Quaker Spice III Integrity

In November of 2008 a Times article answered the question: Why Sasha and Malia will go to Sidwell Friends School? Among other reasons listed was that “in a Puritan culture that viewed children as evil miniatures corrupted by original sin, Quakers treated them with respect, as Children of the Light: no whips, no paddles, no coerced belief.” The article went on to say that long before the days of women’s suffrage and equal rights crusades, Quakers were unique in integrating women fully into the ministry, the schools were not only coeducational, but they focused on equipping girls with all the same spiritual and intellectual apparatuses that boys had. It’s no accident that Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott and any number of leading suffragists were raised in Quaker homes.”


 

 

Usually, usually at least for most of the last 30 years, and actually longer than that, when I begin the process of preparing a message for Meeting for worship I’ve started with a scripture reference. Actually, that’s not exactly correct. I think it would be more accurate to say that a scripture begin to have its’ way with me.

 

You sit with the suggested passages from the lectionary. You read them and read them again. You literally wait on something to present itself to you from the text. Some people describe their experience of a word, a phrase, a verse beginning to shine, to stand out from the context in which it comes. Others speak of how the scripture text begins to read them.

 

Preparing for this morning I found myself considering a word—integrity. It’s not that it isn’t found in scripture. It shows up in Proverbs mostly and a couple of times in the Psalms. We frequently think of a person of integrity being honest and trustworthy, but integrity is more than that.

 

A boiled down dictionary definition of integrity is the condition of having no part or element taken away or wanting; whole, complete and entirely undivided; not marred or violated; sound, unimpaired or uncorrupted – in the original state. The first definition for integrity (soundness or wholeness) is most often applied to a structure or a physical object, like the pylons of a bridge, wood beams holding up the roof of a wide span, or even a piece of pottery. So hypothetically, you could ask, what happens to some thing that loses its integrity?

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The world of philosophy and psychology both seem to have real problems nailing down just what integrity is. But I did find one helpful phrase on page after page of web sites – some with appropriate attribution to a forty plus page article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy which I too had read. It said: “integrity is primarily a matter of keeping the self intact and uncorrupted.” .

 

That is not a complete definition of Integrity. What is helpful about it was that it holds together in one phrase ‘integrity’ with the what must be integrity’s one major threat–‘corruption’.   Susan McGuiness defines corruption as the impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle: depravity. Maybe that’s why this Middle English the word comes to us from the Latin corruptus. When used as an adjective it literally means ‘utterly broken’.  

Is there a difference between being trustworthy and being incorruptible? The American Standard Version reads: Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ with a love incorruptible. In the Bible “integrity” can mean simply treating people fairly and honestly. We are told that integrity is giving your word and keeping it. The Psalmist says that integrity will protect you. Proverbs says that integrity is more valuable than riches. In several places in scripture we learn that integrity will be rewarded.

 

Zechariah tells us that the Lord hates lies and lack of integrity. Both Job and the writer of Proverbs warn us that it may be difficult to maintain our integrity. The Apostle Paul alerts us to the fact that our character can be corrupted by bad company. Now that’s the kind of link I’m looking for – integrity and its arch enemy corruption. And to add to our expected struggle we learn in Psalm 7 and 1st Chronicles 29 that we can expect the Lord to test and judge our integrity as well.

 

One of the major themes of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is that of inherited sin and corruption. Taking the his cue from a traditional understanding of Genesis, humans are fallen creatures, victims of the devil’s trickery. Allusions or direct references to Adam, the Garden of Eden, and original sin occur throughout the play. In the first act, Shakespeare discloses that King Hamlet died in an orchard (Garden of Eden) from the bite of a serpent (Claudius). Later, Hamlet alludes to the burdens imposed by original sin when he says, in his famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, that the “flesh is heir to” tribulation in the form of “heart-ache” and a “thousand natural shocks”. In the third scene of the same act, Claudius compares himself with the biblical Cain. In Genesis, Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve, kills his brother, Abel, the second son, after God accepts Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s. Like Cain, Claudius kills his brother, old King Hamlet. Claudius recognizes his Cain-like crime when he says: “O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;  It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,, A brother’s murder.”

