Posted by: minnow | July 8, 2008

Wearing Masks

I got some unexpected confirmation regarding my post “Bleeding Out” yesterday from Without Wax. I had written about some of the problems wearing masks can cause in the Church and yesterday Pete Wilson wrote a confessional regarding the masks he sometimes wears. Check out his post and let him know what you think.

In my first post about masks I focused primarily on how they keep us from seeing and being able to do something about the hurt or problems in other people’s lives. I also talked about how they isolate us from those who may be able and willing to help us when we are hurting or in need.

Pete’s post seemed to focus on the lie behind a mask–trying to seem more than what we really are. As a child my father used to say that it was always easier to tell the truth than to tell a lie. With a lie you had to work to remember what you said to person A so you could tell person B the same “story” or at least keep telling person A the thing you told them originally even if you told person B something different. “Because a true story never changes,” my Father used to say, “it is not as hard to remember.” If we look at the masks we wear as a lie we must work to maintain we can easily see how they can also become thieves. Masks steal our time and energy. They also steal our relationships because they stop us from being authentic.

Before I go any further let me emphasize–being authentic is not the same as continually being vulnerable. We should not share our greatest needs, deepest wounds, or hidden sin with people, even Church people, unless we are fairly certain those we share our lives with are safe. So, who are safe people? Trained professionals are generally safe and often take confidentiality oaths. People you have known for a long time and who have been faithful in the little things have probably already proven themselves to be trustworthy in the bigger things. Finally, small groups with a focus on sharing and caring and a philosophy of “what we say in the group stays in the group” are likely to be safer places to share personal stories and information than Bible studies or service oriented groups. Unfortunately, other than with God we have no guarantee that sharing at any level will be safe. (Maybe that is why so many passages in the Bible focus on forgiveness).

Let’s get back to the problem of wearing masks. Healthy relationships between equals consist of giving and receiving. If my mask tells people I am already perfect, already fulfilled, spiritually superior, and intellectually beyond compare then it also tells people I do not need them. They do not have anything to offer me. I close the door to receiving and I close the door to relationship, that is healthy relationships between equals. Obviously certain roles place us in authority over other people but those are not the relationships we are talking about here. And, even if they were, wearing a hat of authority is not the same as wearing a mask.

The time has come for us to start asking ourselves what we in the Church/as the Church really want. Do we want greater clarity of God’s purpose for our lives? Do we want solid, dependable connections with the rest of the Body? Do we want our lifes to be whole and healthy? Greater understanding and growth are difficult to pull off when we are pretending we already have life figured out. If the mask I have been maintaining tells everyone I already have all the answers, I am probably not going to risk asking too many important questions.

Yet, becoming authentic is not easy. Most of us have worn our various masks for so long we might actually need to be reintroduced to our authentic selves. As a first step we have to recognize when we are not being real. The person who parrots, “Oh fine.” whenever he is ask how he is, is not authentic. The person who stands during worship with raised hands and a smile on her face week after week after week without fail is not authentic. They may not intentionally or even consciously be lying but nevertheless, their rote behavior has replace an honest responses and most often, it does not even register when it happens.

Recently I decided I was no longer going to answer the question “How are you doing?” with the standard, “Oh fine.” unless I really was doing fine. (It was sort of my initial attempt at trying to become more truthful with myself and the people around me). At the same time I was pretty certain many of the people who asked that question were not really interested in a litany of “woe is me-s”. So, to people I didn’t really know very well I started saying things like, “Well, it certainly is a beautiful day” or “I sure am looking forward to summer.” And, to closer friends I began saying, “You know I really hate that questions because I never know what to say” or “Well, I’m here.” If my friends were in a place to actually find out how I was doing and we had time to continue the conversation they usually pushed me for a more complete (honest) answer. If not, we laughed and went our separate ways. On the other end, I have also tried to quit asking the, “How are you doing?” question. Instead, I try to remember what I know of their people’s past and ask them something specifically related to that or I simply say hello.

Will my little exercise solve all my authenticity problems? Obviously not. But it has helped me check in with my authentic self during casual conversation and decide how to be more real. It has also forced me to be more “in the moment” because I actually have to listen for the answer to the real questions I ask. It is a start.

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Responses

  1. I agree with everybody else: awesome story.! Much food for thought… It really made my day. Thank you.

  2. another powerful post as always. I’m so so sorry I haven’t written recently. I am in New Jersey visiting my family. Will definitely write more when I get back ‘home’. thanks for you again, look forward to talking more and sharpening each other 🙂 God bless you.

  3. Great post. You gave me even more ways I can live this out in my life!

  4. Thanks !


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