Monday, January 31, 2011

A Simple Question

"How are you?" She asked what I am sure she thought was a simple question, but really, are any questions about people all that simple?

I'm not sure what came over me, but come to think of it, I usually answer that question honestly. Maybe that's the problem.

I remember one time I was in a depressed funk and a dear friend of mine saw me making my jewelry at a local coffee house. He asked me how I was doing, and without a smile, I looked up and said with a shrug, "I'm alright." He thought that the world was about to end. He said it was the first time he ever saw me without a smile, and that he had never heard me say that I was anything less than "fantastic". Just his heartfelt concern was enough to cheer me up that afternoon.

But this morning I had said my prayers, and I tossed in a couple of extra prayers for teaching. My work with the cluster growth committee had been tough of late, and I wasn't sure where I was going with it, so I decided that some good heart to heart teaching should really cheer me up. And so when this lady asked me how I was, I answered, "I'm very concerned."

She looked at me with a puzzled expression,and asked, "About what?"

"About the urgent needs of this period in human history," I said, without a moment's thought.

She just stared at me, unsure if I was serious or not. As you know, dear Reader, I was.

"I mean, come on," I continued, "how many of us are aware of the means for addressing these issues? Nowhere near enough. We try all sorts of silly solutions and things just keep getting worse."

"What do you mean?" It seemed that this actually intrigued her. Wow. Now I was surprised. And I told her so. Nothing like honesty. It really is the best policy.

Oh, but before I continue, time for a tangent, a totally unrelated story that I just feel like telling.

I was recently at the Unit Convention and a friend of mine talked about teaching in terms that I could understand. He said, "Imagine you know the best place in the world for a bowl of soup, and one day a friend of yours says that they're really in the mood for a good bowl of soup. You sit there and say, 'Yeah, good soup', but don't tell them about that place. Now, when you see your friend a few months later and they say, 'Wow, I just found a great place for soup,' and you say, 'Oh yeah, I've known about that place for months', they're going to look at you and say, 'You jerk. Why didn't you tell me about it.'"

That reminded of a time shortly after I became a Baha'i. I was working in this bookstore and there was this guy who would regularly come in. He would always ask me for recommendations, like "Is there a good fantasy novel you can recommend?" Or "Is there a good mystery book I should read?" But one afternoon he came in and said, "Are there any good books I should read today?" I think it was the first time he ever gave me an open field like that. Now, I have to tell you, the Feast was just the night before, so I was thinking a lot about teaching that day, and when my friend asked me that question, I could hear the Concourse on High singing out "This is your chance" in 28-part harmony. I took a deep breath and said, "Well, actually there is, but you can't get it at this bookstore. It's about a man named 'Abdu'l-Baha."

My friend looked surprised and said, "Oh, are you a Baha'i?"

Now it was my turn to be surprised. "Uhm, yes, I am."

"Me, too. Allah'u'Abha!"

And like my friend at the unit convention guessed, I replied, "You jerk. How come you never told me about the Faith?" After that, we became even closer friends and joked about it for years.

Oh, and a few years later, he invited me to his children's class, what we would now call more like a junior youth group. He dropped me off while he drove around for another 10 minutes. I went in and asked if the kids if he had shown up yet. "No, we're just waiting for him," was their reply.

"He told me to meet him here. Do you mind if I wait?"

"Yeah, sure," they said, without any enthusiasm, and continued to talk amongst themselves.

"So, what kind of group is this?" I thought I would give them an opportunity.

"It's a Baha'i children's class," they said, and went back to talking with each other.

"Baha'i? What's that?" I'd always wanted to ask that, but somehow never had the chance before then.

One of them turned back to me and said, "It's a religion," and turned away again.

"What kind of religion?" I wasn't going to let them off that easy.

"We like world peace." And then he fell silent again.

By that point my friend walked in and asked me, "So, how'd they do?"

I laughed and said, "Oh, they were awful."

The kids were shocked. "Hey", they protested, "we didn't know it was a test."

My friend and I then told them about how we had met, and how he had never mentioned the Faith to me until after I had declared and tried to teach him. We spent the entire class talking about seizing opportunities, and how life itself is a test.

And that, dear Reader, brings me back to today.

"How are you" is such a great opening for a meaningful conversation, and the way we respond to it can lead it in so many directions. Or it can just close the door and become nothing more than a breath of warm air on a cold afternoon.

For now, I have to get back to that conversation with my new friend and continue exploring some of the means for addressing those problems facing us today.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stockings and Traditions

Well, it's that time of year again. (There's a phrase I haven't used for at least a few weeks.) The Christmas madness is well behind us and Ayyam-i-Ha is just around the corner. My wife and I have begun asking each other, as we have for a few years now, what family traditions we would like to start. You see, dear Reader, we are in a very unusual position, for we are both the first Baha'is in our family, and that means that we get to consciously decide what traditions we would like to see.

Now having spoken to a number of Baha'is about this, I understand that there is sometimes a visceral reaction against this idea. "What", some people exclaim, "but we have no traditions within the Baha'i Faith." Well, that's not quite true. We have no empty rituals, but that is not the same thing at all.

In fact, it would not even be accurate to say that we have no rituals within the Baha'i Faith, for we do. Of course, that is not to say that we have a formal, prescribed manner of public worship, which I believe is what the Guardian was referring to when he said that we have no rituals. But a ritual can also be a regularly performed pattern of behaviour. Such as Feast. Baha'is gather together once every nineteen days to celebrate the beginning of the new Baha'i month, and there is a prescription to the way in which we do this. There is a set of rules about beginning with prayers, including guidelines about which prayers or readings we are to choose from. This is to be followed by the administrative portion, and then finished with the social portion.

Even the daily obligatory prayer can be considered a ritual, but a personal one, not a public one.

Needless to say, this is not what the Guardian was referring to when he spoke of ritual, nor is it what I am speaking of when I talk about setting tradition.

In my family, when I was growing up, we had a tradition of hanging Christmas stockings on the mantle and waking up Christmas morning with them filled with all sorts of goodies. I still get a smile on my face when thinking of my joy and delight every year at seeing what was in those socks.

Shoghi, my son, is almost six, and I have to wonder what delightful little traditions he will remember when he is my age. What will we have done now that will bring that same smile to his face then. (Ok, that didn't really make verb-tensial sense, but I think you know what I mean.)

Over the last little while, Marielle and I have been talking about this, trying to figure out what traditions we would like to set for our Baha'i family, and so, dear Reader, I thought I would share a bit of out thoughts with you here.

Personally, I'm all for the Ayyam-i-Ha stockings. I love the idea of hanging them up and then, in the nighttime, after everyone has gone to bed, we each sneak down and put a little gift in each sock, including our own. Why? Well, there is the joy of discovery, but it would also help encourage anonymous gift giving, including being generous to your own self.

Marielle, however, pointed out an interesting thing: it's not real. Oh, and it's not that they wouldn't exist, or have any benefits, or even just be fun, but just that we don't hang our socks by the fireplace anymore. You see, many years ago when we people would walk outside in the winter, we'd come home with our boots and socks soaking wet. To dry them, we'd hang them by the fire, for there were no dryers at the time. Now imagine you go to get your socks in the morning to put them on, and there is a little gift in them. How delightful. Today, most of us in these climes have winter boots that actually keep our feet dry. And the majority of us don't have fireplaces, so we sure don't hang our dry socks over those non-existent heating units.

