I saw an episode of The Three Stooges on TV the other day. There they were in all their nyuck-nyuck, eye-gouging, rib-poking, nose-pinching, face-slapping glory, stumbling and bumbling through some far-fetched adventure which of course turned out okay at the end. I must admit that Iíve never been much of a Stooges fan. Their brand of comedy always seemed a little juvenile to me, sort of like a cartoon with live actors. But of course that is exactly the way it was designed to be, and the Stooges were enormously popular from about 1935 to 1965, especially in the era before TV when 10-year-old boys had to go to the local theater to get a dose of slapstick comedy. They remain popular today. There was an art to what they did, and in the final analysis they made people laugh without resorting to the vulgarity which so often passes for comedy today. Thatís not a bad legacy, not a bad one at all.
Even though Iíve never been a fan of The Three Stooges, there is one thing about them that I find fascinating: it is almost impossible for me to imagine any of them out of character. The actors who played The Three Stooges will always be stooges to me because that is the only way I saw them. I have trouble thinking of any of those men as normal human beings. To me they will always be stooges doing what stooges do.
The same thing is true of other actors. When I think of John Wayne I automatically think of a cowboy. But John Wayne was not a cowboy. He was an actor whose real name was Marion Mitchell Morrison. At his best he did a very good job of playing 19th century western heroes in the image we have of such heroes today. He had other roles but I always think of him as a cowboy. The same is true of other actors and characters they play. Sometimes actors can become so identified with the characters they have played that they have trouble getting other roles. Thatís called typecasting, and it can be a problem for actors.
At a more personal level, the same thing was true of my drill sergeant when I was in Air Force basic training. My fellow trainees and I wondered if he was a normal human being. At 4:00 AM he would turn on the lights and yell at us to get out of bed, yell at us to take a shower, yell at us to make our beds, yell at us to get dressed, and yell at us to be outside standing at attention, all in about fifteen minutes. He maintained that same persona most of the time. It was his job. We wondered if he went home and yelled at his wife and kids like that. We figured if he did he wouldnít have a wife and kids for very long. But it was hard to imagine him any other way.
What about us? What do people think of when they think of us? A famous Shakespearian quote says that all the worldís a stage and we are actors upon it. In other words, we all project a certain image as we live our lives. We speak a certain way, dress a certain way, behave a certain way, and display certain talents and abilities. But whatever our image is, as Christians we should be fundamentally simple. Simple in this context does not mean stupid. It means we should be modest and free of vanity. We should be transparent, and transparent does not mean standing in front of an airport metal detector. It means we should be readily understood. In other words, when people look at us what they see should be what they get.
In the world at large what you see is not always what you get. There is an entire industry dedicated to image-making. It is used by actors and politicians and business leaders and a whole host of various other folks who spend a lot of time and money to ensure that we see them in a particular way. This is nothing new. During his first campaign for president Abraham Lincoln was pictured as a rail splitter because during his life he had in fact done a good deal of manual labor. But by the time he ran for president he was not a rail splitter. He was an accomplished lawyer who was known as a formidable opponent in the courtroom. His image as a rail splitter was a campaign tactic. Politicians do the same today.
Not only is what you see not always what you get, but what you hear is not always what you get. People say one thing and do another. Or they will say a particular thing in a particular way and actually have a different agenda from what is coming out of their mouths. Sometimes even music is not quite real. I remember some years ago playing piano for an individual who wanted to make a demo recording. He sang an Elton John tune, and in rehearsal I was not terribly impressed by his singing. But after the recording technician worked his magic the singer sounded a great deal like Elton John. All sorts of enhancements are used in making a finished recording: reverb, echo effects, editing, etc., and the result can be quite different from a live performance.
In our personal lives we all behave to some extent differently in private than we do in public. Thatís right and proper and thereís nothing wrong with doing so. After all, you would not want to go around calling everyone honey-poo or whatever personal name you have for your spouse or other loved one. People might get the wrong impression. But when it comes to right and wrong and how we treat others our behavior should be consistent. If you are polite with others in public and not so polite at home then there is a problem. None of us are perfect; we all at times fail to live up to Godís standard. But that should not be our normal mode of behavior.
Life definitely has its ups and downs, but one of the beauties of Christian living is a set of simple core values which work no matter how confusing things may get at times. If we are dedicated to those values, then what people see when they look at us will be exactly what they get. Thatís the way God likes it, and thatís the way we should like it too.