For the past ten days I’ve been a participant in a “Nourish Your Soul Telesummit.” Each day I’d get an email, and a posting in its corresponding Facebook group, that a new interview was up and available for listening. Each day one interview would broadcast. The interviews were conducted over the phone by professional storyteller Devorah Spillman and broadcaster Joelle Norwood. They featured ten inspired and inspiring Jewish women. Each morning on my daily walk I’d click over and listen. Today was the last one and the interviewers became the interviewees.
I didn’t have time for Joelle’s yet (tomorrow’s walk!) but Devorah said something that jarred me so deeply, and it affects everything I do, especially here on the blog, that I’m so grateful for how she crystallized it for me.
Devorah is a professional storyteller, and storyseller. She helps others tell their stories in the corporate world in order to achieve greater heights in their respective fields. One thing she said today was that the old corporate brand involved people’s stories. The small mom-and-pop shop on the corner had its story; the milkman had a story. That story created bonds and relationships and was a strong emotional component in why people supported businesses.
Then corporate went big – think K-mart, WalMart, Best Buy, Amazon. The new brand involved whitewashing our stories. Leaving our stuff at home when we walk through that corporate door. Faceless stores that are all the same no matter which city you’re in (greeter notwithstanding). The story of WalMart is not one, when it’s told, that we find inspiring. We find it distasteful. We ignore the story so we can shop the low prices without feeling too much of a pinch. We order books on Amazon instead of buying them at the local bookstore whose owners send their kids to our kids’ schools because we’re Prime members – and we close our ears to the story so we can maintain our cognitive dissonance.
But Devorah maintains that the pendulum is once again swinging. Joelle piped in that at Lululemon the associates wear little bios on their tags (“Lisa has two dogs and a child and loves chocolate”) to humanize them – a snippet of their stories. Think of Sheryl Sandberg’s story in her recent bestseller Lean In. As the CEO of Facebook, many people appreciated her story, even while disagreeing with many concepts in her book, and even while hating Facebook as a big business sticking its nose into our habits and tracking everything about us! The story humanized her, and, shortly after, when her young husband died suddenly and tragically, people everywhere mourned for her. She had become a person with a story, not just a faceless CEO to hate.
Over the last few days I’ve been embroiled in several difficult online conversations about why Orthodox kids leave observance. One of the main points that resonated with me is that kids who are struggling with their faith or observance have a deep, visceral hatred for anything that smacks of hypocrisy or dishonesty. Teens in general are incredibly sensitive to this, especially smart, thoughtful ones, but teens in a religious upbringing bring this tendency to how they think and feel about religion.
I think we’ve been making a mistake about our stories.
This blog started four years ago as a response to the “tell-all exposes” about how awful religion is. I wanted people to know my story – that I grew up Orthodox, liked it, am treated well, am respectful of others, and am proud and empowered as a religious woman today – because I didn’t feel enough people like me were telling my story. I didn’t think my story was being told, or told well. I realized that it wasn’t as interesting a story as those who are dissatisfied – it never will be – but I wanted to tell it.
But when you look back at the early posts, they are one-dimensionally positive. And this is starting to bother me. Because that’s not the whole truth. I have nuanced thoughts about religion, and specifically about how it’s observed. Maybe it’s kind of like when your kids are little and ask the tough questions, and you give them short, abridged answers, because they’re too little to handle more. And when they get older, you’ll give them more, and when they’re teens you can have real and honest conversations about the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Maybe this blog is growing up, then.
One of the reasons I’ve sort of fizzled out in my desire to publish my posts into an e-book is because I’m uncomfortable with some of my earlier posts. I’ve deleted some that really gave me angst, but the content, tone, and writing are not so reflective of who I am anymore. I struggle, in general, with what to share, with whom, and how much. Sometimes I edit too much and sometimes too little.
But I don’t want to present, in Devorah’s words, a whitewashed me. I want to present my real story. That sometimes observance is hard. Sometimes I feel marginalized as a woman. Sometimes people I love and respect act racist. There is good Hasidism and bad Hasidism; yeshivish people who are impassioned, inspired, and selfless, and yeshivish people who are, in the words of a friend, vacuous narcissists; Modern Orthodox people who are on fire about Judaism and Israel, and those who are just lazy. That I believe passionately in a God who loves us but admit that we don’t always do a good job conveying that to our kids. That I pray often but not enough and don’t always know where my prayers are going. That sometimes I do things out of habit and sometimes to impress others and sometimes out of guilt.
That I will continue to live and share, and tell my story.
That it is imperfect and messy and sticky.
That I believe, with a perfect faith, that God loves me in all my imperfection.
Thanks for listening.