Have you ever seen one of those ads, usually from some massive brand name or another, that runs something like, “be yourself… by wearing our shoes! As many of you as possible, be uniquely yourself by displaying our corporate logo!
I’m not the first person to notice how goofy it is to use “be yourself” to sell the same stuff to millions of people, but I’ve been seeing these ads my entire life so it must keep working. I guess it shows just how attracted we Americans are to the idea of uniqueness and authenticity, to being “real” no matter who you’re with or where you are. We even like our politicians to at least make an effort to appear genuine, even if we all realize that it’s usually a front.
I actually really like that part of our culture, even though advertisers try to use it to sell us stuff. I think authenticity is important, not being totally wishy-washy or becoming a completely different person when you’re around a different crowd.
But then what do I do with this week’s passage from 1 Corinthians? (“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews… to the weak I became weak so that I might win the weak.”) Paul practically boasts about being a social chameleon, mimicking the various groups he encounters, emphasizing one aspect or another of his life so as to better connect with people and preach the Good News to them. Paul seems to be about as “real” and “authentic” as your average politician!
It’s a reminder that my American taste for a certain flavor of authenticity might not actually be the most honest thing in the world. Fact is, when we are with old friends we do act differently and talk differently than when we’re with, say, our boss. And it’s natural to try to point out things you have in common with people, it’s natural to bring up your obsession with Bollywood when talking with an Indian or (in Paul’s case) your extensive Jewish education when talking with Jewish people.
Yes, if you take it too far it looks pretty stupid… and can definitely lead to deception and hypocrisy. But it’s good to know that God doesn’t expect us to be exactly the same person all the time; I don’t think I could manage it. God understands that real authenticity isn’t about talking the same, acting the same, and wearing the same clothes all the time; it’s about a deeper consistency, the Good News that we bring into all our circumstances through the love that dwells in our hearts.
May we find a way to be true to ourselves that is not rigid but allows us to genuinely connect with the people in our lives, to the glory of God who loves us all,