Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Have you ever notifced that we, in the Baha'i community, are just regular people? No, seriously. It's true.

While the Writings and the guidance may be astonishing in their scope and perspective, the community itself is just not up to that standard. I mean, how could we be? The standard is divine, and we are not.

I only mention this because I think it is very important. I have lost track of the number of people I hvae met who have not declared their faith because they felt that they couldn't live up to the standard set by the community. They felt that they just weren't good enough to be Baha'i. I've also met people who have been turned off to the Faith because they felt that we were just too stuck up, like we knew it all. Sad, I know, but true.

So what is it that we can learn from these comments? And more importantly, what can we do about it?

I think the first thing is to look at the Master. Haji Mirza Haydar-Ali, in his book The Delight of Hearts, talks about 'Abdu'l-Baha listening to the people He is teaching. He reports Baha'u'llah saying that we should teach like the Master, listening so carefully that the other person thought they were teaching Him something. This exemplifies a position of humility that is profound, and far beyond where I am at.

I remember when I was investigating the Faith, my friend Lucki would ask me every week what I had found in my studies of religion. And then she would be just as excited as I was when I shared what I had read. More than that, though, she would show me how there were similar teachings in all the different religions, including the Baha'i Faith. She listened to me share what I had learned, no matter how absurd it may have been, and then always found those grains of truth and helped expose them for my consideration.

Oh, and if I asked her a question about what the Baha'i Writings said on a topic, she would carefully evade an answer. She would claim to have read something about it, but wasn't quite sure where. She would then suggest that I read a section of Gleanings, or some other Baha'i text, confident that my answer would be found in there. At no time did I ever get the sense that she "knew it all".

And then I remember a staff meeting when I was working at the US Baha'i National Center. I have no clue what the meeting was about, but I clearly recall Robert Henderson saying that we were building a "new world order", and that nobody had ever done that before. We didn't know what it would look like, but were confident that the blueprints in the Writings were good ones.

It reminds me of the story of the man walking through the woods at night. His flashlight only shines a few feet in front of him, and that is all he can see. He knows he's still on the path, but can't see any more than the next few steps he needs to take. And as he takes them, the next few steps become visible.

That is what we are doing now. We are taking a few steps at a time, reflecting on what we have done, and getting a clearer vision of the next few steps we need to take.

Anyone, in my opinion, who says that they know more than the next few steps is either lying or deluded.

But let's go back to the initial statements I made: we are all just regular people, here in the Faith.

What does this mean? It means that we are bound to make mistakes (yes, even me, or perhaps I should say especially me). And this means that we will be each other's test, for we don't like to see mistakes being made. Remember, we are promised that we will be each other's greatest tests.

Let me give you two examples, both of which are true. I know, for I was there.

The first occurred the day after I declared my faith. I went to the Temple in Wilmette, excited at the thought of going to this Temple for the first time as a Baha'i. Of course, I had been there many times before that, including the day before, when I declared my faith in the Visitor's Center, but this was my first time actually going there as a Baha'i. I went upstairs to the auditorium, and was met by a greeter at the door. She was all smiles and lovingly said, "Welcome to the Baha'i Temple. Is this your first time here?"

"No," I replied. "But it is my first time as a Baha'i. I just declared yesterday."

"Oh," she said, clasping her hands in delight, justl ike my Grandmother would have. "Isn't that wonderful? And what is your name?"

I was touched that she asked, and said, "Mead".

"What an interesting name. And what does it mean."

"Well, it's honey wine."

"Oh," she said, just a bit taken aback by this. "And is it alcoholic?"

That seemed an odd question, when I had just said it was wine. "Well, yes it is."

She seemed satisfied with that and said, "What a good reason to change your name."

And that was when I heard the Councourse on High singing over my shoulders, with bells ringing and harps playing, "Test! This is a test!" I only smiled back at her and went on in to pray.

But do you see how easily that could have driven me away? I'm only grateful that I have no clue who she was, and that my faith was a bit stronger than that.

The second incident occurred a short time later at a youth conference. This was a fairly major conference, with many people there, including a member of the Universal House of Justice.

During this conference, there was a play on stage about the issue of homosexuality. But before I continue, let me assure you that this was a singular thing, and guidance has come out about a more proper attitude towards homosexuality, guiding us towards love and acceptance. We have been reminded that the laws of the Baha'i Faith are for Baha'is, and also that we should not condemn anyone at any time. Prejudice is prejudice, no matter whom it is directed against.

In this play there was the sweet little Baha'i family, and the son brought his friend over for dinner. During the dinner, the friend "came out", telling the family that he was gay. The mother ran off stage screaming. The father stormed off angry. And the sister ran off crying. All the while, the son proceeded to "explain" the Baha'i perspective (I should put that in quotes, too) and the friend realized the error of his ways (perhaps I should just put the whole sentence in quotes).

