Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Door-to-Door, part 2

There have been a number of comments (only a few of which are actually there, the rest are on other sites or in my e-mail) about the last posting, Door-to-Door Teaching, and so I thought I would post a follow up.

While there are a number of people who expressed gratitude at my defence of this method, others, as you may have expected, expressed concern.

The most succinct, and courteous, version of the latter was as follows: How is it not an invasion of privacy? Many people feel intimidated by those who come knocking at their door when they are a stranger nowadays. It is not the same world it used to be.

While I completely agree that it is "not the same world it used to be", I do not agree with the blanket assessment that knocking on someone's door constitutes an "invasion of privacy". If they have a "no trespassing" sign, sure. Or if they have a sign on the door that requests no solicitors, or such, then of course. Leaving them alone is just being courteous.

Once again, it depends upon where you live. To make the blanket statement that "many people feel intimidated" is to ignore the reality experienced by others. This is not to say that people are not intimidated where the individuals live who expressed these concerns, just that it is not the experience everywhere.

In my neighbourhood, this is not the case. We have people going door-to-door for many reasons, like I said. Just last week we had some boy scouts come by for a bottle drive. We've also had the fire department come by to let us know of a fund raiser they were doing (I think, I can't remember why they came now that I think about it). It is part of our life in this neighbourhood. Going to people's doors is perfectly acceptable in this neighbourhood, even though we can go just a few kilometres away and it would not be the case. It all depends on the specific neighbourhood.

In the last place I lived, one of the "worst" neighbourhoods in Winnipeg (and one of my favourite), we were visiting our neighbours all the time. There were many times that we knocked on other people's doors before we had met them. And this was supposed to be one of the most violent places in the country.

When looking at the ways in which we can meet new people in a neighbourhood, there are many factors that need to be taken into account. If it is a gated community, then going to people's doors is probably not the best of methods. In other areas where it is acceptable, but the fear factor is a bit higher, it might be a good idea to put a flyer in people's mail boxes to let them know a few days ahead of time that you're going to be going to their door. You can address a lot of simple concerns with a well crafted, and short, note.

It is always good to express your concerns about a method of teaching, as these friends have done, but we must also keep in mind the realities of the neighbourhood in which we are working. Oh, and this holds true in both directions. I also have to be aware that going to people's doors is not appropriate everywhere either.

Thanks for raising the question and helping us all keep an open mind about our methods.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Inter-Faith versus Multi-Faith

I've had the incredible bounty of working with a number of interfaith groups over the years, and it is because of this that I have also had the opportunity to learn a bit about the perspective of a lot of my co-workers in those groups. This has been a source of great joy to me, and I am very grateful for all those who have helped educate me. (Oh, I also need to really extend my love, thanks and gratitude to the Universal House of Justice for their letter to the religious leaders back in April of 2002, as well as One Common Faith, both of which really helped clarify what I think is the Baha'i perspective of the interfaith work.)

Recently, though, I have noticed what I would call a disturbing trend. It seems that a number of these interfaith groups are now changing their names from "interfaith" to "multifaith".

"What's in a name", you ask? Sometimes not much, but I think this is significant. After all, inter- and multi- have two very different connotations, and the fact that people are actively going out of their way to change it means that they are consciously feeling that one is more appropriate than the other. If this were not the case, it would be a lot easier to just leave the names as "inter-".

As I said, though, the connotations are quite different, and I find it sad that these groups are going from the one to the other.
When you interlock your fingers, you are taking your two hands and mingling the fingers together. The implication is that there are two separate things that are working very closely together, and in unison. When I think of the ideal behind this movement, the interfaith movement, this is what I envision.

Multi-tasking, on the other hand (no pun intended) (and if you believe that one...) , is when you use two separate hands to do two different tasks. They are not working together, nor are they necessarily united. They are working separately from each other.

Over the past few years, I have noticed another disturbing trend in the interfaith work in which more and more individuals are getting hung up on terms, refusing to translate the words that others use into their own terminology, and therefore becoming more reluctant to work together. Now this is, of course, only individuals of whom I speak. This is not indicative of the groups they represent. In fact, the rhetoric from the groups seems to be more inclusive. But, still, their actions appear to be more fractured.

When people argue within these groups, for example, that they don't do "religious" work, they only do "spiritual" work, and fail to see the overlap, there seems to be an issue of unity. Of course, in those groups where they are still using the phrase "interfaith", issues like this tend to be negligible. In the other groups where people tend to get hung up on semantics, the issue appears to be getting worse and worse.

I realize that Baha'u'llah said that "No two men can be found who may be said to be outwardly and inwardly united", but I don't think that means we should give up on seeing unity in the world. And so, dear Reader, I am left asking myself what I can do about it.

I think I can look to no better example than Baha'u'llah, Himself. In the Kitab-i-Iqan, the Book of Certitude, He gives us a very profound example when He describes some of the Messengers of God in the first dozen paragraphs. He is very careful not to describe what makes each of Them unique, but rather devotes the time to describing what They have in common. When speaking about Noah, for example, He does not refer to the Flood or the Ark. Instead He talks about the tests and trials that Noah faced as a divine Messenger.

Similarly, when I am engaged in interfaith dialogue, I try to help show what we all have in common, as opposed to what we each bring that is unique. If one person has problems with the word "prayer", then I think we need to see what is meant by the term, and how we can look to the concept rather than the word. If they happen to use the word "contemplation", fine. Perhaps we can use both terms, or switch back and forth. Or maybe we can agree to just translate for ourselves. Otherwise we run into the problem of one person wanting uzum, another anab, a third stafi'li, and someone else wanting grapes, without realizing that they're all the same thing.

When working in the interfaith (or multifaith) arena, there is the presumption that we are all trying to help make the world a better place, and that we are all trying to get along. If we aren't, then what are we doing there?

And if we let a simple thing like a the difference between "spiritual" and "religious" get in the way, then perhaps we should re-examine our motives.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Door-to-Door Teaching

Ah yes, "door-to-door" teaching. That ubiquitous term that seems to raise hackles everywhere.

Oh, sorry. Let me explain. "Mike" raised a wonderful point in a comment on a recent article and asked about "door-to-door" teaching. He first asked if the National Spiritual Assembly encouraged "Baha'is to do 'door to door' teaching within the last few years?" Then he asked the very thoughtful question: "Isn't that a form of aggressive teaching, similar to what we see from Jehovas Witnesses and Mormons?"

Thank you, Mike. I'm so glad you raised this point that is such a stickling point for so many of us. (And no, this isn't nit-picking.) I have to admit, I struggled with this exact question for so long, and finally came to my own understanding of it, that I often forget that it's still a question for others. That's why I really value your input, dear Reader. (That includes you, Mike.)

To answer your question about whether or not the National Spiritual Assembly encouraged us to go door-to-door, I guess that depends on where you live. I presume you live in the United States, so I'm not really sure what they recommended, or not. I live in Canada, and we've had our own National Assembly for a number of years now. What I can take heart in, and say for all the Baha'is in the world, is what the Universal House of Justice acknowledged in their Ridvan Message of 2010, that "calling upon the residents of a home without prior notice" is acceptable, if it is done with tact and wisdom.

In other words, and this is only my own opinion and nothing official, we need to be aware of the stigma that is associated with what is commonly called "door-to-door" teaching, avoid it, and yet still be open to meeting new people. From here, I could go on a tangent (I know, it's hard to believe, but I really could) and talk about how our society is not exactly what I would call healthy, and that perhaps, just perhaps, we should re-think about some of the things that meet with a sense of disapproval in our culture (such as talking about religion, to name one), but I won't.

