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Knowing the Line

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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“Paul, get here as quickly as possible!” South Florida’s News-Leader—the number one newsroom in the nation— was on the line. San Francisco Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky had just broken his arm while pitching in Montreal. “You have the lead story for our TEAM coverage tonight.”

I raced to the station, my mind mixing scenes of joy and sorrow. Five days earlier, Dravecky had earned his first major-league baseball win since his cancer surgery. Now breathless early radio reports said “a loud crack was heard in the stadium,” and “Dravecky was writhing on the mound in pain.”

At the station, plans were buzzing. My news director fired me directions: “Paul, I want to see his arm breaking at least seven times in your story.”

I looked at him. “Don’t tell me how many times I need to show a man writhing in pain in a one-minute story,” I said. “Get the Montreal audio broadcast of the play-by-play so people can see the tragedy and hear it as it happened.”

Now I see that day, August 15, 1989, as my turning point. From the news director’s reaction, I knew my publicly challenging him had crossed a line. I understood I would eventually choose to leave that station; and 15 years later, I know that it was because my integrity had drawn that line.

At a recent interim-ministers’ training conference, pastors from around the country talked about the ethics they follow, the boundaries they set. The words of one interim pastor, Tom Green, hit home with me. He said, “Without my integrity, whatever system I’m a part of is going to suffer. The thing I always go back to is that I must be able to speak the truth in love.”

At one church he served, Green said, members of the session met without him in the middle of the fiscal year and lowered staff compensation by 10 percent. When the secret meeting came to light—and the decision not to consult with staff members affected by the pay cut—Green resigned. “Without my integrity, I can be taken advantage of,” he said. “I had to protect myself from being sullied by the system.”

Green believes that a person’s self has deep roots in individual integrity. For integrity to be complete, sound, incorruptible, he says, it must be integrated into the communities in which that person lives and works. “Integrity is part nurture, part nature,” he said to pastors at the seminar. “It starts with how your family dealt with honesty. Then it becomes a part of the systems you belong to, the company you keep.”
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