Walking the Talk: Living With Integrity in a Disintegrating World

By Dave Bookless, A Rocha Advisor for Theology and Churches

Spanish translation: Predicar con el ejemplo: Vivir con integridad en un mundo desintegrado

Every generation believes the world is falling apart morally and socially. Today, it is also falling apart ecologically. Recent chaotic weather patterns are mere symptoms of the damage our unsustainable use of earth’s resources is causing to the fabric that holds the biosphere together. In his book Eaarth Bill McKibben powerfully shows we are entering new territory, effectively inhabiting a different planet from our ancestors.[1]

Many of us know this deep down, but mostly we live as if it’s not true. In a disintegrating world we tend to live disintegrated lifestyles, with beliefs, values, and lifestyle choices in separate compartments. It’s not only true ecologically, of course. It’s easy to be a completely different person at work, in church, alone online, or relaxing with friends. If statistics are to be believed, even pastors often behave rather differently online compared to in front of their congregations.[2]

Colourful containers, by Alfvanbeem
Colourful containers, by Alfvanbeem

This can lead to a huge guilt trip. In ecological terms I know I’m hypocritical. I speak and write about sustainability but still drive a car, fly occasionally, buy from supermarkets, and (believe it or not) sometimes buy new clothes. Yes, I’ve made lots of eco-choices but every time somebody says “Wow! You’re such an example,” I feel guilt at my many compromises.

But guilt doesn’t help. It tends to create even bigger walls between the compartments of our lives. Instead, here are some positive suggestions… and I’m speaking to myself here, and also hope you’ll join the discussion because I certainly don’t have all the answers:

God’s pervasive presence: Psalm 24:1’s reminder that ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,’ is so shockingly counter-cultural that it should be a daily mantra, informing our shopping choices and travel decisions. Every compartment of our lives, all that we do, consume, breathe and step upon is created and sustained by God’s loving hands.

Rhythm and rest: The way to break bad habits is to create good ones, rhythms of life that sustain us and the fabric of life. It may mean making time to cook from raw ingredients, by spending less time online, or reciting a Psalm whilst shopping, starting to talk about our faith at work, or our eco-choices at church. Joining the dots… and whatever we do, we need to rest, to celebrate God’s Sabbath for all creation.

Accountability: I need people to question my inconsistencies and help me live what I preach. My teenagers do this without being asked! Who are we accountable to for how we shop, travel, and eat? It’s not about comparison or coercion but mutual support amongst friends, helping us live with integrity. Are there two or three people you could meet with regularly to chat through those lifestyle conundrums?

Community: Individualism is the seed of our world’s disintegration. God exists in Divine community of Father, Son and Spirit, and our fractured world can only be healed as we rebuild relationships within ourselves, with others, and with the community of creation. Church should be about life together, not just services together, a biodiversity of people who encourage, challenge and inspire us. What about our neighbours? How many of the compartments of our lives do we share with them?

Enjoying God’s world: One reason for life’s compartmentalization is exhaustion and stress. We shut off what we can’t cope with. Renewal begins with spending time in God’s presence in the garden of creation. Nurturing plants, feeding garden birds, breathing fresh air, learning to observe and meditate on God’s hand in nature’s cycles, are spiritual practices that bring hope and reunite the fragments of life.

You may have noticed that God’s presence, Rhythms, Accountability, Community and Enjoyment spell GRACE. Grace forgives our inconsistencies and frees us to keep going forwards. Grace encourages a response of gratitude, not guilt. Knowing we inhabit a world infused by God’s grace releases us from thinking it’s our responsibility to save planet earth. Earth will be restored and renewed only by God’s grace. Grace doesn’t resolve all our dilemmas, but it brings hope and sets us free to reintegrate our fractured lives and live with integrity in the midst of a broken world.


[1] McKibben, Bill (2011). Eaarth – Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. New York: Griffin.

[2] 51% of pastors say cyber porn is a possible temptation; 37% say it is a current struggle (Christianity Today Leadership Survey, December 2001).

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