Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Other Wing

So here I am, in Toronto again, at the Baha'i Centre, waiting for the preparatory session for the National Convention. Somehow, and I still don't know how, I was elected to serve as a delegate. Truly an honour and a bounty.

As I have mentioned many times, my family and I are getting ready to move out to the West Coast, and as such, we are downsizing a lot of stuff. One of the things I am downsizing, aka getting rid of, is my used Baha'i bookstore. Oh, the books are used, not the store. Well, I guess the store is a bit used now, too.

There I was, last night, at the Feast, with my usual book display, except that it was a bit bigger than usual. I had everything with me in the hopes of selling as much of it as I can. Not bad. Was able to sell about 20% of my stock. Only 80% to go.

Now, why am I telling you all this, dear Reader? Because the first thing I did, after registering and eating (hey, I got my priorities straight), was to go the bookstore. Being a conscientious soul, fully aware of the magnitude of the task before me (that of moving), I only bought a few small items. One of them is a great little compilation called "Why We Have Hope". It is really delightful.

There, in the midst of this slender volume, was a quote that called out to me.

In this glorious Cause the life of a married couple should resemble the life of the angels in heaven -- a life full of joy and spiritual delight, a life of unity and concord, a friendship both mental and physical. The home should be orderly and well-organized. Their ideas and thoughts should be like the rays of the sun of truth and the radiance of the brilliant stars in the heavens. Even as two birds they should warble melodies upon the branches of the tree of fellowship and harmony. They should always be elated with joy and gladness and be a source of happiness to the hearts of others. They should set an example to their fellow-men, manifest true and sincere love towards each other and educate their children in such a manner as to blazon the fame and glory of their family.
I immediately thought of my wife.

When I read that description of "the life of the angels in heaven -- a life full of joy and spiritual delight, a life of unity and concord, a friendship both mental and physical", I felt, with my whole being, "Yes, that describes my life with her."

How can I even begin to convey the bounty and blessing of that? How can I share the feelings in my heart that give rise to tears in my eyes when I realize that we are living what the Master told us we should do? Joy upon joy.

Of course, then He said, "The home should be orderly and well-organized". OK. My excuse is that we're moving, but really, I don't think our home ever fit that description. At least He never said that my desk "should be orderly and well-organized". I think that is beyond my capacity.

"Their ideas and thoughts should be like the rays of the sun of truth and the radiance of the brilliant stars in the heavens." Oh, doesn't that just describe Marielle to a tee? I may have a few ideas and thoughts, and perhaps the words to begin to try and express them, but it is her who shines. It is her radiance that comes through. All I try to do is get out of the way. I wonder if that would be like spiritual dodgeball, or something.

"Even as two birds they should warble melodies upon the branches of the tree of fellowship and harmony." Well, we're half-way there. Currently she is the songbird, warbling the melodies of God, for that is about all she will sing. Me? I'm more like the crow who caws in the background. She is trying to teach me to carry a tune, but I still need a basket to to do that. Maybe someday I'll be able to hold a note, instead of just writing one.

"They should always be elated with joy and gladness and be a source of happiness to the hearts of others." OK. I can't really speak to that one. I'm always smiling, but she is the one who touches the hearts. They will ask her the their heartfelt questions, and I'll find the appropriate quotes in the Writings. Not a bad team, if you ask me.

"They should set an example to their fellow-men, manifest true and sincere love towards each other and educate their children in such a manner as to blazon the fame and glory of their family." For that, I look to Shoghi. He is my confirmation, and my inspiration for so much.

But now the convention is about to begin, so here I go. With love and with prayers, wishing you all a happy 9th Day of Ridvan.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


"Where do you get your ideas?"

That is probably the most annoying question an author, or any artist, can be asked. I mean, come on, it's not insulting or anything, just plain silly.

I could go into the Writings at this point and pull up the various quotes regarding the development of the arts. I could talk about how Baha'u'llah says "The Sun of Truth is the Word of God", and that the light of this is "conditioned" by the mirror upon which it shines. He says that when it "manifesteth itself in the mirrors of the hearts of craftsmen, it unfoldeth new and unique arts". (Hey, I wonder if that applies to my own artwork? I never thought of that before. You can see some of it here.)

We also know, from His Writings, that it is the souls in the next world that lend their inspiration to the artists in this wold.

For myself, whenever I was asked this question in the past, I used to say that I sent a request to PO Box in Walla Walla, Washington. For $5 they would send you an idea. Now I usually tell people that I go to, where they, also, will send you a good idea for a mere $10 (okay, they don't, but it is a fun web-site.)

So, if I'm not going to go into the Writings now, what am I going to do? I'm going to go into my files. As you may have noticed from some recent postings, I'm getting ready to move, and that means that I'm going through all my papers, filing some and recycling others. A few gave my son and I the joy of a bonfire last night.

A new file that I started yesterday is called "blog ideas". Over the next few months, when I'm too busy moving or just can't think of anything in particular, I'll just pull one out of there.

