Monday, April 4, 2016

Correction

A number of years ago I was giving a talk on the Baha’i Faith during which I said how wonderful it was that the Bab declared His mission on the first day of spring back in 1844. I talked about the wonderful coincidence of it and how it was so symbolic.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. He hadn’t done that on that date. He had actually declared His mission months later on 23 May. I was a bit embarrassed about that mistake when I learned of it later, but felt like I had learned an important lesson in both humility and courtesy. I had to be humble and accept I had been wrong about that one fact. But I was also very impressed with the courtesy of the friends there who obviously knew my error, and refrained from saying anything. I mean, they could have corrected me later, but I’m grateful that they didn’t correct me at the moment.

That lesson, though, has stuck with me and led me to a question: Why is it that we feel the need to correct someone when we believe something different than what they say?

Recently, my son was saying a prayer, and in the middle of the prayer was the word “Sinai”. He pronounced it “sih-nie”, and someone else in the room “corrected” him, saying it was “sie-nie”. In the middle of his prayer. While he was praying. When he was finished, I told him that he hadn’t actually mis-pronounced it. His pronunciation was perfectly acceptable, just different from hers. Well, this friend proceeded to tell me that I was wrong, and that she knew how it was pronounced. Ignoring this, I told him about how different people have different accents, and that neither pronunciation is wrong. Both are correct. And, in fact, if you look at the word, you will see that the first syllable has a different spelling than the second, indicating that they might not be pronounced the same way. But the pronunciation depends on your particular accent.

Look at the spelling of some common words: Colour? Color? Neighbour? Neighbor? Again, both are fine. They are acceptable versions of the same words. It merely depends on where you grew up, where you live, as to which is considered correct. Just because one is correct, that doesn’t mean the other is wrong.

Just the other day I had someone “correct” me when I referred to a “tepee”. She said that if I was going to interact with it, I should learn how to spell it, “tipi”. What would be the intent of that? My first reaction was quite unhealthy and could have led me not write anything about that culture again. But really, that would have been childish on my part, and not worthy of that culture I so dearly love. Instead, I pointed out that there are 3 acceptable spellings of the word, and that I was using the one most common where I live. It did remind me, though, of how damaging “correcting” someone can be. After all, wouldn’t it be sad if our attempt at “correcting” someone led them to turn away from that which we love?

Perfection and excellence are good things, but courtesy is also important.

While meditating on this, I was reminded of a strange passage from Baha’u’llah in the Kitab-i-Iqan, the Book of Certitude. There, on page 8, He is talking about Noah, and says, “...there remained with Him only forty or seventy-two of His followers.” Why is He obscure about this, quoting two different numbers? Surely He could’ve told us the correct number, or not even mentioned a number at all. But He didn’t. He wrote both numbers. Why? Well, I’m not actually sure, but I suspect it is because He is quoting two different traditions, and doesn’t want to show preference between them. Perhaps He is saying that it is irrelevant which number we believe. And that, to me, is a worthy and important lesson.

When listening to someone else, or reading what they are writing, I often find that they say something I disagree with. But perhaps I can learn from this. Instead of presuming that I am correct, and that they must be wrong, maybe I should, instead, presume that they are right. Or maybe that we both are.

After all, how different would our interactions be if we always presumed that the other was correct, even if we are certain about our own knowledge? For like pronunciation, or spelling, there may be more than one form of what is correct.

Monday, March 7, 2016

“Can We Go to McDonald’s”: A Healthy Dilemma

My son and I were driving home, and we passed the local McDonald’s.

“Can we go to McDonald’s?”, came the 7-year old voice from the backseat.

I wasn’t sure what to say. We had never stopped in there, and I didn’t know why he wanted to now. Then I noticed the indoor play structure, and I guessed that this was the reason he wanted to stop.

To check, I asked.

Sure enough, that was it.

I apologized to the little guy, explaining that we couldn’t actually stop right then, for we had to get home that evening. I promised, though, that we would go the next day. That’s one of the important reasons to always keep your promises to your children. He knew that when I said we would do it, we actually would. And while he would have preferred to go right then, he was satisfied.

