Sunday, December 29, 2013

Curses

"I can't do this book", she said regarding Ruhi Book 1, "in Hungarian. I don't like the translation." I refrained from agreeing with her and saying that I can't do it Hungarian either. But to be fair, Magyar, or Hungarian, was her mother tongue, and we had been going through Book 1 together to help her get a better understanding of the words she was having difficulty with. This comment arose when I asked her about the Hungarian translation she had with her.

"That's interesting", I replied, "for my wife said the same thing about the French translation." Marielle and I have talked about the Ruhi books a lot, and she often points out some significant problems with the French translation to me. As I am not fluent in French, I can't speak from experience, but only what I've heard from others.

But this lady was saying the same thing about the Hungarian translation. Why, I wondered, was I regularly hearing this? And why was the English seemingly ok, when it was a translation, too?

"Can you show me an example", I asked her, "of a line where you don't like the translation?"

She turned to the quotes in the section about backbiting, which is interesting because this is exactly where Marielle turned to when I asked her the same thing.

"Here", she said, pointing to a quote. "How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me."

Interesting, again, for this is the same quote that Marielle had a problem with.

"I don't like the word they used here for 'accursed'. It's too strong a word." She said that this word implied a very strong condemnation, a kicking out of someone, shunning them. It implied a very horrid form of damnation that she couldn't reconcile with the gentle teachings of the Faith.

"Well," I said, "it's a strong word in English, too. Sometimes I think it's a far stronger word than many of us realize. And you're right. It might be too strong. Let's see, shall we?"

And so we began to look at it.

"What would it look like if you were under a curse?" I asked the question, not really knowing where it would go, but it sure seemed like a reasonable place to begin.

What we came up with were things like lots of little stuff would go wrong in your life. You'd lose your keys. You might slip and fall. Someone might take your wallet, or you might get into a small accident while driving. Then we began to come up with some more nasty stuff, more like the curses out of the fairy tales of old. You might get a bad disease. Your family might get killed. In general, there would be mayhem and suffering. Not a fun time at all.

"Ok. Well, let's go back to the quote for a minute", I suggested, thinking this might not be getting us all that far. "There's another interesting word in there. 'Busy'. it seems to imply that we're not just mentioning the faults of others. We're busying ourselves with them. We are spending an undue amount of time focused on them." I wasn't really sure where I was going with this, but it just felt right. "Imagine that there was someone sitting right there", I said pointing to chair near us, "and all they did was point out our faults. How would you feel?"

We both agreed that we would be uncomfortable with that.

Then we agreed that they wouldn't be near the top of our list for people to invite over for dinner, nor for a party. In fact, we really wouldn't want to hang out with them at all. We would, in a sense, shun them, because we really wouldn't feel comfortable being around them.

They, through their own actions, would be, in a sense, placing themselves under a curse.

"And how do you think they would feel, inside?"

"Pretty awful. They would probably stew in their anger and even become sick from it."

As she said that last bit, it seemed that the light went on. Truly, busying yourself with the faults of others would be just like being under a curse.

Maybe it wasn't such a bad word to choose after all.

ADDENDUM - I just read this article to my wife, and she pointed out something very interesting to me. The problem, at least in the French translation, is not the word "accursed", but the word "of". Baha'u'llah says that whoever acts in this way is accursed of God. Does that mean that God places the curse upon them, or that they curse themselves and are therefore separating themselves from God? It seems to me that this is unclear in the English.

In the French, at least, there is no ambiguity. It is God who is doing the cursing.

Now the question remains, which is it in the original?

And the problem remains about accepting this Writing that shows God as being an angry retaliator. So, while I may have found a way for me to accept this in the English, due to its ambiguity, there is still a very real issue for some of the friends in sharing this in another language.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Shoghi and the Temple

A few weeks ago I had the wonderful bounty of taking my son, Shoghi, to Chicago. As you may know, if you have been reading this blog for a while, Shoghi is currently 8-years old.

Well, I've got to tell you, I was impressed with him. When I was his age, if you brought me to a museum, 2 hours. That was it. After that I went kind of nuts. I was ready to climb the walls. Nutsoid. That was me.

But not my little guy. He was unbelievable. We got to most of the museums shortly after they opened. And 8 hours later he was still raring to go. I mean, I was tired. My legs were hurting. But he was wondering why we had to go. "What do you mean the museum is closing?"

All right. Maybe he wasn't quite like that, but it sure was close.

Anyways, at the end of our trip I asked him what his favorite thing was that he did in Chicago.

Without a moment's thought, he said, "Looking up in the Baha'i Temple."

Backtrack: When Shoghi and I arrived in Chicago, at O'Hare Airport, we went straight to the train and took a nice ride to my friend Lucki's house. This was relatively late in the afternoon, so we just went and got some groceries, talked for a while, and headed off to sleep. It was the very next morning that we went up to the Temple.

The day was fairly cool and overcast. It hadn't starting raining yet, so we thought we might be ok. We took the train up to Wilmette, where the Temple is located, and walked the few blocks there under the deep grey sky. I pointed out to Shoghi the brick street, and the asked him if he could see the Temple. He didn't realize that we were less than a block away, and was a bit awestruck at seeing it looking over us through the trees.

We went downstairs to the visitor's centre, and I explained that this was where I had enrolled in the faith. Then we proceeded to have a look around, going into the bookstore, and seeing the foundation stone. He had heard all about this stone, donated by an early believer, and he was pretty psyched about seeing it for real. We saw a few more things, like the model of the Temple built by the architect himself, and decided to head upstairs so that we could settle in before the daily devotions began.

We headed to the doors and were stopped in our tracks by the rain. It looked like someone was hosing down the doors. In all my years there, I don't think I've ever seen such an intense rain. I mean, I am sure I have, but I truly don't recall it.

We all looked at each other and said, "Let's take the elevator." So we did.

Upstairs, under the lacy dome, it was even worse. The rain, that is. The wind was blowing so hard that it was slamming the drops into the dome, resounding all throughout the building. The dome, by the way, is three layers: the external concrete dome, a steel and glass shell, and the internal concrete dome. Although you couldn't see the rain hitting the dome above, you could sure hear it.

We sat down, said a few prayers, and then the choir began to sing. Although their sound didn't quite fill the vast space, it still sounded as if angels were pealing out. Their music was so beautiful that I could scarce keep from crying. Prayers were read. More music was sung. And all the while the storm was blowing mightily out there. At times it was so intense that you could tell more than a few people were wondering if the windows would smash in. Needless to say, they didn't, but it was still a very impressive windstorm.

After the devotions concluded, I leaned over to Shoghi and whispered, "Look up." I watched as his gaze moved up one of the pillars, higher and higher. His head tilted further and further back, but his lower jaw didn't seem to move. His mouth, and his eyes, just opened wider and wider.

That was what he had said was his favorite moment of the whole trip.

My favorite moment happened just a few minutes later.

After looking up, and just sitting there for a few minutes, he got that expression on his face that told me he was thinking something through. He seemed to just sit there, staring at nothing in particular, listening to the sound of the rain on the windows.

Then he turned to me, and he whispered, "It's interesting, isn't it? It's like the faith. Everything is going to pieces out there, but in here it's safe."

Monday, December 16, 2013

"All praise..."

How do you encourage someone, while still maintaining their purity of heart? That was the essence of the question. The original phrasing asked about "not cultivating the ego", but really, I think my wife had the right idea. It's not about the ego. It's about maintaining the purity of heart.

How, we wondered, can we praise someone and encourage them without running the risk of contaminating their spirit with the ego? How can we help them maintain their purity, while doing this?

Oh, this came up while I was looking through Ruhi Book 5, Unit 2, section 20. Whenever I tutor a Ruhi Book, I talk with my wife about it a lot. This was the section we were discussing the other evening over dinner.

Aside - Dinner. I remember that dinner (mainly because I wrote down in my notes when preparing this article.) Halibut was in season at the time, so we were eating a lot of it. It is one of our favorite fish. That particular evening, while Marielle and Shoghi were making and hanging bird feeders, I was making dinner. They took some open pine cones (which weren't really pine cones but fir cones), tied some string on them and then covered them with peanut butter. They then went outside and hung them on the fir tree by the side of the house. While they were doing this I cut up some onion and sauteed it in olive oil. Then I took a few fresh tomatoes, fresh from one of our local greenhouse farms, sliced them and sauteed those, too. I put the halibut on top of this stuff, squirted a dash of hot and bold mustard on the fish and flipped them over and covered the pan. While this cooked, I made a greens salad, and sliced some rosemary foccacia (which my spell check doesn't like. It prefers "Iococca"). Then I got some green and black olives and put the veggie stuff on the plates. I added two small pieces of an incredible cheese, sort of like a bleu, but a nuttier flavour. I placed the now gently cooked halibut on the plate, covered it with a thin slice of a very fine Parmesan cheese, and covered it with the sauteed onions and tomatoes. Wow. What a meal. Marielle said, "I'm so glad you were inspired tonight."

I thought this was rather amusing, as I hadn't yet brought up my question for the night. Remember? This is all about that question of praising without cultivating the ego, or tarnishing the soul.

I now brought it up, and she, naturally, asked about the quotes in the section. I include part of them here for you, dear Reader.

