Monday, December 28, 2015

The Victory

"What's happened to science fiction?" My wife asked me that question the other day, after hearing about the various on-line rants against Finn, one of the main characters in the new Star Wars movie. In case you missed it, there were a number of people up in arms over the idea that one of the main characters would be... uhm... well... not pale in skin tone. (I guess they figured Chewie was ok, since he wasn't human.)

And this was following the absolutely stupid movement earlier this year called "Sad Puppies", in which some yahoos were starting a movement in the Hugo awards, the fan elected science fiction awards, to get the awards to go back to "white guys". They were upset that so many Black people and women were winning these awards, and they said that science fiction was more properly written by White guys.

For a genre that has always been so forward thinking, producing such works as the early Star Trek, in which one of the leads was a Black woman, in which they had an inter-racial kiss at a time when that was practically unthinkable on public television, and in which inter-species kisses were the norm, this current movement within science fiction seems way out of line.

Science fiction has always been something of a barometer, showing where the current trends seem to be leading us, highlighting the promise of a good future, reminding us of the shackles from the past that are holding us back, and encouraging us to always push our boundaries.

So, what happened?

Simple: It became popular.

Up until the 80's, you were basically ostracized if you were a science fiction fan. It was the realm of nerdy geeks who were phenomenally hormonally challenged, generally wore extra-thick glasses, dressed abysmally for the time, were socially inept, and a large portion of them were of a large portion, especially if they were female. While they may have had brains, that was about all they had. At least, that was the general perception.

It wasn't until Star Wars paved the way for massive blockbusters that science fiction began to be accepted as a respectable genre.

Then we began to get writers who were both excellent story-tellers and good writers at the same time. Before that, they were generally one or the other. When you re-read a lot of the "classic" works from before that time, they really are either poorly written, or unbelievable in their characters.

But now, it is socially acceptable to be a fan.

It reminds me of early Christianity, in a way. At the time of the Apostles, it wasn't easy to be Christian. Whereas today, many Christians expect to get into heaven, at that time, they expected to get crucified. Some talk about this so-called "war" on Christianity, but fail to remember when there really was a war on that noble faith. If you wanted to be Christian at that time, you were in serious danger. Just declaring your faith required a phenomenal amount of courage.

Today? Well, today, Christianity as we see it in practice reflects the norm of our society because it is the norm of our society. You see the extremes within it, because there are the extremes without it.

The same is now true with science fiction fandom. Previously, it was not socially accepted, and to be a fan, you really were outside the norm. But as it has become accepted, it has also grown to include the fringes of our society. And so, since we see this racist sexism gaining momentum in the general public, we expect to see it with the realm of fandom.

But I am sure you are asking what does this have to do with the Baha'i Faith. I'm glad you asked, dear Reader.

There is a quote I have long heard, read many times, and still wonder about. It is from Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah (CL, if you are wondering, which is found on page 319):
When the victory arriveth, every man shall profess himself as believer and shall hasten to the shelter of God’s Faith. Happy are they who in the days of world-encompassing trials have stood fast in the Cause and refused to swerve from its truth.
This has often been quoted to me as a statement of how the Faith will grow until every person on the planet is Baha'i. "Isn't it wonderful?" And yet, I wonder.

Baha'u'llah doesn't seem to be saying, as I read it, that everyone shall be a believer. He says that they will profess to be one. And when I look that word up in the dictionary, it is the second and third definitions that say this word means to "openly declare" or "affirm". The first definition is "to lay claim to, often insincerely; to pretend to". Now I know that there are times when the Guardian, who translated the original word here as "profess", used the second or third definition for his translation work. Ruhiyyih Khanum says this, and I believe her. But what was the intention here? I don't know.

But I do know that since it became easy to be a Christian, the sincerity of some believers has often been called into question. And when it became easy to be a science fiction fan, some of the basic precepts of science fiction have been called into question.

When the victory arrives, when we no longer have to face those earth-shattering tests that the early Baha'is and Babis faced, it will be easy to declare oneself. I am certain that everyone will profess their faith in it. I have no doubt about that.

But, as Muhammad said, "Think because you say you believe you will not be tested?"

Sure, all will profess. But happy are those who will have stood firm during those promised "days of world-encompassing trials".

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The History of the Decline and Fall...

For quite a long time now I have known that one of the Guardian's favorite books was The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, who, interestingly enough, was not descended from the apes of the same name. They were merely another branch of the same family tree. This book was so much a part of his life, the Guardian's, not the Gibbon-guy, that Ruhiyyih Khanum said that he always had a volume of it with him when he traveled. There was even a volume of it on his bedside table when he passed away.