At that moment, I also let him know that we had to stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up a few things. On the way there, we talked about the play structure and how much fun it would be to run around and jump and swing and play all over it. But I also mentioned that in order to play on it, we had to buy something from them, that it was only for their customers. He understood that. No problem.

At the store, we went to the meat counter, which we rarely, if ever, do. I bought a pound of the finest, leanest, organic ground beef they had. I picked up some fresh vegetables, including lettuce, onions, beets and carrots. We got some really nice cheese, the kind that melts all over the place when heated up. We got some eggs, and some hamburger buns, the good kind, not that fluffy tasteless white stuff.

For dinner that evening, he helped me make a beautiful fresh vegetable juice, cutting up the beets and carrots so that they fit nicely in the juicer. Then we took the pulp and blended it in with the ground beef. Well, we didn’t so much blend it as squish it, squeezing them together, making an awful mess with our hands, especially when we added in a couple of eggs. It was gross, and so much fun.

We made our patties, carefully wrapping them around a nice thick slab of the cheese we had bought. Then we got the barbecue going. Now, we don’t have one of those fancy dancy mutli-thousand dollar propane barbecues that make everything taste of gas. We have an old-fashioned charcoal barbecue that takes a lot of effort to light up.
And with his help, we lit it up.

In short, we made the most amazing hamburgers we had ever had, rich with many layers of flavour, cheese oozing out the middle, topped with ketchup and mustard and lettuce and all sorts of yummy goodness of things, on those wonderful whole wheat buns that were just chock full of flavour.

We were both so content, oohing and aahing over this culinary masterpiece we had created together, both of us feeling sorry that my vegetarian wife wasn’t able to enjoy it with us. We both went to sleep quite satisfied.

The next day, on our way home from his school, true to my word, we stopped at McDonald’s. And he got a burger, while I satisfied myself with an order of fries.

One bite.

That was all it took.

His expression said it all.

We played on the play structure, but we haven’t been back since.


- - - - - - - - - -


Oh, what does this have to do with the Faith? A few things, really. First, the importance of trust. My son trusts that when I say I will do something, I will do it. Second, I'm teaching him about healthy living, especially in terms of diet. I'm sure there's more it teaches him, but that's enough for now.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Baha'i Calendar

"Can you explain this Baha'i calendar thing?"

Well, that's not quite how I would phrase the question, but you ask, I try to respond.

Technically, it's called the Badi Calendar, not the Baha'i Calendar. Why? No idea.

And there are only a few things that really need explaining:
  1. The beginning of the day
  2. The days of the week
  3. The months of the year
  4. The beginning of the year
So, to "explain this Baha'i calendar thing", it's probably easiest to tackle those one at a time.

Before I begin, though, I'd just like to point out that there are over 40 calendar systems currently in use around the world, as far as I can tell (gotta love google). All of them, with a singular exception, are either based on the cycle of the moon, or somehow strive to reconcile the lunar and the solar cycles. Anyways, that said, let's go back to the Badi Calendar and the beginning of the day.

The Beginning of the Day

If we had no calendar system in our life today. and we were trying to come up with one, a basic question facing us would be when to begin the day. There are, if you think about it, four natural points at which to do that: sunrise, sunset, high noon and midnight, the last being the opposite of high noon.

Noon would likely be right out as that would mean changing the date during the most obtrusive time of the day. Midnight, while avoiding the date change thing, has a singular disadvantage in that you can't actually calculate it without some serious mechanical means. So for sheer practical purposes, we would likely discount either of those options.

This leaves us with the sunrise / sunset options.

From a theological point of view, sunset has the advantage in that it implies that we move from darkness to light. As this is also the same standard in the Bible, as well as in the Qur'an, it seems only fitting that it be the same in the Badi Calendar. And so it is: the day begins at sunset.


The Days of the Week

The Badi Calendar has seven days in the week, just like most others. The only difference is that the week begins on Saturday, and the "day of rest" is Friday, but that isn't actually being observed at this time. From what I understand, the day of rest will be observed when it is feasible within the context of society. After all, most of us can't just take Friday off, so it's not really realistic at this time to make it mandatory.