"Verily I praise God for that He confirmed you in the service of the Cause of God in His great vineyard."

"Verily I praise my Supreme Lord for choosing you to call in His Name among the people, for attracting you to the beauty of El-Abha and for strengthening you in rendering His Cause victorious."

"God hath purified thee from iniquities when He hath drowned thee in the sea of His mercy..."

"O my spiritual loved one! Praise be to God, ye have thrust the veils aside and recognized the compassionate Beloved..."

"O ye sincere ones, ye longing ones, ye who are drawn as if magnetized, ye who have risen up to serve the Cause of God, to exalt His Word and scatter His sweet savors far and wide! I have read your excellent letter, beautiful as to style, eloquent as to words, profound as to meaning, and I praise God and thank Him for having come to your aid and enabled you to serve Him in His widespreading vineyard."

"...Well done! Well done! that thou hast turned thy face toward the invisible Kingdom. Excellent! Excellent that thou art attracted to the Beauty of His Highness the Almighty! Well done! Well done! How happy thou art that thou hast attained to his Most Great gift!"

As you can see, the praise is free-flowing, but not directed toward the individual. The praise is to God for having enabled the person to do some service, or for the emotion that the individual has in regard to their attraction to God.

What would it look like if we always praised like this?

To start, when Marielle complimented the dinner, it just felt right the way she did it. She didn't say, "Wow, you made a great meal", which it was (if I do say so myself), or "You're a great chef" (which I'm not). She expressed her gratitude that I was inspired. And that, to me, is where the praise really goes. Sure, I have taken the time to learn about cooking in my life and love doing it, but it really comes down to the inspiration. I may be the tool, and I may have taken the time to make that tool as good a tool as I can, but it still comes down to that moment of artistic inspiration. I know that without it, nothing I ever make would taste even close to decent.

It is like that prayer I allude to in the title: "All praise, o my God, be to Thee..." It's not that we don't deserve any credit, but too often we take too much credit. (I like that line. Thanks be to whichever member of the Concourse on High plunked it down in my brain.)

It often seems to me that Hand of the Cause, George Townshend, was really inspired when he wrote that prayer that, mistakenly, begins "Make of me a hollow reed". Oh, for what it is worth, he wrote the prayer in the last section of one his wonderful books (The Mission of Baha'u'llah, I think), but it was only later that someone else added that inspirational first line, to which it is now eternally linked. At the end of that prayer, he said, "Now I have no other duty than to equip myself for Thy service. With eagerness and patience, with hope and gratitude I bend to the task of the hour lest when Thy call to battle comes I be found unready."

That, to me, really sums it up. Our job is to train ourselves for service. Then, once we have done our job, we are ready to be used by that divine Hand (God, not George). Oh, and we should never forget that when it comes to service, especially military-type service, it is the commanders that truly deserve, and get, the credit. Occasionally a soldier may get a commendation, but it still the commander that gets the credit for the ultimate victory.

Now, if anyone praises me for this article, they don't get any halibut next year. After all, God deserves the credit for anything reasonable I may have said. Anything silly? Well, that's me.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Age of Babel

I don't know why, but I've been thinking about the Tower of Babel recently. Perhaps it's because I was recently asked if I spoke another language other than English. I said I did. "The native language of Jibr." Otherwise known as Jibberish.

Anyways, the Tower has come into my mind, and there it sits. So, whenever anything like that happens, I look into it. And you know what? It's a very simple story in the Bible.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar (Babylon) and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel — because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

There are a few things that stand out for me, reading this now for the first time in a long time. To start, there is the obvious mention of only a single language. Then there is the idea that humanity, as a body, moved eastward. Next comes the idea that they were technologically advanced, because they used bricks and tar. Then, of course, there is the pride involved in wanting to make a name for oneself.Then there is the interesting thing about being able to accomplish anything if we can but communicate, and God not wanting us to do that at that time.

So, here we have the entire human race, as a body, moving along through history, on a single path, if you will. We then encounter Babel, which literally means "the Gate of God". We pass through this gate and, on the other side, begin moving along many language paths. Got it? One path going in; many paths going out.

Now, thousands of years later we, once again, encounter the Gate of God, the Bab, and He sets us on the path towards a single language again.

It is as if we had to take these many paths in order to learn what we could, for each language has its own peculiar perspective of the world. Only with so many perspectives could we begin to get a three dimensional view of the world around us. With only a single view everything appears to be flat. But now that we have this understanding, we seem to be allowed to speak a common tongue again. If we took the "easy" route, and never had multiple languages, then we would never have had this understanding.

They were technologically advanced for the time, using bricks instead of stone, and tar instead of regular old mortar.

We are technologically advanced, as is evidenced by me writing these ideas on a blog, on the internet, readable from pretty much anywhere in the world. Just look at the map on the bottom of the page, if you don't believe me. Pretty awesome, no? The technology, not the map.

And what happens now? Another warning, but this time, instead of a toppling tower, something far more futuristic. Baha'u'llah, in the Tablet of the Holy Mariner, says, "They have desired to ascend unto that state which the Lord hath ordained to be above their stations... Whereupon the burning meteor cast them out from them that abide in the Kingdom of His Presence."

It seems that every time we forget humility, we get into trouble. Whether it is the Tower of Babel, or the fall of Rome, humility would have gone a long way to saving us. Every time there is a great revolution of human endeavour, a lack of humility seems to be a major factor. In Rome, the Emperor thought he was a God, and treated the people appropriately. And while they may not have revolted against him, it did weaken their sense of endeavour and innovation. They seemed to expect others to obey him, and were seemingly unprepared for resistance. In France, and many other countries, the royalty and upper classes thought they were somehow entitled to greater luxury, and when things got bad enough for the average person, they revolted. If those in power had been grateful for the gifts they had, been thankful to those under them, then they would likely still be in power today.

Today we can see something similar brewing, with the incredible economic disparity that is growing around the world. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being wealthy, or working hard and earning a higher salary. When that comes at the expense of other's well-being, however, there is a problem. Nobody should be so wealthy that it forces another to starve. And today, there are numerous people using the laws and culture to build themselves up as somehow more worthy, or deserving of these bounties. They are passing more laws to ease the grabbing of more power and wealth, heedless of those who are suffering. Humility and gratitude would go a long way to curbing that unhealthy situation. Unfortunately, as that doesn't seem to be happening, and the problems appear to be multiplying, it seems that we will need to go through this lesson once again.

But we shouldn't despair. Hope is there, on the horizon.

Today, our primary concern seems to be "profit", and material profit, at that. Just think how often that cause is cited in the news. And with that as our primary concern our laws, the way we educate our children, the focus of the sciences all bend to that pathetic and destructive goal. As but one example, of which there are many, it is currently better for me tax-wise to give money to Wall Street than to charity. I will get a bigger credit on tax refund. The education system is also filled with examples of this, unfortunately.

Soon, though, this endless desire for more will no longer be our goal. We will, sadly, come to such a state that we will recognize its cancerous-like power, and be forced to change our primary concern. Perhaps we will choose unity, or the well-being of each individual on the planet. And then our laws will bend to that.

As we begin to care for each other more, as we begin to educate our children to more concerned for each other, as we begin to enact laws that look after the well-being of the masses instead of the corporados, then we will find new and more innovative ways to look after each other.

One thing that will go a long way to ensuring the safety of all will be when we can all communicate with each other. One world language. A language that we would all learn, in addition to our mother tongue.

And then, when we can all communicate, God made a very interesting statement way back there in the story of Babel: "Nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How to Study a Prayer

Over the past few years, I feel like I have posted on a number of topics and looked at a variety of excerpts from the Baha'i Writings. And while I began with a list of things that I wanted to accomplish with this blog, such as emphasize the importance of the Administrative Order, I quickly exhausted my list. The request was put out for your favorite quotes or prayers and I looked at each and every one, and tried to write a bit on all of them, but I may have missed one or two in the backlog.

It was only recently that I received a short comment saying, "Now I know why to study a prayer, but my question is how?" (I'm paraphrasing, but it's fairly close.)

What a great question. "How do I study a prayer?" And as with any great question out there, I can answer it both truthfully and honestly: "I don't know."

You see, to me that question implies that there is a particular method that we need to uncover and then we will know all that we need to know about studying the prayers of this great faith of ours. Of course, I'm sure that is not what was meant by the one asking the question, but that is what I read in it.

And so, to begin an exploration of studying a prayer, I feel that we must begin by recognizing that there is no one way in which to do it. Remember, Baha'u'llah said that His Writings were like an ocean. How do we study an ocean? We can look at single drop of the water under a microscope, or we can map out the currents that move over many thousands of miles. We can examine the various fish that swim along the surface waters, or we can dive deep within it and explore the mysterious and sometimes monstrous creatures that lie hid in its depths. We can find a warm sandy beach on one of its shores and lie down in the hot sun with our eyes closed and listen to the meditative sound of the waves, or we can make the trek along its icy polar shores studying the manner in which the glaciers form, fracture or reflect the light.

The possibilities open to us for this exploration are so numerous as to nearly defy description.

In some ways it reminds me of attempting to know God.