Instead, I'm going to actually address what I think is a great point you made, namely the question of "aggressive teaching".

But first, let me point our that I, too, had a lot of questions when this whole issue came up. I was not comfortable knocking on the doors of people I didn't know. I was, in fact, extremely uncomfortable doing it. When I was first asked to do this for the Baha'i Faith, during an expansion phase a few years ago, I had to seriously think about it, and try to figure out why I was uncomfortable. I realized that the reason was that I was actually concerned about what others would think. When I sat down and really considered it, it was clear that knocking on someone's door to talk with them was not rude in the least. The fine line between disturbing the people and encouraging them was all up to my own behaviour and attitude.

This is the point at which I drew on my own personal experience, which I have alluded to over the past few days. How did I feel when strangers knocked on my door? How did I react when they wanted to talk to me? It depended mostly on what I was doing at the time. If I was busy, say writing or eating dinner, then I really didn't want to be disturbed. If I was reading, and could easily put the book down and get back to it later, then I was glad to talk with them.

Once my own schedule was taken into account, then I looked at them. How were they approaching it? Were they interested in talking to me? Or were they only interested in a body in a door? Did I make a difference to them? If not, then I often had no interest in talking with them. But if they were interested in learning who I was and offering ideas or solutions that were relevant to me, then I was very happy to talk with them. I even enjoyed it.

It reminds me so much of that quote from Baha'u'llah: "The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration." Remember, I'm a firm believer that if something works on the macro-level, it also works on the micro-level. When we are teaching an individual, we, too, need to be like that physician. We need to recognize what disease we are dealing with, and then prescribe the appropriate cure.

'Abdu'l-Baha, when He was in London, said, "To teach by words requires the skill of a wise physician. He does not offer help to those who do not want treatment. Do not press help on those who do not need your help."

There is a great sense of courtesy in this. First, we need to treat every individual as themselves, and not as part of some faceless thing that we call "humanity", which, really, refers to nobody.

Second, we need to listen to them. We need to be aware of their interests and their concerns. Then, and only then, can we show them what the Faith can offer them. Of course, we also then end up seeing what they can offer the Faith.

In the end, I think it all comes down a simple rule that I like to follow for myself: If it makes me uncomfortable, I ask myself "Why?" But if it is just downright rude, I don't do it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

In the Conversation

There was a bit of a concern raised about the beginning of yesterday's article, in which I was ranting a little about people opening a conversation with a stranger with something that is not of concern to the other, such as sexual preference or a disability. It was rightly pointed out that many wonderful conversations have begun with this, and that the friendship developed after this, when everything was put into a context.

Of course. I completely agree. That is so true.

As I said there, it is not always the case that these conversations are dead ends, but more often than not, they are.

The comments, though, have raised a very good point, and I think it is important to address it. Namely, a good conversation should take into account all the people engaged in it.

I have a very good friend who, one day, decided to use a technique that she probably got from Toastmasters (a very fine group, if you ask me). She said that she was trying an experiment in which she would pick a quote from the Writings and try to include it in as many conversations as she could throughout the day.

I thought that was all well and good, but pointed out to her that it meant, in a sense, that the quote was more important than the person with whom she was talking. This took her aback, in a good way, and made her re-think what she was doing. There is nothing wrong with trying to see if we can squeeze a particular quote in, but it is far more effective when it fits snugly into the discussion, rather than coming out of left field.

You know, I've had the wonderful pleasure of having many people from a great variety of religious groups come around to my home to see if they could teach me something about their Faith. Generally, my response is that I'm very happy to listen. Of course, that makes them happy, and they begin.

Once this happens, I notice something with a lot of them: they don't care who they are talking to. I could be anyone. They have their set agenda, or script, and nothing I say or do will deviate them from this for very long. The people who are like this don't hold my attention, and I think that I'm a bit more forgiving of this than many, despite how I may have come across in my last posting.

Now that I am aware of this dynamic, I try to avoid it when I am speaking about the Baha'i Faith. You will note, for example, that the more comments I get, or the more feedback that I receive on what I write, the more I am able to address concerns of the reader (that's you).

Let's take a look at the presentation in Ruhi Book 6. You will note that there is an outline, if you will, that Anna is following. But scattered throughout the unit there are many clues, sentences and phrases, that indicate that what she is doing is really listening to Emilia's needs.

In section 7, for example, it begins with the phrase, "From our previous conversations", and then concludes with "Before going on, perhaps I should stop here so that we can discuss any questions you have. What do you think about what I have said up to now?" Over and over again, she gives Emilia the chance to ask questions, to express her feelings. She doesn't hog the conversation, but she also doesn't allow it to just go all over the place. She has a series of topics that she'd like to address, and does it quite well, but it is in response to Emilia, not in spite of her.

Anna has established a relationship with her friend and is actively engaging her in an exploration of the Baha'i Faith.

You see, this is a far more effective way of presenting the Faith to someone than merely saying, "I'm a Baha'i."

If you want a fun little experiment, you can take all the themes from that presentation in Book 6, as well as the themes from Units 2 and 3 of the second book, Arising to Serve, and write them down on a piece of paper. You should use no more than a simple phrase for each title. Some examples would be "Need for an Educator", "Nature of God", "Gender Equality".

Now that you have this list, imagine a friend of yours. What topic is dearest to their heart? Which one most closely answers a burning question of theirs?

Now suppose you were talking with an atheist. Which topic would be most appropriate to address? Would you talk about the nature of God? I hope not. But the need for an educator would be a good one.

Suppose you were talking with a born-again Christian. How would you begin? What if they loved sports? Or if they were a chef? Or a lawyer? It's very interesting to do this in a group, and see what others think. Oh, and if you're discussing this with some friends, don't just leave it at the selection of a topic. Ask each other why they chose the topic they did. The rationale will probably fascinate you. I know it did me when I tried this.

You can also look at the conversations listed in the questions in the 3rd Unit of Book 2 (it's still called Arising to Serve), and see which of these themes connects most naturally to it. Just in case you're not sure what I`m talking about, it would be like the second question in section 3, in which they list "The conditions of society", "Life after death", "Literacy" and "The need for one to have a trade or profession in life". The topics that you would address may not be on your list, and that's ok

What's most important, at least to me (not that that's worth anything to anyone but me), is that our conversations become relevant to the person with whom we are speaking. This is how I have seen the teaching work become more effective.

At the end of the day, when I am bringing myself to account, there is a simple question I ask myself about all the various "teaching" conversations I have had throughout the day: Did it matter who I was talking to? If it did, if they had an equal or superior hand in directing the main topic of conversation, then chances are that it was meaningful to them. If not, then I was most likely only speaking to hear myself talk.

Now I wonder how that works with this blog. Am I writing to only read my own words, or am I responding to what others are writing to me? I'm not really sure, but I do pray that it is the latter, and not the former.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"I'm a Baha'i" "So?"

Have you ever noticed how a lot of people share things about themselves that you really could care less about? Or, in some cases, would rather not know? I mean, I generally am not concerned if they consider themselves an alcoholic, or what their sexual preference is, or whatever. Neither of these really tell me much about the person in question, and is often none of my business. I mean, if I'm making them dinner, and they tell me that they follow the laws of Koshrut or Halal, fine, or not to put in alcohol because they're an alcoholic, ok. But really, this should not be the start of a conversation with a stranger. If it is, then it tells me that they're more interested in themselves, and not really interested in a conversation with me. They have their own agenda. And yes, I know that's not always the case, but more often than not, it is. And so I have little interest in any of this until somewhere in the middle of a conversation, when you know that it is a point or topic that will actually interest me, or be of relevance to our relationship. That's rant number one.

