Thoughts by Richard Bleil
My friend has been kind enough to provide shelter for me for the past few months. I’ve written about him before. Like me, he’s divorced, which simply means that he and I exchange “ex-wife” jokes probably far more frequently than we should.
He introduced me to a young woman that periodically visits. The few times I’ve seen her, she will sit on his couch working on her laptop. Recently, I’ve discovered that she is in training to become a minister.
Yes, I myself am a minister as well, but it’s hardly the same. Very late one night I sent in my twenty bucks to become a minister of this church, and now I’m a minister. Although my title is recognized by most states, allowing me, legally, to perform marriages and burials, it’s not a true title. I’m sure that my title (which I don’t really use, although I have performed a few wedding ceremonies for my friends) strikes true ministers the same way that it strikes me, who spent many years earning my doctorate degree, when somebody just decides to call themselves “doctor” for no apparent reason.
A true member of the cloth goes through actual training. One can get degrees in ministry, all the way up to a “doctor of divinity”. This young woman (who strikes me as a rather remarkable person from the few interactions we’ve had) is actually training to become a minister, which puts her in a much higher bracket than ever I will be. Recently, as she sat on my friend’s couch working on her laptop, she mentioned that she was writing a sermon in integrity.
Okay, here’s a dirty little ministry secret that many people of the cloth may not want you to know; there are actually web sites that have published sermons for use in church services. I forget who told me about it, but since I don’t actually lead a congregation, I certainly have no need for this knowledge short of including it as a tidbit of information for your amusement in this very post. But I also know that she wasn’t using that website, which is sad in a way, because frankly, I would have found the irony to be a great source of humor had she been using a website sermon on integrity.
Nope, she was actually writing it herself, much to her credit. And this got me to thinking about my own impression of integrity which, after this rather prolonged and meandering introduction, is really what I wanted to blog about.
Integrity is being honest. I believe many people conflagrate it with ethics (a societally agreed upon set of norms of proper behavior) and morals (a personal set of proper behavior), and while they can be considered to be a class of related concepts, each is, nonetheless, different and unique. Integrity specifically relates to honesty.
I like to think of myself as a man with integrity. Perhaps I do take it too far, though. I gave up $500 in a Bingo game on a cruise because I was playing a card I found and hadn’t paid for, and lost 20% of my grade on an exam because I confessed to the professor I noticed how somebody else had started it. Ethically, I suppose it could be argued that somebody did pay for that card, and that I did the rest of the (rather complicated) math work for the problem, but morally, I just couldn’t do it.
But integrity goes beyond petty examples like these. Let’s be fair; neither of these would have had a significant impact on my life either way. I passed the class anyway, and I would have spent that money a long time ago. Integrity is a lifestyle, a decision to be honest. Such a lifestyle has significant long-term effects even if individual instances don’t.
Recently, the president suggested that he would be open to discussions of a new non-proliferation agreement with Iran. Unfortunately, he has not only developed a reputation of having a distinct lack of integrity, but he actually seems to revel in it. Recently, the Washington Post published that he has made 16,241 “false or misleading claims” since he has been president. Yes, all politicians lie, but everybody agrees that this is truly over the top. Unfortunately, as Americans, we don’t tend to take this figure seriously, finding it a source of humor, or counting it as if it were a score in a game. The impact of such lack of integrity was exemplified in Iran’s response to his invitation, turning it down and saying that he only breaks promises anyway.
It’s not so easy maintaining a reputation of integrity these days. Mine is tarnished as well, trust me. I’ve mentioned that my car was repossessed a few months back. I purchased this car on the promise to pay off the loan to purchase it, a promise I broke. This wasn’t intentional; believe me, I would love to have my car back. Bad breaks lead to lack of income, and when it came down to payments or food, well, I did choose survival. Additionally, I have been the target of “smear campaigns” meant to make me look bad and tarnish that reputation as well, campaigns that, sadly, have been far more successful than perhaps they should have been. None the less, I choose the path of integrity and the moral level that is right for me. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what people believe of me and my reputation, I will continue to uphold my integrity as best as I can for myself, not for others.