Monday, May 29, 2006

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Have you ever been disillusioned? I have. Within the industry that I work there are countless opportunities to become disillusioned. As a writer I interpret the world I live in through words - my own and those of others. Words are powerful things. They have the power to give and even take life. But some of these words are what makes it difficult not to become disillusioned and cynical.

One word that has permeated Christian writing for some time now is AUTHENTIC. We are all on the hunt for authentic relationships. We judge writers authenticity by how transparent they're willing to be about their own failings so that we can feel better about our own sorry states. But then we judge their authentic selves if they don't match our own. Being authentic may be desirable, but it can also be dangerous.

Blogs have burst onto the scene and Christian writers are joining the ranks by the boatload. Why? Because they can be "authentic" without fear of rejection. We receive criticism, to be sure, but we can moderate that criticism and delete any comment that doesn't match our own version of authenticity. It's a good try, but this too falls short.

Why do we squirm in our seats when we detect someone or something that is not authentic? When what we say we believe and what we do don't match, this is called dissonance. Dissonance makes us uncomfortable. It creates tension or stress to change. The greater the dissonance, the greater the need to reduce or eliminate it. For example, the more inconsistent your diet is with what you say you know and believe about good nutrition, the greater the pressure you will feel to do something about it or reduce the dissonance.

How do we respond to the discomfort created by dissonance? We do one of two things. We either change what we say we believe to match our actions or we change our actions to match what we say we believe.

If I say that I believe in unconditional forgiveness and yet withold that forgiveness from someone in my life, that's dissonance. If I say that I believe in the sanctity of my marriage vow, yet I act in a way that dishonors that vow, that's dissonance. If I say that I believe in the unity of the Church and yet cite my "Protestant bias" as a reason that I exclude certain believers from my midst, that is dissonance and leads to the next up and coming word within Christian writing.


You can't have unity if you're not authentic. The two are directly linked. We struggle with this concept daily. Many of us agree that we should pursue unity, yet our actions don't reflect that belief. So one of two things must happen. We either change what we say we believe about unity to match what we're NOT doing about it, or we change what we're doing to match what we say we believe about unity. It's that simple AND that hard.

"I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope at your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all."
(Ephesians 4:1-6)

This urging from St. Paul reveals how highly valued this call to unity is and the dissonance Paul suspects defines the Church. He recommends a change in behavior to match what we say we believe.
But how are the two linked - being authentic and unity?

"Above all, put on love--the perfect bond of unity." (Colossians 3:14)

So if you're disillusioned, most likely you're experiencing dissonance. How can you regain the balance that leads to peace? Will you change what you say you believe to match your actions or will you change your actions to match what you say you believe?

Are you willing to be brave (and authentic) to share with us about a time that you've experienced dissonance and how you either reduced or eliminated it in your life? Maybe it has to do with what you chose to do with your life, how you handle friendships, how you work through difficulties in your marriage, how you parent, how you navigate ethical situations in your job, etc. Maybe you're in the clutches of great dissonance right now and don't know how to eliminate it and bring your life back into balance. Knowing what you know now, what's your choice? Change your beliefs or change your actions?