August 12, 2018
Not a word we hear much in our daily life these days…another related word we think about more – character. Character being in simplicity the habits of our lives.
Integrity is related. Integrity has to do with the quality of our behavior. C. S. Lewis in his essay “Men without Chests” gives a helpful glimpse as he criticizes development of people that is cerebral – the mind, and visceral – the appetites, but neglects the importance of the chest – that which links or tames our thinking and our appetites. Lewis calls the chest the seat of the sentiment or place of magnanimity in our lives. Magnanimity is the quality of our behavior – it is noble, generous. Lewis asserted boldly, “by intellect one is mere spirit and by one’s appetite mere animal.”
The biblical idea of integrity is wholeness - completeness, moral innocence. It has the idea of soundness of character and adherence to moral character. Often in scripture, it also is coupled with the idea of ‘walking’ in integrity. This implies the habitual manner of life as being bound with integrity.
Do you see David or Absalom in this? For both we’ve seen over the past few weeks lives lacking integrity. In the language of C. S. Lewis, David, and Absalom were literally “men without chests” - making choice out of appetites – lust, violence, selfish ambition, anger, greed.
Let me sum up – because we’ve missed a few headlines in our Sunday propers:
David had many children – 20 are named in scripture – and David had many partners. There was struggle relationally among the four oldest – all from different mothers – for Absalom, 2nd in line for succession, this was personal between him and Amnon, 1st in line for succession.
The relational fallout between Absalom and Amnon was over Absalom’s maternal sister, Tamar. Amnon violated her. Over the course of the next two years Absalom plotted and carried out Amnon’s murdered. After Absalom does this he flees to his maternal grandfather’s place and hides for three years. During this time David searched for Absalom and grieves for Amnon’s death. David and Absalom both got tired out and Absalom asks to return to Jerusalem and David allows it - but did not want to see Absalom. Absalom lived in Jerusalem outside of the King’s presence for 2 years and then took off again and spent 2 more years planning the coup.
With Absalom and David, we see living a life without integrity. Their appetites were not tamed through the cultivation of magnanimity.
A lesson to be learned from these narratives is that we must develop integrity.
To do this we need understanding in how we ought to live and understanding how we ought to live is the definition of wisdom – wisdom is the ought of life. What ought to be done? In our Christian spirituality we find this outside of ourselves – outside of our opinions, ideas, feelings and in God, scripture, reason, tradition.
For both David and Absalom - you have to wonder, did they notice how they were living? The decisions they were making? David and Bathsheba. Absalom’s plots involving murder of a brother and planning the murder of his father.
Another aspect of the definition of integrity helps us understand the importance of paying attention to our lives.
Madeline L’Engle, in her work, Circle of Quiet describes people of integrity. She writes:
The most whole people I know are those in whom the gap between the ‘ontological’[ontology being the study of reality therefore, ‘real’] self and the daily self is the smallest. The Latin ‘integer’ means untouched; intact. In mathematics, an integer is a whole number. The people I know who are intact don’t have to worry about their integrity; they are incapable of doing anything which would break it…The gap between our ‘real’ and ‘actual’ selves is, to some degree, in all of us; no one is completely whole...It’s part of our heritage from our forebears, Adam and Eve. When we refuse to face this gap in ourselves, we widen it.
In simplicity, integrity can be looked at as a life that is integrated. This integration implies oneness. In every situation one has the same manner of life. This is opposed to dis-integration, which is parts that appear depending on the context a person finds themselves in. For example, dis-integration is found in the compartmentalizing of our lives. One who lives differently in at home or work than alone or with a significant other or others.
When we live lives of dis-integration, instead of integration we’re moving the lines of proper behavior all the time. For example, perhaps I think it’s wrong to cheat on a test in school – so here’s our line, but then I cheat on a test…I breech my integrity. If I continue without repairing this breach – which in our Christian context involves repentance, perhaps restitution – the breach stays and my conscience becomes seared. The next time I have a test I might not even weigh the appropriateness of cheating – I’m not noticing the place I used to have for whether that’s appropriate, because my conscience is seared – I’ve lost my sensitivity. I’ve moved the line. So, I just cheat, and in this new place of dis-integration, maybe I even finagle getting a hold of the test and copy it and cheat better. If this breach is not repaired I have moved the line again on what is proper behavior.
What I’m saying is – Absalom didn’t one day just wake up and decide to murder his brother, but he likely over years breached his integrity, seared his conscience and did no work of restoration…the line kept moving, and moving, and moving, and one day he could plot the murder of his brother – and it didn’t even bother him. Over the next few years the line continued to move, and he could plot a coup to become king and kill his father.
Lack of integrity is a scary thing.
And its prevalent in our contemporary culture. Lying is normative, sexual oppression is normative, violence is normative. But we didn’t just wake up one day and behave in these ways. But with each breach of integrity, each searing of our conscience, each passive response to moving the line of what is proper, contributes to the big things we decide to do.
To develop integrity, we must pay attention to our lives or we cannot grow into whole.
This takes effort.
Leanne Payne, a 20th century leader in the pastoral care movement and a C.S. Lewis scholar, helps us understand how to practically approach our becoming whole. In her book, The Healing Presence, Curing the Soul through Union with Christ she asserts:
“Not through cognitive skill, not by trying to think existence. Not through learning one personality theory after another. One becomes as one obeys. Knowledge of oneself and others as selves is dependent upon moral and spiritual development – and this comes through obedience to Truth [with a capital T], to the way things really are…” (p. 93).
God has given us these narrative snap shots of the lives of David and Absalom to learn what not to do…we need to develop integrity to tame our minds and appetites and close the gap between our real and daily self.