I have spent a lot of time around musicians and music lovers, I consider myself both of those things. And if you hang around those types for very long, you eventually come across a person that listens almost exclusively to indie music, sometimes labeled a hipster. I know there is a shirt for these people that says, “I listen to bands that don’t exist yet”, and that is truly their sentiment. They like to be aware of the bands that no one else knows about and take pride in bragging about it constantly. But something very interesting happens when one of the indie bands they like signs with a major record label. Almost immediately they un-fan themselves and will probably hate the next CD the band puts out. They’ll say things like, “they used to sound raw but now they sound too produced” which actually means, “they used to record with really crappy equipment and now they use really professional equipment”. And you’ll also hear them say,” They sold out”. And when they say they sold out, what they really mean is that they have handed over creative control to someone else – someone else now decides the image they will portray, what venues they play, what magazines they will appear in, and ultimately how their album sounds. They even decide who they want to target with the album, how many songs will be on it, and how long the songs will be. And in the midst of all the normalizing and auto tune we come to the conclusion that at some point along the way our favorite bands stopped caring about making great music and started caring about selling records. And in doing so, they lose the only thing that ever made their music any good: its authenticity.
There is something about authenticity that draws us to in -- but in our culture it’s hard to find. Its elusive nature may be the side effect of modern marketing. Marketing is by definition ‘managing perception’ and everywhere we turn someone is trying to shape our perceptions. After being engrossed in a media driven culture consumed with manipulating how other people see things, a lot of us have learned to market ourselves. Social networks (especially Facebook) make this easy because (and I completely made up this statistic) 99% of the interaction we have with 80% of the people we know happens through digital social networks. In other words, most of our interaction with most the people we know happens in a digital world largely absent of accountability to reality. This makes it incredibly easy to manage the way those people perceive us. We can become whoever we want to be even if it doesn’t reflect who we really are. By editing everything from interests, to music, to photos, to status updates, we can gain a reputation constructed upon nothing but a processor and a keyboard. While social networks allow us to have interaction with more and more people, the interactions are generally on a much more basic and shallow level. This allows us to be perceived easily as the person we project on the surface. And the person we project on the surface is typically who we want to be or who we think other people want us to be. Do we eventually suffer the fate George Orwell speaks of in Shooting An Elephant, “he wears a mask, and his face grows into it?”
During the time of Jesus, there were a lot of different sects or religious people. One of the more prominent sects was a group called the Pharisees. Jesus used a pretty offensive word to describe them at times: hypocrites. The Greek word literally means “mask wearer”. Over time, the characters that actors played in Greek or Roman theaters who wore masks during their performances became known as hypocrites. So it’s interesting to me that Jesus chooses this word to label the religious people that practice their righteousness in front of other people to gain their approval. Mask wearing actors. Unfortunately, the most elaborate study ever done on what non-Christians perceive about Christians recently found that 85% of people used that same word to describe Christians. This was never how the church was supposed to turn out. The people who wear the name of Jesus being perceived and described as the very thing He couldn’t stomach?
Let’s face it, people generally tend to act differently, speak differently, and dress differently in the context of a gathering of God’s people than they do when they leave – and nothing could be less attractive to people who are looking for something real, genuine, original, true, and worth spending a life on. And nothing could be less attractive to Jesus. One of the things that has always captivated me about Jesus is that He wasn’t a big fan of religious people. Rather, He was interested in inviting the broken and humble, the worst of sinners and the greatest of debtors to walk by His side.
In marketing ourselves we end up tricking ourselves. We sometimes don’t even realize that we’re wearing masks to cover up our hurt or our struggles or our doubts or our insecurities. But like John Lennon once said, “one thing you can’t hide – is when you’re crippled inside”. You don’t have to join a masquerade to be a part of Jesus’ church. So, pull down your mask and allow the people around you to see who you really are.