Books I am reading

Spirituality

Posted on FaceBook 7-1-14 at 7:15am
From USA Today: The Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case doesn't currently affect the birth control methods that are most commonly used. But Planned Parenthood Federation of America spokeswoman Justine Sessions says the decision "opens the door for other corporations to be able to opt out of providing any form of birth control."
It doesn't affect:
• Most birth control pills


I'm going out on a limb here, and I know that many of my friends will disagree with me, but I need to share my thoughts and feelings on all the rhetoric since the Supreme Court Holly Hobby ruling.
Women have not lost the right to birth control. This ruling allows companies to deny 4 specific contraceptives (out of approx 20 possible) on the basis of religious beliefs. These 4 forms of contraception work by aborting fertilized eggs before they implant on the uterine wall. For those who believe that life begins at conception, these forms of contraception are forms of killing life. They do not oppose forms of contraception that prevent life from occurring.
I do understand the concerns people have that companies can now decide a woman's health options. But I argue that if I owned a company that I had built, and I opposed abortion on religious reasons, I would want the right to not support medical coverage that provided abortion options. I would also work very hard to support health care that provided birth control and reproductive education to all, so that folks would not feel that abortion was their only option. 
I don't know what the most "just" answer is to this very complicated issue, but I know that scare tactics (contraceptives are not available to women, or, corporations have the right to decide a woman's health options) do not help move toward any type of understanding on either side.It seems that moving toward universal coverage and taking these type of decisions (and power) out of the corporate realm, would be a better system. Just adding my 2 cents to the mix ...
Women have not lost the right to birth control. This ruling allows companies to deny 4 specific contraceptives (out of approx 20 possible) on the basis of religious beliefs. These 4 forms of contraception work by aborting fertilized eggs before they implant on the uterine wall. For those who believe that life begins at conception, these forms of contraception are forms of killing life. They do not oppose forms of contraception that prevent life from occurring.I do understand the concerns people have that companies can now decide a woman's health options. But I argue that if I owned a company that I had built, and I opposed abortion on religious reasons, I would want the right to not support medical coverage that provided abortion options. I would also work very hard to support health care that provided birth control and reproductive education to all, so that folks would not feel that abortion was their only option. I don't know what the most "just" answer is to this very complicated issue, but I know that scare tactics (contraceptives are not available to women, or, corporations have the right to decide a woman's health options) do not help move toward any type of understanding on either side.It seems that moving toward universal coverage and taking these type of decisions (and power) out of the corporate realm, would be a better system. Just adding my 2 cents to the mix ...


10/26/13
Finding My Identity In Christ


My Identity In Christ

On Sunday, Oct 13, 2013, I was listening to the NPR program Ted Radio Hour. The topic was Identities. There were excerpts from 4 Ted Talks. The link for this program is: http://www.npr.org/2013/10/06/229879937/identities.
There are several themes that caught my attention: At the end of my essay, I have highlighted the most pertinent sentences for me from each speaker in this program, and, I have included surrounding material to help give my highlights context. Here are my observations.
“I think, you know, once we lose our own sense of identity, we lose our own sense of integrity and who we are. So I think it's important to remember your own identity. And it doesn't necessarily have to be tied to a geographic location or what you do or your profession, but it's more about understanding who you are and what really drives you as a person.” Tan Le
Ephesians 1:11
Romans 12:1-2
“Even in purely nonreligious terms, homosexuality represents a misuse of the sexual faculty. It is a pathetic, little second-rate substitute for reality - a pitiable flight from life. And it deserves not to be deemed anything but a pernicious sickness.”  That's from Time magazine in 1966 when I was three years old. And last year, the president of the United States came out in favor of gay marriage.” … “And my question is how did we get from there to here? How did an illness become an identity?” Andrew Solomon

One of the social areas with which I began to wrestle was the place of homosexuals in the Kingdom of God. (I didn’t even know about transgender identities at that time.) I began to read and listen to people that believed that God loved AND accepted people who identified as gay and lesbian. Most of the Scriptural prohibitions were against promiscuity, and did not address committed relationships. And, because there were not social or legal ways to express commitment between gay or lesbian couples, they often led a more fluid lifestyle of relationships. But this was not what people who were Christian and gay or lesbian wanted.
In my reading and in my heart, I began to accept that prohibitions against living as gay or lesbian were falling into the same category as slavery, women not speaking in church and needing to cover their heads. There were many Scriptural prohibitions that we no longer recognized as valid. I believed that this was due to the on-going teaching through the Holy Spirit. God has over the history of humankind gradually changed, matured if you will, our understanding of His will. I believe He is drawing us ever closer to Kingdom values. And God worked through my life to introduce me to people who were gay or lesbian and believers in Christ Jesus as their Lord & Savior. The Holy Spirit worked in my heart to bring me to a place of accepting people of faith who were also homosexual. For me this transformation or change in understanding from “sin” to “identity” as Andrew Solomon asked, was due to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives throughout society.
I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered.