And so, I agree with her. As much as I love the idea, it isn't real.

Sitting here, though, in the early morning, at the breakfast table, typing away, I see Shoghi's winter coat hanging on the handle of the door. Why is it there and not on a hanger? Because it was wet when we came in last night. And my sweater / jacket is usually hanging on the back of a chair for the same reason.


Perhaps we could put little gifts in the pockets. Or in the sleeves.

Whatever we do, we have the bounty of beginning these traditions that will probably be carried over for at least a few generations, and we want to be careful about how we do it.

Hey, now that I think about it, I really like the idea of the Ayyam-i-Ha coat. There are many stories of 'Abdu'l-Baha giving away His coat to someone who was poor and cold. (There is also the story of Him giving away His pants one time, but I don't think I want to go there.) Perhaps we could also have a special coat that we buy specifically to give away, and fill that coat's pockets with little gifts, too.

Just the thought of that brings a smile to my face.

And I think it is the same sort of smile that I get when I remember waking up on Christmas morning and seeing those ashen footprints going from the fireplace to the gifts under the tree.

Yeah. I can see it now. A special coat filled with little gifts, and Shoghi and I going downtown to that place on Pandora Avenue where all the homeless people seem to hang out, and passing out little gifts to everyone for Ayyam-i-Ha. Of course, it also means that we'd have to begin going there now so that we get to know everyone, but that's easy to do.

Oh, and Shoghi's birthday is during Ayyam-i-Ha, and Marielle is out of town at that time this year. Maybe we'll make a day of it. But please don't tell Marielle. She'll probably be jealous.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Vision of Hope

Well, my friend at the Times-Colonist has allowed me to publish another article. You can find it here. (I just thought a bit of cross-advertising couldn't hurt.)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Two Wings of One Bird

As you may, or may not, know, I occassionally write a piece for my local newspaper's spiritual blog. There seem to be more Baha'is doing this these days, which is a great thing. Yesterday morning, as I was getting ready to write a piece for this blog, Anna, the editor for Spiritually Speaking, e-mailed me and asked if I could submit a piece for Sunday. Well, as you may have guessed, I did, and this resulted in some good news, some bad news, and another piece of news.

The bad news is that, unfortunately, it is not going to published on Sunday. The good news is that she published it yesterday, mere hours after it was submitted. The other news is that I'll be writing another piece for Sunday, and that is good or bad, depending upon your point of view.

However you look at it, it seemed a good idea to post a link to yesterday's article here, so here it is. Now to write the next one.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Colour of Joy

As I was walking outside this morning, I passed by a tall patch of grass being gently lit by the rising sun. It was shaded a dusty pink, and framed by frost-covered dark green blackberry leaves. The striking, contrasting colours touched my spirit and I found myself thinking of the ephemeral beauty of this world.

It may seem odd to make that connection, but last night I learned that my uncle had passed away, and so my thoughts went in that direction.

I remember when, a few years ago, my friend Mary was dying and we would sit and talk with her. During her life she had often expressed the desire to go to Ireland. But when she was dying, and someone asked her about this dream of hers, she said, "Why would I even look at the mud when the glorious worlds of God are waiting?"

That is what I thought about this morning.

Baha'u'llah says, "The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother."

I have often wondered about this statement, and have come to a few thoughts about it. I'm sure I've shared them here before, but it seems timely to share them again, so please forgive me. When a child is in the womb, they can hear sounds, but they're all muffled. And perhaps they can see a bit of light, sort of like if you were to shine a flashlight through your hand or cheek. While these sounds and sights may be intriguing to the foetus, how can they ever hope to compare to the majesty of a symphony or the beauty of a sunrise? Even more, how could you hope to explain the latter to that child when you only have the former to compare?

In the Writings, and especially those compiled in the book Life, Death and Immortality, there are many descriptions of the nature of the soul and how it moves beyond this world.

Baha'u'llah describes its state in the following words: And now concerning thy question regarding the soul of man and its survival after death. Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving kindness and bounty. The movement of My Pen is stilled when it attempteth to befittingly describe the loftiness and glory of so exalted a station. The honor with which the Hand of Mercy will invest the soul is such as no tongue can adequately reveal, nor any other earthly agency describe. Blessed is the soul which, at the hour of its separation from the body, is sanctified from the vain imaginings of the peoples of the world.

Abdu'l-Baha also says, "...a love that one may have entertained for any one will not be forgotten in the world of the Kingdom. Likewise, thou wilt not forget (there) the life that thou hast had in the material world."

Elsewhere in the Writings, it is alluded that the feelings we feel in this world are as muffled as those sounds were in the womb. It's not that we don't feel them, nor should we stop treasuring them in this life, but just that those positive emotions that we experience here will be so much more heightened in the next world. The love we feel for someone here will be that much greater in the next world, especially as we begin to commune with their spirit unimpeded by the physical shell.

My uncle suffered from Alzheimer's disease in his last days, and I remember when his mother, my grandmother, also suffered from the same condition. Now, when I look back on it, it seems to me that this is yet another way that the soul begins to move away from this world. We already know that as we age, it is only natural that we become less and less attached to this material shell of ours, for it is slowly breaking down. If we look with spiritual eyes, we begin to look forward to our spiritual body, which is free from these impediments.

So what is it that we have to look forward to?

I really have no idea. But I do remember reading one author who spoke of these heightened senses of emotion and spiritual awareness, and that touched me. I really liked the idea of the joy and love that I feel in this world being heightened to such a degree that I can no longer fathom them. I resonated with the thought that these attributes would become so visible that my every pleasure here on this earth would seem but a torture.

And the way that I have come to understand it, for myself, is that my senses will be so changed, my perceptions so new, that every emotion, every virtue would be as a symphony to my now-foetal senses.

This morning I found that pink-tinged grass particularly beautiful. In the next world, perhaps I will cherish the colour of joy.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Learning How to Learn

My wife missed the boat this morning.

No. Seriously. She did. Most people I know either take a bus to work, or drive, or even walk. But not Marielle. She takes a boat. (How cool is that?)

And this morning, she missed the boat, so I drove her, which explains why I am sitting in a coffee shop near her work and far from home. (Yeah, yeah. I just bet you were wondering about that. And no, this time I'm not sitting next to a blazing heater. Thanks for checking.)

On the way in, we were talking about the development of the Faith and where we think some of the developments in our own cluster will be. One thing, out of everything else, really stood out: the need to learn how to learn.

Now doesn't that just sound like a redundant phrase? Can't you see it becoming one of the most annoying terms in the next few years? I'm sure it's going to go on the list of top 10 most overused phrases of 2014 on

But it's not there yet! So I can still use it with impunity.

There we were, sitting in the car sitting in a little bit of traffic, talking, and that phrase came up. "We need to learn how to learn", and Marielle asked me, "What does that mean?"

What does it mean?

Don't we all go to school to learn? Marielle went to college to learn how to teach. Every day we are learning, many different things in many different fields.

But this is not the same as learning how to learn. It is learning.

In school, I took a chemistry class in which I needed to conduct experiments, record my observations and make conclusions about what was happening. I also needed to learn to make a few theories and come up with tests to see if my theories were correct.

But even this was not learning about learning. It was learning to experiment.

No. There is a process of stepping back and seeing what we have learned, and then stepping back again and seeing how we came to learn it.

It is this second step that we are moving towards.