As we are aware, we can never truly know God. He is so far beyond our understanding that even Baha'u'llah seems to balk at attempting to describe Him. We only need to look through Prayers and Meditations to get a glimpse of that. And yet there are still things that we can know about God. For example, we know that He loves us, which is why we have been sent so many Messengers to help guide and educate us. We also know that God is not a "He", for the would imply a duality that cannot be ascribed to God.

So while it may not be possible to know everything there is to know about the Ocean that is Baha'u'llah's Writings, there are certain things that we can begin to understand about them. And the more that we learn about one aspect of them, the more we begin to understand about the whole.

Also, while there may not be a single answer to "How do we study a prayer", it is a great injustice to the one asking to merely brush it off by saying something as useless as "Any way you want".

So let's take a look at a few ways in which we can study a prayer, keeping in mind that this list will not be exhaustive, although it may become exhausting.

One of the ways in which I study a prayer is a method I learned in English classes in both high school and university. I look at the opening words and see how they foreshadow the entire prayer. In the case of Baha'u'llah's Writings, the opening words tend to be an invocation of God through one or more of His attributes. And these attributes, in my own personal (non-authoritative) opinion are a reflection of those very attributes within us. In other words, if God is the All-Knowing, it means that we have a bit of knowledge. If God is the All-Merciful, then we can show some mercy. Whatever God is in the capital, we are in the lower case. Given this, I believe that the very attributes Baha'u'llah uses in any of His prayers are the very same attributes that we need to cultivate in order to help in the fulfillment of that prayer. For more on this, you can click here and see how it is applied in a study of the Long Obligatory Prayer. Of course, this is not limited to those attributes mentioned in the very beginning of a prayer, but can be used whenever we run across an attribute of God in the Writings.

Another method of study would be to look at themes, such as the development of verbs used in a prayer. For example, in the Tablet of Ahmad, the first paragraph contains the verbs "proclaiming", "calling", "informing", and "guiding". Proclaiming is done over a great distance. You call to someone across the room. You can inform someone standing next to you. And guidance is from within. With each of these verbs, Baha'u'llah is bringing us closer and closer. You can click here to see a little more about that in the Tablet of Ahmad, or here in a glance at the prayer that begins "Create in me a pure heart..." In the second example, I noticed that there was a repetition of style within the prayer itself and merely pulled out the pieces to look at them in order.

Of course, another example of themes would be to look at how a theme, say of nature, is developed within a piece of the Writings. In a piece on consultation, the Master uses some aspects of nature to help make His point. My wife and I explored this in our initial studies of the Faith together, and you can read about that here. In essence, the section we looked at was, "they are the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the stars of one heaven, the rays of one sun, the trees of one orchard, the flowers of one garden". Marielle noticed that they could be divided into couplets, the first being references to water, the second two referring to light, and the third pair to plants. Each couplet also moves from micro to macro.

Another method is to look at a single phrase at a time, as I did when looking at the prayer that includes "Unite the hearts of Thy servants..." (click here for that one). What really stood out for me with this prayer was the realization that it began and ended with the heart.

I could go on and on about the various ways in which we can study a prayer, but really the point is that it is endless. No matter how many ways we may find to study a prayer, there are always more ways to do it.

And you know what? I would love to hear about some your explorations in the Writings.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Happy Holidays?

Well, my holiday sales season is just about over, which means that I finally get a chance to get back to my work here. As you may know, I make my living as a jeweler / artist, in the medium of chain-mail. It's a strange way to make a living, but hey, I like it.

Anyways, I recently had my second to last show for the season, and it was my big one. Huge venue, large booth, tons of people (but not much money this year which kind of sucked), and many, many people wishing me a happy holidays.

Thus it begins: ye merry olde "generic holiday of your choice" season.

But wait a minute. This isn't a generic holiday season. It is a very specific one, with a long history, and rich with meaning. While there are a few different traditions that have celebrations at this time, though not all do. And it is generally considered the Christmas season at this time, in this culture, because that is the predominant faith here.

So why do many of us wish each other a happy holiday? Why not a merry Christmas?

Many people claim that it is somehow showing respect to those who are not Christian.

Really? How?

You see, as far as I can tell, we live in a very diverse community, filled with people from all sorts of backgrounds, each with their own rich heritage, each worthy of celebration.

Rather than wishing someone a nameless "holiday" greeting, why not wish them a merry Christmas? Or a happy Chanukkah? Or a joyous Ramadan? Why should we strip away the diversity of faiths out there and try to wish everyone a non-denominational, meaningless holiday greeting? If we want to celebrate diversity, we must begin by acknowledging it.

The flip-side of this is that some people feel they may inadvertently insult another person by wishing them a merry Christmas, or whatever their particular holiday greeting may be. They especially try to lay this burden on immigrants, who may not be Christian. But you know what? I have never heard an immigrant say that they are insulted by someone saying "Merry Christmas". In fact, I have heard many say that they actually feel hurt that others think a joyous well-wishing would somehow insult them. Strange, isn't it?

When someone wishes me merry Christmas, I smile. They have just wished me well, from a point of joy in their own heart. How can I not appreciate this? And why would I possibly want to deny them this? Why should they have to hide their faith when wishing me joy?

This is not a season for quietly hiding in our corners, afraid that we may insult another. It is a time for exuberance. It is a time for celebration. It is a time for getting out there and overcoming the cold, dark onset of winter and reminding each other that we are both loved and loving.

So let others wish us a boisterous Bodhi day, or a wild Diwali, or a bountiful birthday of Guru Nanak, or a raucous Ridvan. Let us celebrate their joy with them.

In fact, if we want to wish someone a happy holiday, let us do it year-round, for it seems that every week has a holiday in it, if we only look hard enough.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Backbiting - Revisited

Someone, whose name is "Anonymous" (they must be a big fan because they keep posting great comments), just posted a marvelous question on an article I wrote a while ago about backbiting. You can find the article by clicking here.

The comment was as follows: If someone, because of selfish motives, secretly harms another and the harmed one tells others about the bad things the former has done to him, is this considered backbiting, or defending oneself, or seeking justice or else? What are the differences between these things?

What an awesome and thought-provoking question.

And like I have said many times in the past, if you ask me any question, I can give you an honest and truthful answer.

I don't know.

See? Honest and truthful.

What do you think, dear Reader? If someone hurts you, seemingly with intention, and then you tell someone else about it, is that backbiting? (I prefer making this sort of question personal.)

I've thought about this a lot throughout the night, puzzling and praying for understanding, and I still have a long way to go.

Looking at the question, the poser of said question puts forth a few answers, so let's look at them one at a time.

Is it backbiting? Let's get back to this, shall we?

Is it defending oneself? I suspect that it would not be defending oneself, for that is present tense, and the the question is in the past tense. If someone assaulted me last week, and I lashed out at them today, the defense of "defending myself" would not stand up in court. It may be a form a protecting oneself, but I don't think that would necessarily have to include attacking someones character, true or not.

Let's look at a true scenario here. One day, Mirza Yahya, Baha'u'llah's unfaithful brother, put some poison in His teacup. Baha'u'llah was struck gravely ill by this. He well knew who did it, and probably even knew when He drank of the cup. In fact, I am certain that He did. But He always allowed His enemies to do what they wanted with Him, and so He drank. Ok. that aside for a moment, let's look at what happened afterwards. He was severely ill, and the doctor was called. Once He was better (I'll skip the full story here), He told the friends that He was ill. To some He even said that He was poisoned. But, and here's the important thing, He didn't tell people that it was Mirza Yahya who did it. It was only later, after the other friends spread this around and it became well-known, that He referred to it in His Writings. He confirmed a truth, but as far as I can tell, He never spread that truth around Himself.

Later, when this same faithless brother tried to convince Salmani, Baha'u'llah's barber, to murder the Blessed Beauty, Baha'u'llah told Salmani not to tell anyone. With His sin-covering eye, He encouraged others to do the same.

So, would spreading the truth of this situation be defending oneself? I don't think so. The Central Figures of our Faith reported the effects of these attacks, but didn't cast the blame upon an individual until it was already well-known in the community through efforts other than Their own.

On to the next one: Could it be seeking justice? As framed in the questions, I don't think so. It seems like telling others about what I suffered would be seeking vengeance, not justice.

If I were seeking justice in a case like this, then I would go to the proper authorities that are designed to administer justice, such as the police, or a local Spiritual Assembly. To go to individuals would be, in my opinion, looking to get others to look unfavorably upon the individual in question, and that be wanting vengeance.

Going to the proper authorities, however, would be appropriate. They would be able to look at the case with an unbiased perspective and mete out the appropriate punishment. (Idealistic of me, isn't it? But if we don't strive for our ideals, what are we striving for?)

In the drastic case of, say, a sex offender, the police arrest the individual, at least in Canada they do, and then after they have served the appropriate punishment the case is examined again. If the person is deemed to be likely to re-offend, and considered a danger to the public, or some section thereof, then further measures are taken. They are generally put on a sexual offenders list and monitored. When they move into an area where others may be at risk, a warning is put out. To contrast this with the first question, the police are not looking to defend others, but rather to protect those that may not be able to protect themselves, such as children. A real life example is visible near my son's school. All the stores near his school have a photo of a known sex offender living in the area who is deemed a high risk for re-offending. Is this fair, to plaster his picture everywhere? I'm not sure. I am not an authority on this, but it does get everyone in the area to ensure that this person is not tempted by hanging around the schoolyard. This is protection, not defense.

