Trinity Episcopal Church, Washington, DC

On January 10, 1989, I was installed as rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Washington, DC. The presider at that grand occasion was the then Bishop of Washington, the late, great John Thomas Walker.[1]

John Thomas Walker

John, a man of abiding faith and unassailable courage, was an institutional and social reformer of the first order; waging the good fight of inclusion in a church and a world that then wrestled, and sadly still grapples, at times, unrepentantly, with the issues, the realities of discrimination of all sorts. Though having risen to a lofty position, John, genuinely humble, did not think of himself, in the words of the Apostle, more highly than he ought.[2] He also was exceedingly insightful and gracious; able to make his point with a subtle turn of phrase and an earnest smile and without bludgeoning the hearts and minds of those with whom he disagreed (a characteristic mournfully missing from today’s American public political and ecclesial arenas).

This last noble trait comes to mind. During my installation, John, discerning (and keen to temper) my then overweening sense of self, whispered in my ear, “Remember, Paul, one’s good reputation in the eyes of the world is oft maintained by the silence of family and friends.” I recall being taken aback, not sure entirely what he meant, yet sensing an inner resonance of truth. O’er the years, many times, I’ve reflected on John’s good counsel. Indeed, those who know, for better and for worse, one’s behind-the-scenes persona, by their reticence, serve to uphold one’s best-foot-forward public image. And, a long time ago, I added “the silence of one’s enemies”, who, I believe, view us sometimes with a less than charitable clear-eyed honesty than our families and friends.

A friend and fellow priest, Rob Brown, recently shared a perception he had received from another, which I, in pondering, consider searingly, starkly spot-on: “Everyone has three selves. A public self known to the world, a private self known by kith and kin, and a secret self known only to one’s self.”

Speaking always and only for myself, this is true for me. I have a public face, which, though I’d like to believe in major part is sincere, is an outward expression of how I’d like to be viewed by others. I have a private face, which exposes more of my shadow-world, my ignoble traits, chiefly selfishness. And, yes, I have a secret self of thoughts and feelings, reflections and reminiscences to which I dare not give air and, deeper, those that are beyond the reach of my daily consciousness, appearing in the startling, scarifying images of dreams, nightmares. In this, how well I know, how oft I pray the words of the psalmist: Who can detect their errors? Cleanse me from my hidden faults.[3]

I wonder, too, as I look at myself in the mirror, knowing all that I know about me, including my awareness of what may lurk unseen and unknown within, how do I, who can maintain no silence from myself, preserve my good reputation with myself? In this, how well I know, how oft I pray the words of my namesake Apostle: I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?[4] And, in this, believing, knowing I cannot maintain my good reputation, for I have none, I, throwing myself afresh on the grace and mercy of a loving God, sing with Paul: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord![5]



[1] The Right Reverend John Thomas Walker (1925-1989), Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (1977-1989) and Dean of the Washington National Cathedral (1978-1989).

[2] Romans 12.3

[3] Psalm 19.12

[4] Romans 7.21-24

[5] Romans 7.25

2 thoughts on “reputation

  1. Paul,

    Just had an opportunity to read this…read it more than once…. Three sides!!! Love that!! So very true!!! We show our best side to others to maintain our reputation!

    One of the best things of this post for me is your honesty. What a question… how do you maintain your reputation with yourself?? I love the prayer you use… it’s simply incredible!! Aside from God’s love, I also believe living with the good and bad of ourselves requires forgiving ourselves for our shadows and demons (and the behaviors associated with them). Accepting all of ourselves is important I think and from what I know of you, you’ve done that. One thing about reputation that I think is important to remember is that people t be to have short memories and forgive us for our transgressions…. think of Martha Stewart who went to prison, people said her brand and reputation was ruined forever. Yet since getting out of prison, she’s rebuilt her brand easily. She actually even trained some women in prison. She’s just one example…so even if your shadows spilled out in public, I think your public reputation is such that people, in addition to God, would easily forgive you…

    I really appreciate this blog, because I’m in the public eye a lot more than I ever thought I would be!! I need to ensure all three of my selves are in order!!

    Much love!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Loretta, I got to your last words – “I need to ensure all three of my selves are in order!” – and burst out laughing in riotously affirmative recognition! Yes and amen, we do have have all of our sides together! Hard and continuous work, indeed.

      Thanks for your Martha Stewart illustration. It is helpful to me to discern how to reconcile – also a constant struggle for me – my awareness of my shadow-self and the persona I present to the public; the two rarely being in harmony.

      Most importantly, your word about self-acceptance rings in my mind and heart as gospel truth. It mirrors one of my discernments about last week’s gospel passage from Matthew about allowing the wheat and weeds (the good and the bad in he world AND within me) to remain together until the harvest.

      Always, my love and my thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

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