Today (I'm too busy packing and getting ready to show our house to be more original), I'm going to toss off a few trivia questions that I used to give at summer schools. I originally gave them to the youth, but soon discovered that they were way too tough for the youth. So then I gave them to the adults, but they were way too tough for the adults. So then I just gave them for the fun of it.

I'm going to put 9 of them here today, with 3 bonus ones for fun. The answers will be posted as a comment (oh, not that I think you'd cheat, or anything, dear Reader, but just to make it easier for you to print and share with your friends).

I posted another one as a facebook status the other day and got some fun feedback on it. It was, "Which of the following is NOT a Letter of the Living: Sa-id-Hindi, Mulla Mahmud-Khu'i, Mulla Jalil-i-Urumi, or Jan-Eff-Kennedi?" I still find it culturally fascinating that one individual actually found it offensive. Thank God for diversity.

So without any further ado, here is my first round of trivia questions:

1. In the Kitab-i-Iqan (see, I even tell you where to find the answer. Isn't that nice of me?), about whom does Baha'u'llah say, "But for him, God would not have been established upon the seat of His mercy, nor ascended the throne of eternal glory"?

2. Spell the Right of God in Arabic. (It sounds something like Huh-Koo-Cue-Luh)

3. 'Abdu'l-Baha gave the name "'Abdu'l-Baha" to two people. One was Himself. Who was the other?

4. When did the Siege of the Shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi, or the Mazindaran Upheaval, take place?

5. Name the only book written by Shoghi Effendi.

6. In the message from the Universal House of Justice commonly referred to as "The Promise of World Peace", what is the first line?

7. Name the 3 people buried in the building referred to as "The Shrine of the Bab". (Extra bonus, name the2 buried in the Shrine of Baha'u'llah)

8. What are the 3 spiritual weapons named by the Guardian in The Advent of Divine Justice?

9. Name the 7 Valleys, in order.

And 3 bonus questions:

10. Name 5 Letters of the Living

11. Name 5 Hands of the Cause appointed by the Guardian.

12. Name 5 member of the Universal House of Justice.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ridvan 2010 Message - Take 5

There is nothing quite as exciting as studying the Writings with someone else. My friend, Samuel, and I get together a few times a week to study the Kitab-i-Iqan, but have recently put that on hold in order to study this Ridvan message. Today, we had a few questions for each other and have become very excited about what we feel we learned.

First of all, in paragraph 4, there is a reference to "the illustrative example in Book 6 of the Ruhi Institute". Obviously this is a reference to what has become known as "Anna's presentation". That was an easy one.

But then came the first phrase in paragraph 5, "The significance of this develpoment..."  Which development?

Ah, that was when it became interesting.

We believe that it refers to paragraph 4. "Whether the first contact... elicits an invitation for them to enrol... is not an overwhelming concern. More important is that every soul feel welcome to join" us in trying to better society. This is such an important development. To start, it shows a greater understanding of the first quote in the Ruhi books: "The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct."

You don't have to be a member of the Baha'i community to help better the world.

Many people, both within and without the community, have felt that you had to join first and then help better society. Now we understand that we can encourage everyone to help better society and that will have the secondary effect of seeing some people enrol, but that "is not an overwhelming concern".

This shift in perspective, the knowledge that every one can help better society, is significant. It leads to greater unity, for we no longer have an "us and them" mentality, and helps us "consort with the followers of all religions".

The realization that this was a new paradigm was very uplifting. Of course, it did not take away the importance of confirming people who are ready to enrol, nor diminsh the importance of direct teaching, but rather placed it a healthier framework that leads to greater unity.

Then we moved on to paragraph 6. "Within this context..."

Uh oh. What context?

Back we went to paragraph 5.

"Those who serve in these settings... would rightly view their work in terms of community building." This is "a process that seeks to raise capacity within a population."

Ah, given that context, that of community building as opposed to one of conversion, the rest of the paragraph made far more sense.

As you know, and as I feel obligated to repeat, this is all my own opinion, and is nothing official. I may be way off base, but this my read of it. If I've made any gross errors, please feel free to write me with corrections.

In paragraph 6, they give us the definition we've all been waiting for: recpetivity. In the context of community building, someone who is receptive is willing "to participate in the process of community building set in motion by the core activities." In other words, if we are looking for a receptive neighbourhood, it will be one in which you can invite people to help us teach children, or whatever else we are doing, and they will say "yes".

Ifwe see our job as building community, helping raise a new civilization, then this only makes sense. A receptive person wants to help do this.

"...The task before (us) this coming year is to teach within one or more receptive populations..." To put it in simpler terms, our job is to work within neighbourhoods where the local people are willing to do some of the work. We are, in short, there to help them raise a new civilization.

Oh, and while we do this, we need to be "employing a direct method in (our) exposition of the fundamentals of (our) Faith..." They need to be aware of where we receive our inspiration and guidance. It's only fair.

By this point, Samuel and I were just buzzing. Then we got to paragraph 7. "To meet this challenge..."

Which challenge?

"...Teaching within one or more receptive populations..."

"To meet this challenge" of "teaching within one or more receptive populations", we need to "strengthen the institute process".

