"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Being a Man of Integrity

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Some musings on integrity and the call of manhood…

The question: how to live with integrity in a hostile world?

I was surprised as I started to set out this topic – I’ve spent most of my adult life thinking about the question of integrity, and yet I found there was little that came to mind to say on the subject. I suspect this is because integrity is something we don’t necessarily think about on a daily basis, and it is something that we recognize immediately by its absence, but don’t necessarily acknowledge its presence. Rather than a technical talk on the subject, this is more of a reflection on my encounters with integrity both good and bad, in the hopes that this will spark in you some reflection on your life, and the place of integrity in your walk with Christ.

My perspective on integrity is informed by the 20 years I spent in the Canadian Forces as an officer, for there is little more important for an officer than to be a person of integrity. This is especially critical for anyone who presumes to command others, for there is one thing that your troops will detect and react adversely to, and that is an officer without integrity. How can you expect someone to risk their life on your order, if they can’t even trust you to care for them with integrity on a day to day basis. Indeed the officers I respected the most were those who were tough and had high expectations, but were immensely fair – that is, dealt with you with integrity.

Integrity is a term that appears most frequently in the Old Testament – and the Hebrew word is sometimes translated as integrity of heart, sometimes as sincerity, sometimes as flawlessness. The most interesting occurrence of the Hebrew word for integrity comes in 1 Kings 22:34, account of the battle between the kings of Israel and Judah and the King of Aram at Ramoth Gilead. The two kings of the Hebrews ask the prophets if they should attack, and all the prophets say yes, except for Micaiah who prophesies that this attack will be the death of King Ahab, for which the king throws the prophet into prison. Ahab was a particularly nasty king, we read that there was, “none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited” (1 Kings 21:25). Immediately after he desires result in an innocent man being murdered so he could get his vineyard, a prophet tells Ahab that the dogs will lick up his blood in the same way that they licked up the blood of the innocent man. Ahab repents, and God decides not to destroy his line until his son rules, but shortly thereafter Ahab is killed in a battle that was not of the Lord. How is he killed? The text tells us that an archer randomly drew his bow and shot an arrow into the enemy, “But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate” (1 Kings 22:34) So here we see a total lack of integrity on behalf of Ahab, and an immensely luck shot from an archer. The word integrity is used to describe the way the archer used his bow: he drew his bow with flawlessness…that is he drew the bow with integrity, and the arrow did God’s will. It is an interesting use of the word – and it tells us something about integrity in our lives, that our choices and our habits must be guided almost unconsciously with the desire to do what is right, to act with integrity, that is for the Christian, to model the way of Christ in all we say, think and do.

An image of this integrity comes to us in Exodus 1:15-21, , which begins with the story of the plight of the children of Israel at the hands of a new Pharaoh in Egypt, it says: “Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; and he said, ‘When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.’ In God’s unique economy the pharoh is not named, but we do hear the names of these two midwives. Because the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive? “And the midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.’ An interesting exercise in integrity – that involved a lie to Pharoh but a willingness to risk everything personal in order to answer to a higher authority.

One of the greatest challenges to living with integrity in our world today is the all-to-common cult of indifference. This cult of indifference is well-defended, usually by the universal statement, “You can do whatever you want, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else.” Tightly tied to that is a second universal belief, usually not stated, that there is no such thing as absolute truth, that is, everything exists in relative relationship. People who want to appear learned will state that this truth is what Einstein established in science with his general and special rules of relativity, and that reveals only their ignorance. Einstein spoke of relativistic motion, and nowhere does his science include the assertion that there is no absolute frame of reference. Yet the denial of the absolute is a cornerstone of modern, and post-modern culture.

I attended a talk by a military professor of philosophy on ethics, when I was teaching at an engineering school. The room was full of students, about 150 in total, all of whom were well-educated and experienced leaders in the military…and all of whom commanded a fair amount of lethal force in their day jobs. The professor began by asking the question, ‘How many of you believe there is no such thing as absolute truth?” I was stunned when everyone in the room but for 4 of the instructors put up their hands. How could it be that this group of highly educated leaders did not understand the presence of the absolute? Without even invoking faith, this is something foreign even to science, which is based on its own set of absolute truths.