But wait, a volume? Yes, a volume.

This book, which is inappropriately called a book, is actually a series of 6 books, which are more appropriately called tomes, by those in the know. And remember, this was written at a time long before the decline and fall of attention spans which has resulted in the people of today being accused of no longer being able to pay attention for more than the length of a sound byte, as well as novels no longer being considered for publication unless they are more than 7 volumes in length. It was, in fact, published between 1776 and 1789, which may explain why the US won their revolution: too many British soldiers were back at home in their barracks reading the latest volume.

Anyways, I've been reading more about the Guardian as of late, and ran across, a few times, the notion that these books highly influenced the Guardian's translation work. You see, Shoghi Effendi studied English at Oxford to gain a better ability in his work to translate the Writings. While there he ran across these books, which is not difficult as they seem to be a favorite past-time of Oxfordites. (Oxfordonians?) Having never read them during my own time there, I decided to finally break down and give them a shot, this after many years of hearing about these incredibly long books that are the bane of students everywhere, except Oxford it seems. They are the last in line of a series of highly intimidating books that many people run across in their life, but rarely read; the others being Moby Dick for high schoolers, War and Peace for undergrads, and The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for post-grads. You may notice that this list of quintessentially intimidating books begins at high school. The reason for this is that for most students pre-high school, all books are intimidating.

So there I was, looking for a free copy that I could download to my handy dandy, trusty e-reader, which I rarely use, so I thought it might be appropriate for this, when lo! and behold, there were many. Thirty seconds to download, plus another thirty minutes to remember how to transfer it from my computer to my handy dandy, trusty e-reader, and there. I had it. A complete edition of Edward Gibbon's massive work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Complete with footnotes.

With great eagerness, and, I must admit, a mild sense of trepidation, as well as a freshly brewed steaming hot cup of tea, I cracked open the first volume.

Well, not really. What I actually did was slide my index finger across the screen, which isn't really quite as satisfying.

But open it, I did.

And there, in Gibbon's preface, was an answer to something I had long wondered about: "I shall soon revisit the banks of the Lake of Lausanne, a country which I have known and loved from my early youth. Under a mild government, amidst a beauteous landscape, in a life of leisure and independence, and among a people of easy and elegant manners, I have enjoyed, and may again hope to enjoy, the varied pleasures of retirement and society."

All right, all right, I know. This doesn't really seem like anything to do with the Baha'i Faith, or with the history of Rome, but please, bear with me. This is what went through my mind when I read this.

I had long wondered why Shoghi Effendi chose Switzerland for his place of retreat when he had to retire from the Holy Land. And there, to me, was something of an answer.

Just imagine, the young Shoghi Effendi is at Oxford, and falls in love with the use of language in this remarkable book (s). Then, just as he is beginning to really cherish it, mere months later, he is called back to the Holy Land upon the passing of his Grandfather, 'Abdu'l-Baha. Upon his return he learns of his appointment as the Guardian and shortly thereafter finds himself needing to go away for a short retirement.

Doesn't this just sound like the ideal place? "A mild government"? "A beauteous landscape"? "A life of leisure and independence"? "People of easy and elegant manners"?

Of course it came to his mind as the perfect place to recuperate and prepare himself for this life long work.

There, in the opening pages, in the preface itself, and not even in the full of the volume itself, I had already come to a, albeit slightly, better understanding of something about the Guardian as a person.

He goes on, in this same preface, to explain his choice of spelling and place references: "The prophet Mohammed can no longer be stripped of the famous, though improper, appellation of Mahomet: the well-known cities of Aleppo, Damascus, and Cairo, would almost be lost in the strange descriptions of Haleb, Demashk, and Al Cahira: the titles and offices of the Ottoman empire are fashioned by the practice of three hundred years..." He adds "our most correct writers have retrenched the Al, the superfluous article, from the Koran; and we escape an ambiguous termination, by adopting Moslem instead of Musulman, in the plural number", thereby showing a degree of respect for the original language that many of his contemporaries ignored.

Of course the Guardian was impressed. It is, in fact, something similar to what he himself did with the transliteration and systematization of the Persian names for the Baha'i Faith.

Just a few pages later, we also find such beautiful tidbits of wisdom and comment that influence the entire history from Gibbon's perspective: "as long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters."

The other thing that I am certain attracted the Guardian was the obvious link of the rise of Christianity to the ascendancy of Rome, coupled with the decline of both, and the supersedence of Islam. Surely he saw direct parallel to Islam, modern Western society and the Baha'i Faith.

