Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Missing Years: 9 Years of the Future Passed

Time travel.

It has been the dream of people for such a long time, the seeds of which are found in such places as the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, from the ancient Greek Oracles to the modern H G Wells' The Time Machine. It has cropped up in many arenas, from the iconic Dr Who to the absurdism of Groundhog Day. It has been used in countless movies and stories in a wide variety of genres.

But imagine actually being able to travel in time. Imagine, for a moment, going a mere 9 years into the future. Better still, imagine arriving today from just a few years, 9 years, in the past. Just imagine all that has happened since 2008.

We have seen the coming, and going, of America's first Black President.

In 2008 racism seemed to be on the decline. Today, it almost feels as if we have gone back 80 years, what with the unbearable rise in racist attacks and Islamophobia. And we aren't even mentioning the attacks on the rights of women.

The number of refugees in the world nearly a decade ago, while alarming, was not quite at a full-blown crisis stage. Today, displaced peoples number in the many millions, a figure that staggers the imagination.

Back in 2008, just over 25% of the world's population was on the internet, as opposed to more than 50% today. And while we had twitter and facebook, we never dreamed that they would help shape global politics.

In just the past few years, we have seen a resurgence of diseases that we thought were gone, due to the mis-guided anti-vaccine movement.

9 years ago, you had to be on the fringes of society to question the reality of climate change. Today, the denial of science is considered normal in many places in the United States, as more and more countries around the world are finding themselves struggling with the effects of a changing environment.

From the status of minorities to a global shift in the approach to science, many fundamental changes have occurred in such a short time.

But now imagine what would have changed for you.

Imagine that your mother passed away. You would have missed being at her side during her final days, not to mention the funeral. Parents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, dearly loved friends: how many of those funerals would you have missed?

Imagine your young grandchild back in 2008, now a junior youth. Your daughter has gone from being in 8th grade to having graduated university. And you missed all that that entails.

You missed the marriage of your son, the passing of your wife, major changes in the field of your career. The list goes on. Life, you can imagine, would not be the same. Things you took for granted upon leaving nearly a decade ago have been irrevocably altered.

But you know, this is not fiction. It is not the case where you come out nice and young, healthy and refreshed. These are stories where people went into that time machine of prison with black hair, and may come out grey. Their skin is now wrinkled. Their health has been broken by their time in prison. This is the story of one man whose heart condition has been exacerbated by his suffering, who, if he were free, would have been able to seek the medical help he needed. This is the story of a woman who went in as the director of an educational institution and is now at the age of retirement, having been denied the opportunity to help so many young adults in their studies. This is the story of many others who have been irrevocably changed by their experience, but who are still dreaming of a beautiful future for humanity. This is the true story of those who were working for the betterment of their community, and society as a whole.

This is the story of those who have been wrongfully imprisoned for daring to hope, and acting on the promise of a better tomorrow.

This is the true story of the Yaran.

Please read about them, see what they are suffering, and know that their greatest desire is to help establish unity and justice, to ensure that others need not suffer as they have. Please read about them, and don't allow them to be in prison for another year.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pilgrimage thoughts

Recently, my family and I got back home from the Holy Land.What an amazing experience, as I'm sure you can imagine.

Pilgrimage.

What can I say about it? For those of you who have had this incredible experience, you know what I mean, and for those who have not yet had this great bounty, well, nothing I say can begin to describe it.

One thing I can mention fairly easily is how it is a full-person workout. On the one hand, it is truly an uplifting experience for the soul, at the end of which experience you will feel completely exhausted and yet refreshed. On the other hand, it is also a work out for the mind, giving greater clarity to your purpose in life through meditation on your prayers in the Shrines, as well as the reward of the talks by the members of senior institutions in the evenings. On the third hand, it is also a great physical workout, bringing together the spirit, mind and body through the climbing of the seemingly interminable number of steps on the terraces of the Shrine of the Bab. I learned that climbing the stairs is a cardio workout, which left me gasping for breath after just a few of the Terraces, while going down the steps is a muscular workout, of which my now-steel calves are still reminding me.

But really, the big question is what is the purpose of pilgrimage? Why do we do it? I mean, aside from the fact that Baha'u'llah has said we should.

Now, I could give you all sorts of quotes about it, beginning with the actual law in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, as well as the various commentaries by either 'Abdu'l-Baha or Shoghi Effendi, but this is not the purpose of this article. No, I would rather you do your own research on this subtle yet weighty topic. Besides, I'm not that big a fan of quotification, preferring a sprinkling of one or two quotes that really emphasize the point, as opposed to drowning the poor reader in the ocean of His Writings.

Myself, I'm more concerned at this time with a different question altogether: How do the various aspects of pilgrimage today work together as a coherent whole?

Well, let's see. What are these various aspects of which I speak? I'm glad you asked. Oh, and please remember that this is just my own personal opinion and nothing official.

To start, the most important thing, the primary purpose of the pilgrimage is to be able to pray at the Holy Shrines. Everything revolves around that.

Aside from the time spent in the Shrines, you visit the places in Akka associated with Baha'u'llah, 'Abdu'l-Baha, and Shoghi Effendi. You also get to visit the administrative buildings on Mount Carmel, such as the Seat of he Universal House of Justice, the International Teaching Centre, the Centre for the Study of the Sacred Texts, as well as the International Archives. And then there are the various gardens and houses associated with the Central Figures. Oh, and the talks in the evenings. Can't forget those.

So, let's look at this. Why do we spend so much time at these other places if our primary purpose is to pray at the Shrines?

I think it is because when we spend time at these other places we get a better idea of what They went through and just how miraculous it is that the Faith is where it is today. I mean, our group began by looking over at the sea gate in Akka, and I recalled the absolute antagonism that Baha'u'llah and His companions faced when they entered the city. Personally, I compared this to my own welcome where people said, "Oh, you're Baha'i? Here on pilgrimage? I love the Baha'is." Truly, we could not have been more warmly welcomed.

We continued through the land gate and looked at the building where the enemies of the Faith who were exiled with Baha'u'llah lived. From this vantage point they were able to notify the authorities of any Baha'is who came to Akka, thus preventing them from meeting Baha'u'llah. We heard the stories, and saw the actual places. How could we not think about the sufferings of the friends when we went to the Shrines later that evening?

