Often people have a hard time with intimacy (intimacy = “into me see”) because they feel vulnerable. They would rather deal with ideas than people, and they don’t want others to see who they are. They might feel insecure or care what others think of them. People who feel this way wear what we call social masks to hide who they are and present a facade instead of their true self to others. And sometimes, the mask people wear is the church.
Surely, you have seen some of these folks:
- instead of communicating their true feelings, they use hackneyed cliche phrases (that are uniquely Mormon) to fit in
- they give the VT lesson never deviating to share their own true feelings unless those feelings could have been uttered by Julie Beck herself
- they prefer the standard Sunday School answers rather than thinking and sharing their own reflections
- they exercise a form of brand management: doing the things that spell out “I’m a good Mormon,” and hiding anything that detracts from that image
- they are excessively careful of everything they say and do from a PR standpoint for the church
What would you do if every time you wanted to talk to your spouse, you had to consider the church in the relationship? What if every time your child wanted advice from you, you referred them to what a church leader said or taught instead of sharing yourself with them? What if every relationship was colored by your feelings of guilt or anticipation related to your own spiritual standing?
- Every family member or friend’s struggle would be a sign of your guilt for having failed them OR a sign that you should cut them off so you will not be tainted by association.
- Every new person you met would be an opportunity for a convert rather than a friend (and if not a convert, not a friend).
- You would carefully choose your words and deeds to demonstrate to others around you that you are living up to what you think they expect.
- If you ever did disagree with someone, you’d have to make sure that somehow your disagreement put YOU on the side of the church and THEM on the other side.
- If your spouse suddenly stopped attending church or became disaffected, you would stop loving them because they jeopardized your “perfect” image or your expectations for the Celestial Kingdom.
Matthew quotes Jesus as saying (Matt 10:34-37):
34 Think not that I am come to send apeace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
36 And a man’s afoes shall be they of his own bhousehold.
37 He that aloveth father or mother bmore than me is not worthy of me: and he that cloveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
It seems that this comes with a few caveats:
- The church does not equal Jesus, even if one believes Jesus is at the head of it. The church is a human institution that should ideally inspire us and draw us closer to Him.
- It’s pretty arrogant to put yourself (or your perceptions) in the role of Jesus and to assume that anyone who disagrees with you is rejecting you as the Savior was rejected.
- Being righteous does not equal being right. In fact, once you start getting too concerned about the latter, you can kiss the former goodbye.
- The greatest two commandments are to love God and our fellow man as ourselves. If we can’t even unconditionally love those closest to us (family and friends), how can we expect to love our enemies (also required)?
- “Perfect love casteth out fear.” We can’t love people if we are consumed by fear of rejection (from either man or God).
Is this a particular problem in the church? Do people really live their lives like this? Do you know anyone like this? Are you like this sometimes? How do you take off the mask and “let your light so shine”? Discuss.
Great post, when I converted to the church there was a lot of things I needed to put behind me. But as I have grown older I have realized that some of these things are what made me unique. For several years I kept my political views to myself because other members would comment that you cannot be a good church member and be a Democrat. Also you should not listen to any music but the MTC or the Osmonds; well I never could get into the Osmonds or the MTC other than Conference or Christmas.
I made up my mind that from now on that I will be me, which I call a Gonzo Mormon, do my best to live the gospel, keep my Temple Recommend current, and listen to loud music, keep my politics a little left of center and not to take myself to seriously. I figure that I will be shoveling horse poop for at least a 100 years before I am let into the Celestial Kingdom anyway.
GMU (Gonzo Mormons Unite)
Absolutely, but it’s a problem in any organization or society. It is the “natural (wo)man” – a self-protection mechanism that is as ingrained into humanity as any other natural inclination. Our particular challenge in church, I believe, is to recognize it as such and rise above it – to change it (repent) by an active exercise of will. (to act and not to be acted upon)
The “fault” is two-edged: 1) those in the majority who actively reject the minority for believing things differently; 2) those in the minority who hide themselves and passively reject the majority for believing things differently. In the end, it really is the same action – and the justification on each side is also the same. Each type tends to blame the other, and neither type tends to take the initiative to change the natural situation.
