Integrity Deficit Disorder – Charles Rush (9/29/13)

This morning I want to say something about integrity. Admittedly, this is not a popular subject for this generation. As a group, I think pretty much follow the advice from the famous movie producer Samuel Goldwyn. He once said that the most difficult part of acting was being authentically honest before the audience. And how true that is. He went on to add, "once you can fake that, you're in."
I've wondered for a few years if some smart graduate student at Stanford isn't going to write a dissertation on our generation titled ‘The Porno Era' drawing together a number of disparate threads, the indirect and subtle ways that mainstreaming porno has altered the cultural background against which we live our lives now.

I first started wondering about it when these jihadists started videotaping their gruesome beheadings, which somehow seemed like they should be illegal to distribute. But they are not.

Then the Taliban got in on that game and it has been a regular medium for over a decade now, the latest these live shots of atrocities in Syria that are supposed to stoke our compassion but somehow they just seem to me to be oddly voyeuristic and unhealthy for the soul, almost like we are in love with death.

I thought the same thing of the photos and videos from Abu Grahib prison. The soldiers had taken photos and videos of themselves, pretty much like they were going to post pictures of a party that got out of hand to Facebook. What is it about our era that feels like we can and should film our body of work- and then post it somewhere?

Also from the file of ‘what were they thinking?' we have the phenomenon of a pretty widespread practice of our bankers, like the traders at JP Morgan, that were selling Mortgage backed securities to people that were toxic. Even as they are doing it, they are shooting email to each other making jokes about the institutions stupid enough to buy these things like a bunch of fraternity boys at the bar after work. Unfortunately for them, they had to have their catty comments read back to them in the presence of the SEC, violating the cardinal rule of the internet era of “Do not hit send if your Mother can't read this too.” It is all recorded and can be completely re-created.

What is striking to me is the response of the generation. Almost to a person in my extended family when I ask my children or their cousins about these things, they respond, 'What is the big deal? everybody's doing it.' It is a response that brings to mind Voltaire who once said, "No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible." It is true that these are broad cultural trends which probably cannot be bucked but that does not mean they should not be addressed. I'm sure you've seen the plaque on the front of the Holocaust Museum in Washington that reads, "Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander." Don't just go along with the flow either.

It is true that many of us work in professions that discourage thinking about integrity beyond the most minimal discourse. And it is also true that we genuinely don't give it the due it deserves until we are of a certain age.

Spiritually, however, integrity is important. It is just hard to get it when you are young. The great psychoanalyst Erik Erikson described our psychosocial life cycle in 8 phases, the last phase- the ultimate phase- being "Integrity vs. Despair". It is the question of whether your personal life is starting to cohere in meaning and wisdom or whether you are actually fracturing in futility and your life is starting to seem inane. [1] This ultimate phase is implicitly draw us all along, we just become more aware of it the closer we get to last phase of our life.

The importance of integrity was captured well in the movie 'Saving Private Ryan'. In the movie, Ryan is saved in the battles that followed the D-Day invasion at a considerable cost. He is rescued but literally dozens of other soldiers around him perish in the mission. In the after shock of battle, one of the officers comes up to him, just before he is about to be shipped back home. The officer says to him, 'you got a chance for a life kid… don't waste it. Earn this' he says just before he dies.

Years go by, we know nothing of his Private Ryan's civilian life, except that one day as an aging man, he travels back to the beaches at Normandy with his family and he finds the graves of the soldiers he served with, the soldiers that gave their lives that he might live. He is overcome with emotion, so his children leave him to his thoughts, wondering what he went through because he never told them, so like that generation.

Finally, his wife comes near him to support him. He looks at her and he says, "Tell me I am a good man." She is confused. What he is trying to say is, "Tell me that I was worthy… Tell me that I didn't waste it… Tell me this was meaningful… because the cost…" That is our conscience talking to ourselves and it is the right question about your life.

One of my colleagues has suggested that culturally we are living through a period of integrity deficit disorder.[2] I like that phrase. Integrity deficit disorder comes from outside/in thinking. Outside/in thinking permeates our media, and it particularly dominates the ethos of the entertainment we serve abundantly to our children.

We have whole T.V. channels devoted to nothing else than an outside in approach to life- the E channel, Style. The magazine rack is simply filled with devotion to glamour, image, popularity, and the culture of perquisites. It is all about who has what, who's in and who's not; it is all about power plays, plot and intrigue. It is all about who is getting who, who is flaunting what. It's all about the bling bling and being cool.

