During our childhood, my brothers and I often played Cowboys and Indians. (This was an era before political correctness.) One of our favorite heroes was The Lone Ranger, a fictional character who (with his Native American sidekick Tonto) fought against injustice. The Lone Ranger wore a mask. At the end of each episode, the Lone Ranger and Tonto rode off on their horses as another minor character would ask: Who was that masked man?
Back then, only criminals and thugs wore masks … for concealment. In stark contrast, the Lone Ranger’s mask represented good. When people needed his help, they’d initially greet the masked man with suspicion, believing his mask signified evil intent. Though the mask concealed his identity, it also served as a warning to bad guys. They recoiled in fear knowing this legendary masked man was determined to uncover their evil deeds and throw them in jail. Preferring anonymity to fight lawbreakers, the Lone Ranger embodied silver-bullet dedication by serving law-abiding individuals selflessly.
The year 2020 has boldly rewritten the book on masking. Which of us could have predicted the following scenarios? (1) Walk into a bank wearing a mask and politely request a cash withdrawal? (2) Enter a school, restaurant or public building where the single passport for entry is a face covering?! Further, which astute designers envisioned repurposing the standard surgical mask as the must-have accessory for their fall fashion lines?
In previous posts, I’ve expressed my antipathy for the current hysterical lockdowns and mask mandates. I rarely wear a mask. However, I understand certain health conditions suggest mask-wearing (the Lone Ranger’s good mask) might be helpful. In my view, this is a personal matter and should never be mandated by our government overlords at any level.
Thinking about this over the last several months, I had to ask myself why am I troubled by masks? No question, the mandatory declarations gnaw at my freedom-loving bent. But beyond that, there’s a deeper issue, even (if I may don my Bible student hat) a theological problem. I’ll explain.
In general, by obscuring all facial attributes except for the eyes, masks breed suspicion. (We can debate this assertion, but I speak from observation.) When two individuals meet on a city sidewalk, their eyes may meet and acknowledge one another, but I contend their smiles (full-face involvement) are the essential element that cues sociability. When this interaction results in a handshake or warm embrace, friendliness is confirmed.
But the mask? When two individuals wearing masks walk down that same sidewalk, their eyes may meet but their brains react warily. This is a stranger. Be on guard. This is a stranger!
For the record, I’m not a theologian. What I assert here is less theological than intuitive. Scripture tells us we are created in the image and likeness of God. The concept is referred to as Imago Dei, the essence of the divine breathed into (literally, if you care to read the passage) each and every one of us. An image (as with a mirror) is designed to reflect the image-bearer.
Instead of writing an in-depth treatise on Imago Dei, I offer brief thoughts about the effects of wearing a mask. First and foremost, the mask obscures the reflection of God in each of us. The God who made us designed our faces as an open window to His nature! Our faces are meant to reflect His love, His compassion and His glory! When half of our faces are hidden, natural facial cues fail.
No other part of the body involves the Imago Dei as does the face. An elbow (for all its necessity) is a silent object. Likewise, for a toe.
But the face! The front-and-center, highly-expressive and oft-changing countenance on which our emotions and frailties are read and interpreted, the face craves engagement and response! In this increasingly secularized society where isolation has become the awful norm, masks induce emotional starvation. The only antidote is to see the face of God reflected through His creation!
Secondly, masks disrupt God’s intrinsic design for community. Our faces are the most essential instrument we have for connection and communication. Whether it’s a Saturday afternoon tailgate party with hundreds of likeminded sports fans or an intimate gathering around the dinner table for a meal and cards, we are driven to drink deeply at the well of emotional sustenance engendered by connections with family and community. Faces are the means to deliver that emotional sustenance.
The sonnet below offers my take on how false religion sucks away our Imago Dei. Beauty and goodness are expressed through the face (even the most disfigured face transforms with a smile). As image-reflectors, we can and should reflect God’s grace.
My challenge? Short of a serious medical concern, may we set the masks aside please? Take courage and reflect the amazing beauty of God revealed in your face.