Greetings fellow Traveller,
Last week upon opening my emails, I found in my St Aidans inbox the following email:
Payment instructions from the seller Date sent: 25 May, 5:45 AM
Item 2 TOUCH LAMPS
Reference # 463510557 Insert this as the reference when making a deposit
Date closed 12 May, 8:44 AM
Shipping Buyer must pick-up
The seller is registered in Hamilton, Waikato
Total to pay $20.00
Payment options NZ bank deposit, cash
Seller’s Email firstname.lastname@example.org
* If you haven’t authorized this transaction, click the link below to dispute transaction and get full refund. Go to the Help Center at: http://trademe.co.nz/file/help Important: * Include the reference number (463510557) in your deposit details. * It may take a couple of days for your payment to clear. * Sellers normally ship the goods once payment is received. Thanks for winning my auction Kiwi Bank 38-9000-0391424-00 THANKS : P J Steed
Knowing that I had not authorised this transaction, I decided to go to Help Centre at http://trademe.co.nz/file/help I was informed by my antivirus protection programme that this link was unsafe. This email was an attempt to get me to respond, in so doing, my laptop would become vulnerable to being hacked by person or persons unknown.
What seemed so genuine was indeed so false. At times life is like that, more times than we would like to admit. From my own experience I recall a time in 1980. I was the Baptist Minister in a small town in the South Island. It was the Sunday before Christmas, I was in my office (which was situated at the bottom of the garden behind the garage) preparing for the Evening Service, when Fleur buzzed me on the intercom, that someone had arrived at the Manse and needed to see the minister urgently. I went up to the manse and introduced myself to a man standing at the back door. He intimated that he could not speak very good English only French. I invited him to come down to my office. He was in a very dishevelled state and said he had been wandering around looking for someone to help him. From what I could gather from the story he told in broken English: his wife and son had been killed in a car accident in France, and he needed to return to France to make the funeral arrangements. It was very difficult to ascertain the details, I did not speak French and he did not understand my English.
After hearing his story, compassion welled up within me. I took him back to the manse, told Fleur his story, upon which she offered him a shower, gave him some of my clothes to wear, while she washed his clothes. Then our daughter went around the garden and picked what flowers she could and gave them to him. Being near Christmas, Fleur had made some Christmas mince pies, these he ate and enjoyed along with cups of coffee.
I returned to finish preparing for the Evening Service; all the while I felt some unease that I did not have the full story about this man and his circumstances. However, I put that aside and focused on what I had to do.
Just before leaving for the service, I phoned the French embassy in Wellington to see if they had a representative near this particular South Island town. I was fortunate to get the name of a local man who acted in an honorary capacity. I phoned him, no reply. I went off to take the evening service, leaving this man alone with Fleur and our three young children. During the service I shared the story of this man and his tragedy. Someone suggested we take up a love offering for the man, which we did and raised the sum of $60.00. I returned home and Fleur told me he has eaten all our mince pies and was very relaxed in our lounge watching TV. I felt somewhat relieved. I in turn told her about the generosity of the people, and I gave him the money and tried to explain it was from the people of the church.
I still felt uncertain of this man and his story, I could not put my finger on what it was, but something about this man and his story was not quite right. I once more phoned the honorary consulate; he answered and agreed to see me and this man. I was able to get the man in my car and we travelled to see the honorary consulate who turned out to be a delightful French businessman. We had a three person conversation; I asked a question in English, he in turn would ask the man that same question in French. I noticed his face becoming more and more puzzled. After a little while he took me into another room, and politely informed me, that the man does not understand French. He explained to me he had spoken to him in very simple French words and was unable to respond in French. I thanked him, and we travelled back to the manse.
Along the way I felt my unease increasing, who was this man, who was dressed in some of my clothes with $60 in his pocket from the parish?
Arriving home with the man, I took Fleur to one side and told her the story so far. She was not impressed with what had happened that I had left her alone in the house with this man. I felt extremely guilty to say the least. The next thing we know this man disappears. So I call the Police, and gave them a description of this man wearing my clothes and $60 in his pocket. They had not seen him. How could he just disappear? A short time later the phone rings, it’s the Police and they inform me that one of their patrol cars has just picked up a man who had told them, his wife has been killed in France and the patrol car crew were asking for a French interpreter.
Somehow, I reverted back to being a cop, I told the Police officer on the other end of the phone “Whatever happens, don’t let him go, I am on my way.” Fleur, who at this stage has steam coming from her ears, is standing there holding a bag of his wet washing for me to give back to the man. Driving to the Police Station, I felt anger rising within me, how dare he rip me off and take advantage of my family and the people of the parish.