Of course, I probably get ahead of myself here, in my enthusiasm. Let me go back a bit and see if I can explain this to myself. If I can, then I'll see if I can explain it to Shoghi (who turns 6 in a few weeks) (feel free to send him birthday greetings) (his birthday is during Ayyam-i-Ha). If I can explain it him so that he understands it, then I'm sure I can begin to understand it myself. And then maybe I have a chance of trying to explain it to someone else.

Hmm. I see a problem, though. Shoghi is in school. Sorry. I guess I'll just have to use you, dear Reader, as a guinea pig. (Why are they called Guinea pigs? They are not from Guinea, nor are they a type of pig.) (I wonder, though: are they kosher?)

Let me try it this way.

Our first step is to do something and see the effect. If it's what we want, great. Do more of it. Or do it better. If it's not what we want to see, try something else.

Of course, we can do this all by our lonesome, hoping that we have the detachment and insight to do this well, but we know that it will be far more effective if we consult with others.

And hey! That is a learning about how to learn. I can learn on my own, but I learn better when I consult.

Now another thing is how to make the consultation the most effective in eliciting this learning. The main barrier I have seen when consulting on our activities is the paradigm generally used. We tend to think in terms of success and failure, and therefore if we don't see the desired effect, we tend to think we have failed. People don't like failing, so they come up with all sorts of excuses or rationales to not feel like they failed. But really, this is not conducive to learning. It tends to lead us to throwing away whatever we have done and starting all over again from scratch, thereby wasting all the effort that has gone into it.

This can be easily overcome by shifting our paradigm from success and failure to that of crisis and victory. There is a wonderful compilation on this subject, and it really helps us to understand this new paradigm. It helps us understand that every crisis leads to a victory, and each victory has the seed of the next crisis embedded within it.

For example, it is a tremendous victory when a community has an incredible bond of love and unity amongst its members. When they see themselves as a single family, this is very attractive and quite wonderful. A community like this will naturally attract others and begin to grow. But therein lies the crisis: as it grows, some of the members will not feel that intense love for other members. Friction will occur. Personalities will clash. The larger the group, the more likely this is to happen. This can easily lead to a crisis. Of course, the victory that is around the corner is when we realize how we can overcome this and still maintain the unity of the group. And this victory will lead to another crisis, which will see its own victory, which will lead to a crisis and on to another victory.

Another learning about how to learn more effectively is to let our egos go. If we think we have the answers, or know the best way to learn, then we are not open to learning better ways and methods. I don't know how many times I've sat in on meetings where things are not going all that well and when someone suggests a new way of doing something, it is shot down because others "know better". (I really hope I am not the one doing the shooting, although I'm sure I'm guilty of it at some point.)

Hey! Did you know that there was a compilation on the problems of the ego that was released about 7 or 8 years ago? If we realize that we need it now, then that puts us a couple years ahead of the curve! It used to be 10 years before many of us realized the application of the compilations. If we're down to 7 or 8, it means we're learning faster. Yay for us.

Another thing we have learned about learning more effectively is to do it more often and in more arenas. They say that practice makes perfect (it doesn't, it only makes more practiced), so if we practice reflecting on our actions in every area and with every opportunity, then we should get better at it.

Oh, and this is also the first thing that the Counsellors were asked to form a clear conception about in the 28 December message: how to extend to other spheres of operation the mode of learning we are using in our teaching endeavours. It's so important that, as I've said a few times now (my gosh, I'm really repeating myself these days) (did I say that already?), paragraph 7 of that same message is dedicated to that singular theme.

This is exciting.

We are taking action. Simple actions, often, but action nonetheless. Then we reflect on those actions and learn how to better them. And then, if that weren't enough, we are examining our own reflection process and learning how to better that.


Oh, and one last little point. What we are doing is quite difficult. Not only are we learning in action, but we are trying to learn while doing social action, where the variables are always in motion. I'm not sure if there is anything more difficult. Or more rewarding.

You know, I'm glad Marielle missed the boat this morning. She sure didn't miss the boat on this one.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reflections on One Baha'i

Yesterday afternoon I noticed another comment on a post from over a year ago. Oh, the post was from over a year ago, not the comment. I do check a bit more often than that, thank you very much. What caught my attention was not the comment, nice as it was, but the fact that it was from an article so long ago. You know what this means, right? I think it means a few different things. First, that you folks out there, dear Readers, are actually going back and reading those earlier articles. I cannot tell you how much that is a source of encouragement to me. (Thanks.)

Another thing that these comments do is help me decide what I am going to write about. You see, I can actually look and see which articles have the most comments, or even the most views if I want, and that helps me see what you are all interested in.

And what have I noticed? Well, a few things. You seem to really like the metaphor game. I'm glad, because I do, too. (That's why I've played it for so many years.) There are many articles I have written with it in mind, even though I may not have actually named it as such. But that's what it was, to me. These would be articles like Sunflowers, Atoms and Apples, or other similar ones.

You also seem to really like the articles about the laws of the Faith. Well, that's encouraging, too, because it really helps me figure out how to apply this Faith of ours. Last year's articles about the Fast, or the Right of God, or even washing your feet every day (my personal favorite article, so far) have generated a lot of hits, as well as a ton of e-mail. (How much does e-mail actually weigh?)

The third type of articles you seem to like are those that look at the Administration, whether it's about the Unit Convention, Baha'i' elections or what have you.

The fourth are those that take an odd look at a common question, like the gay marriage issue, or animals and souls.

But most of all, you seem to like those with humour. (I won't even put any links here, for there are too many for me to choose.) (And hey, I have seen a number of write-ups about this blog and I love the fact that the two words that come up most often in those reviews are spiritual and humour. How cool is that?)

Now you may be wondering why I am sharing all of this, and I am, too. I expected to write a short piece about another random law from the Kitab-i-Aqdas, but got side-tracked on this, instead.

After sipping my coffee, and trying not to get too overheated by this annoying fireplace on my left (the only seat near a plug for my computer in this coffee shop was next to a fireplace), I realized that what my subconscious was trying to do was tell me to reflect. Funny that, for this has been my focus for days now with my cluster. In the recent message from the Universal House of Justice (28 December 2010), the first thing they ask the Counsellors to do is to get a clear vision on how to assist the friends in "expanding to other spheres of operation the mode of learning" we have been developing. In other words, to help us learn to how learn from our own actions.

This concept is so important that paragraph 7 of that same message seems to be dedicated to it. They clearly show how it all begins with a small group of people reflecting on their own actions. As this group learns how to analyze what they are doing, and learn from what they have done, they are growing in size. What begins as a few friends doing this, possibly in someone's living room, they join forces with other small groups doing the same thing, so that they can all learn from each other. Eventually the group becomes too big for this, and something more formal is needed. Hence the Reflection Meeting.

In a nearby community, they are beginning to learn how to do this effectively. They have a monthly public meeting at which they present a talk on an advertised topic. By reflecting on how many people have come since the beginning, and cross-referencing it with the topics advertised, they have noticed a few important, or at least interesting, things. They discovered that if they have a "Baha'i" topic, one that interests themselves, they show up. But nobody else does. If they have a topic that is relevant to the greater community, then that community shows up.  Great learning, that.

And now I have my title for this article. (You may not have noticed, but it was untitled until this point.)

Well, thanks for letting me reflect on this. I appreciate it.

You know, this afternoon I'm going to be meeting with some other friends with whom I share a blog spot in the local newspaper. We're going to go over things like this in order to better see how we can serve both the interests of the Faith and this newspaper. It should be interesting, and this has been a good beginning for me to try and get my mind around it.


