Searching for answers, breaking away

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I have just watched an interview with Leah Vincent on her book “Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood.” I have not read the book. But I watched the entire interview, even if it was over 15 minutes long. (A confession: I tend to skip from one article to the next unless something really catches my attention.)

So what grabbed my attention? Two things: the host, the guest, and the topic. (Okay, make it three.)

Watch the video here

As a researcher, I sometimes find myself asking respondents sensitive questions. I would often ask myself: “Would they trust me? Would they tell the truth?” How I ask, how I phrase the question, the tone of my voice, my gestures–they all matter. I wanted them to know I will not judge, I will try my best to protect their identity, I am doing this for a good reason, you can help us make things better by telling us exactly what you’ve been through. Throughout the interview, I was observing how the host would swim her way through the sensitive topics. I felt like she delivered the probing questions in a very careful way: she can probe without being offensive or insensitive. And somehow, maybe because of the way the questions were delivered and how the guest answered them, the topics covered gave viewers a better idea of the difficult journey the author went through. And I admired how honest and open the author had been. I feel like, “Yes, this woman has no pretensions. She’s not preaching about something she’s never been through. She really went through it all and had to figure things out. And she knows herself better than to allow critics to put her down. I admire her strength.”

This is not to say I’m recommending her life path, or that I’m going to follow the same route. But I come from a conservative background too. I’ve asked questions. What pushed me to move away from my religion was a struggle to make sense of the chaos I had to live through. The difficulty in breaking away is you find yourself with limitless choices. You realize there was nothing to replace the structures, the “certainties”, the beliefs you had before. Now you are left to figure them out yourself. And when all that is “certain” begins to unravel, you feel like you’ve been dropped in the middle of nowhere. There is no tradition, no structure, to hang on to. It’s you trying to make sense of something so huge. The decision, the choices, now lie in your shoulders. And it is a burden, that eventually turns into a gift.

And just like Leah wanted to fit in, I too, tried to fit in. But I no longer could. I have questions I needed to ask. And somehow, I found myself with people who had a less judgmental view of the world. Who were free to ask. And who have made mistakes, some of them considered “immoral”. How do I judge these loving people whom I would still choose to be my friends if I am to live a thousand lifetimes more?

But nothing brings more pain than to be seen as sinful, as in need of fixing, and to be judged by the people you love. Because by their standards, you’re not worthy, you’re not following “proper behavior.” You’re just not like them.

Maybe the most important lesson I’d hope readers and viewers would take away is this: you can’t show a Higher Being’s love by judging those who are not like you, or share your worldviews. There is so much goodness in other people outside your world, if only you would choose to see that there’s a piece of God in everyone.

I have not figured things out yet. But I can tell you that I continue to try to live by the many values I learned during my conservative childhood such as simplicity and using one’s blessings to help others. Whereas most of my beliefs have been shaken up, I continue to hold on to these values, and two more truths I have believed more strongly after I broke away: love yourself and your neighbor, and there is a Higher Power you could trust in.

I wish you peace, and faith that a Higher Being continuous to look after you, even when everyone, including yourself, thinks you’re beyond the reach of grace.

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