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Peeling Back the Mask

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Have you ever watched the show Desperate Housewives? The premise of the show (and many others like it) is a group of individuals that live in the same neighborhood, where everyone seems to have the perfect life. They have good jobs, they have great friends, they’re always smiling, and everything is always rosy. And then they go home…where you see the true disarray of their lives. Their marriages are falling apart, they are struggling with addictions, and they have a very low view of who they actually are.

I wonder how our churches sometimes mirror this Desperate Housewives effect. How often are we falling apart at the seams, just to shower ourselves off, put on our Sunday best, and walk into the doors of the church with a smile on our face? Sometimes we do this out of necessity – just to make it through the day. Other times though it feels as if we are hiding from true connection with each other.

Recently I heard a sermon on John 13 where the Pastor said that foot-washing likely would not become a sacrament because we would wreck it. We would come to church with our feet pre-washed so that no one would have to wash our dirty feet! That got me wondering, what do we need to do as congregations to enable those around us to come as they are? A few years back, a study called Hemorrhaging Faith found that youth are disengaging from the church for four reasons: Hypocrisy, judgement, exclusivity, and failure. In other words, the study suggest that youth are disengaging from the church because we are choosing to come with our masks on, rather than who we truly are.

So what does it look like for us to start de-masking ourselves? What does it look like for us to embrace our own insecurities and imperfect selves to truly belong? Brené Brown, author of the book Daring Greatly (and a few others), offers the following:

“True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

A little later in the book, she also offers the following:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

John 13 gives us the image of Jesus taking off his robe, filling up the foot basin with water and throwing a towel over his shoulder as he begins to wash the disciples’ feet. He gets to Simon Peter, who says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa Jesus…you’re going to wash my feet?” You can almost picture the sparkle in Jesus’ eye when he replies, “Yes Peter, you don’t understand what I’m doing right now, but someday, you most certainly will.” A little later on, Jesus tells the disciples, “Do as I have done for you.”

We are called to serve those in need. However, are we willing to be the person in need? Are we willing to be vulnerable and allow those around us to serve us in our time of need? A recent autobiography called Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton invites us to consider exactly that:

“Just as I am,” she’d said. “I’m loved just as I am.” She sounded so surprised. Me, too. It strikes me that it’s always religious people who are most surprised by grace. Those hoops we become so exhausted from jumping through? We created them. We forget that our maker made us human, and so it’s okay – maybe exactly right – to be human. We are ashamed of the design of the one we claim to worship. So we sweep up our mess and hide our doubts, contradictions, anger, and fear before showing ourselves to God, which is like putting on a fancy dress and makeup to prepare for an X-ray. I think about how the people who seem closest to God are often not dressed up and sitting in pews, but dressed down and sitting in folding chairs in recovery meetings. They have refused to cover themselves up any longer. They are the ones who are no longer pretending. They are the ones who know. Pain led them to their rock bottom, and rock bottom is the beginning of any honest life, and spiritual journey.”

How might our churches be changed if we were willing to be vulnerable and accept the spiritual discipline of service in our time of need? How might our relationships change and potentially deepen? What would happen to our relationship with God if we didn’t dress up to meet God? How might our vulnerability encourage others to seek help in their time of need?

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Jason is in the business of helping churches move from conflict situations to creative solutions. He has particular skills in conflict management, social media, and leadership development.

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