Saturday, May 29, 2010

Willing Tools of Divine Mummery


(From the first edition of The Mask, a web-based publication)

Above the fireplace in our apartment in Irvine, California, hangs one of my favorite works of art. It is a drawing by Josep Pla-Narbona depicting dancers hiding under masks. Narbona hails from Barcelona in Spain and is therefore unlikely to have had Lutheran theology in mind when he created this magnificent work. Still, it looks Lutheran to me.

In Luther’s imagery, human beings are themselves masks behind which God hides while carrying out His concealed purposes in this world. Luther called God’s reign in the secular realm Mummenschanz, or mummery. As divine masks, humans are called to serve their neighbors out of love in everyday life.

As we ponder our self-centered civilization, trying to remain faithful to our divine vocations is indeed a countercultural endeavor. Let it therefore be known that League of Faithful Masks (LFM) has subversive goals. LFM has the lethal narcissism of our era in its crosshairs, and LFM’s web-based publication, The Mask, is meant to be on of its weapons in this combat.

LFM is not a sect. We don’t want our fellow human beings to renounce the God-given joys of life. With the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes we cheerfully proclaim: “Go eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart for God has already approved what you do” (Eccl. 9:7). LFM promotes neither a redistribution of wealth, nor does it try to tell anybody, as a famous statesman recently did, that he or she has made enough money.

Instead, the League of Faithful Masks has set itself the simple goal of championing the Judeo-Christian worldview of vocation as an effective antidote to narcissism and its destructive consequences; our foe is the “Me” culture that has wreaked havoc in the Western world. It has devastated individuals, businesses and communities financially. It is threatening to unravel this country’s social structure.

The “Me” culture is killing millions of unborn children every year. It is imperiling the ethical standards in the economy, industry, education, jurisprudence, medicine, the sciences, the arts and the media. It has utterly abandoned natural law, the universal moral code of which Christians believe that God has written it upon every human being’s heart, but which has also been fundamental to any healthy civilization since time immemorial.

In a way, the “Me” culture is more problematical to fight than murderous ideologies of the past. Nazism and Communism were the creations of relatively small groups of totalitarians supported by either mindless or, more likely, terrified masses. Totalitarians could be defeated by military, political and economic means.

You cannot fight the “Me” culture with M-16 rifles, mortars, bombs, economic or political schemes, however well crafted. Like Nazism and Communism, the “Me” culture has its roots in a Zeitgeist, or spirit of time that over the last two centuries has performed an ethical lobotomy on Europeans and North Americans alike. One of its authors was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the leading philosopher of the French Revolution, who “freed” legal thinking from internal constraints that limit vice.

In other words, redirected man’s focus away from the neighbor to himself or herself, either in a singular or a plural sense. As Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote before being martyred by the Nazis, the French Revolution was the “laying bare of the emancipated man in his tremendous power and his most terrible perversity.” Bonhoeffer was convinced that “the liberation of man as an absolute ideal leads only to man’s self-destruction.”

This is today’s reality. The finest army in the world is powerless against it. You can’t fight moral lobotomy with helicopters and drones. To mention just one example, the best soldiers in the world can’t turn around the minds of parents who don’t discipline their kids, who threaten teachers with lawsuits if they dare to discipline their students. Even if you sent a million soldiers to the Mexican border, they won’t he able to stop unsupervised American or European kids from becoming drug addicts. This is a market-driven economy, and as long as there is a huge market for narcotics, drug dealers will find ways to supply it.

I do not mean to single out parents but am using the pervasive disregard of divine calling by so many mothers and fathers as a paradigm for the causes of generalized narcissism plaguing our society. Motherhood and fatherhood are vocations likes thousands of others, including the vocations of voters and politicians, of journalists and readers, of lawyers, nurses, physicians, scientists, civil servants, bakers, engineers, business executives and their subordinates. If their sense of vocation is absent, then the “Me” culture’s lethal trajectory will progress with ever-increasing speed.

This is why our group of Christian professionals founded the League of Faithful Masks. The only powerful weapon we possess is our determination to mentor those who have lost the yardstick by which to lead a Christian life in their own secular vocations, and this determination is of courses rooted in our faith. Our weapons are non-lethal. We counsel. We lecture. We write. We teach. We don’t intend to kick off a revolution with banners carried by marching masses. But we do hope that our message will spread, and that regional LFM chapters will spring up around in the United States and other countries. This Web-based publication will be one of our voices.

The message of the Faithful Masks is simply this: In every phase of our lives we have divine callings to serve our neighbors in love; even on our deathbeds we have vocations, for example the vocation to allow our caretakers to serve us lovingly. Again: No insurrection is planned, but we are committed to partaking in God’s masquerade by trying to be of service to others. Everybody sharing our concern is very welcome to join us.

© The League of Faithful Masks, May 2010

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