Via Negativa: Hunger Games
Hunger for Authenticity

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached on Sunday, September 30, 2012 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings:
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22: "let my life be given me"
Mark 9:38-50: "Have salt in yourselves ..."
Rumi: "Be your note"
  Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

Our first song comes from the band the British rock band Supertramp. The band hit their peak in the late 1970s and have sold more than 60 million albums. This morning's song is their most popular hit. "The Logical Song" comes from their 1979 album called "Breakfast in America." Let's try it:

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees, well they'd be singing so happily
Oh, joyfully, oh, playfully, watching me
But then they sent me away, to teach me how to be sensible
Logical, oh, responsible practical
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable
Oh, clinical, intellectual, cynical
There are times when all the world's asleep
The questions run too deep for such a simple man
Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned
I know it sounds absurd, please tell me who I am

Halloween is just around the corner. This is the season when we can be anything we want to be. That little angel can be transformed into a terrible devil. A mild mannered office worker can become a superhero or a vampire. A timid kid can become a rock star with wild pink hair. Whatever we want to be, we can, even if it's just for one night.

While Halloween makes it socially acceptable to put on masks and costumes and transform ourselves into other people, or into the undead or fantasy characters, Halloween isn't the only time we're masquerading, or playing dress up. Often, we do it every day. Each day, when we get up, we may go to a job that doesn't really fulfill us, or we may hang with a group of people who don't really nurture our true selves, we may even find ourselves in churches or religions that we fear would reject us if they knew who we really were.

We wear disguises almost every single day, because often we are afraid that if we showed the world who we really are, we'd be rejected. Even though we hunger for authenticity in this world - in others, in our government, in our religions, in our family and our friends, it's often hardest to start with ourselves - to be our authentic selves in the world - or perhaps even to be authentic with ourselves.

Don't feel too badly, though, if you realize that you wear many disguises in this world, because it is the world, it is our society, that expects you to wear those masks. We are encouraged from childhood to mask who we really are. Our parents tell us to behave a certain way, refrain from talking a certain way, and definitely not to share our deepest thoughts and emotions with anyone because, "what would the neighbors think?"

It keeps going in school where we're told to conform, to blend in, not to stand out and not to speak our minds if what we're thinking conflicts with the ideas of the popular kids or how you're "supposed" to think or believe.

We get it in church, too. Don't ask too many questions - just sit back and listen and believe whatever the authority figure says about God or the Bible or how life is supposed to be. Don't think for yourself because we've got it all mapped out for you! No worries! Just believe us - we've got it all figured out for you!

Our parents, schools, governments and churches they all tell us, don't worry, we'll teach you how to be sensible, how to be logical, how to be practical and dependable. But, what happens to us?

We have all these questions, because often what the world around us wants us to learn is in direct conflict with what we know, deep inside ourselves to be true about the world. As kids we know the world is magical and wonderful with happy, singing birds all around us.

But, the world says, "No! That's not how the things works. The world is not magical or wonderful, it's logical and orderly and we have it all figured out for you. Memorize these rules, follow these laws, check your brain at the door and you'll be just fine."

And we are, for a little while, until those questions come back up, those nagging ideas that perhaps life really is magical and wonderful, if we could just tune back in to those happy birdsongs around us. Our genuine selves are always listening to the birds singing, and it is always urging us to listen as well - but the din of society, the pressure to be someone we're not, or the pressure to act in ways that don't feel right for us is so strong that we resist listening to the birds, or opening our eyes to the everyday wonder and magic that surrounds us in each moment.

It takes no bravery on our part to busy ourselves with what the world demands from us. It takes no courage to hide who we really are. We don't need to be heroic to bury our true nature in favor of a more socially acceptable way of living. What takes courage, Jubilants, is to be ourselves, no matter what our family, friends, society, church or governments have to say about it. It takes bravery to strip off our Halloween mask every single day and stand up for ourselves and be the heroes we really are.