Now, just in case you have any particular preferences, please let me know what you think. I'm only looking at the statistics gathered by the blog. But you, dear Readers, are the ones who really know what you like. (For all I know, you could have all logged into one article to show your friends and say, "See this article? It really sucks.")

So for now, I'll leave you with a silly joke. What kind of car did 'Abdu'l-Baha say we should travel teach in? The Honda Accord. After all, in His Will and Testament, He says that "all the friends and loved ones... (should) bestir themselves and arise with heart and soul and in one accord, to diffuse the sweet savors of God..."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Winds of Change

When I walked outside this afternoon, I was nearly blown off my feet by the heavy winds blowing across the area. And yes, dear Reader, it got me thinking.

Have you ever considered the wind? What is it, exactly?

Well, as I'm sure you know, the winds are caused by differences in air pressure, which are caused by the warming rays of the sun. As the sun shines on one side of the planet, the air is warmed and tends to move upward. Hot air, you may recall, rises. (As opposed to heat, which radiates, but that's another story.) The other half of the planet, which is in the darkness of night, experiences a cooling effect, which tends to make the air masses move downwards. Up and down: cycles occur and presto, we have the wind. (A simplified version, to be sure, but still relatively accurate.)

Another thing that I'm sure you are aware of is how I love to find the spiritual point of learning in any physical thing. I have referred to it before as my metaphor game. Anything can be seen as a metaphor for a spiritual truth, and I love to see if I can find at least one truth in anything.

So, how about the wind?

Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the way that the wind is formed. The sun heats up one part of the planet, and everything, even the air way on the other side, responds. You can be in the middle of the arctic during winter, when you don't see the light of the sun for months, and you will still feel its effects in the wind. That's kind of cool, especially in the arctic.

Most analogies like this, I've noticed, tend to have the sun representative of God. Given that as a starting point, what would that make the wind? I haven't really thought this one through, but I would think of it as the Word of God.

When God shines His light upon the planet, the whole world responds. It is sort of like when Baha'u'llah says, "through the rise of these Luminaries of God the world is made new", not just the part that receives His light at that moment.

If the light is the divine inspiration from the realms on high, then it only makes sense to me to think of the winds as the Word of God, which draws its strength from that Source of sources. But what good does it do us to think of it in this way?

Again, I'm not really sure, but let's look at the wind throughout human history.

At first, I believe that the wind was seen as a way to cool us off. Of course, we had to be careful, for it also carried our scent to those animals that we may have been hunting, or who were hunting us. Later, we probably discovered that it made the fire burn brighter. Next we learned how to harness that wind so that we could sail further in our boats. But today we seem to be going even further. We have made the wind to blow in our homes, providing comfort with either heat or air conditioning. We have generated power from the wind, through wind turbines. We sail our airplanes upon its currents. And we even carry it with us beyond the confines of our own atmosphere.

In other words, looking at this a little bit at a time, the Word of God can be seen as a comfort. (Oh, and please remember, this is only my own opinion here, and nothing official. I thought I should put that standard disclaimer here, just in case.) It provides the structure of our society, through its laws, and gives us reassurances about life after this world.

But there is a problem at the same time for some people: It carries the scent of our true selves to others. If we are not pure of heart and sincere, then others can tell. There is no hiding it, unless we are downwind, but even that stands out to those who are aware.

The winds of divine teachings also fan the flame of our faith, allowing it to burn ever stronger and brighter. We are suddenly able to do more, and others are more aware of it.

Early on in our development, we could use the Word of God to go places we never could have gone before. We could use it to explore far beyond our own limited borders. A whole world opened up to our eyes. We could, in a sense, sail to the distant shores of other cultures.

Today, even that has changed. Not only have we explored the boundaries of this world, but we are now beginning to explore even further afield. What used to take weeks or months to reach now takes only a few hours. The whole planet is, in effect, our neighbourhood. Beyond that, new planets are waiting, beckoning us to come forth. Nothing is the same any more. The Word of God is carrying us much further than we ever suspected was possible.

And we even see new potentials for releasing the power latent within the sacred texts. The training institute, often referred to as the engine that drives the process of entry by troops, is, in many ways, like the turbine, giving its energy to those who are tapped into it.


I don't think I'll ever think of walking in the wind the same way again.

Oh, and just in case we think that this is all under our control, I'll lovingly point out the tornadoes and hurricanes.

Good night!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mulberries and Miracles

As you may have noticed, I've taken a short break from writing about the 28 December 2010 message. The reason for this is that some friends and I are studying it once a week, and I'm so overwhelmed with it in that study that I don't think I can write coherently about it just yet. (And yes, dear Reader, I'm sure I can hear you thinking "Yet?" Well, I have delusions that I was a bit coherent about it before. Leave me to my delusions, thank you very much.)

So, if I'm not writing about that letter, what am I going to write about? I don't know. I think it's something of a miracle that I can actually write as often as I do. (Actually, I think of it more as a challenge. When I first set out to do this, someone said that I had set myself "a mighty task", and I saw that as a challenge.)

Hey! Miracles. I can write about those.

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day (sorry if I haven't called back, but I'm awful with phones) and we got to talking about miracles. She was saying how there was something about miracles that sort of bothered her, but she wasn't sure why.

As we were talking, a quote came to mind: "We entreat Our loved ones not to besmirch the hem of Our raiment with the dust of falsehood, neither to allow references to what they have regarded as miracles and prodigies to debase Our rank and station, or to mar the purity and sanctity of Our name."

If this quote wasn't odd enough, its placement in The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf is even more unusual. It comes right after He says that He wants to suppress of the causes of contention and seperation so that people can be free to seek "their own interests".

Given where it occurs, it seems that these "miracles and prodigies" may be one of those causes. Now that I think about it in those terms, it does make sense. I mean, how much arguing has there been about the nature of the various miracles that Jesus performed? Whole churches have been split because of this. And as I said in an earlier post, "What does it matter my belief in the Virgin Birth, or any other numerous miracles attributed to Manifestations? These views have no impact upon my actions in the world, nor my love for my Creator and fellow creatures."

That aside, I want to look at another aspect of this quote that has long intrigued me. He says that references to what we have regarded as miracles and prodigies debase His rank and station, and mars the purity and sanctity of His name.

Say what?

You mean, when I talk about the Book of Certitude, and how it was revealed in only a few days, which certainly qualifies as a prodigy, this debases His rank? Mars the purity of His name? I guess so. (Time to change how I talk about that Book.)

Why would that be?

Well, I'm not really sure, as you know by now. This is, after all, only my own opinion and nothing official, but hey, that's what I do. I offer my own opinion and hope I'm not too far off base.

So, why would this be a bad thing to talk about? It might be because it distracts us from what is really important: the message itself. In some ways it would be like studying the cover photograph of the book, instead of the contents.

Another aspect of it might be that the true wonder is not, for example, that the Book of Certitude was written so quickly, but that it was written at all. How often did Baha'u'llah challenge others to write even a single verse? "...(P)roduce a single verse, if thou dost possess divinely-inspired knowledge," was His challenge to Mirza Yahya when he claimed to have his own revelation from God. But really, "they are not, and never shall be able to do this, even should they combine to assist one another."

And so I ask about the practicality of all this. We have so many stories that seem to be either miracles or prodigies. Why? What is the point of them? If, as I firmly believe, there is nothing coincidental or accidental within the Faith, then these stories and accounts must have a purpose we can learn from.

