I know exactly where I was on September 11th, 2001 when I heard the reports of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. It produced a Kodak moment, a flash point, which left an indelible picture in the minds of most North Americans. It wrapped up, in one moment, an event which traumatized a nation. The hours one spends in endless lineups to have your bags checked at airports demonstrates the cumulative effect September 11th has had on the psyche of a generation.
One picture that etched itself into my imagination was the picture of one house standing after Hurricane Ivan struck the shores of Galveston, Texas. They say that this cyclone kicked up waves that reached 90 feet high. However, one lone house braved this destructive storm, and remained firmly intact on the beach head.
Every house in the vicinity was undermined and swept away. However, this house had what we call, “structural integrity.” If I was in Galveston, I know that I would be looking up the builder who constructed that home. It survived the wind, the waves and the flood: its foundation was not undermined when it was tested.
I believe that the strength of a nation is found in the core integrity of its people, and if the nation ever needed people of integrity, it is now. We have entered critical times, and we are facing a season of varied challenges. These days have been specifically designed to reveal integrity or expose the lack thereof.
One who has integrity is a person who has strict moral and ethical principles, soundness of moral character. People of integrity are free from corrupting influence or ulterior motives. They are honest, internally whole, and cannot be diminished by challenge. They function in an unimpaired, incorruptible manner and cannot be compromised.
The opposite of integrity is the word hypocritical, referring to an actor who plays a part on stage: literally, one who performs behind a mask. Hypocrisy is the credibility gap between the state of the inside and the outside world, between character and personality, between what we know to do as right and what we actually do, between our talk and our walk. It had to do with degrees of pretension.
It takes a long time to establish a life of integrity, or to develop a culture of integrity. It shows up in our workmanship. Do our products last? It shows up in our values. Do we permit fads to dominate principles? It shows up in our sense of duty. Do we put responsibility above our own rights??
Unfortunately, if there is any hypocrisy, it can be undermined in a Hurricane Ivan second. Faulty foundations are exposed in an instant. Cracks emerge for all to see. Porous material reveals a lack of substance and strength that cannot sustain the strain of the moment.
What our culture desperately needs is sincerity, a freedom from hypocrisy. It is a picture word that alludes to vases that were formed on the potter’s wheel, baked in the fire, and then, sent to market. To evaluate the vase’s sincerity, it had to come through the fire and pass the test of light.
Insincere vases cracked under the heat, and potters would fill in the cracks with wax. To evaluate whether something was sincere or not, the buyer would lift the vase into light. If there were any cracks, the light came through the wax and exposed its insincerity. It was considered something without integrity, compromised, unsound, and ultimately, unusable.
Well, integrity has got to make a comeback if we are going to emerge as a nation. We can’t play the game, wear the mask, or pretend any longer. Alan Simpson said, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”
The country needs sincere people guiding its churches, leading its business corporations, and running the nation legislatively. It needs men and women who have passed through the fires of adversity with their principles intact, men and women who have demonstrated they can pass the test of the light of truth. The strength of our nation can only be found in the integrity of its people.