1 Corinthians 10:31-33

New International Version (NIV)
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
         I believe that all Christians must carefully weigh and pray about conditions of the world to which we submit. Are we putting restrictions on ourselves to please the world, but are not a part of the resurrection life, or are we limiting our behavior in order to keep others from stumbling in their faith. It is often hard to see the difference, but I believe the Spirit is faithful in helping us to discern the difference.
All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.

“I'm not very happy with the word identity, at least the way it's being used. We always talk about identity - we fight for identity, sometimes we kill for identity, but why is that? Why can't we talk about belongings - multiple belongings. …We all live in some kind of a social and cultural circle. We're born into a certain family, nation, class. But if we have no connection whatsoever with the worlds beyond the one we take for granted, then we too run the risk of drying up inside.”  Elif Shafak
“You know, I love that idea. That, you know, we can actually become encircled by our identity, like, that it can be so stifling that something inside of us can die.” Guy Raz
I think that groups can become so entrenched in their beliefs that they become incestuous, only willing to listen to each other and not anyone from “outside” their group. The Westboro Baptist Church (and others like them) come to mind. I wonder if the Amish are also in this entrenched place. They die by fact of no longer allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to them.
God called us to be in the world but not of it. I think that God uses anyone He chooses to speak truth through the words of the Holy Spirit. If we cut ourselves off from others who are not exactly like us, we will miss these important teaching from God. Once we no longer hear the Holy Spirit, we are not connected to our Source, and we shrivel up and die.
“It can reduce us and maybe we won't be aware of this because we think it's natural, because we think it's the way things should be. Just to give an example, I mean, my generation {70’s in Turkey}, we grew up with lots of fears - the fear of the other, the fear of our neighbors. We thought we were surrounded by enemies, you know, the Greeks, the Bulgarians, the Serbians, the Arabs, the Russians. And then, when you take a step back, how dangerous that fear is because it prevents you from really connecting to other people… And when you can't connect to other people, the more fear you have. It's a vicious circle. And identity is a big question for us Turks because we're always debating this, you know - who are we? Are we part of Europe? Are we part of Middle East? Are we Eastern? Are we Western? Are we a threshold country? Is there such a thing? Is it possible? So it's a huge dilemma.” Elif Shafak

        When we are stuck in sin, we look for ways to justify our way of life. We dry up and die because we are unable or unwilling to see beyond our sin. But when we receive Christ’s forgiveness, we become creators with God, and the whole universe opens to us. We see the world as God sees it, beautiful, full of potential, and good.
1 John 4:18
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. 
“I think it's very beautiful that we feel connected, you know, to the places we grew up in so, you know, that cultural belonging is something that I have a positive feeling towards. Cultural belongings are more fluid, they're made of water, you know, and they can flow in different directions. But when we start saying, are you one of us? Are you one of them? Then the nature of the talk changes.” Elif Shafak
I have always celebrated diversity. I love learning about different countries and cultures, what makes them distinct, how they express their creativity in music, clothes, food, etc. But I believe we are all one in God. We are all God’s children. I can learn from others and expand my experience of God’s creation. I don’t have to be afraid of someone just because they are different from me. The fear of difference underlies most (all?) of the problems in the world. If I am afraid of you, I want to defeat you, annihilate you, and demonstrate my power over you. But if we truly walk in God, there is no room for fear. We don’t have to do away with those who are different from us. We can learn from each other and celebrate our individual creativity.
In my mid-20s, I moved to Istanbul - the city I adore. I lived in a very vibrant, diverse neighborhood where I wrote several of my novels. I was in Istanbul when the earthquake hit in 1999. When I ran out of the building at three in the morning, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. There was the local grocer there, a grumpy old man who didn't sell alcohol and didn't speak to marginals. He was sitting next to a transvestite with black - long black wig and mascara running down her cheeks. I watched the man open a pack of cigarettes with trembling hands and offer one to her. And that is the image of the night of earthquake in my mind today. A conservative grocery and a crying transvestite smoking together on the sidewalk. On the face of death and destruction, our mundane differences evaporated and we all became one, even if for a few hours. Elif Shafak
          We experienced this kind of “oneness” after 9/11. Our differences didn’t matter. We were all in the same boat of pain, disbelief and fear. But, over time we quickly lost this oneness and went back to our distrust of one another.
But I've always believed that stories do have a similar effect on us. I'm not saying that fiction has the magnitude of an earthquake, but when we are reading a good novel, we leave our small, cozy apartments behind, go out into the night alone and start getting to know people we had never met before and perhaps had even been biased against.” Elif Shafak
I love reading for this very reason; we are able to expand our understanding and interests through reading. We find cultures and beliefs we never knew existed.
         Maybe the best position for a writer - at least, again, for myself - is what I call as the threshold or the "inbetween-dom," the limbo. You know, you're an insider and, at the same time, you're an outsider. There's a very, very ambivalent, thin area there that I cherish. When you're too much inside something, you can't see it, you know, the proportions change. But when you're too much disconnected from something, you can't see it either. And I realize, maybe writing in English helps me situate myself. It gives me a certain distance, if you will, but not too much of a distance.
Perhaps that elusive mid-space is what writers and artists need most. In the end, stories move like whirling dervishes, drawing circles beyond circles. They connect all humanity, regardless of identity politics and that is the good news." Elif Shafak
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,

