Discussion Questions and Further Reading: Shelter

We hope the stories in each issue of Oregon Humanities are the beginning of conversations and exploration for our readers. Here you'll find some prompts for discussing these articles with others, as well as links to books, articles, and organizations where you can learn more about the stories and ideas explored in the "Shelter" issue.

Discussion Questions

  • In “A Temple Between Us,” Shane Burley considers his marital conflict through a philosophical and spiritual lens. He writes: “Like many fights, maybe all fights, this argument was less about an ‘inciting incident’ than the emotional lineage my wife and I carry into every conflict.” Do you believe that relationships, marital or otherwise, have an “emotional lineage”? If so, how does that lineage show up in your everyday life? Do emotional lineages have any relationship to ancestral lineages?

  • In “For the People,” Jordan Hernandez explores some of the many services provided by Oregon’s public library systems. Beyond merely distributing books, libraries now offer physical shelter, child care, internet access, and in some cases even power tools. How does a library serve the needs of your community? Are there other roles it should fill?  Could other public-serving institutions make use of a borrowing economy? What systemic barriers prevent us from having more spaces that fulfill communal needs? What resources in particular would your community most benefit from checking out? 

  • Anna Maria Rodriguez and Nella Mae Parks’ story “Refugio (Refuge) recounts of Judith and Sra. Jovita’s experience of family separation at the US border. The essay describes family, community, and safety as things every person deserves. What things do you believe all people deserve? Is the right to have those things compatible with immigration policies that affords legal residency to only certain categories of people? If not, what would a policy that accounts for universal human needs look like?

  • In “At the End of the Tunnel,” Derek DeForest writes about experiences of voices and visions within the Buddhist community. He interviews the author Ruth Ozeki, who heard her father’s voice after he died. This prompted her to wonder which voices are pathological and which are creative—and whether there is a difference. Have you ever had experiences with voices or visions? If so, how do you distinguish between pathological and creative experiences? Do you believe there is a difference?

  • In “A Haven, A Refuge,” Jaton Rash describes a period in his early 20s when he and his family experienced homelessness. He notes “the fine line between living unsheltered and sheltered” and uses his earlier experience to reflect on current issues of homelessness in his local community of Portland. At one point, Jaton writes, “...sometimes I can’t help but turn away when I see campsites on the sidewalks… In those moments I feel that my level of compassion is weak, that my concern is theoretical.” What do you make of Jaton’s words? How have your own experiences of home and housing informed your beliefs about or responses to witnessing houselessness in your community? 

  • In “Central Heating,” Brian Benson reflects on a period of depression and loneliness that was remedied, in part, by a writing workshop. He writes: “An hour in, I already knew this class—these people—would be my beacon, my reason to crawl out of bed, my ship, myself.” Do you have a group, hobby, or community that you think of as your beacon? What is it about that activity or environment that motivates you to “crawl out of yourself” and open up to others?

Further Reading

“A Temple Between Us”
Jewish-Ukrainian Relations and the Birth of a Political Nation: Selected Writings 2013-2021 by Vladislav Davidzon
The Light of the Eyes: Homilies on the Torah by Rabbi Menahem Nahum; translation, introduction, and commentary by Arthur Green

“For the People”
“Returned: How Douglas County Lost and Regained Its Libraries” by Caitlyn May (Oregon Humanities, 2019)
“Beyond the Pandemic, Libraries Look Toward a New Era” by Ellen Rosen (New York Times, 2020)
From Book Stacks to Psychosis and Food Stamps, Librarians Confront a New Workplace” by Rachel Scheier (California Healthline, 2022)
“Are Libraries the Future of Media?” by Kate Harloe (Popula, 2023)

“Refugio / Refuge”
“Interview: Carlos on Migration, Risk, and His American Dream” by Rafael Romero, 2023 Community Storytelling Fellow
“To Live More Free: Southern Oregonians describe the challenges and fears of working while being undocumented” by Ezra Marcos Ayala and Luis Rodriguez. (Oregon Humanities, 2017)
“Family Ties: How changes to immigration legislation shape the lives of undocumented families” by Emilly Prado (Oregon Humanities, 2019)
“Making Peace with Chaos: Refugee students thrive in Portland despite uncertainty” by Zahir Janmohamed (Oregon Humanities, 2016)

“At the End of the Tunnel”
Lost in Thought: The psychological risks of meditation” by David Kortava, Harpers Magazine, 2021
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
The Heart Sutra as recited in the Triratna Buddhist Community

"A Haven, A Refuge"
The Trauma of Homelessness Doesn’t End Under a Roof” by Lori Teresa Yearwood (Economic Hardship Reporting Project, 2022)
Cascadian Gothic” by Sabra Boyd (Beyond the Margins, 2023)
We All Have to Be Committed and Help Each Other” by Olivia Wolf (Beyond the Margins, 2021)
Shouldering Homelessness” by Vanessa Houk (Oregon Humanities, 2017)
Young and Homeless in Rural America” by Samantha M. Shapiro (New York Times, 2022)

“Central Heating”
The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
The Writing Life” by Alexander Chee, The Morning News, 2009


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Also in this Issue

From the Director: Tents

Editor's Note: Shelter


A Temple Between Us



For the People

At the End of the Tunnel

A Haven, A Refuge

Central Heating


People, Places, Things

Discussion Questions and Further Reading: Shelter