A Coherent Life – The Chronicle


When I was a faculty member at Princeton Theological Seminary, I taught a course called “Speech Communication in Ministry”. It was a class that helped first year seminary students give public presentations. Students would work on vocal, eye and hand gestures while presenting various literary forms. I would rely on the oral interpretation of the literature in which the goal is the congruence or adequacy of what is said with the way you say it. For example, how could someone say “I despise you” with a smile? In this case, the words and the embodiment of those words would not match and break the communication event and possibly cause confusion.

The same problem can arise more generally in our lives: when our words and actions do not match, there can be confusion and obvious incongruity and inconsistency. Does our public life correspond to our private life? What is the point if we succeed in public and fail in private or if our lives deny what we say with our lips? As Adam Clarke says, “How many are as gentle as lambs among others, when at home they are wasps or tigers?” “

We can see what happens when people say one thing and their actions say another. All the ethical scandals in businesses, colleges and even religious institutions have made people suspicious of leaders and people in positions of authority because the powerful have fallen again and again, no matter what pious promises. done. As Maya Angelou, who spoke to Duke Chapel for over 20 years to Duke freshmen at Orientation, once said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”

In contrast to this lack of consistency between all aspects of our life is what an ancient psalm text calls “integrity of the heart.” This means that we live a cohesive, cohesive and whole life as one person, the same person, wherever we are – in the boardroom, the courtroom, the locker rooms, the living room, even at Rooms To. Go. It is a life which is one, not bifurcated.

As Saint Augustine teaches in “De Doctrina Christiana”, your life can be an eloquent speech, imbued with delight, beauty and even poetry. It is a life in which lip service aligns with the service of life. A congruent and coherent individual is a person for whom what they say matches what they do because of who they are.

It may all sound so idealistic and outdated, but surely we need integrity, consistency, right now in this nation – in our government, our businesses, our schools, our healthcare systems, our religious institutions and more. We need, in the words of Duke’s retired colleague and friend Professor Rick Lischer, “truer characters.”

In fact, character and integrity have made a strong comeback in academic life and lexicons. There are character labs, character coaches, and character and leadership centers. Schools are finding that students can acquire skills and knowledge in various fields and become better chemists, policy makers, or lawyers, but they may not become better human beings. Universities are realizing once again that it’s not just about the intellect or what I know in my head anymore, education is about my whole life and who I am in the world and at home as a be human, both in public and in private. University education must concern the whole person and seek coherence. Even Duke has made this shift to wholeness with his “Purpose Project” initiative.

So, as we approach the end of another calendar year and look to a new year, I invite you to join in this overall quest for a cohesive life. For me, I was challenged in this direction by a looping quote in my mind’s reading list of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.: “It is possible to affirm the existence of God with your lips and deny its existence. with your life.

As we turn our gaze to a New Year, ponder these haunting, holy words from Dr. King and verify that your life is showing what your lips are saying.


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