So could telling others be something other than backbiting? Well, it's not defense, nor is it seeking justice, if told to people other than those in a position of authority. In some cases it could be a form of protection, but again, I think that's the case only if it is done by those in that appropriate position of authority.

Is there anything that I'm missing? Maybe. But if not, then I would have to conclude for myself that I would consider it backbiting.

And I have to say, at the very beginning, I would not have said that. it was only by going through this series of questions posed by the reader that I came to this conclusion for myself.

I would love to read what others think about this, for I think it opens up a great conversation that is truly important to have.

Thanks,. Anonymous, for a great question.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thoughts on a Children's Class

Children's classes. You know, this all began, way back, with a children's class. Oh, and my cat. It began with a children's class and my cat. Here. You can read it about it by clicking here, in case you missed it. It's the story of this blog.

Well, I was thinking about it again today because we have another children's class going on, and we teachers got together the other day to reflect and consult on it.

In short, we're very happy about the class. Well, I should say "classes", because there are a few different age groups there, and we're very happy about all of them.

Now, there are a few things that we can do better, of course, and we began to look a bit at them. We started by looking at our strengths, for this is what we feel the Universal House of Justice alluded to, back in the Ridvan 163 message, when they said that "the community of the Greatest Name has been guided from strength to strength by the Hand of Providence". They earlier alluded to it back in 1974, again in the Ridvan message, when they said, "We can, however, confidently predict that the Cause of God, impelled by the mighty forces of life within it, must go on from strength to strength..."

"Strength to strength..." You see, we are not moving from a position of weakness to strength, but rather from one strength to another strength. When we recognize this, it helps us focus our consultations.

After identifying a few strengths, and seeing what else we were hoping to accomplish with these classes, we turned to the Writings.

Some of the things that were mentioned were the difficulty in consistency and constancy with the classes, and that if we could somehow ensure that they would occur every week, without skipping some, then we would be much better off. We also talked about how the presence of the parents would be of benefit. With these, and other comments in mind, we looked at two quotes from the Master. And it is because of these two quotes that I was asked to write this article.

"Among the greatest of all services", He writes, "that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children, young plants of the Abha Paradise, so that these children, fostered by grace in the way of salvation, growing like pearls of divine bounty in the shell of education, will one day bejewel the crown of abiding glory."

We all know the beginning of this quote from our studies of Ruhi Book 3, but it is the next paragraph that we found even more interesting.

"It is," He goes on, "however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it." We will remember this very clearly. To us, it reminds us that what we are doing will be difficult, filled with many tests and trials, but that is what makes it all the more sweeter. The victory, the spiritual growth and development of our children, and the whole community, will be well worth it. In fact, this is not only for us to recall as teachers, but as parents. We need to recall the tests, the trials, and the victories that are promised.

The second quote we read gave us a few additional clues as to what we were experiencing. "The Sunday school", He wrote, "for the children in which the Tablets and Teachings of Bahá'u'lláh are read, and the Word of God is recited for the children is indeed a blessed thing. Thou must certainly continue this organized activity without cessation, and attach importance to it, so that day by day it may grow and be quickened with the breaths of the Holy Spirit. If this activity is well organized, rest thou assured that it will yield great results. Firmness and steadfastness, however, are necessary, otherwise it will continue for some time, but later be gradually forgotten. Perseverance is an essential condition. In every project firmness and steadfastness will undoubtedly lead to good results; otherwise it will exist for some days, and then be discontinued."

When we read that it should occur "without cessation", we took this to mean that we should do it regularly, without interruption. Of course, it may not mean that exactly, but this is what we took it to mean. In other words, no matter how much we may want to say, "Oh, let's cancel the classes this week", we really shouldn't do that. We all recognized that it is just so easy to cancel a class if it's a long weekend, or for some other similar reason, but that we really shouldn't. If we do, it says to the children that this civic holiday is more important than the Baha'i education. Which it isn't.

- - - - -

There is another phrase in that second that really stood out for us, so much so that I am calling attention to it by making a break in the text here, He says, "Attach importance to it".

These classes are so important that we are to attach importance to them.

What does it mean to attach importance to something? How can we show that we are attaching importance to it?

In addition to not cancelling the classes except under extraordinary circumstances, we figured there were other ways to make it clear that these classes are important. But first we made it clear that we are not making judgement on anyone else. For example, one friend of ours has to stop bringing her son to another class that we do in French. On the surface it may seem that she is not placing importance on his Baha'i education, but nothing could be further from the truth. She has a new baby, and her husband just got back in the country after an extended absence. He requires their car for his work, and so she has no feasible way to bring her son. However, we are not letting it be. We place such importance on his being there that we are offering to pick him up at his school and take him with us to the class. It is that important to us, and we are able to offer this service. In her case, we are aware of her particular circumstances and can find a way to assist. This may not always be the case. And so we need to be very careful not to place judgement on others.

What it means is that we have to ask ourselves this question. Each and every parent has to ask themselves this question. Which is more important: Baha'i education, or soccer practice? Baha'i education or going to the grocery store? Is there another time they can have that piano lesson? Is there another opportunity to get the groceries?

What is our priority? How important do we make the classes? How important are they in the Writings? What are some of the messages we inadvertently send to our children about our priorities?

In the Ridvan message of 2000, the Universal House of Justice addressed the parents of children in a few very important paragraphs. They talked about the importance of their interaction with the children, and how "they exercise indispensable influence".

As we discussed this, we came to a few realizations that may or may not be accurate, but reflect where we are in our thinking on this matter. We felt that if we dropped off our children at a class, and then ran off to, say, get groceries, then we would be sending the message to our children that the shopping is more important. (I don't know why I'm fixated on the grocery example. I think it's because that's what I need to do right now.) If, however, there was a program for the adults, and we participated in it, then the message would clearly be that it is so important that I am doing it, too. We gave many examples like this, but it all came down to the idea that we had to have a program available for the parents, so that they, too, could help set the example of the importance of Baha'i education. To this end, we are now going to be including an adult program in with our children's classes. Well, not in the classes, but alongside them. The materials discussed will be decided in consultation with the adults.

Further in our discussions, which I felt were very fruitful, were practical questions about the location. Due to our circumstances, the classes pretty much have to be in one family's home. This places an extra burden on them, so we all offered to help. We could go there early and help clean the house a bit, to get it more beautiful for the children. We could offer to watch their children while they... do their grocery shopping (yeah, I hesitated while typing that again). We could begin with a bit of socializing and a snack so that we could leave sooner after the class, freeing the hosts for other things.

In other words, we are learning to act as a community, in service to each other.

And maybe that is the most important thing that I came out of the consultation with. The importance is not that we all come up to the same level of commitment, but rather that we look at the Writings, derive fresh inspiration from them, and strive to put our actions more in line with the implications that we find in them.

So there we have it. Children's classes. They are a great challenge. We will undoubtedly face tests. But the victories that will arise from these classes is worth every effort. And we must make them a priority. They are very important. And the importance that we place on them, as adults, will make a deep impression upon the children.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Our Priorities

I was on my way to the university this morning, listening to the radio. Oh, before I forget, I serve as the Baha'i Advisor at the University of Victoria. Why? I don't know. I was asked. I used to be called the Baha'i Chaplain, and still am sometimes, but asked if there was less "Christian: title that could be used, and that's what they came up with. I just don't want you to think that I'm some sort of professor or anything. I'm not that bright, really. (That's my caveat for anything really bozoid I may say today.)

So. this morning I was on my way in, listening to the radio, when an interesting article came on. It was about a First Nations Reserve here in British Columbia, Canada, that is allowing its members to apply to own the land on which their houses are built. Now, this may seem like an obvious thing to do, allow people to actually own the land upon which their houses are built, but this is not the traditional way that things have been done amongst the First Nations people here. The land has always belonged to the community; or more accurately, they have always belonged to the land. The very idea of owning land was a bit ridiculous, given their perspective of their role in the world.

Anyways, what got me thinking was the idea that our laws, our priorities, our very culture will reflect our basic fundamental beliefs. If, for example, the land is our highest priority then the whole concept of owning it will seem totally ridiculous. And our laws will reflect that, as they have on the First Nations Reserves here in Canada.

However, if money is our highest priority, then our laws will reflect that, too. In the United States, for example, money is given so high a priority that they actually consider corporations legally as people. In fact, profit is considered so important that you will get a greater tax credit for giving money to Wall Street than if you give money to charity. Same in Canada.

Interesting. Sad, but interesting.

Baha'u'llah said that this society, and all the institutions within it were "lamentably defective". Of course, I'm paraphrasing, and it really is my own opinion, nothing official. What He actually said was, "the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective."

And He didn't say that it was just defective. He said that it was lamentably so. It is not just defective. It is deplorably defective. It doesn't just deserve to be condemned, but strongly condemned. Lamentable is a very powerful adjective here.

But let's look at that quote in context. He said, "The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective."

