Posted by: jmdenham | February 29, 2012

“The Man in the Rockefeller Suit”

No, that is not my title- oh that I wish it was.  But I cannot lie about it…but the book that carries that title, “The Man In The Rockefeller Suit,” portrays a man who not was willing to tell a lie like that, but essentially led a life of lies and deception.  The world is full of lies, and lies often drive our world.  But this?  This is indeed out of the ordinary.

Have you heard of the man, or the book of which I speak?  I am stunned by the story of German immigrant Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter turned San Marino California royalty Christopher Chichester turned Connecticut film director and English royalty Christopher Crowe turned New York securities banker and American royalty Clark Rockefeller turned world sailing millionaire Chip Smith.  That sentence alone says a lot, and it truly is an amazing story.  He came as a seventeen year old immigrant, and pretended his entire life in America to be have some royalty in his family and lots of wealth to his name, adding high and royal titles to his name from real life royal and wealthy families like Mountbatten and Chichester.  He conned people to believe that his family owned a giant cathedral that he wanted to move and bring from England to San Marino; he conned people that he was the producer of an Alfred Hitchcock film series; he conned people into believing that he was a part of the Rockefeller family and got entrance into all the private, exclusive, and outrageously expensive  clubs in New York and Boston and San Marino; he conned people into believing that he had a swanky art collection of classic artists worth many millions of dollars; he conned his wife into living off of her entire 3 million salary because his Rockefeller trust fund was tied up.  Yes, there is even more than is truly stunning and unbelievable.  But he was intelligent and very smart and all his lies had some kernel of truth (there was a Rockefeller with his name; there was an actress with the same name as his claimed mother’s name, etc…)  Honestly, my descriptions can do no justice to the shocking lies that he told, and all the b.s. that people bought without questioning.  He even used phony social security numbers in resumes to get into a managerial position selling securities, social security numbers that were tied to a serial killer in New York.  People never researched even small things, not even resume stuff that would have dead giveaways.  He lived an entire life without working but claiming to have royal and respected family bloodlines.  Truly amazing.  His downfall came when he kidnapped his only daughter whom he loved more than he ever thought he could.  He was convicted and imprisoned for five years for his kidnapping (the deceptions cannot be prosecuted because no matter what he did, he never stole or appeared in place of a real live person) and is due out in 2013.  Really you should read it and become entranced and stunned as I am.

All that being said, it makes me feel pretty good about the lies I have made in my life that I feel quite ashamed of.  As a freshman, I actually (I can’t believe I actually did this) told someone I was recruited as a tight end for USC (USC for heaven’s sakes!) football.  I told him a monster of a lie and followed through with it as I knew him that year.  I am quite ashamed of that.  I have made little white lies in conversation to try to impress others, like claiming I could some Japanese.  Now, there was a kernel of truth there- I had lived in Japan for a summer in college but really couldn’t speak much Japanese at all.  All to say I have lied and felt quite ashamed for it.  And certainly Rockefeller makes me think my lies are almost nothing.  But they aren’t.

Lies are a problem.  Deception is a problem.  I firmly believe that they are problems not simply because they are called sins.  Rather, I believe that we all are called to the image of God we are created with.  When we lie or deceive, we move away from that image.  As people created in the image of God, we are relational people.  In short, lies then are not problematic simply because they are wrong, but because lies keep us from fully investing ourselves in relationships.

Think about it.  When I lied to that guy about being recruited to play football to impress him, I wasn’t able to really forge a true relationship with him.  No matter how much we came close, there was still considerable distance from my end.  When we lie in little conversations, we aren’t able to get to know others very well.  Plus, consider the prodigious amount of effort it takes to keep telling the lie, keep covering the tracks and never make a slip up and letting others know my fraudulence.  We like to impress, but relationships grow from truth and freedom and vulnerability.  In lying, we block the vulnerabilities and imprison ourselves in our little lies and actually may not impress anybody in doing so.

Take this a step further in our relationship with God.  God wants a relationship where we are honest, genuine, accepting of who we are as frail human beings, and vulnerabilities that lead to trust.   When I lie to God and try to deceive him, I suppose I can impress him with my faithfulness or my righteousness or my obedience, when all he asks for is one who fears him, seeks justice and walks humbly with him.   Lies block our relationship with God not because lies are wrong, but because lies that we tell ourselves or others keep us from acknowledging who we are and who God is, and blocks the development of a beautiful, loving and freeing relationship.

This relationship is the stunning thing about Mr. Clark Rockefeller.  Even after he was found out and his fraud shown, he refused to break character and seek any meaningful relationships with anyone.  The relationship that brings relief and peace didn’t mean anything- rather his lie meant more.  And also, the relationship thing did betray him.  The reason it all came crashing down on him was because he did find someone to truly love and truly invest in- his little daughter.  In that relationship, the deception could not mesh with the vulnerability needed, and it cost him.

Go read the book.  And keep thinking about the lies and deception we tell. I pray that you can seek the relationship that frees us from the need to tell lies, the relationship with Jesus the Messiah.

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