Monday, September 29, 2014

Know Your Stuff

Ah, the summer's finally over. My market days are done for another year, and I can finally get back to work on this blog. I have to admit, though, that I'm going to miss it, like I do every year. It is such a joy to meet people from all over the world, and get to know more locals. Every season there seems to be a group of people who come by the booth on a regular basis and the conversations with them make it all worth my time.

A few weeks ago I had a beautiful conversation with a lady from somewhere in the US. She was very nice, and had a bit of a spiritual outlook on life that made talking with her truly delightful. During the course of our conversation, though, I made mention of working at UVic in MultiFaith Services. She got a bit serious and said that I should remember that in the Bible it says that we shouldn't add anything to the Word of God.

"Oh", I replied with enthusiasm, "you're a Deuteronimist. That's so cool."

She was, of course, a bit puzzled.

"Well, that verse", I explained, "is from Deuteronomy. So by following it, you get rid of everything in the Bible after Deuteronomy, like Psalms, Proverbs, the New Testament..."

She was a bit aghast at this, saying no, that's not what it meant.

"I know, but that's the implication of what you said." I didn't go into the history of the book of Deuteronomy and how it seems to have been added quite a bit later than the other books in the Torah. That would have been just too much info at once, I'm sure.

Instead, we got into a really interesting discussion about the "Word of God", and how you recognize it. She initially talked about how it's the Bible, and went on to realize that it was what she was raised to believe. After a few more minutes in which I agreed with her that the Bible was the Word of God, she came up with a few reasonable ideas about how she could tell for herself.

Once she did that, I then encouraged her to read the Upanishads, and the Qur'an, and the Dhammapada, and any other holy scripture that she can find and apply her test to those scriptures, too.

It was a very interesting discussion, and all because I happened to know where that particular quote was in the Bible. (Well, also due a large part to her openness of mind and heart.)

I was telling another friend of mine about this conversation a few days later and I was reminded of another instance like that.

A number of years ago I was staying at a friend's home and I happened to get up before everyone else one morning. I went downstairs, made myself a cup of coffee and was getting ready to read when a knock came on the door.

I went over and opened it, and there were two young ladies standing there. They were Jehovah's Witnesses. I didn't feel comfortable letting them into someone else's home, so I stood out on the porch to talk with them. They talked a bit about why they were there, and proceeded to tell me that I should re-read the Bible again from start to finish and take everything in it absolutely literally.

"Literally", I asked. "Everything literally?"

"Oh yes," they agreed. "Everything."

"Well", I enquired, "how do you explain 1 Timothy 2:12?"

After about a nano-second of a puzzled look, they whipped out their Bibles from their side-holsters, looking like nothing more than a pair of gunslingers facing off in the old West. They whipped over to first Timothy and skimmed straight down to chapter 2, verse 12: "But I suffer not a woman to teach... but to be in silence."

After a few moments of burbling, one of them meekly began to say, "Well, that's metaphorical..." And my friend, who had snuck up behind me said, "I don't know. It sounds kind of literal to me."

To put them at their ease, I explained a little bit about what I understood from the history of Paul, and his letter to Timothy, the troubles Timothy was facing, and Paul's solution for him. I also pointed them in the direction of a few instances where Jesus put the teaching of others in the hands of women, not to mention the importance of Mary being the one who was told to bring the message of His resurrection.

I helped them come to the realization that not everything in the Bible is meant to be literal, but that the general spirit of the teachings is of primary importance.

This, dear Friends, is what I mean by "know your stuff".

Many years ago 'Abdu'l-Baha said that we should know the Bible better then the Christians and encouraged the Baha'is in the West to really study it. In a famous pilgrim note (and yes, He said it elsewhere, too), we read "Study the Holy Words, read your Bible, read the Holy Books, especially study the Holy Utterances of Baha'u'llah; Prayer and Meditation, take much time for these two."

Besides, it's kind of fun to be able to toss these quotes back at people, and help them see the implications of just what it is that they are saying.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Walk to the Bus

I haven't been able to go to the beach for dawn prayers for some time now. Dawn is just too close to when I have to take Shoghi to his bus for school.

So what to do?

Just last week, when Shoghi still wasn't in school yet, I asked him to come with me. He said he would, and the next morning he complained about being "so tired". Guess what? So was I. We went to the beach, said some prayers, watched the beautiful sunrise, and then he turned to me and asked if he could come again the next day.