"Impending convulsions". "Impending chaos". Why? Because the prevailing order is worthy of strong condemnation.

What is it about this "prevailing order" that merits such language? You see, it's not just the corrupt individuals that may be working within the system that are condemned. It is the very system itself, as far as I can tell. And perhaps it has to with our basic assumptions, such as the importance of money, or the seeming lack of importance of the individual. Perhaps it has to do with our priorities, such as selling off the community's land to individuals so that they can use it as collateral to secure short-term loans from banks, for that was cited as the rationale for allowing individuals to buy the land on the reserve.

What happens, I wonder, if that individual, who now owns a chunk of land in the middle of a reserve, defaults on the loan? It is no longer part of the reserve land. The bank could do whatever they want with it, sell it to anyone willing to pay. I, for example, could buy it, or any unscrupulous landowner, to do with as they please. The point is that this one community is now falling prey to this belief that the making of money somehow supersedes the very concept of our relationship to the land that was held so sacred for so long. Of course, it is their right to do so, but I find it a bit disturbing.

In the full paragraph in which Baha'u'llah talks about this lamentably defective order, we read the following:
This humble servant is filled with wonder, inasmuch as all men are endowed with the capacity to see and hear, yet we find them deprived of the privilege of using these faculties. This servant hath been prompted to pen these lines by virtue of the tender love he cherisheth for thee. The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divideth and afflicteth the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective. I beseech God, exalted be His glory, that He may graciously awaken the peoples of the earth, may grant that the end of their conduct may be profitable unto them, and aid them to accomplish that which beseemeth their station.

He prays that the end of our conduct may be profitable to us.

To me, this speaks right to the heart of the issue on this one reserve.

It also speaks to the heart of so many other issues.

I'm not saying that the people who passed this law on that one reserve were wrong, but just that I seriously wonder if they have really thought through the implications of all that they have done. Perhaps they have. Perhaps they have not. Time will tell.

In the end, though, it really drives home the point that our basic assumptions of the the world around us dictate our laws, our questions, our educational facilities, and so many other aspects of our lives. Just imagine, if you will, how different our lives would be if society, as a rule, placed the highest priority on the individual, as opposed to gold. Or the family? Or justice? Or unity?

The mind boggles.

At least mine does.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Vicariousness

Every now and then I drive my son to school. Normally we walk to the bus stop, stare at the mountains across the Strait of Juan de Fuca (be careful not to mis-pronounce his last name, if you please), gaze at the trees in the forest across the street, watch the eagles and other birds fly about, and talk about God and life and all sorts of wonderful things. But every now and then, like once a week or so, I drive him to school.

When I do, I always turn on the radio after dropping him off. (I can just hear myself saying, "I don't always listen to the radio, but when I do, it's CBC.") (Well, it is.)

A few weeks ago, after dropping him off and turning on the radio (CBC), I heard an interesting story. It was about cooking. Home cooking. Home cooking, and how it has declined by over 50% since the mid-60s in North America.

And as you may guess, it got me thinking.

Why, you may ask? Well, I'm glad you did, dear Reader.

It got me thinking about the importance of cooking, food, and eating together (an activity that is sorely lacking in my home, which I keep hoping to change, but keep failing at miserably).

Cooking, and home cooking in particular, is, in many ways, a basis of community. When you forage, you eat whenever you find food. When you cook, it suddenly becomes a more communal activity. You have to plan, ensuring that you have the ingredients you need. Someone has to prepare the food. You have to look forward to it, rather than having than just eating whenever you are hungry. It also becomes a point of communication, talking over the dinner table.

But, as I mentioned, home cooking has seriously declined, with more and more people preferring pre-packaged food, or fast food. In spite of this, and this is what got me thinking, cooking shows are more popular than ever. While there are many cooking shows that actually help you learn to cook, the most popular, like Iron Chef, result in scaring people out of the kitchen. They make it look like some sort of Olympian contest with often devastating or humiliating results, further re-inforcing the erroneous belief that it is better to go out and pick up something semi-palatable to eat from a fast food joint, or getting something in a cardboard box that barely resembles food your grandparents would recognize with negligibly more nutrition than the box itself.

In short, they try to convince you to spend more money getting something less nutritious while sacrificing the time you may have over the dinner table.

Of course, that's just my own take on it. You can see that I am a little against that sort of thinking, even though I understand the notion that many seem to have that it takes more time to prepare a healthy meal than it does to earn the money to buy a pre-made thingy and heat it up. (I disagree with that notion, too, especially after an old roomie and I had a race. He cooked pasta from a box while I made it from scratch. Not only was I done before he was, although I didn't allow the pasta to properly dry, the home-made pasta was both better tasting and cheaper.)

Anyways, given these two points, cooking down, cooking shows up, why is this? Why are we more interested in watching people cook when we don't do it as much ourselves? I think the simplest answer is that we are living vicariously.

"Vicara-what?" Vicariously. We are experiencing things indirectly, as though through a substitute. We seem to recall the wonder of a good home-cooked meal, but are living vicariously through the shows, instead of doing it ourselves.

And this is not the only instance of it. There are so many other instances of this, such as video games, movies, facebook and so forth. Heck. While we're at it, we might as well put pornography in there, too. Oh, and yes, I include facebook, which may be a bit of a stretch, but it often involves having "conversations" with an electronic device rather than the real people who are there with you. (And while I enjoy facebook, it is not a substitute for a real relationship with those who are around me.) (Sorry facebook friends, but I value my time with people around me more, even though I value your friendship, too.)

But seriously, think about it. How many kids today play Wii sports instead of getting out and exercising, or playing with their friends? How many people think that they are learning to play the guitar with Guitar Hero even though they have never felt the strings under their fingers? How many people want to fight the bad guys in Mario, but ignore the injustices going on around them?

Now, please don't think of me as a spoilsport. I enjoy these games, too. It's just that when Shoghi and play them, we do talk about them afterwards. We fence with each other on Wii Sport Resort, and then we go out back and fence with sticks with each other. I use the sticks to help him learn what is happening in the game, and we use the game to help practice our reflexes. He plays Mario (a lot), and we talk about the real injustices that are happening in the world, and what he can do about them.

One of my favorite stories with Shoghi is when we were looking at pictures of trees on-line. We found many amazing images, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over lots of them. But then I took him outside. We re-focused our eyes and looked at the looming cedars just down the way, at the majestic maple tree across the street, at the enormous pine trees with all the birds circling around. We smelled the air and listened to the sound of the breeze moving through the forest.

There was no comparison.

The internet paled in comparison to reality.

While there are many quotes in the Writings that talk about the importance of experiencing reality, one of my favorite, the one that comes to mind right now, is "see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others".

If you want to experience the magic of a home cooked meal, cook it yourself. You won't experience it by watching someone on tv cooking it.

If you want to experience the joy of a pet animal, adopt one yourself. They will show you all the charm and wonder of the animal kingdom far better than a few photos on-line.

And again, this is not to say that these other things are useless or a waste of time. I have learned a lot from watching professionals cook. I enjoy the art of photography, and derive much pleasure from seeing photos that are beautiful. I enjoy playing a game with my son. But all of this is in moderation, and relates back to reality.

It is rare that I accept a friend request on facebook from someone I don't know. And I would far rather spend time walking with any of those friends, but sometimes facebook is the only way I can keep in touch with those loved ones who are so far away.

All of this to say: Life needs to be lived. For that is where the true joy is to be found.

Now, excuse me. I need to get out and go for a walk.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Evening Prayer

A few nights ago, as we were getting ready to say our prayers, Shoghi turned to me and said, "Papa, I'd like to learn a new prayer."

"Which prayer", I wondered aloud, "would you like to learn?"

"How about that night prayer you say a lot?"

I hadn't realized that I said this particular prayer "a lot", but I guess I do. There's something about the "evening" prayer that really touches me somewhere deep inside. I don't know why, but it does. I mean, yeah I know it's sacred text, from Baha'u'llah, and everything, but not all sacred words touch us the same way. There are some that really seem to go deeper, probably depending on us at the time. After all, Shoghi Effendi said that there some that "have been invested by Baha'u'llah with a special potency and significance", so we already know that this seems to be the case.

Anyways, I was wondering to what write about today when I remembered this little thing from the other night, and so I figured it might be a good time for me to look a bit more closely at this prayer that Shoghi is now trying to memorize.

O my God, my Master, the Goal of my desire! This, Thy servant, seeketh to sleep in the shelter of Thy mercy, and to repose beneath the canopy of Thy grace, imploring Thy care and Thy protection.
I beg of Thee, O my Lord, by Thine eye that sleepeth not, to guard mine eyes from beholding aught beside Thee. Strengthen, then, their vision that they may discern Thy signs, and behold the Horizon of Thy Revelation. Thou art He before the revelations of Whose omnipotence the quintessence of power hath trembled.
No God is there but Thee, the Almighty, the All-Subduing, the Unconditioned.

Every time I read this prayer I am always reminded of that story from Memories of Nine years in Akka, in which a group of Pilgrims were awaiting the Master. He was quite late that night in getting home, but the friends still waited for Him. No one knew where He was, or when He would return, but still they waited. Later and later it got, until it really was the middle of the night, past midnight and everything. Finally after many hours of eagerly anticipating His arrival, He came home, worn out from his very busy day. Not wanting to disappoint those stalwart souls who were kept waiting, He said some kind words to them and then asked one of the friends if he would kindly say a prayer. Stifling a yawn, this believer agreed to do so, and began, "This, Thy servant, seeketh to sleep..."

