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The Way of Integrity

Lenten Series - this is the first message in a series of five on The Way of Jesus.

When we think of someone who has integrity we often thing of the following qualities: honesty, trustworthiness, loyalty, responsible, accountable, consistent in words and actions, ethical, authentic, someone who does the right thing even when no one is looking.

Integrity is ALL of this, but it is also more. Or perhaps I need to qualify the rest as spiritual integrity, in which we are true to our deepest Selves, the part of us that is ONE with creation - the earth and all that is in it – and ONE with the Divine. Spiritual integrity means we not only practice the values we profess to believe in – inclusion, love, generosity, kindness, patience, peace, justice, and putting life and relationships before wealth and power – but we do so from the deepest, most authentic, most whole, most divine, most beautiful part of our selves.

The word integrity comes from the Latin integer, which simply means “intact.” To be in integrity is to be one thing, whole and undivided. But our nature, our soul, our deepest Self, is forever colliding with a force that can tear it apart:  culture… a set of social standards that shapes the way people think and act. Every group of humans, from families, to churches, to workplaces, to bowling teams, to card groups, has cultural rules and expectations (written and unwritten) that help them function. From childhood we learn how to belong, how to fit into any particular cultural context. We act one way with our friends, another with our teachers, another with our parents, another with our boss, and so on. But in our rush to please everyone else, we aren’t in integrity with ourselves. We aren’t one thing, we aren’t intact. Instead we are duplicitous, we are in two things (if not more), we are split up. We divide up the parts of our lives into little blocks, compartmentalizing and rationalizing, or simply ignoring the duplicity and hypocrisy that we sometimes exhibit.

Life coach, Martha Beck, in her book, The Way of Integrity, claims that, “Integrity is the cure for unhappiness. Period. Of all the strategies and skills I’ve ever learned, the ones that actually work are those that help people see where they’ve abandoned their own deep sense of truth and followed some other set of directives. This split from integrity is almost always unconscious.”

The story, or myth, of Jesus in the wilderness with the Devil (Luke 4:1-13), can remind us of what it looks like to live with integrity, in wholeness, though it clearly it isn’t always easy. Sometimes to remain in integrity with our most sacred self means making the harder, less comfortable, less lucrative choice.

Let’s flesh out the choices Jesus had to make just a little bit. To begin, the writer of the story sets the stage for us: Jesus has just spent the last 40 days in the wilderness, presumably getting his soul prepared for the ministry he is about to take on, and he is “famished.” He's probably also, dirty, tired and weak.

First challenge: The Devil comes to Jesus, and mockingly challenges him: “If you are God’s Own, command this stone to turn into bread.” Jesus replies, “Scripture has it, ‘We don’t live on bread alone.’ (this comes from Deut. 8:3 which finishes the passage “… but on every word that flows from the mouth of Yahweh.”) Jesus remains in integrity with his purpose to fast for 40 days, and to draw closer to God and rely on God. Taking the easy way out at this point defeats the purpose, and teaches nothing. 

Second challenge: The Devil then shows Jesus all the nations of the world in a single instant and promises to give him control over all these nations if Jesus will just bow down in homage before him.  Jesus replies, “Scripture has it, ‘You will worship the Most High God; God alone will you adore.’” The temptation to wealth and power is great, but in spiritual integrity to his deepest Self, Jesus knows that these are fleeting and unfulfilling. Jesus knows that it is where your heart resides that is important. And, again, he puts God first.

Third challenge: Finally, the Devil takes Jesus to the top parapet of the Temple and mocks Jesus (throwing some of his own words back at him). If you are really God’s own, prove it. Throw yourself down from here because Scripture has it that God’s angels will take care of you. Jesus responds, “It also says ‘Do not put God to the test.’” One more time, Jesus remains intact, whole, consistent to the person he is seeking to become. He didn't sell out, he didn't give in to pressure. He trusted himself and his relationship with the Divine.

The Devil in this story chose challenges that would tempt Jesus to be less than he was, to doubt, to stoop to proving himself and God, or to give in to the shiny, attractive power and wealth of the world. But Jesus remains in integrity, whole. That’s what we love about him. Even starving, dirty and exhausted, he makes the really hard decisions look easy.

The question for us is: What tempts us to be less than we are? What tempts us to be out of alignment with our deepest Selves and therefore, out of alignment with the Energy of Love?

When I asked this yesterday, folks answered things like wanted to belong, to be liked and accepted, wanting to be comfortable and secure, wanting what is offered, regardless of the cost, and fear. I'm sure you could easily add to this list. Sadly, when we succumb to these temptations we often find ourselves out of integrity with our deepest selves, acting poorly, and doing things and saying things we don’t want to, or know in our hearts are wrong. We may compromise our very Selves to please others or try to be perfect.

Learning the way of integrity is a process, because learning who we really are as our deepest Selves is a process. And then, on a daily basis, we will encounter innumerable situations which may tempt us to be less than our beautiful, sacred Selves. 

Brene’ Brown, in her book, Braving the Wilderness, tells the story of getting ready to speak in Chicago at one of the largest leadership events in the world. The event organizers had strongly recommended that she wear “business attire.” As she was waiting to go on, she stared at the black slacks and pumps she had put on and felt like she was going to a funeral. She couldn’t shake the feeling of playing dress-up. At the last minute she grabbed her suitcase and went to the restroom, changing into a navy shirt, dark jeans, and clogs. Another speaker looked at her and said, “Awesome. You’re brave.”

Brene’ laughed and said, “Not really. It’s a necessity. I can’t go on that stage and talk about authenticity and courage when I don’t feel authentic or brave. I physically can’t do it. I’m not here so my business self and talk to their business selves. I’m here to talk from my heart to their hearts. This is who I am.”

What clothes one wears seems like a small thing, but in this instance she felt it connected to the very core of who she was and what her purpose was. 

Mark Nepo, in his book, The Exquisite Risk, also talks about this type of deep spiritual integrity as he describes leaving his twenty-year marriage. He shares that after fifteen years of marriage, he and his wife, Ann, had both managed to live through cancer, but they found themselves on the other side fragile and uncertain about the future. Mark said he remained committed to two things: a devotion to the voice within, and a loyalty to those he loved. But he never dreamt that those two commitments would collide.

However, it eventually became clear that having had cancer and almost dying had excavated a new depth within him and that he was being called to love deeper than ever before from this new depth within. The painful truth was that, while he had loved Ann as deeply as he knew how, in this new depth, he somehow didn’t feel her there. Somehow, through no fault of either of theirs, they had become brother and sister and no longer lovers. He drifted in confusion and denial for almost two years. How could he leave the person who had saved his life? And yet, having survived, how could he not search to be touched in this newly exposed depth within him? And, so, with great difficulty and pain for both of them, they ended the marriage.

Living in integrity with one’s deepest Self does not always save us or others from change and pain. But it keeps us, as Nepo says, “close to the miracle of being.”

As John O’Donohue has said, we are each journeying to become fully ourselves, which is also a journey toward divine likeness. It is a journey of integrity, of completeness, of intactness, of oneness. I don’t know that we ever fully arrive or that we’ll ever be perfect in this spiritual integrity. But to be whole, and perhaps to be happy in life, we need to keep trying.

Lenten Blessings,