Michael Conroy, Associated Press
The flowering bloom of the European garlic mustard is displayed by Roger Hedge of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in an Indianapolis park Wednesday, May 3, 2000.

There are two ways to read the expression “taken in.”

One is positive. It refers to a poor wayfarer being “taken in” and given shelter.

The other is not.

There, being taken in means getting hoodwinked.

And what burns in life is when you discover that someone you thought was in the first camp turns out to be in the second.

In my experience charlatans prosper in places where people feel the most passion — in romance, religion and politics, for example. And since I write about religion, I’ve seen bamboozling and been bamboozled myself. The most recent “hoodwinking” came a couple of weeks ago when a man I looked up to was brought low by the law for cheating people. A man I saw as above reproach got “reproached” and jailed.

I felt the way the followers of Jimmy Swaggart must have felt.

Before that, I remembering writing a newspaper piece about a counselor who took troubled kids and turned them into model citizens. It was one of those “attaboy” articles.

A month later he was arrested for selling drugs to the kids he counseled.

Then there was local religious leader who took me “country club” golfing and shared his home and hearth with me.

He’s now in the slammer.

And worst of all was the clergyman, a friend for 30 years, whom I would have trusted with my life. He helped me walk through many storms — until he was revealed to be a pedophile.

That last experience, by the way, was almost enough to turn me into a bitter old geezer who shouts at kids and kicks stray animals.

But I knew that would be letting the losers win.

Discovering your friends have two faces is commonplace but always maddening. It can undermine a person’s confidence in his own judgment.

But what’s the alternative? Becoming a Crabby Appleton?

Fortunately, I’ve known many people who’ve proved to be exactly who they claimed to be. I know such folks are out there.

Besides, I, too, have disappointed others. I know people who felt I was as solid as Gibraltar only to learn that was gibberish. And I’ve been in relationships where all I cared about was myself.

More than once I’ve handed out advice I didn’t follow.

Still, I keep working to round myself out. And since I don’t want people to give up on me, I can’t give up on them.

More than once I’ve been “taken in” — handed a bill of goods and made to feel like a fool. But just as often I’ve been taken in, nurtured and healed because I was able to muster a mustard seed of faith in somebody else.

The last thing I want is to be the guy who gives up.

And that means not giving up on others.

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