Sunday, July 10, 2011

Faces, Facets, Factions and Fractions

Think on this. At your next birthday, invite all of your friends and family to one big party and allow them to mingle - I dare you! Some of you may already have suffered something similar in an occasion called Your Wedding.

Is that something that makes you comfortable? You might see the prospect of having all your work colleagues, your family, your in-laws, your old school friends, your neighbours, et c, really enjoyable. You'd be happy to let them mingle and discuss how they know you, sharing stories about you and listening to how others perceive you.

For some of us, this would be a very difficult thing to allow to happen. It would be a more intense sensation of that nervousness and trepidation that one has in meeting the prospective mother and father in law for the first time. Meeting the possible in-laws raises questions of "will I be accepted?", "will they approve?", and "what if I say the wrong thing?" However, to have everyone who knows you find out about just how others know you will certainly raise these questions again along with "will anyone still like me after they find out who I really am?"

What will happen if Great Auntie Ethel who has always had you down as a "nice sober child" suddenly finds out about the incident which ended up with your underwear being displayed from a flagpole on the Dover-Ostend ferry? What recriminations will result when your work colleagues find out that you've watched Watership Down 145 times and cried every time that the Black Rabbit comes to take Hazel into the Afterlife, and that you still sniffle when you hear Bright Eyes sung?

Now, the remedy might sound simple - ALWAYS be yourself, however this raises the question of "who are you?" and this is a question to which one is always turning all of one's life. I've said before that we can only learn who we truly are from theose around us. It is your friends and enemies, your family and strangers who can paint a picture of who you are from without. We cannot truly say who we are because we only have experience of ourselves within. Likewise, those around us cannot say who we truly are because they only have experience of us without.

It is quite natural for us to behave differently around different groups of people. At tea with the Archbishop, one will endeavour to eat one's cucumber sandwich noiselessly with decorum and bearing an expression of impassive tranquillity. At the pub with your chums, it is necessary to down a pint whenever Arsenal actually win a game. However, what if the Archbishop is your chum? What if you are the Archbishop? What if the Archbishop supports Arsenal? What if the Archbishop supports West Ham?!

But think: does the Archbishop ever get to see people beyond his close family and friends act naturally rather than just as stiff consumers of cucumber sandwiches and stilted conversations about the weather and that awfully sad business about the church roof?

Of course, the circumstances in which we meet people are different. The workplace has different rules different stresses, different tensions and different rituals then the Church pew, and both are markedly different from the pub table. It is only natural, then, that we are different in these situations, because the expectations and rules that are imposed upon us are different and we react accordingly. At home, we live by our own rules and it is in this our sacrosanctum that we reinforce to ourselves the illusion of whom we believe ourselves to be.

As we react to these diffrently nuanced societies, we can tend to harden into masks, spiritual and psychological carapaces which protect our vulnerabilities peculiar to the situation in which we find ourselves. This raises the question of whether the protection that the mask affords is true protection or more of a constraint to our existence and development as human beings. If we surround ourselves with people wearing the same mask then it is likely that the atrophy of our face will occur more rapidly as we begin to fear being anything different from the crowd in which we find ourselves.

It seems to me that the more rigid masks we have, the more that we let them calcify on our faces, the more we can fragment ourselves and set up self-conflict as the rules that govern one part of our life impinge upon another, or upon the soft, central figure hidden away in the sacrosanctum. Our faces become less facets of our personality and more contributors to the fraction of our personality whereupon we lapse into self-contradiction. How many times have we seen that with leaders in society and the well respected? How much hypocrisy have we seen?

Of course, a hypocrite was originally a Greek actor who merely acted out the character his mask portayed. Likewise, prominent figures have the same problem in society. Many such folk have fallen badly, and it isn't always their fault. Sometimes, simple human frailty cannot take the demands of the assumed persona which society demands. They try to become the mask, but like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the existence of what lies behind the mask engenders fragmentation of the personality.

At some point, we are all going to come into contact with One who sees beyond all our masks. God can see through every layer of our being and make an accurate judgment on who we are, because when we see Him as we is, we shall be like Him if we have loved Him. There is no mask to hide behind and we shall stand before Him utterly naked with nothing to cover up who we really are.

But then we are dealing with a God who Himself was stripped utterly naked before He was crucified. It's not as if He doesn't understand human vulnerability. It's not as if He wills the destruction of hypocrites, otherwise none of us would stand a chance. This is a God Who has told us that if we love other people genuinely, then no matter what mask we wear, our true selves will shine through because we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He really is.

We will continue to create and wear our masks and they will largely protect us from our surroundings - this is only natural. If we can, however, ensure that our Christian Faith is genuine and shines through each of our masks, and appreciate that there is more to the person opposite than the mask that they present, then we are in less danger of personal fragmentation because we are held together by the person of Christ. If we forgive hypocrisy, then we will be forgiven hypocrisy - it stands to reason. Ultimately, we have to prepare ourselves for the day when our masks will be gone.

What really lies beneath? Do you want to see?

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