This fall marks another US Presidential Election. Some of you may have enjoyed watching the punches, the one-liners, and the drama of it all unfold in the campaigns and debates between President Obama and Mitt Romaney. I certainly did. When else do you get to see middle aged-men calling each other names in such a dignified setting? But my guess is that most of us have grown weary of rehashing the same old political promises and topics that seem to translate so rarely into meaningful action. True integrity is not only saying great things, but doing the great things said. Integrity weds together speech with act. We may follow the news feed on the election for many reasons but the last thing we follow it for is to learn integrity. Why? Because what the candidates say seems so disconnected from what they will do.
It is this disconnect between what leaders say and do, between speech and action, that breeds so much of our skepticism in trusting our leaders, the media, and even our friends. We hunger for a society where speech and action are consistent, where someone’s word will actually be followed through with action.
The breakdown in our society between speech and action has similarly occurred in religion. Recently, I attended a lecture at my graduate school by a Professor named Mark Labberton. He spoke on how a crisis in churches today is the breakdown between speech and act, between what churches say and how they live their lives.
Labberton touched the nerve of this church crisis when he bumped into a university student in Berkeley where he was a Pastor. The student had been attending his church for a few weeks and shared with Labberton that he was agnostic about the existence of God and searching for answers. He said to Labberton:
“I’ve been to churches which speak a lot about Jesus but little about the world. And I’ve been to churches which speak a lot about the world but little about Jesus. But I was happy because at your church, you speak a lot about Jesus and a lot about the world. Now my only question is this. If I decided to stay at your church for a while, will I be able to meet people who are like Jesus?”
His question was honest and poignant. Labberton appreciated this young man’s sincerity because he touched the nerve of one of the greatest obstacles to people discovering the greatness of Jesus: the disconnect between great speech and great action in the lives of his followers.
What would it take for true integrity to be restored in our society? It would take us being able to trust someone who shows us what integrity looks like- who connects great speech with great action.
I look at my own life and I see a host of unkept promises, convictions which don’t touch all areas of my life. I’m confronted with the fact that I share the responsibility for this breakdown of integrity as a follower of Jesus and as a member of society. But my hope is renewed in living a life of integrity when I look to the only One whose claims were the greatest but at the same time, whose life lived was perfectly consistent with those claims. Jesus spoke of Himself as the Way, the Truth, the Life. No claim could be greater. But no life lived was more consistent with that claim than His.
Because Jesus not only shows me integrity but is the embodiment of integrity, I can trust him. In trusting him, he changes me to become like him. And in becoming like him he empowers me as a weak and needy person to act like him in a weak and needy world.