One year at our annual conference, the bishop addressed the assembly prior to the ordination of new pastors. This bishop had a severe limp, which made his walking difficult and unsteady. He told of coming out the front door of his house around five A.M. one morning, and seeing a man and a woman standing under the street light on the corner. As he limped down the walkway to his car, his irregular gait made a slapping noise on the concrete and attracted the attention of the couple on the corner. They turned in his direction and watched him as he limped toward his vehicle.
Their voices carried very well in the early morning quiet, so he easily heard their conversation.
Woman: “Who the heck is that at this time of the morning.”
Man: “I don’t know but at this time in the morning, it’s either a preacher or a drunk.”
Then the bishop turned and looked at the class of young pastors and said these words. “It’s Ok to be a drunk… if you know what you are, and are in the process of recovery. AND, it’s OK to be a preacher if you’re a person of integrity.
Now I do not recall the rest of the message, but this was its core. What the bishop said applies to all of us, regardless of our station in life. If we have an addiction, or just a troublesome fault, recognizing it, owning it, and renouncing it, is the path to recovery. And for those of us who are fortunate enough to have escaped these hang-ups, whatever our occupation, integrity should be part of our personal inventory.
You see, reputation is what others see us do. Integrity is what we do when nobody is watching. And as the bishop said, it’s OK to be whatever you wish, if you are a person of integrity. But if we are not persons of integrity, the addict in recovery is a notch above all of us, regardless of his past..
My first experience as an industrial arts teacher was in a Catholic High School. At my interview for the position, I was informed by the Vice Principal that I would have the worst students in the school, “The ones nobody else wants” were his exact words.
I thought this was a strange thing to say, and had pretty much dismissed his comments until somewhere toward the end of the first grading period. I was standing in the hall talking to some of my students before classes started, when this Vice Principle approached. He looked right at one of the boys and said, “Watch out for this one. He’s a trouble maker.”
At first I thought he was joking, but when I realized that he was serious, I said to him, “You mean Charley? He’s one of my best students. I’m about to make him one of my shop foremen.” I discovered later that this student had indeed been a trouble maker, and that his grades had not been good up to that year. All of a sudden he had turned around. Cs, Ds, and Fs, were now As and Bs. What had made the difference? I believe it was one simple thing. I demanded respect from my students and I gave them the same. I did not care about Charley’s yesterdays, just as God did not care about mine. God accepts us unconditionally and expects us to do the same for others.
I expected my students to do well and would accept nothing less than their best. Charley had responded, proving that the problem had not been with him but with the Vice Principle who incidentally, had been his teacher the year before. The V P expected Charley to fail, and he did. I expected him to succeed and he did that too.
What’s the point? First off, yesterday should be used to help change tomorrow for the better, not as an albatross to hang around the necks of those who are struggling to change. The past must be seen as a road to a better tomorrow, not as a parking lot for failures. God is always willing to give us another chance. Shouldn’t we be willing to do the same for those who are in recovery? Oh and by the way, giving and demanding respect will always work…. IF YOU ARE A PERSON OF INTEGRITY!