This was very similar to a dear friend of mine who confided in me a few years back that she was questioning whether or not she should still be a Baha'i. When I asked her why, she said that she found herself intolerant of homosexuals, whereas before she had become Baha'i, she had many friends who were gay. We sat down and talked about what was then (and still is in some areas) the prevalent attitude towards gay people in the Baha'i community (this was some years ago, please remember), and then looked at the guidance. We found quite the disparity between the two, and found that the Baha'i Faith is very respectful towards people of all backgrounds, despite what we may have seen.

This attitude, as far as I can tell, is far better now than it was at the time. And that play also made me seriously question if I wanted to be a member of a Faith that espoused that type of attitude. Needless to say, it wasn't the Faith, but only the perspective of the people who wrote that play.

On a lighter note, I remember hearing about this one woman who wanted to enrol, but never did. She was very close to the Faith and seemed to be attending all the activities she could. Finally someone asked her if she wanted to formally enrol. "Oh, I couldn't", she said.

"But why not?"

"I don't look good in a black dress."

It seems that she lived in a community where virtually all of the Baha'is were from Iran, and all the women wore black dresses. It was just the fashion. And she thought it was part of the Faith.

That actually reminds of my neighbour just last week. We were standing outside my home and he asked if there was a law in the Baha'i Writings about not having curtains in your home. You see, my wife and I just moved earlier this year, and have never gotten around to putting up curtains on the first floor. We like the light. And he thought it might be for religious reasons.

I'm glad he asked.

It's kind of crazy what people think may be a part of the Faith. And, for what it's worth, I don't think I'd look too good in a black dress, either.


  1. Great article, Mead. Since it has happened to so many people on a consistent basis, I am convinced that people go through a mystical initiation or covenant when they join a religion. Strange things begin to happen almost immediately after a person declares, as if it is part of a cosmic game to test one's resolve and sharpen their patience.

    I'm not a Baha'i anymore, but when I declared five years ago, this very thing happened to me. Just days after being a Baha'i, one of my Persian friends expressed his delight about becoming a Baha'i, and then proceeded to say every nasty thing you could think of, about my previous religion: like he was storing all of that up for the time when he would be "allowed" to trash my religion.

    It happened again just three months after that. I attended a seminar about how the Baha'i Faith related to my previous religion, at a Baha'i school. Things were going okay for the first few days, but then a new teacher came to finish the seminar and he also said every nasty thing you could think of about my previous religion. It was like God was literally throwing these situations at me, to test my resolve. At first, I failed, and had the knee-jerk reaction of "well, if that's what THESE PEOPLE think, then I don't know if I want to be apart of this", etc.

    Isn't it funny that whenever people have a very negative experience with something new, we almost instictively generalize the whole group with our experience? "Oh, that's what the Jews do." "That's how Muslims are." "White people are oppressors", etc.

    It took me a long time to finally realize that these situations were not isolated incidents, but were all tests from on "High." God took the most personal subject to me, and threw people who would trash it into my presence, to see how I would react.

  2. Negative attitudes towards homosexuals have disappeared within the Baha'i Faith? I still see no change on the part of the UHJ to mend the scars the Baha'i Faith has dealt to its very own. How many Baha'i children grow up in fear of their parents' opinion? How do you think Baha'i children feel when they discover the truth that this notion towards homosexuality was all based upon a misinterpretation in regards to pedophilia? No one wants to be shunned, so they either rebel or they submit quietly in pain or delusion. No child should have to grow up with such fears that something is "wrong" with them.

    To say that because someone is homosexual and should abstain from true happiness in a loving, responsible relationship with all that it entails it horrifying. This is exactly like treating them as second class citizens when it comes human rights.

    While I understand things are getting better, there is still a shocking amount of intolerance in the Baha'i Faith that causes more disunity than the creation of unity. Consensual love is for everyone. To say that because someone is born with a abnormality does not mean they must abstain from being human and cure their "illness" with their spirituality. I guess the Mentally Disabled should pray harder and not marry as well according to that logic. Would you ever tell a mentally disabled teenager that? How do you think a Baha'i child with a disability would feel if that was the UHJ's stance on such things? Do you think they might see their disability as a "problem" to be gotten rid of? I am not saying homosexuality is a disability, but many would say that mental retardation would also be a cause to prevent marriage to protect the gene lines. The argument works for both.

  3. "During this conference, there was a play on stage about the issue of homosexuality."

    This play rings a bell. What youth conference was this? Thanks, Sonja

    1. Great question, Sonja, but I'm not quite sure. It was possibly a youth conference in Indiana in the mid-80s, but I wouldn't swear to it.