Shalom and Integrity

I want to be an integrated and whole person.

Hopfallen_lada_vid_Hörsne_Gotland_Sverige

By W. Carter (Own work). [CCo] via Wikimedia Commons

My life can feel fragmented: Tanzania, Kenya, the USA. Christian and secular environments. Extended family, family friends, peers. I could be a different person to everyone and probably get away with it. Online, everyone now has access to impression management simply by choosing who can see each facebook post. But I’ve found over and over that it’s a small world. I’ve seen hypocrisy hollow out foundations as effectively as termites. If I cut myself up into compartments I might not know who I am.

Like a building with structural integrity, an integrated person has a grounded sense of self to build a life on. If you have integrity, people trust you because you have consistently good character. To be the same person to all people, you need to integrate the various parts of your life. Shalom is Hebrew for wholeness and deep peace. I feel like becoming whole involves making peace from the pieces: the positive and the negative experiences, conflicting worldviews and different cultural environments.

But it’s impossible – and unwise – to be exactly the same to everyone. In some situations you should wear jeans, in others you should eat with your hands. The challenge is adapt to others’ expectations while retaining your essence. For instance, successful communication results in people understanding each other. So I adjust my vocabulary and accent to match the person I’m talking to. I avoid proper nouns that are unknown to my listener so that I don’t alienate them by exotic name dropping. But being a good chameleon can make it hard for people to see you. If people don’t read me in context, if I censor myself and translate my existence – will people understand who I am?

By Dan Pelleg (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dan Pelleg (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Another meaning of shalom offers a potential solution. It is used as a Hebrew greeting and farewell. Amidst transition between so many worlds, saying hello and goodbye is a way of recognizing and welcoming each other. Just like one greeting prompts another, hospitality fosters more shalom. I invite people into one of my homes, introduce them to loved ones, let my guests taste my food and hear my music. When I feel welcomed, I add a Christian perspective to a sociology assignment and then bring the finished product to a family reunion. And in this small world, sometimes an old acquaintance speaks my mother tongue with all the proper nouns. Or a best friend and I stretch a string across the ocean and listen as good and bad rattles in our tin cans. Affirming the many parts of my life makes me feel whole.

When I make connections, I feel alive. I am a third culture kid, born into the in-between of a globalized world. It can be hard to hold two things together, especially in a polarized society. As my pastor once said, bridges get walked on. Social network theorists say that middlemen who connect two otherwise unrelated groups can benefit from bridging structural holes. I hope that integrating myself and my worlds brings peace to myself and others.

I’ve talked about integrating good and bad to make something beautiful in recent posts. Next, I’ll write about temptation’s threat to integrity and perhaps ways that my prayer for shalom has been answered so far. I’d like to hear from you too.

What are your perspectives on shalom and/or integrity?


2 responses to “Shalom and Integrity

  • Jessica

    Thank you for what you’ve shared, you’ve given me some food for thought. I’m looking forward to hearing more. Happy blogging! Jessica

  • Steven D H Rasmussen

    Being on or close to bridges is great. Others can also benefit from what we bring across. But it also often means that we are on the margins of most groups which can be painful. Tensions between groups also means they often suspect us if they know we also identify with THEM. (That is why it is so fun when you can bring a friend across your bridges or they accept a gift you got with THEM.) There is pain and profit from all of that bridging and linking social capital. We need God who is “reconciling all things unto himself” through Jesus to reconcile the varied parts of us and make us “ambassadors of reconciliation.”

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