For our first installment of Palm Beach Soul, Rabbi Michael Resnick of Temple Emanu-El of Palm Beach and Rev. Dr. Bob Dannals of The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea talk about the spiritual value of integrity and being true to one’s self.
Rabbi Michael Resnick
Temple Emanu-El of Palm Beach
A man was married to two women. One was young and the other was old.
Over time, the man’s younger wife pulled out all the gray hairs from his head, while the older one pulled out all the black ones.
In the end, he was quite bald.
The man in the Jewish story above is, of course, us. It offers a playful warning about the dangers of trying to please everyone at the expense of taking care of yourself.
Yet, finding the perfect balance between fulfilling the expectations of those around us while being true to our authentic selves is anything but simple. We don’t get to always run amok through life singing, “I’ve got to be me!” at the top of our lungs. Societal norms and the opinions of others provide appropriate brakes to our more extreme and selfish impulses.
But there is a vast distance between “crossing the line” and “playing it safe.”
I fear, we sometimes tend to play it safe a little too often.
There are a lot of people in our lives pulling at us to be this, that or the other. But who do we want to be? And do we give ourselves permission to move out from our comfortable — and sometimes complacent — people-pleasing center?
At the beginning of the giving of the 10 Commandments in the Torah, God says, “Anoki HaShem Elohecha — I am the Lord your God.” Rabbinic commentators note that God used the singular “your/you” rather than the plural version. (In Hebrew grammar, “you” can be singular or plural.)
God was not speaking to the millions of Israelites at Mt. Sinai as a group, but to each person present as a distinct individual. In other words, (insert your name here), you are unique, special and irreplaceable!
So, in closing I say, behave yourself and play well with others. But also, be true to yourself and try not to worry too much about what others are going to think of you.
Remember, God made each of us unique, endowed with special gifts that only we can bring to the world.
There is no one exactly like you. The time to show it is now.
Rev. Dr. Bob Dannals
The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea
If I had one gift to give our present society, it would be integrity. It would be the inspired gift that when you and I come to the last chapter of our lives, we can honestly declare with the Psalmist: “Redeem me, O God, for I have walked with integrity” (Psalm 26:1). It’s the gift which closes the gap between what we declare as our values and the way we really live, between “talk” and “walk.” But I cannot give this gift. Only God can give the resource of integrity. And it’s a gift that doesn’t appear overnight. One cannot just snap one’s fingers and receive a life of integrity. It’s a gift which is cultivated over a lifetime. Many people refer to this gift as character or good behavior.
When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was about to die in a German concentration camp for being a Nazi resister, he wondered on paper what kind of people society needed in the next generation. He wrote: “What society will need, what the next decades will need are not people of genius, not brilliant tacticians, not people of means, but humble, straight-forward, faithful, honest men and women who live with integrity.”
What are some of the features of cultivating this gift?
First, we are invited to accept the raw material of our life. Each of us has within us the stamp of God’s image, and we are summoned to realize, reveal and enact the good qualities within us day by day.
Second, we are invited to create an unabridged consciousness. We can find any number of reasons to reduce our consciousness, to truncate our life and others, to diminish another by slander, rage, prejudice and neglect. We find our way to an unabridged consciousness by courageously looking unwanted reality in the face. It’s the way of hope that can change reality for the better. And it is the way of respect — respecting the dignity of every human being.
And a third feature of cultivating this gift is to live into our purpose, to find our wheelhouse, to discover our essential destiny and put it to good use for God’s world. The gift of integrity is the resource God gives us to hold our lives together so that we are the same person inside and out. Integrity issues forth the other values so important for a life well-lived: faith, love, respect, honesty, humility, kindness, accountability and commitment.
May God grant our society a strong measure of integrity.