Now for rant number two. Have you ever noticed how a few Baha'is (not you, I'm sure, dear Reader) think that the most important thing they can do is mention the word "Baha'i"? If you ask them how their day went, they will say something like, "I was able to tell five people on the bus today that I am a Baha'i."

"Woo hoo. Good for you", I think sarcastically.

Now you may think I'm being crass, or snide, and maybe I am, but really, who cares if I'm a Baha'i? I may as well go up to them and say, "Hi, my name is Mead and I like mushrooms on my pizza." It would be just as out of context, and seem just as bizarre, if you ask me.

But let me back up for a moment. I think telling people about the Baha'i Faith is of extreme importance. After all, how much time do I spend doing just that? It's just that I think it is perhaps more important for there to be a context, otherwise we just end up looking like a bunch of whacked out weirdos. Not good, in my own opinion.

In fact, it seems that this is a general issue with people of any religion.

Aside: When I was living in Chicago, I seemed to get more than my fair share of such weirdos on the train. I don't know why. Maybe it's my hair. Or just my karma. (Please, no jokes about taking my karma on the train.) I used to surprise the aggressive panhandlers by asking them for a quarter before they could ask me. (Great way to get rid of them when you really just don't want to give them anything, and can't be bothered to do anything else.) There were some "Christians" who used to go on the train (please note the use of quotation marks) and would ask people if they had "found Jesus". My response? "What? Did you lose Him again? How many times have I told you to watch where you put Him!" This was before I was Baha'i, but I still like the twisting of it. (Another friend of mine once turned to said weirdo and proclaimed "I am a cow. Mooo." He wasn't bothered for the rest of his ride.)

It is because of such people who are so obviously out of touch with the effectiveness of religion, and its application in daily life, that many are turned off altogether with anything that has to do with religion. And so when we come out and "proclaim the Faith" in the limited sense I'm talking about, we are quickly lumped in the same category.

Aside number two: Shortly after I became a member of this wonderful community, I was at a Feast when someone said, in a fairly forceful "I-know-what-I'm-talking-about" type of voice, that we should always, "and I mean always", cite the source of our quotes. "We should say, 'Baha'u'llah said', or ''Abdu'l-Baha told us', every time we use the Writings. They shouldn't think it comes from us." Being the newbie, I thought I would give it a try, even though I disagreed with it. Sure enough, within a day or so, the opportunity came. I was talking with someone about the Faith, and they were really interested, asking all sorts of wonderful questions. With each response I offered, I included a quote, being sure to say, "Baha'u'llah said..." After quoting and citing for the fifth or sixth time, the woman got exasperated. "I don't care what Baha'u'llah said," she told me. "What do you think?" That was a great lesson to me. What Baha'u'llah said, and what I think, are not the same things, although I am trying to get them to be closer. Only 'Abdu'l-Baha could claim them to be the same. And when I am talking to someone, I should strive to be in the conversation, not merely be a conduit for a book.

So, where was I?

Oh, yes. Mentioning I'm Baha'i is secondary to demonstrating I'm a Baha'i.

We are told that our actions should speak louder than our words. Or, as Baha'u'llah put it, "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning." And in that prayer from the Master that we are reading every day in BC, He talks about diffusing the fragrances and spreading the teachings, two separate, although related, actions. As I recently wrote, I think our actions are one of the ways in which we diffuse those fragrances, and when we find someone receptive to that, then we can more effectively share the teachings.

If all we have are the words, "Hey! Look at me. I'm a Baha'i", then people will merely shake their heads and walk away.

But in the proper context, mentioning that we're Baha'i, or even saying "Baha'u'llah said", can change their life.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Prayer for Canada

The Baha'i Council of BC, the western most part of Canada and where I currently reside, has asked the friends in the region to recite one of the prayers for Canada every day for the next little while. As I try to be obedient to the institutions of the Faith, I am happy to do so. Besides, I love this prayer.

Oh, sorry. Which prayer, you ask? There are a few of them? Yes, you're correct. Here it is:
"The spreaders of the fragrances of God should recite this prayer every morning:"

O God, my God! Thou beholdest this weak one begging for celestial strength, this poor one craving Thy heavenly treasures, this thirsty one longing for the fountain of eternal life, this afflicted one yearning for Thy promised healing through Thy boundless mercy which Thou hast destined for Thy chosen servants in Thy kingdom on high.

O Lord! I have no helper save Thee, no shelter besides Thee, and no sustainer except Thee. Assist me with Thine angels to diffuse Thy holy fragrances and to spread abroad Thy teachings amongst the choicest of Thy people.

O my Lord! Suffer me to be detached from aught else save Thee, to hold fast to the hem of Thy bounty, to be wholly devoted to Thy Faith, to remain fast and firm in Thy love and to observe what Thou hast prescribed in Thy Book.

Verily, Thou art the Powerful, the Mighty, the Omnipotent.
You'll notice that I include the direction for when to say the prayer, too. Why? I'm so glad you asked, dear Reader.

Actually, when I first copied it, I didn't include it. It was only after I began analyzing it that I had an inkling of its import.

Well, the truth is that it was my wife who did the analysis. I'm only riding on her coattails, so to speak. But her analysis was amazing. I'm only adding a little bit to what she said. If there is anything worthwhile in this little analysis, you can be sure it is her input. If there is anything that reminds you of a clown that you may have seen at a circus when you were a little child, and a clown that made you laugh and not cry, then that is probably from me. Of course, if there is anything in there that reminds you of the clown that made you a little bit scared, that is definitely from me. (Kidding. Just kidding.)

To make it easier for you to read, I'm just going to write down the analysis as if it's all from my own perspective. You can assign blame where you will.

To start, I noticed that there were three main paragraphs, plus the intro and the outro. (What do you call the opposite of an intro?) The first paragraph deals with my personal development. The second talks about my job. The third refers to what is required to do the job. Then it ends with praise of God, naturally.

Looking at paragraph 1, it seems to really talk about where we are, and what qualities we need to develop. We're weak, and we are hoping for strength. We're poor and we hope to get not just any treasure, for we know that gold will fade, but heavenly treasure. We're thirsty and want something to drink. But again, we know that if we only get water, we'll be thirsty again. What we really want is to attain the fountain of eternal life, for then we will never thirst again. We also are ill and long for healing. But here is the catch: we hope for that special healing that has been promised to the chosen few. Who are those chosen ones? And how will we recognize them? Let's hold onto that question for a moment.

I could easily go on and on about the order of these, what the historical significance of each one is, and so on, but really, what I say doesn't matter much. I think it is better to let the beauty and power of these words just wash over you.

What really intrigues me is this second paragraph. It opens with the recognition that whatever we do comes from God. It reminds us of our utter reliance upon the favours and bounties of God, and if we happen to forget that, the rest will go nowhere.

That second sentence, though, is the heart of the matter, to me. And please remember, this is nothing official. It's only my own meager opinion.

This is where we are asking God to help us diffuse His fragrances, with the aid of His angels, and then to spread abroad His teachings amongst the choicest of His people. And what, pray tell, does that mean?

What is a fragrance? Oh, and please note the parallel to the direction at the beginning, where the Master is referring this prayer to the "spreaders of the fragrances of God". It may just be me, but I think that is a bit of a clue as to its significance.

A fragrance is a sweet and pleasant scent, something that comes from a plant in order to attract the insects and birds to help it reproduce. It is diffused throughout the entire area, carried away by the wind. Without the breeze, the scent would only linger around the plant and not attract anything from further away.

