Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How would you answer?

It was a beautiful sunny summer day when I had gotten off the train and begun my long walk home.  This was back when I was still living in Kenosha, Wisconsin, lo those many years ago (see, I told you I love that phrase).

It was a wonderful time in my life, back when I was still working at the US Baha'i National Centre, and had been pioneering for about 10 months, at that time.  My thoughts were really focussed on how to teach, as that was the office I was working in, the Teaching Office.  Ken Bowers was still the secretary of the National Teaching Committee, and it was truly inspirational to work with him day after day.  I tell you, surround yourself with spiritual giants, and your thoughts begin to lift a bit.

So there I was, walking past the church that the Master spoke in way back in 1912 (lo those many years ago), thinking about how few recognized Him at that time.  Then I thought about those few fortunate souls who were able to recognize Baha'u'llah in His lifetime and began to wonder.

Would I have been able to recognize Him?  Not a chance.  I just don't have that pure a heart, or that high degree of spiritual accumen.  I can't imagine myself having that bounty, much as I wish I could.

Then another thought crossed my mind, one a bit more odd.  As a Jew, for that is my background, would I have been able to recognize Jesus in His lifetime?  Again, no way.

But what about a hundred years after His crucifixion?  Would I have been able to recognize the Station of Jesus around 100 AD?  Now that was a more interesting question.

If so, if by some miraculous chance I was able to recognize Him at that time, how would it have changed my life?

With these two questions in my mind, I passed by some neighbours sitting out on their front steps (it was, after all, a beautiful day).  I walked up to them and said "hi" and all the other typical pleasantries, and then asked them if I could ask a few questions that were intriguing me.  They glanced at each other and agreed, knowing that I was not some weird freak.

"What would you do if you heard Christ had returned?"

They just stared at me, as if I were some weird freak.

"I mean, from a reliable source.  I'm just curious.  I was thinking about it on the way home, and wondered how I would have reacted if I were a Jew in the time of Jesus.  So, what would you do if you heard Christ had returned?"

Now they were actually thinking.  We talked about for a few moments, clarifying what I meant, before they actually committed themselves to an answer.

"I wouldn't believe it."  "Me neither."  Pretty simple consensus.

"OK.  But what if you were convinced, then what would you do?"  This was what really interested me.  How would people act if they were convinced that Christ had returned?

Here they both agreed again: they would seek Him out to hear from His own mouth what He had to say.

"And what if He died 100 years ago?"

"What do you mean?"  This seemed to surprise them, as if the question were unfathomable.

"Suppose," I said, "you were a Jew in 150 AD and you had just heard that the Messiah had come, but was killed over 100 years ago.  You could never have met Him in your lifetime.  Even your parents could never have met Him.  But you're convinced that Jesus was Who He said He was, and it's 100 years after His death.  So, today, what would you do if you were convinced Christ had returned, and He had died over 100 years ago?"

Their answer surprised me.  They both agreed that they would make a pilgrimage to His shrine.  I never would have guessed that.  Not believing, sure.  I could have predicted that, but pilgrimage?  They got me on that one.

In the years since then, having asked literally hundreds of people these questions, over 80% say that they would make this pilgrimage.  Some would do nothing, feeling that it would not change their life at all, while others would just want to study what He taught and see how to apply it in their lives.  But the vast majority would want to make this pilgrimage.

Then, to top it off, another question popped into my mind.  I hadn't even considered this one, but it turned out to be the most important one to me in the end.

"And what," I asked, "do you think, would convince you?"

Here they thought for a long time.  Where would they imagine this proof coming from?  How could they possibly be convinced that Christ had reutrned?

"By seeing," they agreed, "His original teachings in His own handwriting."

And that left me stunned.

Again, the vast majority of the nearly 1000 people I have asked have said the same thing.  The proof for them would be His original teachings in His own handwriting.

I love these questions.  They intrigued me, and surprised me.  They have also taught me a lot about how to teach.  By asking friends who are not Baha'i simple questions about teaching, I learned so much.  By sharing these questions with other Baha'is, they have found their contacts answering the same way.

It also laid a specially more important stress on the Writings, not just the Writings themselves, but the fact that they are authenticated.  We can show people the original tablets, with the seals on them.  They can see His own handwriting.

Now, if you were not a Baha'i, how do you think you would answer?


  1. Having been raised a Baha'i, there came a time when I had to surrender all my acquired knowledge, which I deeply loved, and ask God from the heart. I felt this was a born-again experience. The Holy Writings have the power to recreate us. Marley

  2. Thanks for this, I am interested in asking some people this questions now!