As an indiviudal, I can do that by tutoring, and helping train other tutors. I can also do this by working with the participants. When we are told to study a prayer with a friend, I can ask the participants if they have someone in mind. "Would you like me to join you?" This sense of joining people in their practices is another major development, as I mentioned previously. It is also referred to in paragraph 19.

But now, instead of the old style of deepening, this new paradigm that has come into being in the past decade is more outward looking. Rather than asking people to come into our tiny little circle of friends studying in someone's living room, we are going out there and meeting people "in the field of service" where "knowledge is tested, questions arise out of practs, and new levels of understanding are achieved."

Even in the summer schools, I am seeing a practice component. We are at a new level of development.

And it is so exciting.

I would love to write more, but I have to go and pick up my son from school.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ridvan 2010 Message - Take 4

I find the structure of the letters from the Universal House of Justice fascinating. They always seem to begin by telling  us what we have achieved, continue by re-framing what we think we know, and then telling us what we need to do. They also always end with a loving paragraph of great encouragement. Come to think of it, this also defines the structure of the letters from the Guardian.

In this particular one, we move through the introduction, the re-framing, and right into 6 paragraphs about the institute process. This process, or method of learning, is so important that nearly 20% of letter is dedicated to it.

From there, we move into paragraphs 13 through 15, which all deal with classes for the spiritual education of children.

It seems to me, reading into this letter, that there may have been a bit of dichotomy once again showing up in some parts of the world, and the Universal House of Justice, through mercy and wisdom, is guiding us through this into a state of unity.

They point out that there have been two types of classes prevalent in the world. The first is one that has arisen out of an effective type of class that was traditional in Iran. This has been offered to Baha'i children, with a focus on basic Baha'i teachings and history. It was also systematic, from grade to grade, and regular in occurance. The obvious advantage to this has been generations of stalwart believers. The disadvantage has been a traditionally smaller class size.

The second type of class has been more open to the greater community. The advantage has been high numbers. The disadvantage has been irregularity of classes, and a lack of coherent curriculum from grade to grade.

The wonderful development which they are pointing out is an increasing merging of these two types of classes.

I remember one friend of mine was just beginning a children's class in her home, and she was so nervous about mentioning Baha'u'llah or 'Abdu'l-Baha. She thought she might just remove the stories of the Central Figures from the curriculum offered in Ruhi Book 3, or in some other curricula she found.  "Why", I asked, "would you do that?"

"Because people freak out when they hear about religion. I think they'll pull their children if they hear about the Central Figures."

"Would you be concerned if you told stories of Gandhi? Or Martin Luther King, Jr?"

"Oh no, of course not."

"Why not?"

"Well, everyone knows them. They were good, moral people who helped..." And she trailed off.

"Exactly. And so are the Master and the Blessed Beauty. I don't think people will be scared away by hearing stories about Them. I think they'll be scared away by being told that they must become Baha'i. Or worse, that their children must become Baha'i. So just tell the stories to exemplify the point of your class. Leave the rest up to them."

By simply trying it, including Baha'i history and teachings in a direct manner, just like she did with her all-Baha'i class, she found out that the families were far more comfortable than she thought they would  be. To me, this was a perfect example of including the strengths of each of these types of classes: the history and teachings, open to all.

What I have found sad is when I hear of Baha'i parents who had taken their children out of the second type of class because "it didn't have enough Baha'i material". Why not? I mean, why wasn't there Baha'i material in the class in the first place?

Fortunately, this has been corrected in every case I have heard of. Oh sure, it required a lot of consultation between the parents and the teachers, usually with the help of the local institutions, but they did consult. And solutions were found. In almost every case the problem was due to fear on the part of the teacher, and a lack of trust on the part of the concerned parent. Open communication, looking at the spiritual principles, diving into the Writings, and a bit of actual experience solved every single case.

Now we just need to work on regularity.

That has been the challenge with my own classes, the ones in my neighbourhood.

We have the children. Check.

The children are from diverse backgrounds. Check. (Hmm. I'm not sure you could get more diverse, but I won't go into that here.)

They hear about the stories of the Faith. Check.

They pray and memorize quotes. Check.

They meet at least once a week. Check. (Although I do wish they'd be more often.)

They go year round. Hmm. Not check. These classes follow the school year here, from October to June.

In the class I'm thinking of, the children regularly attend nearly every week for nine months. Now, that's fantastic. It really is the odd time that any of them miss a class. In fact, most of them get together a second day each week for a home schooling class, and this one is taught in rotation between all the parents, half of whom are not Baha'i. This is such a wonderful development.

But it wasn't easy. And it still isn't easy. My friend, Svetlana, does a tremendous amount of work putting together the classes for these children (I have to give credit where it's due), and she is awesome at always sending home a letter to the parents explaining what each class covered. She has single-handedly brought together the families involved in this class.