1 Peter 2:10-12
for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. 
          Celtic traditions speak of the “thin places”, where heaven and earth are close to one another. It is as if we can move through a veil and be in two places at once. For a Christian, I believe this is the place where we are not of the world but are in the world. Because we are in God, we can let go of fear and experience the “other” without having to destroy them, or lose ourselves. We can love them for who they are, just as God has embraced us while we were yet sinners, not what He wants us to become, but right in the place where we meet.
For Pico [Iyer], trying to figure out some of the biggest questions about identity starts with just one question - where do you come from?” Guy Raz
It's such a simple question, but these days, of course, simple questions bring ever more complicated answers. People are always asking me where I come from. And they're expecting me to say India. And they're absolutely right in so far as 100 percent of my blood and ancestry does come from India. Except, I've never lived one day of my life there. I can't speak even one word of its more than 22,000 dialects. So I don't think I've really earned the right to call myself an Indian. And if where do you come from means where were you born and raised and educated, then I'm entirely of that funny little country known as England. Except, I left England as soon as I completed my undergraduate education. And all the time I was growing up, I was the only kid in all my classes who didn't begin to look like the classic English heroes represented in our textbooks.
And if where do you come from means where do you pay your taxes, where do you see your doctor and your dentist, then I'm very much of the United States and I have been for 48 years now since I was a really small child. Except, for many of those years, I've had to carry around this funny little pink card with green lines running through my face, identifying me as a permanent alien. I do actually feel more alien the longer I live there.
And if where do you come from means which place goes deepest inside you, and where do you try to spend most of your time, then I'm Japanese, because I've been living as much as I can for the last 25 years in Japan. Except, all of those years I've been there on a tourist visa, and I'm fairly sure not many Japanese would want to consider me one of them. And I say all this just to stress how very old-fashioned and straightforward my background is.
I felt luckier [not having a specific identity]. I felt that I had a lot of choices. And I think, being a part of many places, but not entirely of any one of them, is a terrific emancipation. And it means that even if I'm in North Korea or Paraguay tomorrow, I'm no more foreign than when I'm in India or California or England. And I think when I was a little kid, I thought, well, it's an advantage that I have more choices at my disposal than many people do, and that they can't fit me into any category. But what I didn't expect or realize then when I was a little kid growing up in the '60s, was that very quickly, within maybe 30 years, somebody like myself would become almost the norm.” Pico Iyer
Believers of all races are in the family of God, brothers and sisters together.

“Don’t all of us have one Father? Didn’t one God create us?” (Malachi 2:10)

“…for you are all [children] of God through faith in Christ Jesus… There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26)
          Even though I have always lived in the United States, I have found my identity in God. I can love and enjoy everyone I meet, no matter their background, because God has given me a home, and has taught me that He loves all the people of the earth.
That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.
          And I am part of this home. I can find my rest and peace in Him. I have a place where I belong that is beyond all the things we use here on earth to divide us one from another.

           I don’t know if my wanderings will mean anything to anyone else, but I was deeply touched by this Ted Radio Show. I realize that over the years from my early adult years to now, I have grown and changed a lot. I feel as an alien in most “places” and with many groups, but I find my home, identity and purpose in God.

          I hope that this will stir your hearts and minds to contemplate your own identity.

What Does Identity Mean For An Immigrant?

