The 1956 movie “Giant” starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean and Carroll Baker was partially filmed near the west Texas town of Marfa. The motion picture people created a Victorian mansion that represented the headquarters of the sprawling Belmont Estates. When I worked in the area in the 1980’s, whenever I drove to Marfa, I would look for the ruins of that old movie set. By then there wasn’t much left of the old mansion but a few timbers that stood out starkly against the backdrop of the wide-open Texas countryside.
The exterior of that building, which sported wide verandas and whitewashed siding, was created to represent wealth, opulence and power. In reality it was nothing but an empty hollow shell. Inside, the mansion was empty. Interior scenes were filmed elsewhere.
One day while traveling through the high desert country of Mexico I noticed something that just didn’t seem to fit—there in the middle of nowhere was an old town right out of the American Wild West. I did a quick U-turn and, while trying to avoid losing my muffler, followed a rocky trail down to that ghostly apparition.
On the main street I found a two-story hotel here, a big old saloon there, the bank across the street, the dry-goods store on the corner—all of them substantial enough buildings to do business in and to support the two or three outlaws who might be hiding on the roof until the shoot-out. It’s a real town, right? Wrong! All I had to do was to step through the door of one of those buildings and find myself nowhere to realize that, just like the “Giant” movie mansion, the whole “town” was nothing. It was made up of single-wall store fronts and what I imagined to be behind them. It was really all a façade. We all know what a façade is: it’s a false front. All the frontier towns of the nineteenth century had them, and today all the Hollywood sets representing those towns have them again.
Many of us try to make Hollywood sets of our lives. These are the people who go beyond the natural desire to present their best to the world around them; they create images that are something else, something besides the passably humble truth about themselves. Too often they put so much effort into perfecting that image, that façade, that they neglect their real selves. They build false fronts and have no time or energy left to build real people or real relationships. Once you see through the façade, it’s just like Hollywood—disappointing, nothing.
We have all seen such people. There’s the couple with two sets of manners—one for the public and another for at home. Any time they have an audience they are gracious and charming, warm to one another, wise and patient with their children. But once they are alone, the kind words and the pretty gestures disappear, and it’s apparent that the relationship is as empty as the spot behind the doors to the dry-goods store in the Hollywood set.
Even if we could fool the people around us indefinitely, we cannot fool ourselves and we cannot fool our Lord. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He exclaimed. “For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Woe unto you…for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matt. 23:25, 27-28)
We cannot deny the potential greatness that is in us, but we can lose it if we cover it, with our faults, behind a giant façade. Nor can we correct our faults or learn from them or improve and grow away from them if we try to ignore them. Christ’s advice to the Pharisees is valid for us: “…cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” (Matt. 23:26)
A façade, or false front, isn’t worth the time and effort it takes to build and maintain. We would do well to turn our efforts from our image to our essence. We can do it if we admit where we really are and start there.