The other interesting thing is the names of the days of the week.

Beginning with Saturday, the names of the days are Jalal (Glory), Jamal (Beauty), Kamal (Perfection), Fidal (Grace), 'Idal (Justice), Istijlal (Majesty), and Istiqlal (Independence). At this time, I don't know of anyone actually using these names, much less many people who know about them. 'Nuff said there.


The Months of the Year

Now it begins to get interesting. The year is composed of 19 months of 19 days each. For those of you who are mathematically inclined, you will notice that this comes to only 361 days. What happens to the rest of the year? Do we just lose four days every year, and fall further and further behind? Nope. We squeeze these extra days between the 18th and 19th months, known as 'Ayyam-i-Ha.

The months, like the days of the week, have different names than any other calendar system, but I don't really feel like typing them all up, so I'm just going to cut and paste:
Calendar DatesBahá'í MonthArabicTranslation
Mar 21 – Apr 8BaháبهاءSplendour
Apr 9 – Apr 27JalálجلالGlory
Apr 28 – May 16JamálجمالBeauty
May 17 – Jun 4‘AẓamatعظمةGrandeur
Jun 5 – Jun 23NúrنورLight
Jun 24 – Jul 12RaḥmatرحمةMercy
Jul 13 – Jul 31KalimátكلماتWords
Aug 1 – Aug 19KamálكمالPerfection
Aug 20 – Sep 7Asmá'اسماءNames
Sep 8 – Sep 26‘IzzatعزةMight
Sep 27 – Oct 15MashíyyatمشيةWill
Oct 16 - Nov 3‘IlmعلمKnowledge
Nov 4 - Nov 22QudratقدرةPower
Nov 23 - Dec 11QawlقولSpeech
Dec 12 – Dec 30Masá'ilمسائلQuestions
Dec 31 - Jan 18SharafشرفHonour
Jan 19 - Feb 6SulṭánسلطانSovereignty
Feb 7 - Feb 25MulkملكDominion
Feb 26 - Mar 1Ayyám-i-Há (Intercalary Days)ايام الهاءThe Days of Há
Mar 2 - Mar 20‘Alá' (Month of fasting)علاءLoftiness
I love cut and paste.

One thing I find interesting is that many Baha'is think that the names of the months are names or attributes of God, somehow trying to figure out how "Words", "Speech", and "Questions" fit in there. It's great fun hearing how some try to reconcile this. ("Well, you see, God created all the words, and in every dispensation, gives them a new meaning." "So why don't we have a month called 'kittens' or 'toe jam', since God created those, too.")

The fact is that nowhere in the Writings does it say that they are names or attributes of God. Remember how I love to say "Show it to me in the Writings"? Well, this is one instance where it paid off. I learned something new, as did the person I asked.

From what I understand, the names of the months actually come from a prayer by one of the Imams of Islam. I've seen the prayer, but am not sure where to find it right now. Rather than attributes or names of God, these are more like key words guiding us through that prayer.

Why did the Bab choose that prayer for the names of the months? No clue. Sorry.



The Beginning of the Year

This is also interesting. Like the beginning of the day, there are 4 natural points in the solar cycle to select for the beginning of your year: the spring equinox, the summer solstice, the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. The Gregorian calendar, which is most used in the West, differs here, in that it begins a bit after the winter solstice. I don't really feel like explaining the historical reasons for it, but just know that it wasn't always that way.

Here, the Bab chose the Spring Equinox for the beginning of the year. Kind of nice that, in that the year begins with the rising of the flowers. At least, it does in most parts of the world, unless you happen to live in Canada. But not in Victoria, where I currently live. (Sorry, if you happen to live anywhere else in Canada. I don't mean to rub it in, but we do have our daffodils in bloom right now. And our crocuses. Croci? And the cherry blossoms are out. But I don't want to rub it in.) (To be fair, though, the snowdrops are already past. They bloomed in January.)

What is fascinating to me about this is that the Universal House of Justice recently decided that the point for choosing the equinox, since it takes a full 24 hours for the earth to pass through the actual point in space, is Tehran, the city of Baha'u'llah's birth. This year, for example, Tehran will pass through the point of equinox on 20 March, instead of the usual 21 March date. And so the first day of the year will 20 March this year, instead of 21 March.