In terms of this prayer, it seems to me that we are the ones  diffusing the holy fragrances, and that it is the angels that are carrying them all over the place. In fact, this reminds me of that passage from Baha'u'llah, in which He says, "Whoso reciteth, in the privacy of his chamber, the verses revealed by God, the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by his mouth, and shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb." We do a bit of an action, and it may have some effect. But if we are sincere, and are performing this deed with the best attitude we can, then those angels shall carry the effect of our action even further than we can imagine. The scent of the divine fragrance shall be spread all around.

When I try to imagine this, I picture a plant that just smells amazing. Perhaps it is a rose, or a lavender. When it is in bloom, and the flower is at its most fragrant, the wind will carry the scent quite some distance. I know that I am attracted to those scents whenever I smell them, so I can just imagine someone else sort of stopping whatever they are doing and just appreciating it, whether or not they are aware that they are smelling something. And that is what I look for: someone who seems to have stopped and caught the scent, from either my own actions, or someone else's.

Aside: We should never underestimate the effect of our own actions, even if we are not the one to them. When I was overseas in the "country of the future", someone had offered to give me a bit of a tour, for a price, of course. He proved to me that it would be worth my time, so I paid him the agreed upon amount. Then, during our tour, he said something that could have been seen as an insult to Christians, and he stopped in mid-step and apologized. I said that it was ok. I wasn't insulted. Besides, I wasn't Christian. I was a Baha'i. He then took another step back and said, "Oh, that explains it."

Now it was my turn to be a bit worried. "Explains what?"

Well, dear Reader, when he was asking what I wanted to see, I said that I was more interested in seeing how people lived, instead of the tourist spots. I wanted to see the markets, the housing area, that sort of stuff. And it seemed that I was the sixth Baha'i he had given a tour to, and we all had exactly the same interest. We were more interested in people than things. Now, on the sixth go, he was ready to ask about the Faith. Those other five Baha'is had truly sown the seeds, and whereas I thought that I would also be sowing seeds, it seemed that I was actually helping reap the harvest through little effort of my own (except perhaps for the prayers I said that morning).

So there it is, to me. We spread the fragrances and then see who notices that beautiful aroma. once we have identified them, have seen their joyous reaction, then we offer them the gift of the teachings.

Looking at that third paragraph, it seems to me that we really need to be detached in all that we do, and be grateful for those gifts that come our way, such as that tour guide in my own life. By being devoted to the Faith and sharing what I can when I can, it seems to me that more and more of these bounties come my way (for which I am very grateful). It also seems to me that whenever I really strive to follow what Baha'u'llah tells us to do, more of those gifts come my way. (And yes, whenever I slip, or forget to do those things, such as my 95 Allah'u'Abhas, or my obligatory prayer, those gifts suddenly seem to cease. Go figure.)

And so the very last paragraph is the answer: try to be strong. Isn't it interesting that the three attributes of God that the Master uses in this prayer are all about strength?

Well, I could go on more and more about this prayer, but it is late, and I am tired.

Thanks for joining me on this little explore of a beautiful prayer. Oh, and if you want to join me, and all the other Baha'is in BC on our prayer campaign, I'm sure we'd appreciate it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Work / Worship - What's the Difference?

I don't know how many times I have talked about how, in the Baha'i Faith, we consider "work is worship", but as I was thinking about it yesterday, I realized that this isn't really the case, is it? After all, if you were to search the Writings for that phrase, you wouldn't find it. Well, you will, in a few spots, but it is either as a title of a section in a book, such as Lights of Guidance or Baha'i World Faith, or it is part of a larger phrase from the Universal House of Justice, in which it is followed by a caveat.

So what is it that Baha'u'llah said that has led us (or me, in particular) to think that work is worship?

I'm not exactly sure, but I think it comes from the following quote, from the Kitab-i-Aqdas: "It is incumbent upon each one of you to engage in some occupation -- such as a craft, a trade or the like. We have exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship of the one true God."

Now this sure sounds like "work is worship" to me, but when I continue reading, it seems to me that there is a bit of a condition on it. He tells us to "occupy yourselves with what will profit you and others". I think it is those last two words that are the most significant. We should work not only to profit ourselves, but also others.

There are many jobs that we can do that are only of profit to ourselves, usually in the form of a paycheck, and seemingly few that are of profit to others.

But then again, I'm not sure that is true either.

My wife and I recently purchased a new car, and it was our experience there that has led to this article. Through a series of amusing mishaps, which, because of our patience, led to the process being in our favour, we were able to see the striking difference between individuals and how they approached the same job. In fact, we were even able to see the difference between how a single individual approached his job at different times.

To start, there was the general ignoring of us when we said we had an appointment with someone. They just rushed us in with the first available salesman, not taking into account what we had actually said. Not too cool that, but then they were the ones who had called us to see if we wanted to trade in our old car. We didn't call them.

When their error was discovered, there was a general round of apologies, but not much in the way of sincerity. It was as if they were merely reciting what they learned in salesmanship 101.

And while the first salesman began as a generic salesman with his generic spiel, treating us like automatons, he quickly discovered that I was an artist, and confessed that he was a painter. That began a good relationship. One point for him. But he had to leave to pick up his daughter at the ferry, so minus one. You don't start a sale without the time to finish it.

Eventually, on the third salesman (remember, I did say a series of mishaps), who was the one we had the appointment with, we were tired of this. All we really wanted to know was how much they were going to offer us for our car. That would determine if it was worth our time to trade it in. I said that we were going to leave. Point blank. No uncertain terms. This was taking too long.

Oh, they said, if you give us ten minutes, we'll have the numbers ready for you and you can consider them at home at your leisure. Forty-five minutes later, I was ticked off. Major advantage in our court, if we were looking to negotiate.

Profuse apologies, lots of groveling, and a promise to have the numbers for us in the morning. At 11:45.

Now, I have to admit, even though I was mighty ticked off at them, I still had fun with Shoghi because they had a foozball table. We had fun with it.

And the sales manager happened to be someone I had met at a religious function previously. We got on quite well.

Oh, and one of the other sales people that was handling us was from Kuwait, and was shocked when I said some Arabic to him. That was fun.

The next morning we went back, and the guy said that we could now begin to get the numbers down on paper.


What happened to having them ready for us?

Not a good start on their part, and so Shoghi and I went back to the foozball.

Eventually everything was ready, and so we all sat down and I talked with Shoghi while keeping half an ear on the numbers. Marielle turned to me when the guy was done and asked me what I thought. Without batting an eyelash, I turned to her and said, Well, we owe this much for our current car, plus this much for the new car, less this much that they are offering us, and we spend this much on gas, so we'll save that much, plus we can expect to pay this much in repairs on our old car in the next four years, so in all we're losing about $2400 if we accept this.

The guy's jaw just about hit the floor. Oh, did I ever mention that I'm pretty good at math?

So he said, "Just a minute. I'll be right back. I'll talk to my manager and see what I can do."

Marielle turned to me again and reminded me that we agreed to just walk if they offered us less than $5000.

When the guy came back, he raised his offer on our car by $1500. I smiled and said how that, plus the $2000 rebate they promised us on the phone would do quite nicely. Hmm. I guess he had forgotten that one.

By this point, numbers aside, we were all talking like real people: us, the salesman with the numbers, another salesman we had worked with, and the manager. We were all talking about real things.

We then took a moment, and consulted a bit as a family. Marielle was looking at what we wanted in a car, I was looking at the numbers, and we left the colour choice up to Shoghi. He was the one who went through the book and decided which colours we wanted.