We feed our children a steady diet of reality More whacked out housewives, more nutty people living together being mean to each other at the Jersey shore or Hollywood, the wonders of liposuction, Temptation Island, tours of the homes of the rich and famous- on and on an on- and we wonder why the young people we hire seem to be more focused on the perq's than the actual mission of the job itself. We wonder where this sense of growing entitlement comes from? We keep them consistently focused on what is outside for motivation and we wonder why they have so little interior motivation, so little interior moral compass.

Yet, we know that spiritually speaking, it is not the exterior things that make us happy or bring us abiding contentment. True fulfillment, as Jesus says, comes from having your inside world put right. There is an ancient proverb from Confucius that says, "To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life. In short, we must first set our hearts right."

The Dalai Lama once remarked that we cannot, we should not wait for the leaders of the world to bring us world peace. "It lies within each of us individually. Peace, for example, starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us." True contentment comes from living from the inside out.

Our children, so we are told, cheat with a regularity unknown to previous generations. Part of it is that they can. They lived in that short window of internet access just before internet responsibility. But when I talk to them, the way they justify it is that it is all simply a means to an end. The end is just to get into a good school so I can put myself on the A job track so I can live the A lifestyle. That is the way that kids think.

But there comes a time in your life, actually many times in your life, when you pause for a reflective moment. Sometimes, it is near the end of a chapter of your life, when you graduate, sometimes it is after a crisis that you have endured, sometimes it is after you have accomplished all your goals. And sometimes it is after you have violated a basic principle and embarrassed yourself or someone close to you. You say to yourself, "Why am I here? What am I supposed to accomplish? What am I supposed to be doing?" At these moments, you come face to face with none other than… yourself.

The spiritual question before all of us, is what are we to become? Not other people, not people in general… What are you supposed to become? What is your potential to realize? What are your gifts and powers? What is inside of you?

It is a very personal question. Rabbi Zusya got it right. He said that in the after life, God is not going to ask him why he wasn't Moses, why he wasn't Abraham or Gandhi, why he wasn't some bigger than life person. No, he said, God will ask me, 'why were you not Zusya?' Why didn't you become the unique person that God wants you to be. That is the toughest challenge of all is it not? Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that "What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." We are our own biggest project, for better and for worse. I love St. Augustine's reflection on his own moral and spiritual complexity at mid-life. He said, "I have become a problem unto myself."

The point of integrity from the Christian point of view is not that we become moral perfectionists, the point is that we are on the road toward improvement. It is not that we don't make mistakes but that we work towards reconciliation of those things in us that are a problem to ourselves. We are not a collection of righteous saints but a community of forgiven sinners (Dietrich Bonhoffer was right).

And a mighty struggle these personal issues really are for all of us. I love Teddy Roosevelt's fighting description of the challenge of the self that he gave in a lecture at, of all places, the Sorbonne in Paris. "It is not the critic who counts" he said, "not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of the deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst knows that if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." Most of our life-long character struggles feel pretty much like wrestling with the monster inside of us.

It is important that we are on the path, that we give some tangible evidence that we are not only wrestling with our demons but that we are corralling them, particularly as we get past mid-life.

One way you can see this is in marriage. There comes a point in the course of a marriage when integrity in your spouse becomes a substantial issue. You have to believe in your spouse. You have to trust them. You have to respect them.

When I was 22 and a pastor in a rural farming community in Kentucky I heard a woman say something I couldn't really understand for years to come. She was talking of her husband of 50 some odd years just after he died. She said, "I reckon he wasn't the purtiest boy I'd ever seen; I reckon he wasn't the smartest neither; but Earl McComb was a sturdy man." He was a sturdy man. That is not a bad image. The bible has a wonderful hope that we will grow to become like the Cedars of Lebanon, those great tall trees that provide shade for the next generation. Those great tall trees that you can see from a great distance and fix your coordinates on the moral landscape around you; Those great tall trees that have lived through flood and drought, something sturdy that you can grab onto. That is what we hope to become.

I would not have known how important that is in marriage, in families. But over the years, when I have listened to people reflecting on why their marriages failed, this motif has come up more regularly than I imagined. It wasn't the affair as such, though the breach of trust and the sense of sensual rejection was deep; It wasn't just the poor communication, though that needed to be fixed; it wasn't just our independent lives, though we need to change our whole approach… it wasn't any single thing that you can point to… which is what makes it so hard to articulate. And it won't be said in public either because it is too personal… but people make a judgment call going into the future and what they say to themselves and they usually don't even articulate it clearly is "I'm not going to be able to respect this person in the future… Sum total, going forward, we won't manage mutual respect… and that is a very sad day, a very personal day.

Respect and integrity grow in importance in marriage. I think of that wonderful poem by Roy Croft that says "I love you/not only for what your are/but for what I am when I am around you." What a wonderful expression of respect for your spouse. How much more meaningful that phrase becomes the deeper that you grow together.