Well, now it's school and sunrise is just too close to when he gets picked up by his bus. No luck there for now.

This morning, though, we were walking to the bus and we decided to play a math game. You see, he needs to work on memorizing his multiplication tables. I explained that we could make a game out of it, but sometimes just rote work gets the job done a lot faster. I said that I would make up some basic 12x tables for him, and have him fill them out. It's boring, but useful. I talked about how you could actually make it fun, even though there were many other ways that were much more fun. But this is the fastest way I know of to learn them.

He asked me about other ways, and so we explored a few.

"One way is to play 'math fish'. It's like 'go fish', but with math. We deal out 8 cards to each player, and you have to put down pairs of numbers that total 10."

"That's too easy, Papa."

"Okay. How about another game where you get 8 cards, and you have to put them down as equations."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you can put down 4, 4 and 8. 4 + 4 = 8. Or you could put down 5, 5, 5 and 2. 5 x 5 = 25."

"That's cool."

So I asked him to pick 4 numbers, any 4, and we played that aloud for a little while.

Then I explained to him that this was the sort of game I played in my head when I was his age. I would do this while walking around by myself, and it helped me get better and better at math.

Then I told him how I would also play my metaphor game. I know I've explained it before, but I'll do it again, just in case you missed it. The basic premise is that everything in creation can be seen as a metaphor for a spiritual truth. We just have to figure it out.

I said, "Look at that fire hydrant. How can that be seen as a metaphor for some spiritual truth?"

"Well," he said almost immediately, "it's shaped like a cross. And if you open it up, you get a lot of water. The Water of Life."

I was impressed, and told him so.

And that, dear Reader, is what Shoghi is working on today: seeing what metaphors he can find in common everyday objects.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Meaning of Friendship

What is friendship? What does it mean to be a friend? How can I be a better friend?

These are some of the questions that went through my mind when I wrote the previous article, questions I didn't really answer. Hey, I didn't even begin to address them.

But they were there, and I've been thinking about them a lot lately.

Why? Well, in recent weeks I've had some interesting reminders of friendship. First of all, there is my very dear friend in Winnipeg with whom I've been writing another blog. (
(That is a blatant plug.) He's getting married in a few weeks, so I'm flying back there to be with him. We often speak of our friendship on the phone, but this is really making it hit home for me. Another instance is another friend who lives near me here in BC. He is self-confessed as being socially awkward, which he can be, I guess, but his heart is truly in the right place. I have come to treasure this man's friendship very deeply. This was further re-inforced when I received a postcard from him saying how hard it was for him to call anyone a friend, but that he used it for me. I was, and still am, very touched by this.

When thinking about friendship, and why I would consider anyone a friend, I am reminded of Hand of the Cause of God, William Sears, for whom I still think the tower in Chicago should be renamed after. He said that he was only friends with people to the extent that they showed forth the attributes of God. The more of these attributes that they showed, the closer he felt to them.

This is something I think about a lot: my friends and their virtues. Of course, it is a two-way thing. There are the attributes that they are showing, and then there are the attributes that I am seeing. No one, we should recall, is perfect. Everyone has flaws, especially me. And if we dwell on these flaws, focus only on what people are missing, we will never recognize what they have. We will never see their strengths. We are cautioned of this over and over in the Writings. Just look at those numerous Hidden Words about busying ourselves with the faults of others, or looking at their sins. Time and again the Master tells us to see His Father's face before others. "To look always at the good", says 'Abdu'l-Baha so pointedly, "and not at the bad.  If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, look at the ten and forget the one. And if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten." Not only is it a matter of my friend showing forth the virtues, but also a matter of me focusing my attention on them, noticing them, and treasuring them.

This, to me, answers that last question: How can I be a better friend? It also speaks to how I can be a better friend, for the very act of shifting my focus also makes me a better friend.