In “Concern for the One”, Elder Wirthlin articulated clearly that some leave active participation and lose faith because they act, think or feel different than others – and he told the majority that it was their responsibility to love and accept the minority for who they are, NOT for who the majority might naturally want them to be. He said that every voice (every instrument) needs to be heard, NOT that every member should learn to play the piccolo (or piano – *grin*).
Excellent post, Mormon masks often get in the way of communicating reality.
This is a huge problem in the church. Everyone needs a support system of one kind or another, it’s human nature. The risk of being in the minority is becoming an outcast and being cut off from a support system that’s supposed to be there for you no matter what. The extent of this situation varies from unit to unit in the church.
I’m part of the minority and have learned to keep my mouth shut over the years for the sake of my wife and kids who need this support system. In one of our former units, I was a bit outspoken. Granted I didn’t say anything that was doctrinally incorrect, however it was unpopular. The majority ostracized us to the extent that they wouldn’t let their kids play with ours. It was quite sad really. At first, as mentioned above, I did blame and reject the majority. However now, I simply view them as trying to do the best they can by being very loyal to the church as they were raised to be.
Both sides of this issue need to be treated with respect and common courtesy by the other. There is a place for every child of God in his kingdom because He is not a respecter of persons. Therefore, there should be a place for every child of God in the church if it is the one, true chruch that it claims to be (and in all fairness, the church many of us have a testimony of given by the Holy Ghost.) Simply put, a house divided cannot stand. Take the Zoramites for example.
It can make Sunday’s very difficult. Instead of being able to relax and enjoy the association with other’s and participate in the discussions and lesson’s, I have to stop and think if it’s worth the risk to make a comment that’s outside the accepted responses. A nephew in law of mine one time said that SS was more catechism than discussion and I agree with him. Once you’re categorized as a marginal believer, if that’s what you’re comments are interpreted as, then that’s what you are. Richard Poll’s “What the Church Means to People Like Me” essay was helpful to me back in the 60s when it was first published but I don’t think that there’s much allowance anymore if you’re a bit to the left of center.
“but I don’t think that there’s much allowance anymore if you’re a bit to the left of center.”
Perhaps not in some wards, but it there is within the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“Perhaps not in some wards, but it there is within the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.” I think Ray is channeling Yoda in his wisdom. While I agree that there is variation in the Q12, more than even in many wards, unfortunately, we pretty much live in our wards. That’s why it is so critical to broaden the tent in our wards and to challenge norms that exclude people. People invested in maintaining the cultural status quo work against missionary efforts and often drive out a portion of the regular, BIC members. And the more narrow the minds, the less appealing church will become to those who are not part of that “norm.”
Very true GB, especially when the ward’s seminary teacher is in the class, ready to pounce on any comment or idea that seems even slightly askew of the accepted CES position.
Thanks, Howard, I apreciate you’re sharing that. When I get time, I’ll alert the media of your insight. (Sorry, sarcasm is the devil’s tool. Someone famous said that, or maybe it was me. Whatever)
I don’t think the LDS church’s situation is much different than any other group that has a set of core beliefs that are seen as pretty much set in stone. Unity in action and thought are valued for a lot of reasons, belief that we have the Truth, a sense of us against them, trying to protect each other and our families from the outside, and just a plain sense of loyalty. Most feel a real responsibilty to those that sacrificed and would not want to dishonor their memory or service. It’s a tricky business and as I said above, Richard Poll’s essay was a real eye opener to me. Trying to make the tent bigger without diluting the important stuff is something I hope can be done.
Absolutely, GB. That’s a wonderful way to phrase it.
No worries GBS, sleep well.
