Cake, white lies, and the truth

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By Nancy Kennedy

Have you heard about the Baptist White Lie cake?
Don’t know if this is a true story or not, but it seems that Alice Grayson of Tuscaloosa, Ala., had signed up to bake an angel food cake for the Baptist Church Ladies’ Group bake sale — Alice was known for her light, fluffy, perfect angel food cakes.
However, this one came out disfigured and lopsided, and with no time to bake another, Alice panicked. Everyone expected one of her perfect cakes! So, she improvised and put a roll of toilet paper in the center of the cake to prop it up, then covered it with frosting and delivered it to the church for the bake sale before heading on to work.
Meanwhile, she called her daughter with instructions to buy the toilet paper-filled cake so no one would know that her cake was less than her usual perfect.
Except someone else got the cake first.
Alice was beside herself with worry, positive that when word got out exposing her that she would be ridiculed and ostracized, especially at church among the ladies’ group.
The next day, Alice attended a luncheon at the home of one of the Baptist ladies. This woman, a descendent of the founding families of Tuscaloosa, was kind of a snob and often made Alice feel judged.
When it came time for dessert, the snobby lady made a huge production out of presenting a beautiful cake, which Alice recognized as the one she had brought to the bake sale.
Just as Alice leapt up from her chair to confess, the mayor’s wife exclaimed, “What an exquisite cake!”
The snobby woman, with cake knife in hand ready to present the mayor’s wife with the first slice, gushed and replied with feigned humility, “Thank you. I baked it myself.”
I do love a good cake story. I also love a good gotcha story, especially when it involves snobby people other than me.
But more than that, I love a good illustration that shows the folly of pretending, and we religious people are oh, so guilty of that, aren’t we? One of our biggest follies is pretending that we’re better than we really are — holier and more humble, more obedient, more pious.
I think it comes from a sense of insecurity. If Christ in me is supposed to transform me, then why do I still struggle with (name your sin — addiction, anger, bitterness, lying, etc.)?
If I don’t see progress being made, then what? I want God to get good PR, so I pretend that I’m better than I am, not in a snobby way, but in a scared way. I don’t want people to think that God hasn’t changed me, because he has — just not as much as I had hoped he would.
Because I don’t want to be a bad advertisement for him, I pretend I’m holier and more humble, more obedient, more pious, more whatever it is I think a Christian should be.
I remember being interviewed by a woman who had called to determine my suitability as a retreat speaker for her church women’s group. One of her questions was, “How much time do you spend in the Word every day?”
My face felt hot and my stomach knotted because I knew the truth would expose me as a fraud. So, I forced a lighthearted laugh and said, “Not nearly enough,” and left it at that. The conversation ended shortly after that and I never heard from her again, to my relief.
I want so badly to present a beautiful cake, but the truth is, any cake I make is going to have toilet paper inside propping it up, so to speak. I suspect that’s true of yours, too.
Maybe the better, even the best thing we can do for each other is to be honest and upfront about ourselves and not try to be better than we are.
The Bible tells us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24), which I interpret as a kind and gentle way of relating to one another, a way of encouraging each other, of holding each other up, bearing one another’s burdens.
 My pastor often talks about us as the church walking to heaven together. It’s a beautiful picture of true humility and honesty, of the stronger holding up the weaker among us and of no one despising another’s weakness.
Maybe if we stop measuring ourselves against each other, and instead rely more on the grace of God to fill in the gaps, maybe we actually would become better.
That deserves a piece of cake, don’t you think?
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.