I am reminded of a quote from the Master about children's classes. We always read about how wonderful this service is, and how important it is. But He also gives us a warning and a caution: "If this activity is well organized, rest thou assured that it will yield great results. Firmness and steadfastness, however, are necessary, otherwise it will continue for some time, but later be gradually forgotten. Perseverance is an essential condition. In every project firmness and steadfastness will undoubtedly lead to good results; otherwise it will exist for some days, and then be discontinued."

In other words, it ain't easy. Organizing and teaching children's classes require a great deal of firmeness and steadfastness, patience and perseverence. I'm so glad that there are others in the community to help. I cna't imagine doing it alone.

And this is perhaps why the Universal House of Justice, in this letter, is seeming to ask the International Teaching Centre to "give special consideration to the implementation of Baha'i children's classes."

Perhaps the incredible strides we have made forward in the other areas of the Faith will now be seen in this area, with the concentrated assistance and guidance from the ITC. It is, after all, "a requisite of the community-building process gathering momentum in neighbourhoods and villages." And, as they caution us, it is "a demanding task, one that calls for patience and cooperation on the part of parents and institutions alike." Seems like we've heard that caution from somewhere else.

Oh, and once again we are guided to make it our own, not just to see whatever comes out of the Ruhi curriculum as a script. Although we are given the hope of more course outlines for the different grade of classes, they refer to it as "the core of a programme for the spiritual education of children, around which secondary elements can be organized." In other words, like Anna's presentation, this is not a script to be followed in every class in the world. Every country, town, neighbourhood, and even each child, is unique. Like the teaching work, we need to understand the underlying logic and use it to teach souls.

But until we get those outlines, we just need to do our best. And when we do that, with the guidance and assistance of the World Centre, we will learn even more about how to do it better.

So if there are any members of the International Teaching Centre who are reading this, and want to accompany me, feel free to come on by.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ridvan 2010 Message - Take 3

We really love our dichotomies. Oh, and I don't mean Baha'is, specifically, I mean humans, in general. We really seem to thrive in the "A or B" scenario, and panic a little when confronted with the "A and B" reality.

So much of this Ridvan Message seems to talk about that. In fact, so much of the guidance from the Baha'i World Centre seems to be trying to move us away from this mindset, which is, ultimately, very limiting.

When they speak about the activities we do to aid in community building, this is an issue that they address. Many of us seem to feel that if it is an activity that Baha'is have begun, you must be Baha'i to take part and help. Of course, we know this is not true, so the Universal House of Justice addresses it in this message.

I remember going to a community gathering, shortly after my experience in Toronto, and talking about inviting parents in a neighbourhood to help us with the children's classes. "We're doing some gatherings for children, to help them learn how to use spiritual principles to make the world a better place. Would you like to help?"

Of course, the objections in that gathering rose swiftly and loudly. "They're not Baha'i. What if they want to teach something we don't agree with?" On and on those objection went. Naturally this was just a... well, natural response, a reflex, if you will. Once they saw the simplicity of it, and recognized that we Baha'is, by ourselves, will not make much of a dent, then they were fully supportive. Also, by not fighting it there in that meeting, and just bringing a few people who were willing to try it, experience became the best teacher of all.

Bizarre aside for the day: A few years ago I had the bounty of serving as Regional Coordinator for the Baha'i Institute in my region. It was probably one of the most demanding jobs I've ever had, as well as the most rewarding. My hat is off to all those who serve in that capacity today. Anyways, there I was, serving in that capacity and sitting in on an Assembly meeting. When asked what other activities I was doing in my own life, I happened to mention a deepening I was conducting on some text or another. When I mentioned this, one of the members of the Assembly, whom I considered to be the best tutor in the region, looked astonished.

"Deepening," he cried. "Don't you know we don't have deepenings anymore? We have study circles, instead."

I was stunned. There was my old friend, the dichotomy, once again, rearing its ugly head.

A short time after that, just before the World Centre said that if we weren't doing the practices in the institute courses it was as if we hadn't done the courses themselves, it became obvious that the tutors were missing that vital component in their groups. To aid them in implementing those practices (like reading the Writings every morning and evening, or studying a prayer with a friend), I printed them all on a sheet, with a cover letter explaining how important they were. This same tutor came to a tutor's gathering and effectively tossed the sheet aside saying, "Where do these come from?" "From the Ruhi books." And I showed him where they were. He had never notice them.

My internal reaction to that unfortunate experience made me realize the extreme patience that those dear souls in the World Centre have, and how far I have to go.

But back to this Ridvan message and the institute process. Paragraphs 7 - 12 all seem to address this engine of entry by troops.

Our challenge, as stated in paragraph 6, is to find a receptive population (if you're in an area with an intensive program of growth) and work with those souls "to begin a process of collective transformation".

To do this, we need to "strengthen the institute process".

Now this is where the dichotomy sometimes comes in. There are those friends who seem to believe that this is in exclusion of deepening: not the case. "...Local deepening classes, winter and summer schools, and specially arranged gatherings in which individual believers knowledgeable in the writings were able to share with others insights into specific subjects... will... continue to hold a place in the collective life of the community." Two sentences merged to convey the explicit point, but there it is. They are still valid forms of study that have a place in our community. If the Ruhi Books don't quite do it for you, continue with these other methods of study. But don't attack them or put them down, for they work for the majority of the friends. In the same way, if you love the Ruhi Books, don't deride these other forms of study. They are valid and very effective. We can support them all, while taking part in our own preferred one.