I won’t put you on the spot and ask the same question here, but it is important to answer that question – do you believe there is such a thing as absolute truth? The question is key to our discussion, because I am convinced you cannot be a true person of integrity unless your system of belief, your moral virtues, are grounded in something that is greater than you. The reason I mention this directly is the lie of relativity is alive and well within the Christian church, and is preached from many pulpits (not here).

Let me illustrate – at our recent synod, the body voted in favour of permitting the blessing of same-sex relationships in this diocese…and in fact, it’s already been happening. I’m not going to talk about that, but rather a conversation I had at my table during discussion time. One long-standing Anglican started the discussion with an absolute statement, “I believe it is time we did this. Jesus tells us to love everyone, and to welcome them into our communities. It is wrong not to welcome everyone.” I was a little shocked. I hesitated to ask a question of an elder member of my church, but I couldn’t let that assertion stand unchallenged. I asked to clarify, “So we are to welcome everyone in as full members of our community regardless of who or what they are?” He firmly said, “Yes”. So I asked, “What about a practicing pedophile?” There was silence and he stared at me with his mouth hanging open.

Now, that’s not to illustrate anything about me or him, but just to show how common these wrong thoughts are even within the community of believers. Of course we welcome all to the faith, as Jesus did, but that doesn’t mean we affirm and accept anything they might chose to do. And why not? Because there are moral virtues that come to us through the teachings of Christ, and one of the things we do in our communities is teach and practice those moral virtues, even while acknowledging that we will fail but that Christ calls us to keep trying.

This ethics specialist then demonstrated that there were obvious absolute truths that even atheists would affirm, he next asked another question, “How many of you believe it is better to do good than to do evil?” The entire room raised their hands – “There, he concluded, you have all demonstrated that you believe in an absolute truth.” This is one reason why the lie of there being no absolute truth is so evil, as it denies the very nature of reality – to say there is no absolute truth is in fact a self-defeating statement, as the denial is itself an absolute statement. A Christian perspective on the beliefs of others runs more like this: we ought to be tolerant of other’s beliefs until those beliefs constitute a moral evil. We are tolerant of the nation of Islam, but when those beliefs move into justifying killing in the name of Allah, we rightly condemn those beliefs as evil.

This is why integrity is so important to we men of faith, because one of our roles is to stand apart from the greater culture as examples of another way, and to model that behaviour for our friends and more importantly for our children. When those around us follow the way of Ahab, listening to corrupt teachers give us soothing words for our itching ears to justify what we want, even when we know it is wrong, our calling as men of integrity is to offer another way. Most of the time, this involves a quiet witness to the contrary – so when all your buddies are heading out to the peelers after a long day’s work, do you go along, or do you do something different? Those small decisions are the really important ones, for they say far more about our Christian character than anything else. Most of us will never have the opportunity for one of those heroic acts of integrity – being the whistleblower that brings down Enron, for example. But all of us, on a daily basis, are called to make those little decisions, those small choices, that show the world there is a different way.

One thing that really struck me in the last two weeks was the beating death of a man on the LRT recently in front of a dozen or so witnesses. I don’t want to second guess anyone on that train, but is it as disturbing to you as to me that the only thing they felt obligated to do was to inform the driver and to call 911? We’re not talking about two young guys wailing away on each other, but the systematic beating of one man by another. What would Christian integrity call on us to do in that circumstance? One of our obligations as Christians is to be the good Samaritan to those in need, and if we fail to recognize in that parable that the thing which stopped the priest and the Sadducee from helping the beaten man was self-preservation, we can allow ourselves to view such violence with indifference. It’s not me or my family being beaten, and I might get injured if I intervene, so it’s best to rely on the authorities and in so doing I discharge my obligation. If that LRT incident was isolated, I would be less concerned, but the reality is that most of those sorts of situations are avoided by most people for want of self-preservation. What does Christian integrity call us to do when our neighbour is in need? Ralph Waldo Emerson made a famous statement about how our lives of integrity are seen by others: “Who you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you say.”