But perhaps they are not what we think. Maybe these miraculous events happened for another reason, aside from being immensly entertaining. (And really, we know that the Manifestations were not sent down for our mere entertainment.)

One of my favorite stories is about Baha'u'llah in the Garden of Ridvan. Not the first one in Baghdad, but the one in the Holy Land.

I'm sure you've seen other photos of this garden, or perhaps even been there yourself. It's incredibly beautiful and was much loved by Baha'u'llah and the friends. Baha'u'llah used to sit on the blue benches that you can see in the photo and many of the friends would gather there to meet with Him.

It seems that there was also a mublerry tree in the garden, and as anyone who has ever lived around mulberry trees, they leave a bit of a mess on the ground under them. Their berries fall and stain whatever they touch.

There was a gardener who had the task of keeping the garden clean, and it seemed he took exception to this particular tree. It was, I'm sure he thought, more work than it was worth. One day he approached Baha'u'llah and asked Him if He could make the mulberry stop making such a mess. After initially saying "No", He finally relented. The gardener was granted his wish, and the tree never made any berries ever again.

Now this is a neat story and all, truly a miracle. But is it? Really? Well, I mean, yes, of course, it is a miracle that the tree never gave its fruit again. But this, it seems, is not uncommon. The fruit only grows on the female trees, and not on the males. And what is unusual about mulberry trees is that they are known to occasionally change their gender, specifically from female to male. (But the timing of his particular instance is still miraculous.)

And yet, I can't help but wonder about the lesson contained within this.

Jesus famously said that a tree that bears no fruit is only fit for the fire. By insisting on his request, did the gardener inadvertantly "condemn" this tree to the fire? Was Baha'u'llah hesitating, hoping that the gardener would see the implication of his request? Who knows. But it does seem to me that there is a very powerful lesson contained within that story, a lesson more practical than "He doeth whatsoever He pleaseth."

Now this fits for me. Instead of looking at the miracles as miracles, or wondering at the prodigies, we should focus more on the lessons and see what we can learn. Isn't this true for everything in Their lives? So why not here, too.

(But I've got to admit, I'm still blown away by the prodigies, and the miracles.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

The "I'm Right" Reflex

Have you ever been to the doctor and had her hit your knee with a hammer? You noticed how your leg kicked forward? That was a reflex. It was beyond your control. The doc hits. You kick. Pretty simple.

I was thinking about this the other day as I watched how some people reacted to a few questions or ideas at a meeting.

You see, dear Reader, I have this theory. I think that people, when encountering a new idea, have a similar reflex. I like to think of it as the "I'm right" reflex.

Visualize this, if you will, please. Someone is just standing there when something flies toward them and is about to smack them in the face. They, quite naturally, throw up their arms in defense. Arms bent at the elbows. Hands up around eye height, a few inches away from the face. Palms out. Fingers loosely spread.

You can see it, right? It's a fairly common physical pose in that scenario.

Now imagine an idea coming at you in a similar way.

Can't you just imagine a mental startle similar to that pose?

But why do I mention this?

Well, let's go back to the doctor again. Suppose you had no idea why they were tapping your knee. It seems to me that you have a few simple responses to them doing this. First, you can presume that your body knew what it was doing when it began to, effectively, kick out, and you can follow through on that and kick the doc. Not a great response, but not entirely out of the question. Second, you can be fascinated by the reflex and watch as it subsides. This is what most of us actually do. A third response could be that you can whack them upside the head for having hit your knee. Not a good idea, but still possible. Let's ignore the third one for now, for it doesn't actually have anything to do with the knee and the leg.

I believe that we have a similar reflex to new ideas. We mentally toss our hands up in front of our eyes, so to speak, as if to protect ourselves. This is, in my view, nothing more than a simple reflex, over which we have very little control.

What happens next, however, is entirely up to us.

We can either presume that our body, or mind, knows what we are doing and move forward clenching our metaphorical fists, striking a pose that is antagonistic and ready for battle, sort of like a boxer getting ready to fight. Or we can open our arms, spreading them out in front of us, using the forward momentum to embrace that new idea, kind of like someone getting ready to hug an old friend.

In fact, we can even use this reflex as a tool for learning.

Simply stated, this reflex can be seen, or thought of, as an unconscious "I'm right". And when we feel ourselves having this response, we can recognize it as our reaction to encountering something new. We can actually train ourselves to be on guard for this, and when we feel it to use that momentum to move ourselves into that latter position, that embracing of the new, exploring it to see if it is, perhaps, better than what we already have.

I'm not there yet, as anyone who has consulted with me knows, but I am aware of it. Now if only I can work on closing the gap between having that reflex and responding with that second response.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Homosexuality and Civil Rights

A recent letter was sent by the Universal House of Justice to an American Baha'i regarding the issue of homosexuality and civil rights. It was brought to my attention when someone sent me a link to an article about it. They knew of my interest in the subject, had presumably read an earlier piece I had written, and let me know. Whoever that was, thanks. (I'd give you a tip of my hat, but I'm not wearing one.)

As the person who wrote that article said, it seems to be the issue of our generation, and so I find myself, once again, addressing it.

The extract from the letter from the Universal House of Justice is as follows:
...With respect to your question concerning the position Bahá'ís are to take regarding homosexuality and civil rights, we have been asked to convey the following.

The purpose of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh is the realization of the organic unity of the entire human race, and Bahá'ís are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Bahá'í is exhorted to be "an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression", and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.

At the same time, you are no doubt aware of the relevant teachings of the Faith that govern the personal conduct of Bahá'ís. The Bahá'í Writings state that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and that sexual relations are restricted to a couple who are married to each other. Other passages from the Writings state that the practice of homosexuality is not permitted. The teachings of Bahá'u'lláh on personal morality are binding on Bahá'ís, who strive, as best they can, to live up to the high standards He has established.

In attempting to reconcile what may appear to be conflicting obligations, it is important to understand that the Bahá'í community does not seek to impose its values on others, nor does it pass judgment on others on the basis of its own moral standards. It does not see itself as one among competing social groups and organizations, each vying to establish its particular social agenda. In working for social justice, Bahá'ís must inevitably distinguish between those dimensions of public issues that are in keeping with the Bahá'í Teachings, which they can actively support, and those that are not, which they would neither promote nor necessarily oppose. In connection with issues of concern to homosexuals, the former would be freedom from discrimination and the latter the opportunity for civil marriage. Such distinctions are unavoidable when addressing any social issue. For example, Bahá'ís actively work for the establishment of world peace but, in the process, do not engage in partisan political activities directed against particular governments.
Now, what does all this mean, in practical terms? I think a few things.

First, it means that prejudice is prejudice and we need to take a stand against it wherever we see it. That seems to me to be the gist of that second paragraph. We are all created noble and are deserving of respect, no matter our skin-colour, background, or life-style choices. Each and every one of us deserves this. It is, as they say, entirely appropriate for us to arise to "the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated".

The third paragraph, however, reminds us of the laws of the Faith. There are many things that are considered moral and acceptable within the general society that are not permitted within the Faith. But, and here's the catch, these laws are only applicable to Baha'is. We are not supposed to, nor do we have the right to try and impose these laws on anyone else. Furthermore, to judge other people, especially in relation to laws to which they are not bound, would be not only rude, but highly unfair, and even "against the spirit of the Faith". Pretty harsh words, if viewed in a particular context.