Always do, Howard, always do.
I’ve come to realise that integrity and authenticity are key tests in life,and I do try to live that out in my relationships in the ward,as far as possible without hurting myself or others.This is a wonderful post,and I value the point that inauthenticity damages our missionary efforts.I try to let investigators know that for me conversion is an ongoing process,that we do not consider ourselves as the finished article,and that the gospel continues to challenge and confront us,whilst comforting our souls..I’m hoping that is useful to the Lord,as the one size fits all take on membership frequently threatens to overwhelm my fragile testimony.I try to recruit companions on the journey,particularly home and visiting teachers.I think we need to work on making our connections authentic-that’s how we grow.I’ve had some really transcendent experiences with this recently.That may be in part due to my illness.I guess the ward is cutting me some slack.Have to watch my narcissism at the same time.Tiring.
Great post, Hawkgrrrl! I wish this could be a RS lesson in my ward. This month when I did my VTing, each woman we saw and my companion talked about how inadequate they felt–how everyone in ward was “doing better” than they were in terms of spirituality.
And, Ray, as one of three piano players in my ward, I have to disagree. Everyone should play learn to play the piano 🙂
Benjamin Franklin is reputed to have said (something like): “Act the way you want to be, and you’ll become the way you act.”
In AA (Alocholics Anonymous) they say: “Fake it until you make it.”
So masks are not always necessarily deceptive. When a certain role needs to be accomplished, and the person does not naturally fit that role, are they allowed to fake it?
I finally answered the question one time while waiting for a plane. The stewardesses for the flight were also in the waiting area. They were practicing smiling, literally. They were working the smile muscles and practicing the facial expressions.
At first I thought “boy, how fake.” But then I thought, “Well, that’s their job. I actually _want_ them to smile at me as I board, whether they honestly feel like smiling or not. They’re getting paid to make my flight pleasant.”
So it is in social situations or church callings. There are things we need to do and say. There are ways we need, or should, appear.
Things can get tough in this respect when it’s a one-on-one situation like home-teaching or visiting-teaching. Yeah, you’re calling as HT or VT is to care about the other person/family. So the challenge is to _develop_ true love. But in the meantime, while you’re developing love, you can still offer outward things that are outwardly needed, like shoveling the snow or mowing the lawn for the widow.
As we’re all sinners, we’re all hypocrites. But it’s okay to wear a mask if we’re hopting that the outline of the mask will make an imprint on us, eventually altering our face to conform to the mask. (There’s even a short story about that, but I forget the author and title.)
But yeah, I now believe in Ben’s and AA’s sayings.
I tend to agree with Bookslinger, that masks are not always necessarily deceptive or bad. I find it interesting, as a budding sociologist, that this can become a discussion with regard to the LDS church – that’s why I really appreciate this site.
Renowned sociologist, Erving Goffman, wrote a profound work on this very subject called “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”, in which he uses the analogy and imagery of theater to explain social life and interaction. Basically asserting that we all wear masks for various reasons and that we are all ultimately performing through life. I agree with this, too. It’s like many of us have said at points in our lives, that we
“wear many hats” – this to me denotes an acknowledgment that we wear masks and perform.
However, I too have seen how this is rather prevalent in the Church, in my experience it has been particularly with women. In the relatively few times that I’ve gone to RS and tried to relax and enjoy it, I’ve found myself distracted by the fake-ness of several of the women, most bothersome to me was the RS president who never went beyond a “hello” and a curt smile to me. Another man in church who each Sunday treated me as if we were just meeting for the first time; I didn’t think much of this man in terms of his genuineness until he was called to be the next bishop – hmm.
Most important, perhaps, is that our masks can become damaging in situations like the original poster mentioned, where we refuse to take them off to the detriment of our relationships. It is interesting to watch the film American Beauty with all this in mind and see the difference between the lives of those who refuse to take off their masks and those who don’t wear one at all.