From there, we count backwards 19 days, and arrive at 1 March as the beginning of the month of fasting.

Sounds good, so far,

But when we count forwards from the last spring equinox, 18 months of 19 days each, we arrive at 25 February. This only gives us 4 days of Ayyam-i-Ha this year, instead of the usual 5 for a leap year.

Why?

Well, simple, really. The first 18 months are counted forward from Naw Ruz, the New Year. The last month is counted back from the next Naw Ruz. Ayyam-i-Ha is sort of like the sponge that fills in the gap.

Make sense?

Good.

But why?

Well, it gives us a common point in the year, Naw Ruz. The first day of the year always coincides with the spring equinox. That is immovable. The rest of the calendar revolves around that point.

Now, remember when I said that there was a singular calendar system that had nothing to do with the moon? That would be the Badi Calendar. Our months have nothing to do with the lunar cycle. They are based on math.

Or so I had thought.

Only recently did I learn that the moon, in relation to the calendar, works on a 19-year cycle. What the heck does that mean? Well, it means that if we have a full moon on Naw Ruz, we will have another full moon on Naw Ruz in 19 years.

Why is that cool? Because the Badi Calendar is not merely an annual calendar. Every 19 years is called a Vahid. And as you might expect, each year in a Vahid has its own name. What are they? Well, let's use our old friend, cut and paste, again:
No.Persian NameArabic ScriptEnglish Translation
1AlifألفA
2Bá’باءB
3AbأبFather
4DálدﺍﻝD
5BábبابGate
6VávوﺍوV
7AbadأبدEternity
8JádجادGenerosity
9Bahá'بهاءSplendour
10ḤubbحبLove
11BahhájبهاجDelightful
12JavábجوابAnswer
13AḥadاحدSingle
14VahhábوﻫﺎبBountiful
15VidádودادAffection
16Badí‘بدیعBeginning
17BahíبهيLuminous
18AbháابهىMost Luminous
19VáḥidواحدUnity

Please don't ask me to explain why these are named what they are. I will only give my famous "I don't know" response.

Oh, and it doesn't stop there. Every 19 Vahids is called a Kull-i-Shay', or All-Things. I can only presume that each Vahid has its own name, like the years in the Vahid, but I don't really know.

And, for what it's worth, for those of you like these little details, the Unviersal House of Justice formally aligned the calendar system world-wide at the end of the 9th Vahid. This year, 2015 - 2016, is the first year of the 10th Vahid of the first Kull-i-Shay'.

I just love that. It all seems to revolve around the numbers 9 and 19.

So, does that explain "this Baha'i Calendar thing"?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Talk

"Shoghi, you're almost eleven years old," I said to him the other day. "It's time we had the father-son talk."

We were in the car, on the way to the museum, and I could hear him sitting behind me. He knew that this would be one of those serious talks, and he was ready. But when I said that it was "the" talk, I could practically hear him roll his eyes.

"Now," I continued, "I'm not talking about sex. You already know a bit about sex, and love, and how character is so much more important than appearances. You know that you should look at people's virtues and values, their actions and service. You've seen Mama and I, and how we learned about each other before we decided to get married. And you've seen a lot of other people who only saw appearances, and you know how poorly that turns out." He readily agreed with that.

"No, today," I went on, "we're going to talk about death."

I told him that before we went to the museum we were going to go to a cemetery. And so we drove down to the water, parked at a beautiful little park, and took a nice walk along the shore to the cemetery I had in mind.

As we walked, we talked, like we usually do. We walked along the shore, watching the waves, enjoying the sounds of the birds, and I could tell that he was a little bit trepidatious about the end of our walk. Why was I bringing him to a cemetery? He had never really been in one. I mean, he'd been in cemeteries before, but hadn't really visited one. This just seemed a bit strange to him. And after all I've put him through, that's saying a lot.