With Tan Le

Ephesians 1:11

The Message (MSG)
11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
I think it's - it would be incorrect to say that I don't think about identity because what I do and what I work on and who I am and my family - I mean, all of it is really centered around a sense of identity. I think, you know, once we lose our own sense of identity, we lose our own sense of integrity and who we are. So I think it's important to remember your own identity. And it doesn't necessarily have to be tied to a geographic location or what you do or your profession, but it's more about understanding who you are and what really drives you as a person.” Tan Le


Can Your Child's Identity Shape Yours?
With Andrew Solomon

“I think I like being a father the best of all.,,, But being a husband comes pretty close. And then, you know, I have some real sense of investment in being American, being almost 50, being gay. They're all identities.”  Andrew Solomon



“Even in purely nonreligious terms, homosexuality represents a misuse of the sexual faculty. It is a pathetic, little second-rate substitute for reality - a pitiable flight from life. And it deserves not to be deemed anything but a pernicious sickness.”  That's from Time magazine in 1966 when I was three years old. And last year, the president of the United States came out in favor of gay marriage.” Andrew Solomon

Philippians 3:20-21

The Message (MSG)
20-21 But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.
We are all in need of transformation. We are all “out of plumb” by God’s standards.

“And my question is how did we get from there to here? How did an illness become an identity?” Andrew Solomon


“Later in life, Andrew actually became a father himself. And he started to wonder more and more about the question - what happens when some people see your identity as an illness? And so he decided to write a book about it and he talked to over 300 parents, all with kids who were different, kids who were autistic, or deaf, or disabled in some way.” Guy RAZ: program moderator.

Romans 12:1-2

The Message (MSG)

Place Your Life Before God

12 1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
I’m not sure how this fits together, exactly, but there is something in our changing in Christ that fits with society changing over time.
I hatched the idea that there are really two kinds of identity. There are vertical identities, which are passed down generationally from parent to child. Those are things like ethnicity, frequently nationality, language, often religion. Those are things you have in common with your parents and with your children. And while some of them can be difficult, there's no attempt to cure them. There are these other identities which you have to learn from a peer group, and I call them horizontal identities because the peer group is the horizontal experience.

People have wanted to change me because of my belief in Christ. They felt I had “gone too far” and needed to “be cured”
And those identities, those horizontal identities people have almost always tried to cure. And I wanted to look at what the process is through which people who have those identities come to a good relationship with them.” Andrew Solomon 

But I have thrived due to my identity in Christ. This is the only thing that has given me meaning, purpose and community.
A lot of the parents [of special needs children] I interviewed had started off thinking, my child has this weird, alien condition and I'm horrified. And then they felt that they saw their child growing up and they knew they had to help that child construct a positive image of himself. And with that awareness, they were able to get involved in the constructing of that positive image and to say to their child, I value you for who you are and you should value yourself for who you are too, because who you are is really pretty terrific.” Andrew Solomon

This identity in Christ has been the only thing that has given me meaning, purpose and community.
“Most of us don't think about conditions - about deafness or Down syndrome - as being an identity, and they are. I mean, these are thriving cultures.” Guy Raz








I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered.
“They are thriving cultures, and it was quite exhilarating discovering those cultures. And what I felt in the end was as long as you experience your condition as an illness, it's a prison. And once you experience it as an identity, it's the source of your freedom. And, I think that in so far as we can treat illnesses as identities, we liberate people into experiences of great joy that would otherwise be closed to them. And I think, therefore, that there's a real moral imperative to give people the right to claim whatever quality they have as an identity. I think it's the only kind way to build a society.” Andrew Solomon

Andrew Solomon author of his book called "Far from the Tree".




Can Stories Overcome Identity Politics?

By Elif Shafak

I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.

So what happens when identity becomes a kind of a mental prison?” Guy Raz


I'm not very happy with the word identity, at least the way it's being used. We always talk about identity - we fight for identity, sometimes we kill for identity, but why is that? Why can't we talk about belongings - multiple belongings.” Elif Shafak


“…We all live in some kind of a social and cultural circle. We're born into a certain family, nation, class. But if we have no connection whatsoever with the worlds beyond the one we take for granted, then we too run the risk of drying up inside.” Elif Shafak

All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through theMessiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.