So, what is it about this prayer?

Obviously it begins with an invocation of God, referring to Him as the Master, implying that we are His servants. Then it calls upon Him as the goal of our desire. Personally, I don't think of this as an attribute of God, of which we are some sort of lower case version, but rather a reminder that all of our desires should lead us towards God. This is a good reminder to me as I'm heading off to sleep, for it is too easy to indulge in my sleep, spending far more hours idle in bed than is good for me. I mean, it really is quite remarkable just how comfortable my pillow and blanket can be, but then my jealous alarm clock comes between us. Probably a good thing. But this simple phrase is a good reminder to me that sleep should not be a goal of mine, but rather a tool that I can use to better serve my Lord in a refreshed manner.

(Wow. I didn't think I would be able to say anything about that first line. Well, there you go. That wiley spirit in the Concourse on High who has the unfortunate task of keeping me in check is really on top of things today.) (Gives me something more to think about when Shoghi and I say it tonight.)

The next line is one that I find quite fascinating these days: This, Thy servant, seeketh to sleep in the shelter of Thy mercy, and to repose beneath the canopy of Thy grace, imploring Thy care and Thy protection.

First there is the reminder of being a servant again. There is also the reminder of the goal, through the word "seeketh". In the previous sentence, God is the goal, but now we seek to sleep. And not just sleep but sleep in the shelter of His mercy.

What does that mean? And why would we want to sleep there?

When I just asked that question in my mind, as I was typing it, I sort of imagined all the things that I would want to do in a shelter, and I realized that they all came down to resting. I had pictured myself wanting to listen to Baha'u'llah, or in some other way bask in His presence. But then I realized that nothing else would be done in a shelter. A shelter, as far as I can tell, is a place of rest in a time of peril, a place of protection when danger abounds, generally from the weather, but not exclusively.

Now I realize that it really is the perfect descriptor. Without God's mercy, we are left to His judgement. Without His mercy, we are truly doomed. I can't put it any other way, hard as I am trying. We are not living in a simple world, full of peace and love, all rosy and cushy. "By God," writes Baha'u'llah, "this is the arena of insight and detachment, of vision and upliftment, where none may spur on their chargers save the valiant horsemen of the Merciful, who have severed all attachment to the world of being." And I don't know about you, dear Reader, but just reading about this makes me tired, longing for a rest. And God, through His mercy, allows us a few moments to catch our breath.

Next we seek to repose beneath the canopy of His grace.

My first question is what is the difference between sleep and repose? Well, sleeping is a state of unconsciousness in which our body is refreshed. During this time we are also offered illumination through our dreams, if we are lucky. To repose is to be in a state of tranquility. When we sleep, we are not necessarily tranquil. We can have a restless sleep for many reasons, but to repose implies tranquility.

My next question is why the canopy? Well, that's an interesting question. (I'm glad I asked.) Years ago, we, meaning humanity, didn't have the most weather-tight of housing. Our roofs were often made of thatch, or some other material that likely leaked. It was for this reason that the four-poster bed was created. It didn't just look nice, like something out of a Disney fairy-tale. It was practical. It kept the water from dripping on us in the night. And as anyone who has camped in a leaky tent knows, there is very little more disturbing than a cold drop of water hitting you when you are sound asleep.

When we are resting, spiritually, it doesn't really take a lot to disturb our peace of mind. (Well, it doesn't take a lot to disturb my peace of mind. I don't know about you.) By trying to emulate grace, that courteous good will, we are better able to ignore those things that may disturb our tranquility. The Grace of God is often described as the undeserved favour of God. We can extend that favour to others in our life, too. Bahiyyah Khanum, the Greatest Holy Leaf, was exemplary at this. She once said that the trick of this was to not take offense in the first place. (I would love it if someone can remind me of where that line is.)

Through all this, we implore, we beg of God for His care and protection, further emphasizing the shelter and the canopy.

I beg of Thee, O my Lord, by Thine eye that sleepeth not, to guard mine eyes from beholding aught beside Thee. Strengthen, then, their vision that they may discern Thy signs, and behold the Horizon of Thy Revelation. Thou art He before the revelations of Whose omnipotence the quintessence of power hath trembled.

(I just put it there so that I could see it again and refer to it as I'm typing.)

God sees all. He even sees what we see. And here, we are pleading with God to only see Him, to only see the good. Doesn't that just hearken back to the grace just mentioned?

We are also asking God to be like glasses for us. We not only wish to see the good in everything, we also desire to see God's signs, wherever they may be. Quite often God's signs are hidden, usually right in plain sight. There is so much that is beautiful in the world, if we but take the time to notice it. Whether it is a butterfly flitting past, or a tiny little flower growing by the sidewalk, these are signs of God.

And so often we can easily be overcome by despair with all that is going wrong in the world that we forget to notice the signs of the maturing of humanity, those signs of all that is going right. The Horizon of God's Revelation is lit up with the majestic Sun of Baha'u'llah's World Order if we only take a moment to lift our heads and look. Despite, for example, the oppression of women in so many parts of the world, or the political backlash in some areas striving to take away the rights of women that were fought for years ago, we have still come a long way in the advancement of these same rights. This is not to say that we shouldn't continue to fight for these rights, exposing injustices when we find them, but just that we should not lose sight of how far we have come in only 100 years.

And when we look around and see how far we still have to go, see those great corporate or political or fanatical powers arrayed against us, we can still remember that the very "quintessence of power" trembles before the might of God.

After all, there is no God but God, and He is Almighty. He can subdue all. Nothing can stand against His will.

Finally, He is unconditioned. This doesn't just refer to God not being masculine or feminine, or insert any other descriptors you wish. God is beyond all that, obviously. I think it also refers to God not being subject to our conditions, as in a contract. God loves all, whether or not we do. God supports all, whether we agree with them or not. God is for all, whether they believe as we do or not. God is not subject to any conditions. This is not to say, of course, that we are unconditional. No. We are subject to many conditions. For example, "If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee." This is not a condition upon God, but a statement about us.

God offers the shelter of His mercy. It is up to us to go in.

And you know, it doesn't matter how many times I read this prayer, I still mistakenly end it with the "air conditioned". One of these days that will be purged from my brain.

Ah well. What can you do?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Trust and Reality

There has been something going on for some time that has both amused and disturbed me. It has to do with the idea of playing with people's reality, fooling them into believing something is happening that isn't, usually for the amusement of others.

For example, one of the earliest instances of this was the famed radio broadcast War of the Worlds. While it was very well done, I love the show, and they regularly announced that it was all a drama, it still undermined some people's trust of the newscasters and the media.

Generally these sorts of pranks were done on the first of April, and were what I would call relatively harmless.

Lately, though, they seem to be proliferating at an alarming rate, and they are becoming more and more intrusive on people's reality. For example, if you were listening to the War of the Worlds, you could pretty much look outside and see that what they were reporting wasn't what was really happening. Today, though, it isn't quite that simple.

Check out this video in which one family in a restaurant was subjected to prejudicial and harassing behaviour by a waitress. The problem, though, is that it was all staged. The family and the waitress were all actors putting on a show to see how others would react, and some of them reacted very nobly.




While I agree that it was interesting to see the reactions from the other patrons, and witness the heroic actions of those who stood up to the waitress, and that it illustrates a very real problem, it could have another unintended affect. I imagine myself eating there and feeling truly sickened by the actions of the waitress. In fact, my stomach is still a bit upset after having seen it again. But I can imagine myself there and know that I would do something very similar, but probably not as tactful as the man in the video. And while I would feel justified in coming to the defense of those being persecuted, I know that I would suffer the ill feelings for quite some time afterwards. That type of justified confrontation, while I still do it, has a very real toll on me. It truly makes me ill for some time.

But then, after the whole thing is done, to be approached and told that it was all a hoax, a test, would make it even worse. It would make me question the reality of it if I saw something similar at a later time. I can truly see myself witnessing another similar, but this time real, scenario, and hesitating, to the detriment of all.

Now, like I said, I understand why they are doing it here, but I think they are missing a very real consequence of it.

As you can probably guess, I saw this video a while ago. It disturbed me at the time, especially to learn that there are a whole pile of similar videos and situations that they did for this "reality" show. It wasn't just the once. It was over and over again. It was as if they decided to see how bad they could make a situation just to see how others would react, without really thinking about the long-term consequences of it.

I mean, how many times do you have to see the staged versions of these things before you become immune to them and end up ignoring a real situation? I'm just wondering.

But now, we, as a culture, seem to be going even further. If you watch this promo for an upcoming movie, you'll see what I mean.



Again, I think it's a real cool effect that they have done, but is this the right place to be doing such a stunt? What impact does it have on those who witness such things? Have we overstepped some boundary that should be there? Does this somehow fall into a similar category as shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre? Have we allowed ourselves to become the "playthings of the ignorant", mere tools for the people dreaming up these stunts? When do we say enough is enough and claim our reality back as our own?