As I said last week, we must accept ourselves, just as we are, knowing that we are not evil, fallen people whose true selves need to be repressed and buried. Instead, we are children of the Holy, created good and blessed so that we may be a blessing.

When you meet people in this world you find to be completely genuine, completely authentic, you can see that they have grasped this concept of original blessing. They know, even with all the darkness and light that is mixed within themselves, they are not sick, originally sinful people. Instead, the truly authentic among us are the ones who have learned how to embrace themselves entirely, the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, all wrapped up in one beautiful package.

This is our calling, Jubilants, to live into our true selves with such abandon that our original blessing outshines any of our evil thoughts and impulses.

It does not demolish them, but transforms them into the personal strength and integrity we need to live as genuine human beings in this world. This is the paradox of authenticity, Jubilants - the more human we become, the more our divinity shines through.

Watch what you say or they'll be calling you a radica
l A liberal, oh fanatical, criminal
Oh, won't you sign up your name,
we'd like to feel you're acceptable
Respectable, oh, presentable, a vegetable
There are times when all the world's asleep
The questions run too deep for such a simple man
Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned
I know it sounds absurd, please tell me who I am

In our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we discover a woman who knew all about the courage it takes to reveal our true identity to the world. Esther was a Jew, living in the diaspora, which means she lived outside of the Jewish homeland. She lived in Persia with her uncle Mordecai, under the rule of King Ahasuerus.

After Queen Vashti refused to appear and dance before her husband, the king, he banished her and launched a search for a new queen. Esther was accepted as part of the king's new harem and quickly became his favorite and was made his new queen. Under strict advisement of her uncle, Esther kept her identity as a Jew secret from her new husband.

Meanwhile, Mordecai uncovers a plot among the royal guards to assassinate the king and he passed the information on to Esther who informed the king.

The guards were arrested and executed, but Mordecai got into trouble when he refused to bow down to the king's new right-hand man Haman. To get his revenge, Haman went to the king and badmouthed the Jews living among them in Persia and got the king's permission to rise up against the Jewish population and kill them.

When this bit of news reaches Mordecai, he sends a copy of the edict to Esther, who vows to talk to the king about it. But, Esther can't just go into the king's court without being called, or she could be put to death, just like her predecessor. But, helping her fellow Jews was the most important thing to Esther, so she takes the chance, putting on her royal robes and enters the court anyway. The king kindly receives her and she asks for a banquet to be arranged for the king and Haman.

This pleased Haman, who bragged to his friends and family that he was being invited to a banquet as an honored guest of the king and queen. Then, he saw Mordecai at the gate - the man who refused to bow down to him. He plotted to kill Mordecai and ordered a gallows built for him.

As fate would have it, though, the king couldn't sleep the night before the banquet, so he asks that the king's records be read aloud to him as a sort of ego-boosting bedtime story. When it was read to him that this Jew Mordecai had uncovered the plot to kill him, the king wants to know how Mordecai has been rewarded. He then orders Haman to take a horse and robes and outfit Mordecai and allow him to ride through the city as an honored man.

This mortified poor Haman, but he complied, and then mourned his fate as a shamed man. At the banquet though, we see Esther about to make her move against Haman and reveal her true identity. As she, the king and Haman feast, she asks the king to reverse his order against the Jews, revealing that she, herself, is a Jew. The king is enraged that he has been duped into ordering the death of his wife's people, and the very gallows Haman built for Mordecai was used to hang him.

True identity plays a deep role in this story. Esther had to play the role expected of her for awhile, but when the lives of her people were on the line, she did not hesitate to risk her own life to save them. This is what it means to live authentically in this world - there comes a time when we can no longer go along with what society expects from us. There comes a time when we must live into who God has created us to be.

The world may want us to conform, even to be queen, but if that identity goes against who we really are, we cannot risk losing our true selves, even if it means gaining the world.

Esther's story has a happy ending - both she and Mordecai are rewarded for living with authenticity and integrity. But, this isn't always the case. Sometimes it costs us everything to live as we are called to live - but in reality - the rewards we gain by being who we truly are will always be greater than any riches the world can think to bestow on us.