Then they remind us of the Baha'i definition of marriage, and that it constitutes a union between a man and a woman. There is no question about that. It's pretty simple. They also tell us pretty simply that sexual relations are only allowed within the context of marriage and that homosexual behaviour is not permitted within the Baha'i Faith. But again, these laws are only binding upon Baha'is, and not a judgement against anyone else. To judge others is not permitted.

In the last paragraph they look at the issues facing our society, especially in regard to the gay marriage issue. They point out the need for looking at the various issues in a proper context. We need to be able to distinguish the moral points from the social points.

It is here that I like to look at a real example. There was an elderly gay couple who had been partners for over 40 years. One of them took ill, and was in palliative care in a hospital. Because they were not considered "married", the man's partner was not allowed in to see him, except during public visiting hours, and he was not allowed to be recognized a "next-of-kin", despite the patient's request. This is, without any question, a violation of rights based on a prejudice. It is in circumstances such as this that we should all feel free, and even eager, to rise to defense.

There should be a legal model in which an individual can choose who they wish to have regarded as "next-of-kin", or who they would like to be able have visit them in hospital, as well as a number of other things. (Of course, this gets tricky in terms of estates when there is no will, but that is another matter altogether. And besides, it really is true that we should all have a will.) (Oh, and it also gets tricky when no one is officially listed as being in that position.)
But now we come to another point: what would we call that legal model.

This is where I am not particularly concerned. Whatever the government decides, I am happy with.

I've been told that it is not as simple as I make it out, but I have to wonder why. In terms of the rights of all people, I am fairly adamant, and will stand up for anyone's rights. As for what we call the model for those rights, I could care less. Personally, I believe that calling it a "marriage" is only confusing, and muddles the issue of the religious institution and the civil model. I am all for calling it a civil union, or something similar. This model should serve as giving people all the rights of a married couple, without confusing it with the religious institution.

One more example. I have two friends who are not legally married, but they are considered common-law. They have decided not to get married because neither of them is religious. There is no point, in their opinion, of having a wedding. When one of them was in hospital, the other was allowed to visit as a family member, even though they were not married. As far as taxes and inheritance laws go, they are still considered as married.

But if they were of the same gender, then this would not be true in many areas. To me, this is not fair, and constitutes a clear prejudice.

We have come so far. And the next step really is not all that big.

Many of these rights used to only extend if the couple was married according to the rites and rituals of the land. Then we recognized that many different religious ceremonies were acceptable. Now we allow people these rights even if they are not married according to any specific faith path. It seems to me that the next step is to allow people to decide who they want to have those rights in relation to themselves, no matter who they choose.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

One God

"How many gods are there?"

The question seemed to come out of nowhere, but really, it just sort of followed on a bit of a tangent. We'd been talking about different religions, and I was saying that they seemed to have more in common than they did that was different.

How many gods are there? How do you go about answering that? There is obviously a hidden question within that, so just saying "one" doesn't quite seem to do it.

Upon reflection, it occurred to me that he seemed to believe that each religion came from a different god,  and he was going to try to claim that his religion was best, due to some sort of convoluted argument that would follow. It felt like it would be a grown up version of "My Dad can beat up your Dad".

As I was thinking of how to answer the real question, and curtail the upcoming argument, I said a quick prayer in my heart. You know the one, I'm sure. I often refer to it as one of my favorites, one of the few I've actually been able to commit to memory. It goes, "Oh God, help!"

It always seems to work, too.

As soon as I said it, the first thing that came to my mind was an image of 'Abdu'l-Baha in a church in the West. There are many instances in churches, or synagogues, or even in people's homes, when giving His talks, he would refer to some object that was right there. In the one church I was thinking of, He said, in the middle of His talk, "The incandescent lamps here are many, yet the light is one." I could just picture Him lovingly pointing to those lamps.

Other times He would refer to a flower, or a mirror, or some other object that the people could actually see.

Ruhiyyih Khanum often did the same thing. There was a time when she was in India giving a talk to a crowd of people who were predominantly farmers. When asked to describe the Baha'i Faith in relation to past religions, she pointed to a wheel on a nearby cart and said, "For generations you have built this powerful wheel, and you know where its strength lies. But if you ask someone who does not know anything about wheels, and never made one, where lies its strength, he may say it is in the rim. But you know that is not true. He may then say that it is in the spokes. But you know that is also not true; the strength of the wheel lies in the hub." And she proceeded to describe how each past faith fits into the hub of the Baha'i Faith, gaining in strength and applicability to today's problems.

But I didn't have a nearby cart that was handy, and I didn't see how it would help answer this man's question.

No, what I had was an apple. I knew the answer to his real question had to lie within that apple, but how? The seeds of apple being like the different faiths, and God being the apple itself? Too obscure. Besides, I didn't have a knife with which to cut the apple.

As you may know by now, my wife is from Quebec, and my son is going to a French school, so I've been learning a bit of that language (Shoghi's teaching me). And as I stared at that apple, the word "pomme" came to mind. The French word for apple. And then "tuffah", the Arabic (don't ask how I know that one).

There was my answer.

I looked at it, sitting there in my hand, with a bit of wonder, surprised that the idea was so simple. I'd never thought of it before, and am fairly sure I didn't think of it then, either. But the answer was there, and I was happy to share it.

"What is this?" I said, holding out the apple in my palm.

All right. His expression was a bit amusing. I mean, he had no idea what was going on in my head. Talk about non-sequitors: "How many gods are there?" "What is this?" (Said while holding an apple.) (I guess you had to be there.)

Anyways, he looked at me like I was a bit nuts and said, as if I were a child that he was trying to educate, "An apple."

"Yes," I agreed, "and how would you call it in French?"

Now he knew I was going somewhere with this. "Pomme?"

"Yup. Do you happen to know the Arabic for it? No? Tuffah."


"Close enough. So, how many objects am I holding?"


"Only one? But I'm holding an apple, a pomme and a tuffah."
He grinned in appreciation. I guess he was going to try and use the argument that "Muslims don't worship God, they worship Allah." I usually respond to that with "Yes, and the French worship Dieu, and the Spanish Dios." Same thing, different language.

I didn't even need to go there. He got it.

So I took a bite, and then offered it to him. He took a bite, too, and we continued on our merry way.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Friendship; or "I Think I Need a Break"

Dear Reader,

It has been some time now since we talked. Just you and I.

We've looked at many of the Writings together, taken time to glance at the first few paragraphs of the recent messages from the World Centre, and talked about the Administration. But when was the last time we saw a movie together? When was the last time we walked on the beach? Have we ever gone bowling?

Today, I'm going to take a break and just talk with you. One on one. (I'd say "mano a mano", but it may be "mano a womano".)

I've noticed, as I've mentioned before, that there is so much in the Writings about friendship, and taking the time to really be friends, with no hidden agenda.

So, have you seen any good movies lately? Or any good videos?

I recently saw a few amazing talks on One was a look at a study of the big cats (no, not like George, who is now eating the kitchen, but the REALLY big cats) and how they can teach us a lot about life. If you want, you can see it here. This couple has done some amazing work in Africa and they come to some great conclusions about it. They talk about how we sometimes give up, but then a spark occurs and we suddenly get back on the ball, and perform miracles. They talk about love and unity, and the need for really developing our spiritual connection with the Earth.

