I’ve started this post three different times, which is unusual for me. While I have a folder full of drafts (140, as of this sitting), I rarely try the same post a second time. It gets shipwrecked somewhere along the way, I decide to save it for a book instead of the blog, or it’s merely the seed of an idea that I might complete someday. But trying to write on integrity, I have struggled and returned and struggled some more to express what I need to. I’m trying again.
I think integrity is what makes us able to look at ourselves in the mirror. But those who do not choose integrity do not become vampires, unable to see their reflection; they find ways to rationalize that their choices are fine, or more savvy, or right because…
When we’re talking about integrity within the framework of grace, we’re not describing someone who never makes mistakes. We’re talking about seeking to live consistently with our own values and acknowledging when we fail or fall short.
“Integrity is choosing to practice our values, rather than simply talking about them.” Brenee Brown
When people thank me for speaking up–e.g. yesterday, in response to my recent book, a friend said, “Thank you for your courage in penning it” (and another today) –I’ve started responding “We all do what we can.” I don’t feel like I’m particularly courageous and it’s weird for me that I’ve heard this word as often as I have in the last year.
I’m not talking about just politics* here: I really do believe we have a choice to live our values. Again, I’m not talking about being perfect, never making mistakes, or even never having moral shortcomings. When I scorch someone in an argument rather than show them grace and exercise patience and restraint, I haven’t so much “made a mistake” as I’ve chosen not to practice my own values. In that moment, I’ve failed to have integrity. I have a value for showing people grace, but that’s only a value if I show people grace. I also value honesty and self-awareness, so I’m going to try to acknowledge this (not-so-hypothetical) failure and face what I’ve done.
“Our values are what we do.” Dr. Richard Peace
So here’s what I’ve been trying to say: Integrity doesn’t require perfection but it does require trying. I think integrity is like faithfulness: we aren’t perfect, but we keep aiming in the same direction and when we fall or screw up or even turn around and go the wrong way for a while, we admit it (some use the word “confess”) and try again. Grace is that we get to try again. Grace is not that we get to stop trying nor to pretend that we’re trying when we’re doing something else altogether.
When we say someone lacks integrity, we mean that we can see that person lives by different values than they claim. We call that hypocrisy. Jesus has strong words about such people. They want to appear to practice one set of values while in fact what they do contradicts these claimed values. When someone truly lacks integrity, you can’t trust them to follow through or even try to follow through with what they claim to believe. Again, I’m talking about moral decisions, not mistakes. If someone keeps making wrong turns and has a faulty sense of direction–not naming my own name here or anything–that isn’t failing to have integrity. You might learn not to trust me to get you someplace on time–okay, everyone who knows me has learned not to trust me to get them someplace on time–but deciding that I lack integrity would mean you learn not to trust that I desire your good or that I’m preaching this Jesus stuff but actually using it as a con to take advantage of others.
It’s funny, one of the accusations I’ve received (sounds nice when I say it that way, doesn’t it? “I received a gift platypus yesterday.” “I received a new accusation today”) is that I lack integrity because I keep speaking up about politics. The implication here is that I claim values from following Jesus but have actually sold those out for political gain.
Here’s the truth: If I had not been speaking against the evil I’ve seen, I would not be able to look at myself in the mirror nor look my children in the eye. I would not be following Jesus if I could ignore or turn a blind eye to what has been happening right in front of us. I’m not going into detail because I’m not opening a debate here, I’m making a declaration:
To follow Jesus, we must seek to live consistently with our beliefs.
That statement describes both integrity and faithfulness, as I understand them.
I’ve been “so political” these past four years because I’ve tried to live consistently in accordance with my beliefs. I’ve tried to do what I can, in the face of so much that has conflicted with, and flat contradicted, the love, peace, and compassion of God which I feel called to live.
When I say “We all do what we can,” in my mind I’m allowing for our differing gifts as well as our strengths and weaknesses. Often my part feels lame or paltry and I have to choose not to compare myself with others who can do more or appear to have greater impact. “We all do what we can” means “We are all together a body and each part contributes as it is designed.” If you’ve read Paul’s letters, that sounds familiar.** “If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.”
Integrity, in my view, means being the part of the body God made you and seeking to live your values throughout all areas of your life. When we compartmentalize and say, “Oh, that’s different, that’s work,” or “It’s just business,” or “Anything goes in politics,” we’re acknowledging up front that we don’t intend to practice integrity in these parts of our lives. I’m tempted to utter an expletive here, but instead I will again quote Paul: “May it never be!” (Or “By no means!” if you like that translation better.) Failure and even sin do not negate integrity, because one cluster of values we live is repentance, forgiveness, and grace. Claiming to live by values and then excusing ourselves from living those values in one or more area of our lives isn’t grace. I’m afraid that’s hypocrisy.***
We all do what we can. I know I didn’t do everything I could have, nor did I do everything perfectly. I need forgiveness and grace. I’m a trainwreck and I lead a ridiculous life, but I will sleep tonight knowing I did what I could. I hope you will, too.
Others will judge our integrity. But in the end, only you and God really know.
Tomorrow, I will love my neighbor and my enemy, like today. We all do what we can.
*To be absolutely clear, I’m not suggesting having certain political views is required to have integrity. I am saying that for those who follow Jesus, we must pursue integrity and congruence between obedience to Jesus and our political positions.
**I Corinthians 12:12-27 “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
***I fully acknowledge that following Jesus as a politician must be incredibly difficult and you’ll notice that I’m not one.