After all, we can easily read today into the very opening passages quoted here: "In the second century of the Christian Aera, the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valor. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury. The image of a free constitution was preserved with decent reverence: the Roman senate appeared to possess the sovereign authority, and devolved on the emperors all the executive powers of government."

We can readily see ourselves, sitting in our warm homes with our computers and various devices, enjoying and abusing "the advantages of luxury". We hear the ringing praises of the US constitution verging on the border of reverence. And we daily read the news of the "barbarians at the gate" and can easily see the collapse, as prophesied by the Founders of our Faith, of our own civilization. How could the Guardian not be fascinated by this? Already I can see Gibbon's own warning echoed in the Guardian's own works, such as "The Promised Day is Come".

I may only be a few pages into it, but I am already looking forward to delving further into this volume (s) that had such an influence on the style of language the Guardian used in his translation of the priceless Words of the Founders of our Faith.

By the way, for those interested, here are the two Gibbons mentioned above; the author, and one of the authors cousins (with child).

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Sun

A minister of a local church recently interviewed me as part of a series of sermons he was giving on Jesus through the eyes of non-Christians. In the interview, one of my responses was based on the Master's oft-used analogy of God as the sun. I cannot recall the question that prompted this response, but I ran into this same minister a few weeks ago and he said that this response was the most thought-provoking analogy he had heard. He even used that part of the interview a few times over the course of these sermons.

Why, I wondered. What is it about this analogy that is so profound?

The quote comes from 'Abdu'l-Baha, in The Promulgation of Universal Peace. "How shall we know God? We know Him by His attributes. We know Him by His signs. We know Him by His names. We know not what the reality of the sun is, but we know the sun by the ray, by the heat, by its efficacy and penetration."

The basic idea is that God is like the sun. Not only do we get all our light from this bright orb, but all life on this planet is directly dependent upon it. (All right, I know there are a few organisms that live off the various acids and heat from the heat vents in the oceans, but please, you get the idea.) Now, this sounds good up to this point, and is, in fact, fairly basic (which is why I'm not mentioning the acid-eating stuff in the ocean).

But we can go a bit deeper. For example, we understand that we can never know the sun directly. If we were to even begin to approach it, we would be incinerated long before ever getting there. Science fiction movies notwithstanding, we are unable to even send a probe there. In fact, all we can ever know about the sun is only knowable through its rays. Granted, we can know an awful lot about the sun from its rays, but still it is incredible to realize that everything we do know about it has only been gleaned from these few rays that happen to fall upon our tiny little planet. In terms of the sun itself, these few rays are barely worth mentioning.

To me, this is an example of how inaccessible God is to us, puny portals that we be.

Of course, one could argue that it also means that God doesn't give a squat about us, being so insignificant, and the amount of energy needed to sustain us being so meager. But there I would disagree. If the sun were sentient, then I am certain that nothing would please it more than to see its energy put to good use, say by growing all the plants on the planet. Similarly, I believe that God does actually like to see us benefit from our creation, just as a parent enjoys seeing their child do well. I believe that God does want us to be happy and to prosper and grow.

Also, I believe that this analogy helps us to come together as people of different beliefs.

How, you may ask? Simple.

When speaking with this minister, I used the example of a mirror reflecting the light of the sun. One could point to the mirror and truly say "That's the sun." They would be right, indicating the reflection they are seeing. At the same time, another person can come along and say, "No, that's just a mirror." Of course, they're correct, too. It's all a matter of perspective. Oh, and also not insisting that your own view is the only one. This allowed us both to understand that the other person's view of Jesus was more really little more than a difference of terms. We recognized that we both loved and revered Jesus.

Another thing it does is get us to ask the relationship between us and the sun. Whose relation to the sun is the most appropriate? Is it the individual working on their tan on the beach? Or the dancer on the hill at the solstice? Is it the couple who work in their garden in the spring? Or the scientist who is studying the sun? You see, dear Reader, everyone gets something out of it, but not everyone gets the same thing, and that's ok. We are free to allow each other to get what they need, knowing there is always more. We also understand that none of what we do here on earth changes the sun itself. In fact, what we do in relation to the sun changes us.

Just as our relation to God has no effect on God, but ultimately changes who we are.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Why Do We Vote the Way We Do?

Here is an article I wrote the other day for my local newspaper. It's garnered some very nice feedback, so I thought I would pass it on here:


Thursday, October 8, 2015


Have you ever annotated any of the Writings?

I mean, have you ever added little notes explaining for yourself what phrases or seeming asides are referring to?

Just the other day I picked up "The World Order of Baha'u'llah" again, and began re-reading it for the umpteenth time. As usual, I found myself wondering what some of the references the Guardian made were. Fortunately, at some point in the past, I made notes, and this has made my read of it a lot easier.

