This blog features reflections on current affairs through the lens of my Quaker faith and practice and offers not only analysis but a perspective on hope, renewal, and reconciliation - a “lift”, as I call it - during these stressful, chaotic times.
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A friend this past week raised an interesting comparison: the difference between performance and authenticity. I've kept mulling those words as I have sought to maintain moral balance and integrity in these dynamic, topsy-turvy days. I strongly believe the deepest part of our soul yearns for a sense of authenticity - a truer self without pretension, vulnerable yet confident of our self worth, at peace with who and how we are. But our authentic self needs to find that center amidst our various, often competing “performance” roles.
The reality of life is that we all do play certain roles as expected - and maybe even required - as parent, as civic leader, as clergy, as teachers, for example. And we try to play those roles with grace, compassion, presence and respect. But these times are so riven by posturing and bluster on the internet, in the media, and in electoral politics in particular, we need to be vigilant to find ways to maintain and reinforce the power of our authentic selves. I personally find my morning time of silence and prayer provides me the opportunity to shed, for the moment at least, my pretensions, and I am pleased that so many in our culture are turning to some form of meditation in large part to be more centered and find an authentic hold on their lives.
We often experience our most authentic selves in times of crises, or times of great happiness and joy. This was true during a particularly dramatic week for me. On Monday we rejoiced in the birth of a new granddaughter, and the reality (in our case only pictures) of a newborn always evokes a sense of awe and wonder and, above all, gratitude for the promise of a renewal of life. Tuesday evening was the “debate” where “performance” literally “trumped” authenticity. And then Thursday Cathy had a successful by prolonged two hour heart operation. The anticipation of surgery, the holding of it (especially when I couldn’t be with her in the hospital), and the relief when it was over - like any life and death situation - clears life down to the truly authentic emotional essentials in the living of our days.
In contrast to the life-giving force of birth and medical drama, the “debate” Tuesday evening was promoted primarily as “performance” as we were set up to judge which candidate would out perform the other rather than engage in serious dialogue about strategy and policies to serve the welfare of the American people. Among my heart-sick responses, I found myself feeling so bereft of an authentic opportunity tor the candidates to express concern and passion for addressing the incredibly pressing issues of our times.
And so I came away wondering about my own sense of authenticity. If I were to engage authentically in a deep, public conversation about the welfare of my people, what would that feel like, what values would ground and motivate my policies and priorities? Would I be able to overcome the expectation of a performance only and present myself with self-assurance but also with sincerity and integrity that included a willingness to be open to criticism and create policies for the common good? I would like to believe I could.
So the tension between performance and authenticity will continue to be part of my personal and public life - as it will yours. May we be aware of the opportunities and temptations it presents.
In the midst of this week I received a Quaker Speak seven minute video below that really called me to write about authenticity. It features an elderly African-American woman talking so simply, so “authentically,” about her Friends Victory Garden that it has brought tears each time I viewed it. This is what authenticity in its purest form looks like. No pretensions. Spoken and lived from the heart. Please do take the time to watch the video and find reassurance of the essential goodness possible in our humanity.
Blessings and peace to you, my friends,
"I just couldn't sit in my house and feel scared and powerless," Avis Wanda McClinton says, thinking back to the early months of the pandemic. "There's always something to do, you know? I'm a child of God. He gave me these beautiful hands and gave me this big heart, and I know how to grow food." So that's what she did.
IMAGE: Creating a Friends Victory Garden