Marielle then turned to talk with Shoghi, and the salesman said how he admired the way that Marielle and I worked together, and even allowed Shoghi to take part in the decision-making process. We seemed to truly respect each other. This led to a conversation about dating, in which Marielle and I were able to share some basic principles about finding a marriage partner that we had gleaned from the Writings. Marielle really captured their attention with her wisdom there. During this conversation there were three people, all three young and single guys, avidly listening as we spoke about healthy dating. This was when the manager said that he was going to take us out for Greek food so that we could meet his girlfriend. He said that the two of them would really benefit from hearing this together.

By the end, I felt that we were all good friends, that we had all learned something from the Baha'i teachings, and that they all knew that we were Baha'i.

We'll be going back there tomorrow, and I, for one, will make sure to set up a date for that dinner.

So how does all this connect to the beginning of this article? Work, done in the spirit of service to humanity, is considered as worship?

Simple. When the errors were made, and they treated us like "customers" instead of "people", when they used the standard lines from salesmanship 101 (like "There's nothing we can do to change the past, but we'll do all we can to make it right"), we had no interest and were truly ready to walk out. If we had done that, we would have been disappointed and perhaps even a bit upset. Not a good thing for the world at large.

But by being patient and letting them know that we didn't really care about the "talk", by meeting them as real people and allowing them to see us as people, friendships were developed. We were all able to share things with each other that help make the world a better place. You only need to see the previous article on entropy to understand how this will help move the world forward, one tiny step at a time, leading us ever on towards "what God hath destined for" us. Truly, can there be anything else that could surpass this in terms of worship?

When you work well, demonstrate all the virtues, truly meet people's needs, and help elevate their vision of the world around them, then you are worshipping God in practice. When you only work for your paycheck, then you are keeping things back and inhibiting the development of the world.

I think that the caveat that Baha'u'llah put in there really is quite important.

Oh, and in the end, they gave Shoghi a portable DVD player because they were so impressed with how well behaved he was, and how courteous he was to them.

And we did get the car, too.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


I have been thinking about science and religion a lot lately, and watching quite a few videos on both subjects. (There was a wonderful series I saw at a friend's recommendation about Noah, by the Discovery Channel, for example.)

But one video really caught my attention. It spoke about the idea of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and a question about it. Here is the video:

So, let me share my thoughts on this. As you know (if you actually watched this), the second law pertains to the issue of entropy, and how, over time, energy evens out. It says that the universe moves from order to chaos. But is this really the case?

As Christian says, the universe began with a tremendous amount of chaos. Everything was just sort of bouncing all over the place, sort of like a six year-old after eating a few bars of chocolate. Over time, the matter began to coalesce into large groupings, which we now call galaxies. From there, things began to settle down a bit more and we saw the further formation of suns and solar systems.

He says that there are these magical moments when the conditions are just right and new things seem to appear out of nowhere. He calls the moment of development of each of these new things a "threshold moment". But at each stage, the level of complexity becomes more fragile and more vulnerable. The conditions for transformation become more stringent, and it gets more difficult to create new things.

With that in mind, let's turn our attention back to the universe again. Now that we have the creation of planets, we can zoom in on a smaller scale: the earth. We begin with chaos, again, with the swirling miasma of the molten earth. Things settle down and we find ourselves with continents and oceans. Then come the first amoeba-like thingies (he says, ensuring that he is only using the finest of technical terms), followed relatively quickly by the early plants. Insects, dinosaurs, animals, eventually people: they all come in succession.

Now that we, people, are finally on the scene, let's look at what happens on an even smaller scale. We people evolve and begin to settle down into farming communities, cities, develop transportation and communication links and forge one big global society that is learning very quickly through our collective learning process.

And that's where he ends.

Oh, he doesn't quite end there. He, and a group of his colleagues have developed a web-site to share this big history project with students all over the world. You can see it at http://www.bighistoryproject.com/.

But my question about all this comes back to the Baha'i Faith.

Christian speaks of these threshold moments, and how we've exploited the energy resource found in the plants through farming, and again through the discovery of fossil fuels, but does that explain it all? It seems to me that there are many times in human history when there is an inexplicable leap forward.

Sure, we can attribute it to the storehouse of energy released by the wheat, or the fossil fuels, but that doesn't seem likely, or enough. So where does the energy come from?

I would venture to say that it is with the Messengers of God.

And when we look back at the concept of those threshold moments, that also seems to fit. When we read the Kitab-i-Iqan, we see that the tests and trials of each Messenger become subsequently more and more difficult. The trials for Their followers also become significantly more severe with each Messenger. But, at the same time, the progress made by each religion becomes greater and greater.

I could try and tie this all together here, but really, it is just an odd thought in my own mind still. Instead, I will encourage you to read, or re-read, paragraphs 7 - 12 in the Iqan, as well as 17 - 19. (Of course, you can read all of them, but these are the ones I'm focusing on right now.) Take a look at the tests that the followers faced. Make a list of them. Look at the results that Baha'u'llah says They had.

You can see that they both become greater and greater.

And then add in the Bab and Baha'u'llah, and it just goes off the charts.

One last thing, though. When I was a Christian (religiously, not as a presenters name), I often looked back at the various Apostles and Saints. It seemed to me that there was the huge ball of energy I called Jesus, and right after Him came the mega-stars of the Cristian dispensation: the Apostles. After them came these incredible Saints, but they didn't seem to be as huge as the Apostles. They didn't seem to have quite the same impact. As we moved forward, it seemed to me that the inherent energy seemed to be dissipated through the huge number of followers. Oh sure, we got the occasional Mother Theresa, but if I looked at it in terms of balls of energy, the large balls in each era seemed to be getting smaller and smaller.

In the Baha'i Faith, we have the mega-huge Central Figures, followed by the Guardian. After that we have the Hands of the Cause, and I don't believe we will ever see anything quite like them again. (And yes, I know there were Hands in the time of Baha'u'llah, but you get the point.) We have the Counsellors that flare up in the firmament of today's Administration, and, of course, the Universal House of Justice. In fact, the House of Justice seems to be continually channeling that energy from a divine Creator, allowing us to move more and more forward.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Start

I was writing a friend a note this morning, and she had asked me about how I became a Baha'i. In the midst of my reply, I made mention of how I had no idea where to begin reading amidst all the books in this glorious Faith of ours. I mean, really, with the Bible it's easy: start at Genesis. But in the Baha'i Faith, what do you do? The Hidden Words? The Prayer Book? Gleanings? The Iqan? The Aqdas? The list can go on, and keeps getting longer every few years. (Oh, and I'm glad of that, mind you. I truly hope they don't stop the new translations coming out, even if my bookshelf is already full.) (Actually, I've still got a few more inches that I can squeeze stuff into, but don't tell my wife.)

I've already written a bit about what the Guardian says about each Book, but I haven't really told you anything about my own personal experience.

Well, here goes.

First, let me give my own version of how I see some of the Books in the Baha'i Faith.

The Hidden Words are, to me, like the Table of Contents of religious thought. They are an incredible and concise summary. After all, they are "clothed in the garment of brevity".

Epistle to the Son of the Wolf is at the other end of the spectrum. And I don't mean to say that it's long, but rather that is Baha'u'llah summary of His own Works. If the Hidden Words are the beginning, then Epistle to the Son of the Wolf is the like the last chapter.

I think of the Kitab-i-Iqan as a framing piece. In it He reframes our understanding of religious history and gives us a more solid base from which to proceed.

Gleanings is just that: gleanings from His Writings. It was the first compilation I am aware of that the Guardian did of Baha'u'llah's Writings. It is a little bit of a lot of subjects, and an incredible place to begin your studies.

