Who is the real deal?

Getty Images

How can you identify a real house painter? My father knew.

My school teacher father painted houses and barns over his summer break to earn extra income to support his wife and four children. His paint crew consisted of a few other teachers, my younger brother and me.

Dad was quick to judge his crew to be “real painters” as opposed to other crews we would see. He knew we were the real deal because of our uniform. We wore white paint trousers onto which were sewn straps to hold scrapers and other tools. We wore long-sleeved white shirts and funky paint caps the paint store supplied for free.

We looked like real painters according to my dad. So whenever he saw a crew wearing baseball caps, tattered blue jeans and ratty looking T-shirts, he quickly concluded that those guys weren’t the real deal.

It never seemed to occur to my dad that since he only painted houses and barns in the summertime that maybe he was the one who wasn’t a real painter. For him, the difference between real and faux started with the uniform.

Who is the real deal and who is a wannabe? Yes, you can know people by their fruits, but even this can be deceptive.

This scrawny retired pastor goes to the Wellness Center a few times a week. I have a gym bag and gym uniform to prove I’m the real thing.

In spite of every effort not to do so, I sometimes make judgments about whether other people in the gym are having a “real workout.” Of course I always include myself in the category called authentic.

And how, you ask, do I make this determination? There’s enough of my dad in me that I can’t help but make the same evaluative mistake he made: How they are dressed determines whether they’re authentic.

What’s even more ridiculous is that the tennis shoes I wear, which once belonged to my Dad, would never be worn by anybody who takes exercise seriously. I wear his ancient Converse All-Stars with an American flag motif, no arch support, faded red and white stripes and a blue tongue with a field of white stars.

No serious person wears shoes like that. Nobody. But I wear them and try to take my workout seriously. In a perverse way those shoes keep me humble. When I begin evaluating whether somebody else at the gym is taking exercise seriously, I look at my dad’s worn out shoes and stop judging others.

Who is the real deal and who is a poor imitation? Who, for that matter, is a “real” Christian or Jew or Muslim? Plenty of folk believe they know the absolute answer. Somebody in this paper recently asserted, for instance, that if you don’t believe in the actual physical resurrection of Jesus, you aren’t a Christian. That simplifies things, doesn’t it? A quick classification divides people into saint or heretic, sheep or goat, saved or damned.

Maybe if we all wore outdated striped Converse All-Stars we wouldn’t be so quick to judge. That is, until we began making those shoes the prerequisite for what defines a patriot.

Creede Hinshaw, a retired United Methodist pastor of 36 years, can be contacted at