Monthly Archives: June 2019

The Search for the Real Self

Mark Galli, editor at Christianity Today tapped on my soul window with this article.


Looking for Real Authenticity

“This above all: to thine own self be true.” Thus says Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It has become our culture’s “life verse,” though we usually talk about it in terms of authenticity.

Authenticity is one of the most valued characteristics in our society. As children we are taught to just “be ourselves”, and as adults we can choose from a large number of self-help books that will tell us how important it is to get in touch with our “real self”. It’s taken as a given by everyone that authenticity is a real thing and that it is worth cultivating.

When comes to figuring out our “real self,” things get complicated, as research shows:

While people spend so much time searching for their real self, the stark reality is that all of the aspects of your mind are part of you. It’s virtually impossible to think of any intentional behavior that does not reflect some genuine part of your psychological make-up, whether it’s your dispositions, attitudes, values, or goals.

One of the saddest consequences of our culture’s search for the holy grail of the authentic self is how it destroys families, among other relationships. Note this piece on CNN, “I Was Married with 2 Kids when I realized I’m gay.”

This is one reason our culture is, as this article in City Journal puts it: “Alone: The decline of the family has unleashed an epidemic of loneliness.”

It is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian narrative that only the one who gives up the self will be able to find it (Mark 8:35).

Among my life verses is Mark 8:34-37.

“Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, you, the real you?” (Jesus)

I’m into self-help—my self needs all the help it can get! I think Jesus approves of self-understanding and improvement. Jesus is not into self-diminishment. He is the One who claims to give “abundant life.” The limit is when personal pursuit of “authentic” self is when it hurts, diminishes or affects others’ authenticity.

Self-authenticity (as defined by the world standards) does not or cannot be allowed to supersede prior covenants or promises. Authenticity means others, to whom we have made promises or have covenant relationships, are themselves expanded by our faithfulness.

A Texas friend told me his father abandoned the family to “find himself” and pursue his self-search. My friend was 12 when he was abandoned. I know the family’s pastor. My friend’s siblings, and the next two generations were deeply affected by that abandonment. The covenants we make with other people affect the “self” we seek.

Complex! That’s the right word. “Saving your true self,” is the path to genuine authenticity and it is the benefit of making the right choices. I’m denying many of my selves that do not biblically define me or benefit me.

©2019 D. Dean Benton,       Writer, Wonderer, Ponderer

A dull soul ache

I’ve been off the bubble for a few days—just a bit beside myself. It happens when something or someone stimulates me to look at myself or examine portions of culture or the world I don’t know much about; but know it needs help.

It usually is connected to one question: What can I do about it? It is usually connected to an answer: I don’t know—probably nothing.

At the suggestion of my granddaughter, I’ve been reading Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. (© 2016, Harper) My Grande goes to University of Kentucky. The book’s setting is in Appalachian-Kentucky. I love Kentucky blue and have worked in some churches there, but J. D. Vance describes his experiences growing up in a culture I know little about.

A “common culture” is to say, “This is the way we do things around here.”

Within a mile of this computer desk there are adults and many children who do not say y’all or know the strange allure of Kentucky hills, but know they know the life:

It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead counteracting it.

“Too many young men immune to hard work. Good jobs impossible to fill for any length of time. And a young man with every reason to work—a wife-to-be to support and a baby on the way—carelessly throwing aside a good job with excellent health insurance. More troublingly, when it is all over, he thought something had been done to him. There is a lack of agency here—a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself.”

“My primary aim is to tell a true story about what that problem feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck.” (pages 7-8)

J. D. Vance made it out. He went to the University of Ohio and the law school at Yale. He is a lawyer today, married and living a long way from the Kentucky holler which he loves. The odds of that outcome, are huge!

Vance concludes his memoir with a story about fifteen-year-old Brian.

What happens to Brian?”

“I believe we hillbillies are the toughest…people on this earth. But are we tough enough to do what needs to be done to help a kid like Brian? Are we tough enough to build a church that forces kids like me to engage with the world rather than withdraw from it? Are we tough enough to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children?

Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us. These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else. We created them, and only we can fix them.

“I don’t know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming the POTUS or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.”   (Pages 255-6)

That pushes me way off the bubble. I still don’t know what I can do to help kids in that culture whether they live in our town or in Kentucky.

We sponsor a teen in Ethiopia and an early teen in Honduras. When we met a family from Sudan, we were introduced to the phrase “Unaccompanied Minors.” They told us their stories and the phrase became more than unsettling. It was painful and about young men and women whose names we knew. (I tell some of their story in “Gone to Southwood.”)

I know God’s Kingdom—presence, power, provision, revelation, gifts, to name some manifestations, is not limited to “someone ought to do something.” I am nagged by the constant thought that maybe rather than trying to support a child in Honduras, we could look at the kid from Honduras sitting on our southern border as a hand-delivered gift. I’m sure adults like Mr. J.D. Vance could come up with some strategies.

Unaccompanied Minors come from assorted nations and American states—and cities.

©2019 D. Dean Benton         Writer, Wonderer, Frustrated Jesus Follower

Dean’s ebooks:

The Female Wins Again

Our west tree—provider of nice shade—suffered winter problems. Three or four major south limbs which make up about ¼ of the tree didn’t survive. It is owned by the city. The foresters came by. The whole tree has to come down. A capital judgement was not expected or desired. The foresters offered several replacement options. I had never hear of any. I’m familiar with birch, oak, maple. None were offered. I think we were offered discounted trees from Guatemala.

“Do you want a male tree or female?”

He seemed like a nice young man, but he sounded like he was luring me into a political fight. Humans, with graduate degrees, don’t think it is possible or respectable to distinguish sexes among humanoids. So I told him we would want one of the other options. Especially on the front parking.

“These trees grow fruit—you know, like walnut trees and acorns. Oranges.” So, I asked why I would want a female tree or a male tree.”

“The lady tree is beautiful. The male tree drops fruit that smells like strong dog poop.” Of course!

It’s difficult to keep a well-manicure lawn in this PC age; Me Too age; alphabet age. Anti-male era. I’m guessing these trees are hybrids bred in a secret basement room of the U.S. House of Representatives.

I don’t mind when my favorite females win, but illegal alien trees or men hating….” Hang onto your maples.

©2019 D. Dean Benton – Writer, Wonderer, tree-questioner.