Another aspect of friendship is what we do together. There is that old thing about "friends don't let friends drink and drive", and you can even leave off the last two words, in my opinion, and it still holds true. Of course, I don't mean "be a fanatic", but just that I won't encourage my friends by going out drinking with them. The activities we choose to engage in together can also dictate how strong our friendship is. I will be far closer to someone I choose to serve humanity with than another person with whom I go to a movie with. And it doesn't mean that we don't go to movies together, but just that it is a part of the breadth of our friendship. One of my dearest friends is a co-teacher of children with me, and we strive to enjoy a movie once a month, but usually fail. (I mean, we fail to see one each month, not that we fail to enjoy the few we do get to see.)

All right. That last paragraph just reads weird to me. What I was trying to say is that we try to do things together that actually encourage each other in our spiritual development, joy being one of those virtues. When speaking of the loved ones of God, 'Abdu'l-Baha says that they should "...let their talk be confined to the secrets of friendship and peace."

Much better.

That seems to address the second question, "What does it mean to be a friend?" Quite simply, I think it means to help another develop their spiritual attributes.

But it still doesn't address my first question: What is friendship? In a clinical sense, we can say that friendship is a relationship between two people who care about each other.

That doesn't really cut it, does it?

We could talk about the joy we feel in the presence of our friend, how they can make even the most boring of routine things seem like fun. We can talk about how they remember our preferences, such as how I would rather chew aluminum foil than eat something with orange peel in it.

Aside - I have a very dear friend who was at a party with me a long time ago. We were all in a very joyous and playful mood, and in the middle of it all she came bouncing up to me and put a piece of chocolate in my mouth. I was very touched by her consideration. After all, giving your friend a piece of chocolate is a good thing, right? Well, this was a piece of chocolate covered orange peel. Bleah. My painfully wincing expression told her that this was not something I enjoyed. It was not the pleasurable culinary experience she was hoping to share with me. And so, being a good friend, she ran off to get me something to wash that taste out of my mouth. And being a good friend, she knew I didn't drink alcohol, which made it difficult, at that party, to find something for me. What she ended up grabbing was a cup of tea. Unfortunately it happened to be red zinger tea, otherwise known as orange peel tea.

Baha'u'llah, to me, gives us one criterion we can consider, when He says to prefer each other to ourselves. My good friends are those people whose preferences I generally prefer to my own. Now, I have to tell you, I often watch movies by myself (which is not in the same category of weirdness as those who drink by themselves). And I would far rather see a movie that a friend wants to see then make them watch one that I want to see that they don't.

There are certain virtues that I believe are conducive to making a friendship stronger, such as trustworthiness, trust, fidelity, honesty, caring, love, compassion, and joy, just to name a few. I think encouragement goes a long way, too. In fact, there is a wonderful little quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha in which He says, "When we find truth, constancy, fidelity and love we are happy."

And then there is that other quote from Him, found towards the end of that great prayer, in which He says of God, "Thou art more friend to me than I am to myself." Why would this be? Well, who else is truly worthy of our trust? Who can show greater love? Who is more wise, compassionate, and loving than God?

In he end, we will all fail each other in some way, for that is part of the nature of our being human. And if we can better learn to overlook the shortcomings of others, and help them overlook our own shortcomings, then the more our friendships will flourish. God, of course, is the absolute example of all these virtues, and is, therefore, more friend to us than we can ever be.

But really, if we can learn to be more generous, more forgiving, more worthy of the trust of our neighbour, and so on and so forth, then we will not only learn to be better friends with each other, but also better human beings. And we will, in the end, learn a lot more about making the world a far better place to live.

So, what is friendship? I think it is the application of the virtues in relation to each other.

Monday, September 1, 2014


"How", my mother-in-law asked me over dinner one night, "can you be friends with someone you have never met?"

I thought this was a very good question, and quite insightful on her part. As with any question, it made me think. It made me think about my friends, both those I have known for years and those I have never had the pleasure of meeting in person. It made me think of those that I have only known for a short time, and those that I will meet for the first time in the near future.

It also made me wonder how we become friends in the first place.

Now I have to explain, before I go on, that she was not criticizing me, but actually curious about something that Marielle were going to do while we were visiting. You see, we were going to the visit a friend of ours who used to live with us in Winnipeg. In addition to meeting this friend, we were also very excited about meeting her parents, and Lise (said mom-in-law) truly wanted to know how we could consider these parents friends when we had never met them.

"Well", I asked, because I had never really thought about it before now, "how do you become friends with someone?"

"Oh, you get to know them by looking them in the eye."