There is no dichotomy.

One other point, and an extremely important one at that, is the very next sentence in the message. "But understanding the implications of the Revelation, both in terms of individual growth and social progress, increases manifold when study and service are joined and carried out concurrently." Too often have I heard, or read, about those who say they prefer a schoolroom setting as opposed to this 'around the dinner table' setting, making it appear that they differ somehow. Or I have heard others who say that they prefer a lecture to this discussion stuff. Again, fine.

But let's not forget that when we look at schools and universities, there is usually a practical component. I mean, would you want a doctor who got their degree without ever doing their residency? Would you trust a surgeon who only ever studied through a book, without ever having touched a real body before? Not me.

Here in the study circles, the Universal House of Justice points out a number of various elements that make the learning that much more effective. The tutors are challenged to "provide the environment that is... conducive to the spiritual empowerment of individuals, who will come to see themselves as active agents of their own learning, as protagonists of a constant effort to apply knowledge to effect individual and collective transformation." On another level, "the coordinator must bring both practical experience and dynamism to his or her efforts..."

And the best way to do all this? Accompaniment. We're right back to that powerful word, which makes the evolution in our collective consciousness discernable. (OK, most of that should be in quotes, but I'm not sure where to put them.) The Coordinator accompanies the tutor, who accompanies the participant, who accompanies the one they are teaching.

Through this simple model of demonstration, we can show how there are none of these dichotomies that we so love to try and defend.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ridvan 2010 Message - Take 2

A few of us have read this message together now, and we are all astonished at its vision and clarity. As I mentioned yesterday, the first point that really hit me was how much more important it is that people feel welcome to join us in helping better society without feeling the pressure of becoming Baha'i.

A second point that really stands out for me is the recognition that what we are doing is helping build capacity within a given area, or amongst a given people, to more effectively engage in collective transformation.

This point really became clear to me when I was in Toronto, working with the friends there in one of their expansion phases. (Remember, as I presume we are all Baha'i, I generally also presume that we are all aware of such terms. Just in case you are not, we have found that 3-month cycles of activity have made the work we are doing far more approachable and effective. The first few weeks of that cycle are called the expansion phase, where we reach into a neighbourhood and find those souls who are eager to assist in transforming the character of their community. Most of the rest of the cycle is concerned with training and working alongside them, helping raise the vision of what a healthy community looks like, as shown in the Baha'i Writings. Naturally, we don't presume that we have a complete grasp of what Baha'u'llah has shown us, so we are learning right alongside everyone else)

In Toronto, it became very clear (and this is a few years ago by now) that we saw a lot more success when we asked people if they were interested in helping us, rather just saying what we were doing. If we found ourselves speaking of children's classes, or as the Universal House of Justice says, "classes that nurture the tender hearts and minds of children", asking if the parents or older siblings wanted to help us brought many more people into the process. Of course, as they actually did work with us, many of them asked for training to become better teachers, and we were very happy to provide that as needed, being careful to learn from their experience, too.

All of this leads to another observation in the Ridvan Message that caught my attention. They don't just speak of asking others to help us, they place that desire in a context. They inform us that the "task before (us)" is to "find those souls longing to shed the lethargy imposed on them by society".

Remember, the Guardian talks of "the apathy and lethargy that paralyze their spiritual faculties" and speaks of these as "among the formidable obstacles that stand in the path of" our collective service to humanity. Many people want to help, but don't know how. They long to be of service, but can't see the steps that would be effective. As their vision of an effective path fades, they find themselves depressed and lacking the motivation to move. They are overcome by indifference and apathy. I'm sure we've all seen this way too often, if not even experienced it. At least, I know I have.

In paragraph 10, the Universal House of Justice points out another problem, giving, of course, a solution, too. They observe that "Passivity is bred by the forces of society today. A desire to be entertained is nurtured from childhood... cultivating generations willing to be led by whoever proves skilful at appealing to superficial emotions." I'm sure we all have seen this and recognize the overwhelming truth of it. Fortunately, they also show us that this culture we have developed, "which promotes a way of thinking, studying, and acting, in which all consider themselves as treading a common path of service" is the solution. It is this culture of "supporting one another and advancing together, respectful of the knowledge that each one possesses at any given moment and avoiding the tendency to divide (ourselves) into categories such as deepened and uninformed" that makes the difference. "Therein", they say, "lie the dynamics of an irrepressible movement."

It really sheds a new light on what the Master may have meant when He said, "Give thou the glad-tidings in a manner which shall set afire souls that are in lethargy..." Perhaps we are finally discovering what this "manner" may be.

Come to think of it, it also gives me a new understanding of how we can partake of the attribute of God, "the most manifest of the manifest and the most hidden of the hidden". I remember so vividly going through a neighbourhood, "calling upon the residents of a home without prior notice", with a member of our beloved National Spiritual Assembly. Sometimes I would speak, other times he would speak. It didn't matter. We were both strangers there, accompanying one another as we walked this path of service and helped the people in that neighbourhood arise to serve their community.