One example, is his reference in the very first sentence to "the doubts that have been publicly expressed, by one who is wholly misinformed as to the true precepts of the Cause". This, of course, is a reference to Ruth White, and what has to have been the most ridiculous attack on the Faith, what with her claim that the Master's Will was a forgery. I mean, she couldn't read Persian, had no knowledge of His impeccable handwriting, and no basis for recognizing His particular cadence and style of writing. Given this complete lack of information, and ignoring the fact that not even the avowed enemies of the Faith, including His half-brother, who were in a position to make such an assessment never for a moment dreamed of making such a ludicrous claim, she has my vote as the most absurd Covenant-breaker of all time.

Later on, he speaks of World Unity (the magazine), the abortive scheme of the Geneva Protocol, the proposal for a United States of Europe, and so on. These are all things that people of the day would have known, but some of which I did not. With just a bit of research, and a few notes, I made my reading of this text, as well as many others, a lot easier to understand. I also now find it a lot easier to relate these writings to current events.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Re-Thinking Ethics

I had an incredible experience yesterday while sitting at the coffee shop.

When I went to my usual table, I noticed an open laptop and a few books on the unoccupied table across from me. I saw another regular customer at the next table over and said, "If I sit there today, do I get a free laptop?"

"Limited time only, so you better hurry."

Well, about 30 seconds later the owner of said laptop came back to her table.

"Oh well," I quipped, "there goes my free computer."

She laughingly said, "You can have it if you want to do the work."

"That depends," I replied, always quick on the uptake, especially when a free computer is involved, "what are working on?"

"Re-writing the nurses' code of ethics."

It turns out she is a student at a local college, one which I have had the pleasure of speaking at. In fact, I have actually addressed some of her classes.

We talked for a few minutes about how she was asked to trim down a 64-page document, riddled with repetitive redundancies, down to a easy-to-read 4-page literary masterpiece. Having had a little bit of experience doing similar things, with much less weighty material, in all senses of the phrase, I offered a suggestion to her by means of a question.

"If you could sum up the whole document", I asked, "in 5 words, what would they be? 5 virtues. How would you do it?"

To my surprise, she actually thought about it, took it seriously. I mean, I actually meant it as a serious question, but I didn't expect her to do it.

"Accountability", she began, and then hesitantly added, "responsibility, compassion, respect", and then she couldn't find a fifth.

I praised her for her choices, and suggested that she try outlining the whole document with those headers. It might help her find an easier way to organize it, which appeared to be the sticking point for her.

She thanked me, and went back to her work. For my part, I smiled and went on to my own.

But something kept bothering me.

I pulled out my Ruhi Book 8, and turned to Unit 3, which focuses no the Universal House of Justice. I turned to section 30, which deals with the Western perspective, and read a few of the questions, each of which had proven so useful in many other areas in recent days.

I said a quiet prayer, and then spoke up.

"Excuse me", I called.


"Can I make an observation, please?"

"Of course."

"I noticed that in your list, you began with accountability. Why is that?"

She then began to explain to me the importance of nurses being accountable for their decisions, and how hospitals were in a tough position financially.

I told her that I was going through this workbook, and some of the questions had intrigued me, prompting m observation. I read her just a few. "What patterns of behavior emerge when an inordinate desire to stay young sets the standard for personal conduct?" "What kinds of injustices are committed when the desire for greater and greater profit is accepted as the fundamental operating principle of business?" "What are the effects on the environment and on the health of the world's population when the desire to have more and more defines humanity's relationship with nature?"

We spoke briefly of the underlying concept of materialism that pervades our culture, and how dangerous this can be, how it completely skews our understanding of humanity's role in the world.

And then I said something which, judging by he expressions that crossed her face, seemed to change everything for her. "What are the effects of putting accountability as the primary factor in that document? What would it look like if you put compassion as the chief overarching factor?"

I can't tell you what happened after that, for I could tell that she was processing that idea. She was going through those scenarios and realizing on a very deep level the problem with making accountability more important than compassion. She was coming to terms with the very idea that nursing is seen on our culture as a business, rather than a service. She was beginning to understand that she was in a very special position, capable of creating great change with such a seemingly innocuous job.

We didn't speak much after that, except to wish each other well as I left. But I could see in her expression, and her very demeanour, that she was returning to that basic understanding of why she was becoming a nurse in the first place.

We never know what little gifts God will toss our way when we leave the home in the morning. All I know is that we need to be open and ready to embrace them as they come our way.

And I, for one, am very grateful that this woman and I crossed paths yesterday.