As we progressed on our pilgrimage, we moved from the dreariness of the prison to the House of Abbud. We heard the story of the murder of the Azalis and how the Baha'is were treated: Baha'u'llah re-imprisoned, the Master in chains, some of the innocent Baha'is held unjustly for months, and even the fear of His neighbour which led the re-inforcing of the wall between the houses. I could recount the stories here, but I'm sure you know them. And if you don't, they are easy enough to find without me having to type them here.

As Pilgrimage continued, we moved through history a decade or two per day, from the small house in Akka to the mansion at Mazraih. We saw the beautiful gardens that Baha'u'llah was finally able to enjoy towards the end of His life. We spent time in Bahji, in awe of the sheer beauty of the place, especially when compared and contrasted to what He suffered in Akka.

We went to the International Archives, able to see some of the relics that we had heard about, artifacts from the very places we had just seen in the previous few days. We went, for example, from seeing the skylight in the Citadel where Miraz Mihdi fell to his death to seeing the actual blood-stained shirt he was wearing when he fell. The Archives, far from being a museum, helped plunge the reality of these stories ever deeper into our hearts. These were not some distant heroes out of a remote history. They were real people that lived just a few short decades ago. They lived and breathed. They had to wash their clothing, and brushed their hair. But then, as we stepped outside and saw the magnificent administrative buildings arcing across the mountain, we could see what their heroic and epic lives led to. As we heard the talks in the evenings, we began to get a glimpse of Their vision for what was not only potential for humanity in the future, but was slowly becoming a reality before our very eyes.

We saw the displays at the Visitor's Centre, and were given a vision of how to better present the Faith to the general public. We heard stories of great and simple triumphs from all over the world and left with a better idea of how to bring this transformative power of the Faith more effectively to bear on our own communities. And we entered the Shrines every day with a greater sense of awe at what They had accomplished, a greater love in our hearts for what They suffered to bring this vision to fruition.

And every day we awoke ever more eager to soak in what we could before being turned out to face the world once again.

Pilgrimage really is an amazing experience, and in many ways reminds me of the Kitab-i-Iqan.

Part 1 of the Book of Certitude is all about how to recognize a Messenger of God, and the beginning of the Pilgrimage, the time you are there, is all about better appreciating those Messengers Who have been sent to help raise humanity out of the depths of the misery in which we find ourselves.

But Part 2 of the Kitab-i-Iqan, to me, seems to say, "So what? You've recognized. Now, what are you going to do about it?" Now is our Part 2. We've come home. Refreshed. Rejuvenated. And with a new vision.

So what?

What are we going to do about it?

And that, dear Reader, is the real Pilgrimage: when we put this new vision into more effective action.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bazaar

In preparation for Pilgrimage, I've been studying a bit of the history of the various places we're going to see. And as part of my Fast, I also began re-reading Baha'u'llah, King of Glory, by Balyuzi.

There is so much that I have forgotten, it's incredible. I could probably write volumes about what I've forgotten. Some would say that it already feels as if I have.

Anyways, another thing that 's been going on in my life, which impacts what I'm writing about today, is that I'm seriously thinking of opening a store-front for my business. Oh, in case you didn't know, I'm a fashion designer in the wonderful medium of chain-mail. (You can see my work at www.facebook.com/mead19) (blatant plug)

So all of this, combined with that recent message from the Universal House of Justice that I just spent the past four articles looking at, has gotten me thinking about bazaars.

Actually, what really made me note bazaars in particular was this photograph in King of Glory:



The man in the centre is Mirza Musa, Baha'u'llah's faithful brother. As you may recall, he was the one who met the student at the gate that had come with the message of the Bab from Mulla Husayn. The man in the upper right-hand corner is Nabil, of the Dawn-breakers fame.

Now, the story is that they were walking in Constantinople at the bazaar when a photographer came up to Mirza Musa. He said he wished to take his photo, without charge, and would present him with a number of copies. Mirza Musa said to his companions, "He wants to earn something by photographing us. This is his means of livelihood. We will not deprive him of it."

What stood out for me, in addition to being able to see these men in the prime of their lives, is that this event occurred at the Big-Ughli Bazaar.

When I read this out loud to Shoghi, we both just stopped. I mean, literally. We kind of froze. He looked over my shoulder and read it for himself, and then we both broke into such laughter. We couldn't stop laughing about it for a good ten minutes.

I swear, if we ever find ourselves in Constantinople, or even in Istanbul, we will have to ask someone where the Big-Ughli Bazaar is.

What a bazaar name, at least in English.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Thoughts on Economy, part 4

Ok. So the other day's article wasn't as fun as most of my posts, except for the comment about my cat (whose name is Kismet). Sorry about that. (You know, she really likes her ears scratched.) And I didn't have as many fun insights and weird connections as I usually do. (Did you know that 'kismet' means 'fate, or luck' in Arabic?) I'll try to do better today.

Now, where were we? Oh, yes. In the middle of paragraph 7 of that letter from the Universal House of Justice, dated 1 March 2017.

There is an interesting challenge nestled in there, when they quote the Master (which is far easier than typing 'Abdu'l-Baha) saying that no greater undertaking could be taken than "if a judicious and resourceful individual should initiate measures which would universally enrich the masses of the people". I mean, what a challenge to us. He's not even talking about a group of people; He says just one individual can do this. And this would be regarded as "the supreme achievement" in the sight of God? Wow. What are we waiting for?

But come on. Is this realistic? Well, when I think about Elon Musk using his wealth that was generated from PayPal to create a better electric car, as well as solar receptive roofing tiles, and the numerous other ecologically-minded creations that he's helping develop, I would say that yes, it is. And this just one example. There are countless other examples, on the smaller scale, of people getting together in small groups to try out new ideas of living. Some focus on farming, others on engineering, still others on medicine. Some are trying various methods of commune living, while some are trying new business models.

