“Don't let the expectations and opinions of other people affect your decisions. It's your life, not theirs. Do what matters most to you; do what makes you feel alive and happy. Don't let the expectations and ideas of others limit who you are. If you let others tell you who you are, you are living their reality — not yours. There is more to life than pleasing people. There is much more to life than following others' prescribed path. There is so much more to life than what you experience right now. You need to decide who you are for yourself. Become a whole being. Adventure.”
Roy T. Bennett
(Original Article: March 28, 2006)
Every human being on the planet wears a mask. Most wear many masks. Some call it the dark side, but in fact it is just another side. Humans are more complicated and needful in their spirit than some would allow them to be and Churches go to great lengths to control this other side. As a result, people wear masks, including all members of all churches, their prophets, priests and pastors.
Recently, in Tennessee, we have seen the sad story of a charismatic pastor type, shot dead by "the pastors wife" as she would be known by the membership. I don't know what went wrong, but I would bet it has to do with wearing masks and living with or not living well with the other side. It will have to do with what was expected as opposed to what was real. I do know that churches and the scripture place a totally unrealistic burden on men and women who feel called to serve as a pastor and example of what a "Bible family," or marriage, or behaviors should be like.
"Should" and "Must" are words that drive a lot of people over the edge as the impractical expectations of religion takes its toll. This pastor, like all humans probably was wearing a mask and since it was some form of unacceptable, in this case, it cost him his life. I also suspect his wife, wearing her own masks and endeavoring to live up to the unrealistic expectations of others in that particular religious mindset simply had come to the tipping point.
Most churches don't have a way for the minister and family to address real human issues and stay as pastor and wife. To speak up or ask for help is to demote yourself and forever be viewed as flawed and "weak." Its the higher up flawed and weak leaders that place these labels on you. Ministers don't seek help often because they become blemished lambs just for asking, so they don't ask .
When masks come off, people are so surprised. They knew them as "so nice," or "so quiet and kind." That was the mask. They never got to know them as a genuine human being. I wish her well in this most difficult journey now that has affected so many people. I hope that someone will look to see what fundamentalist religion can do the spirit that has to wear masks to cope with the differences between how we wish to think and do and what is expected.
All ministers wear masks. It goes with the turf. As a pastor, I certainly did and I did because there was no room for being one's self and a pastor. The pastor, male or female, is that religious leader that people want to live whatever they feel the Biblical life is, while going about their own business and doing what they themselves darn well please.
Ministers and priests are the sacrificial human who is to be what others simply don't wish to be, but are glad to see it's possible, at least if the mask stays on properly. I would think that the admonition in the Gospels to "become ye therefore perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is Perfect," might be a bit unrealistic for real humans, but the minister or priest is paid to go for it and show us how it's done. Of course, it's not done, but the appropriate mask is in place in the appropriate circumstance, always. One can end up a fake human being when organized by religion, minister or member.
They are always "such a nice and quiet young man," or "happy family," before they blow. Masks tend to come off at the most inappropriate time and manner. I was riding to work one Saturday morning when I heard the news of a man who went ballistic in a church in Milwaukee, killing eight, including the Pastor and his son and then himself. I knew. It was a Saturday meeting. It was a hotel meeting room. I knew it was one of the splinter groups of my past affiliations. An hour later, it was confirmed and what I felt was going to happen someday in that group, because it so forces people to wear masks, did happen. I thought it would happen somewhere else, but this was no surprise to me. I had "prophecied" it to myself years ago. Very sad, and of course the young man who did the killing was labeled as "demon possessed," and the whole thing sank into history. Simply put, the Church, this one and all churches, had forced a mask to be worn and rather than be able to talk about it, it stays firmly affixed...until it doesn't.
In my years of pastoring, I saw how "me thinks thou dost protest too much," works in the world of masks. Ministers who were known for raging against sexual sins, gays and "lustful practices," were wrestling with it themselves and projecting their own confusion and guilt onto the audience. I am confident that they themselves had no clue that was what they were doing.