Prayers and Meditations is also exactly what it says it is: prayers and meditations. This is a book that I use to get a deeper understanding of the spiritual side of the Faith. These are pieces that I don't necessarily see as explaining things in the same way that the Iqan does, but rather are pieces for me to contemplate. The prayers are, in a sense, what I want to say to my Creator, and the meditations are kind of like His response. These are pieces that I just take one at a time and ponder for long periods.

And please remember, this is nothing authoritative, but is only my own response, or reaction, to the Writings of the Faith. No disrespect is intended, nor am I saying that this is what it really is. If anything, this only goes to show my own lack of understanding.

The Kitab-i-Aqdas? It's the most holy Book. What can I say about it that I haven't already said elsewhere?

The Seven Valleys responds to those of a more mystical bent, and like a nice linear progression in things, while the Four Valleys is also of that mystical tone, but is for those like to approach things from a variety of perspectives.

Tablets of Baha'u'llah is, to me, where He really gets down and explains things in a multitude of ways, for those of us (like me) who don't quite get it the first time. Whenever I read this Book, it seems that what I remember the most are the lists, and how He summarizes the salient points of His teachings. And each list is a bit different. I'm sure there's a message in that, but I'll be danged if I can figure it out. Maybe it's just that the salient points differ from person to person.

I could go on with the rest of Baha'u'llah's Books, but I think that's enough for right now. Maybe I'll just mention a few other Baha'i books.

For those Baha'is in North America, I believe that the Tablets of the Divine Plan and The Advent of Divine Justice should be required reading. (And they ain't too bad for anyone else, either.) Some Answered Questions is a remarkable little book that answers many basic questions, especially those pertaining to Christian theology. (For me, not having come from that background, I found those sections a bit boring at first, but interesting after I began studying that aspect of religious history.)

Promulgation of Universal Peace is one of my personal favorites, because it shows how the Master spoke to groups of people. It's particularly interesting if you read all the sections related to a single group at once, like synagogues, or United Churches.

World Order of Baha'u'llah is also another favorite of mine, because it really puts the administration into perspective. It's also incredible if you look into all the details the Guardian refers to, and see how he used the crises of the day to educate the friends.

But all this is beside the point from my own life. I didn't know any of this when I declared. And I had no idea where to begin my own studies in the Faith.

People kept telling me to read all these different books, but I had the hardest time getting into them. I tried Gleanings, and had read bits and pieces over the years, but still couldn't really get into it.

I was enrolled in a deepening (this was before we had the Ruhi Books up here), but they expected me to read, and I'm not kidding, the Dawn-Breakers, God Passes By,Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Balyuzi's trilogy, and a few others besides. This was, to say the least, a little overwhelming. (And they wondered why I rarely showed up.)

It took a bit of time, but I finally realized that I had no context in which to understand the Writings, and so I set about getting myself that context. I wrote a bit about that here.

In short, I read all I could find about that Bab, and began to really know that era of Baha'i history. Then I read all I could find about Baha'u'llah, and then 'Abdu'l-Baha. Now I'm reading everything I can about the Guardian and the Hands of the Cause, as well as filling the blanks. (I just finished the book about the Hearst pilgrimage, for example.)

That was how I did it.

As the history got filled in, I read the Books by the Central figures from that time, and they then made sense to me, in a context. I'm still learning a lot more about them, but they fit into the world history now, to me.

This, of course, is not the only way to go about it. There are many friends who had a particular interest, such as prophesy, and began with those books that addressed that issue. Another friend was fascinated by concepts of death, and read all he could on that. Another friend was interested in gender equality, and she got her start there.

Whatever your interest is, that's where you should begin.

And if you're not sure, talk to other Baha'is. Don't accept the "just start with whatever feels right" line, for that is what I call a "non-answer". It doesn't really tell you anything. Tell them what interests you, what led you to embrace the Faith (if you're a Baha'i), and what questions you have. They may know the perfect book for you.

Or just write. I always publish comments, and answer e-mails. And if my answer is the eminently quotable "I don't know", I'll ask other readers, and I'm sure someone will know what will catch your interest.

I'd go on a bit more, but my son really wants to play legos with me. So, duty calls.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mindless Thoughts

What a day. What a weekend. Wait. It's Monday? Oh. Well, it sure feels like it.

My wife was out of town for a few days, in Calgary, for the Stampede. She was supposed to be performing with the Naden Band (Canadian Navy, for those who don't know), but it seems there were a few minor issues and they didn't play as much as they thought they were going to. Ah well.

And me? I had a show of my work on Saturday at a local artisans market, and another show on Sunday. At the pride market. Pride. As in gay pride. A few friends suggested that I apply, and then I received a letter from one of the organizers asking if I was available. Kind of cool that.

But in the end, what it means to me is that I'm tired. And I'm still sick. Yeah. I'm sick and tired. One of these days I'll finally shake this cough. (Unless it turns to pneumonia, then it may get the better of me.)

Aside - When I was a kid my Dad used to have these flash cards that he made for me. (I'm still not sure if he used them for my brother and sister, but I sure remember them.) There were simple math problems with the answer on the back, or some simple line drawings of, say, a cat or a dog, with the spelling of the word on the back. And what he would do is go through them with me. It was tons of fun. But now, in hindsight, what really made it special for me was that they were all mixed up. I was learning all these different disciplines together, not compartmentalized like they do in school. Deliberate? I doubt it, but it sure helped me see knowledge as one. Anyways, as I got older, the problems seemed to get harder. When adding single digits became easy, he would phase them out and start filtering in double digit addition, or subtraction, or multiplication. The words would get harder. And so on.

In the end it led to some funny moments in school for me. There was one time when I was in second grade and the teacher asked us all to go up to her desk and whisper her our "secret word", and she would teach us how to spell it. One kid went up and whispered (loudly) "table". Another whispered (more quietly) "car". Me? I went up and whispered "encyclopedia". You see, Dad had put in words like "refrigerator", and I didn't know that I wasn't supposed to know how to spell it, so I just learned it. When we did the "secret word" thing again the next week, I chose "pneumonia", and that's how I know how to spell it to this day. Without the spellcheck.

Anyways, there I was, this past weekend, doing two shows, while trying to fight off this cough. And I have to tell you, when I do a show, I feel like I'm on stage, and after six or eight hours, I'm exhausted. Literally. Being a natural introvert, it takes a lot out of me to be that engaged with a ton of people for so long.

Sunday, though, was awesome. (Thanks again, Carol.) (You can see her in the upcoming Planet of the Apes. I don't know who she is yet, but she's in there.)

To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect, for whenever I have done a pride-type event in the past, my stuff has always gone over very well, but there was too much overt, in-your-face sexuality for my comfort. Now I'm not exactly a prude, but I have no interest in seeing other people's sex-lives played out in public. But that's just me.

So there I was, at this event in Victoria, and I knew in advance that it was a very big family thing, and not limited to the glbt (look it up) (and I probably missed a letter in there somewhere) community, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

Well, everything exceeded expectations.

There was everything from the flamers to the families, the extremes to the elite. It was kind of neat, and really showed the diversity of the community here.

This was also interesting for me because I normally have a single table, but here, they gave me one for free, so I actually had two. I decided, with Carol's help, to put the jewelry on one table and the art pieces on the other. Once that was done, I sat back and started to work. And babble. Whenever anyone came into the booth, I would just start talking with them.

I would hear people talking as they came close. "Oh look," someone would say, "chainmail." "That's right," I responded, "it's not just for armour anymore." Carol heard that and thought it was so funny she used it the rest of the day.