The Source of All Good

The other day, my family and I had a wonderful dinner at a friend's home. She is an Aboriginal elder, and many aspects of the meal reflected this. One thing that she did was say a blessing before the meal, and smudge the room, along with the food. She also had someone collect a small piece of each food that was served, place it in a bowl, and then offer the bowl back to the earth. The bowl was later taken out and the food was buried in the ground. This is a tradition amongst her people.

A few days prior to this, my family and I had the bounty of going to a presentation on the Right of God. This presentation focused on the concept of this law being spiritual in nature, and not the many non-mathematical aspects of it.

Combined with all of this was our study of Ruhi Book 8, Unit 3, in which there are questions such as "What kinds of injustices are committed when the desire for greater and greater profit is accepted as the fundamental operating principle of business?" It reminds us that "the West puts itself forward... as a model and measure for others", but is not actually all that good of a model. In fact, our model "distorts human nature and purpose, trapping human beings in a pursuit of idle fancies and vain imaginings and turning them into pliable objects in the hands of the powerful."

When we came home, we had a very interesting conversation. (Standard disclaimer number 7 - This is all just our own opinion, but we really liked what we learned, so you can take it or leave it as you will.)

The essence of the conversation is as follows:

First, we realized that Huququ'llah is referred to, not only a "mighty law", but as "the source of grace, abundance, and of all good. It is a bounty which shall remain with every soul in every world of the worlds of God".

Now, the Right of God, or Huququ'llah, as you know, is an amount that is paid on whatever material wealth you accumulate, beyond your basic needs, once that amount reaches a certain level. You get to decide what your basic needs are, but beyond that, it is fairly straightforward.

When talking about the Right of God, we often hear it referred to as a form of taxation. It is likened, historically, to tithing and zakat, and other forms of revenue generation found in previous religions.

But is it?

We began to wonder.

You see, these other form of taxation are a straightforward payment. You earn money, you pay money. Nothing much to it, except that it is quite difficult if you are exceptionally poor. No provisions seem to be made for that. It is a mere mathematical calculation that all are required to obey. And maybe it's just me, but I don't see how any luxury tax, no matter what the percentage, could possibly be the "source of all good". Some good, for sure, but all good? Not likely. That would be just too materialistic a thing for me to believe.

But the Right of God is much more than that. It engages the heart, and requires planning and consideration on the part of the payee. It requires you to consciously organize your finances to decide how much is for your needs, and then calculate how much extra you earn. As you grow in this law, your needs seem to diminish as you recognize how little you actually require to survive. Now it's not asking you to be ascetic in your tastes, just honest about your desires versus your needs.

And yet, in the end, it has the phenomenal effect of altering your behaviour.

That, I see, as potentially being the "source of all good". Adopting that new attitude is a true "grace", and now it finally makes sense that it is this new attitude that would "remain with every soul in every world of the worlds of God". I never could imagine carrying around a pocket full of cash in all those different worlds, which is what I always pictured when people spoke of that aspect of this law. That just seemed silly to me.

So why do we always talk about it in terms of materialism? Why do we tend to speak of the benefits as being a material return on our "investment"? You know, as if paying the Right of God will somehow bring money back into our community sevenfold, or whatever? That's not the point, is it? The money will flow to wherever the Universal House of Justice sees fit. But the rewards that we see in our daily life as we strive to be more obedient to this law are far more impressive. As the numbers of people adhering to this "mighty law" increase, and as more and more people become aware of its importance, we will see an actual change in behaviour in our communities. People will become far more conscious of how they spend their hard earned monies, more aware of what frivolities they consume, and more conscientious of their needs and wants.

In one tradition, the native people would take the bones of their fish and return them to the waters, believing that the spirit of the fish was in their bones. This would allow them to come back if their bones were returned. In many cultures burnt offerings were given in recognition of giving back to the gods what was theirs. In Laotian Buddhism, the entire community gets together and offers the lunchtime meal to the monks, who eat their fill, and then return what is left to the community as a blessing and contribution.

In all these traditions, moderation is inherent. Humility is abundant. Awareness of how our own sense of generosity impacts the world around us is cultivated.

These, to me, are the true antecedents of the Right of God.

You see, if it were merely a luxury tax, as I alluded to earlier, then tithing and zakat would come close, but we would never get beyond the concept of this materialistic attitude. The very idea of a minimum payment would be absurd, for only the amount of cash generated would hold any importance. And that I cannot see being the main purpose of this law, given what I know of Baha'u'llah's teachings.

