It's one of my favorite scenes from any movie. In "The Legend of Bagger Vance," Rannulph Junuh's caddy, Bagger, talks about the "Authentic Swing" - meaning golf swing:
Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing... Somethin' we was born with... Somethin' that's ours and ours alone... Somethin' that can't be taught to ya or learned... Somethin' that got to be remembered... Over time the world can, rob us of that swing... It get buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shouldas... Some folk even forget what their swing was like...Junuh came back from the war with a Medal of Honor - and a broken man. Bagger wasn't just trying to help Rannulph's golf game, he was trying to get him to see how he was still useful. The preacher in me would say that God wasn't finished with him yet, he just had to grasp his unrealized potential.
I used to play golf. It didn't come naturally to me, and I realized one day if I wanted to be decent at it, I needed to intentionally practice it. So I did - I had a pro watch my swing, and he gave me very simple practice exercises to do everyday. I quit playing golf with friends for a while and just practiced: practiced irons, practiced driving, practiced pitching. Repetition. Practice doesn't make perfect, but it gets us one step closer to perfection.
I once got my handicap down to 11. To do that, I had to practice at least every other day. I would get up very early in the morning, go to the golf course, and play 9 holes (no one ever beat me to the course). Sometimes, I would drop 3-4 balls and hit from the same spot to hone my consistency. I sought to find a rhythm and discipline before I addressed the ball, and to duplicate it each time I played a shot. And it worked. It certainly wasn't perfect, and I wasn't going to turn in my ordination credentials to get my tour card, but I could play a round of golf with fairly good golfers and not embarrass myself too much.
It lasted about 3 years.
I moved and began going to the golf course more to be with church members than to play golf. It became a social time. And it certainly wasn't bad for ministry - had a lot of contact time with folks, invited a few folks to church (or back to church), and was able to talk with a few folks about tough struggles in their life. I wouldn't take anything for those times - they were rich and they were blessings to me. The only liability was to my golf game. I lost my "authentic swing." No sense of timing or rhythm. And as my arthritis got worse, I realized that my grip, my swing, and my whole approach to the game would have to be totally redefined. So I quit playing. The last time I played was at my 25th high school class reunion, and I barely finished the round.
Contrary to what some might believe, golf isn't life - but it can teach us a lot. For Christians to be authentic, to obtain or recover that "perfect swing," we have to know what fits FOR US. I certainly don't want to go down the road of individualism, because the American church already has too much "me and Jesus" in it and not near enough "us and Jesus." To be authentic means to be bathed in prayer and the Spirit. And to be bathed in prayer and the Spirit means, quite frankly, to shut up all of our requests and wants and to listen to God.
There is certainly a lot of brokenness in our lives: dreams unrealized. Riches lost. Poor choices. Accidents. Failures of health. It is easy to blame God, it is easy to blame the Devil. There is also a lot of healing in our lives: dreams answered. Being blessed with home and food. Being spared from physical harm. Walking away from a CCU or car accident. At those times, it is easy to thank God and say we beat the Devil.
An authentic life has us encountering both. Moses parted the sea but died on the mountain - in view of the Promised Land yet never setting foot on it. Elijah is brought into heaven, but not before God challenged him for retreating instead of fighting. Peter finally gets it right, but ends up dying (either crucified upside down or beheaded - both sound bad to me).
My hunch is that for these men, their authenticity depended on them being able to overcome their desires or their worries. To know God's voice and to realize our gifts and our limitations takes prayer - a conversation with God that is ongoing and constant. It swaps arrogance for humility. It exchanges wants for servanthood. It replaces our desire with God's passion. And all of these things take practice. Repetitious exercise. Practice leads us towards perfection.
The monastics have taught us how to do this through lectio divina. They suggest not just reading scripture - but PRAYING scripture. Daily. To ruminate on it. To ask God to change us through it. To focus on His presence and His voice. By such practices as this we learn what our true gifts are and what our place is as a disciple. We quit playing the games of who others want us to be and who we want to be, and instead find out who and what God created us to be. We find our authentic swing.
I don't think any of us are "naturals" when it comes to being authentic Christians. It takes work. It takes honesty. It takes courage. And it takes prayer - conversation with God - to find out what God truly created us to be. It's not that we don't have gifts or purpose - God created us with that already in us. We just have to discover what they are.
Let's find our one, true, authentic self. The only way to find it is to practice. Doctors practice medicine, lawyers practice law. Christians should certainly practice Christianity.