This reminds of something my wife and I talked about the other day. Baha'u'llah said, "The country is the world of the soul, the city is the world of the bodies." Why would this be? Because when we encounter nature, take the time to really commune with it, there is a presence of spirit that affects us. I think the Aboriginal peoples of the world were onto something when they spoke of the totem spirit of the various animals. It is as if really taking the time to be in the presence of the animals, watch them, listen to them, even talk to them, resonates something within us. It may be trite to say that we can sense their inherent virtues, for I think it is more than that. It is as if we inbibe that virtue in a purer sense, helping develop our own sense of it. It is sort of like two strings on a guitar (or a violin, or perhaps even a ukelele) that resonate with each other. Being in the presence of a natural power, like a whale, or a deer, or even a little mouse, begins to get the harmonic virtue within us vibrating, too.

One of my great joys right now, at this stage in my life, is to sit on my front step and watch the deer, listen to them, smell them, talk to them, as they walk literally just a few steps away from me. I could practically reach out and touch them. I feel that they are giving me a gift of spirit as I sit there and... how to phrase it? Show them respect? Appreciate them? I don't know. But I can show you, if you want. Come on by sometime.

There was another Ted talk that I saw, just this morning. It was by a secular Jewish woman who decided to read the Qur'an. You can see her talk here.

What I really love about it is that she shows such gentleness, such respect, and such curiosity. This is a woman I would love to meet. Her name is Lesley Hazleton, and she lives just across the water from me, in Seattle. On a houseboat. Perhaps I should see if I can visit her, or take her out for tea or coffee. (Lesley, if you happen to be googling yourself and see this, please feel free to make the invitation. My treat.)

Shoghi, Marielle and I watched Despicable Me yesterday. That was fun. We also saw Megamind recently, and they were very similar. Loved them both. I think they were very good for helping Shoghi begin to understand that there are no "bad guys". Even the "bad guys" can have a change of heart. This has been a tough lesson for such a little guy (remember, he's not yet 6), but I think he's beginning to understand it. Maybe it will help him understand later in life that we shouldn't judge people. (I don't know how many times I've heard people say that they wouldn't talk about the Baha'i Faith with people who are drunk, or on drugs. Ok. Maybe they're not the most receptive population on the planet, but so what?)

Marielle and I have also been reading a silly science fiction novel together, called "Agent to the Stars", by John Scalzi. Wow, that's a wonderful read. Silly, meaningful and full of good ideas. If you haven't had the pleasure of reading John Scalzi, I would highly recommend him.

Oh, my first introduction to his work was with a book called "Old Man's War". It starts off "I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army." It just gets better from there.

Other than those two books, I haven't really read much else (outside the Faith) that has caught my attention. I'm just starting a book by Tanya Huff, whom I quite enjoy, but am finding it a bit confusing right now. Perhaps that is because I'm reading it in 3 minutes bursts. Maybe if I actually got an hour or two to read it at a time, it'd make more sense. But it is enjoyable.

Today I was hoping to go for a long walk, but the chill rain is putting a damper on that plan.  Maybe I'll just go off and get some hot chocolate, instead.

Whatever I decide, I think it would be nice if we could do it together. So give a call, or stop on by sometime. I'll put on some tea, maybe some nice music in the music-thingy, and I'll let you feed George. Then he'd be your friend, too. Kismet? Well, if you just pet her a bit, that's good enough for her.

Anyways, thanks for letting me chat for a bit.

Hae you seen any good movies lately? Or read any good books?

With love and prayers,


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

28 December 2010 - Take 7 (I think)

I really love the way the Universal House of Justice speaks to us. They presume that we know things that we are often wondering about at the moment. At least, that's how I feel when I read these messages.

For example, in paragraph 3 they mention the word "cluster", and then proceed to give us a quick definition, just in case we forgot what it was in the past decade. (A cluster is "a geographical construct intended to facilitate thinking about the growth of the Faith", just in case you wanted to know, and couldn't remember.) (Like me.)

From here, they proceed to give us a "brief review of the process that unfolds in a cluster", even though it is "well familiar to you all". Thanks for the vote of confidence, and thank you even more for the review.

When we look at paragraph four (or, at least, when I look at paragraph four), we see a single outline of how a cluster may move from having no Baha'is to having an intensive program of growth, with coherence among all the core activities. In other words, we see how to get from where we are to where we want to be, while recognizing all the while that this process is "organic", and will look differently in each cluster. No matter how we may start, the end is always the same. We will see a number of core activities, all being supported by the people going through the institute courses.

But then we have to be realistic: the point at which the above is happening is only the beginning. It is but "the first of several milestones". No time for sitting on our laurels, as the saying goes. (But can we at least catch our breath? Probably not.)

In paragraph five, they begin to show us what is needed from the institutions, especially that of the Learned. They need to exercise agility, encouraging the friends in their service, guiding them when necessary, and keeping in mind the broad picture. And all of this while working with the friends in the field.

And there, in the last half of that paragraph (number five), is the recipe-type series of statements that I missed the first few times through. There they are, those if - then sort of hints about our work.

What do I mean?

If we want to elicit wholehearted participation, then faith in people's capacity is essential. And please note the emphasis with which I read it, which is only my own emphasis. I may be reading too much into it, but hey, it's my read. Faith in people's capacity is not just a good idea, it is essential. Without it, it ain't gonna happen.

Do we want to "help turn hesitation into courage", and ""transform a yearning for excitement into a commitment to long-term action"? Then unqualified love is indispensable. Again, it's not just something that is nice to have. We can't do it without it. It is indispensable.

Do we want to "demonstrate how stumbling blocks can be made stepping stones for progress"? Well then, calm determination is vital. It is necessary. Without that calm determination, we will not be able to demonstrate that, for we will be frustrated, instead, which is not a good place to try and share from.

Do we want to help identify those obstacles that may be preventing a few of the friends from "appreciating the imperative of unified action"? A "readiness to listen, with heightened spiritual perception," is invaluable to doing this.

These imperative terms usually stand out to me, but for some reason, I missed them the first few times.

I can't wait to see what else is contained within this incredible letter. I'm sure I'll learn much more as I continue to work in the field of service.

For now, I have to work on leaving my computer so that my wife can do some of her own service.

Monday, January 3, 2011

28 December 2010, Take 6 (or take another take, take 2)

In the second paragraph, they describe for us a number of things that they have seen from their particular vantage point. (There is a reason, I think, that they are on a mountain.)

They also offer us some numbers that are truly impressive: 350,000 souls who have taken Book 1; 130,000 children's class teachers; 6x the number of animators in the past little while; 500,000 participants in study circles at any given time; 70,000 people capable of tutoring. Wow. This is impressive.

Oh, and just a little side note. Ruhiyyih Khanum once observed that the Guardian never shared numbers unless they were truly impressive. Here, in this letter, the Universal House of Justice shares some, as I said, truly impressive numbers. But it is interesting to note that the one number they don't share is the number of animators. We made an impressive sextupling of the number of animators, but we don't know how many that is. Why? I don't think it's for any other reason than that the actual number would seem small in comparison to the rest, and they don't want us to be discouraged. After all, animators are a fairly new breed. We haven't had the time to get that number up yet. But we've made a great start.

Looking at this paragraph, another thing does stand out, and that is the order in which they present all this information to us.

They begin with Book 1, which leads us to a more devotional character in our life. This, in turn, lends us to beginning more devotional gatherings, which is the next point they raise. In those devotional gatherings, we call to our aid those spiritual forces that help us in our teaching work. From there they direct our attention to the children's classes, the junior youth groups and the elevated conversations that raise a shared understanding of the needs of today and how effectively address them. Then they point out the number of people in the study circles, which often rises due to this awareness of how to address the needs of today.