Monday, October 7, 2013

How to Start a Blog in Two Easy Steps

Thank you, dear Reader, for all the e-mails of congratulations and well-wishes. I really appreciate it. Especially during this time of the year when my allergies are making themselves known to me. So abundantly making themselves known to me.

Last night, as I was finishing up a bit of work, I told Shoghi that I had just received a number of your e-mails about having written 500 articles. His eyes got really wide and he asked how it was that I could write so much. This sort of dove-tailed with the questions I got about how to begin writing your own blog, and I think the answer to his question is pretty much the same as the answer to yours.

"Well," I replied to Shoghi, "every day when I read the Writings, I always find something in them that catches my attention. When that happens, I think about it all day. I play with it in my mind, in my heart, see what it looks like from all sorts of angles. I try to discover how I can apply that teaching in my life. And you know what? Sometimes I'm even successful. Occasionally the Concourse on High helps show me a way to apply it. And that's when I sit down and write."

"But what about those times", he asked, "when you don't?"

"Hmm. Good question. Every now and then", I said, "I begin to write about whatever it was that caught my attention and think about it as I'm writing. Sometimes I am very surprised that just doing that gives me a new perspective. Other times I don't come up with anything. Sometimes that wily Concourse on High just doesn't get through to me. Maybe I'm too busy with my own thoughts that I don't pay attention to what they're trying to tell me. And that's when I write about how I don't understand something.

"You see," I continued, kind of getting into the rhythm of it, "one of the most important things we can talk about is what we don't know. Do you remember in our children's class this morning how nobody knew the answer to the question I asked? I said that answering 'I don't know' is the best answer at those times. By admitting that we don't know, we open ourselves up to hearing what the real answer is. Or a real answer. Or sometimes just an answer.

"When I don't know how to apply something, or I just can't figure out what Baha'u'llah is trying to say, I admit it. And that is how my friends all over the world know to send me their thoughts. And you know what? One of them usually has an answer for me. By putting it out there, and waiting for an answer, we all learn from it."

Ok. Maybe that's not exactly what I said, but that's the general spirit of it.

Then he asked me again, "But 500? How could you write so many?"

That was when I was reminded of a friend of mine: Reggie Newkirk. I have to say that Reggie is quite the guy. He's wise, witty, and very practical. He has served the faith in many different capacities, and always exemplary. (But pleae don't tell him I said so, for I don't want it to go to his head. His humility is another wonderful thing about him, and I don't want to tempt his ego by my words.)

There was one time when we were both at a summer school, and I noticed that Reggie got up very early every morning and went for a long run. I don't know how long, because I never joined him. Until very recently I was not what you would call a "morning guy".

Anyways, one morning at this school, some of the youth saw him running back into camp and asked him how it was that he was able to get up so early.

"Oh, now that's a good question. Well, you see, when I wake up, I put one foot on the floor. Then I put the other one on the floor and I start my day."

In other words, he just does it.

When Shoghi asked me how I was able to write so much, I thought about that and said, "One article at a time."

Perhaps the word is persistence, or perseverance. I'm not really sure. I just know that I begin typing, quite often without knowing what I'm going to write, and just keep typing until the article is done. Or until I have to be somewhere else. Or until I get too hungry.

Whatever.

I just begin, and then go until I'm done.

So, for those of you asked me how you can start writing your own blog, I think that's my answer: Just begin. Find something that catches your attention and write about it. Find something that you are passionate about, and write about it. Find something that makes you say, "Neat", and write about it.

Once you've done that, then hit "publish". Oh, you can always hit "spell check", or "grammar check", or insert a photo or a video, or something, if you want, but you have to be sure to hit "publish".

Got that?

Two easy steps, like it says in the title (see above).

  1. Type.
  2. Publish

Easy, non?

And if you're anything like me, you won't think that your insights are all that special, but you never know, to someone else they just may be. Your quirky little perspective that you take for granted may be just the thing that nobody else has ever thought of before. (Maybe for good reason, but maybe not.)

If you have started a blog on the Faith, please let me know. I'd love to read it. After all, I sure have a lot to learn, and who better to help teach me?

I mean, except Baha'u'llah, of course. But you know, there are many things in His Writings that I just don't get yet.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

500

Wow.

I can't believe it.

Another year has gone by. Yes, it's my birthday again (tomorrow, not right now), and, again, I am giving pause to reflect. In previous years I have sometimes mentioned it, and even written about it. But this year something else is happening, too. This is my 500th article on this blog.

I really can't believe it. 500!?!

When I look back over the past few years, I am truly amazed at all the changes that have happened.

But first, I want to reflect a moment on how I began all this.

At the time, I was serving the Faith in an administrative capacity, and one of the joyous responsibilities of this service was to travel throughout the Snoman Region. Saskatchewn, Northern Ontario, and Manitoba; what else were we going to call it?

So one day, way back then, I was at a meeting in Regina, sitting in the main hall at the Regina Baha'i Centre. Now, if Regina were in the States, it would have been the Regina Baha'i Center, but it isn't. It's in Canada. And therefore it is the Regina Baha'i Centre.

So there I was, sitting in the main hall, listening to people share their stories about how their children's classes were going. Story after story of these incredible gatherings were being shared, one after the other, really giving us all a sense of how much was happening in the area. But then someone stood up and asked the question that really made the day stand out for me, above and beyond all the other similar meetings I had attended. He said, with his straightforward, matter-of-fact, farmer's drawl, "This is all well and good, but how did you all begin? How did you get those kids to come over to your house the first time?"

Now, you have to understand, at that time my wife and I had had a children's class going in our home for a few years and I hadn't ever really considered that question before. How did we get those kids to come over the first time? And then I remembered.

Then I snickered.

It was just a little laugh, but the guy sitting next to me (whose initials are Ward Johnson) heard. Later, when he was giving me a ride back to where we were both staying, a good 30 minutes or so away, he asked me why I had laughed.

"Oh," I replied, "I was just remembering how Marielle and I began our children's class."

He looked a but puzzled and asked, "How?"

"Well, our cat peed on our comforter."

As I told Ward the story of how our classes began, which you can read about here, he was laughing so hard that I realized I had a good story to share. I needed to write it down. And so I decided to write a little bit about what I had learned about the Faith.

And that is how this blog began.

Over the previous umpteen years a number of people had told me that my very simple way of looking at the Faith, and figuring out how to apply the Teachings, was useful to them. And while I didn't think much of my own insights, and still don't, really, others had said that they did help them find more in the Writings.

And since I am really just one lone Baha'i struggling to find his way amidst the... Hmm, I can't think of a good analogy here.... Uhm, since I really am just one lone Baha'i trying to keep afloat in this vast ocean of His Writings (how's that?), I thought I would call it "One Baha'i".

So I did a quick search for a reasonable blog site, came across blogspot, typed up the story, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But then I ran into a problem.

What else could I write about?

Well, the second article was easy. I just wrote a bit more about that little old children's class.

And then I remembered another interesting thing that had happened at that same meeting in Regina and wrote that little bit about the Right of God.

Oh, and then I recalled something I had once said about the Tablet of Ahmad that really stood out to someone else. And then it was time for an election, so I wrote about that. And then I remembered... Well, as you see, it has kind of gone on from there.

500 articles gone on from there.

Nearly 4 years gone on from there.

And for those of you, and yes, I'm referring to you, dear Reader, who have been reading this for most of that time, you have seen me move from the prairies to the coast, watched my son double in age from 4 to 8, and seen me get back into my artwork. You have seen me lost in wonder, puzzled over a quote, inspired by a line I had never considered, chastised for skipping sacred Text, crying over the loss of a friend, confused over what something in the Writings means, and generally blabber and blither as I talk about those little tidbits I am able to find amidst this vast treasure house of Writings.

A lot has happened in those nearly 4 years.

Now we have seen the Baha'i Faith grow and change, too. Four years ago I never would have dreamed of seeing the call for local Houses of Worship in my lifetime. It never would have occurred to me that we could possibly see over 100 youth conferences in so short a span of time. I could never have imagined how much we would learn about actual growth in just a couple short score of months.

Way back in October of 2009 I used my first quote from the Writings in an article here in this blog: "O dwellers of My Paradise! With the hands of loving-kindness I have planted in the holy garden of paradise the young tree of your love and friendship..." Today I look back on that quote and realize that little seed has come to fruition through your love and friendship.

I never would have dreamed of the people I would meet through telling that simple little story of going to the laundromat and beginning a children's class. I never would have dreamed of all the e-mails I have received from all over the world. I never would have dreamed of all the joy and tears and questions and insights and laughter and... well, I never would have dreamed of how this simple little practice of writing a blog about how the Faith has influenced my life would influence my life.

Thank you for sharing this with me, and thank you for all of your kind words and loving support.

And if anyone ever asks me how I began writing this blog, well, it is all because of my silly little cat peeing on my comforter.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Public Speaking

The other day I had the wonderful opportunity to give a short talk at the public library in downtown Victoria. When asked in advance about what my topic would be, I said, "Finding hope in a hopeless world." After all, 'Abdu'l-Baha said that we must "make hopeful the hopeless ones".

