Awesome but fake

When authenticity is rare, church should be real

Oct 27, 2014 by

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Christmas card and letter season isn’t far away. While some hold steadfast to an annual text constructed of actual sentences, others gravitate toward taking 15 minutes online to frame a photo with a holiday template and click “buy.”

For the latter, Google’s AutoAwesome is an early gift. The processor takes a batch of similar digital photos, automatically nips and tucks a family’s best facial expressions and giftwraps a holiday memory that never actually existed.

It’s cheaper than rolling 35-millimeter dice, but the cost is merely transferred from film and chemicals to a loss of authenticity.

It’s a little lie, on par with frantic cleaning before company arrives. It’s not new; photos have been airbrushed and manipulated since the daguerreotype captured its first soul.

And it’s not limited to photographs. Just as fashion magazines shave down waists and blur out blemishes, churches put their best face forward.

Congregational websites show smiles, while tears flow in sharing and small groups. Signs say “welcome,” while regulars may grumble when a stranger occupies “their” pew. Public reports detail anniversaries and celebrations, while rumors about divorces and discord trickle out the back door.

Though nobody gravitates to churches that broadcast strife, authentic worship and community, warts and all, might be beautiful evangelism.

Troy Watson writes in Canadian Mennonite magazine about a “change-or-die mantra” that catches churches in identity-crisis mode and prompts an “obsession with changing and fixing.”

Watson, pastor of Avon Mennonite Church in Stratford, Ont., recalls a conversation with a young man who had an epiphany about his dating failures. When he quit trying to be more exciting or intelligent and was confident and comfortable with who he was, women became more attracted to him. He didn’t change himself, only how he viewed himself.

“Perhaps people perceive church as some antiquated and broken entity needing to be fixed and updated because that is how it sees itself,” Watson says.

Church gatherings — conventions, assemblies, conference meetings — are orchestrated snapshots. Members of the family are selected for inclusion in the photo, and the house is tidied up — at least the portion caught in the background.

While it can be tempting to get everyone to smile at once, that’s probably not going to happen. Rather than fiddle with shutter speeds to capture a perfect moment in time, let’s embrace reality. God created flawed people, who make up flawed churches. It’s part of the divine plan.

By embracing their shortcomings, churches might gain some confidence. History will be fine; we’ll always remember the good old days as better than they really were. So let’s at least make the present real.

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