209: Readers Tell Us About Business, Slavery, Wall.E — and a “Messy” Rabbi

   Once again, we’ve received so
many creative and helpful notes from readers this week that we’re going
to share some of your best comments and ideas … Today, it’s your
page! And, please, we love to hear from readers!


An occasional ReadTheSpirit contributor and the founder of her own Nourish Cafe blog, Jewish writer Lynne Schreiber Emailed me this week about a new marketing venture she is housing at YourPeopleYourBusiness.com. This is a new-style marketing business intentionally built around powerful spiritual principles of community building. We’re not talking here about some kind of stealth religious-recruiting campaign. Rather, we’re talking about the foundational principles that connect people’s lives and give us a sense that we really are a part of a larger community. At their core, these principles are spiritual values. Lynne knows that and understands it can be powerful fuel for helping people to see their communities in new ways.
    Lynne is not only a gifted author, a freelancer for national magazines and a blogger. (Her most recent appearance at ReadTheSpirit was in April during Passover.) Now, she’s venturing creatively into a new kind of marketing company. After showing me her new corporate Web site, YourPeopleYourBusiness, she walked me through one of the new-style Web sites on which she is working with corporate clients. This one is for a grocery store chain, called Hiller’s. She did not directly design the site, but worked with Hiller’s in developing the theme, tone and direction of the site. She also did much of the writing for the site.

Even if you’re thousands of miles away from this Midwest chain, take a look around the site and ask yourself: Why would a small grocery store chain want to build a Web site like this? By going online in this way — they’re talking to 99.9 percent of the world that will never shop at a Hiller’s store. You all live too far away from their outlets!
    The answer? Borrowing a metaphor from marketing guru Seth Godin, Lynne says the site is deliberately a “Purple Cow.” The approach is so out-of-the-ordinary — like an exotically colored cow — that people are likely to stop and contemplate this new site. And, what’s more: Lynne convinced the Hiller’s staff to take several risks in this new site to signal to customers that this is a very friendly purple cow. What’s more, it can quickly become THEIR purple cow, if potential customers live anywhere within driving distance of a Hiller’s.
    Look around the site and see if you can spot some of the many ways that Lynne carefully wove community-building principles into the design. Here are a few pointers: Not only are there blogs within the site — but the site also has Email links to Mr. Hiller and the head chef, so customers actually can ask them questions or send them suggestions. That’s a radical step. The corporate standard on commercial Web sites is to hide direct-contact links. AND that’s not all: Hiller’s is putting its signature recipes onto the site — empowering people to fix-it-like-Hiller’s in your own homes. Of course, most of us — if we live close enough — would rather just stop by “our” store and pick up a ready-to-eat serving for dinner tonight, right?
    Bravo, Lynne for your innovative use of Godin-style marketing coupled with (broadly speaking) spiritual principles to enliven secular realms!


ell, we certainly can be — and regular reader Elaine Greenberg has turned this into an almost daily spiritual discipline. Elaine is a model of what anthropologists call “bricolage” — basically, the term describes the process an everyday person can follow to build a community’s culture with whatever materials life happens to send their way.
    Elaine read our recent Conversation With Chris Yambar — and even though her life as an older, suburban, Jewish musician has little in common with Chris’ life as a young, urban, Christian comic artist — Elaine immediately jumped on the fact that Chris’ latest line of comics, Life Maxx, is aimed at teen-age cancer patients. Elaine is a cancer survivor and uses every uplifting tool she can find to help lift the spirits of other cancer patients. So, she immediately got copies of Chris’ comics — and is spreading those comics into her personal network.
    She also Emailed this week after reading our Conversation With David Batstone about modern slavery: “When I started to read today’s article, and saw the very top of Dr. Batstone’s book, ‘Not For Sale,’ I honestly thought this was going to be about the
real estate problems that we are having. As I read through the
article, I thought: ‘How can this be? And, in 2008!’ I guess many of us are
going through life concerned with our own lives and just never imagined
that slavery still exists, and in large numbers!”
    Elaine wrote this Email because she wanted to pass along word to Dr. Batstone that she really likes his idea of developing a “badge” to certify companies as producing slave-free products. She’s a consumer, she said, who would look for such badges — and also would avoid products that have been identified as using forced labor.
    In other words: There’s real power in passing along the ideas we share here at ReadTheSpirit.