It becomes an important key as our relationships mature and become more profound. It rarely finds articulation in our culture, bound as we are by the images of youth and sex. In the earliest phase of our life, sex and sensuality is all physical. It is all about image and physique. It is outside/in in approach.

But as we mature in our relationships, the physical gradually becomes overshadowed by the spiritual, and spiritual issues become the key to sustaining more profound intimacy and sharing. Respect and integrity take on greater meaning.

In our mature relationships, we can find ways to overcome physical image and physique issues. That is because the locus of gravitas is shifting toward the spiritual dimension. Genuine respect, genuine integrity become more important for intimacy. It is no longer about the physical alone. We evolve in the direction inside/out.

The pay off spiritually is that we have substantial relationships, we become substantial people. We have a sense of meaning in our lives, a sense of worth and purpose. The bible speaks of a simple but profound hope that one day we will live to see our children's children grow and develop. The hope is that we can become sturdy people that can positively shape the spiritual character of the rising generations. Our sense of meaning and purpose are intrinsically grounded and lived out in these relationships. Spiritually that is what is really real. Spiritually, this is where we find an internal contentment and peace that lasts.

So this week, when you find yourself in conversation with the cultured spiritual cynics that sneer that the world is nothing but power and fashion, popularity and perq's, let it all recede into the boring, droning cant that it really is… like the Blah, Blah, Blah in the Peanuts cartoon that comes on whenever adults speak… That is all this is too… a lot of immature, frustrated blah, blah, blah outside/in approach to life. That is only the most superficial dimension of human existence. There is a lot more to you still. And the most important part remains to be plummed. You are a project in the making, don't forget that. Keep your eye on the prize. Why are you here? What are you supposed to accomplish? Who are you supposed to become? Amen.

[1] For a quick overview see Erik Erikson, Identiy and the Life Cycle (Norton: 1980), p. 178 for the worksheet overview.

[2] see www. Acesonline.org/Leadership/illustrations/illustration_94.htm

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Once, when Jesus was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord if you choose, you can make me clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing as a testimony to them.” But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, An Altar in the World, tells a story about a time when she was guest preaching at an Episcopal church in the south. She arrives early to check out the sanctuary & get settled in. She immediately noticed that behind the altar there was a striking mural of the resurrected Jesus, stepping out of the tomb. After greeting a member of the altar guild, a manicured and proper southern lady, Barbara walks up behind the altar to get a closer look at the mural. She says that Jesus looked “as limber as a ballet dancer with his arms raised in blessing…except for the white cloth swaddling his waist, Jesus was naked. His skin was the color of a pink rose. His limbs were flooded with light.”
Barbara felt protective over Jesus with so much skin showing, he is all exposed in such a public place. She recognized the beauty in this painting that in Jesus' moment of transcendence, he remained human, he came back wearing skin. But then she also quickly noticed that something was missing, the wounds in his hands and feet were apparent – though not grotesque. His arms were thin but strong, but then staring at his underarms, she noticed - that Jesus had no body hair! “Beautiful, isn't it?” asked the woman who was polishing the silver. “It surely is that,” Barbara said, “ but did you ever notice that he has no body hair? He has the underarms of a six-year-old and his chest is a smooth as a peach.” And the woman shrank in awkwardness. “Uh, no, um, wow…” she said.

This may or may not have sent me on a Google hunt to find a picture of a hairy Jesus, but alas, in the collective Christian imagination, Jesus is really into hygiene. Seriously though in a majority of these portraits, Jesus skin is silky and “rosey” and white and “hair free.”

And this perfectly manicured Jesus is problematic especially when I imagine Jesus in our gospel reading today. First of all - let's get something straight up front, Jesus was not fair-skinned, which is another sermon for another day. Second of all Jesus most certainly did not have access to spa treatments, sunscreen, or a personal trainer. I mean seriously though it looks like he baths in milk and does mint julep masks every day! And yes, Jesus was crucified, but he looked damn good doing it! The reality is that Jesus was a poor drifter teacher who trudged around in dirt and grim and touched lepers. And who knows, Jesus may have even been uglier or fatter or shorter or grey-haired or balding than our perfect-bodied Jesus! Why would that be such a scandal?

It would be a scandal - because we are generally uncomfortable with our own bodies – we decided to manicure Jesus' body and make it perfect to make us feel a little more at ease about the imperfections and struggles in our own bodies.