At my service academies, RRMC and RMC, the motto (which sounds really cool in French): verite, devoir, valiance, or in English: truth, duty, valour. This was, and continues to be, one of my touchstones in helping me live a life of integrity. Truth, meaning that I would not stand or participate in falsehood. Duty, meaning that I would fulfill the obligations I had undertaken – my word is my bond. And Valour, meaning I would not stand by while injustice was done to another, but also that I would have the courage to stand up and admit when I had fallen from those ideals because of my own sin. There is no more courageous act than to admit you’re wrong in public. Now those are admirable goals to live by, but the motto had an informal subscript: truth, duty, valour (but don’t get caught).
Some aspects of that ‘but don’t get caught’ were admirable. We were trained to be innovative, and to be daring in undertaking new challenges. Part of that training was an intricate system of practical jokes on our seniors, and so the ‘don’t get caught’ was a challenge to pull off some really outlandish pranks, in good taste, with the goal of not being found out in the process. One night, a group of my classmates took one of their senior’s room furniture – desk, bed, chair, dresser – and suspended them with rope 20 feet in the air, all in proper arrangement. Original, challenging, and reflecting skills that would make those pranksters good officers. Now the unfortunate part of that motto was those who understood it to mean that there was one standard for the daytime, and another for the night, and the goal was not to get found out.

Now does that sound at all familiar to we Christians? One of our biggest challenges is to live apart from the world, while living in the world. The faith of too many Christians becomes a faith of convenience, that is practiced on Sunday but the rest of the week is given over to living as the world does. What does that say to those around you, who know you go to church, but also know that you’re willing to do things right on the edge of legal to close a deal, or live your life out of church just like everyone else does? The old hymn says, you’ll know we are Christians by our love, and is that how people know you? The greatest compliment you can ever be paid by a non-believer is a simple statement: there’s just something different about you, and I want to know what that is.

These are the sorts of questions that challenge us to examine what it means to be a man of integrity. Do you have the courage, the valour, to stand against what the world deems as proper when the time of testing comes?

Our present culture is living a legacy that arose out of some destructive streams of philosophy – ethical egoism, that said one always ought to act in one’s best interest; utilitarianism, that says if the end result produces more pleasure than pain for the majority of people, then the action is right; moral relativism, which says there is no real difference in absolute terms between any actions – so both the allies and the Nazis were morally equivalent in World War II. Several of these streams gather together to form popular post-modern thought, and the result is this culture of indifference. There is nothing more contrary to our calling to be men of integrity than this culture of indifference, of self-service, of the denial of absolute truth. The ultimate call of integrity, which I pray we will never have to make, is the willingness to die for what you believe is right. That sounds like a shocking statement, but it is an important question to ask yourself – what is there, if anything, that you feel is so important, is so unable to be compromised, that you would defend it to the death? A question like that forces you to consider what is it that you really believe?

St Polycarp, a 2nd century Christian martyr, was asked to burn incense to the emperor, an act of worship affirming the emperor’s place in the pantheon of gods. Polycarp refused, and is reported to have said, “Eighty and six years I have served him. How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour? Bring forth what thou wilt.” Polycarp was burned alive for his faith. What is it that you really believe? Our brothers and sisters in Christ, in many parts of the world, attest to their willingness to die for the faith on a daily basis. What is it that you really believe?

For those of us who are married, or have children, what would you be willing to do for your spouse, for your children? What is it that your marriage vows mean to you? Is your word, on oath, a binding thing, or a comfortable assurance that you can turn to when you need it, but ignore when the end result will produce more pleasure than pain for you? Is a marriage a true spiritual union of man and woman to the exclusion of all others, or is it a social construct that can be re-defined as society wills? Is the example you present to your children so important that you will enter into self-denial to maintain Christian integrity. What is it that you really believe?

