Today was the day when my fake smile cracked. It has cracked before--last Tuesday, at the Hokkaido pastors’ gathering, in fact--but I managed to hide in the back stairwell, sniffling, dabbing my eyes with a wet handkerchief, and fanning my face until it turned back to its usual shade of pale pink. But today, the gentle missionary facade that I had been cultivating started to crack at the church leaders’ meeting… because I can’t fake it anymore.
Faking is a performing art. I was just talking to Shino about faking when we were rehearsing the Rachmaninov cello sonata last Thursday. The cello part isn’t too difficult… but the piano part is beastly, written by a man whose hands were twice the size of Shino’s. Thus she was bemoaning the difficulty of a certain passage. “Just fake it,” I said in English. “Just fake it,” she repeated, smiling. I continued in Japanese: “The left hand is all that matters; the right hand is just decoration. Even if you flub half the notes, no one will notice,” I suggested. She looked unconvinced. “Well, you should certainly try to hit as many notes as possible, but don’t worry about it if you miss a few.”
Faking well is part of the performance. All musicians do it. Even if I make an obvious mistake in the middle of a concert, my face must not give away any sign that I didn’t play that note on purpose. After the concert, I must smile and graciously receive everyone’s thanks and compliments, even if I feel like a hypocrite.
Faking is a part of the performance of life around the world, but especially in Japan. Here we call it tatemae. Tatemae can be a good and healthy practice; we consider the feelings of other and think before we speak. Tatemae can also be an unhealthy practice when we hide what is truly in our hearts and build an entirely different persona to face the world, or perhaps a different persona in every social situation.
Introvert that I am, in some ways I appreciate this aspect of Japanese social interaction. I am free not to talk if I don't want to. Interactions with others tend to be respectful and peaceful. I have never been pressured to spill my guts in front of strangers in some sort of intimacy-building activity. I can take my time making friends, gradually sharing more and more of what’s in my heart. Shino is a friend like that; I’ve known her for eight years now.
And yet, I fall into the trap of building personas. I want to be strong for the church right now. I want people to like me, to think well of me. Celia the musician, Celia the missionary. I’m even different depending on what language I’m using. Celia speaking English, Celia speaking Japanese. But no facade can hold up forever. The shock of finding out that a person you thought was kind and gentle is actually vindictive and angry, for example, is distressing, to say the least. One feels lied to and betrayed. And yet, it shouldn’t be a shock to discover the darkness in another person’s heart, because there is darkness in all of our hearts.
Last Wednesday, we read James 4:1-10 together at the church prayer meeting. (I have been leading the group through James doing a made-for-Wakaba version of Lectio Divina.) For some reason, I really like this passage. Especially this part: “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” There’s something incredibly healing about grieving properly for things that ought to be grieved. Sin is grievous. It separates us from God and from one another. Here was an invitation to be real, to drop the fake smile, to stop pretending things were okay when they weren’t.
It wasn’t until after I went home that I realized how counter-cultural this passage was. As I observe the reaction of our church to our current challenges, it seems that the members instinctively try to patch things up quickly and move on, because we in Japan care about peace. But peace achieved by faking it--like covering a festering wound with a bandaid--won’t do any good in the long run. I need--all of us need--to grieve, to stop faking it. The road to recovery and reconciliation runs through the valley of grief. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”