Few get trained in how to spot a mask. It is therapeutic, and yet when the pastors mask comes off in some misadventure, he is roasted, eaten, and the bones thrown in the trash. He certainly was not perfect as his Heavenly Father is perfect. Of course, the membership wore all the same masks but that doesn't count. He was to be in fact what they would only be in masked compliance when convenient.
At least they leave a pastor, who did a lot of genuine human counseling with people, alone when he is thrown out, because he knows so darn much about the masks worn by others. They are afraid he'll spill their beans. You'll find the most supportive of the defrocked pastor are those that wore masks too but at least know it and may have shared this fact with the pastor. Maybe the pastor was kind and compassionate to them and now it's payback time when he was found out. It's an interesting dynamic. It's human stuff.
I have seen ministers rail on drinking who needed help with their own overdrinking born out of despair, living the perfect life and wondering why it feels so sucky. I can't tell you how many members I have worked with who drank too much too often and held all sorts of positions in the Church, but he better not be the minister. We have to have our sacrificial lamb to be what we refuse to be. He is genuine so we don't have to be, it seems the average person reasoned. His job is to keep telling us not to be and do what we still intend to be and do no matter what he says, or rather really "what the Bible says." He just better not be and do like we be and do! We pay him to be and do perfect as his Heavenly Father is PERFECT.
Seems if you want to make a problem rampant, just make it illegal. I pastored in "dry counties" where the alcoholism rate was out the roof. Churches are good at demanding, upon pain of some eternal fate, that one never does lots of things. This causes people to wear masks as much of what the church demands one never do, is some kind of sin, rather than a mere choice that sometimes we overdo. Life is not all or nothing in reality, but it is so often in fundamentalist religious perspectives. Thus we all wear masks to stay safely tucked in at least two worlds.
Anytime you join a group, you are going to have to get used to wearing masks on various topics and at various times to stay in the good graces of the group. That is just how it works. Individualism is frowned upon. Churches want dogs that can at least be trained, both as ministers and members. They certainly don't want cats that are impossible to herd, as they say. Even a pit bull can be trained to do, momentarily what one wishes it to do, with training, but inside, it might still want to rip your leg off. A cat is a cat. No masks on any cat I ever met. "Here Kitty Kitty," I call out as it walks away and doesn't even look back. "Sit," as it stands there and scorns me, and don't even think the crazy thing will roll over or beg! It's a cat. It knows nothing of masks. Long live Cats!
You're church might more or less demand a tithe of your income as being reasonable for your support of the church. Of course, this is not really as biblically binding as you might be told and you really aren't robbing God. God doesn't really need money... but the Building Fund does or the payroll people do. Maybe the narcissistic pastor who is going to change the world for Jesus does, but God does not. You might do it in a form of fearful compliance, but it's not what you really want to do or can afford to do even if you wanted to. But still you do it. You are wearing a mask. You will smile on the outside and be angry on the inside for which your body and spirit will pay.
You're church might make demands about what you must be a part of to show proof of your "loyalty and service to the Church" attitude. You conform and show up or do what you are asked, but you don't really want to or don't have the time. You are wearing another mask. Someone might wish to make you a "leader" because you have worn your other masks so well and want you take on this even bigger one. You comply and bingo, your face is really starting to feel heavy!
The church might show you what the Bible says about many topics. They may inform you on how "God" wants you to date, or find a partner, or even if you should at this time. They might think you can't pick 'em so they will do it for you.
They will have the truth about prophecy and how near you're particular denomination thinks Jesus return is. They will say things in sermons that you won't really see or agree with but feel bad for not. They inform you of the Bible and God's view of sex and you comply even though it just doesn't work for you or seem anyone's business but yours. And so you mask up when needed and do what you want anyway. This is not wrong. What is wrong is having to feel one is duplistic when in fact one is just making personal choices and expressing personal preferences on this topic that really is no one else's business. To the degree you don't disagree publicly, you will wear a mask when these topics or others come up. Ministers are forced just as much as members to do this to keep their jobs which is why so many are sitting down on the outside when certain topics come up, but in fact standing on the inside and angry.