In Act V, the second gravedigger tells the first gravedigger that Ophelia, who apparently committed suicide, would not receive a Christian burial if she were a commoner instead of a noble. In his reply, the first gravedigger refers directly to Adam: “Why, there thou sayest: and the more pity that great folk should have countenance in this world to drown or hang themselves more than their even Christian. Come, my spade. There is no ancient gentlemen but gardeners, ditchers, and grave-makers: they hold up Adam’s profession” . After the gravedigger tosses Yorick’s skull to Hamlet, the prince observes: “That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once: how the knave jowls it to the ground, as if it were Cain’s jaw-bone, that did the first murder!”.

 

All of these references to Genesis seem to suggest that Hamlet is a kind of Everyman who inherits “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”—that is, the effects of original sin. As I thought about it some more, it struck me how we make heroes out of those thought to have integrity. We lift them out of the class of ordinary folk. It makes us all feel better to know that integrity is reserved for a few special people. If we fail to demonstrate integrity, well, its alright, we are just ordinary people and it really isn’t expected of us. Is integrity the absence of corruption? Does this inherited corruption vaccinate us from the curse of being expected to live with integrity?

 

Quakerism, well at least in its more liberal personifications, has steered clear of the supporting Augustine’s and Calvin’s theory of human depravity, literally coming from the womb corrupted. We’ve seen it as a dualism with its roots in philosophies outside our Judeo-Christian tradition. Despite human weakness, frailty, brokenness, sinfulness tenaciously we’ve held to a much more positive view of humanity, a much more hopeful understanding that begins with our reading of the other creation story it Genesis, the one where God looks over all creation and declares it good. We then ask, who are we to call corrupt what God has declared to be good.

 

 

Arising from the teaching of Jesus as related in the writing of John and James: ‘Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no’, Quakers perceived that with a conscience illuminated by the Light, life became an integrated whole with honesty as its basis. Against that George Fox, for one, spent three years in a hostile English prison for refusing to take an oath and the simple reason was that in that same passage in Matthew 5 Jesus commanded his listeners to ‘swear not at all’.

  

William Whalen wrote that “The Quaker rejects the classical view of human nature as totally depraved as a result of original sin. Most Quakers would uphold the inherent goodness of human beings. They believe that perfection and freedom from sin are possible in this life.”

Susane Kromberg in her blog aimed at exposing Quaker hereses reported that “Robert Barclay, in his Apology, challenged the theology of original sin and formulated a Quaker theology that says we aren’t sinners until we have sinned. Still, he claims that humans have “the propensity to sin” – not a one of us will avoid sinning.” She goes on to say that: “Knowing that God only has flawed human beings to work with is liberating!”

 

In November of 2008 a Times article answered the question: Why Sasha and Malia will go to Sidwell Friends School? Among other reasons listed was that “in a Puritan culture that viewed children as evil miniatures corrupted by original sin, Quakers treated them with respect, as Children of the Light: no whips, no paddles, no coerced belief.” The article went on to say that long before the days of women’s suffrage and equal rights crusades, Quakers were unique in integrating women fully into the ministry, the schools were not only coeducational, but they focused on equipping girls with all the same spiritual and intellectual apparatuses that boys had. It’s no accident that Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott and any number of leading suffragists were raised in Quaker homes.”

 

How about that, our own theology, our own theory of sin and redemption does us in. We can’t avoid the call on our lives to be people of integrity – even when we fall short of it. Despite our brokenness, sin, slothfulness and – yes – corruption—we are still called to make of yes mean yes and our no mean no. We are still called to swear not at all which challenges us to be truth tellers, sometimes in declaring injustice in our community and sometimes, like George Fox to our own detriment. Remember that early statement? It said: “integrity is primarily a matter of keeping the self intact and uncorrupted.” The good news is that, as we find in 2nd Peter “…by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. In Romans 8 Paul reminds us: “That the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

 

In Philippians 4 we have that beautiful verse that encourages us. Paul writes: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

 

Avoiding being corrupted by the world requires effort on our part and the exercise of confidence in the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. Corruption isn’t our nature. God expects more of you than that. Celebrate that we are not alone in that. Christ’s spirit is already at work, perfecting you for the kingdom. Being human doesn’t disqualify you, it is our starting point.

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