A Christian Science perspective: A longtime Christian resident of Turkey reflects on the growing trend of Christians fleeing the Middle East.
"Merry Christmas!" is the heartfelt greeting included in my e-mails to friends during this time of year. My messages are delivered quickly worldwide, thanks to the Internet, but I hardly ever hear such a greeting voiced among friends on the streets of Ankara, Turkey, where I live. The population of Turkey is 99 percent Muslim.
It's uncommon here to receive or give a salutation having "Christ" in it. But I've been greeted many times with what I identify as the Christ-spirit – loving regard for one another as brothers and sisters, regardless of culture or creed.
As a Christian who has lived in the Middle East for almost half a century, it concerns me that the Christian population in the region is dwindling because of sectarian violence (see this week's cover story). Does this trend of Christians fleeing the Middle East mean I should start thinking about leaving my adopted homeland? Am I naive if I'm not afraid for my life and continue to live here?
Even though circumstances for each individual are different, my choice for now is to stay put and continue to love. My trust in the power of love to win comes from what I've learned from studying the Bible, especially the Gospels, which tell of the life and works of Jesus Christ.
Whatever words he may have used, Jesus must have greeted everyone with the deepest Christ-spirit. This spiritual altitude of thought enabled him to heal every kind of disease imaginable. It empowered him to forgive those who hated him and his doctrine of universal love. The Christ-spirit even gave him power to raise people from the dead, himself included.
All these deeds were made possible because he practiced what he preached: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.... You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:36-39, English Standard Version). If your neighbor is not a Christian, should you love him as yourself? You bet! "Love is impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals," wrote Mary Baker Eddy who founded The Christian Science Monitor ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" (p. 13).
God is not of a particular religion, and neither is His spiritual creation. God loves all that He has made. God knows only harmonious relationships. As we become conscious of God's perspective, we take on the Christ-spirit, as Jesus did, and are able to see our neighbors as God sees them and sincerely love them.
When my next-door neighbor, a Muslim, bakes a Middle Eastern treat with delicious phyllo dough, she shares it with me, fresh out of the oven. A few days later, I'll return her plate with some homemade chocolate chip cookies. These simple acts of kindness are small examples of the Christ-spirit at work in human consciousness, impelling humanity to be loving, neighborly. That's the true nature of each of us, and it must win out over all odds.
As we greet our friends and neighbors this Christmastime, we can allow the Christ-spirit to fill our thoughts with God's universal, impartial love. And we'll see this more, as Mrs. Eddy wrote in her poem called "Love," "as heart to heart/ Speaks kindly when we meet and part" ("Poems," p. 7).