And while I had originally thought to write some of the ideas from the talk in an article here, I realized that I've actually said most of what I wanted to say in previous articles. Why repeat myself?

Instead, I thought I would share a little bit about what I learned from it.

To start, though, here are as few things I've found useful when public speaking. First, pray. Pray before opening your mouth, for it is only by the inspiration from the Realms on High that you will say anything that will touch the hearts, and I find the hearts far more important to address than the minds. "Turn thy face toward the Kingdom of God," are 'Abdu'l-Baha's words, "ask for the bestowals of the Holy Spirit, speak, and the confirmations of the Spirit will come."

The second thing is kind of odd, but makes sense when you see it in action: Refer to something that is present. Of course, this isn't a hard and fast rule, but just something that I try to do on a regular basis. I look for something that connects to my talk and try to refer to it. For example, in my recent talk, I turned to Shoghi, my son, who was sitting in the front row, and asked him how old he was. Of course, I already knew his age, but this gave the audience something real to refer to. This is something that I picked up from Abdu'l-Baha's talks and have seen work quite well with others. In fact, if you look through Promulgation of Universal Peace, the record of His talks in the US and Canada, you will see that He often begins His talks with a reference like that.

The third is to prepare. Research your topic, plan an outline, rehearse it. And then, on the day of the actual talk, go with the spirit. No matter how much you prepare, you never know who will be in your audience, and you are talking to real, actual souls, not a faceless mass of bodies. (Yeee. That's a gruesome image, talking a faceless mass.) There have been many times when I've planned multiple talks, including memorizing three talks from the Master, only to scrap them all at the last moment. Of course, if you don't prepare, then you're just not ready. The tool, so to speak, has not been prepared for the task. So I feel that planning and preparation is essential, even if what you prepared is not used in the final talk.

Now, those are all things that I already knew ahead of time.

One thing that I didn't consciously know was how important humility is. I mean, I guess I did, in the abstract, but Marielle was chatting with people afterwards and made this observation. She said that in most of my previous talks I had not talked about how it was just "my own opinion", but she noticed that writing this blog and regularly making that disclaimer seemed to carry over. There were a number of times when I said that in my presentation. And the reaction? Quite interesting. It seems that this very honest disclaimer helped people lower their internal walls. She said that by claiming my talk was only my own opinion, and nothing official, I allowed the audience the opportunity to dispassionately examine what I was saying. They were free to decide for themselves if they agreed or not. Even if they disagreed, they did not feel threatened, and therefore those internal barriers never came up.

She also said that my informality helped people relax. I did not come across as a big shot who was there to tell them something. I came across as just a regular guy who had an idea that he was asked to share. And you know what? That's all I am. It's kind of cool that it came across.

One thing that I consciously did was embed quotes in my talk. I would sometimes say, "Baha'u'llah said", or something similar, followed by a quote. But more often I would paraphrase a quote in my own words. After all, not everyone like being quoted at. Oh, and an example of this would be like using that first quote in the Ruhi Books. You know, the one that begins, "The betterment of the world can be accomplished..." Instead of using that quote, I think I said something like, "When you do good deeds, pure deeds, and act in a commendable way, you help make the world a better place."

Finally, I answered questions people asked. And while I didn't claim to have "the" answer, I answered them to the best of my ability. Of course, this often began with a moment of silence while I said my favorite prayer for this sort of occasion quietly in my own heart: "Oh God, HELP!"

For example, one person said, "For Baha'is, hope comes from the promise of the Golden Age of Baha'u'llah. Can you tell us when this will happen?"

My immediate thought was to say, "No, I can't", and move on to another question.

Instead, I realized that this would be a dis-service to the one who asked. So I said my favorite prayer (see above).

"That's a very interesting question", I began. "It is the same question as asking about the Lord's prayer 'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is heaven'. I think they are describing the same thing."

This was when I turned to Shoghi and asked him how old he was. "8 years-old, Papa."

I then turned back to the man who asked the question and asked him, "When will Shoghi turn into an adult? What is the exact day? How old will he be? In truth, there is no exact time. It is a process that occurs over a length of time. For now, we don't need to be concerned about when it will occur as much as what we can do to help bring it about."

That, to me, was the answer to my prayer, for there is no way that I would have come up with an answer to that question on my own.

So there it is. Just a few things I learned from giving a public talk and reflecting on it. I hope it was useful.

Is there anything you have found that helps make talks more effective?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Everything Between

As I said in the previous article, there is so much more to talk about regarding "heaven and earth and all that lies between" them.

I already mentioned how it can relate to the image of the ringstone symbol, but there is another one that comes to mind: the human being.

For example, there is the head, which contemplates heaven, and there are the feet that walk the earth. Between them is "That which He hath reserved for Himself... the cities of men's hearts". And where the centre line in the ringstone symbol represents the Message that connects the three levels of creation, it is also the same Message that connects these three levels within us.

Like the ringstone symbol, we can see ourselves simplistically in terms of three levels all contained within a single unity which is the symbol itself. We can be seen as the micro version of the ringstone symbol. In fact, Baha'u'llah Himself says "Man is the supreme Talisman." And a talisman, as you know, is a symbol, an object thought to have magical powers and producing miraculous effects. Doesn't that describe the miracle of the human being quite well?

When speaking of the hearts of men, He says "Open, O people, the city of the human heart with the key of your utterance." And again, "The Word is the master key for the whole world,", He says, "inasmuch as through its potency the doors of the hearts of men, which in reality are the doors of heaven, are unlocked."

The doors of the hearts are in reality the doors of heaven. Wow. I had never really thought of my heart in that way before, but it does add a greater significance to that aspect of the human being when teaching.

In many other posts I have referred to the importance of the heart, such as how the unity prayer, the one that begins "Unite the hearts of Thy servants...", both begins and ends with the heart.

But again, looking at this quote about heaven and earth and all that lies between, and comparing it to the human, we can start at the beginning and see what happens. Now I'm not saying that this an authoritative way of understanding this. It is, after all, only my personal opinion, and you can take it or leave it, but I find it useful to try looking at the Writings in this way.

So, let's start with the mind. "God's greatest gift to man", said 'Abdu'l-Baha, "is that of intellect, or understanding." He points out that the intellect is not for "the purpose of making instruments of destruction; but that we might become diffusers of light; create love between the hearts; establish communion between the spirits and bring together the people of the east and the west."He describes the intellect as "supernatural", the one power of humanity that is neither "hereditary in origin" nor the outcome "of nature's processes". It is through this power of the intellect that we are "able to receive a larger share of the light Divine". In the human being, He says, "the intellect occupies the supreme station", for through it we can distinguish truth from superstition. Through it, "sciences and arts, all inventions, crafts, trades and their products" have been discovered and produced.

And yet, this power has its limits. "(B)y means of intellect alone he cannot accomplish the progress effected by religion." It is not perfect, nor eternal. "Human intellects themselves must change and be subject to the universal reformation". This is a point where the analogy breaks down, but I think it is still useful. It does highlight the importance of the intellect in recognizing the divine.

From there, let's go to "the earth", or the feet. Now again, it may just be me, but when I think of the "feet", I think of movement, action. I think of deeds. And, naturally, when I think of deeds, I think of that line from the Hidden Word, "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning." But I also think of another line from the Hidden Words, "Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds." You see, we won't be called to give an account for our thoughts, or our intentions. Instead we shall be asked about our deeds. What did we actually do in our life? So many of the greatest ideas in the world remain there, in the realm of ideas. They are never put into action, for whatever reason. They stay there, in the head, so to speak.

The question, of course, is how to remedy that. How can we move our ideas, our intentions, from the head down to the feet? That image of the ringstone symbol, the concept of ""heaven and earth and all that lies between" them, gives to me the answer: through the heart.

There is so much in the Writings about putting our noble ideas into action, and the effect this can have upon the world. In The Advent of Divine Justice, Shoghi Effendi dedicates a very lengthy paragraph to this theme, beginning on page 23 and going for more than entire page. It is in this paragraph that we find such gems as "The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct." Here he quotes the passage in which it says that Baha'u'llah's "object is to array every man with the mantle of a saintly character, and to adorn him with the ornament of holy and goodly deeds." On and on he goes about this extremely important theme, far too long for me to quote here.

Another passage that comes to mind is that celebrated quote from Epistle to the son of the Wolf in which Baha'u'llah describes His receiving of the Revelation. He says that He "felt as if something flowed from the crown of My head over My breast", or that which is in between. Note how it moves from the head and over the breast, the seat of the heart. It seems to trace the passage of that central line from the ringstone symbol, and we find that same passage within ourselves, too. As we study the Writings, as we dive deeper and deeper into their meaning, our hearts become ever more touched. And as we become more inspired by what they contain, we find ourselves motivated to do more out of our love for this Faith of ours.

No matter where we enter this vast ocean of Baha'u'llah's revelation, we will find pearls of priceless value. And they will always lead us on to greater action. We begin with the ideals of heaven, as espoused in the Writings, and find our own clumsy way of striving to put them into action, here on earth. And somewhere in between, we find our hearts are touched, inspired, and that is where we will find the King of Kings sitting, smiling in appreciation of our efforts.

Of course, in my case, that smile of His is probably hiding a snicker.