Be True to Yourself?

If we can learn about our culture from anywhere–what drives us, jives with us, and inspires us–we can learn it from McDonald’s.  Masters at marketing their products, McDonald’s keys in to the human psyche to get our business. So as I drove down the freeway in West Michigan on my way to Chicago, two identical McDonald’s billboards advertising an iced mocha caught my eye. Their message: “Be cool to yourself.”

It is the anthem of our age. It guides so many of our conversations, clips short so many of our other values, presses in on politics, and replaces religious messages. “BE TRUE TO YOURSELF.”

In a very brief radio interview the other day, Katy Perry said that what makes her music special is it’s honesty, it’s authenticity…it truly reveals who she is. Regardless of the content of her songs, that singular claim to “authenticity” seems sufficient for many in our culture to say, “Good enough for me!” We value ourselves without question.

That is the cultural milieu that makes possible a story I heard on CNN the other day. Wolf Blitzer devoted a ten minute package to pointing out that Michelle Bachman’s husband runs a clinic which practices “reparative therapy” for homosexual persons. The content of the story notwithstanding, it was hardly objective journalism.  The term “so-called” rang with repetition. Each segment gave the impression, without saying it explicitly, that this course of treatment is ridiculous even to the point of heinous bigotry.

Now I want to be very clear: I am NOT encouraging anyone to demonize CNN or Wolf Blitzer.  I am NOT promoting nor disapproving of Michelle Bachman as a presidential candidate. I am NOT making any claims in this article about the psychology of homosexuality.

What I AM doing is pointing out the cultural milieu that made this news story “news” to begin with.  The underlying assumption of the package and the culture listening to it is that the Bachman’s are fundamentally mistaken to ask someone to reject something they have come to experience as core to “who they are.” Above all, be true to yourself.  Authenticity is the anthem of our age.

This call for authenticity is a good thing in many respects. Confronted with political debates that become all but shams when we log on to factcheck.org, media outlets from every side of the spectrum disseminating lopsided discoveries, and even sophist preachers who squeeze out a few tears to manipulate us into their way of thinking, we are in desperate need of authenticity in the church and in the world.

However, the mantra “Be true to yourself,” the call to live out of who you really are, is only helpful if you know who you really are.

The Christian faith gives us three pieces of our identity that are absolutely fundamental to who we really are.

  1. We are human beings made in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Insofar as we are God’s creatures, we are good.
  2. But unlike the “Baby I was born this way” mentality of a Lady Gaga song, Christians believe that humans have scratched up, deformed, and polluted their own created goodness. That’s what Christians call the sinful nature–the tendency of our hearts to turn away from the beautiful plan of God for our world. This is a key point…not everything about the “yourself” you are supposed to “Be true to” is good. In other words, being true to who you really are can actually be, in many respects, a bad thing because we are, in many respects, flawed.
  3. But the good news is that we are not left to ourselves. Even as we have rejected God in so many ways, he has pursued us in Jesus Christ. He has adopted us into his family and given us the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:14-16 says, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (emphasis added).”

So by all means, be true to yourself. That is…live out of the reality of your true identity: made in God’s image, with a tendency to let go of God’s beautiful plan for the world, and pursued by a loving God who won’t let you go.

Contrary to the prevailing winds of our culture, we have to remember that we, the ones who let go of God, are not the ultimate guides of our own life.  We are not the compass of our own morality. Rather, the our guide is the God we call “Father,” because our fundamental identity is not in our job, our family, our sexual preference, our appearance, or our nationality. Because of Jesus Christ we are, fundamentally, children of God.

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