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You're So Transparent

I've been following the primaries for the Presidency with great interest, like many of us in the US and around the world that have been caught up in this most interesting of election years, when the presidency has been really up for grabs more than in elections for many years past. I've just spent a few minutes reading up on the latest skirmishes between the candidates: who will be the best president at 3am, how race and sex are impacting the vote, who Mexicans are rooting for (since statistics show almost half or perhaps more than half of Mexicans have a relative living in the states,) and, most recently, this back and forth between Clinton and Obama on NAFTA and conversations with Canadian officials.

What are people looking for in a president? I suspect what many of us would like most is the one thing I think is hardest to find in any of the candidates: transparency. What-you-see-is-what-you-get. What-I-say-is-actually-what-I-mean. I would love to be sure that the candidate I vote for would actually do what he/she says they will do once in office. Remember in January when Hillary Clinton got a bit weepy at a question about how she was holding up? Soon after, Clinton had some of her biggest primary victories today. Were people responding to what they saw as transparency, finally, in a usually very controlled candidate?

I wish people seemed more interested in telling the truth, owning up to the facts. Back in December, when I reviewed The Ethics of What We Eat, I wrote that Mason and Singer, the authors, focus on the lack of transparency in the food industry. No one wants us to know what's really going on when it comes to how our food is prepared. Why? Well, if we knew, probably less of us would eat meat and other animal products. Otherwise, there'd be no need for all the secrecy, right?

In January, Greg Hazelrig wrote about a Barna Group book unchristian, a book I keep meaning to get to. The book takes a look at what non-Christians think of Christians. The dominant response: Christians are hypocritical. I know that's not quite the same as lacking transparency, but I think there is some overlap there. Again, it's about a gap between what we say and what we do.

As I think about the approaching General Conference for the UMC, one of the things I wish we would see more of is transparency in our actions. Cozying up to certain delegates in order to win their votes? Just say so. Offering a breakfast or lunch or dinner because you want to push a certain agenda? Please be clear about it. Attending mostly because you'll later be running for the episcopacy? Out with it! In the end, are you going to vote based on what's best for you personally, even if it conflicts with your stated ideals and theology? Just say so.

Why is it so hard for us to be transparent? Authentic? Honest? As people of faith, I think we're called to examine the reasons behind what we do. Why do we want more people to attend our churches? Is it because we have this good news we want to share, or because with more people our bills are easier to pay? Do we want young people in our churches because we value who they are and want them to experience God's unconditional love, or are we looking to our own survival? Why do we do what we do?

Of course, sometimes, we aren't even really transparent with ourselves. Recently I've been making some tough decisions for myself, and was getting really far down the road on deciding one way when I realized I just wasn't being transparent, even with myself, about the reasons behind my decisions. Power and status and position were playing into my decision-making in ways I was not ready to admit even to myself.

Maybe we're afraid to be transparent because we're afraid of what will happen when people can see right through us, or right into us. Maybe we're afraid of looking at what actually motivates us and moves us into action, or what keeps us from acting when we should. But personally, I'm aiming for some more transparency. After all, we are created in God's image. Hopefully, the more transparent we become, the more apparent God within us will become to those around us. And then maybe we people of faith won't seem like such a hypocritical bunch after all...


Bryan Hooper said…
As usual - a thoughtful post.

When I was in seminary (which wasn't that long ago) the big word for pastoral leadership was "authenticity." We were all concerned about being authentic with our faith and with our selves - somehow bringing together the reality of who we were as people with the assumptions and demands of ordained ministry. At about the same time, many of us were preparing for our evaluations by District Committees and BOOMs.

All of that created in me a deep skeptisicm about "authenticity." I quickly learned that DCOMs and BOOMs are not at all interested in my "authentic self." Don't get me wrong - it was critical that I appear authentic, that I give them a feeling of a real person, but it was more important that I not threaten their theological/political sensibilities. It was more critical that I be willing to itinerate. It was more critical that I understood the flow of power through our UM hierarchies.

