Reflections from the man in the mask

Published 10:13 am Sunday, July 2, 2017

by Andrew Book

This week I spent a lot of time wearing a mask. We held our “Hero Central” Vacation Bible School at Courtland United Methodist Church and I spent the week in character as “The Flash” helping kids learn about how we can all be heroes for God by having heart, courage, wisdom, hope and God’s power. Overall, it was a wonderful week. We had a wonderful time singing, dancing, telling stories from the Bible, talking about what those stories teach us about how to follow God, and reminding one another that we don’t need super powers to be heroes. The mask, however, was probably my least favorite part.

Most comic book superheroes wear a mask of some sort to hide their “secret identity” from the world around them. I found that a mask can do that — many of the kids (especially the younger ones) never made the connection that “Pastor Andrew” who greeted them before dinner was the same as “The Flash” who lead our assemblies and Bible story times. So, if you are looking for a way to keep people from seeing and knowing your (secret) identity, a mask might be a good way to go.

I also found that being the man in the mask is a lonely place to be. I was constantly worrying about being “in character” and making sure that my mask was covering me to keep my true self hidden. I had to watch what I said and what I did to make sure everyone saw “The Flash” and not “Andrew.” My mask kept me from seeing clearly (Did you know those things can get caught on your eyelashes?!), and forced me to leave my glasses behind so everything was a bit fuzzy. So, regardless of whether I was jumping around to songs like “Leap of Faith,” telling stories about the one (Jesus) who has shaped my life and soul more than any other person, or just talking with the kids and adults who spent the week at Courtland UMC, the mask was a constant reminder that I was trying to be someone else.

The final night of Vacation Bible School was a cookout and celebration of the week. I had planned to appear as The Flash one last time, but when the time came, I left the mask off. As much fun as I had playing someone else, by the end of the week I was exhausted by the ruse and just wanted to look into the faces of the kids I had been high-fiving, hugging and laughing with and let them know that the man in the mask cares about them, wants to call them by name, and wants to be real with them. So, in the end, it was Andrew, not “The Flash” who led our final gathering together. In place of my mask I had my two-year old in my arms (he had enough of watching daddy up front and insisted on being held.) As I look back, that was the most authentic thing which could have happened. I am not “The Flash.” I am Andrew: a father, husband, follower of Jesus and pastor.

The masks we wear in everyday life are not nearly as obvious as the red-and-yellow contraption I put on each evening last week. Instead of hiding our identity with strips of cloth, we use fake smiles to hide the hurt in our hearts, stock answers instead of truly sharing our hearts, and clichés in place of honest discussion. These are the masks we wear every day and they create a barrier between us and the people around us which is much deeper and ultimately much more harmful to our ability to truly develop friendships than any physical mask could ever be. Yet, many of us have been so trained to hide ourselves that we hardly even know what to do when it becomes clear that we are wearing a mask.

People who know me well know that I prize authenticity over almost anything else. In a time when the church is known as a place where people wear masks to hide their true struggles, hurts, and brokenness, I do everything I can to be honest myself and encourage authenticity in those around me. We have been working hard to create a culture of authenticity at Courtland UMC. We have made some good steps, but I am constantly amazed how hard it is for most of us to take off our masks and let those around us see who we really are. I have no regrets about spending a week behind a mask as “The Flash,” but I am thrilled to be able to set the mask aside and simply be “Andrew.” I hope you can set your mask aside and be your honest, authentic self. This week, find someone you trust and take down a little bit of the façade that is keeping them from seeing what is truly going on in your life. We all need to be known, so give someone a chance to truly know you!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or