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True colors

July 29, 2011

It was my first day back at church camp. I had come to the camp the summer before and loved it. Our counselor asked each of the boys in our cabin to introduce themselves and to say why we were there, if we had been there before and if so what we liked about camp.

I said that I felt like camp was a place where I could show my true colors. I’m not sure exactly what I meant by that—I certainly wasn’t thinking about my burgeoning attractions for other guys—but I know that’s the phrase I used. There was a beautiful television commercial for Kodak film that had aired the previous holiday season using the song.

It turned out that “true colors” sounded just a little too suspicious to a group of teenage boys. I was embarrassed to find out later that they had been referring to me as “T.C.” One of the boys apologetically admitted at the end of camp that he understood what I meant, that he also felt that camp was a place he could be authentic, whatever that meant for him.

The irony of my remark at church camp, and of the setting of the Kodak commercial, of course, is that nearly every community of faith is more concerned about conformity than authenticity. According to Nicholas Wade in The Faith Instinct, unifying a group of people is the purpose of religion and the evolutionary advantage that religion lent to our ancestors. Even the Latin root of religion, religare, means “to bind together.” The singing, the dancing, the rituals, the shared stories, all serve to unify individuals within a group. But what happens when an individual just doesn’t believe the supernatural claims, or is gay, or is the wrong color? Some differences can be suppressed or hidden, but only to the detriment of the individual.

“Imagine a world where everyone feels like they can be themselves and be accepted for who they are.” These were words uttered at the Social Justice Summit that I helped plan in February. The sentiment was repeated at the Social Justice Training Institute that I just attended last week. The group facilitator talked about presenting oneself authentically in the world, and allowing others to feel physically and psychologically safe to present themselves authentically as well.

I want my own kids to feel safe to be who they are, to state their likes and dislikes, their beliefs or lack thereof, without feeling the suffocating pressure to lie in order to fit in. I know that pressure will be there, especially in high school, but the challenge will be to foster their sense of self confidence that they are fine just the way they are.

Thank you, Phil Collins, for making a video just for this particular post, complete with kids and religious imagery (including a devil and a unicorn?!—they’re mentioned 9 times in the Bible). Roseli loves you Phil, so this was just perfect!

And thank you, Rosine, for allowing me to be authentic. I love you.

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  1. I have discovered that religion allows people to show their true selves as long as those true selves are the same as everyone else’s.

  2. Another eloquent post…with a nice soundtrack as well. Great work. This will stay in my mind, as many of your posts do. Please keep writing.

  3. I was so lucky to go to a church camp where we really were allowed to be authentic. My heart mourns for those days for I know the religious culture in this country has moved so far from my experience. I am facebook friends with a lot of my fellow campers, here some 25 or more years later. A lot of us ended up atheists, and many are Unitarians. A few still hold on to the Presbyterian church–it does please me that both are in open. committed same sex relationships. Nearly all, even the most “Christian” accept my out-ness. This kind of experience molds lives, but sadly, experiencing the opposite sort of community is probably even more influencing.

    To find a community where you can come as you are is so rare…

  4. Hey Kevin, thanks for visiting my blog. I really love the antheism/faith argument. Although I am Catholic, I am a scientist too. Studied computer science, as well as a bunch of psych and pop science and philosophy. Although I believe in God, I think I am open to the arguments so I will read this blog. I too agree that people can do a lot without belief in God specifically. I also disagree with the countless Christians who judge everyone non-Christian. You’re in the feedreader.

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