Book 1 leads to more prayer, which leads to calling on the spiritual forces to help us in our teaching, which is acted out in the classes and conversations we have, which lead to more people studying and getting involved in service to humanity. This is coherence. This is one path that leads us through all the various activities.

But then, in the next few paragraphs, they point out that it is not the only path. This whole system is organic and can take shape in many different ways. What does reamin that same, however, is what it looks like at that "first of several milestones". When we reach that point, all the core activities will be well underway, and sustained by those going through the institute courses.

Once again, I'll talk more about that later. Now, later than I expected, my son is ready to go to that butterfly garden. I'll type more later, or possibly tomorrow.

28 December 2010 - Take 5 (or maybe Take 2, take 2)

I knew it. It never fails. I write something that I'm not all that happy with, and a few days later I need to go back and change it. Well, I'm not going to do that. I'll stick by what I wrote and, instead, just say that I've grown a bit since then. Yeah, I know. Crazy as it may seem, it does happen every now and then.

So what is it that happened? I looked at this message with a few other people.

Consult with a few people and your ideas get blown out the window. Sheesh. That'll learn me.

Anyways, looking back at paragraph 1, we asked a few simple questions that seemed to put this letter into more of a context for me. We wondered just what it was that the Counsellors were being asked to do.

And what is it that they are being asked? I'm glad you asked, dear Reader.

They are being asked to come to a clear understanding of how they, and their auxiliaries, can assist us in three different, but related, areas. The first is in "building on (our) extraordinary achievements extending to other spheres of operation the mode of learning".

And what does that mean?

Why ask me? I'm not a Counsellor. I don't really have much of an idea. Fortunately, however, I was with some pretty clever cookies who were able to explain it to me. It seems that we have made some wonderful achievements in learning how to learn. Unfortunately, it seems that this is often only applied in a few areas. With the help of the institution of the learned, however, we may be able to learn to apply this knowledge and pattern in other areas of life and service.

In other words, ones that I can understand, we are beginning to look back at whatever activities it is that we are doing and seeing what we can learn from those steps we are taking. If I invite someone over, for example, to a devotional gathering, it means that I see whether or not they attend. If they do, I ask myself why. What was it about them, or the invitation, that inclined them to accept. If not, why not. What was it about them, or the invitation, that disinclined them? Was the devotional gathering something that interested them? Was the invitation poorly phrased? Whichever way the respond, there is something for me to learn, and I can become more effective in my work.

The second thing the Counsellors were being asked to assist us in was "gaining the capacity to employ with a high degree of coherence the instruments and methods" we have been learning to use.

And that means? See my caveat above. And note my thanks to those others who helped me come to an understanding. (Not the "correct" understanding, or even necessarily a particularly good one, but just "an" understanding.)

It seems that we have many tools at our disposal, and these tools can be used in a number of ways. The instruments would be like the tools, and the methods would be our use of them.

What are some of these tools? Again, I'm not really sure, but they probably include things like the core activities, home visits, firesides, accompanying each other, the cluster growth profiles, the statistical report program, and so on and so forth. Whatever it is that we are reflecting on in the first step helps us employ these tools more effectively here. And more importantly, when we begin to see how all these tools relate to each other, when we see the coherence between them, we can apply them with greater accuracy and effect.

I should take a moment here to look at the word "coherence", for it comes up more and more often these days. It means to see the logical interconnection of the different elements. More on this when we get to paragraph 2.

The third thing they are being asked to assist us with is in "increasing well beyond all previous numbers the ranks of those who.... are labouring" in the field.

Interesting. It is not just about enrolments, or playing that numbers game, as some put it. It is about increasing the numbers of those who are doing the work of the Faith. Of course, they qualify it by adding in the phrase "alive to the vision of the Faith", which, I think, implies that these people are avowed declarants, but I'm not sure. After all, the level of commitment is much greater when they have declared this intention publicly.

It is also worth noting that the level of enrolments increases when we understand how all the activities are related, for we are no longer merely doing core activities, but are, instead, concerned about helping people move closer to their Creator, and learning how to develop spiritually. If someone has come to a devotional gathering, but has many questions that are answered in Book 1, then we can easily and naturally shift them into a study circle. Or vice versa. It all interconnects.

It begins by learning to really reflect on all our activities, continues by seeing that all these activities are part of a continuum of community building, and this leads to meeting the needs of different people's hearts. A to B to C.

I'd continue on with more about paragraph 2, but I have to go. I'm taking my son out to a butterfly garden today, before he goes back to school tomorrow.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Thought on 1 January 2011

As you may have seen, another letter has come from the Universal House of Justice. Of course, this was not unexpected, after all, they usually release one letter at the beginning of the Counsellors' Conference and another at the end.

Well, this is the letter released at the close of that conference, and it is addressed to the Baha'is of the World.

I realize that I have not yet finished sharing my few thoughts on the previous letter, 28 December 2010, but I did want to share one simple observation on this latest message.

In paragraph one (which is also not surprising, as there are only two paragraphs in this message), they put things into a bit of a perspective (still no surprise) when it comes to our activities. They say that we "are presenting the verities of the Faith and assisting souls to recognize the Blessed Beauty", as well as "serving as tutors of study circles wherever receptivity is kindled." They point out to us that we are "providing spiritual education to the child and kindly fellowship to the junior youth" and even "forging ties of spiritual kinship that foster a sense of community" "through visits to homes and invitations to" our own homes. They remind us that, "when called to serve on the institutions and agencies of the Cause," we "are accompanying others and rejoincing in their achievements."

Every single one of these statements is just laden with extra meaning, and leads to a series of questions about our own service in each of these areas.

For example, the second point, about tutoring, made me re-examine my earlier beliefs about who I would invite to a study circle. While someone may not necessarily express interest in service to humanity, they may have their questions answered by the Ruhi Books, which can, in turn, lead to a desire to serve. The key is to look for that receptivity. Oh, and it also reminds me that the courses are not necessarily the first step in someone being receptive. It may increase the enthusiasm, but there is generally some receptivity already there.

The next point, about children and junior youth, is very interesting, and I hope to explore this more when I look at this letter. For now, I just note that they say we are "providing spiritual education" to the children, and then say that what we are providing for the junior youth is "kindly fellowship". Interesting. And I think it is worthy of more exploration. (And it is also a bit of a surprise to me.) (The difference in description, not the point about being worthy of more exploration.)

The last point is about service "on the institutions and agencies". If we have ever wondered what our job is, whether we are serving as an assistant to the Auxiliary Board or on an Assembly in a cluster with multiple Assemblies, the direction here is clear: we are to be "accompanying others and rejoicing in their achievements". (At least, that's my understanding of this statement.) Oh, and it's not that we neglect the rest of the areas of service on these bodies, for they each have their own specific mandate, but it seems to me that if we want to serve most effectively in any of these arenas, we need to be do doing this accompanying. For example, we know that teaching is supposed to be at the top of every Assembly's agenda. This is clearly stated in the Writings of the Guardian. But how can we consult on this issue effectively if we are not engaged in the teaching work at this time? And what is the most effective way to learn about it? To accompany others.

So that's just a simple thought about this letter. For now, I'll leave it at that and just sort of add it on to the end of the study of the 28 December letter. (Oh, and I'm sure that's no surprise, either.)