Thursday, January 21, 2016
The masquerade party (edited)
As I found a seat and waited for the party to start, I looked around and admired the masks of my fellow party goers. I was impressed, and secretly wondered if my mask would measure up to the rest of the party goers. There were some really fancy masks, and I could tell a lot of thought had been put into some of them. I let my eyes drift from person to person. Mask to mask. Oh boy - a person without a mask - well a kid actually. And another kid, and another. Why did all these kids come without masks?! Didn't anyone tell them they were to wear one? My eyes sought out the teenagers I knew were present. Good. They had their masks on. But why didn't the smaller kids? I didn't get it.
As I puzzled over that, the song leader stepped up to the pulpit and announced what page to turn to in the hymnal. Wait a minute. Song leader? Hymnal? I realized with shock that this wasn't a masquerade party at all! It was a worship service at my church! I started to remove my mask, feeling pretty embarrassed, but as I reached for it, I noticed that no one else was removing theirs. What a dilemma to be in. I knew I shouldn't be wearing a mask in church, but everyone else was. I sighed, then decided to leave it on so I wouldn't stick out. I still puzzled about the smaller children though - how could they be so smart as to not wear a mask in church, while the adults, who are supposed to be so much smarter and more intelligent, sat there with their masks on, oblivious to the fact that one does not wear masks in church.
Or do they? And what are under those masks?
Obviously if you have read this far, you know I am being satirical, or just weird. Maybe weird. But I am striving to make a point. All too often Christians do wear masks. No, not a plastic, rubber, or what else masks are made of - we wear emotional and spiritual masks.
That couple sitting in the pew across the aisle. They smile and look pious, but no one knows that their marriage is falling apart, slowly but surely. The young woman on the other side - she cries every night, wondering if she will ever find someone to love. The young husband sitting in front of her - his mind drifts to the images he had been viewing on his computer the night before, worrying if he remembered to clear his computer's history. The teenager on the back seat - as he sings with the congregation, he contemplates which way would be best to take his own life. No one cares. He's so tired of being bullied and beaten down. The middle aged woman toward the front - she has been having a lot of doubts lately. About God, her own salvation - yet she fears being "un-Christianized" if she voices her doubts, so she smiles and straightens her mask. The man sitting behind you - he is attracted to other guys and has no idea how to handle it, or who he can trust to tell.
I was talking to my pal Steven last night, and mentioned a book I just reviewed by Warren Wiersbe, Be Authentic. It is a commentary on Genesis chapters 25-50, and I told him I was going to pass it on to my brother-in-law who is a pastor, as he may be able to use it. Steven asked me in jest, "why, don't you want to be authentic?" I laughed and made the statement that if I were authentic, no one would like me.
Is that why so many people in the church wear masks? Are they afraid that if they take the mask off and be authentic - and honest - that people would look down on them? Un-Christianize them? Maybe not even want to be around them?
I am afraid the church is all to guilty of two sins - and I am not excusing myself from at least the one - judging and gossiping. Could it be that we feel it necessary to wear our masks and cover up our problems because we fear being judged and talked about? Or because we fear we are beyond help?
Several years ago, Bill & Gloria Gaither wrote a great song. We sing it occasionally at church - The Family of God. I've been thinking of that song some in the last several months, and it may sound terrible to make such a statement, but I can't help it - I'm blunt and outspoken - if this is the family of God, I want some new siblings. Siblings who really care.
I made a statement on my blog several months ago, and someone from my church commented. I think highly of him, and am not knocking him for his comment at all - I'm sure the majority of people feel as he does. It was something to the effect that he would never ask someone at church how they are doing spiritually - or anything like that - for he wouldn't want someone asking him that.
When we sit in our padded pews (well, ours are padded) - singing the songs, listening to the message - I believe that many would be horrified and shocked if they could see under the masks of their fellow church goers.
I know of three guys in my church who struggle with same-sex attraction. One I know better than anyone else, other than God (ha ha), the second I know very well; and I have no idea who the third one is. That is at least three people in a congregation of 250-275 people who have a major struggle that requires a rather big mask. And we are not alone. There are others wearing masks covering not that struggle, but other struggles and sins; deathly afraid someone will find out what they are hiding and struggling with.
Much has changed since I originally posted this five years ago. I got tired of wearing my mask. Oh, I am still not to the place where I can stand up in church and say my struggle out loud. I could handle it, but my church couldn't; though many people at church know or most likely suspect what I struggle with by now. And that is OK.
You know what I have found as I have taken my mask off and admitted I am not perfect, that I have doubts, fears, and struggles..... that there is a reason I never married nor ever will? It has been freeing. I no longer fear people seeing the real me. The vulnerable, imperfect me. The me that is attracted to the wrong sex, though God has done wonders in that area. As I slowly removed the mask - it wasn't a fast removal like one would rip off a band-aid - the struggle lost its hold on me. The devil lost an edge he had on me, always making me fear what people would think if they knew THAT. I discovered that the truth really does set you free.
When I originally published this post, I wrote this near the conclusion:
I've thought about taking my mask off. Of reaching up, ripping it off, and throwing it to the side - but I won't. I've let a few people see under it, and oh, they say they will pray for me, pat me on the back, but they move to the other side of the church. I've heard others at church make statements that ripped me apart - what they think of the person under my mask - not knowing that my mask is covering that. If they saw under my mask, they wouldn't pray for me. They would pull their righteous robes around them and adjust their own mask, and shove me out of their sight.
Those fears are gone. What people said in the past is still there. It is possible I am the topic of gossip and some people may feel revulsion if they know what I deal with. It is possible that some at my church view me as a leper to avoid. And it is a fact that it is rare that anyone talks to me about what I struggle with........ but that is OK. I am not the Mark of 2010. This is a new and freer Mark. A Mark that knows I am not a freak or abomination, that God does love me, and that there are other people in church - even my church - who have struggles and don't have it all together.
Church still isn't everything I would like it to be, and what I feel it needs to be..... but I no longer go as if I was going to a masquerade party. My mask is gone. Maybe I am more honest and open than some would like me to be, but I can't put the mask back on. This is the real me. The me that God loves with a love I will never understand.