I talked about other cemeteries, and how I really don't like most of them. They're too boring. The grass is all nice and manicured. The trees are "properly groomed". And they have so many rules and restrictions on the types of headstones you can have these days, most of which are designed to make it easier to keep it all looking nice and trim. It's as if we have taken the sterility of the hospital and transferred it to the graveside.

The one we were visiting, I said, was much more alive. Probably not the best word to describe it, but I can't think of a better one. The trees are all old and gnarled. The grass has many other plants growing throughout. Some would call it weedy, but I would say natural. And the graves come in all shapes and sizes, with many different motifs. It's awesome.

Anyways, we got there safe and sound, and the very first thing we saw as we approached, for there are no walls surrounding it, were a few graves rimmed with an outline of stone just a few inches high. They're essentially a rectangular cement outline showing you where the person is buried.

I stopped beside one of them, on which you could read the name written in moss, it was so old, and stood respectfully beside it.

"Imagine", I said, "the person buried here. Picture her lying down, you can see where she is. And she is as far below the ground as I am above it. You can practically see her lying there. What do you know about her?"

"I know her name", Shoghi said. "Oh, and when she was born, and when she died." He thought about it a bit longer, and added, "I know how old she was."

"Do you know anything else about her?"

He looked puzzled, as if he were missing something. "No, I don't."

"Me neither. But look around. You can see that the person here, next to her, has the same last name, and live around the same time. I'm sure they knew each other. In fact, virtually everyone here lived in the same area. Most of them lived around the same time. They likely knew each other. A community in life, and a community in death."

We walked around, making these sorts of connections, seeing who was buried near each other, who lived at the same time, which groupings seemed to be of similar ethnic background, and how this often changed from one part of the cemetery to another, with sprinklings of the odd ones throughout.

We spoke of what we knew of each person, sometimes gleaning their religion, or perhaps their profession. It was interesting what details we could figure out, and just how much we truly didn't know.

Throughout all this, we admired the trees, the flowers, the mushrooms, the birds; we admired all that we could. And all the while I was leading us gently towards one particular grave, that of Rebecca Gibbs. Born around 1808 in Philadelphia, Rebecca came to Canada to escape the plight of the Black people in the US. On her tombstone, she is listed as a "laundress, poet, nurse". On the back of her tombstone is her beautiful poem, "The Old Red Shirt". It's a simple poem, almost too simple by today's standards, but beautiful and relevant, nonetheless.

We read the poem, Shoghi and I, and just stared at her grave afterwards, tears in our eyes. We said a prayer for her soul, thankful for this little bit of beauty she brought into this hard world that no doubt begrudged her a place.

Afterwards, as we walked away, I asked him, "Do you think anyone remembers how well she could stitch a shirt? How wonderful she was at applying starch to a collar?"

"No", he replied, looking at me as if I were crazy.

"In a hundred years, do you think anyone will recall how well I could close a jump ring? How nice my bracelets may be?"

"No", he said, looking a bit more thoughtful.

"What do you think they will remember, if anything?"

"Probably your words."

"What will you do, in your lifetime, that people will remember? That's the question you need to ask yourself. Because we will all end up here, some day. Every one of us. Every one you know. Every one you see. And most of us will not do anything in our life that will be remembered, and that's a shame. But you and I, we're aware of this. We can make a conscious choice to do something that might be worth remembering, like Rebecca's poem."

As we walked away, there was much silence, but there was also joy. We pointed out more beautiful trees, and showed each other more nice tombstones, but we both thought about our lives, too, and what we could do to make it a life worth living.

We continued on to the museum, but I'll tell you, we both saw it with very different eyes now.



The Old Red Shirt
     by Rebecca Gibbs, laundress, poet and nurse

A miner came to my cabin door,
His clothes they were covered with dirt
He held out a piece he desired me to wash,
Which I found was an old red shirt.
His cheeks were thin, and furrow'd his brow,
His eyes they were sunk in his head
He said that he had got work to do,
And be able to earn his bread.
He said that the "old red shirt " was torn,
And asked me to give it a stitch
But it was threadbare, and sorely worn,
Which show'd he was far from rich.
O! miners with good paying claims,
O! traders who wish to do good.
Have pity on men who earn your wealth,
Grudge not the poor miner his food.
Far from these mountains a poor mother mourns
The darling that hung by her skirt,
When contentment and plenty surrounded the home
Of the miner that brought me the shirt.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Religion or Faith

"Is Baha'i a religion", she asked, "or a faith?"

