Authenticity has become a buzzword in Christianity over the past decade. It gets used over and over and yet, few have any practical grid for what it actually means, never mind how it applies to your life.
David Hampton believes most of us shy away from any version of being authentic because it’s too messy and leaves too many questions unanswered. That’s why he’s written Our Authentic Selves: Reflections on What We Believe & What We Wish We Believed.
Recently I had the privilege of sitting down with David, where we talked about a lot of stuff from the Church, Christianity, Recovery, and the recent passing of his wife from a very long hard-fought battle with MS.
Our Authentic Selves
J: Where did you get the idea behind the book?
D: The writing of the book came from my journals and my blogs. I wanted to write something that wasn’t a devotional because I hate the word and I hate devotions. So I figured the best way to get people not to read my book was to call it a devotional. That left me wondering what would I call it and I came to the conclusion that what I talk about most is being our authentic selves and the difference between what we believe and what we wish we believed.
I think a lot of us live our Christian lives out of what we wish we believed instead of what we actually believe, but we don’t ask ourselves the questions or allow ourselves to sit in the spaces that bring about the true belief. Questions like do I really believe God loves me, do I really believe God’s trust worthy, do I really believe He cares? Well I don’t know. Some days I don’t. Some days I don’t think He gives a rip at all and here’s why. In the book I get into that. I wanted people to explore that more than I wanted them to sit down and have a warm fuzzy to start the day off.
J: What were your biggest challenges while writing the book?
D: There were logistical challenges along the way. I mean that always happens with publishing a book – explaining to editors why you’re saying something a certain way. And it’s not that maybe their way is better, but when something would get past them, and I would have to explain, they would say something like, ‘oh that’s what you mean,’ which tells me as a writer that I wasn’t clear.
But it also tells me that sometimes editors aren’t reading it through the same lens that a reader’s going to read it from. Cause I’m really writing to the reader, and the editors helping me clean it up. So that was challenging for especially since I had two editors working on it –one for grammar and one for content.
J: How has the writing process changed you as a person?
D: Well I’m not independently wealthy or anything like that, if that’s what you mean. But I think what’s changed for me is the sense of having processed some thoughts, beliefs and perspectives that I’ve had for a long time, finally being able to string them together into something cohesive that maybe other people could engage.
In addition to that, the biggest thing that has changed is that my wife died as I entered the home stretch finishing the book. That’s been pretty tough.
J: I love the title. I think far too many of us Christians aren’t interested in entering conversations about what we actually believe. It’s much easier to hide and go along with the evangelical crowd than to sit for a moment and ask our-selves, do I really believe that? What do you hope your book will inspire for the reader?
D: I hope it inspires questions. I hope it doesn’t confound anybody. I don’t want it to leave people in a heave, in a mess. I don’t think it will, but then again I don’t have the power to do that anyway. I just put it out there and what happens is between you and God. But I do hope that it really inspires questions and authentic conversations.
Nothing would make me happier to know that home fellowship groups are doing this together or Sunday School classes are doing this together because the discussion and opening up of where we are and what we are really holding on to reveal a lot about our superstitions. As evangelicals it reveals a lot about our expectations and I think those things come out better in groups, so I would love to see that.
Being a Professional Christian
J: In being our Authentic Selves, you talk about being a “Professional Christian” and hiding your hurt and pain. How do you see that showing up in the church today?
D: Well I think that we are creating churches where people have two choices. They can both deny their reality and create personas where they mascaraed as themselves, or they can address their reality and begin to share that reality, whatever it is, usually at the risk of some alienation.
The church doesn’t know what do with addiction, sexuality, brokenness and a lot of other relational places – not to mention things like mental illness, or compulsive behavior.
People deal with this stuff in their families everyday and they get prayed for but the prayers are that God will happen (to) them and this will all just go away, instead of the peace, courage, wisdom, etc. that it’s going to take to live with it, cause it may never go away. Your child may always struggle with autism and you may always have this issue. You may always have the broken place that you have that doesn’t go away.
The better question is how are you going to live with that and walk within community, trusted community, a small group of people usually or are you just going to put up a persona?
I think part of that de-churching that we’re seeing in this culture now, is not because people have had it with God, I think they just don’t know where they fit into the body of Christ. They just don’t have any other options in their minds but to just withdraw and create their own reality somewhere.
“I think we should be afraid of the worthy people, worthy people are dangerous…” (tweetable)
Recovery and The Church
J: One of the things you and I have in common is our story of recovery. I personally believe everyone needs to be in recovery, because the truth is we are all living stories of recovery, whether we recognize it or not. We’re all recovering from who we once were to who we are yet to become. How do you think adopting recovery principles in how they love people could impact the church’s relevance?
D: The first thing for me, the distinction that I realized early on in my recovery, was that in recovery everyone’s desperate to be there and in the church they’re not. We’re in church for a bunch of different reasons.
I’m at church to get my wife off my back, I’m in church because I think it’s good for my kids or because I really need some spiritual connection and I don’t know how to get it. Then obviously there are the mainstream reasons people go to church, but in recovery people are desperate to be there.
People have to exhibit rigorous honesty to become healthy and they have to acknowledge some truths about themselves. They have to own some things about their own behavior, then they have to make some amends for that behavior and they have to address it to the people they’ve hurt.
In the church, we just give each other passes like left and right. We don’t sit in any of that. As Protestants, we don’t even do confession because we can go to Jesus ourselves, except we don’t. There’s no doubt the church could be impacted greatly by adopting recovery principles because recovery principles are just biblical principles that the church has kind of forgotten about.
J: What would you say to the cynic or the skeptic who is reading this book, sitting on the outside looking in?
D: That’s a great question because I really did keep this kind of caricature of an unbeliever in my head – this image of a certain person and when they read this, what does it trigger in their mind, what do they hear when they read this phrase. I tried really hard not to use “Christian-ese” language and if I did, I tried to unpack it because what I really want people to embrace in the book is their own sense of where ever they are.
I know people who say, ‘I don’t know if I’m a Christian yet or not.’ They say, ‘I mean I believe this but I haven’t done it like that and I haven’t said the magic sinners’ prayer like that from the brochure but I have had this moment when I realized God was God and I wasn’t, that someone bigger than me better take over running this show and I found some kind of grace in that.’ I think we’ve reduced Christianity to whether you’ve got your passport stamped or not, and if you’re in the gray area then there’s something in your belief system that we don’t know what to do with yet.
I’m hoping that there are people in the gray area, wherever they are, that read this book and go, if I could accept that Christ was the all in all and still maintain the authenticity of my life, I might be able to get on that boat, instead of the deny your reality come to Jesus.
What struggles do you have with being your authentic self?
What would it mean to you to be a part of a church that didn’t just accept your authentic self, but rather invited it?