But when we recognize that the calculation of this sum is the fulfillment of that law, and the payment is, while important, only secondary, then we realize that even the poorest person on this planet will reap the benefit of it, for the very act of calculation fulfills the spirit of this "mighty law". Payment of any money owing, if applicable, is then not only a simple act, but one that you do "with utmost pleasure and gladness, nay with insistence". And phrases such as, "although these insignificant amounts are not worthy of mention, they are well-pleasing, since the donors offer them for the sake of God", suddenly make more sense.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


One of the problems with writing a blog is that everyone and their uncle, their aunt, their neighbour's dog and their cousin's-neighbour's-brother-in-law's-friend send you products or books or links to web-sites for review. Virtually all of them end up deleted faster than you can say "kazibblefarken".

Occasionally, though, one of these gleam through the gloam and you realize that it is that rare breed: a gem amidst the muck.

"11", by my friend Paul Hanley is one of these gems.

I have to admit my reluctance to begin when I received it. I was in the middle of reading some letters from Shoghi Effendi, in Citadel of Faith, and enjoying some novels by Robert Heinlein on the side. (I'm a sucker for good science fiction.)

But he asked if I would consider reading it and possibly reviewing it for him, and I had agreed. I mean, I really was looking forward to it, just not then. And so the days wore on. Then the weeks began to pass, and that book was still sitting there patiently awaiting its turn.

Finally, after closing the Door into Summer (one of those Heinlein books) (great story, but kind of creepy, too, in a way), I figured I had put it off long enough.

Within the first few paragraphs I was hooked.

The overall aim of the book is to describe what must change with the advent of 11 billion people on the planet, the conservative prediction for the end of this century.

He begins by describing our society, and the impact of some of the things we either do or take for granted, in a clear and concise manner. For example, he mentions the origin of the "coffee break", which comes from the coffee cartels taking advantage of the then-recently instituted morning break gained by the unions. The ads basically asked "Have you had your coffee break today?" Thus they carefully inserted the word coffee, creating an institution by which they handsomely benefited.

He also talks about the dangers of such simple things as waiting in your car to go through a drive-through window at a fast food place, the subtle way in which economists and business people changed our values from being producers to being consumers, the deliberate manner in which corporations chose to produce products that were designed to break down and force us to buy new items. Example after example, with references for all his sources, he begins to show us how we have been manipulated into a lifestyle that is systematically destroying the environment.

Much of it is not new, but it is refreshing to see it laid out so clearly, concisely, and with good references.

There are some minor errors, such as his depiction of streets and cars. He says that the dominance of the car on the street began in the 1920s, or so, with the invention of the term "jay walker" by the auto and oil industries. And while he does get that story correct, this dominance can easily be traced back quite a bit earlier with the nobility in many societies freely running down the lower classes on the roads if they didn't get out of the way of their galloping horses or carts in time. But those errors are so minor they in no way detract from the salient points he is trying to make..

His starting point is still valid, and very well researched.

He spend quite a bit of time on agriculture, which only makes sense, as food is, and will continue to be, a major issue for many in the world. He talks about reforestation projects, many of which I did not know, and reclamation projects, many of which I had heard. He talks about how many hectares of arable land are dedicated to such things as tobacco. he doesn't say that we shouldn't have tobacco products, but just places it in the context of how many people could be fed if that land was farmed for cereal grains. At no point does he say we should or shouldn't do anything. Rather he informs us of the cost of our actions and allows us to make our own more informed decisions. And it is just this sort of information that is best suited to changing behaviour, customs and laws.

He talks about education projects that help best develop healthy attitudes, those sorts of attitudes that are necessary for sustaining 11 billion people on this fragile planet of ours. He points out our excesses in entertainment, whether it is the number of people that could have been sustained by the resources dedicated to massive large budget movies, or the sports complex gripping untold tens of millions. He carefully distinguishes between those projects that are productive of sustaining goods, such as farms or clothing, and those that are entertaining, such as sports, alcohol or tobacco. And again, he doesn't say that we should do away with these entertainments or arts, but rather that we should be more conscious of the true cost of them.

In the end, he seems to me to ask a single question: What do we require to sustain such a large global population? The answer is found in those simple values that have been carefully eroded away: Moderation, humility, and compassion.

This is a book that I will read again, and re-read again, hopefully with a group of people around me so that we can consult on the many issues he raises.

I do not often promote a book or a product, but this is one that I believe is well worth it.

I strongly encourage everyone who reads this to go out and read that book.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Single Kernel

The day I became a Baha'i, I ran into Mrs Khadem, widow of the Hand of the Cause of God, Mr Khadem. I know that I mentioned meeting her a few times in previous articles but I never actually said what happened.