That's just one example. Truly, though, I couldn't tell you what all I said. It's like there is a switch somewhere inside, and when I begin a show, it gets turned on. And I babble. But, evidently, I babble well, and appropriately.

I remember at one point there were three guys standing outside, watching. They were just watching me. Other people would come in, I'd chat with them, they'd go, and those guys were still there. After thirty or so minutes, they walked in.

"Excuse me," said one of them, "but are you on YouTube?"

That took me aback, and I said that I wasn't.

"You really should be. You're hysterical."

Oh, and it seems that I was carrying on three conversations at once, going from one to the next without pause. The kid got some of his friends over, and I told them about the Mobius balls, and how they could buy 1 for $5, 3 for $12, or 12 for $30. I talked about how you could resell the dozen for $5 each and make a $30 profit. It seems that I was really reading this kid, because I recognized his interest, instead of just dismissing him as a punk. And that was why he called his friends over. I was treating him as a human being. He ended up buying the 12, and I watched as he carefully chose a variety of pouches. As he left, he saw another friend. He got out the box of Mobius balls, and proceeded to sell one to his buddy for $5. He glanced over, and I gave him the thumbs up.

While this was happening, I was also playing with the flaming couple. I was making jokes, laughing loudly, and showing them the coloured pieces. I had made some rainbow stuff, and proceeded to describe what I could do as a special order. They left with a card, and were still talking ideas on the way out.

The elderly couple was looking at the artwork, and I was describing to them the various artists that had inspired me, and where I am going with my pieces. I made it clear to them, evidently, that my work was an investment with historical precedence, and they would do well to invest in me as an artist early, or middle, of his career. They walked away talking about the possibility of commissioning a work for their home. (Which I didn't know until those three guys told me.)

This has gotten me thinking. You see, in all three cases, my concern was to treat them all with respect and love. I have learned that when I do that, and am sincere about it, the sales just come. I don't have to worry about the sales, because the people are more important. And people have said that there have been times when they have bought pieces just to ensure that I would come back to that show the next time. In fact, most of my dearest friends were people that I met through these shows. (You know who you are.)

So where does this lead me?

Well, dear Reader, I think it is this: people are what matter. Friendships are what count. Treat them with the love and respect they deserve, and all else will follow.

There were also ample times for me to talk about the Faith, as Derek with his chocolate shop knows so well.

You may know, if you read this blog regularly, that I have a series of 9-pointed stars in chain-mail, mounted on granite or marble. Yesterday, someone asked me why 9. I told them about the Baha'i connection, and a bit about the Arabic numerology system with the letters. She was fascinated.

Later, a couple of clowns walked in. Literally. They were fully dressed in the makeup and all. The sort of stopped dead in their tracks in front of the stars, and one of them asked me if I did the stars for anyone in particular. "Well," I said, "actually, I did them for myself."

"Oh," one of them replied, "because the Baha'is would love these."

I laughed and said that I was a Baha'i.

"So are we."

And it turns out that they had just moved, a week ago, into the next community over.

Yeah. It was quite the weekend. And I think I'm now ready to head off to bed.

Thanks for reading my babble here. Good night all.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Lesson from Shoghi

I am so appreciative of both my wife and my son. Have I ever told you that? I have? Oh. Well, have I said it this week? Ok. Good. Because I am.

Marielle got a letter today from an institution which had some wonderful documents about this current plan. (Well, it had two documents: one was wonderful, and the other was probably wonderful, too , but it was so poorly formatted that she hasn't been able to read it yet. So please remember, friends, if you're sending out a document to people, try to make sure that it is readable. That's generally more important than trying to make it look all fancy and stuff. Oh, and I'm not saying not to try and make it look fancy, for trying is good. But it's also good to make sure that it's readable.) (That's why I rarely use videos or photos here. I'm not good at it, and I'd rather not include them if I can't do it well, but that's just me.)

Anyways, in this nice letter, the person who wrote it asked if the recipients were doing nay core activities. Then they said that they were going to call everyone to find out.

Well, I completely understand this, for I've been on the calling end before trying to get info from the friends, and it's generally not all that easy. But to some receiving this call this can be very intimidating. It can seem like a guilt trip. Not that this is the intention, but with our baggage from the past, it can seem that way to some of us.

This led to Marielle and I talking a lot about the core activities, and how she is implementing them in her own life. It also led to her expressing a concern that she may not be doing them the way that others would want her to.

Marielle, you see, travels a lot. She is often in different communities and doesn't have a lot of time to start her own core activities here at home. But when she's in a hotel for a week she is often having spiritual conversations with her roomies. Does this count as a home visit? Who cares? We don't need to categorize everything we are doing.

This conversation of ours, carried out on the beach while shelling and eating peas, was very interesting. We began to realize that too often we try to fit everything we are doing into a nice neat slot. But isn't that what we are cautioned against? Aren't we told to be flexible in our efforts? Of course, all of our efforts should lead to the same pattern of activity, but that's later. We are only approaching that first milestone described in the message to the Counsellors from last December. I think we need to be careful not to feel guilty about our efforts, nor to make others feel guilty.

Oh, and please don't forget that this is only my own opinion. To really come to an understanding of what it is that we are supposed to be doing, don't take my word for it. Look at the guidance yourself.

But back to Marielle and I at the beach.

We talked about how I often say prayers with some neighbours of ours. There are times where I'll go over there and just ask if we can say some prayers. The  answer is always "yes", and they seem to really appreciate it. They say their prayers, and I say some Baha'i prayers. Every now and then they will also say a Baha'i prayer, but not too often. When they do, however, they always talk about how beautiful the Baha'i prayers are, and how full of meaning. Maybe some day they will more naturally turn to the prayers of Baha'u'llah, but not yet. And that's ok.

Anyways, I go over there at least a few times a week, and once every few visits we say prayers. Is that a devotional gathering? Sure. Why not? It seems to fit the bill. Is it done with regularity? Yup. Sure is. "So why", I am often asked, "isn't it advertised? What day of the week is it? What time? Where?" Hey! I never said it was weekly. Nor did I say it was always at the same time. It is done with a degree of regularity, at least a few times a month, if not more often. Anything more structured than that just won't happen with this family. Besides, it doesn't say anything in the guidance about having a set schedule. It just says "regular".

Then there is our "children's class". Even typing that phrase makes me feel uncomfortable. After all, it isn't really a "children's class": It's a party. You've read the articles. You know what it is.

This has led me to realize that Shoghi has taught me a valuable lesson that I didn't even catch before now.

But let me back up for a second. What are the core activities? Most of us would say "children's classes, devotional gatherings, junior youth groups and study circles", right? Well, I have to wonder. Is that how the Universal House of Justice describes them? With those catch phrases? Or, for example, with the activity revolving around children, do they talk about "lessons that develop their spiritual faculties and lay the foundations of a noble and upright character"? I mean, sure, that can look like a class, in the traditional sense of the word, but does it have to?

If we tried to have a traditional class within our neighbourhood, most of the children probably wouldn't attend. They're not there yet. It has no interest for them.

But these parties do. They like them, and they attend.

If I invited my neighbours over for a "devotional gathering", they probably would not be interested in attending. But when I go over there and ask if we can say prayers, they are so happy to do that.

This, I think, highlights a minor but real concern to me. We seem to have overlaid a particular structure to some of these activities, expecting that they will all look like something we are familiar with. (Not all of us, to be sure, but a few of us.) And if a particular core activity doesn't look like what we expect, we question whether or not it "counts". Personally, I think if it fulfills the intention, if it fits the description given to us by the messages of the World Centre, then they do "count".

