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.


  1. I'm kind of surprised that Baha'is promote that sort of proselytizing/sharing.

  2. Hi Danielle,

    Actually, we don't. Proselytizing, which is a form of coercion, is expressly prohibited. As for what I'm describing above, it is not promoted. It is done by a few through a misunderstanding. That's why I point it out. Thanks.


  3. Not to nitpick, Mead, but didn't the National Spiritual Assembly encourage Baha'is to do "door to door" teaching within the last few years? Isn't that a form of aggressive teaching, similar to what we see from Jehovas Witnesses and Mormons?

  4. Sorry the long delay in replying to this comment: I just noticed it (even though I published it. It sort of slipped through the cracks.)

    To answer the questions: yes and no, and not necessarily.

    The encouragement that I have seen is to find ways to meet people in our neighbourhoods, and not to rule out the idea of door-to-door. However, many Baha'is have mistaken this for some form of direct teaching. It isn't. Or at least not necessarily. You see, what we say when we meet someone at their door decides on the appropriateness of our approach. And that is why the answer to the second question is "not necessarily".

    If we want to meet our nieghbours, and we haven't actualy met them yet, then knocking on their door is a good way to do it. However, we need to demonstrate our sincerity, and not have any hidden agenda.

    When I met many of my neighbours this way, I introduced myself and let them know where I lived. I was a neighbour of theirs, not some stranger who happened to end up in the area. It was where I lived. It was my home.

    And out of concern for my home, I wanted to invite my neighbours over, and begin helping the children learn about moral behaviour, if they didn't already know. I was concerned about the early teens and wanted to help find a purpose in their own life, their own purpose, and not some weird thing that I wanted them to do. I wanted to help them learn how to make good long-term choices in their own life.

    And if all of this is a problem, then I would suggest that the problem is not the venue, that of the front door, but of the individual themself. After all, why would we not want to meet our neighbours? Why should we be so afraid of each other that someone knocking on our door is somehow construed as a threat?

    Oh, and agressive means that I am somehow forcing myself upon them. Not at all in this case. If someone said they weren't interested in meeting a neighbour, I thanked them and went away. After all, courtesy is very important, and we shouldn't forget about that.