Well, that seemed like a reasonable answer. But then something occurred to me. "What if that person was blind? Or what if you were blind and could never look them in the eye?"

One of the things I love about Lise is that she really considers the questions asked of her.

"I'm not sure," she responded. "I don't know anyone who is blind. But you could still have a conversation with them. Hey, that's it. You talk with them and get to know them."

I liked the sound of that, but then something else occurred to me. "Well, what if they were deaf?"

I could see her processing that, but nothing really came to mind as a response, so I tried another thought. "You said that you get to know them through speech, or words. Right?"

"Oui, c'est vrai." Oh, did I mention she's from Quebec? Well, it's sometimes difficult for us to communicate because I don't speak a lot of French, and her English is not fluent, even though it is very good.

"Well, that's how I become friends with people I've never met: through words."

She obviously didn't quite understand what I meant, judging by her expression.

"There are times when I speak with people who are right next to me, and other times we speak on the phone. But then there are also times when I communicate through my writing, like when I write my blog."

The conversation went in a few different directions there, and we ended up at another interesting point. She asked, "But don't you get to know people better in person?"

I said that I wasn't really sure. For myself, I know that I communicate far better, more clearly, and more truly to who I am when I can think about what I'm going to write. I showed her my notes for this and other articles and explained how I can better express myself when I can organize my thoughts, and even edit them.

This she clearly understood.

And now, all of that has led me back to my original thought from the beginning of that evening, the one I haven't mentioned yet: my gratitude for being allowed to meet so many wonderful people in my life. When I spoke of some of the people for whom I am grateful, I realized that I hadn't met all of them yet, like my friend's parents whom I met later that trip.

This all came up because I mentioned that I am, by nature, an introvert. Given my preference, I would love to sit in a room all day and type, never meeting anyone. But I know that this would not be healthy for me. And so, rather than indulge in a life of solitude, I make sure that I do most of my writing in public, usually in a coffee shop or a library. I ensure that I get out and meet people by working the market, selling my jewelry to real people in person and face to face rather than just through the net.

But I do meet lots of people through the computer.

One person that comes to mind, whom I haven't met, is a Baha'i from Washington, DC. We met because we had both bid on some Baha'i books on Ebay. Through simple e-mails, and even a delightful phone conversation, I feel like I have a good friend there.

Another friend, but this is one whom I have met, is a Baha'i from Congo. She now lives in Winnipeg, and Marielle and I miss her every single day. Despite how late this is in the article, it was her story that started this whole conversation and train of thought. We spoke of our friendship with this woman, and how we got to know her. And all of that led to the simple question above, which was considered quite intensely.

But for now, I'd like to interrupt my train of thought and get back to that story that started all of this, a story of desperation and prayer.

When she was leaving the Congo, Francoise was on a boat filled with refugees. Many of them, as you can imagine, were praying. There were some Christians praying for God to deliver them from the evils of those who hadn't yet found Jesus. There were some Muslims praying to be delivered from the heathen Christians who worshiped "a false God".

Aside - It reminded me of that story of the shipwreck and the Jew, the Christian and the Muslim who were in the lifeboat together. The Christian prayed to be delivered from the Muslim, and the Muslim prayed to be delivered from the Christian. The Jew remained silent as these two called aloud their prayers to the heavens. Finally the two turned to the Jewish man and asked why he wasn't praying. He said that he was. "I am praying for God to answer both of your prayers."

So there was our poor friend, stuck on a boat with lots and lots of people, in great danger, I think from the boat capsizing or something. I never did quite understand. But I understood that there was great danger. And all of a sudden a very dangerous water viper jumped into the boat. People were screaming, and many jumped overboard, so terrified of the snake that they ignored the death that was waiting for them in the water. But Francoise closed her eyes and kept on praying.

Finally there was silence.

And when she opened her eyes, she said, she practically alone on the boat, and the snake was gone.

So what does this have to with applying the Baha'i Faith? Well, again, I wanted to tell a story that I liked. But I was also thinking about how I met a dear friend.

And that raised the question, "How do you make a friend?" And that led to the question asked by my Mom-in-Law.

Maybe later this week I'll write a bit more about friendship, after all, friendship should be shown in deeds, not words alone. And to answer the question from the very beginning, you can meet people in many different ways, many of which are not actually face to face.