“It just needs one more thing – your name.”
As a fresh-faced 16-year-old having just finished an article on my first day of work experience at a newspaper these were exciting words to hear. On arrival into the office the next morning I got handed a copy of that day’s paper, and, flicking to the sports section, there it was. My article with my name on it. I’d made it. I was a published sports journalist and now everyone who read the Belfast Telegraph that day knew my name. I was famous.
Our Building Project
Sadly, that was the first and last published sports story with my name on it. I’ve left sports journalism far behind me now, but seven years on, and now a PhD student in Physics, I still find myself striving to have my name and work put in a paper. Academic physics papers are a far cry from a story about a trampolinist I will admit, but my natural desire is still the same. I still want to make a name for myself. We all do.
The building project of our lives is built on the foundational desire to form an identity for ourselves, and in academia who you are is tied intrinsically to the results that you produce. What happens then when results are not going well? What happens when people don’t notice all the hard work you do because it’s brought about no ground-breaking results yet? What happens when your academic paper with your name front and centre gets rejected?
To quote Lewis Capaldi, we’ll find ourselves with ‘no sense of self but self-obsessed’ . We’ll feel crushed, but we’ll not be able to stop striving for that identity that we want. We want others to see how great we are and to give us the glory that we want and feel we deserve. Could it be possible then that in the search for this we are willing to cut corners? In the search for a sense of self could we be tempted to let our integrity slip?
Integrity – What Is It? Why Do We Need It? How Do We Get It?
Picture the scene. Undergrad labs, one hour left, and your straight-line plot is looking slightly too curvy for your liking. What do you do? Leave the results as they are and present them explaining why the experimental conditions resulted in an unexpected trend? Or do you just shift one point up a bit, one point down a bit, and present a good (but not too good) linear plot.
A person with integrity presents the curvy plot. Integrity is about honesty and dependability. A person with integrity is fully transparent about the successes and failures of their research. They will support others in their research as if it is their own, and they will make sure to have good working practices in the lab even when no one is watching. As a PhD student I have no time sheet to fill in and therefore little accountability on work hours, but a person with integrity still works hard because they are being funded to do good research.
We identify integrity as a good characteristic in someone, but in academic research it is more than that. It is crucial. The academic environment is built on trusting in other researchers’ integrity in presenting their results so that we can push forward together to learn more of the truth about how our world works.
However, do we actually have a foundation that motivates us to act with integrity? If the building project of our lives is built on the foundational desire to make a name for ourselves then I would argue no, we don’t. If a small twisting of the truth allows for others to think we’re great, why wouldn’t we do it? Is there any foundation that enables us to live with integrity?
God’s Building Project
In 1 Peter 2, Peter talks about coming to a ‘living stone’ (v4). One that is a ‘cornerstone’ (v6) that is ‘chosen and precious’. He’s talking about God’s building project.
A cornerstone is the most important stone in the building. The angle of the walls and level of the layers are set by this stone. Therefore, if the cornerstone is crooked, the building is crooked. If the cornerstone is square and true, the building will be stable and straight.
"This building project however doesn’t just present us with a new way to live. It offers us the identity that we’ve been seeking in all of our academic strivings."
Peter says that this ‘chosen cornerstone’ is Jesus Christ. He is the square and true foundation of a new way to live. A way marked not by self-obsession, but with service.
This building project however doesn’t just present us with a new way to live. It offers us the identity that we’ve been seeking in all of our academic strivings. ‘Through Jesus Christ’ (v5) we are made ‘like living stones’, and in God’s eyes we too are ‘chosen and precious’. This transformational identity built on Jesus is a sure foundation that enables us to live with integrity because we no longer need to make a name for ourselves.
As ‘God’s special possession’ (v9) who we are is not tied intrinsically to the results we produce. Failures and disappointments then, whilst disheartening, are not crushing, and so we need not feel the temptation to let our integrity slip for the advancement of our own name.
As a ‘royal priesthood’ (v9), we can also mediate God’s blessings to our fellow students and colleagues, showing them the glory and freedom of a life built on the cornerstone. In the academic environment, just as with everywhere else that we go, we are ‘Christ’s ambassadors’ (2 Cor 5:20). In representing him we are freed to not worry about making much of ourselves, but rather seeking to make much of him.
As people built into God’s building project, we keep our conduct among our fellow students and work colleagues ‘honourable’ (v12), in the hope that they too may come to declare not their own praises, not our praises, but the praises of the one who calls people ‘out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (v9).
 Lewis Capaldi, ‘How I’m Feeling Now’.