Semantic Stretch: Authentic

When “starving” is used by your kids at snack time.  When “poor” describes someone who lives in 1500 square feet of suburban shelter.  When your mom says she’s ready to get “jiggy with it.” This is semantic stretch – the overuse and/or misappropriation of a word to the point that it loses its original meaning – and sometimes all its meaning.

Take the word “authentic,” for example.  Merriam says the authentic are not false or imitation but look around you and it’s hard not to notice the stretch.  In the Christian corners of the blogosphere, for instance, authentic now means…


A blogger writes “I just blog for myself.  I don’t care who reads.  I don’t care how many read.  I just don’t care.” A commenter responds “You’re so authentic.”


A blogger confesses to strangers on-line that he’s cheating on his wife, or pirating music, or hates his mother.  And he’s applauded for being “authentic.”


A blogger “tells it like it is,” says “what no one else will say” without regard for the effectiveness or appropriateness of his words and attracts a fan base in love with his authenticity.


A blogger who is down in the mouth, afraid, anxious, angry is far more likely to be called “authentic” than one who oozes rainbows and sunshine more often than not.


A blogger who isn’t an expert on anything, who tries desperately to be the average Joe next door, is admired for being the authentic everyman.  (Bonus points for poor grammar and spelling.)

But what if…


I care how many people read this blog, how many people link to this blog, because this blog is a tool with a purpose.  It’s not a diary locked and hidden under my mattress.  It’s not a closet with the door closed.  It’s not a letter written only to my family in another state or old friends from high school. I’m out here talking in public for a reason.  To say I don’t care would be inauthentic for me.  I know better.


There are things I won’t tell you.  They’re none of your business.  We’re not family or best friends or real community (another word that’s being stretched I fear.) And to remove that boundary would be unhealthy for the both of us.  To call you my community and confide in you as if you actually are would be inauthentic for me.  I know better.


I don’t like it when fights break out here and names get thrown around because of me. Sure, it’s bound to happen, but when it does I lose sleep, pray prayers, e-mail folks, apologize and clarify my poor communications.  It’s my fault.  To come here and behave as if conflict just happens because I’m so stinkin’ good at telling the truth would be inauthentic.  I know better.


A lot.  I post pictures of my kids, write stories about good meals, adore my wife, brag on good friends, share good days.  This is life.  The sun is actually shining most of the time in my world.  And to post nothing but the angsty moments of struggle would be inauthentic.  I know better.


Not about much.  But everyone – you too! – knows more than most people about something.  I sometimes post about the theology of war, worship, the beatitudes, church history.  I might post about song writing or blogging or Compassion. These are things I’ve researched, I enjoy learning about, I’ve spent hours trying to understand better.  And if I came here after writing an article or teaching a seminar on these subjects and acted as if I didn’t know much about them, well, that’d be inauthentic.  I know better.

Authenticity means being ourselves: Caring, ashamed and transparent, diplomatic, happy and sad, wise and questioning us.  Being anything else is inauthentic.  No matter what people say about us in the comments.