At the Police station, I was invited into the custody suite, there I saw the man wearing my clothes. During our conversation, I asked him why he did it, and he replied in a perfect everyday kiwi accent, “I did not ask for any money or hospitality, you willingly gave it” that was true. He had not once asked for anything, but he knew if he just told his story it would ‘hook me’ and it did. In case you are wondering, I did get my clothes back along with the $60.
It also turned out that this man was wanted in Christchurch for similar offences.
From time to time, I often reflect on that Sunday, in the far distant past. The man’s name has long gone from my memory bank. Yet the events of that day and night remain fresh within. I readily admit I learnt some valuable lessons from the experience, which I have applied in ministry from time to time.
When we experience times of being taken advantage of, being conned, or ripped off, we feel cheated along with feeling violated in some way. The danger of course, is because of what happened; we will not risk being so generous in the future. Also a part of us closes off inside to protect ourselves from being hurt again in a similar manner. Our sense of trust collapses in such a way that our creative openness to the spontaneity of life is considerably reduced. Having said that, I am left thinking is that the end of the story? I want to shout a resounding NO. I am reminded of a poem by Constantine P. Cavafy (1896)
Without consideration, without pity, without shame
they have built great and high walls around me.
And now I sit here and despair.
I think of nothing else: this fate gnaws at my mind;
for I had many things to do outside.
Ah why did I not pay attention when they were building the walls.
But I never heard any noise or sound of builders.
Imperceptibly they shut me from the outside world.
To withdraw, or shut one’s self off from the outside world, howbeit, in a little way, is giving away ones personal authority and power to another. In my story above, if I refused to help another person because of how I was treated by that man, I would be erecting walls around me as a barricade to keep others in need, at a safe distance were they could do me or my family no harm.
I never did discover why the man did what he did, he must have had his reasons, I could speculate and pontificate, but I would never really know. He was certainly an actor and he wore an actor’s mask. He wore a face and that face hooked me. I recall TS Eliot saying somewhere: to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.’ When a mask is in place, it is very difficult, nigh impossible to read the face behind the mask. Of course there are many different kinds of masks, each for a different situation or occasion. Masks may have a negative connotation for you, but, I don’t wish that to be present here, rather, I want to convey, the idea that the true spirit or soul of a person may have difficulty shining forth when a mask is in place. John O Donohue in his book Eternal Echoes describes what happens when in our growing years we are hurt or damaged in some way:
‘We are no sooner out of the womb then we must begin this precarious unfolding and shaping of who we are. If we have bad or destructive times in childhood, we begin to fix on a survival identity to cover over and compensate for what happens to us. If we were never encouraged to be ourselves, we begin to construct an identity that will gain us either attention or approval. When we set out to construct our lives according to a fixed image, we damage ourselves.’
I think in some way he is speaking here of mask wearing that we hope may gain us attention or approval. In childhood we may do this unconsciously as a means of survival in the hope that we may receive love and feel acceptance.
On our journey into adulthood we may continue to use these masks to ensure we gain love and approval in the adult world. It is only as we have courage to look behind the mask that we discover another person who is waiting to be honoured and loved. Beyond the barricade of the mask, there awaits creativity and immense landscapes of possibility.
One aspect of mask wearing that often gets neglected is that we think we need to wear a mask in our relationship with God. Mention the word God and I find myself needing the poetic to help me communicate in the limits of language. The One we name as God, the Divine Lover, who saw our body forming within our Mother’s womb, who knows us intimately, indeed looks beyond the mask to the wonder and beauty of who we are. In the presence of such Love, we can remove our mask, knowing we are not being judged or condemned but are held within the divine embrace of Love. This is the good news of Jesus, authentic and inclusive which for me is always at the heart of the gospel. To live in this world with integrity and authenticity requires courage to remove the masks and stand upon solid ground. I leave you with a poem from David Whyte:
It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
Or many gods.
I want to know if you belong — or feel abandoned;
If you know despair
Or can see it in others.
I want to know
If you are prepared to live in the world
With its harsh need to change you;
If you can look back with firm eyes
Saying “this is where I stand.”
I want to know if you know how to melt
Into that fierce heat of living
Falling toward the centre of your longing.
I want to know if you are willing
To live day by day
With the consequence of love
And the bitter unwanted passion
Of your sure defeat.
I have been told
In that fierce embrace
Even the gods
Speak of God.
– David Whyte -Fire in the Earth
Meanwhile Peace and Courage beyond the Barricade