“You know, I love that idea. That, you know, we can actually become encircled by our identity, like, that it can be so stifling that something inside of us can die.” Guy Raz

When we are stuck in sin, we look for ways to justify our way of life. We dry up and die because we are unable or unwilling to see beyond our sin.
But when we receive Christ’s forgiveness, we become creators with God, and the whole universe opens to us. We see the world as God sees it, beautiful, full of potential, and good.
Absolutely. It can reduce us and maybe we won't be aware of this because we think it's natural, because we think it's the way things should be. Just to give an example, I mean, my generation {70’s in Turkey}, we grew up with lots of fears - the fear of the other, the fear of our neighbors. We thought we were surrounded by enemies, you know, the Greeks, the Bulgarians, the Serbians, the Arabs, the Russians. And then, when you take a step back, how dangerous that fear is because it prevents you from really connecting to other people.

1 John 4:18
[ To Love, to Be Loved ] God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. 

And when you can't connect to other people, the more fear you have. It's a vicious circle. And identity is a big question for us Turks because we're always debating this, you know - who are we? Are we part of Europe? Are we part of Middle East? Are we Eastern? Are we Western? Are we a threshold country? Is there such a thing? Is it possible? So it's a huge dilemma.” Elif Shafak

We often talk about how stories change the world, but we should also see how the world of identity politics affects the way stories are being circulated, read and revealed. Many authors feel this pressure, but non-western authors feel it more heavily. If you're woman writer from the Muslim world, like me, then you are expected to write the stories of Muslim women and preferably the unhappy stories of unhappy Muslim women. You're expected to write informative, poignant and characteristic stories, and leave the experimental and avant-garde to your Western colleagues.” Elif Shafak


“[Political identity expectations] did surprise me at the time. I mean, but it doesn't only come from the, you know, Western world or Western literary market. I also hear lots of similar comments from Turkish people. For instance, with all the good intentions they say, you know, you should represent Turkish women. That not all Muslims women are like this or like that. So they want to attribute a function to me this time, which I find very dangerous. If a writer believes in such missions, such roles, then, you know, literature becomes something else. I can't represent anything other than myself because I believe our imagination is bigger than our identity.” Elif Shafak

This so clearly represents my feelings. I want to celebrate the vast differences in cultural identity that makes each area of the world, each religion, each nationality unique. But I don’t want people to use these beautiful expressions to say, “I am better than you; I will conquer you because you culture is wrong”.
“I think it's very beautiful that we feel connected, you know, to the places we grew up in so, you know, that cultural belonging is something that I have a positive feeling towards. Cultural belongings are more fluid, they're made of water, you know, and they can flow in different directions. But when we start saying, are you one of us? Are you one of them? Then the nature of the talk changes.” Elif Shafak











We experienced this kind of “oneness” after 9/11. Our differences didn’t matter. We were all in the same boat of pain, disbelief and fear. And over time we quickly lost this oneness and went back to our distrust of one another.

I love reading for this very reason; we are able to expand our understanding and interests through reading. We find cultures and beliefs we never knew existed.
In my mid-20s, I moved to Istanbul - the city I adore. I lived in a very vibrant, diverse neighborhood where I wrote several of my novels. I was in Istanbul when the earthquake hit in 1999. When I ran out of the building at three in the morning, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. There was the local grocer there, a grumpy old man who didn't sell alcohol and didn't speak to marginals. He was sitting next to a transvestite with black - long black wig and mascara running down her cheeks. I watched the man open a pack of cigarettes with trembling hands and offer one to her. And that is the image of the night of earthquake in my mind today.
A conservative grocery and a crying transvestite smoking together on the sidewalk. On the face of death and destruction, our mundane differences evaporated and we all became one, even if for a few hours. But I've always believed that stories do have a similar effect on us. I'm not saying that fiction has the magnitude of an earthquake, but when we are reading a good novel, we leave our small, cozy apartments behind, go out into the night alone and start getting to know people we had never met before and perhaps had even been biased against.” Elif Shafak

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,


1 Peter 2:10-12
for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. 

Maybe the best position for a writer - at least, again, for myself - is what I call as the threshold or the "inbetween-dom," the limbo. You know, you're an insider and, at the same time, you're an outsider. There's a very, very ambivalent, thin area there that I cherish. When you're too much inside something, you can't see it, you know, the proportions change. But when you're too much disconnected from something, you can't see it either. And I realize, maybe writing in English helps me situate myself. It gives me a certain distance, if you will, but not too much of a distance.
Perhaps that elusive mid-space is what writers and artists need most. In the end, stories move like whirling dervishes, drawing circles beyond circles. They connect all humanity, regardless of identity politics and that is the good news. And I would like to finish with an old Sufi poem. "Come, let us be friends for once. Let us make life easy on us. Let us be lovers and loved ones. The Earth shall be left to no one." Elif Shafak




