Posts Tagged Integrity

The Soul of American Discourse – The Rev’d Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt – Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary

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German notion of Zeitgeist or “spirit of the times” was first promulgated as an alternative to the theory that great men and women are the ones who shape our history.  There are difficulties with both theories, of course. On the one hand, influential figures can make a dramatic difference.   Witness, for example, the sweeping impact of people like Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, or Eleanor Roosevelt.  It is also true, however, that talented people are themselves a product of their times.  World War II decisively shaped Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, for example, and it is difficult to imagine a biography of Roosevelt without the crucible of that war.

The debate over whether history is shaped by Zeitgeist or great women and men is, then, really a false alternative.  Individuals do have a decisive impact on history.  No individual makes choices that are not conditioned by the “spirit of the times,” and no one exercises freedom in a vacuum.  But there are also times when our leaders and the spirit of the times are all but indistinguishable in their temperament or soul, leaving us to wonder whether the climate in which we live has shaped our leaders or our leaders have shaped the times.

We are living in one of those moments, in part perhaps, because we now live in such instant connection with one another that neither our culture, nor our leaders possess enough distance from the other to recognize both the influence of our times, or the contingent nature of the choices that individuals make.  Things could be different, but we don’t seem to possess the will to make them different.

The result is a presidential election in which narrative is more important than fact, in which falsehood and distortions are a regular feature of both candidates’ campaigns, in which a discussion of issues has taken a backseat to a conversation about the personalities of the candidates, in which the language of division has supplanted language about shared goals, and in which the issue of looking presidential has taken precedence over the question of being presidential.

Similarly, although reporting on the election has occasionally touched on the issues, a far greater amount of time has been spent measuring public opinion.  Reporters give very little attention to the nature of the challenges that we face, the complexities involved, the facts that are available, the policies we might pursue, and the intended, as well as unintended consequences of the choices we might make.

Sadly, however, we can hardly blame the candidates and the press alone.  Check the comments section on any article, follow your Facebook feed, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, or any of the social media and it is clear that the conversation among those of us who are mere voters is much the same.

From the vantage point of the question, “What drives history?” our leaders and the tenor of American discourse seem to be on the same page: The candidates do not offer an alternative to the spirit of the times.  The media does not press for something different, and we as voters do not insist that our leaders function differently.  It is tempting to conclude that it is not just the spirit of the times, but the soul of American discourse that is in peril.

There are things we can do to save that soul:

  1. We can insist on integrity and take the candidates to task for lying and for behavior that disqualifies them.
  1. We can insist that they discuss the issues.
  1. We can drill down and examine the intended and unintended consequences of the policies that they recommend.
  1. We can abandon an exclusive commitment to the special interests of the tribes to which we belong and pay attention to the greater good of all Americans.
  1. We can remind the candidates (and their parties) that we are electing a leader for the entire nation and not just the voters that they believe they will need to be elected to office.
  1. But if any of those remedies are to take hold, we will also need to be even handed in our insistence that both candidates, not just one of them conform to those expectations.

If we do, we might find that groups of people can both save the soul of the times and nurture a new kind of leader.

 

 

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Holy Stirrings – Rev. Stephanie McLeskey* – Mars Hill University

“Stop stirring.”

stephanie02 (1)It’s one of those phrases that takes me right back to childhood.  I hear it clearly in my mind, in my mother’s voice.  As a younger sister who was very interested in my older sister’s doings, and who wanted to be sure that my parents were adequately informed, stirring was one of my favorite pastimes.  I had quite the impressive streak of melodrama, and I took great childish pleasure in turning a relatively peaceful household into a bubbling mess.  Sometimes it worked.  More often I just got that look and a quick phrase: “Stop stirring.”  Stop stirring up trouble.  Stop stirring the pot.

Now, it often feels as though the bubbling mess is everywhere, and I so wish that there were some magical wand to wave that would bring about a more peaceful world.  I wish I could un-stir the pot.