"What's the difference", was my reply. Like my friend at the market, I suspected there was a difference, but was unsure what it was.

As you may recall, I'm a jeweler / artist (you can throw fashion designer in there, too), and sell regularly at an outdoor market in Victoria, BC, which is still in Canada. Most days when it is slower, my neighbours and I chat about spiritual and social issues. So it is only natural that a question such as this would arise.

What is the difference between a faith and a religion?

It took me a while, but later that evening an answer came: faith is internal; religion is external.

Now, of course, this is not an official Baha'i perspective, just my own attempt at better understanding something that is very important to my own life.

So, why is this difference important to me? Well, I'm not really sure. but I do know that once I became aware of it, I began reading some of the Writings a little differently.

Shoghi Effendi, who was always so careful with his words, often refers to the "Faith of Baha'u'llah", and rarely to the "Faith of God", and then usually prefaced by the word "true". He almost never uses the phrase "Religion of God"; I think there are only three examples of it in all of his writings. The same is true with "God's Faith". It's almost never used.

But "Faith of Baha'u'llah" seems to be the standard.

Why?

Well, I think it's a reminder to me that my own faith is just that: my own. I am not doing anyone justice by teaching them my own faith. My job is to better understand Baha'u'llah's Faith and to try and share that. We often read that religion is one, but what do we understand by that? To me, religion is one, but faiths are multiple attempts at striving to understand that religion. Christians strive to understand Christ's faith in the religion of God, while Baha'is attempt to get a better understanding of Baha'u'llah's vision of God. The religion, that light that shines down from on high, is singular. Our understanding of that light, however, and what it means, is multiple. But the more that we strive to get a better understanding of what Baha'u'llah meant, of what He actually taught, and what comes from our own filtered understanding, the more we will recognize that religion truly is one and the same. All the differences come down to our own understanding of that, to our own individual faith.

Now, when I see either of those words in the Writings, either faith or religion, I check to see if that difference of being internal versus external, holds true. And you know what? It sure seems to. And that, dear Reader, has changed how I read the Writings.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Victory

"What's happened to science fiction?" My wife asked me that question the other day, after hearing about the various on-line rants against Finn, one of the main characters in the new Star Wars movie. In case you missed it, there were a number of people up in arms over the idea that one of the main characters would be... uhm... well... not pale in skin tone. (I guess they figured Chewie was ok, since he wasn't human.)

And this was following the absolutely stupid movement earlier this year called "Sad Puppies", in which some yahoos were starting a movement in the Hugo awards, the fan elected science fiction awards, to get the awards to go back to "white guys". They were upset that so many Black people and women were winning these awards, and they said that science fiction was more properly written by White guys.

For a genre that has always been so forward thinking, producing such works as the early Star Trek, in which one of the leads was a Black woman, in which they had an inter-racial kiss at a time when that was practically unthinkable on public television, and in which inter-species kisses were the norm, this current movement within science fiction seems way out of line.

Science fiction has always been something of a barometer, showing where the current trends seem to be leading us, highlighting the promise of a good future, reminding us of the shackles from the past that are holding us back, and encouraging us to always push our boundaries.

So, what happened?

Simple: It became popular.

Up until the 80's, you were basically ostracized if you were a science fiction fan. It was the realm of nerdy geeks who were phenomenally hormonally challenged, generally wore extra-thick glasses, dressed abysmally for the time, were socially inept, and a large portion of them were of a large portion, especially if they were female. While they may have had brains, that was about all they had. At least, that was the general perception.

It wasn't until Star Wars paved the way for massive blockbusters that science fiction began to be accepted as a respectable genre.

Then we began to get writers who were both excellent story-tellers and good writers at the same time. Before that, they were generally one or the other. When you re-read a lot of the "classic" works from before that time, they really are either poorly written, or unbelievable in their characters.

But now, it is socially acceptable to be a fan.