And if someone else says that it has to be done in a particular way, well, show it to me in the Writings. After all, it is quite possible that I've missed something. (In fact, I'm sure I have.)

There is nothing that I have seen that says the devotional gatherings have to be held at a particular time in a particular place, in a particular way. We have to feel comfortable adapting our activities to the needs and tastes of our community. And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think it is wise. What's the point in doing it if nobody is interested? But again, that's just me.

So, to my wife, who was a little bit concerned about trying to explain to the "institutions" how she was doing her work in the way that she could, and perhaps being judged by others that she wasn't doing it the "right way", or whatever, I said not to worry. After all, we're not reporting to "institutions". We are reporting to people. Real people. People with whom we have a relationship.

I asked her if the person who was going to call would understand how she was meeting the criteria in the letters, and she said, "Of course". If it was merely a nameless institution, I would be concerned. But there are none of those within the Faith. Every institution is made up of real people whom we know. And I think it is this personal touch that helps keep the Faith alive. (Along with the divine spirit, of course.)

Oh, and if the person to whom she is reporting doesn't feel that what she is doing quite fits within the definition of a core activity, that's ok, too. Just because it isn't a core activity doesn't mean it's worthless. Everything we do, evey activity we take part in, all helps move the world forward.

And we know that when the time is right, when the conditions are favorable, we can proceed to the milestones laid out for us by the Universal House of Justice.

In the meantime, it's just nice to talk about these things, think about them, and keep eating those peas on the beach.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


It was Canada Day yesterday, and so I took Shoghi downtown with me to celebrate. To make it even more special, not to mention better for the environment, and cheaper on the pocketbook, we took the bus. The double-decker bus. And we sat on top (inside, not on top top). Looking out the front window. It was so cool, and he loved every minute of it.

We walked all over to the different events, ate some great food, had a nice shaved ice, and heard some wonderful music. We also saw many friends, which really made me feel like I'm almost at home here.

Aside - Did I ever mention that I seem to know a lot of people wherever I live? There was one time, many years, that this fact drove a friend of mine up a wall. Whenever we went anywhere together, like on a date, we always, and I mean always, ran into someone I knew. But then this one day we went out to a movie, or a museum or something, and then out to dinner. We were just heading back to the car, and were less than a block away when she said, "You know Mead, this has been the perfect evening. We didn't run into anyone you know." No sooner did she say that then, I swear, a car came to a screeching halt and this friend of mine from years back jumped out and said, "Mead! I haven't seen you in ages." I couldn't stop laughing. She looked like she was going to cry. And he was left standing there saying, "What?" It was hilarious.

So that day, after seeing many people I knew in a large crowd, I began to feel like this was finally home. It's still not quite the place in my heart when I think of home, but it's getting there. (Yeah, I still miss Winnipeg.)

But what really moved me today was what happened on the way home.

Shoghi and I were sitting on the bus, a single-decker this time, in the back, talking. For some reason, we were reviewing phrases from other languages he knows, and got to Japanese. I asked him if he remembered how to say "Good morning", and he said, "Konichiwa." The man sitting next to me turned and said, "That's Japanese." He was from Japan, as were the 5 with him. It turns out that they were visiting the island from Vancouver, where they are studying English.

Naturally, this led to a conversation, and I asked them how they were liking the island so far. One of them said that he was finding Victoria confusing, so I asked him why. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a flyer for Wild Play, a outdoor obstacle course on ropes in the woods about 5 minutes from my house. They were concerned about getting to the place without getting lost.

I told them not to worry, as I was getting off at the same stop as they were. They were both shocked and happy at the same time. I said it would be a bit difficult for them to find the place from the bus stop, but I'd be happy to drive them there in shifts, as my car would only hold 3 of them at a time.

We spent the rest of the bus ride having a wonderfully fun conversation about all sorts of things. I really wanted to help them learn a bit more English and get practice.

When we finally got off the bus, 20 minutes later, I took 3 of them in the car and drove the minute or so down the hill to Wild Play. The sign said "open", so I dropped them off and went back up to get group number 2. We came back down the hill and the sign said "closed".

For some reason, I found this very funny.

They were disappointed, so I asked them what they were doing for dinner. I explained that it was Canada Day, and that a tradition over here is to have a barbecue, and would they be interested in joining. It was 5:00. They really thought about it, talked about the possibility and said "No thank you" because they had to catch the last ferry back to Vancouver in just a few more hours.

I could understand that.

But I still didn't want their trip out to the West Shore to be a disappointing waste of time, so I suggested that I drive them down to the Esquimalt Lagoon. If you haven't read about my love of this place, which is, again, only a few minutes away, just look back over my previous articles. I'm sure I mention the inspiration I draw from it at least a few times. (Or if I don't specify the lagoon then I do talk about the ocean, which is the same thing for me over here.)

I drove the 3 in the car down there, and as I suspected, they were amazed by the place. There is a thin strip of land right between the ocean and the lagoon, with the mountains off in the distance. It is a truly inspirational place.

The 3 guys got out and they were obviously mesmerized by the lagoon and all the birds.

I then got the other group, and they, too were astonished by the beauty of the place. I mean, wow, they loved it. We saw many birds, including 26 blue herons (which is the most I've ever seen there at once), 2 bald eagles, 4 swans, countless seagulls, and a pheasant.

Then I told them that we should cross the road and look at the ocean side. They were not sure about it, but when I said that you can see whales and seals there, they were hooked. Now, this may not be the season for whales, for all I know, but I've heard that you can see them from there. (I haven't from there, yet, but I'll keep looking.) I'll tell you, I've never seen so many seals there as I did today. Oh, what a joy to see them playing in the water.

And the mountains? They've never been clearer.

We spent about 45 minutes just absorbed by the beauty of the place, before I finally suggested that I take them back to the bus stop. They were so disappointed at having to go, but we took many pictures and shared contact info so that we could remember this day.

Then I rushed them back to the bus stop and they had to run to catch the bus, which arrived just as I got there with the second group. It was a wonderful time that was had by all, and they waved goodbye from the bus until we couldn't see them anymore.

Afterwards, I told Shoghi how proud I was of him because he showed wonderful Baha'i hospitality to some new friends from Japan here in Canada. I said that I bet if 'Abdu'l-Baha were sitting in the car next to him, He would be smiling so wide, and would pet him on the knee in joy.

All of this also served to remind me of one other connection to the Faith: Fujita, that stalwart believer from Japan who so admirably served 'Abdu'l-Baha in the Holy Land. I don't know why, but I have always felt such a love for this early believer. Perhaps it was his sense of humour, his abiding joy, or his quiet service in the background. I'm not sure. But one thing is for sure, I truly felt his presence with those new friends from Japan.

Oh, Fujita is the one on the right in the photo. Mountefort Mills is the other one, another stalwart early Baha'i whom I would love to read about. But look again at Fujita. Isn't his smile contagious?

There is a marvelous story of him with Curtis Kelsey (an early believer whose bio I have read, thanks to Nat Rutstein) when 'Abdu'l-Baha sent him on a mission to Egypt. Cairo, I think. While there, Fujita was finally able to wear his tuxedo, something he had always wanted to be able to do. Curtis described the scene with such joy and warmth, and attributed it to the Master's uncanny knowledge of what we desire deep in our heart. Or in this case, fairly close to the surface. Or maybe He just knew that it would make Fujita happy, and that was enough.

Yeah. Fujita. There is something about him that really touches me.

One of these days, I hope to read a biography of him. Anyone interested in writing it?