At that moment, the National Assembly was more real to me than it had ever been in my life. Yet, this member was in no way domineering, or acting as if he knew what we were doing better than I did. We were both learning. At least so I thought. We reflected after each encounter with another person, speaking plainly about what went well and how we could improve the next encounter. The National Assembly, in my eyes, was truly manifest in that experience, and yet, by allowing me to learn from our shared experience, it was also hidden, taking a background seat as I learned for myself. Even though it was only a single member, and not all 9 as a body, it still had the impact of making that institution more felt.

Perhaps this is why, in paragraph 19, the Universal House of Justice says that awareness of this accompaniment "signals the significant strengthening of a culture in which learning is the mode of operation".

Since that time, a few years ago, when members of the National Spiritual Assembly walked with us in the field, not as generals above, but seemingly as privates there in the trenches, I have witnessed members of our Regional Baha'i Council do the same. I have also been in many cities where the members of the local Spiritual Assemblies are also doing the same thing. In one community that was just taking its first baby-steps in this process, I didn't even realize that the members of the local Assembly were there. Oh, sure, I knew all of them by name and face, but I had no clue that they were the members of that esteemed institution, they were so humble.

This is so different from what I saw when I first enrolled in the Faith. I mean, not the humility, that was always there, but this sense of presence. Sure, I knew the members of my Assembly way back then, and saw them at all the Feast and stuff, but there was still a sense of distance.

No longer.

I now truly feel the presence of these institutions and feel as if, in some meager way, I am able to contribute to what they are learning about the teaching work. And by recognizing the importance of this, I am better able to model that behaviour with those who are hearing about the Faith for the first time.

This testifies, not to my own strength or maturity, but to that of my Assembly and Baha'i Council. As testified by the Universal House of Justice, an Assembly's "strength must be measured, to a large extent, by the vitality of the spiritual and social life of the comunity it serves - a growing community that welcomes the constructive contributions of both those who are formally enrolled and those who are not."

This makes me feel so uplifted, so confident and humble before my Creator, Who put all of this into place. And has so patiently waited for us to realize it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ridvan 2010 Message, Take 1

I knew it.

Last night when I saw the Ridvan Message in my inbox, I just knew that all my plans for the next few weeks of writing would go out the window. Well, they did. Almost. I actually planned on writing about this message today. I just had no idea what it would be about. (In fact, I didn't know that they would talk about direct teaching when I wrote about that yesterday, but then again, it shouldn't surprise me.)

There I was, checking my e-mail, when I saw the message come in. I ran upstairs and printed it off, grateful to be receiving it earlier than I expected. As I walked back downstairs, my heart was beating fast, realizing that I was holding the latest guidance from the Supreme Institution, guidance that would guide the planet for the next year, or longer.

When I sat down, before I could read more than even a single paragraph, I found that I just had to say a prayer of gratitude.

Then I began reading.

"With hearts filled with admiration for the followers of Baha'u'llah..."

Oh, how those simple words made me smile.

It all begins with the heart, and how wonderful it is that we, as a global Baha'i community, have been able to do something to fill those dear hearts with admiration. What more could we possibly ask for?

I truly believe that we could little better than follow their example of bowing "our heads in gratitude to God" and giving thanks.

From here, I could easily go on and look at each paragraph, or sentence, and trace the development of themes and ideas, but what I really feel moved to do is look at just a few simple ideas that stand out.

In the fourth paragraph, when looking at what has come to be called Anna's presentation in Ruhi Book 6, they point out, in a language so beautiful and touching, a very important point.  "Where the logic underlying that presentation is appreciated, and the urge to convert it into a formula overcome, it gives rise to a conversation between two souls..."

Doesn't that just describe the truth of the teaching process? First, recognizing the need for a logical progression from one idea to the next, and not merely reducing it to the level of a script. This makes the person you are talking to important, instead of only being an audience. But then, look at that last phrase - "a conversation between two souls". That is the reality. Isn't it?

We are not just talking to people, or even worse, a sub-category of people, like "the poor", but to actual living souls. When we keep that in mind, when we truly see the one with whom we are conversing as another soul, how can we fail to to talk about spiritual matters? We always speak at the level of the spirit, for that is what we are: spirit.

At the end of that same paragraph, they make another point that literally brought tears to my eyes. They write, "Whether the first contact with such newly found friends elicits an invitation for them to enrol in the Baha'i community or to participate in one of its activities is not an overwhelming concern. More important is that every soul feel welcome to join the community in contributing to the betterment of society..."
To reiterate, "it is not an overwhelming concern" if we invite them to enrol, or join in our core activities. Instead, what is of greater concern is that we make sure they feel welcome to join us in our various efforts to better society.

But our real concern, as far as I can tell, is helping them to develop their spiritual capacities and become active agents of change. You see, once we recognize the spiritual nature of people, then we are concerned about their growth, not their name.

Now this is not to say that we are not concerned about their spiritual growth, or that we don't want to extend the invitation to them to enrol, if they recognize Baha'u'llah as a Messenger of God. Quite the contrary. If they recognize, we should hasten to invite them to join us as members of the Community of the Most Great Name. (You can tell by the language of that previous sentence that I just read a message from the Universal House of Justice.)

They speak of this so beautifully in paragraph 26 (the one that begins "In this long-term process...), "No greater joy is there, to be sure, than for a soul, yearning for the Truth, to find shelter in the stronghold of the Cause and draw strength from the unifying power of the Covenant. Yet every human being and every group of individuals, irrespective of whether they are counted among His followers, can take inspiration from His teachings, benefiting from whatever gems of wisdom and knowledge will aid them in addressing the challenges they face."

And finally, for today, in the last paragraph, they sum it all up with "love".

"All of the developments examined in the preceding pages are, at the most profound level, but an expression of universal love achieved through the power of the Holy Spirit. For is it not love for God that burns away all veils of estrangement and division and binds hearts together in perfect unity?"

This is such a different vision of faith (as opposed to religion) than is common in society today, where too many see religion (as opposed to faith) as a means of discord, aggression and terror.

Once again, the Universal House of Justice has clarified our vision and set our goals higher than we previously thought possible. I don't know about you, but my heart is filled with admiration for those servants on that mighty Institution, and I bow my head in gratitude to God for giving us this body under which we all march together.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Direct Method and Invitations

It is that time of year. No, not that one, THAT one. Ridvan is coming up faster than I can imagine and my thoughts are fixed steadfastly on the upcoming celebrations and the forthcoming Ridvan message.

This is something I look forward to every year and am doubly excited about this one. It looks to be transforming. Once again.

You may remember, way back in 1996, the Universal House of Justice set us on a course of Plans destined to carry us to the year 2021. That was a transforming message, with its clarification of the roles of the individual, the institutions and the community. The next few messages tweaked or adjusted the path until the end of that 4 year plan.

Then came the Ridvan 2000 message. This was another transforming message, with its epic look at the role of children within the community, and the observation of the attitudes which adults must take towards them. It is also the message that really pulled out the junior youth from that overarching label of children.

After that was the Ridvan 2001 message, following up on the letter to the Counsellors dated 9 January 2001.  This was when we saw the clustering of the world.

I could go on and talk about when the three core activities were brought to our attention, and later expanded to four, but you know all this.

One thing that really stands out in my mind over the past few years, as we've continued to develop the process of entry by troops, is the concept of direct teaching. It seems like we've come a long way in our understanding of what it is, what it means, and how to do it.

Before going on, it is probably best if we look at the Guardian's definition of the direct method of teaching. He calls it "an open and bold assertion of the fundamental verities of the Cause", as opposed to a method that is more cautious. In short, it is being forthright as we teach.

I remember one study circle in which, as the tutor, I was asked how I invite people to join the Faith. Naturally, I turned this back on the participants and asked them how they did it. The general consensus was that they didn't. "I'm too nervous," was the average response.

It seemed that they felt it was imposing and possibly offensive. With the gears in my brain turning, powered by the prayers we had said earlier, I silently offered up my favorite prayer for that sort of circumstance. Confident in my ability to memorize such powerful words, I repeated them out to the cosmos, without a sound, so as not to shake the confidence of the group. "Oh God, HELP!"

I looked down at my coffee cup, back up at the group, at the cup again, and once more to the group.

The names in the following have been changed to protect the innocent. Besides, I have no clue which study circle it was, nor who said what.

"John," I asked, "how would you feel about inviting me for coffee?"

He looked at me with a puzzled glance and said, "What, now?"

"Yes, just pretend you're inviting me. What would you say?"

"Uhm, Mead? Would you like to go for coffee?" It was a pretty weak invitation. Hesitant and unsure. I didn't feel that he really wanted me to go with him. And I said so.

"Maria?" I turned my attention to another in the group. "Can you invite me? I mean, come on. I really want someone to invite me out for coffee."

"Well, sure Mead. I'd love to go for coffee with you. Will you join me?"

Now I felt loved. I truly felt as if she wanted to go for coffee with me, and the group felt it, too. We practiced inviting each other for coffee for a while, and then moved on to dinner. I don't think I have ever heard so many dinner invitations in so short a time, except maybe at a Baha'i conference.

"So, Peter," I said, randomly turning to another, "would you like to become a member of the Baha'i community?"

And everything stopped cold.

Except for Peter. He just smiled and said, "Sure. I'd love to."

As the recipient of that invitation, he said, and only because I asked him, that he felt no pressure in that question. He felt no offense.

"Can you imagine," I asked the group, "anyone feeling offended if you invite them for coffee? Or dinner? Why do you think they might feel offended if you ask them if they wish to join you in the Baha'i community? As you long as you are loving, inviting, and putting no pressure or judgement in your invitation, there is no reason at all for them to take offense. Remember, this person is a friend who knows you and trusts you. Be confident in that."