It reminds me of early Christianity, in a way. At the time of the Apostles, it wasn't easy to be Christian. Whereas today, many Christians expect to get into heaven, at that time, they expected to get crucified. Some talk about this so-called "war" on Christianity, but fail to remember when there really was a war on that noble faith. If you wanted to be Christian at that time, you were in serious danger. Just declaring your faith required a phenomenal amount of courage.

Today? Well, today, Christianity as we see it in practice reflects the norm of our society because it is the norm of our society. You see the extremes within it, because there are the extremes without it.

The same is now true with science fiction fandom. Previously, it was not socially accepted, and to be a fan, you really were outside the norm. But as it has become accepted, it has also grown to include the fringes of our society. And so, since we see this racist sexism gaining momentum in the general public, we expect to see it with the realm of fandom.

But I am sure you are asking what does this have to do with the Baha'i Faith. I'm glad you asked, dear Reader.

There is a quote I have long heard, read many times, and still wonder about. It is from Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah (CL, if you are wondering, which is found on page 319):
When the victory arriveth, every man shall profess himself as believer and shall hasten to the shelter of God’s Faith. Happy are they who in the days of world-encompassing trials have stood fast in the Cause and refused to swerve from its truth.
This has often been quoted to me as a statement of how the Faith will grow until every person on the planet is Baha'i. "Isn't it wonderful?" And yet, I wonder.

Baha'u'llah doesn't seem to be saying, as I read it, that everyone shall be a believer. He says that they will profess to be one. And when I look that word up in the dictionary, it is the second and third definitions that say this word means to "openly declare" or "affirm". The first definition is "to lay claim to, often insincerely; to pretend to". Now I know that there are times when the Guardian, who translated the original word here as "profess", used the second or third definition for his translation work. Ruhiyyih Khanum says this, and I believe her. But what was the intention here? I don't know.

But I do know that since it became easy to be a Christian, the sincerity of some believers has often been called into question. And when it became easy to be a science fiction fan, some of the basic precepts of science fiction have been called into question.

When the victory arrives, when we no longer have to face those earth-shattering tests that the early Baha'is and Babis faced, it will be easy to declare oneself. I am certain that everyone will profess their faith in it. I have no doubt about that.

But, as Muhammad said, "Think because you say you believe you will not be tested?"

Sure, all will profess. But happy are those who will have stood firm during those promised "days of world-encompassing trials".

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The History of the Decline and Fall...

For quite a long time now I have known that one of the Guardian's favorite books was The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, who, interestingly enough, was not descended from the apes of the same name. They were merely another branch of the same family tree. This book was so much a part of his life, the Guardian's, not the Gibbon-guy, that Ruhiyyih Khanum said that he always had a volume of it with him when he traveled. There was even a volume of it on his bedside table when he passed away.

But wait, a volume? Yes, a volume.

This book, which is inappropriately called a book, is actually a series of 6 books, which are more appropriately called tomes, by those in the know. And remember, this was written at a time long before the decline and fall of attention spans which has resulted in the people of today being accused of no longer being able to pay attention for more than the length of a sound byte, as well as novels no longer being considered for publication unless they are more than 7 volumes in length. It was, in fact, published between 1776 and 1789, which may explain why the US won their revolution: too many British soldiers were back at home in their barracks reading the latest volume.

Anyways, I've been reading more about the Guardian as of late, and ran across, a few times, the notion that these books highly influenced the Guardian's translation work. You see, Shoghi Effendi studied English at Oxford to gain a better ability in his work to translate the Writings. While there he ran across these books, which is not difficult as they seem to be a favorite past-time of Oxfordites. (Oxfordonians?) Having never read them during my own time there, I decided to finally break down and give them a shot, this after many years of hearing about these incredibly long books that are the bane of students everywhere, except Oxford it seems. They are the last in line of a series of highly intimidating books that many people run across in their life, but rarely read; the others being Moby Dick for high schoolers, War and Peace for undergrads, and The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for post-grads. You may notice that this list of quintessentially intimidating books begins at high school. The reason for this is that for most students pre-high school, all books are intimidating.

