Teaching Honesty and Back to School

This week our Children’s Director, Stephanie Lord, and I were thinking about when to have our “Backpack Blessing Sunday,” and it knocked me for a loop to realize that we are that close to school starting back. Although I have been enjoying the countdown to college football, I really feel for the school teachers whose summer break is about to end. With all they deal with, it’s been too short!

Colleges and universities will crank up and have their convocations soon, too. Students and faculty will gather to officially start their academic year. For 12 years I attended the summer convocation at Emory University where I taught two courses: “Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit” and “United Methodist Discipline and Polity.” Teaching those courses was always a welcome rejuvenation of theological discourse and critical thinking about God.

Attending convocation always gave me a chance to think about an important word: Honesty. Needless to say, plagiarism is a rampant form of lying in academia. The internet and Wikipedia make it too easy to copy/steal someone else’s work. Honesty, therefore, is a good word for us to ponder before school starts, especially with the added political jockeying going on between Donald Trump and John McCain; i.e., “Who’s telling the truth?”

There’s a connection between honesty and academic convocations and it’s all in the hoods. The convocations that I have attended have exhibited a rainbow of different academic hoods. The various colors represented a person’s field of expertise via the outer velvet’s color, and the person’s alma mater was visually represented in the hood’s interior. My doctoral hood, for instance, has red velvet on the outside signifying theology and blue and gold inner trim denoting Emory’s school colors.

This practice goes back centuries. Hundreds of years ago people didn’t wear hats. They wore hoods, and they wore many different colored hoods. The color of a person’s hood signified their occupation. If you were a minister, you wore one color of hood. If you were a medical doctor, you wore another color of hood. You could tell, therefore, a person’s occupation by the color of hood they wore.

The problem with that, of course, was that some people tried to pass themselves off as somebody they weren’t. So, they wore a false hood. This is where we get the word “falsehood.” Today we think of a falsehood as something that isn’t true. It is any kind of dishonesty. A person’s honesty is of utmost importance. Lying erodes everything. Teachers promote intellectual honesty by requiring students to do their own work, or, when using information not new with them, to offer appropriate citation. If a pastor or anyone in any profession doesn’t do his or her own work, falsehood will undermine the whole of that person’s efforts. Without honesty, there isn’t much of a foundation for anything in a person’s life.

People can say wedding vows, but without honesty they don’t mean much, do they? Children can say that they love their parents, but love without honesty has little or no respect. People can say that they have done their best to put in quality time and effort at work, but the proof of their shoddy work ethic is quickly apparent if the end-product has problems. Falsehoods are found out! From the beginning of Christianity, the church stood for honesty even if it meant martyrdom. Early Christians could not say they believed in Jesus as Lord and kneel to Caesar as god, too. Honesty often means either-or rather than both-and! That’s a hard pill for our anything-goes society.

Honesty, therefore, requires a choice, a putting off of falsehood, a false hood. We get to choose every day which hood we’ll wear. Will we be honest, have integrity, or live a lie? A heart patient visited his cardiologist for his two-week follow-up appointment. He informed the doctor that he was having trouble with one of his medications. “Which one?” asked the doctor? “The patch,” the man replied, “The nurse told me to put on a new one every six hours, and I’ve run out of places to put it!” The doctor was flabbergasted. He had the patient quickly undress. The man had over fifty patches on his body! The patient didn’t understand that each time he put on a new patch, he was supposed to remove the old one.

Our new life in Christ requires taking off the old, and putting on the new. That takes honesty! Whether you’re headed back to school as a teacher, student, or administrator, or simply going about your daily life keeping score on the golf course or paying your bills, please take off your falsehoods and allow Christ to dress you in new clothing, in the truth! A life of honesty may be difficult, but it’s even more difficult to live a lie!

Academic Hood