Sunday, 3 September 2017

Masks of authenticity? by Mari Howard aka Clare Howard Weiner

Challenged to think about this by popular discussions of ‘authenticity’, Do I have a mask? (I have always imagined I don’t.)

First, think of this: is being polite, listening to someone who is boring, behaving like an adult when you want to cry, scream, or run away in fear, is that wearing a mask? Are behaviours which we’re taught, as children, (our socialisation), mere ‘masks’? Or are they necessary in order to live peaceably in an ordered society?

And what did Jesus do? 

Years ago in the 1980s, we belonged to a very conventional church. There was even a bit of a dress code: smart for 10.30am Sunday mornings. Our daughter reminded me of this when we were looking through baby clothes, Do you remember that velvet jacket? At four, she had a little black velvet Sunday jacket, which she wore with a flowery dress. We Mums wore Lady Di style, with navy blazers over our Laura Ashley outfits. And kitten heel pumps or brogues! Parents modelled the well functioning Christian family: happy, coping, with quiet, biddable children, doing well at school, loving football and stories. We’d ideally have no problems with work, finances, or mental health. At University, we’d already all learned that ‘Christians don’t get depressed’. 

Basically, a thousand small and larger rules had already led us towards the need for masks.

And, there was even the local Christian doctor nearly everyone went to, who was always very booked up, and whose surgery was the confessional for the stressed and depressed… Mask back on as you left

So, as we read the Scriptures, do we find what Jesus did?  

And whether he ever wore a mask? Or was his life ‘honest, genuine, authentic’? I leave you to decide if there are any mask-wearing incidents - but, here’s the thing: what is the authentic honest life? Why do we hide our ‘real selves’? 

Do we hide behind the social norm?

And is it set not only to certain behaviours which help us to consider others? Is it also set to certain lifestyles, and to competition with others? In the church I mentioned, it reached a point where we were all supposed to become more open. But, did this mean telling each other our failings, or did it mean being open and ready to welcome others, drop the competitive stance, and listen to their story - rather than first telling them ours?

Here is a bit more we can think about

Is mask-wearing a matter of choosing when to ‘pretend’ we’re okay, and when to let emotions fly? Is it helpful (to us and to them) to let others see when we’re struggling? Is it possible to be ‘genuine’ yet considerate and put others first? What is Christian authentic living? What is ‘being open’?

Mari Howard is the pen name of Clare Howard Weiner, who tries to write authentic stories about struggling people, some Christian and some not, living in a University city in not-quite-contemporary Britain ... the next one is set in 2007, and looks at how we interpret love ... first in the series are Baby, Baby (2010) and The Labyrinth Year (2014)


  1. Very interesting question! And also, what about the masks we put on before God? Ain't that the silliest thing? - as if he didn't know everything about us already?! Maybe we should start with being utterly ourselves with Him, before we wonder how to behave in society ...

  2. Hm ... I wonder whether Adam and Eve set a pattern for the human race the minute they hid behind that bush when God was looking for them. The need to pretend, duck and dive, dissemble, appear what we're not, and not appear what we are. Interesting post.

  3. When my marriage went wrong I became like Eleanor Rigby - wearing the face that I kept in a jar by the door. It was the only way I could cope. Long since abandoned but do I wear a mask now? Probably.

  4. I'm so sorry that this post passed me by - we arrived back from Florida the day it went up! LOVE the subject matter, and the questions you ask here - all things I wrestle with in my book! ;)