extent of the ferocity of sin, yet also saw a jaw-dropping picture of naked love and grace in the face of suffering.
The apostle Paul carried on this life of authenticity, with his letters full of confessions of weakness, emotional pleas and bold warnings to the ones that he loved. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes that he has opened his heart wide to the church - showing them love, vulnerability and an authentic life of grace. In turn, Paul asks them to open wide their hearts back.
This ancient calling to live vulnerable, authentic lives is just as pressing now as it was in Paul's generation. Science fiction writer Kurt Vonnegut repeated this mandate in his college commencement address, saying "What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured." For these communities to exist, followers of Jesus must be willing to be vulnerable and authentic, courageously admitting their failings and weaknesses whilst celebrating the worth that God has valued them. This act is often painful, always uncomfortable - yet leads to a reality that is more vibrant than the shadow-land it replaces.
Taking the First Strip
In my experience, I have discovered that authenticity begets authenticity. If we want authentic relationships, then we must be willing to be authentic and vulnerable first. Then - and only then - will we discover the reality of our true humanity, the true humanity of others - and the transforming love of God that sees our broken selves, and loves.
So be bold and courageous. Strip off the fig leaves and the animal skins, jump off the carbon-copier and begin the journey of a genuine, authentic, vulnerable life - a life that has more colour than before and smells sweeter than fresh, home-made bread.
Jeremy Suisted is a management and theology student, part time creative consultant, and penchant for foot long chicken fillets on honey oat bread.
Jeremy Suisted previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-suisted.html