All it takes is courage - and faith - to live into our authenticity. But, when we do, watch out, they'll be calling you a radical, a liberal, fanatical, even criminal.

But at night when all the world's asleep
The questions run too deep for such a simple man
Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned
I know it sounds absurd, please tell me who I am

"Be your note," says the poet Rumi. "I'll show you how it's enough. Go up on the roof at night in this city of the soul. Let everyone climb on their roofs and sing their notes. Sing loud!"

How often do we refrain from singing our own note? How often do we remain silent as others sing their song of life? How often do we take on the notes of others, feeling pressured to abandon our own note? How often do we feel ashamed of our own note, fearing that it will be off key, or flat or sharp?

But, even if we accept and wholeheartedly embrace and sing our own note, monk Thomas Merton reminds us not to be lulled into thinking our note is the only right note. Instead, he reminds us that the Holy, "the 'most wise singer' is not singing for ourselves alone and we must accept the fact that some of God's notes and words are for others and seemingly 'against us.' We must not react destructively against the notes we do not like. We must learn to respond not to this or that syllable, but to the whole song."

The whole song, Jubilants, is the world around us - the parts of the world we love, and the parts we hate. We cannot separate the two - instead, living authentically means we add our voice to the song, and sing loud!

Breathe deeply.

Our second song comes from British singer and songwriter Natasha Bedingfield. She started her career in a Christian dance group with two of her siblings in the 1990s, and later released her first solo album in 2004. This song is the title cut of that album, "Unwritten." The song debuted at number one on the British charts and number five on the Billboard charts in the U.S. Let's try it.

I am unwritten,
Can't read my mind, I'm undefined I'm just beginning,
The pen's in my hand, ending unplanned
Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

In our Jesus story, we find our guy still in Capernaum healing and teaching. In my Bible, the subheading on this passage is "Temptations to Sin," and while Jesus talks of literal things like stumbling blocks and cutting off limbs if they offend you lest you end up in hell, I think his message goes deeper - and right to the heart of living authentically. In truth, the "stumbling blocks" he's talking about here is hatred - hatred for others and most of all hatred for ourselves.

Gay and lesbian people go through this - and sadly, many in this community commit suicide rather than face the truth that God created them good and has blessed them as who they are. Instead, they believe the lies of the world, and far too many churches, that they are flawed in some way and need to change to be acceptable to society and to God.

It is not the sexual orientation of someone, or any other trait we may seek to reject because the world tells us it's bad, that makes us stumble. No, it is the world's rejection that makes us stumble. Jesus isn't saying to literally cut off our own arm if we're offended by it. No, Jesus is telling us to reject the rejection. Cut off that arm of society that holds us back from embracing who we are meant to be. If the church offends who you really are, cut it off. If society offends who you really are, cut it off. If your family, you friends, your enemies, offend you, and seeks to cut you off from who God has created you to be, Jesus says get rid of them - get them out of your life.

Don't go to churches that won't accept you as you are. Don't work for people who can't accept who you really are. Don't hang out with people who can't accept you as you are, whether they're family, friends, peers, or even your enemies. This is not to say that we can't build bridges and relationships hoping to foster education, compassion and understanding across differences - because whether or not we like each other, we are still part of the same choir singing this song of creation. We are a piece of the whole, and as such, we must find a way to work together.

What Jesus is saying is this: "Don't let anyone get between you and who God has created you to be." We have all been salted with fire, Jesus says, which means, we have all faced the temptation to be someone we're not. It is those experiences of denying our true selves, those moments when we didn't live with authenticity and integrity - indeed, those times when sinned by not living into who we were created to be, that have seasoned us to become who we really are.

To be ourselves, Jesus says, we must be salty - and not just of tongue. We may not think much of salt these days - and many of us avoid it for health reasons - but in Jesus' day, salt was important. It was currency and some people were even paid in salt. In a time before refrigeration, salt was used as a preservative - so salt was important for people to be able to eat and to stay alive.