So there I was, looking for a free copy that I could download to my handy dandy, trusty e-reader, which I rarely use, so I thought it might be appropriate for this, when lo! and behold, there were many. Thirty seconds to download, plus another thirty minutes to remember how to transfer it from my computer to my handy dandy, trusty e-reader, and there. I had it. A complete edition of Edward Gibbon's massive work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Complete with footnotes.

With great eagerness, and, I must admit, a mild sense of trepidation, as well as a freshly brewed steaming hot cup of tea, I cracked open the first volume.

Well, not really. What I actually did was slide my index finger across the screen, which isn't really quite as satisfying.

But open it, I did.

And there, in Gibbon's preface, was an answer to something I had long wondered about: "I shall soon revisit the banks of the Lake of Lausanne, a country which I have known and loved from my early youth. Under a mild government, amidst a beauteous landscape, in a life of leisure and independence, and among a people of easy and elegant manners, I have enjoyed, and may again hope to enjoy, the varied pleasures of retirement and society."

All right, all right, I know. This doesn't really seem like anything to do with the Baha'i Faith, or with the history of Rome, but please, bear with me. This is what went through my mind when I read this.

I had long wondered why Shoghi Effendi chose Switzerland for his place of retreat when he had to retire from the Holy Land. And there, to me, was something of an answer.

Just imagine, the young Shoghi Effendi is at Oxford, and falls in love with the use of language in this remarkable book (s). Then, just as he is beginning to really cherish it, mere months later, he is called back to the Holy Land upon the passing of his Grandfather, 'Abdu'l-Baha. Upon his return he learns of his appointment as the Guardian and shortly thereafter finds himself needing to go away for a short retirement.

Doesn't this just sound like the ideal place? "A mild government"? "A beauteous landscape"? "A life of leisure and independence"? "People of easy and elegant manners"?

Of course it came to his mind as the perfect place to recuperate and prepare himself for this life long work.

There, in the opening pages, in the preface itself, and not even in the full of the volume itself, I had already come to a, albeit slightly, better understanding of something about the Guardian as a person.

He goes on, in this same preface, to explain his choice of spelling and place references: "The prophet Mohammed can no longer be stripped of the famous, though improper, appellation of Mahomet: the well-known cities of Aleppo, Damascus, and Cairo, would almost be lost in the strange descriptions of Haleb, Demashk, and Al Cahira: the titles and offices of the Ottoman empire are fashioned by the practice of three hundred years..." He adds "our most correct writers have retrenched the Al, the superfluous article, from the Koran; and we escape an ambiguous termination, by adopting Moslem instead of Musulman, in the plural number", thereby showing a degree of respect for the original language that many of his contemporaries ignored.

Of course the Guardian was impressed. It is, in fact, something similar to what he himself did with the transliteration and systematization of the Persian names for the Baha'i Faith.

Just a few pages later, we also find such beautiful tidbits of wisdom and comment that influence the entire history from Gibbon's perspective: "as long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters."

The other thing that I am certain attracted the Guardian was the obvious link of the rise of Christianity to the ascendancy of Rome, coupled with the decline of both, and the supersedence of Islam. Surely he saw direct parallel to Islam, modern Western society and the Baha'i Faith.

After all, we can easily read today into the very opening passages quoted here: "In the second century of the Christian Aera, the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valor. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury. The image of a free constitution was preserved with decent reverence: the Roman senate appeared to possess the sovereign authority, and devolved on the emperors all the executive powers of government."

We can readily see ourselves, sitting in our warm homes with our computers and various devices, enjoying and abusing "the advantages of luxury". We hear the ringing praises of the US constitution verging on the border of reverence. And we daily read the news of the "barbarians at the gate" and can easily see the collapse, as prophesied by the Founders of our Faith, of our own civilization. How could the Guardian not be fascinated by this? Already I can see Gibbon's own warning echoed in the Guardian's own works, such as "The Promised Day is Come".

I may only be a few pages into it, but I am already looking forward to delving further into this volume (s) that had such an influence on the style of language the Guardian used in his translation of the priceless Words of the Founders of our Faith.

By the way, for those interested, here are the two Gibbons mentioned above; the author, and one of the authors cousins (with child).