So Jesus' messy body – with smelly feet and bad breath and hunger and pain and a couple grey hairs – one day in his travels encounters a man who's body is covered in leprosy. And the man's frail and weak body covered with open wounds throws himself on the dirt ground at Jesus' feet in desperation. And Jesus heals him and restores him to his community. And I need Jesus to have a messy, real body in this scene. Because imagining the rosy pink flesh that is unblemished and perfect touching the broken body of the leper with open wounds just doesn't do it for me. “Rosey-skinned”

And perfect bodied Jesus doesn't fit in this story for two reasons:

1) Jesus' body certainly stands in contrast to our leper friend. The leper's flesh is rotting and open to infection, while Jesus' skin is shiny and new. If Jesus' body in our cultural imagination is perfect, unblemished, without warts or bad breath or hangnails, then we can hold his body at a bit of a distance. And the reverse is also true, Jesus can hold our bodies at a bit of a distance – and he would hold the body of a man with leprosy at a distance.

2) Leprosy is contagious, physically and socially – by touching this man, Jesus risks, pain, brokenness, loss of feeling, loss of limb, being socially ostracized. So when Jesus' body touches this leper – he risks being contaminated with this curse – this social and physical death. He puts his body on the line. And to top it off Jesus risks his own religious authority – if he contracts leprosy, everyone will think that it is his fault- that he deserves this suffering because he has sinned.

And so rosey-skinned-unblemished-no-body-hair-Jesus just doesn't do it for me in this scene. He is too ethereal, too perfect to risk touching a leper. The rosey-skinned Jesus has a special body and he can stand apart from us – he doesn't really get what it's like to be human. The Jesus with body hair, he is on our team, he is vulnerable, he touches lepers. He has skin in the game. He is moved with pity to touch a man who is untouchable.

But here is where the rubber hits the road, (START SLIDESHOW) just like the portrait of Jesus' perfect body we idealize the perfect human body now more than ever, and our relationships with our bodies are so complicated and loaded that we often cope by ignoring our bodies until they scream at us for attention.

Think about the struggles that land in our bodies: Struggles in our sex lives, with body image, with our relationship to food, our ability to balance rest and work, our relationship with other people's bodies, bodies that don't fit quite so easily into nice categories. We have an insidious cultural habit of demeaning and objectifying bodies in order to sell perfume. And don't get me wrong the Christian church has been the worst, trying to control our sexuality, and creating negative images of our bodies to suppress and oppress certain people with shame.

All of these complications and struggles divorce us from our bodies. Like the leper our bodies are fraught with illness – we are the most addicted, overweight, prescribed adult cohort in human history. These sacred vessels created in God's image are at risk of being subsumed by the quest for the “perfect body.” This dichotomy between our own body and the perfect body - divorce us from our bodies – suppress the beauty that we already are for some ideal or we ignore our bodies because they are loaded with shame

So here's the deal – This leper story is a story about isolation. This man is divorced from his own body, and kicked out of his religious, social and familial support system to battle this disease alone. And to top it off he is isolated from God, in their cultural context, this disease is proof that he has sinned before God and is therefore paying penance for his sins in suffering. So this man is left utterly isolated.

Jesus' miracle here is that he restores this man to his own body. When you have leprosy you lose sensation – you lose your connection to your nerves, which can eventually cause loss of limb. And so when Jesus heals him – he now is restored to his own body. This man is also restored unto his community, and they can now begin tending to the wounds of his soul from the pain of social isolation.

Like the leper we need Jesus to restore us to our own bodies and to restore us to authentic communities that can help us heal.

Why are people cast out in our society because of their bodies? Maybe they are too fat, too thin, too old or too young. Maybe they happen to love the “wrong body.” People are isolated because they are differently-abled, or their bodies carry the weight of illness or chronic struggles. We carry shame around in our bodies, not just eating disorders and a distorted idea of what “healthy” bodies look like but the general feeling that we are unaware of our bodies and our connection to God through them.

When we affirm Jesus' imperfect skin, we also need to affirm our own sacred skin. How does our culture try to divorce us from our own bodies? How do we lose touch with the sacred goodness of each unique body that is created in God's image, with one uniform and oppressive definition of “healthy” and “beautiful?”

Here me now when I say, “you are a person of beauty and worth, created in God's image.” How does that mantra change us? How can we develop rituals to remind ourselves of the sacred connection of our bodies and souls and minds? What does cherishing and affirming your body look like for you? Is it a yoga practice or a sport? A good bath, a long walk? Is it a nap or a morning routine?

Jesus says, “This is my body – broken for you”

Jesus body was broken

Our bodies are broken

And yet we celebrate them today as a place of sacredness – that God calls “GOOD.”

A beautiful miraculous gift – these things that we walk around in

These bodies that heal and breathe and walk and sing and dance

These bodies are our spiritual homes

May we gather in communion today with this mantra

“I am a person of beauty and worth – created in God's image”

And may that mantra heal us and draw us into communion with God and each other.

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