On a warm spring afternoon this week, I sat on a bench among lawn and trees between the buildings of "Covenant Living" and our quiet street, St. Croix Avenue, here in Golden Valley. I was busy trying to pick up my 35-year pleasure of just sitting and trying to sketch what I see.
A woman passing by on the street called me by name. "Is that you, Arthur? I can't quite tell, with your mask." Nor could I at first distinguish her, for the same reason.
We both live in a Senior Residence trying hard to keep any of our 200 or so residents from catching the omni-present virus called COVID-19. So, outside our own apartments we are urged to wear masks to cover half of our face. No smiles are revealed. No teeth shine. No wrinkles wreathe our mouths in signs of welcoming friendship. We depend on eyebrows, and hair color and styles. Even the clothes commonly worn by our fellow residents. So far, we remain cheerful about it all.
One man who conversed with me briefly in the elevator, wrote me, in his distinctive "hand," a letter on lined yellow legal pad paper. He said something like, "Seeing you in your mask, with your white hair and your black, seemingly ministerial jacket, and self-effacing way, reminded me of a story by Hawthorne, called, "The Minister's Veil."
He seemed to be offering a reflection on the hypocrisy of cover-ups. Of hiding what you really are, or think. He referred to the use of masks in the theater, and the role they played in ancient Roman amphitheaters.
Then, he turned back to the idea of ministers, and gave the famous saying of Boston's Phillips Brooks, who spoke of preaching the Gospel and truth offered through personality.
I think my friend's concern was that we not let the call of preaching be corrupted by the clothes, or manner, or other masks we might - perhaps inadvertently - use, thus being unfaithful to our calling.
It was, of course, a sobering reminder. It all was probably not personal. But masks do change things. Cover-ups hide truth.
Jesus calls us to be honest about ourselves. "Become as little children," He says, honest and open. "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"..."The truth shall make you free."
As people of faith, lovers of Jesus, we all want to be "truth-bearers." We want to be what we purport to be. We do not want to be actors. "What you see is what you get, " as that idea is translated today.
What makes the Christian fellowship a body of deep, authentic relationships, is when the "company of believers" is transparent, made up of people who are true, and not hypocrites.
That is life-long work. And it is what every genuine seeker wants to find among the Christians. Nothing phony. No misleading mask. Always the real thing.
It's a reminder for us, in these days when masks are worn to protect others, as well as ourselves. To keep unseen germs from spreading. To protect life itself.
So, as they say, "Stay well. Be safe. And bless you."
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES