December 17, 2014
It is hard not to be exasperated with much of what passes today as truth. From politicians to churches to corporations, it seems like every entity that interacts with the public is dedicated to using “spin” to shape our perceptions. Life has become a PR campaign, and those with the most power have the ability to shape the world into their preferred images. But amidst all this phoniness, people are hungrier than ever for authentic talk. The problem is that there are precious few places where people strive to tell things as they are.
Sharing an authentic opinion is a risky thing. It risks being misinterpreted or revealing our shortcomings, even our errors. Our heartfelt opinions are likely to be different than those of at least some others, and our society is not very good at promoting relationship among people who have different opinions. More likely is a PR “war.”
But no spiritual wisdom has ever been transmitted through propaganda. In fact, no one is quite as hated as religious hypocrites, those people whose well-chosen words do not match their actions. To share inspiration, faith and hope, we must take the risk of sharing our most heartfelt beliefs in an authentic way. And this is a daunting thing.
The good news is that we can preach both with and without words. Some of the most compelling spiritual figures of our times convey their traditions through their demeanor and actions—think of Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa. This is the basis of authenticity. And we can preach that way too. All we need to do is live our lives as if we love God. Everything else will follow. But we have to be willing to leave the comfort of a well-managed public image if we are going to inspire anyone.
The Rev. Dr. Joseph Stewart-Sicking is an Episcopal priest and assistant professor of Pastoral Counseling at Loyola University, Maryland.