Monday, August 10, 2015

Seeking Home: Where Do We Come From?

This is the second blog post for the Companions on the Inner Way summer retreat.

You can find the first here: Blogging for Companions on the Inner Way: It’s Not About Me.

And here is the third: Who Have We Become?

The fourth is here: UnBelonging

Here is the fifth: Exile and Belonging

Here is the sixth: Beloved

Questions for the reader are in a different font, and resources are listed at the bottom.



The conversation last night and this morning introduced us to the topic for the week. The speaker, Enuma Okoro has been considering the topic of home and belonging, and is sharing that with the participants at this week’s Companions retreat. What is home, and where do we belong? She asked us to consider how we incarnate home and belonging in our own diverse lives.

We began with stories. Stories, as Enuma says, shape us. They are sacred, and form the unique spaces we come from. Today was a chance to honor where we come from.

This question of where we come from is a bit touchy for me. That’s in part because as an Asian American, one of the most frequent (and annoying) questions my fellow Asian Americans and I get is “where are you from?” Typically, “Seattle” or “Houston” is not the answer people are looking for. These people are not digging for where we’re from, they are trying to figure out our ethnicity. Why this is a game for people who aren’t Asian American (especially for white people), I’m not sure. Well, obviously, racism, the perpetual foreigner, blah blah.

It’s touchy for me on another level because I come from a family that moves. My mother told me she counted 19 times through the course of my parents’ marriage. My partner and I have moved seven or eight times. Many of these moves are within the same area, but many are interstate. When I visit my parents, I'm not going back to the same house where I grew up. I have been formed by each place I have lived. What is home?

Enuma invited us to think about another way of defining where we are from. We started by writing a poem.

I’m all about words, but not so much the poetry. I can engage in literary criticism of a poem, or use a poem as a reflection in worship, but I do not write it. So thanks, Enuma, for giving me a format I could use!

First draft of where I’m from. (Don’t overthink it, people. I sure didn’t.)

I am from coffee, from Trader Joe’s and Keen’s
I am from open
I am from evergreen needles
I am from New Year’s day parties and a love of reading from Satoru and Diana and Howard
I am from try-everything-once and listen-to-everyone’s-problems
From “find one good thing about the person you dislike the most” and “choose your battles”
I am from grounded, not closed
I am from San Francisco, challah, satsumage, and bacalao
From the rain-drenched asphalt and critical race theory
I am from both/and.

Where are you from? What defines you? 

The Scripture to ground the conversation was Deuteronomy 26:1-8. It gives a narrative, as interpreted in the rabbinic tradition, instilled in Jewish people. Here is the gist of what Enuma shared: If the wandering Aramean is Laban, without Laban having cheated Jacob, Joseph would not have had those older brothers, so he would not have been sold into slavery, and the Hebrew people would not have been enslaved in Egypt. Instilling a narrative into each generation affects our sense of self.

Science has shown that those who have a sense of their family stories have a stronger sense of belonging. According to one study, “the more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”

In this vein of knowing where we come from, and exploring our narratives, we were all instructed to draw a family tree that went back to our great-grandparents. We were asked to consider what the family tree reveals to us, how much of our family story we don’t know, and which people in the family tree stand out.

Draw your family tree. What does it tell you about yourself? About your family?

I do not have a picture for you, because I didn’t have something to write with besides my computer (and a family tree in a document format is terribly unwieldy). My family system is also made particularly challenging by the adoptions (especially the open one), divorces, remarriages, multiple sets of siblings with different wives (it’s always new wives in my family), the family members that have cut each other off, and the fact that there is an entire branch of the family that isn’t technically related by blood or by marriage, but by circumstance/proximity/shared history. I couldn’t draw it if I tried. Besides, even if I tried, I’m pretty sure there are some family members or ex-spouses I’m not supposed to mention. (This right here is when I get very grateful that my parents and I and my partner have been through extensive therapy.)

We were then asked to consider what are the two or three instilling narratives we were raised with.

The predominant narratives I was raised with, which I assume were largely unintentional, are the following:

Japanese American internment. Two entire generations of my family were removed from their homes and schools and businesses and farms and placed for several years into concentration camp. That is why I still hoard boxes (I might have to leave at any time) and I’m pretty sure that’s how I ended up with a multiracial family (80% of the generation born after internment married out). My adult interpretation of the impact of this narrative is the following: your government can turn on you for who you are, so be ready to pick up and go. Don’t expect anyone else to speak up on your behalf. But because you have experienced this, it’s your duty to speak up for others who are victims of the government.
“He’s white, but at least he’s Jewish.” We are discussing my dad. The narrative of the white Jewish side of the family wasn’t lost on me growing up, and my adult interpretation is this: the Jewish side of the family came to this country fleeing persecution, and ended up dealing with anti-Semitism in the U.S. for generations, so it is our duty to pay attention to those who are marginalized.
Religion. My Christian upbringing shaped virtually everything about me. But because we have Buddhist/atheist/Unitarian (y’all get your own category)/Jewish/Pentecostal/ mainline Protestant/Catholic/no affiliation relatives (oh, add Muslim now), just because I adhere to one religion doesn’t mean it’s the only way of being with a significant contribution to make to society. And I’m not allowed to make my religion the dominant one in the room. That’s rude.

What family narratives have shaped you?

These musings have been interspersed with other types of spiritual disciplines.

As for spiritual disciplines, here’s where we stand. I’m going to try everything at least twice. This morning, I was a little late to the prayer by the lake. There was scripture, song, and movement. We did a breath prayer together. The facilitator read from Margaret Wheatley’s Turning to One Another, a book I have used for my own facilitation. One of the questions asked “what is important to the people I care about?” And because my Twitter and Facebook timelines had been blowing up about Ferguson in the past twelve hours, that’s all I could think about.

I haven’t walked the labyrinth yet this week (I’ve walked labyrinths plenty of other times, so I’m not in a rush). But this is where it is placed. Not a bad location.



Later this morning, we made a collage reflecting on the themes of the morning. (Yes, that’s a picture of the Rev. Dr. Christine Hong. I found it among our photo options and couldn’t help myself.) Clearly, I find home in food and nature and large cities and dialogue in difference. Because I tried not to overthink it, I completed the collage in record time. My number one challenge to this spirituality thing: the inability to slow down.



After the collage, I returned to do my own art project. I didn’t overthink it, so that may be why I ended up with glitter paint around the tissue paper. What does it mean? Who knows.



I’m now questioning how I am treating this whole week. Am I treating it like work, or am I treating it like a genuine exploration of the spiritual life?

I think I’m treating it like work. This isn’t altogether bad; I’m here for work. I have things to do. That’s why I’m attending everything and trying new things at least twice. Make a to-do list, check off the items as they are completed.

However, I find myself faced with a challenge. Suppose the spiritual life is not about completing a check list? Suppose it is an openness with no list whatsoever? What if completing the check list allows for God to sneak in, anyway?

How do you explore the spiritual life? Is it a check-list or an openness?


Downloadable Adult Study Resources for Exploring Spirituality

Spirituality 101

Benedictine Spirituality

Children’s Spirituality

Adolescent Spirituality

Reformed Spirituality 


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