Also, as a member of Generation X, I remember that we were the generation that was supposedly sick and tired of all the tom-foolery. We wanted authenticty. And yet, Generation X has become just as consumer-driven and artificial as the boomers. In a weird way, we put on a mask of authenticity. (I also remember that Generation X was fond of irony.)

I wonder with you if there really is such a thing as my "authentic self." I am fascinated by the interplay of our surfaces and our depths - are we really more than we appear to be? Or is our depth just another surface play, another way that we appear to those closest to us or even just to ourselves? It gets to the question of how we disclose ourselves - how we reveal ourselves - and the process by which we remove the veils - peeling back the layers to set free yet another story of ourselves that we consider somehow more true. While, all the time, living also on the surface - engaging the world with the pleasantries of "how do you do?"

I can't help but also wonder about the revelation of God - the living Word that comes to us in the form of Christ as the authentic expression of God. Is Jesus the core beneath all the curtains? Of is Jesus another veil - another cypher to be interpreted again and again by faithful people in search of that elusive Source?
greg milinovich said…
for me, one of the life-lessons here has been learning to identify in myself when i am living according to others' expectations or at least what i think others are expecting of me. when i am living according to expectations (parents, spouse, parishioners, etc.) i am not authentic/genuine/transparent/real. but when i give up those expecatations; when i realize i cannot possibly be what people want me to be, or what i think they want me to be; when i begin to understand that my identity is really more about my status as a child of God than my actions and beliefs and abilities; when i am at my best, i can be most transparent. but, i agree with what i heard bryan saying, i'm not sure i can ever be completely transparent or authentic. now we see as in a mirror dimly but one day we shall see face to face. we shall know fully even as we are fully known.

at least that's what i think.

great post.

Andy B. said…
Isn't there a "should factor" invovled? As in, we have this idea that we "should" be one certain way and so we sort of pretend that we are that way, even when we're not. I think the word I'm looking for might be pretension.
Anonymous said…
You have certainly hit on something here. So often lately when I read about the declining membership laments put out by the church it feels more like a call to "fill the pews" than to serve those not in the pews.
Anonymous said…

I wrote a much more eloquent comment and the blogger ate it up. So apologies if this is a bit curt.

I'm pleased you enjoyed the transparent butterfly photo you found on my site. I would, however, like to request that you make a copy and serve it from your site.

Generally speaking, it's one thing to copy an image, but quite another to simply "borrow in place." I hope you understand.


Beth Quick said…
Hi Mike - actually, I did make a copy of the butterfly picture and upload it myself. I just hyperlinked the copy of the picture to your site - as a way to give credit and send traffic to your site, which people usually appreciate (getting the traffic). So you are seeing hits from the link, but the image is saved and uploaded from my computer. If you'd prefer the link removed, I'd be happy to do so.
Anonymous said…

Thanks for your quick response.

Is there an emoticon for blushing w/embarrasment?

I'm sorry I ever doubted you would do the right thing; a more careful exam of the code indicates things are just exactly as you said.

So, instead of complaining, let me thank you for the additional traffic!
Beth Quick said…
no problem mike! ;)
John said…
Beth- wonderful post! So much in our denomination would go easier if folks would just say what they are thinking instead of "playing the game." I hope your influence at GC and through your blog will help that transparency take hold.

Bryan- I know many United Methodist clergy have decided that the Devil is just a metaphor. Personally, I think your observation about the power of consumerism to suck the idealism out of two generations (and a third in progress) is nothing short of a demonic victory. We've fallen to the very three temptations Our Lord rose above in the wilderness: a self-indulgent accumulation, a twisted hunger for power, and an over-blown sense of self-importance. Personally, I think it takes more than a "Pogo" devil to fool us- it takes the real deal.
John said…
I guess I should explain what I mean by a "pogo" devil. I was referring to the old comic strip famous for the line "I have seen the enemy- and it is us!"

I don't think our own failings as flawed mortals- serious though they are- explains the selling-out of boomers, Xers, and millennials.
Andy B. said…
Don't y'all just love how transparent Mike and Beth are in their comments! What good modelling.

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