What’s so powerful about spiritual insight is this: Truth is fuel.
    Just as Elaine immediately “got” Chris’ mission — and made it her own — this week, we heard again from the Rev. Jeff Johnson, a Baptist minister in North Carolina. Jeff recently appeared here at ReadTheSpirit, talking about his own adaptation of our ideas for an IKEA pilgrimage.
    Jeff is a Southern, male, evangelical pastor — and seemingly has little in common with the Northern, female Jewish educator Gail Katz who reviewed Rabbi Irwin Kula’s book, “Yearnings,” yesterday. But Jeff instantly “got” it — and carried it off, a thousand miles away, into spiritual connections of his own.
    What triggered Jeff’s reflection was a concluding reference in Gail’s review. Jeff wrote:
    “The last line of Gail’s review intrigued me. She said, quoting Kula, that we need to ‘celebrate the anarchy, MYSTERY AND MULTIPLICITY of the spark-filled cosmos.’
    “This connects so well with Fr. Richard Rohr, a master retreat leader and author and the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuqurque, New Mexico. A few years ago, he contributed to the NPR series called ‘This I Believe,’ where all kinds of people share a brief confession of faith from all religious perspectives. Rohr entitled his confession ‘I Believe in Mystery and Multiplicity.’ “
(Click on the link and you can visit NPR to hear Rohr’s thoughts.)
    Thanks, Jeff, for contributing to this illustration of the power of “multiplicity”!


f course, among the new masters of spiritual community building are Facebook group leaders. If you’re on Facebook, check out the new Our Values group we formed in support of the new OurValues project, which we co-host with the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.
    But, today concerning Facebook groups, we want to say: Thank you, Shaun Edward Hildner! He’s a 2007 film-and-video graduate of Columbia College in Chicago — and formed a Facebook group dedicated to exploring themes in “Wall.E”
    I asked Shaun if he would explore specifically spiritual themes in “Wall.E” and Shaun dove right into his “Wall.E” group with his own reflections:
    From the first moment on screen, I doubt anyone thinks of
Wall.E as a robot. The character is unbelievably human. The term “Jesus Figure” always comes up whenever a character sacrifices him/herself for a cause (to save a plant in this case). I am not sure if Wall.E fits this description perfectly. Sure, he does sacrifice himself and he is “reborn” to the promise of Utopia in the end, but the path there is a bit sketchy. Wall.E is not so much a hero to any cause; he is more of
an awkward observer. Others make the Utopia possible. Wall.E’s
involvement seems accidental and for alternate reasons. Wall.E, while
obsessed with human artifacts has no desire to save them. His entire
journey is based on the Lust (deadly sin) of another robot. I have a
hard time relating this to other Christ-Figures in film.

    This is an intriguing response. Since we first published our thoughts on “Wall.E,” I’ve read many Emails and online reviews — and Shaun offers some real challenges here to claims I’ve read in other reviews.

Other Facebook writers also were intrigued by Shaun’s opening reflections. Raymond Lum of Vancouver, B.C., took up Shaun’s challenge on the question of lust, writing:
    WALL.E is not motivated by lust for another robot. The love he and EVE eventually share is unusually pure and innocent. It’s one of the
reasons I have such an affinity to this movie. It is 100 percent about
companionship and sacrifice. At no point does WALL.E do anything that
seems solely for the purpose of self-gratification.

    Also, I was especially drawn to Becky Garcia’s comments from San Diego, California. She wrote, at one point:
   As a hardcore atheist, I think it’s possible to be a good and moral
person without having any religious or spiritual beliefs at all. In
fact, I think it makes one a better person, but that’s another story.

    I would say to Becky: No, it’s not another story. You’re right in what you’re saying in this discussion. There is truth in the argument you’re posing here. However we define “spirituality” — it is an affirmation that life’s ultimate meaning is even larger than specific religious codes. “Wall.E” effortlessly conveys this point, doesn’t he? I’ve rarely seen a fictional character who has such a powerful ability to teach people of all generations. From children to adults, the little robot has won our hearts — despite some tough messages he’s teaching us about the purpose of life here on Earth, hmmm? Wall.E is a revelation in the potential simplicity in making spiritual connections. And think about this question: How many words does this little fellow need to preach his message?
    Haven’t seen the film? Make it your own little spiritual retreat this weekend.

THANK YOU to all the readers we’ve quoted today! And, thank you as well to all of our readers who send us such marvelous notes!

  If you didn’t see your comment or suggestion show up today — keep
reading, because we’ll have more news, reviews, quizzes and inspiring
interviews next week.

AND PLEASE, as these readers have done — Tell Us What You Think.
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