Another example is Bill Mollison, who coined the term 'permaculture', and worked hard to show how we can grow many sustainable plants by letting nature just do the work. He showed people how to farm without complicated machinery or artificial fertilizers, no matter what the environment, whether it was a desert or a swamp, or a small island in the south Pacific. He taught people the basic principles and then sent them back to their home areas, while always maintaining contact with them to help them with their problems, or listen to their discoveries. And then, years later, he visited many of his early students and saw first-hand how they had revolutionized the growing of food in their areas. There are a ton of videos on YouTube about him. Well worth watching.

So yes, I can categorically say that an individual can arise to do this.

And then there is Huququ'llah, that "indispensable discipline". I have written quite a bit about it, this article here and this other one here being the main examples, so I won't go into it here. Let's just say that this Mighty Law does actually "bring one's priorities into balance, purify whatever wealth one possesses, and ensure that the share which is the Right of God provides for the greater good." And it is for this, ensuring the greater good, that helps me feel truly joyous to pay it. Some of you, I'm sure, are just able to get your joy from your obedience, but I'm not there yet. I get it out of knowing that it helps many millions around the world, and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

But, as paragraph 8 says, "The forces of materialism promote a quite contrary line of thinking". They talk about "justice and rights", compassion and all sorts of other lofty ideals, all the while masking their true goal of self-interest. They flee from hardships, delving into distractions with a wild abandon, and giving in to every conceivable pleasure they can dream up.

Here, however, the Universal House of Justice outlines how the Baha'i educational program can assist us in counteracting this disturbing trend. By surrounding our children with other Baha'is, and regularly attending the activities of our community, they are surrounded with a very different norm. Those involved in the programs for the junior youth are consciously shown how to be discerning. And the youth and adults of the community are put on a path of service, of which their economic activities can be a part. All of these combined, they point out to us, can "help individuals to see past the illusions that, at every stage of life, the world uses to pull attention away from service and towards the self."

And if this isn't enough, they give us a beautiful summation, right there at the end of this paragraph: "...the systematic study of the Word of God and the exploration of its implications raises consciousness of the need to manage one's material affairs in keeping with the divine teachings." I'm so grateful for this, for it tells me that we are on the right path, searching the Writings for these implications and seeing how they apply to our daily life.

Then there is the concluding paragraph.

These extremes of wealth and poverty that we are seeing increasing in the world around us are not able to be maintained, nor can they be defended, for that is the very definition of 'untenable'. This very inequity is obviously to be questioned, as more and more are doing every day. If we weren't aware, we surely are now that this is truly a time of great receptivity, for whenever people are put into the position of questioning their beliefs, the culture, their very surroundings, we can easily step in and offer them the healing draught that has been given us by Baha'u'llah. More than that, though, when the Baha'i community is a large enough presence, as they say, there is a greater responsibility. They then have to step beyond this simple offering of the teachings to more and more people, and begin to look at, and address, the root causes of the poverty in their own community. And really, if we are willing to admit it, there are different causes in differing communities all over the world. While they may have similarities, they will be addressed differently.

We may have been able to ignore this aspect of civilization building before now, but the hope of the House of Justice is, rightfully so, that "this exploration become a more pronounced feature of community life, institutional thought, and individual action in the years ahead."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thoughts on Economy, part 3

Yesterday, as you know, I wrote a little bit about the phrase "rectitude of conduct" which we found in paragraph 5 of the recent message from the Universal House of Justice, dated 1 March 2017.

Today I'm going to continue to look at paragraphs 5 - 8, which I think of as the heart of this letter.

So, moving on from "rectitude of conduct", we see the phrase "every choice... leaves a trace". This is something that many people in the world today have either forgotten about, or are so inoculated against it from their time spent on the internet that they no longer consider it relevant. But nevertheless, it's true. And while we may not always be able to determine the extent of that trace, or the impact of it, there are still certain parts of it that we can control.

What do I mean by that? Well, let's consider. In the past couple of articles I mentioned the idea of buying bananas and fair trade. I also mentioned the highly questionable practice of using prisoners incarcerated at privately owned prisons to make various things such as clothing. The more we look into it, the more we can see heinous practices in many different businesses all over the world, from child slave labour being forced to harvest the cocoa for some of the big chocolate companies to the blood-diamond trade, not to mention in the development of many other commodities all over the planet. When we consider environmental costs, the list becomes unmanageable for a blog such as this.

Still, we can continue to educate ourselves, and see what alternatives we have with our purchases.

Another aspect of this is the way in which we invest our money. When my wife and I began to look at investments, we discovered a few highly disturbing things. First, we learned that we get a much better tax break by investing our money in the stock market than we do by giving our money to charity. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. When we began to look into established portfolios, it was almost impossible to find one that didn't heavily invest in either cigarettes or oil. The more we looked into these portfolios, the less we wanted to invest. Of course, we could have just tossed our money there, hoping to cash in and make as much moola as we could, but we chose not to. We were not willing to sacrifice our ideals just to make a bit more cash. Now, we may be less well off financially for this decision, and having our own difficult time to see how I can open a retail store for my work, but it's worth it. We can hold our heads high, in satisfaction with how we are living our life, and we can sleep well at night. Well, we would, except that we have a cat who likes to come in our room and jump on our bed at 3 am, but that's another thing entirely.

Anyways, back to paragraph 5.

These are just a few of the ways that our personal life is affected by holding to a moral standard in our economic life.

In our community, though, it plays out a bit differently. At holy days, for example, we are trying to help educate our community to not use styrofoam cups, or other disposable items. And you know what? It has worked. It's been a few years since I've seen throw away items like that at a holy day celebration. You see how this could grow? As more and more of us become more aware of the implications of the teachings on the environment, these decisions will reflect it.

At a recent meeting for the celebration of Naw Ruz, it was decided to spend a bit more money on a better quality cake than to go the cheaper route for one that was less healthy and more filled with questionable ingredients. I love it. And really, this is only scratching the surface. "Such efforts", though, we are promised, "will add to a growing storehouse of knowledge in this regard."

