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Following Jesus

What Does It Mean To Be Authentic?

March 9, 2018 by

View of the Arco Valley in the Tyrol by Albrecht Durer
View of the Arco Valley in the Tyrol by Albrecht Durer

Everyone loves authenticity.

We also love to hate fakers, especially when it comes to religious groups or people claiming a faith. We love to call out the hypocritical, attacking what we see as counterfeit in their expressions. And not without reason, as much in religious life – from ancient history until the present – has been corrupt, abusive, and exploitive.

But I recently held real authenticity in my hands when I had the chance to view a collection of hand-crafted books used by Anabaptist missionaries in Europe; some date back to the sixteenth century. Filled with scripture and commentary, handwritten and occasionally decorated, these palm-sized volumes were designed to be hidden in the lining of clothes or carried in boots as the missionaries fearlessly worked the rural villages of the Tyrol, today the border region of Austria and Italy.

Since death was often the result of capture, small was convenient – and crucial. These books are a weather-stained, worm-eaten testimony to tenacious faith. One contained an inscription that stuck with me, and the archivist offered a translation of the fading script: “God’s word would not be so hard if there were no egotism or selfishness.”

Image of hands holding an old Anabaptist book

I’ve been considering how faith intersects with sacrifice. Something that always speaks to me is when someone is willing to let go of self, to voluntarily relinquish parts of life they hold dear – family, career, financial security – and then find the strength to forgive the unforgivable, or to care for his or her neighbor without praise or personal gain.

We idolize individuality and self, the freedom to choose and reinterpret everything to our liking. Free will and lack of coercion are vital in spiritual decisions but if we choose the way of Christ it must inevitably lead to submission and sacrifice.

The Anabaptists offer us great examples of this; they are a spiritual guide for our communities today. Their early leader Jakob Hutter penned ten guidelines for adults wishing for baptism. Such a decision was outlawed by the state because it opposed the mandated infant baptism. Countless men and women suffered loss of property or family, endured medieval tortures, and died in horrific manner for this decision.

Five hundred years later, Hutter and his ten points offer a clarion directive:

Each should first count the cost carefully as to what he has to give up. But he should not council with flesh and blood. For those who would enter God’s service must be prepared to be attacked and die for the truth and the name of Christ; if it be God’s will, by water, fire, or the sword. For now we have house and shelter, but we do not know what today or tomorrow will bring. Therefore no one should join for the sake of good days. He that is not prepared to endure evil and good with all the believers and to accept as good whatever the Lord gives and ordains should leave it alone.
We will not put pressure on anyone who does not join us of his own free will. We desire to persuade no one with smooth words. It is not a matter of human compulsion, from without or within, because God wants voluntary service. Whoever cannot do this with joy and to the delight of his soul should leave it alone and remain in his former station.

So when I look for how authentic someone is, I look for their smile.

This helps define what’s authentic: Voluntary. No compulsion. Be prepared to be attacked, to die. All of that comes from within us, and indeed, it’s always more productive if, instead of looking to churches or organizations to provide us validation for our own supposed authenticity, we turn the diagnostic lens toward ourselves.

So when I look for how authentic someone is, I look for their smile. If they’re doing something for the joy and delight of their soul, that’s enough for me.


About the author

Jason Landsel

Jason Landsel

Jason lives in upstate New York at the Woodcrest Bruderhof.

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  • i ENJOY COMMUNITY LIVING and.have.been as.far as.Aberdeen Community SOME.5 TO 8 Y.PEARS.BACK

    ellen caroline desiderio
  • yes i go for the smile and look in the eyes they say a lot