Put down the mask

In mid-September, conservative and orthodox Jew Ben Shapiro gave a talk at the University of California Berkeley, a campus long renowned for being a hotbed of liberal thought. So soon on the heels of the eruption in Charlottesville, there was great concern about Shapiro’s safety, the safety of his supporters and the safety of the people who promised to protest the speech. In an effort to stop the violence before it began, police banned the wearing of masks. They credit the ban with minimizing violence.

 

I wonder. If we were to ban masks in all our interpersonal relationships, would we, too, minimize the harm we do to one another? Further, if we took down the mask and faced Our Lord as we really are, would we experience greater intimacy with Him?

 

It is in authenticity and vulnerability that we connect. In a world that is becoming increasingly polished, in a conversation caught up in the hip snarkiness of social media and cable television, we have all put on our masks. We protect ourselves from the violence of careless conversationalists. But we, too, are careless when we speak. Masked and anonymous, we jostle to keep up with the quick-witted repartee and we leave missed opportunities for authentic communication in the wake.

 

We have learned not to let down our masks. We hide, pulling fig leaves around ourselves just as the first ashamed inhabitants of this world did. In a culture where the prevailing attitude is one of mocking irreverence and sarcasm, our masks serve two purposes: to protect us from others and to embolden us to do or say things we wouldn’t do or say if we were allowing ourselves to be truly seen.

 

And so we are alone. The fullness of our human experience — fears and joys and all the feelings of life as a person — are at the core of connection with others. But we keep that safely tucked behind a mask. Further, we use the mask to hide us as we talk past other people and fill air space with inconsequential drivel, at best, and painful barbs, at worst.

 

Take off the mask. You are a Christ-follower. Your identity is in Jesus. You were made in the image and likeness of God. Be seen. Be authentic. You are a real, flawed human being in need of a Savior. And so is everyone else.

 

How does this work out there, in the world? If we bring our true selves to every relationship, we bring a softness that is actually strength and maturity. The prevailing culture unceasingly asks us to look at our own abilities and “successes” while also sizing up others’ “usefulness” and then to engage in a witty repartee of one-upsmanship to benefit ourselves. Authenticity asks us to lower our guards, to be fully present in the moment, to look others in the eye. Authenticity asks us to know that without God we are nothing, and with Him, we are servants of one another.

 

Life without a mask is life without pretense. In that space where we are real, we invite another in. We let them join us in our undefended posture and we connect. Because everything we really are is anchored securely in Jesus, we come to authentic connection unafraid. With fully open hearts, we receive our Lord, truly receive the people He intends for us and minimize the harm we do to one another.

 

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

@elizabethfoss