What Do You Call Home?
By Pico Iyer


For Pico [Iyer], trying to figure out some of the biggest questions about identity starts with just one question - where do you come from?” Guy Raz

That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

It's such a simple question, but these days, of course, simple questions bring ever more complicated answers. People are always asking me where I come from. And they're expecting me to say India. And they're absolutely right in so far as 100 percent of my blood and ancestry does come from India. Except, I've never lived one day of my life there. I can't speak even one word of its more than 22,000 dialects. So I don't think I've really earned the right to call myself an Indian. And if where do you come from means where were you born and raised and educated, then I'm entirely of that funny little country known as England. Except, I left England as soon as I completed my undergraduate education. And all the time I was growing up, I was the only kid in all my classes who didn't begin to look like the classic English heroes represented in our textbooks.


And if where do you come from means where do you pay your taxes, where do you see your doctor and your dentist, then I'm very much of the United States and I have been for 48 years now since I was a really small child. Except, for many of those years, I've had to carry around this funny little pink card with green lines running through my face, identifying me as a permanent alien. I do actually feel more alien the longer I live there. And if where do you come from means which place goes deepest inside you, and where do you try to spend most of your time, then I'm Japanese, because I've been living as much as I can for the last 25 years in Japan. Except, all of those years I've been there on a tourist visa, and I'm fairly sure not many Japanese would want to consider me one of them. And I say all this just to stress how very old-fashioned and straightforward my background is.” Pico Iyer

Believers of all races are in the family of God, brothers and sisters together.

“Don’t all of us have one Father? Didn’t one God create us?” (Malachi 2:10)

“…for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus… There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26)
I felt luckier [not having a specific identity]. I felt that I had a lot of choices. And I think, being a part of many places, but not entirely of any one of them, is a terrific emancipation. And it means that even if I'm in North Korea or Paraguay tomorrow, I'm no more foreign than when I'm in India or California or England. And I think when I was a little kid, I thought, well, it's an advantage that I have more choices at my disposal than many people do, and that they can't fit me into any category. But what I didn't expect or realize then when I was a little kid growing up in the '60s, was that very quickly, within maybe 30 years, somebody like myself would become almost the norm.” Pico Iyer


When I go to Hong Kong or Sydney or Vancouver, most of the kids I meet are much more international and multicultural than I am. And they have one home associated with their parents, but another associated with their partners, a third connected maybe with the place where they happen to be, a fourth connected with the place they dream of being, and many more. And their whole life will be spent taking pieces of many different places and putting them together into a stained-glass whole. Home for them is really a work in progress.
That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

It's like a project on which they're constantly adding upgrades and improvements and corrections. And for more and more of us, home has really less to do with a piece of soil than you could say with a piece of soul. If someone suddenly asks me, where's your home? I think about my sweetheart or my closest friends or the songs that travel with me wherever I happen to be.

So those are much deeper homes. You know, I remember as a little boy, my parents would sometimes take me to a museum. And I would look at a 19th-century Japanese painting, and something in it would pierce me with a sense of familiarity. And I would look at the scene from a culture that I have nothing to do with and I would feel I recognize that much better than the street on which I was born or the house in which I keep all my things.” Pico Iyer


“Is your home where you find your identity or is your identity your home?” Guy Raz

1 John 4:17-18

The Message (MSG)
17-18 God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

“Wow, that's a beautiful question and I would say that my home is where I find my identity, where I create my identity, which is an ongoing phenomenon. So, for example, next week, I'm going to Iran and maybe that will have an important effect on my life and my thinking and my imagination. And that will become part of the collage that is my home.” Pico Iyer


“Do you ever wonder if the more identity becomes something that's not the way we've traditionally defined it, that there's almost a possibility that we could lose something?” Guy Raz


I sometimes will meet people who've grown up in the same house where their parents and their grandparents grew up in and have this wonderful sense of rootedness. And those of us who don't inherit those kinds of circumstances have to create our own equivalent versions.” Pico Iyer



1 Peter 2:11

The Message (MSG)
11-12 Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.
“And I'd always felt this way, but it really came home to me, as it were, some years ago when I was climbing up the stairs in my parents' house in California, and I looked through the living room windows and I saw that we were encircled by 70-foot flames, one of those wildfires that regularly tear through the hills of California and many other such places. And three hours later, that fire had reduced my home and every last thing in it, except for me, to ash. And when I woke up the next morning, I was sleeping on a friend's floor, the only thing I had in the world was a toothbrush I had just bought from an all-night supermarket. Of course, if anybody asked me then, where is your home? I literally couldn't point to any physical construction. Pico Iyer

