Imposter. We all know what the word means. The very mention of the word probably brings someone to mind. Maybe someone who pretends to be someone better, more interesting, more significant than he or she actually is.
Does anyone remember Rosie Ruiz? In 1980 she was once heralded as the world record-breaking women’s Boston Marathon champion – for a day or so. Then it was discovered that Rosie had hopped aboard public transportation early in the race and hopped off near the finish line. She crossed the finish line ahead of every other woman in record time. An investigation disclosed she had taken a similar shortcut in a previous New York Marathon. Besides being a cheat, Rosie pretended to be a marathon champion, relishing in all the glory she never earned.
Our world abounds with such pretenders. More than thirty years after his death, Elvis Presley still has many men impersonating him. They steal a little of “the King’s” glory to enjoy the limelight they are not willing to work for. They hope to conceal the barrenness of their own lives.
There have also been many outlaw impersonators. Historically, Jesse James seems to have been a favorite with imposters. One James-pretender, who hadn’t done his homework very well, rolled into a Kentucky town to ply his trade – a town in which the James Gang had robbed a bank years before. A U.S. Marshall confronted the imposter, pulled a yellowed document from his pocket and declared: “I have here a warrant for your arrest, charging you with the robbery of the Bank of Columbia and the murder of the cashier.” When the imposter turned pale, the Marshall added: “However, on the chance that you may not be the real Jesse James, I’m giving you ten minutes to get out of town.” The man was gone in five.
But of all imposters, the worst may have been the “Great Pretender” himself – Ferdinand Waldo Demara. Without training, academic degrees, credentials, ordination or a commission, Demara pretended to be (and received payment as) a surgeon, psychologist, college dean, dentist, university professor, Naval officer, and a Trappist monk. Demara’s phony life finally caught up with him and landed him an 18-month prison sentence, one of the few things in life he actually earned.
Maybe we should add some of our own names to the list of phonies. How many of us relish in the name “Soldier/Marine/Sailor/Airman” yet do not share that branches’ values? How many wear a starched uniform and spit-shined boots, yet scheme to avoid the sacrifices, training, and hardship our duty requires? Far too many, I fear. Far too many do everything to serve and protect themselves in a profession that may require them to lay down their lives.
Then there are the religious imposters among us, who name the name of Christ, yet never live as He lived. The Scripture tells us, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness” (2 Timothy 2:19).
Dear Lord, help me to be honest with myself and with others. Grant that the faith I profess with my mouth will express itself in the way I live. Amen.