Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Fun Conversation

A few years ago some people came to my door and wanted to know if they could come in and talk. Never one to turn down a good conversation, I invited them in.

The two young women who entered were both members of a not-to-be-named religious group, and they wanted to know if I had ever read the Bible. Of course I had, so I said so. They then proceeded to have not so much a conversation as a lecture telling me how to read it. They said that I had to re-read it and take everything in it absoutely literally.

"Absolutely literally?" I wanted to make sure that I heard them correctly. "Everything?"

"Oh, yes," they confirmed, "absolutely literally."

By this point, a friend of mine had come into the room and was listening to our conversation.

"So," I asked, "what about 1st Timonthy 2:12?"

Now I've seen some people move pretty quickly in my life, but these two, after a quick glance at each other, drew their Bibles out of their packs quick enough to make a gunslinger in the old West proud. And they did their teachers proud, too, for they found that verse within no more than a couple of seconds.

Then they blinked. In unison.

And they re-read the verse again, just to make sure they read it right.

With slightly puzzled frowns, they looked up at me like two drowning kittens mewing for help.

What they had read in was "I do not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence." Not the same translation as what I had, but close enough.

In a desperate attempt to cover themselves, before I could say anything, one of them stammered, "Well, that is only, uhm, metaphorical..."

My friend piped in, "I don't know. Sounds pretty literal to me."

"I'm sorry for doing that," I said, "but I just wanted to see if you really knew what you were asking me to do."

I proceeded to tell them of my love for the Bible, and my appreciation for the wealth of stories and wisdom contained within it. We spoke for a long time about how we can glean certain lessons from the stories, whether or not we accept them as literally true, and how that should not even matter. We talked, of course, about the need for being "anxiously concerned with the needs of the age (we) live in". We also spoke of the importance of coherency of a message.

So why, dear Reader, do I mention this? Well, first because it is a fun story, and second because I think it shows the need for knowing the Bible quite well in this society. (Of course, if you live in a Hindu community, then you really should know the Vedic scriptures, or if you are in a Muslim community you should know Qu'ran, but I live in Canada, and here I need to know the Bible.) At the time, I think I only knew about half a dozen Bible verses by heart, and that just happened to be one of them. Now I think I may be up to a full dozen, but either way, we still need to be well versed in the religion of our culture.

The actual point, to me, is that we need to be consistent. We need to seriously question our own assumptions, and ensure that what we are doing is both relevant, reasonable and consistent with our message.

You see, over the last few days, I have noticed that the unreasonable stance of many people, in the name of religion, has proven to be a barrier to other people. I have noticed that when the subject of religion comes up, the first thought is that you (or me, in this case) are a religious nutcase with no sense of what is perceivable in the world. It is a barrier that has to be overcome before a good conversation can actually ensue.

The reason for this is that a number of people, for example, have tried to impose their belief of Creationism upon others. They preach a message of love, but do so with a stance of anger, or condemnation. They, similar to the young women that showed up at my door, insist on having a literal interpretation of the Bible, and forcing that interpretation upon others.

These are people who tend to use the Writings of their Faith as a weapon, instead of a light. Or perhaps I should say that they tend to use the light of their Faith as a flamethrower. (A napalm bomb?)

But you see, the Writings of God are never meant to be a weapon, they are meant to be a balm. (Hmm. Balm, not bomb. Pretty alliterative for this early in the day.)

My wife has told me that somewhere in the Writings, 'Abdu'l-Baha says something like those who stick to the letter of the Law have often missed the spirit of it. Although I have not read that particular line, it sure seems to go in line with many other things He has said, so I don't mind mentioning it.

And as I said, that is the real point. I think we need to look at the overall message of our Faith and ensure that our understanding of particular parts of it are in line with that general purpose. I've mentioned this many times before, and it always seems to come up over and over again, so why not here, too?

If the overall purpose of Jesus' message is "love", then we need to ensure that our understanding of all His works is in line with that fundamental teaching. If the overall purpose of Baha'u'llah's message is "unity", then we need to ensure that this message comes through in all aspects of our works in His Name.

When those two young women came to my door with their message, they obviously did not understand this principal, for a singular example, out of many to be sure, showed them that they were working against what they were preaching. Most of our conversation after that awkward beginning revolved around the idea of finding the message of love throughout their study. And it was through that conversation that I felt I was able to best share Baha'u'llah's message of unity.


  1. Hello.

    I just wanted to say, I recently turned 21 on January 1st. A week after turning 21, after months of personal reading, I decided to become a member of the Baha'i faith. Two of the nicest people came from a city up north of my state and introduced me to the faith and helped me get everything set up. I am also the ONLY person in my city to be a believer in the faith.

    My closest friend has been a member her entire life and she introduced me to the faith.

    Aside from her, there is no one I've been able to discuss things with regarding such topics as fasting.

    I just wanted to thank you for such a wonderful blog. I had the pleasure of reading it daily since I came across it March 2nd. It has really helped me a lot. Once again, thank you.

  2. Congratulations, Michael. It is a decision that changes the course of your life. And thank you so much for your kind comments, they really made my morning. I look forward to reading your blogs now.

    With love and prayers,