Wearing masks can kill you. If one is not careful, one's biography can become one's biology. Repressed anger and the duplicity of wearing masks can cause dis-ease, and in particular, cancer. What is eating you, eats you. Peeling off a mask can be very very painful. They tend to grow on you and stick to your flesh. Sometimes flesh comes off with the mask and you have to heal for a time. Your face might not look so good, but it will heal but I can't say it won't leave scars.
So what's a minister or member to do?
First of all, know that it's just fine to disagree with your church or minister and he with you or even his own denomination. It is good mental health. Find something to disagree with and voice it! Ok, be careful if you want to stay part of the true tribe. It should not cost everyone their friendships, jobs and basic human respect. It does, but it shouldn't. To the degree one thinks it is not okay to disagree with the group or Church, is the degree that masks will be firmly affixed when needed, and your dis-ease can begin. If you minister in, or a member of a church where you know your inclusion depends on compliance, leave now. If not, then someday you might not be able to get the mask off, and will be forced to have it removed surgically and probably without anesthetic.
Secondly, human trumps being perfect as "your Heavenly Father is Perfect," EVERY time. To the degree you send the message that perfect is what we look for here, is the degree that those you expect it will wear masks. Count on it.
There are no perfect ministers, pastor families, children, ways to raise one, ideas, elders, deacons, youth guys, music ministers or organ grinders. The man who shot his pastor dead and then himself gave up on being single "God's way," and being perfect as others expected him to be. He gave up on only finding a partner that thought like his church or his pastor thought he should think. He gave up on not being "unequally yoked with unbelievers." He gave up on feeling marginalized and lonely. He gave up and took others with him.
A man who says "I become all things to all people that by any means I might save some," is duplistic and wearing masks beyond measure. You will never discover the genuine man under that perverse view. They tend to have thorns in the flesh they won't share with you and won't seek any other help, save from God himself, to work it out for him. It won't get worked out and they will explode or implode or maybe just become more weird and project their own shortcomings and fears upon the unsuspecting church. Usually the "rules" the minister places on the congregation reflect this duplicity.
Finally, realize that many ministers don't believe their own sermons and many members don't either, no matter how many times they note what a "good sermon" that was. Ministers and Priests get in the habit, due to masks that stick very well, of saying what even they no longer or perhaps ever did believe. It's tough to buck your organizational perspectives even when they are outdated, wrong or even dangerous to the human spirit. The recognition that one does not believe the organizational line evolves over time and experience in the organization. It is not intentional or hypocritical. It usually comes as a surprise to the Pastor that his views change over time, study and experience himself. It is the formula for the classic Dark Night of the Soul and out you go.
There were any number of topics I never spoke on that the denominational church thought it believed and would have wished me to pass on to the faithful.. Some were harmless ideas and some were plain stupid and harmful. It was nice when a position had to be rethought and I had not bothered to teach that anyway and did not have go back and look like the eternal, never changing God and truth had just changed. For me, the topics were Places of Safety, British Israelism, Divine Healing, Divorce and Remarriage and being overly ridiculous about Sabbath keeping and losing your job over it among other things.
All humans wear masks. Who people's do because systems are in place to even kill them if they wander from the true path of others making. Women wear masks as well as men and so do your kids and all their friends. We do it because it is not safe or profitable not to. That is unless being authentically you in this one lifetime is important to you. I won't say it won't cost you to take off the mask. You will lose friends and perhaps even family support. You might be asked to leave your church or be labeled as "of the devil" or at least, backslidden and "never converted anyway." You might end up "the black sheep." If you are a minister, you WILL lose your career or have to move on to a more open minded group of believers. They do exist as groups tend to sort out by personality anyway. But tearing off your particular mask may open new doors of opportunity to you as well.