Moving on to paragraph 6, we find that a "foundational concept to explore in this context is the spiritual reality of man". When thinking about this, we can remember all the myriad people who are involved in the various commodities that we purchase, from the cashier that sells it to us, all the way back through to the farmer or miner who started the whole process of production. Aside from generally being nice to the cashier and treating them with respect, just because we can see them right there in front of us, we should also remember the family of the farmer, or the miner and his health. We may never meet them, but they are still a real human being, spiritual in nature and worthy of respect. Many times over the years I have commented that I don't think the insertion of various attributes of God in the Writings is accidental, that they are actually there to call to mind those attributes within us. Here I think it is the same. The Universal House of Justice has invoked the names "the Compassionate, the Bestower, the Bountiful", and aren't these the same qualities that they are asking us to be aware of within ourselves as we prepare to deal with questions of economics? Aren't these what we should show forth every time we encounter someone? When we purchase something?

I could easily go on at length about this, and the further attributes they mention after this, such as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, generosity, and so forth, but I'll let you meditate on them yourself. Otherwise this will become wearisome, I am sure.

The last point for today comes in paragraph 7. We are reminded to engage in an occupation, a trade or a craft. Baha'u'llah, here, does not give preference to any one over the other, except perhaps in the order in which He states them, so we, too, should not denigrate any of them. Over the years I have had many people tell me, explicitly or by implication, that since I am a self-employed artist, I must not be working. Or that since I am not overly concerned about making as much money as I can, since I don't buy tons of stuff, I must be on welfare of some sort. Oh, and of those who say or imply things like this, a number of them are Baha'i. So, I'm just curious, why do some of us feel that being an artist is somehow less than, say, being a garbage collector? And yes, I know this is not the norm, but it's happened often enough that I feel it important to raise the point. I am earning a living through my craft. I am not a burden to others. And I am able to give some to the poor, and help others, even though I may not have a lot myself.

It doesn't really make that much of a difference what you do for a living, as long as you are contributing to the advancement of society. Whether it is through your actual vocation, or in your voluntary time, we can all help others advance. Perhaps a scientist who makes a major discovery will be able to help advance more than the physio-therapist, or the gas station attendant, but all are able to lend their share.

Remember, there is no shame in being poor, especially if you are exerting yourself. And we are also told that there is no shame in wealth either, to cover the other extreme. Just as I've heard it said that one end of the spectrum is bad, so have I heard the same about the other end of that spectrum.

Wealth is fine, just as long as it doesn't come between us and God. We're even told that wealth earned by your own efforts, and the grace of God, is highly praiseworthy, but that comes with a caveat. It is only praiseworthy in the highest degree if it is expended for philanthropic purposes, and not at the expense of others. All should be made wealthy by our efforts.

But now we're getting into the section on the Right of God, and that will take up a lot more time and wordage. For now, I need to get out and walk a bit. More on this over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Thoughts on Economy, part 2

In part 1 I looked at what I call the introduction to the 1 March 2017 letter from the Universal House of Justice, namely the first four paragraphs. Today I want to begin to look at the next four paragraphs which I consider to be the heart of the letter.

They begin this section by saying their "call to examine the implications of the Revelation of Baha'u'llah for economic life" is primarily directed to us, the individual Baha'is. And then they point out that this new model of community life given to us by Baha'u'llah will only emerge if we demonstrate in our "own lives the rectitude of conduct that is one of its most distinguishing features".

Ok. "Rectitude of conduct".

That is one of those phrases, dear Reader, that always raises a flag in my mind. Oh, not in a bad way, mind you, but rather in the sense of calling it to my attention.

Why?

I'm glad you asked.

"Rectitude of conduct", as I'm sure you know, is one of the three "spiritual prerequisites of success, which constitute the bedrock on which the security of all teaching plans.., and financial schemes, must ultimately rest", as described by Shoghi Effendi, in The Advent of Divine Justice. He goes on to say, in that very same paragraph, "Upon the extent to which these basic requirements are met.. must depend the measure of the manifold blessings which the All-Bountiful Possessor can vouchsafe" to us all.

There is much to be said about it, and as I'm sure you can guess, I'm going to say a bit about it here.

To start, I want to look at what Shoghi Effendi says about it, which I always figure is a good place to begin. And for those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time, I apologize if I'm repeating myself, but I figure this bears repeating.

"This rectitude of conduct," he begins, "with its implications of justice, equity, truthfulness, honesty, fair-mindedness, reliability, and trustworthiness, must distinguish every phase of the life of the Bahá’í community."

All right. Let's look at that list.

Before we do that, though, I want to talk about geometry. (How's that for a seeming tangent?)

Euclid, as you may recall from high school, is regarded as the founder of geometry, which isn't quite true. There were many other geometric systems before his, but what he did was come up with the most remarkable set of axioms. Axioms are the foundation, those things that we just take for granted, from which all the theorems are derived. The best systems have the least number of axioms, of which Euclid only has five, and those axioms should not overlap in their definitions. For centuries people tried to come up with a more concise version of his fifth postulate, but couldn't. Finally someone took the opposite of that postulate and tried to see if they could come up with another entirely consistent system, just to prove that this fifth postulate was independent of the other four. Well, it worked, and that is called non-Euclidean geometry.

Me? I tried to apply this same logic to this list that Shoghi Effendi offered us here. Was he concise? Was this list as definitive as possible? Did any of the terms overlap? Yes, yes and no.

For conciseness, and to prove that they don't overlap, I always point people to the two terms "truthfulness " and "honesty". Many of us think that these are the same thing, as I did back when I first read this passage. But really, they are not. And not only are they different, they are actually independent from each other, although we would hope that they would merge.

"Truthfulness" is saying that which conforms to reality, or that which is true. "Honesty" is stating what we believe. And as I said, we would hope that these would be the same thing.

But let's look at a real life example: Suppose someone asked you my age. If you thought I was 50, and said "Mead is 50", you would be honest, but not truthful. If you thought I was 50, but wanted to make me seem a bit younger, you could say, "Mead is 49". Then you would be truthful, but not honest. Of course, you could always ask me, and then tell them, "Mead is 49", and you would be both truthful and honest.

You can see here how these two terms are related, but do not overlap.

And you know what? This actually works with any two of these terms in this list from the Guardian.

Justice, equity, truthfulness, honesty, fair-mindedness, reliability, and trustworthiness: What a list. And doesn't it seem so relevant to this letter from the Universal House of Justice?

Moving on in this same paragraph from Shoghi Effendi, he goes on to quote Baha'u'llah at length. In the very first of these many quotes, we are told that we "must show forth such trustworthiness, such truthfulness and perseverance, such deeds and character that all mankind may profit by their example." All mankind may profit. Sound familiar?

