Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Integrity - Repost

I'm going to bring over a series of old posts from another blog, which I've lost control over. This was originally written by me on November 16, 2004. -- Catherine

I thoughtlessly tapped on the door of the elevator with my key, as I waited to arrive at my floor. The elevators in this apartment building are slow, and they wait a long time to open the doors. I looked underneath where I was tapping, and realized that the elevator door was keyed up terribly. Streaks and marks everywhere--in places clear through the many layers of paint down to the metal. There was the odd obscenity or few tally marks. I looked over and realized that the metal walls nearby were scratched up as well, and the "Dover" brand mark had "Ben" written in front of it in permanent marker.

Who does that? I've known a lot of residents of this apartment building; this is a nice place. The people who live here are nice people--families with children, students. The managers are awesome, the grounds are incredibly well-kept.

As I reached my floor, I stepped out, and glanced back as the door closed behind me. It was completely bare--the solid paint unmarked by keys. The carpet was clean, the surrounding walls immaculate. Not so much as a dirty handprint.

Why? After all, the same people wait for the elevator as wait in the elevator. I wondered momentarily if the grounds people kept the outside of the elevator cleaner, but I doubted it--they clean the elevator daily; last year when they repainted the door, they painted both sides of it. Of course, the reason why there are marks on the inside but not the outside is obvious: On the outside of the elevator, any door could open on the long hallway on either side, at any moment. Inside the elevator, you have complete privacy. Once you enter and the door closes, you are guaranteed to be alone for a few moments.

I make an informal study of common-man grafiti--not the sort that people plan and put up on a wall with spray paint for a purpose, but the sort that is done spur-of-the-moment with a key, marker, pen, or whatever else is handy. It appears most where there is privacy--inside the elevator, inside bathroom stalls. To a lesser degree, in public places where no one is looking at you--on desks in classrooms, on park benches, on wooden railings at quiet bus stops. Privacy brings freedom of expression, and I am interested in what people express: obscenities, initials, delcarations of love. Occasionally nothing, just slash marks--people seem to love to mark up clean surfaces. And yet it's all someone else's property--somehow we know it's not ours to mark on, and we wouldn't do it if anyone was watching.

Freedom is acting without restraint. When we are allowed to do exactly what we want, when nothing binds us or limits our actions, we are free. It is in moments of freedom that we find out who we really are. In moments of privacy or anonymity, when social restraint is lifted, we are free. We then see who we are. Alone in the closed elevator, alone in the bathroom stall in the quiet bathroom, alone in the car--anonymous among the mass of drivers, in complete anonymity on the internet. And most ultimately, in our own minds. In the realms of private thought and fantasy, we achieve the ultimate privacy; what we desire, what we fantasize about, how we act in our fantasy worlds reveals how we act most freely.

We are ugly in our most private places. We write obscenities in the bathroom stall. We rage in the car. We scowl in the elevator, and kick the door. On the internet, in a new place where nobody knows us, we are free to rage against those we don't like in real life. In the realms of fantasy, we conquer our enemies and spit in their faces--filled with pride, anger, or lust. If these are free expressions of who we really are, then it is a good thing we are not truly free.

We are beasts inside, degenerate and hateful. The world and the church have different solutions to this. The solution of the world is to restrain us--to watch the beast and restrain him, to make him pretend that he is civilized. Society restrains the individual so he can't act out his fantasies; social pressures keep him on a leash. God, on the other hand, wants to change the man from the inside out--not to change how tightly he restrains himself, but to change who he is in the car, who he is in the elevator. God is not interested in restraining our corrupt nature; he is interested in transforming our nature--so that we are not evil people pretending to be good, but actually good. Then we can be free.

That's why integrity is so important. Integrity is being transparent--visible clear through from the shell to the core. It is being the same person in reality as you are in your fantasies. It is being the same person with your friends as you are in the elevator. It is being who you appear to be. If we are transformed by God, we can live with integrity because who we are is not something we need to hide. And if we want to be transformed by God, we must have integrity: we can't change as long as we mask how corrupt we are.

This is a lesson I've had to learn so many times. Even in marriage, I have a habit of hiding who I am and how I feel. Yet the same feelings that are obviously ugly and sinful when they are expressed are somehow tolerable when I repress them. The anger I feel at my husband, the selfishness I harbor--these things are allowed to flourish across my nature because I keep them hidden, and I am never forced to confront who I truly am. If I lived with integrity, how quickly would I repent!

Integrity is especially important in the church because the church helps us be the people God intended us to be. In the church, we have powerful ideas of how we should be, powerful standards, powerful ethics. The easiest route for anyone to take is to conform by pretending they're someone they aren't--by "being on their best behavior." But this is precisely what we must not do. When I was in choir, my mom would sometimes tell me, "If you're going to make a mistake, make it LOUD, so we can find it!" If we are forever hiding our flaws, we will hide them from even ourselves. The church cannot convict us, cannot help us change, if we do not let it see who we really are. As long as we are hiding--as long as we restrain ourselves for the sake of social peace--things seem okay. And so we will never ask God to change us.

Within the church, so many people respond to sermons, to moral teaching, with heavy weariness because they are following the world's model for behavior in the church. Here is yet another way I must restrain myself. To change by controlling your nature--by trying to restrain yourself even in your thoughts--is tiring and difficult. And yet this is our habit because everyone does it--somehow everyone is fake at church, and we simply assume that is what Christians do. Unconsciously, we think being saved means God gives us the strength to keep ourselves in check. In fact, God wants to change us. In that paradigm, a new moral command is no burden--it is an inspiration.

Living with integrity is having faith in your character. Bucking all social pressures and being who you are allows others to see you for what you are, and complain about you. It allows you to see who you really are--and this brings repentance and so allows God to change you. To be continually trying to conform to socially acceptable behavior is both wearying and sets the bar too low. But to be free reveals who we are--it allows us to honestly compare ourselves to God's standards. And it means that we change by submitting to God, and changing from the inside out; permanently, effortlessly, and radically.

Some bemoan the lack of integrity in the church, saying that we ought to be the same person on Saturday night as we are on Sunday morning. But in fact, that's exactly backwards. On Sunday morning, we are rediculously restrained by churchy social standards; on Saturday night, we are free. What's needed is not further restraint, but integrity. We need to be the same person on Sunday morning that we are on Saturday night.

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