I don’t know if there is any greater feeling than being truly known. Wait . . . I need to add something very important: I don’t know if there is any greater feeling than being truly known and, in spite of this, being loved. This is hard to find. Some people go their entire lives without experiencing this. A few problems occur. Either we are truly known and rejected (a primal fear built into all of us) or we are never let people truly know us due to this fear of rejection. This extends to all our relationships. It starts early as children hide things from their parents. It happens between siblings as one sister or brother looks down on the other for things they have done or feelings they have. This is most tragic when it comes to husbands and wives. Each of them keeps a significant part of their lives hidden in fear of the repercussions that will follow if their true self is revealed. All of these things depress relationships, as the basic foundation of relationships is honesty. The acquaintance wants to have confidence that what you are revealing about yourself is really . . . well, yourself.
Different institutions offer us varying levels of authenticity. When you walk into a convenience store and ask the clerk how they are doing, we don’t really want to know. It is just not the time or place and we are not expecting a true or, much less, a remotely exhaustive account that reveals what is actually going on in your life. We just want them to say, “pretty good” or “great.” We might even tolerate a “hanging in there.” But if they say “not good at all” or “it has been a bad day,” we begin to fear they will go on, and we don’t actually want in on it. In the family, as I said before, we allot portions of our lives only to those who we trust will not judge us for what we share. It’s the same among friends. Each friend gets a part of you. It is a rare thing for us to have one person who will listen to and love us no matter what we share, accepting us as we are. We normally have to pay someone $200 an hour to bear all our business! Or, alternatively, we can (as so many do) find such acceptance at a local bar. Let’s face it, sometimes we want to go to a place “where everybody knows your name.” It’s funny that this line from the introductory song to a popular 90s sitcom called “Cheers” is more relevant than you may realize. Yes, we want to go where everyone knows our name. But consider the meaning of “name” in the Scriptures. It was not simply the handle people used to describe, identify, or greet someone. One’s name carried everything about them. “Name” was a description of who you really are. It is your reputation and bears the weight of your entire life, history, personality, positions, and the like. Consider the Third Commandment, “You shall not take the Lord, your God’s, name in vain.” It means you are not to make the Lord’s reputation empty, void, or misunderstood. We are to represent everything about God correctly or we destroy his “name” among those who listen. Cheers was providing a “safe place” (I know we are somewhat sick of that phrase . . . just think of it pre-2013) for everyone to come and get to know your name—the real you, warts and all.
Keeping with the societal institution’s theme, let me ask the reverse question: which of our institutions is the place where we shut people out of our lives the most? Which of these is the most fearful to go to due to fear of rejection? I already elected the local bar as the place most people might choose as the “safest” place to go. And I would definitely put A.A. or some other similar support group down. But which is the hardest place to find people who really even want to know your name and you want to tell them? I could make a long list, but I spare you the drama. You know where I am going. I believe that the church may be the hardest place on earth for one to let others know their name. There is so much I want to say about this. I literally have thousands of notes for a book I am working on about authenticity. This is a big subject. But I want to share with you a small and relevant entry point to the somewhat radical statement I am making here.
Not too long ago I was listening to a story about an evangelical missionary who used to take a short sabbatical and attend some gatherings where other missionaries were present. He said on one corner, there was the evangelical gathering he was supposed to go to with all his buddies. And he said on the other corner was the dreaded liberal missionary gathering. From his perspective, the evangelical gathering was filled with like-minded Christians who were all about sharing the Gospel and the liberal gathering was filled with a different breed of missionaries with whom his theology and philosophy of missions were diametrically opposed. Then he shared something somewhat surprising. He said that, to his shame, he would end up sneaking to the liberal group. Why? Because, according to him, it was much easier to find the existential bond of the brotherhood of humanity. They were much more accepting he continued. And they seem to smile and laugh more. He did not have to share his resume of righteousness, but he could express all his shortcomings without judgment and embarrassment. It only surprised many of us listening for a second though. Why? Because that is probably exactly what we would do if we had the courage.
Unfortunately, on Sunday mornings we often go to a place where people know our name the least. It is like there is a greeter at the church doors who hands us a mask that is reserved for that day only. It is not as if we don’t like the people at church, it is more like we don’t know them. Why? Because they normally have the same mask on. Suddenly, pretty much everything in our lives straightens out in the church foyer. The tears are wiped away, our broken heart is mended, and any frustrations we have with God and this life are replaced with smiles of feigned hope. All the sins we have cannot be known, as this will destroy our plagiarized resume we pirated, ultimately, from the church leadership.
I am not implicating every church here. It is a breath of fresh air when you go to a church that is authentic, no one has a mask, and everyone want to know your name. I have been to one or two of them.
At Credo Church (the church I am just starting) the other day, I expressed this desire: That we could all show up every third Sunday with a t-shirt we that listed all our sins and failures. These are the things we hide as deep as we can the moment we enter the church doors (it might even start in the parking lot!). I am not saying that this would solve all our problems with inauthenticity, but it would be a great first step. Better, what if God made the t-shirts?! That is right. No fake t-shirts! Does this make you cringe? If it does, it might immediately express the need for this to happen.
Think about the results of such a radical idea. The entire church body would be completely disarmed. There would be no room for judgment, jealousy, envy, or, most importantly, shame. The moment you even thought about judging or looking down on someone else, you would be silenced and humbled by looking down at the writing on your shirt. We would finally see that every one of us has a pretty significant list of failures. We are all the same. Would you be surprised? Of course. You thought the Nelson family was perfect. You thought Jill and John had a ideal relationship. You had no idea that Matthew was so addicted to pornography. You never suspected that Emma was so full of jealousy and bitterness. Yes The hidden would be brought to light. We would see that we have all come to the same hospital to help deal with our wounds. Everyone’s shirt would be filled with those things that Christ’s gracious blood has washed away.
Without transparency, we fail over and over again as the body of Christ.
As I said, I have so much to say about this subject, but let me end with this attempt to practice what I preach. I actually made this shirt and showed everyone that night. I was really scared. But I knew the example had to come from me if we have any hope of being a truly gracious and authentic church. Many of these failures are present failures. Some, thankfully, I have in my rearview mirror. But I don’t distinguish which is which. If you want to get to know me—if you want to know my name—this is a part of who I am and why I love Christ.
There is nothing in this world like the knowledge that we are all in this together and your marred life is common to all. When you look and see the shameful revelation of the man or women who you thought had it all together, your shame is placed in the cleft of hope—hope that your are not alone.
If someone shows up to the church with a blank T-shirt on, they probably need the gospel. They don’t know their own wretchedness. If Isaiah can come undone before the presence of God, you can too.
Again, this type of authenticity has to start at the top. The more the people see the leaders, elders, pastors, and others in their respective positions do this, the more they will be ready to shed light, before God and before man, on their own desperate need for the grace of God.
So, with fear and trembling, I share with you my name, even more than I have ever before. Unfortunately (or maybe, fortunately) God did not write it. It is a work in progress. But I so want you all to know my name.