For Read Across America Day, my youngest son was supposed to dress up like a book character. We had plenty of notice about this activity, so I started asking him early on what he wanted to be.


“How about an elephant like the Elephant and Piggie books?” I asked.


“I was an elephant last year.”


“Oh…that’s right, then how about a pig?”


Eye roll.


We’re reading through The Littles book series (tiny people who live in the walls of the Biggs’ house) at bedtime, so I suggested he be Tom Little. “Tom looks just like a regular person, but he has a tail. That would be easy.”


“Mom, I am NOT wearing a tail to school. People will make fun of me.”


He was pretty adamant that he wasn’t going to dress up as any book character, claiming that he would be the ONLY ONE with a costume and EVERYONE would laugh at him and he would be SO embarrassed.


The night before Read Across America Day, I tried one more time to see if he had changed his mind. There was a picture book on the floor—Jack B. Ninja, a play on the nursery rhyme “Jack Be Nimble”—so I pointed to it and said, “How about a ninja?”


Once I described an all-black outfit we could easily cobble together from things in his drawers, he agreed. “But I need a mask, like in the picture,” he said.


It being 8:30 on a Sunday night, I wasn’t thrilled about going out to the store, so I looked around the house for something to make a balaclava-type mask. I found a pair of his older brother’s black compression shorts that were too small and ripped at the waistband. I cut it up and sewed it together like I was the birds and mice in the Cinderella movie. Ta-da! Ninja mask!


The next morning, the kid who was too embarrassed to go to school dressed as a pig or a boy with a removable tail, instead wore his older brother’s underwear on his face. Life is funny, isn’t it?


Wearing costumes can be fun, but it’s understandable why he was particular about who or what he would pretend to be all day long at school. It can feel inauthentic, phony.


Jesus warned his followers about hiding their true selves behind masks in Luke 12. “Watch yourselves carefully so you don’t get contaminated with Pharisee yeast, Pharisee phoniness. You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town.” (The Message)


We all put up a façade at some point, but it’s just a matter of time before our true identity will be revealed. Jesus recommended being the same person in private and in public. Don’t fake kindness and Christian values just on Sundays. Assume that those whispers will eventually spread like wildfire, so make them whispers you want heard by others. And this applies to everyone, even ninjas.


When we remodeled our master bathroom several years ago, I decided we needed to have some kind of clock in there to let my husband and I know if we were on schedule while getting ready in the morning. I found a large clock on clearance at Hobby Lobby that would do the job, so I hung it to the left of the mirror where it could be easily seen.


Since it was the right size, color and price, I didn’t really pay much attention to anything else. It wasn’t until I had it hung on the wall that I noticed why it may have been on clearance. It wasn’t that it wouldn’t operate correctly—the hands ran clockwise and the Roman numerals were in the correct order. The flaw was something more subtle.


It was designed to look like a giant, old-timey pocket watch. The metal frame looked aged with a faux bronze patina. The paper face of the clock was cream with slightly darker splotches of color, suggesting this antique piece had sat in a dusty French shop for centuries.


The key giveaway that it had actually been made in more recent history was the wording on the clock. Just below the XII, it reads, “Antiquité de PARIS” and just above the VI, there is a date stamp: 1987.


Now, you’re never going to see me on the Antiques Roadshow, identifying myself as any kind of expert, but I’m pretty sure something made in 1987 isn’t a genuine antique. (If that’s true I need to raid my parents’ house to see if they still have any of my old Pound Puppies, Swatch watches or dresses with shoulder pads.)


Though the clock doesn’t live up to its implied promises of being a valuable antique, it does keep time fairly well with the occasional battery replacement. So judging by its usefulness, it’s a good clock.


In Matthew 7, Jesus warns his disciples about teachers who would weren’t what they claimed to be. He said, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act.” (NLT)


He wanted them to be on their guard for inauthenticity, knowing that it is sometimes tricky to spot a fake. In Luke 6, Jesus explains further that, “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit…A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. (NLT)


Though He gave them this advice thousands of years ago, it still rings true today for us. We are how we act. What comes out of my mouth is a big indicator of what is in my heart. Being authentic is more than just being transparent about all our mistakes. It’s also about what comes next—actions which reinforce a life dedicated to love and truthfulness.

The Real Thing

One hundred years ago, Swiss-born inventor Emil Frey created Velveeta while working for the Monroe Cheese Company in Monroe, NY. He discovered he could use the broken and misshapen pieces of Swiss cheese sent to him from a different cheese-making factory in Pennsylvania, combining them with other cheese by-products. A little mixing here and a little melting there and…voila! Velveeta!

Though it is much maligned now, I was raised on Velveeta. (When an uppity cheese wants to pick a fight with Velveeta they taunt the gelatinous cheese-like loaves by calling it “Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product.” I’m sure it’s very hurtful for the Velveeta.) My sisters and I would take out the Tupperware container designed specifically for storing the Velveeta, slide it out and slice off a chunk with one of those metal cheese slicers with the wire that cut through the yellow blob so effortlessly. Then we would take an epicurean voyage into the World of Kids On Summer Break Making Their Own Lunches in the 1980’s. The following is one of our most often made recipes:

Remove one slice of bologna and place on melamine plate featuring Ronald McDonald accidentally showering Mayor McCheese with a garden hose. Generously slather mayonnaise over the entire bologna surface, a thickness of ¼ inch is preferable. Tear a Velveeta slice into small pieces and scatter pieces on top of mayo. Cut into triangles. As you eat the tiny wedges, comment on the unique flavor of your “Bologna Pizza.”


For the longest time, Velveeta was pretty much all I knew about cheese. I hadn’t tried much of anything else. I wouldn’t know a Gorgonzola from a Gouda or a Colby from a Camembert. When Velveeta is all you know it seems delicious, until you spread Brie on a warm chunk of French bread or get that back of the mouth salivation from a sharp cheddar. Once the feeling of betrayal has faded, you realize what you had eaten for all those years was a substitute for the real thing.


The Gospels are full of people asking Jesus if he was the Real Thing. The followers of his cousin John asked him. The High Priest asked him. One of the criminals hanging on the cross asked him. Everyone wanted to know if they were standing in the midst of the One and Only Messiah or just a Velveeta-like concoction, a resembling fake.


You can understand their questioning. Jesus didn’t look regal, and he didn’t lead a political rebellion. Maybe he wasn’t what they were expecting. But he told John’s followers: “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” (NLT)


When Jesus’ followers asked him to tell them plainly who he was, he said, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name.” (NLT) He wanted them to open up their eyes and ears to notice what was happening. In his loving patience, Jesus was willing to prove himself over and over again to his people. His understanding of his identity was solid, so he was unafraid of comparisons or degradations or even having supper with well-known sinners. Jesus once told a thirsty woman that he was the Messiah as they talked beside an ancient well in Samaria. Now it’s our job to also proclaim him as the Real Thing.