I've done it multiple times this week. I'm thinking you have too. I'm not actually sure I can even stop, because sometimes this is all I know. Everyday, I don my most prized and trusted possession. My mask.
How else can I navigate my way through various realms of society with such easily attained confidence, security, and minimisation of risk? But alongside anything attained with ease, much is risked and lost.
The concept of masks is common and often held with such disdain, but aren't masks something we all must wear? This reminds me of one of my favourite albums back in High School, Welcome to the Masquerade, the fifth studio album of the Canadian Christian rock band, Thousand Foot Krutch. The album title song opens the scene,
We've got the fire, who's got the matches
Take a look around at the sea of masks
and come one come all, welcome to the grand ball
Where the strong run for cover and the weak stand tall
This first line drips with contempt for the masks which hide nearly everyone at this grand ball. Using a clever switch of words the mark of humanity is truly expressed; the vast potential of strength hidden behind persona's and images, serving only to weaken the masses.
Life from the very beginning has taught each and every one of us to put on the mask. The culprit: expectation in the face of the inescapable reality of our inadequacy. We fall short of the expectations of our parents, spoken and implied. We fall short of society's expectation of success. We fall short of the expectation of the church. We fall short of the expectation of friends, bosses, and spouses.
Each of these failures forces a mask to cover who we really are, because we fear if we don't, the world would be left unsatisfied. So we give people what we think they want to see, and plastered beneath rests the beauty of a broken soul, the unique creation of Yahweh.
Plastering images of bravado, morality, financial stability, emotional stability-- layer upon layer soaks into our skin, but the Gospel gives a way of escape from this ultimately damning cycle.
Rid the expectations
Through Jesus' completion of the story of Israel, we now can join in the kingdom of God. We can rid ourselves of worrying about the expectations of others knowing that our value is in Christ and his work (Galatians chapter 2 verse 20) and that we are valued and empowered as children of God (John chapter 1 verses 12-13) a people chosen and possessed by God who have received mercy and hope (1 Peter chapter 2 verses 9-10; Ephesians chapter 2 verse 12), living in a new spirit of empowerment (2 Timothy chapter 1 verse 7).
We not only have the freedom to remove the mask - to shred away the product of years of insecurity living in the freedom secured in the kingdom of God --but we face a looming end if we refuse. For as the mask rests longer and longer on our flesh, and the deception seeps into the core of our self-understood identity.
(Spoiler Alert) Bring to mind the Great Gatsby, so overwhelmed by a desire to win the affection and privilege to marry Daisy, he creates an elaborate persona; every aspect of this mask hand crafted to fit the expectations of Daisy and her family. War hero, Oxford man, grand balls and parties. Every step of the way plastering layer upon layer of who he must be to meet and exceed the expectations. Reaching the climax he has fallen prey to his own deception and things begin to crumble.
Nick Carraway (the narrator, friend of Gatsby; cousin of Daisy) observed the first crack in the crumbling of Gatsby's mask, "There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams -- not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart."
His depiction of grandeur, his pursuit of the fulfilment of his mask; the all satisfying romantic journey with girl a whom he spent years fashioning in his mind (to every whim of the mask), was crumbling slowly before him as she stood in the flesh. He could not be released from the mask he wore; eventually leading to the estrangement from his love, and his wrongful death; clutching the mask.
A great gift of the church
Forsaking the mask, perhaps, is one of the greatest gifts the church can give to humanity; the ability to be authentic and vulnerable because we rest in the value God has placed in us. Just as one who is stumbling around in darkness can not help another, so one living in fear of the expectations of others can not liberate others into true freedom in Christ.
We need shed our masks and live in our true identity; breathing out authenticity and vulnerability. This is a precious counter cultural gift that the Gospel gives to us in the Kingdom.
For if we don't, we will live a life forever controlled by the mask. For as Andre Berthiaume says, "We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin"
Dan Peterson (21) is from Chicago, Illinois USA. Dan studied cross-cultural ministry in Tasmania, Australia for three years. Dan is a musician and personal fitness trainer, who loves exploring the bush (Australian term).
Dan Peterson's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/dan-peterson.html