Have you gotten on the Authenticity bandwagon yet? I tend to dislike any bandwagon, but this one is more egregious then some of the others in my opinion. In politics it means hiring a consultant or two to tell you what to wear, what buzzwords to say, and the exact moments to smile. In music it seems to mean adopting a slightly new style to replace the old style that consumers are tired of–in order to have the next big hit. In twenty-something culture it seems to mean wearing the same clothes and speaking the same lingo as other twenty-somethings–in order to be true to oneself.
In other words, authenticity means being inauthentic. Existentialists must roll their eyes when they hear the word used that way.
It’s not a new phenomenon. Whether you “march to the beat of a different drummer” or you “know where it’s at” or you call yourself ”authentic,” it all boils down to the same thing. You are just like all those other people who are adopting the latest trends and fads in order to be authentic, too.
I’m reading a book called Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. It is an interesting book, although I am having a hard time relating to it, because Mr. Miller was young when he wrote it and I am middle-aged. I told one of my twenty-something Christian friends, who has read Blue Like Jazz, that I am too old for that book. He said that his father-in-law had made the same comment. Then my young friend said, “The thing I like about the book is that the author is authentic.”
The book is written in that rambling and disjointed manner that now passes for “style.” In my day we called it incoherent or sloppy. It is the literary equivalent of those TV shows in which the camera bounces up and down and flits about. In the old days camera operators tried to ensure that they kept it steady. Likewise, writers in the old days tried to connect one sentence to another and to devolop a theme across several coherent paragraphs. Mr. Miller is too hip to do that, apparently.
He is too hip to write metaphors and similes that make sense. The title phrase, for example, makes no sense to me. It occurs in a passage in which Miller describes the sky as being “blue like jazz.” Does he have synesthesia? It seems more likely that he has one of those sets of magnets with words on them that you can play with on the refrigerator–any two random words can make a clever figure of speech. (I’m looking around me for a really clever example. How about “pure like a telephone”?)
Miller practices Christian spirituality rather than Christianity, though I still don’t really see how the two are different. It’s like the hundreds of denominations who claim to be exclusively practicing “biblical Christianity.” What do they suppose all the others think they are doing? Miller judges evangelicals that are my age because we are. . .well. . .too judgmental. He sort-of, kind-of believes in Jesus in a “Jesus is all right with me, Dude” way.
I could be completely wrong about everything I wrote in that last paragraph, since, as I said, I don’t quite understand everything in the book. I think I am too old. If Mr. Miller is an authentic Christian, as I hope I am, he will forgive me.
I tried to imagine what my young friend meant when he said that Miller is authentic. I don’t think my friend has verified that the author really thinks and does everything he wrote in the book. I don’t think that he has confirmed that the book is factually accurate. So what does it mean that Donald Miller is authentic? I think it means that he is (1) appealing to people who are in their 20′s and 30′s and (2) upsetting people in their 40′s and 50′s and (3) sounding like all the other people in the Emergent Chruch and Authentic Christianity movements.
Don’t misunderstand me. Perhaps Donald Miller is exactly what he portrays himself to be. He probably is. Perhaps he has written his honest-to-goodness thoughts and feelings and accurately presented facts in his book. Maybe he is the genuine and original article and all the other people in his movement are the imitators. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that all those young emergent Christians with spiked hair and leather chokers and tatoos and piercings and flip-flops are true to themselves by being identical to each other.
The writer of Ecclesaistes said that “there is nothing new under the sun.” How true! I remember the radical young Jesus People of the 1960′s. Now they are gray-haired and have children and even grandchildren. They own houses and minivans and sit on committees and invest in mutual funds. Miller’s day is coming. Some young writer of the future will put him in his place. Then maybe he will chuckle at his younger self, and maybe I will, too.