I was at the Baha'i Temple in Wilmette, near Chicago, and I had just been given a lengthy lecture in the library about what it meant to be a Baha'i, none of which I remember. In a post-oratorial daze, I opened the door and meant to step into the visitor's centre, but stepped, instead, into Mrs Khadem. Full on. Bang. Knocked her right over.

After much apologizing on my part, helping her up all the while, she, too, proceeded to tell me the importance of what I had just done. Enrolling in the Faith, not knocking her over.

Out of all the things that people said to me on that first day of my life as an actual enrolled member of this Faith of ours, only one thing stands out, and it came from Mrs Khadem. "You must", she said, "read the writings of the Guardian."

Over the years this has been one of my guiding lights in the Faith: to continue to read the writings of the Guardian.

In fact, whenever a friend declares their faith, I strongly encourage them to read Shoghi Effendi's writings. To my great surprise, though, I have seen many veteran Baha'is try to talk others out of reading his works. "It's too difficult", they claim, "for a new Baha'i." To which I lovingly reply, "Hogwash."

I love the Guardian's works. They are precise, beautiful and very inspirational. They not only give me a clearer understanding of what Baha'u'llah teaches, they raise my vision, too. They challenge me, and change me. They get me to not only rise beyond my own vision of what I think this Faith is, but they challenge me to better understand my own mother tongue.

And today, it seems to me that many new Baha'is I meet are only reading those portions of the Guardian's writings that are either found in the Ruhi curriculum or quoted by the Universal House of Justice. Of course, there are those who do read his works, but I'm finding more and more who are not.

I suspect they don't know what they are missing.

I was reading "Citadel of Faith" the other day, not a common one to read for sure, when I ran across the following passage. It was written for the centenary of the Martyrdom of the Bab and shared at the gathering in the Baha'i Temple in Wilmette. (Yes, the same place I unceremoniously plowed into Mrs Khadem.)

It's only two pages long, and begins with a reminder that the Bab was the "Founder of the Dispensation marking the culmination of the six thousand year old Adamic Cycle" and the "Inaugurator of the five thousand century Baha'i Cycle". In two paragraphs he briefly outlines the history of the Faith of the Bab, and the incredible turmoil that occurred within the world's governments and religious institutions from that time through the writing of his letter. He takes another couple of lines to outline the history of the Baha'i administration as well as mention the valiant deeds of those believers who were present on that occasion, and adds another single line casting our sight into the future to the Golden Age of the Faith. Then, and this is where I wanted to begin, he gives us yet another vision altogether.

"Lastly", he writes with such beauty, "the Holy Seed of infinite preciousness, holding within itself incalculable potentialities representing the culmination of the centuries-old process of the evolution of humanity through the energies released by the series of progressive Revelations starting with Adam and concluded by the Revelation of the Seal of the Prophets, marked by the successive appearance of the branches, leaves, buds, blossoms and plucked, after six brief years by the hand of destiny, ground in the mill of martyrdom and oppression but yielding the oil whose first flickering light cast upon the somber, subterranean walls of the Siyah-Chal of Tihran, whose fire gathered brilliance in Baghdad and shone in full resplendency in its crystal globe in Adrianople, whose rays warmed and illuminated the fringes of the American, European, Australian continents through the tender ministerings of the Center of the Covenant, whose radiance is now overspreading the surface of the globe during the present Formative Age, whose full splendor is destined in the course of future milleniums to suffuse the entire planet."

Just imagine that. Take a moment, dear Reader, to visualize what he is saying. Envisage this tree, growing through all history, through all seasons, surging forth with each subsequent Revelation, producing a shoot, a small branch, eventually growing into a larger tree with leaves, and finally, after many centuries, a flower. This flower has grown to produce a seed, which has been taken and ground to produce an oil, which, in turn, has been ignited, casting a light that has shone within their hearts and throughout the world.

What a vision.

But then, as if that wasn't enough, he shows them how much the Faith has grown in the one hundred years since that momentous event. And he doesn't just give them the statistics; he prefaces it within this beautiful poetical vision. He says, "the crushing of this God-imbued kernel upon the anvil of adversity has ignited the first sparks of the Holy Fire latent within it", and then proceeds to unveil to them the immensity of their successes and victories.

The Guardian not only gave us a clearer vision of the teachings of our faith; he not only showed us where we were going as a community; he not only outlined for us the full scope of our Administration and showed us the way to victory; he did all this, and more, with a sense of beauty and poetry and grace.

And with far more grace than I showed when I first enrolled.

Monday, January 5, 2015

That's Correct

In my most recent article, I talked about racism and how we needed to be a bit more aware of it, as well as understand its impact.

The responses were amazing. Thank you, all.