In another quote He says that the true servant of God would "pass through cities of silver and gold, would not deign to look upon them" and that our "heart would remain pure and undefiled from whatever things can be seen in this world".

Later in the same paragraph, Baha'u'llah says that "One righteous act is endowed with a potency" that has the "power  to restore the force that hath spent itself and vanished..." When I think of the power of our economic systems, and how they seem to have spent themselves out, I am left in wonder.

In fact, as we read these passages, many of them will sound familiar. A large number of them are found in those opening sections of Ruhi Book 1, such as "The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct." And isn't this whole letter from the Universal House of Justice all about the betterment of the world? So if we look upon the simple purchase of a banana (remember, it's the Fast) as a moral act, choosing to buy that banana from a company that is engaged in fair trade, it is even more obvious how this can better the world.

These six paragraphs of the Guardian's that expound this essential principle are so laden with meanings and implications. They are so powerful that I really felt it important to draw our attention back to them, given the use of this phrase in the letter from the House of Justice. After all, they are all three, those spiritual prerequisites, deemed "preeminent and vital" by him, meaning that without them, our endeavours and plans die.

And this is just the very beginning of the heart of this message from the House of Justice on the importance of our moral conduct within the economy of the world, our various nations, and in our own neighbourhoods.

More thoughts on this letter over the next few days.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Thoughts on Economy, part 1

On 1 March of this year, the Universal House of Justice released a letter to the Baha'is of the world drawing our attention to the moral dimension of economic activity. As you can imagine, it is quite thought-provoking.

If you haven't read it yet, please click on the link and do so, otherwise my comments and personal thoughts may seem a bit out of context.

It's not that long of a letter, only nine paragraphs. The first four are something of an introduction, while the next four are the bulk of it. The last paragraph is a bit of a summary. Here, I'm going to share a few thoughts from the beginning of it, their introduction.

Now, dear Reader, as you know, I have my own particular quirkiness when reading the Writings. I look for trends, themes, references, and try to get a contextual view of what is happening. I also love to look at nuances, such as why Baha'u'llah may reference a particular flower in a passage, or why 'Abdu'l-Baha places His analogies in a particular order. I find that for myself, doing this opens up a whole new layer of the Writings to me that I never really expected to see when I first began doing this.

In this letter, one of the first things I noticed was right there in the first paragraph. When quoting Baha'u'llah, the Universal House of Justice actually cites their source, the Lawh-i-Dunya. They don't usually do this. They usually just cite the Author. And so I decided to actually go to the Lawh-i-Dunya and re-read that incredible Tablet, found in Tablets of Baha'u'llah. I was already familiar with it, and I'm sure you are, too. It's the one that begins "Light and glory, greeting and praise be upon the Hands of His Cause..." In it, we find such passages as "Justice is, in this day, bewailing its plight, and Equity groaneth beneath the yoke of oppression." "How strange", Baha'u'llah comments, "that the people of Persia, who were unrivalled in sciences and arts, should have sunk to the lowest level of degradation among the kindreds of the earth." "Do not busy yourselves", He cautions us, "in your own concerns; let your thoughts be fixed upon that which will rehabilitate the fortunes of mankind and sanctify the hearts and souls of men." "It is incumbent upon every man," He advises us, "in this Day, to hold fast unto whatsoever will promote the interests, and exalt the station, of all nations and governments."

Throughout this whole letter, the Lawh-i-Dunya, Baha'u'llah gives us sound advice about the organization of global affairs, the setting of our priorities, both as individuals and as governing bodies, as well as setting before us a vision of the high standard to which we should aspire.

I do not think it coincidental that the Universal House of Justice calls our attention to it here, for we are, as they say, "increasingly interconnected", and "there is much that should weigh heavy on the conscience of the human race."

In light of all the weighty statements in this Tablet, I also find it intriguing which lines they chose to quote: “The world is in great turmoil, and the minds of its people are in a state of utter confusion. We entreat the Almighty that He may graciously illuminate them with the glory of His Justice, and enable them to discover that which will be profitable unto them at all times and under all conditions.”

No question about it. We only need to read the headlines to see the great turmoil of the world. We only need to talk to people on the street to see their utter confusion. We can see the great throngs that are obviously, as attested by their own actions, not being illumined by the glory of His Justice. But my wife and I were both struck by the phrase, "enable them to discover that which shall profit them at all time and under all conditions."

All times?

Under all conditions?

Interesting.

What, we wondered, have we discovered that does this? As we talked about this, one thing that came to mind, as we are getting ready to begin our garden for the coming summer, was the idea of permaculture, that method of gardening in which you allow the plants to really grow where they want. You can do a bit of pruning and weeding, but for the most part, that's it. When we were getting ready to start a new bed under a pine tree, I tossed a whole whack of different herb seeds there to see what really wanted to grow there. Now, all I need to do is go out occasionally and harvest a bit of them. I barely need to water them, and never need to add fertilizer. They are so healthy, I don't even need to really worry all that much about weeds. And this is just one example of something that profits us "at all times and under all conditions".

This was our frame of mind as we began to read paragraph two, thinking about gardening and food. Of course, you may notice from the date of this letter that we were studying it during the Fast, so really, this isn't all that surprising.

I don't need to mention the importance they stress on thinking about the whole of mankind, and not just some singular part of it, for it is so evident. I'm not even going to write much about the implied criticism of various political and business decisions that are occurring all over the planet when they talk about one group acting in isolation, or without regard for the environment. We know this is happening. And we know that it is happening with a greater degree of frequency today than it has been in the past. I will, however, point out the "stubborn obstruction" to "meaningful social progress": "avarice and self-interest". Now, please note that these two are one obstruction, not two. Nor is it greed, but avarice. Avarice refers to hoarding, whereas greed refers more to over-consumption. And self-interest in itself is not a problem, for I have to look after my own interests in order to feed my family. But when they are combined, and "at the expense of the common good", then we have a problem. And boy, do we have a problem today.

