I’m a Fraud (And So Are You)

I’m coming to terms with the realization that I’m a big, fat fake. But at least I’m in good company.

Amy’s birthday was last Sunday. We had just arrived in Portland, so we went to a fancy-pants restaurant, situated several hundred feet above the skyline, with a view of the entire surrounding city, the Willamette River and Mount Hood. We shared a bottle of wine, enjoyed outstanding service and indulged on gourmet food to celebrate her ever-growing tenure as an occupant of our planet.

The bill for the night was nearly enough to cover groceries for our family for up to two weeks.

We could manage it; we knew it was pricey before we got there. And it was fairly easy to justify too. We were making memories. It was an other step in the courtship, helping us fall in love with our new city. We had worked hard over the past eight years, establishing a church in Colorado, struggling to pay bills at times, and we’re now enjoying some material fruits of our labor.

What bullshit.

Seriously, how does anyone really justify spending that kind of money on one meal? After all, from our vantage point on the 30th floor, I could see scads of people below, standing on street corners, tucked in under sleeping bags and beneath cardboard boxes, walking wearily from one job to the next, hoping to pull together enough to make rent.

Now that I think of it, my steak wasn’t even that fantastic. It was prepared well, but if I didn’t know I was paying so much for it, I think I would have been hard-pressed to be so excited about it. After all, what kind of idiot am I for paying so much if the product isn’t the BEST thing I’ve eaten in forever, right? And the mashed potatoes were really light and fluffy, but come on; they’re mashed potatoes!

The realization that I’m a fraud didn’t come right then, though. It came when I drove past the name brand grocery store near our apartment to go to the no-frills market that doesn’t take credit and expects you to bag you own stuff.

“This coffee was less than eight bucks a pound,” I said to Amy excitedly as I got back in the car, “and the hummus was the same price as at the other store, but it’s twice the size!”

So I’ll literally go out of my way to save a couple of dollars on groceries, and then blow a half-month’s worth on one meal? It reminds me of this habit my dad had when I was a kid, which drove me crazy. He figured out that if you bought the largest tub of popcorn at most theaters (which comes with one free refill), most places don’t actually mark the tub when you get it refilled. So he had a collection of tubs from each cinema chain that he’d keep in the trunk of his Mercedes, and he’d make me carry it into the theater. It was incredibly humiliating as a teenager; I hated it.

It seemed especially dumb when we’d go after the movies to a restaurant and my parents would blow a hundred bucks on dinner. I asked him about the seeming contradiction once, and of course, he had a logical response at the ready. “”I go to matinées and saving the popcorn tubs so I can enjoy nice meals like this with the money I save.”

How could I argue with that? It sounded weird at the time, but I had no response. Instead, I gnawed on my burger, anticipating with consternation the next time he’d force me to lug the giant tub into the theater.

Our culture has gotten so good at justifying the expense of nearly anything we want that I think we don’t even realize we’re doing it most of the time any more. But based on what Jesus taught about generosity, I get the feeling this is not a relatively contemporary phenomenon of our present capitalist culture. There was a reason he challenged people to give generously of their “first fruits,” and I think it was because he knew if we were left to our own devices, we’d justify away nearly all we had on “necessities,” finding ourselves with little or nothing left to share with those who have not.

Am I sufficiently generous? I have no idea. We give money regularly, but I know we could give more. Is it a sin to spend so much on a meal (or a house, car, television, phone, etc) simply because I can justify it within the norms of my culture? How much is enough for others? How much for me is too much?

The fact that I pretend like I know is the biggest lie.

Am I going to sell all my possessions, move into a convent and live off of lentils? Probably not. Some folks do; I even know them, and they inspire and challenge me. Are they living more Christ-like lives than me? That’s between then and God, I suppose. But I’m beginning to realize that I’m pissed at myself for being willing to accept my own lies to maintain the sense of normalcy I choose to think I deserve.

I owe myself more than that.

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • Sherrill Morris

    What a good reminder of a blog entry.  I think to myself that my spiritual discipline/focus/belief/practice of radical hospitality make me more than I really am.  I’m a fraud too, but I’m in good company.  I think the core of it is exactly what you said. It is between God and me.  Not the someone-looking-from-the-outside form of being between God and me, but the “if i listen enough when I pray, I’ll know what I can do for God” part.  Many things lead me, God speaks to my heart in many ways, but if I’m not listening, I loose that opportunity.  Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/cfinley79 Chris Finley

    It goes much further…our daily choices and behaviors point to our real beliefs.  However, Jesus did sit back to a good meal or two without us ever hearing about him beating himself up over it.  Granted, we live in gluttonous culture, one in which I am guilty of taking part in, but is the guy on the street under the cardboard there because we decided to eat a steak dinner?  

    • Christian Piatt

      I’m not sure. Asked another way, could he be out from under the cardboard if we chose not to?

      • http://www.LifeAfterCaregiving.WordPress.com/ Linda Brendle

        I’m reminded of Jesus’s comment when the woman anointed Him with the expensive perfume: “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” I’m also reminded of Ecclesiastes 3 where Solomon says there’s a time for everything. I agree that it’s good to be a good steward of the material blessings we have, but I think there’s also a time to celebrate new beginnings and your beautiful wife’s birthday.

      • http://twitter.com/cfinley79 Chris Finley

        Would not eating the steak be the real issue, or the failure to love the man?

  • Al

    I had a friend in one church I served that liked to go to the casino and gamble.  Being the good pastor that I am I challenged that activity.  They pointed out to me that they didn’t go to the movies or the lake or play golf.  They didn’t have a gambling problem, they had a limit and stuck to it.  They went because they enjoyed it and it was their recreation time.  In fact they argued that it was a form of rest.  Then they challenged me to justify what I spend playing golf (an average round of 18 with a cart twice a month was about what they spent  monthly to gamble).  What could I say?  I recognize that we are called not just to live but to enjoy life – we are called to rest and recreate as well.  Could what I spend on golf, used differently move someone out from under their cardboard box?  Perhaps, but I also recognize that I am not called to give everything I make.  I think your comment about the first fruits is appropriate.  It recognizes the temptation for us to hoard and be greedy and at the same time if we give of our first fruit, it is a recognition that God allows us the occasional meal out, gambling excursion or round of golf.  Paul suggests something to the effect of all things in moderation and for me that is the key.  I would also suggest that in our culture of overindulgence, for Christians, the presence of the Holy Spirit is given to prod us to think about the very issues you elaborate.


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