“That must've been devastating.” Guy Raz

1 John 4:17-18

The Message (MSG)
17-18 God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

Paul and Timothy, both of us committed servants of Christ Jesus, write this letter to all the followers of Jesus in Philippi, pastors and ministers included. We greet you with the grace and peace that comes from God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

“It was difficult at first. And it took a little while to find my feet again. But at the same time, I think it underlined what I had always felt, which is just that my home had to be something inside me rather than any physical piece of property. And in those circumstances, it's really important to have some home inside you that's been there all along that will guide you into the next phase of your life.” [After the fire], It was difficult at first. And it took a little while to find my feet again. But at the same time, I think it underlined what I had always felt, which is just that my home had to be something inside me rather than any physical piece of property. And in those circumstances, it's really important to have some home inside you that's been there all along that will guide you into the next phase of your life.
And eight months after my house burned down, I ran into a friend who taught at a local high school. And he said, I've got the perfect place for you. Actually, it's a Catholic hermitage. So I got in my car and I drove three hours north along the coast and the roads grew emptier. And then I turned onto an even narrower path up to the top of a mountain. And when I got out of my car, the whole place was absolutely silent, but the silence wasn't an absence of noise. It was really a presence of a kind of energy. And at my feet was the great, still, blue plate of the Pacific Ocean. And I went down to the room in which I was to be sleeping and I sat down.
And I began to write and write and write. And by the time I got up, four hours had passed, night had fallen. It was really all the freedom I know when I'm traveling, but it also profoundly felt like coming home. And I began to think that something in me had really been crying out for stillness, but of course I couldn't hear it because I was running around so much. I was like some crazy guy who puts on a blindfold and then complains that he can't see a thing. It's only by stopping movement that you can see where to go. And it's only by stepping out of your life and the world that you can see what you most deeply care about and find a home. And home, in the end, is of course not just the place where you sleep. It's the place where you stand. Thank you.” Pico Iyer

The Message (MSG)
11 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.
I think that I struggled with “identity” a lot during my early adult years. In college I was trying to figure out who I was. I had accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior of my life when I was 16, but just what did that mean in living out my life? As I began to become more involved with a Christian fellowship on campus (The Ohio State University, ;-) ), I began to find values and purpose on which to hang who I was.
The Message (MSG)
12 1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.
I began to understand the differences of being “in” the world but not “of” the world. This gave me a sense of being an alien in a foreign land. As long as I was surrounded by like-minded Christians, it didn’t bother me to be an alien. But as I grew in faith and my own relationship with God, I also began to realize that there were ways in which I was also an alien within my own Christian community. For several years, this led to deep bouts of doubt and confusion.
“…for you are all [children] of God through faith in Christ Jesus… There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26)
If we are all supposed to be “one in Christ”, then why did I feel so different from many of my believer friends? I began to feel isolated and lonely.
Some of my friends were embracing the charismatic movement, but no matter how hard I asked God for the gift of tongues, I never received that gift. This caused some of those “friends” to question my validity as a child of God. They were counting “tongues” as “proof” that God was in you. While I had moved beyond my Methodist upbringing that said that those “miraculous” gifts were only for the age of the apostles, and I believed that God still gave all gifts as He saw fit, this was not a gift that I was to receive.
There were others that did not believe in becoming involved in the social and political issues of the day: the Vietnam War, proliferation of nuclear & chemical weapons, race relations and laws of equality. And yet I found all of these things addressed in Scripture. Some of my Christian friends said that in order to minster to all people, we could not take sides in these political issues. But I felt my integrity as a Christian was compromised if I didn’t take a stand.









6/26/13
Today's Lectionary reading:


Galatians 5:1, 13-24

The Message (MSG)

The Life of Freedom

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.

13-15 It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?
16-18 My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
19-21 It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.
This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.
22-23 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
23-24 Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

"Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry is own weight, this is a frightening prospect."   Eleanor Roosevelt
Here is my advice as we begin the century that will lead to 2081.  First, guard the freedom of ideas at all costs.  Be alert that dictators have always played on the natural human tendency to blame others and to oversimplify.  And don't regard yourself as a guardian of freedom unless you respect and preserve the rights of people you disagree with to free, public, unhampered expression.  ~Gerard K. O'Neill, 2081


Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.  ~Abraham Lincoln

There are two freedoms - the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought.  ~Charles Kingsley

No one is free when others are oppressed.  ~Author Unknown

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.  ~Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.  ~James Madison, speech, Virginia Convention, 1788

Order without liberty and liberty without order are equally destructive.  ~Theodore Roosevelt


We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.  ~Edward R. Murrow

And I could go on and on...