One of the main problems arises from the various laws that are in place, giving us greater tax benefits, for example, by hoarding our money and investing it in Wall Street, instead of contributing to charities. This, and many other similar laws, encourage and perpetuate the greater divide between the rich and the poor. But, as they say, "there is no justification for continuing to perpetuate" such systems and laws. The laws must serve all people, not just a few. And perhaps that should be one of the criterion for any law: does it serve all, or just a few. We have embraced economic globalization, but now we have to embrace humanitarian globalization.

"There is", as they say, "an inherent moral dimension to the generation, distribution, and utilization of wealth and resources."

But how does this impact me, as an individual? Well, for one, where do I buy my food? (It's the Fast. I'm thinking about food again.) Do I get my bananas from a mega-store that sells them for as cheaply as possible, paying the workers in South America a poverty-inducing wage? Do I get my clothes from a source that is using the slave labour of the US private prison system, which in turn further perpetuates the racial divide in that country? Or do I spend a bit more of my paycheck on these same items to ensure that those in other parts of the planet are also able to share in the wealth of this planet of ours? Do I drive a bit out of my way to go to a local farm and ensure that they get more for their produce than if they were to sell it to a big distributor?

Every time I spend a dollar, I am casting a moral vote, and this letter is reminding me of that dimension of my reality.

Overall, I am being reminded that "Wealth must serve humanity", as they say so pointedly. The use of my own wealth should, no "must accord with spiritual principles". This letter gets me to, once again, consider "questions of economics" in light of the Baha'i teachings. And as I consider my own business, and the path of my business, I must do so with due consideration as to "how, in practical terms, collective prosperity can be advanced through justice and generosity, collaboration and mutual assistance."

For now, though, I have to take my son, who is now on his spring break, and who will be joining my wife and I on Pilgrimage in just a couple of weeks, up to the farms I mentioned above so that we can get more veggies to break our fast this evening. Hopefully I'll find the time to look at the rest of this letter over the next couple of days.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Shoghi's Prayers

When Shoghi, my son, was younger, he used to say the short healing prayer every evening. One night, after prayers, I asked him why he felt so moved as to say that particular prayer every time. "Because", he said, "there are so many people out there who need healing."

I was very touched by that comment. I wasn't sure what to expect, probably thinking that he was just saying a short prayer that he had memorized, only because it was short, and without much further thought behind it. But no. He had a reason. He had actually thought about it, and chose that exact prayer to say. Every night.

A few months ago he began to fixate on another prayer. Most every evening for the better part of half a year now, he has been saying the following prayer:
O God, my God! I have set out from my home, holding fast unto the cord of Thy love, and I have committed myself wholly to Thy care and Thy protection. I entreat Thee by Thy power through which Thou didst protect Thy loved ones from the wayward and the perverse, and from every contumacious oppressor, and every wicked doer who hath strayed far from Thee, to keep me safe by Thy bounty and Thy grace. Enable me, then, to return to my home by Thy power and Thy might. Thou art, truly, the Almighty, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.

It seemed sort of a strange prayer to read in the evening, just before going to sleep, but who am I to comment? And yet, night after night, I couldn't help but wonder. Was there a reason for this prayer? Did he think that his spirit was leaving the home when he was asleep? Was he sneaking out at night and having various adventures of which I was unaware? My mind boggled. I mean, he's only 11, at least for a few more days. What was his reasoning?

I finally broke down and asked. "Why this prayer, Shoghi?" What special meaning, I enquired, did it hold for him?

"I'm saying it", he told me, "for all the African American people in the US, and all the refugees around the world, who have to leave their home and are unsure if they will make it back safe."

* * * * *

I had to pause there, and I thought you might want to, also.

First, he's eleven.

Second, I had no doubt that he truly felt love and sorrow for the many refugees all over the world who have had to flee their homes in order to try and preserve the lives of their family members.

Third, he put the African American people in the same category as the refugees.

Even now, a few weeks later, I still have to think about that. And pray about it. An meditate on it. And feel sorrow.

Every evening now, when he says that prayer, so much runs through my heart and mind. I think about my time serving with the refugee centre in Winnipeg, and those people who are now braving the harsh prairie winter to escape from the US and find refuge in Canada. I think about my brother in Chicago who is a firefighter and how if I get stopped by the police for speeding there, I may get a ticket, but he might just get killed. And I think about all my other friends who are being silenced from speaking about their oppression, attacked for trying to defend their homes, and bullied by those anonymous people in their own neighbourhoods just because their skin tone is different, or they follow a different path in their life.

I think about so much when he reads that prayer.

I am so grateful for his simple wisdom and awareness of what is happening in the world today.

And I strive to learn from his compassion.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Face of Anger

Sometimes the hardest part about writing is finding your starting point. You may have the whole story, or article, mapped out in your head, but still have no clue as to how to begin. Other times when you catch the starting point, the rest of the piece just follows in its wake.

This is one of those latter type pieces.

Earlier this evening, literally less than half an hour ago, I was in a study group looking at the Kitab-i-Iqan, the Book of Certitude. We read a number of paragraphs, all of which I had recently read in the past few weeks, and this time two sentences jumped out at me.

The first is from paragraph 175:
And the people also, utterly ignoring God and taking them for their masters, have placed themselves unreservedly under the authority of these pompous and hypocritical leaders, for they have no sight, no hearing, no heart, of their own to distinguish truth from falsehood.
The "them", by the way, are those leaders who ignore the counsels in the Writings due to their lust for leadership and want of discernment.

The second quote is from paragraph 187:
Thus the peoples of the world are judged by their countenance. By it, their misbelief, their faith, and even their iniquity are all made manifest.
Ok. That last one was actually two sentences. Sorry.

But still, I found an interesting train of thought following upon those few sentences.

First, given the plethora of news stories about "fake news", that first quote struck me as very timely. More and more today we are seeing people who will unquestioningly believe whatever the leader of their particular political party or group may say. And this isn't limited to one party or another, but seems to span across the board Ok. So that's just a minor observation. A sad one, to be sure, but still fairly minor. Nothing new.

Then I thought about the second quote. The people, during this time of judgment, will not be questioned about their doings, for their very faces will speak of what is in their hearts.

Then I thought about both of those quotes together. And I thought some more. And then I recalled seeing various pictures on the internet, which I will not share here for a few reasons. First, I am sure there are copyright issues that I don't want to get involved with. Second, I would feel bad about putting an actual face of a real person here when just describing it will do, and thus keep it anonymous.

