Cover Story

Jack could sing!  The thirty-something year-old man just showed up in my hometown one day.  No one knew who he was or where he was from; he had no family around that anyone was aware of.  He was a handsome man, of Native American descent.  In those less politically correct days, we called him an Indian.  He seemed proud of that.  The quiet fellow came to my church one Sunday and decided to stay.  The pianist in the church found him a job working in the school cafeteria, where she was the supervisor.  Jack got along with everybody there and always had a smile on his face.  He was a good worker too, so it seemed that he would be sticking around for awhile.  Everybody liked him.

When we sang the old hymns in church every Sunday, you couldn’t miss his rich baritone voice among the other folks.  He didn’t try to sing loud, but he was just enthusiastic.  The choir director recruited him for the church’s choral group, which was always short of men in the back row.  There were never more than three of us who came regularly.  Since the other two sang tenor and weren’t likely to be able to sing a lower part, I sang bass alone.  Badly.  Well, I wasn’t bad at it, my voice just wasn’t low enough. When he finally agreed to join us, Jack was wonderful to have in the section.  He didn’t read music, but he had a good ear and could follow my lead competently.  Pretty soon, he was singing the parts better than I did, his resonant voice booming out, while his face beamed out his joy at the music.  I loved having him there.  He was the perfect addition to the church and the choir.

Then one day, he didn’t show up for choir practice.  We asked his boss if she knew where he was and she shocked us by informing the group that he was in jail.  It seems that the FBI agents showed up in the school kitchen one day and took Jack into custody without too much trouble.  No, it wasn’t “Jack” they took into custody.  That wasn’t even his real name, but an alias.  He was one of the Bureau’s “most wanted” criminals and they had been looking for him for quite some time.  She just couldn’t figure it out.  He was just so nice.  How could he be a violent criminal?  I was more than a little shaken, also.  He had, after all, sat by me week after week, joking and teasing as we learned the bass parts of the anthems together.  I had been sitting beside a criminal, and a most-wanted one on top of that!  The idea was terrifying!

The church is full of hypocrites.  I have heard it all my life from my non-believing friends (and even a few who believe, but won’t attend).  It is the truth.  Jack is perhaps an extreme example.  He led us to believe that nothing was wrong in his world; led us to accept that he was what he appeared to us to be, a believer who wanted to worship with us.  His intent was to deceive.  He succeeded.  We looked at the cover of that book and declared the story trustworthy.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.

The church is full of hypocrites.  Jack was taken out of the church and to prison, and the church was still full of hypocrites.  There’s me for a start!  For some reason, I feel the need to build a facade, a false impression of well-being, being careful to disguise any cracks in the armor, paying special attention to areas which might draw the sharp condemnation of others.  It’s not only me, though.  When I said full, I meant that it was just that…full…of folks hiding things from each other.  Truth be told, we’re not good at confessing our faults to each other at all.  We’re a lot better at hiding them and deceiving any who are casual observers.

So…the church is full of hypocrites.  Many use that as an excuse to stay away.  “I wouldn’t go there.  There are so many hypocrites.”  But, those same people have no issues with shopping at the grocery store with the hypocrites who are there.  I see them every time I go shopping (…not a regular occurrence).  That fellow thumping the cantaloupe in fruits and vegetables – he’s having an affair and hiding it from his family; the lady pushing her cart full of canned goods through the cereal aisle – she gossips with every friend she meets while there; the young couple checking out with just five or six items –  they used drugs just before they came to buy food for their baby.  The list goes on…they’re all there in that meeting place too, rubbing shoulders almost as closely as we do in church.

You see, the real problem is that our nature, our sinful nature, leads us to be deceitful, no matter where we are.  We want people to think the best of us and we imagine that the way to do that is to pretend.  Integrity is not in plentiful supply, no matter if we’re in the church or in the marketplace.  We are, all of us, hiding something we don’t want others to know about.  That fact alone should make us more understanding, more forgiving when a fellow traveler is exposed for being the sinner that we all are, but we seem to think that we’re superior because we’ve been more successful in hiding our weakness.

I watched a conversation unfold in a public forum today (and held my tongue, believe it or not!).  I saw the phrases “judge not” and “let him without sin cast the first stone” bandied about a good bit.  I couldn’t help remembering the incident in which the Teacher used that second phrase.  His obvious intent was to help folks realize that we all suffer from the same ailments…sin and hypocrisy.  The accusers soon got the point and slunk away.  But here’s the other, perhaps more important, point: When they were alone, He assured the guilty party that He was not going to pronounce a sentence, but He also gave her some crystal clear instructions.  Go.  Sin no more.  Hypocrisy in others does not excuse the error in my heart.  The exposure of another person’s sin does not exempt me from dealing with mine.

Had enough preaching for one session?  I won’t be long now.  When Jack was arrested, years ago, I’m pretty sure those of us in the church missed the point.  Despite the fact that the deception of his cover story was laid clear and that the entire book no longer appeared quite as attractive, it seems that we learned nothing but the lesson about Jack (or whatever his name was).  We neglected to make any personal application.  I’ve spent most of my life since then working on my own cover story.  Most of us do.  The cover is what people see of us and we want, if nothing else, to be accepted and admired by our peers.  If we would spend the same amount of time getting the story inside in order and edited, the result would be very different.

I think that I’m going to attend to the grammar and punctuation on the inside of the book for awhile.  The storyline and details could stand to be put in order, too.  What I’m hoping is that the cover art will soon actually match what is to be read on the pages of the book.

The Author will have to see to that, but I’m confident I can trust Him to get it right.  Who knows, the resulting volume might even be a bestseller! 

“Then He said to them (the Pharisees), “You try to justify yourselves in front of people, but God knows your hearts.  What is highly valuable to people is detestable to God.”
(Luke 16:15)

“The best measure of a man’s honesty isn’t his income tax return.  It’s the zero adjust on his bathroom scale.”
(Arthur C Clarke~British Science Fiction author~1917-2008)

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