The truth of the matter, though, is that sometimes things need to get stirred up so that we don’t forget they are there.  The desire to return to some mythical “good old days” is a desire to return to a time when issues of race, gender, sexuality, and nationality were locked down – when anyone who was different from the perceived and celebrated norm was supposed to settle quietly to the bottom of the pot.  This needed to be stirred.

So then, if the stirring is necessary, what is the responsibility of a Christian who is holding the spoon?  My belief is that our central responsibility here lies in taking our calling to partner with God in bringing about God’s kingdom very, very seriously.  I suggest four ways of checking ourselves in this, before we make a grab for the spoon:

  • When we get a chance with the spoon, do we handle it with integrity? Integrity is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but at its root it is about wholeness and unity: a person with integrity is who they say they are.  Their actions match their words.  Their character matches their claims.  We say we are followers of Christ, and that we want to become more like Christ.  Do our actions demonstrate this?  When we loosen the cords of our own self-righteousness (an affliction that touches most of us to some degree) and stand vulnerably before our God, can we still claim that we are doing our best to live and love like Jesus?  Can we still claim that the first guidance that we seek is that of the Spirit?
  • When the spotlight is on us, do we reflect the light of truth? When we write, when we speak, when we share Facebook posts and forward emails, do we check our words for truth?  Truth can be such a tricky concept in a world where we all see things and understand things differently, and where our own individual experiences shape our understanding of what is true.  However, we can take responsibility to check the facts of what we say and what we pass along, and we can take responsibility not to misrepresent or, worse, demonize those who see a situation or issue differently than we do.  We also, as Christians, can do our best to reflect the truth of God: the truth of God’s love for all the world, and the truth of God’s image stamped on all people.  When we have the opportunity to speak, write, or share, we can honor God by keeping those truths in mind.
  • Do our words demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit? I feel sometimes as though this should go without saying.  Perhaps it should.  But at least in my own life and my own interactions, I find that it is good and necessary to pause and ask myself these questions.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul suggests that if we are working in the Spirit, then the fruit of that labor will be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22, NRSV).  Are our words fruitful in that respect?  Do our words increase the good in the world?
  • When we stir, do we stir up grace? It may be that stirring is inevitable.  It may even be that stirring is part of our calling.  But when we stir the pot, are we stirring up trouble for the sake of trouble, or are we stirring up trouble alongside grace?  God is in the business of troubling the waters, and so, therefore, are we – but God’s troubling the waters is about bringing grace, healing, and wholeness.  When we stir it up, are we making the waters safe for people to wade in and find that grace?  Are we creating spaces for healing and reconciling, looking to a time when we will remember that we all are made in the image of God, that we all carry that stamp of sacredness, of holiness?  And when we (inevitably) make mistakes – when we do use hurtful or untruthful words, when we do lash out in quick, angry reactions, are we restoring grace by returning to the situation with humility, and by asking forgiveness from those we have harmed?

We are already blessed.  We are already grace-filled.  We are already beloved.  May we remember that about ourselves and others, and may our holy stirring glorify God.

*Stephanie McLeskey is the University Chaplain at Mars Hill University in Mars Hill, North Carolina, where she has served for five years.  She is currently working on a DMin in Justice and Peacemaking at McAfee School of Theology.

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Fifty-Two Keys for Living, Loving and Working

Protect integrity

Your integrity is the most important thing you have. Protect it at all costs. When it is gone, it is almost impossible to retrieve. It is who you are. It goes before you and follows after you. You are the message. Your integrity is a precious possession. It takes a lifetime to develop and nurture, but only an instant to lose it. Remember it is far easier to maintain your integrity than it is to reclaim it. My father often said to me, “Son, I can’t leave you much money, but I will leave you a name that you can be proud of.” He was right on both counts. I have never had to be ashamed of who I am or whose son I am. My fervent prayer is that my son and daughter will be able to say the same thing. A good name is a far better heritage than money. More money would be nice, but it pales in comparison to a good name. “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.” Dwight David Eisenhower

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Random Acts of Kindness – 87

There is someone who needs to experience your devotion to honor. Share the importance of honor with her or him. You will be glad that you did.

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