So, here goes.

I remember seeing a saddeningly large number of pictures floating around the net of Trump supporters at various gatherings with their faces filled with anger as they kicked an African American citizen out of their midst, saying they were not welcome there. And I've seen a saddeningly large number of similar photographs floating around out there of the anger on people's faces at various rallies protesting the loss of women's rights, the "travel ban" in the US, or any number of protests by those who are against Trump and his policies.

And when I just looked at their faces, I was stuck by the similar nature displayed on both.

It doesn't matter whether I agree with the ideology of one side or the other, for the faces all display anger and hatred in their hearts.

We are living in a time where disunity is becoming more and more evident, resulting in a social mix in which people are becoming less and less likely to engage in dialogue with those who disagree with them on one point or another. And really, it doesn't matter which side is "right", if the result is anger and discontent. This can do nothing but lead to more violence.

So what is the solution? Do we just ignore what is going on around us?

Not at all. But protest, I truly believe, is not the solution. When you protest something, your primary purpose is to tear it down. Get rid of it. And this, dear Reader, just leaves a lack, an emptiness, a void. The real question is what should go in its place. What are we building?

"Humanity's crying need will not be met by a struggle among competing ambitions or by protest against one or another of the countless wrongs afflicting a desperate age," said a message of the Universal House of Justice back in 2001. "It calls, rather, for a fundamental change of consciousness, for a wholehearted embrace of Baha'u'llah's teaching that the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family."

That's a huge statement. A change of consciousness? Accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human race?

Yes.

Quite simply, yes.

The rhetoric that has been so popular is exemplified by that slogan in the US: America first.

But it's not just in America. This mindset has been popular in many countries, to varying degrees. And we can see where it naturally leads.

It's not pretty.

It has led to some fairly disastrous situations, and will no doubt lead to more.

Baha'u'llah has said, in unequivocal terms, "It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens."

We need to learn to not only look after our own interests, which we are, admittedly, fairly good at, but to do so as long as it is not at the expense of others.

Saving a few dollars on a new shirt should not be worth it to me if it means that a child somewhere else in the world is starving. I don't need to protest about it. I should just buy my clothes somewhere else. And that's what I do. I try to raise the awareness. Everything else will just sort itself out. As awareness is raised, the business trends will shift.

If I tell people not to shop at one particular store, then I am actually doing two things. First, I am advertising the store I want to protest. I am bringing it to people's awareness. I am getting them to think about it. When they say that no press is bad press, they are calling on a fundamental idea in psychology. We will remember the name far longer than we will remember why we heard the name in the first place. Secondly, I am not necessarily telling the person where else they can shop. Suppose I really need a particular item, and I know of one store that has it. If someone tells me that I shouldn't go to that store, fine. But where else can I go? I need another option. It seems far more effective to me to say to the person that they can get this item at another store where they, say, treat their employees better. Now I will recall the other store more readily.

In the end, it is ok to disagree. There is nothing wrong with that. After all, it is through the clash of differing opinions that the spark of truth arises. But if it means that there is anger in your heart, then the change that you are seeking can never be worth it.

Friday, February 3, 2017

I'm Not Worried

For those of you who see my posts on Facebook, you may notice that I've been forwarding a lot of news articles lately, usually with the tag line "Interesting. I'm curious to see where this goes." Or something similar.

And really, it's true. I'm not trying to downplay anything, nor am I trying to make any sort of commentary on partisan politics. Quite the contrary. I'm watching the news, seeing the reactions, and am truly curious where this will all lead.

But really, I think we know where it is all heading.

And please remember, I'm not worried. Really.

Shoghi, my now-11 year-old son, was wondering how I could talk about all the things that are happening in the world and not be very concerned. Well, I am concerned, but I'm not worried.

Why not?

Glad you asked, dear Reader.

You see, I've been doing a lot of reading, and a number of things have crossed my mind.

First of all, I've been looking at the cycles of history, from Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to things more recent, and a few things have occurred to me. As a Baha'i, I've come to realize that the world likes anniversaries. I won't go into all the details of how I've come to realize that, but I just want to share a few with you.

Today, right now in February of 2017, we are celebrating the centenary of the revelation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan. These incredible letters, which are the beginning and blue print of the all the Baha'i plans since then, were written between 1916 and 1917. Today, we celebrate their centenary. Nice.

But we have another celebratory anniversary coming up this year: the bi-centenary of the birth of Baha'u'llah. What, I asked myself, was happening 100 years ago during the centenary of His birth? World War 1.

In 1944, we were celebrating the centenary of the declaration of the Bab, which started this whole Baha'i-thing off. And what was happening then? World War 2.

Now, today, what is happening? Realistically, we are heading towards another war. The signs are all there. The players are all in place. The pieces are all lined up.

I don't mean to be a prognosticator. I truly don't. It just seems like such a no-brainer to read the next line in the story of this planet.

Ok. That was the "first of all".

Second, there is the idea of building. I've been reading a lot about the building of civilizations: US, Canada, Rome, Christendom, the Islamic Empire, just to name a few. And out of all this, one thing seems fairly common: Something old is swept away and a new civilization is built in its place. A stronger foundation is laid than what was there before, perhaps after a few false starts, such as in the French Revolution, but a stronger foundation always comes into place. And from that foundation, a civilization is reared, one that keeps growing until something stops it. Now, civilizations are like buildings. They need a strong foundation and they will keep growing until the foundation is no longer sufficient. You see, a building's limitations are determined by its foundation. If the foundation is weak, then you cannot build high. Pretty simple, right?

Well, despite all that we have seen in recent times, all the advances and all the victories on so many levels, the basic foundation of the US, to name but the most obvious example, is insufficient for the structure that is reared on top of it. It is rooted in inequality and injustice, despite all the admirable strides they have made in trying to overcome both. It is based on granting the ignorant the same equal rights in the administrative process as those who have insight and wisdom. While this may not be a bad thing in and of itself, it does have limitations. And we are witnessing the extent of those limitations.

That is the "second" of all.

It's not looking too good just yet, but don't worry. Remember, I'm not worried, and I've been thinking about these things for a few years.