As I read today's lectionary reading, my mind spun in so many directions. My mind has been filled with the spring discussions on gun control, and yesterday with the undermining of voter rights' protections by the Supreme Court.

What does freedom mean in practical terms, and, what did our founding fathers intend when they declared us a free people? I believe that "freedom" without responsibilities turns into anarchy. If I can do whatever I want, I am not considering how my actions effect others. "Freedom" with responsibilities means taking into consideration the needs and wants of the community of which I choose to be a part.

For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? v14

Freedom is something held by the community. You act to uphold the good of the community, so that all people's needs are met. I know that this was the principle that I was taught that our founding fathers held as they outlined our Bill of Rights and Constitution. They did not want an anarchy; but they wanted the right to participate in the decision-making of the laws that would govern them and ultimately us.

If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? v15

I feel that over the last 20 years, our government has turned to trying to one-up each other instead of thinking about the good of the people. And as this contention has increased, our freedoms have decreased. The people have very little impact on the laws of our country. We elect our state officials to go to Washington, but then they turn their attention to the lobbyists and big power companies to make decisions about our laws. They make sure their personal wealth is established so that can retire in ease, and more and more Americans retire in poverty due to these laws.

I have not been a student of 20th C history. I do not not know the progression of changes that allowed non-connected issues to get "tagged" on to new laws. How was it possible to develop a law to govern agriculture that then included permission to fund a bridge in one state and a pet research project in another?How were lobbyists allowed to move from "interested parties" developed to educate law-makers on the intricacies of a particular law, to the corporate funded, power-strong entities that support political campaigns in order to secure votes for their issues?

And what happened that our Supreme Court could even vaguely justify stating that corporations had the same rights as individuals? Talk about staking the deck!

For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. v17

The issue seems to me to be "selfishness". How can we be selfish, looking out only for our own wants and needs and govern fairly? The two are incompatible. We either look out for ourselves, or we look out for the good of the people. You cannot possibly do both!

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. V 19-21

This description from Galatians is uncomfortably a description of our country today. Sex has taken over all aspects of our media, and yet loving, meaningful intercourse happens less and less (as described by researchers of modern behavior). Many (most?) people are angry and interact in nasty, dehumanizing ways, name-calling those they don't like or fear instead of entering into dialogue to better understand one another.

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. v 22-23

I know that because we are a flawed race (humans), we find it difficult to attain these standards, even when we agree these are worth working toward. Freedom with self-restraint and community mindedness brings peace and contentment. It means that everyone's basic needs are met, thereby decreasing the chances of war breaking out. When all people are viewed as equals, and we release ourselves from the wish to "one up" others, we can relax more. We don't have to be so afraid of being overcome by others. We have a better chance to celebrate what makes each people unique and notice the things we have in common.

I don't know how to work toward this as a country. I only know that to the degree I am able, this is how I want to live my life, and, work toward the hope that all people can be free.

Please send me comments and questions. Pages do not have automatic links, so go to the home page and look for the 6/26/13 entry. There are links to comments and social media. Thank you.

Last Friday's Lectionary reading was: 


Philippians 4:4-7

The Message (MSG)
Biblegateway
4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!
6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

With slight modifications, Upper Room meditation was very apropos to the events of Friday in Sandy Hook, CT.

"The epistle reading reminds us we have a say about what will fill our thoughts this holiday season. We can choose to lay aside worry and turn to prayer. Instead of allowing outside influences to consume us, we then will know the peace of God that 'surpasses all understanding.' 

This shift in thinking brings with it a peaceful affirmation of God's presence with me throughout [whatever life events are trying to weigh me down]."

Candace Lewis, 
church strategist with Path 1 New Church Starts, the General Board of Discipleship; Nashville, Tennessee
Upper Room Disciplines 2012 (p. 357, 361). Kindle Edition.

When terrible tragedy comes into our lives, it is very hard to keep our eyes on gratitude or joy. With 27 lives gone, how can we feel peace or joy? How will the family and friends of these people celebrate Christmas (God coming to us)? 

But the Scripture isn't saying we should be happy for everything that happens. It says that in everything we can find peace, joy. When I am devastated by life, I can still find God's presence comforting and loving. I can still be grateful that the present circumstance is not the final word. That God has overcome the evil of this world and raised me to His Kingdom. Even in my grief and loss, God is sustaining and loving me.