I was driving once with my daughter somewhere, and she asked if we could stop for ice cream. When I said no, it’s almost time for supper, she said, we don’t have to tell mom. Without thinking I replied, that it might start with little lies like that, but that was the path to destroy a marriage which should be founded on absolute trust, so if we did it we would tell mom when we got home. I didn’t even think about that exchange, and certainly didn’t intend it to be a teaching moment, but several hours later my dear wife told me the Mckenzie had related the conversation and how it had really impacted her about the meaning of marriage and relationship. This is the reason why the practice of integrity is so important, because those tests come most often when we’re not expecting them, and it is our instinctive reaction that marks how we will witness to integrity.

You see, the answers to these sorts of questions are what mark us apart from society as followers of the Christ. Now, how are those answers marked out in your day-to-day life? CS Lewis said, “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you … either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature.” (Mere Christianity, book III, chap. 4, para. 8) It is our choices, even the small ones, that mark out what is the measure of our integrity.

We can certainly recall recent examples of leaders who failed dramatically when it came to integrity – who can forget Bill Clinton’s international testimony that he did not have sexual relations with that woman? What about this line (a bit more dated), “I was provided with input that was radically different from the truth, and I furthered that input.” Oliver North, a US Marine officer who covered up the government’s illegal activities to support his superiors. A classmate of mine once wrote about a colleague, who worked with the military police for a summer. One police officer took him one day and unlocked the cabinet containing the file concerning a crime our classmate had committed, pointed out the location of the paper shredder, and left the room. Our classmate looked at the file, returned it to the drawer, and locked the cabinet. Now, in your hour of need, when you call on a friend or family member, or a minister, or firefighter, for help, which one would you rather have responding?

Anglican priest Robert Capon came to Winnipeg to do a clergy conference, and this was at a time when a priests in that diocese had been criminally charged for sexual offenses involving children. The bishop asked Fr Capon what he would do with these priests who had disgraced themselves through sexual misconduct – that is, who had abandoned the integrity of their office and calling. Fr Capon replied that once they had been convicted, he would handcuff them to a radiator up alongside the altar, with enough food and water to survive. Aside from letting them free for bathroom breaks, he would only release them to preach on Sundays. At this point there was considerable laughter from the clergy. When the laughter stilled, Fr Capon concluded in a stark silence when he explained his reason for having them preach – I would rather hear the gospel from a convicted sinner, than by someone who still thinks they’re a good person.

Now, that thought really brings to light the Christian idea of the integrity of Christ. Integrity, for a Christian, is not some object lesson that we present to the world by standing up and vocally proclaiming that we’re not sinners and won’t do that. No, our integrity is firmly rooted in the deep conviction that we are sinners, and it is only by the grace of God that we are able to claim worthiness to stand as his people. Integrity, for a Christian, means not acting out of your assurance that you are good, but your certainty that you are not good but for He who redeemed you. And it is this anchor that keeps the Christian on that path of integrity – because we have this absolute frame of reference that stands external to us…every time we turn to look at the Word, the Word also turns to look back at us, and to cast into sharp relief who we are and to remind us why it is we need Christ so badly. As we hear in another old hymn, we have an anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll – speaks not only to enduring times of trial, but also to remaining a man of integrity at all other times.

The ultimate image of Christian integrity from the New Testament comes to us in the person of Paul. Now, remember Paul’s job was the persecution of the Christians before his spectacular conversion. So feared was Paul that when he first came calling on the Christians, they refused to believe that he had converted. Paul’s words from his letter to the believers at Philippi, are a good point to conclude, because he wraps all this up – what it means to be a man of integrity in a hostile world.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.  17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

May we all follow Christ’s path to be men of integrity. Amen.


Written by sameo416

January 5, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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