Yes, years.

I will not lay the blame of any of this at the feet of Trump, or any other politico, for their policies are but the symptom, not the cause. These recent policies coming out of various countries are merely highlighting the depth of the problems that have been covered for so long.

Now, why am I not concerned?

Simple. I've been reading Shoghi Effendi's letter from 1936 entitled "The Unfoldment of World Civilization". Look it up. It's worth it.

He starts off, and remember, this is in 1936, by talking about some of the things that were happening in the world at that time. This was a time when the Great Depression had recently ended. Germany had just come through the incredible injustices laid upon them by the Treaty of Versailles, and Hitler had done remarkable things by rejuvenating the German economy. Major countries were leaving the ineffectual League of Nations. War had broken out between China and Japan, and another war between Italy and Ethiopia which would soon result in the annexation of the latter. Stalin began his purges in the Soviet Union. I mean, the list goes on, but the only other one I would like to add is that the first costumed superhero, the Phantom, made his debut, further highlighting the desperation people were feeling for hope. This is just a bit of what people were seeing in the news in North America.

And then, in March, in the midst of all this, Shoghi Effendi wrote them and said that they should not "be deluded by the ephemeral manifestations of returning prosperity which at times appear to be capable of checking the disruptive influence of the chronic ills afflicting the institutions of a decaying age. The signs of the times are too numerous and compelling to allow (us) to mistake their character or to belittle their significance."

He quotes Baha'u'llah at length:
“Soon,” Bahá’u’lláh’s own words proclaim it, “will the present day Order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead. Verily, thy Lord speaketh the truth and is the Knower of things unseen.” “By Myself,” He solemnly asserts, “the day is approaching when We will have rolled up the world and all that is therein, and spread out a new Order in its stead. He, verily, is powerful over all things.” “The world’s equilibrium,” He explains, “hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this Most Great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System, the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.” “The signs of impending convulsions and chaos,” He warns the peoples of the world, “can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing Order appeareth to be lamentably defective.”

"The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh," he writes, "whose supreme mission is none other but the achievement of this organic and spiritual unity of the whole body of nations, should, if we be faithful to its implications, be regarded as signalizing through its advent the coming of age of the entire human race. It should be viewed... as marking the last and highest stage... of man's collective life on this planet."

He likens the development of the planet and its political scene to that of the founding of the United States: "Such a unique and momentous crisis in the life of organized mankind may, moreover, be likened to the culminating stage in the political evolution of the great American Republic—the stage which marked the emergence of a unified community of federated states. The stirring of a new national consciousness, and the birth of a new type of civilization, infinitely richer and nobler than any which its component parts could have severally hoped to achieve, may be said to have proclaimed the coming of age of the American people. Within the territorial limits of this nation, this consummation may be viewed as the culmination of the process of human government." And then he points out that the movement of nation-states towards a global government is natural and necessary. In fact, he refers to the limitation of the nation model when he points out, "The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax." By its very nature, it is anarchical and limiting.

But he says that this sort of change will not come easy. It never has. While we could, as a species, decide to just adopt these ideas, we never have. We've always clung to our outdated ideals, our "outworn shibboleths", and been forced to watch as they have crumbled in our hands.

And yet we know that something magnificent is waiting. We have never successfully envisioned the great advances that have always occurred when we have let go, and just moved on. Not once. We, as a human race, have always given in to our fear of change. So only after great suffering have we seen the great bounties that have resulted.

"For the revelation of so great a favor", he predicts, "a period of intense turmoil and wide-spread suffering would seem to be indispensable." With sadness, he says that it seems that we must "be overshadowed by such moral and social gloom as can alone prepare... humanity for the prize she is destined to inherit." "Into such a period we are now steadily and irresistibly moving."

Then he turns his gaze to the religions of the world.

He quotes an eminent Christian theologian from the US, who said that if Christianity wishes and expects to serve the world in the present crisis, it must "cut back through Christianity to Christ, back through the centuries-old religion about Jesus to the original religion of Jesus." Shoghi Effendi goes on to say, so poignantly, "When... the light of religion is quenched in men’s hearts... a deplorable decline in the fortunes of humanity immediately sets in... Human character is debased, confidence is shaken, the nerves of discipline are relaxed, the voice of human conscience is stilled, the sense of decency and shame is obscured, conceptions of duty, of solidarity, of reciprocity and loyalty are distorted, and the very feeling of peacefulness, of joy and of hope is gradually extinguished."

When describing what this looks like in our daily life, he says:
The recrudescence of religious intolerance, of racial animosity, and of patriotic arrogance; the increasing evidences of selfishness, of suspicion, of fear and of fraud; the spread of terrorism, of lawlessness, of drunkenness and of crime; the unquenchable thirst for, and the feverish pursuit after, earthly vanities, riches and pleasures; the weakening of family solidarity; the laxity in parental control; the lapse into luxurious indulgence; the irresponsible attitude towards marriage and the consequent rising tide of divorce; the degeneracy of art and music, the infection of literature, and the corruption of the press...—these appear as the outstanding characteristics of a decadent society, a society that must either be reborn or perish.
I read this, and see it as a list of the ills of today.

"The whole world," he goes to say, "wherever and however we survey it, offers us the sad and pitiful spectacle of a vast, an enfeebled, and moribund organism, which is being torn politically and strangulated economically by forces it has ceased to either control or comprehend."

This, dear Reader, is where I see us right now

It is a long and heartbreaking synopsis of what I think we are all seeing around us, and the prognosis for the near future is bleak, very bleak.

But again, I am not worried.

For what I see around us is nothing more than the snow castles that were once majestic in the early winter, sparkling beauty now succumbed to the melting warmth of the coming spring. We can strive to gather more snow and reinforce what is melting before our eyes, or we can plan for the true full-colour beauty of the flowers that are on their way. We can ensure that the tulip bulbs are planted, and that the ground is prepared. We can put away the snow shovels and ice picks, and ensure that the garden tools are well oiled and ready for their use.

And while I am truly concerned for the suffering that I know is coming, and strive to do all I can to mitigate it, I also know what lies beyond, for I recall the true beauty of the summer and am not disheartened by the few weeks of winter left before us.