So, when Jesus tells us to have salt in ourselves, he is telling us that it is only by living as we were created to live that we will truly find life. That salt is our true selves, and when we lose our salt - we die.

Breathe deeply.

I break tradition, sometimes my tries are outside the lines
We've been conditioned to not make mistakes
But I can't live that way
Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

"Live your life with arms wide open." This is main message that Jesus sends to us, not just in this passage, but in how he lived his whole life - a life of arms wide open, writing his life into this world, and through the ages, writing his life into our hearts if we allow it.

Jesus teaches this lesson to his disciples in the first part of our reading this morning, and we would miss a great teaching on authenticity if neglected to mention it. John complains to Jesus about this guy in town who they saw casting out demons in Jesus' name. The problem, as they see it, is that this guy is a stranger - somebody they don't know doing work in the name of their teacher. Their first impulse is to shut this guy down - to make him stop because he may be doing it wrong, or giving Jesus a bad name.

Jesus says, "So? If he's doing my work then leave him alone."

But, how often are we like the disciples? We see people out in the world doing God's work, but they're the wrong sort of people - they're not part of our group.

For example, there's a pastor in Fresno, California named Jim Franklin. Now, theologically, Rev. Franklin and myself would be on two very different sides. His theology is that of conservative Christianity and he would probably exclude someone like me - a woman and lesbian - from his church, or say that I am in the wrong believing God could love me as a lesbian or call me to preach as either a woman or a lesbian.

However, Franklin's Cornerstone Church has a ministry called "Feeding Fresno," which feeds some 350,000 people per year.

They have also provided school supplies for some 8,000 children in that area and have ensured that some 50 families ate a Thanksgiving meal last year.

Theologically, I don't understand the Jesus Franklin believes in - but when he does acts in Jesus' name, I can see Jesus at work. Thomas Merton writes that "if I can tolerate their Jesus then I can accept and love them. Or, I can at least conceive of doing so. Let not their Jesus be a barrier between us, or they will be a barrier between us and Jesus."

Franklin, and many other conservative Christians, have a Jesus we may not immediately recognize, but when they live authentically into Jesus' call in their lives, then we can begin to recognize Jesus in places we never thought we would.

This is another key to living authentically - to recognize the authenticity of others, even if we disagree with their theological or political beliefs. Perhaps it is through acts of healing that we can come together with those we may consider enemies and actually do God's work in this world.

Jesus tells his disciples, just as he tells us today, that we will bring about the realm of God only when we put aside our differences of opinion, and work together to help one another in real and tangible ways. We can only do that when we live into our own authenticity. It is when our deep hunger for authenticity meets the deep hunger of the world that we will be living our life with arms wide open to everyone, friend and foe alike.

Each day, our book begins again, Jubilants. It's up to you how you write your life. Will you sing your note, or will you let your judgment of other people's notes make you too busy or fearful to join in the song of creation?

I invite you, this morning, Jubilants to sing loud, to refuse to wear the masks society hands us, to live your life with arms wide open, and be who God has created you to be - an amazing, unique, beautiful and originally blessed divine child of the Holy.

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Oh, Yeah!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

Copyright by the author All Rights Reserved

Support Whosoever

Make a tax-deductible donation to support our work.

Donate to Whosoever

Is Your Faith Bulletproof?

Bulletproof Faith Cover

Endorsed by such religious leaders as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bishop John Shelby Spong and named one of the Best Spiritual Books of 2008, Whosoever founder Candace Chellew-Hodge's first book Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians is making an impact in the lives of LGBT Christians.

Get Your Copy Today!

Get Whosoever News in Your Email!


Become a
Rainbow Fish

Join Whosoever's regional groups and meet GLBT Christians in your area.

Podcasts

Subscribe to Whosoever's Podcasts

Whosoever Podcast link

Got a Suggestion?

If you have complaint, a compliment, a story idea or just need to vent, use our suggestion box.