And I don`t mean thanks for the praise, for there wasn`t much of it, and what there was I don`t feel was deserved. It would be like thanking me for pointing out that there is garbage strewn around a park. It's sort of a thankless task.

The reason I am thanking you is for all your heart-felt concerns and questions about your own lives, and the confirmation of the breadth of the problem. The stories often brought me to tears, and the confessions raised some very interesting and real points about how to deal with racism in your own life.

Out of it all, one thing in particular stood out and that was the recurring theme of how to handle someone who does something in the "wrong" way. While the words "correct", "right", "appropriate" and all their synonyms and antonyms came up often when describing the problem, I don't think it was really what was meant.

Let me explain.

One friend very lovingly gave a real example from their own life. He is in a position of hiring people to work with a team of others. When he interviews people, the concern is not only their experience and expertise, but also their ability to work well as part of that team. So far, so good.

Where he lives, in the US mid-west, there is a great difference in style of speech between the African-Americans and the White folk. It is a very real difference, and a lot of prejudice surrounds it. To the White folk, this other style of speech sounds ignorant. To the African-Americans, the other people sound snobbish. This is only exacerbated by my friend's very natural assertion, "we speak correct, un-dialected un-accented grammatically-proper English".

When I read that phrase to my wife, who is from Quebec, she just about doubled over laughing.

You see, what my friend meant was that he was speaking in the normal style for his community. It is an agreed upon standard, and it feels natural to him. It would never occur to him that there is anything else.

But it accented. (To my ear, it sounds very nasal, and that they are about to swallow their vowels.) And it is a dialect. (Their phonology, grammar, and vocabulary are used by a group of speakers who are set apart from others geographically and socially, hence a dialect, just in case you want to dispute it.) And it is only grammatically proper according to that group. If we were to drop anyone from there into the middle of Oxford, England. they would all stand out, and would sound quite ignorant to the people there. (I am certain they would never use the phrase, "up with which we will not put".)

You see, this is the sort of thing that is very difficult to recognize when you are continually immersed in your own group. The problem is not the standard of that group, for that is part of what makes up community. It is the thought that one is right and the other wrong. This inappropriately places one group in a position of advantage while saying the other group is somehow lesser. It is the old "I'm right" reflex. (Search that term in my blog for more information.) And it is the root of most prejudice.

In other words, when speaking of language differences, what you mean to say is that these "others" speak differently than your cultural norm. That's doesn't make it "incorrect" or "wrong". It just makes it different. When you say that your way of doing things is "correct", you are making a judgement call. You are implying that you are right and everyone who does otherwise is wrong.

Another way to look at it is to use French as an example. With French it appears to be easy. After all, there is a board in Paris that decides which words become part of the French language. They are the Académie française, or l'Académie. Yet, even with this board, there are still at least 24 different recognized dialects. Which one is "correct"? The answer, of course, is none of them. They are each and all correct and add to the richness and diversity of both the language and the culture.

In English, though, there is no such board, and there are far more recognized dialects, including various pidgin and English-based creole versions. My friend, whether or not he realizes it, speaks "Inland Northern American English".

While the written standard of English seems to be fairly normalized, in that virtually all variants agree on the written rules, the spoken rules vary widely.

And yet, all this is actually beside the point. The real issue is judgement. I only wrote all the above to show that I am not speaking from a perspective of ignorance, but from the stance of one who loves language, diversity, and the variety of cultures. It's not that I have a doctorate or anything in this area, for I don't, but I am searching to learn, and longing to see greater unity in the world.

'Abdu'l-Baha said, "The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth, for truth is one."

With the language issue, it is not a question of who follows which rules, or which dialect is preferred, but whether or not communication occurs. That is the purpose of language. The rules are there to serve that end.

In a social or work setting, to judge someone else based on their language is not only silly, but detrimental to both communication and unity. Einstein's use of English left a lot to be desired, but we don't think of him as ignorant. We know that he was an immigrant, and that English was not his primary language.

If someone has shown themselves to be a good, upright person, with considerable knowledge in a field, it is to our own detriment that we would judge them based on something as silly as a few of their word choices. Soda? Pop? Who cares? We know that both refer to a carbonated beverage.

It is appropriate, though, to let them know of this perception, and help them learn to adapt, while not judging them yourself.

While there may be no right or wrong way to speak, there are cultural preferences, and these can be shared in a spirit of love and respect. But to insist that one is right while all others are wrong is always detrimental to the development of all.

Whether it is clothing, food preferences, hair style, or language, they all influence our perception of others. And when we embrace the great variety of these on the planet, then the world becomes a richer and more beautiful garden in which to live.