I'm not sure, but I think that was probably the first time in my life that I really gave thought to the idea of actually inviting someone to become a part of the Baha'i community.

Oops, here's an unexpected aside. It was just a few days later that I was sitting in an Assembly meeting (I was given the bounty of being able to serve on an Assembly for a short time) when this institution was meeting with a new Baha'i who had just moved into our community. Out of love and courtesy, they also invited her husband, who was not a Baha'i.

Amidst the conversation, in which we got to know all about her, the Chair turned to her husband, and asked him a bit about himself.

After telling us that he was a schoolteacher, and where he grew up, he then added in, "And I've taken Ruhi Books 1 and 2, but haven't had a chance yet to enrol."

The Chair then asked him about his teaching work, and if he had a job yet at a local school.

"Wait a minute," I blurted out. "Did you just say that you hadn't had a chance yet to enrol?"

The Assembly members, including myself, were shocked that I had interupted so rudely. But this good man just calmly said, "Yeah."

"Would you like to become a member of the Baha'i community?" I just had to ask. I had no choice in the matter. My heart would not let it be unasked.

"Yes," was his reply.

And so I got out a declaration card from my prayer book and handed it to him. The Assembly then had the bounty of meeting with another new Baha'i in our community that evening.

Oh, and there's another aside. Wow, this article is just going from one to another faster than I can imagine.

I was visiting this town with a friend of mine, and a former-Counsellor-from-the-World-Centre was there giving a fireside. At the beginning of the fireside, he asked who there was not Baha'i. He asked this in such a simple manner that none were felt imposed upon by it. He said that he was curious so that he would better know who his audience was.

Two people raised their hands. They were the only ones who were not Baha'i. The speaker then casually asked the first guy why he wasn't a Baha'i. The question was not judgemental in any way, and it was fully evident that no offense was taken. The question was answered with an evasive response, and it was clear that this man didn't know why he wasn't Baha'i.

That was when the questions got a bit more intense.

"Do you think Baha'u'llah is a Messenger from God?" That was the final question.

"Yes, I do," was the surprising response.

From there the speaker got serious. He said that this was the only time that he got concerned for others: when they recognize but do not openly declare. He said that in the Writings, the heart is likened to an eye, and that when it sees the light, it either opens up to receive as much light as it can, or else it closes against it.

He spoke with such conviction, and such love, and then asked the man to really consider if he truly believed Baha'u'llah was a Messenger of God, why not declare his faith.

The long and short of it is that the man did enrol, but then it was discovered that there were no enrolment cards in the house. That was when I got out my prayer book and gave him one. I always have at least one in my prayer book.

After that wonderful experience, he then turned to the second person who raised their hand and asked her why she wasn't a Baha'i. Even though it would have been so easy for her to feel undue pressure, especially after someone else had just enrolled, he made sure that she felt none.

"Because," she said, "I don't know enough about Baha'u'llah to decide."

"Wonderful!" he exclaimed. "That is the perfect reason for not enrolling. Keep studying, ask your heartfelt questions, and when you feel that He is Who He says He is, then declare your faith without any hesitation."

I want to write more right now, especially about a teaching project I joined in Toronto, but for now I'll leave it here. Perhaps tomorrow I'll be able to write more.

So, for now, I'm really looking forward to the Ridvan message this year. I suspect there will be quite a bit to write about. And I'm sure, dear Reader, that you will be able to correct my understanding of what we are being guided to do this year.

Until then, have a happy Ridvan.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Two Incidents of Race

A few years ago I was invited to give a talk to a group that was not exactly known for its pleasant attitude towards unity and people with a different skin tone then themselves. To be honest, it wasn't really me that was invited. I was the runner up. The person they wanted wasn't available that weekend and they seemed to like what I had said over the phone. So I got to go.

I don't really know the whole story of the invitation, but from what I understand this group had been in the news recently for their less-than-pleasant attitudes, otherwise known as "racist perspective". To try and get some good PR, they invited me, a Baha'i, to talk about unity. And so I went.

I was kindly offered police protection, which I declined, as I do not believe that you can work for peace and prepare for war at the same time, to quote a famous historical person.

When I got there, I took a day to look around. There were a few things that stood out about this town, very positive things, and that is what I decided to address. (If my wife were telling this story, she'd tell you the part of the country, the name of the group and all those other details, but I prefer to make it more anonymous. Sorry.)

When it was time for the talk, they gave me a very nice introduction (although they knew very little about me, and even less about how unqualified I was to give such a talk). The audience seemed underwhelmed. Although the hall was pretty full, it really felt as if they did not want to be there.

I was also certain that they expected me to tell them what idiots they were for their attitude.

And so I began to talk about their town. I praised the medical centre that they had established, as well as the school and orphanage. I spoke of the beauty of the park and went on at length about the beauty of their homes. From there, I explained that I lived in Canada, much further north than where we were, and how our gardens just do not get the same variety of flowers that I saw there.

And that was what I spoke about for the next half hour: the beauty of the flowers in their gardens.

I'm sure you can guess the analogy I was alluding to, but I never went there. I only spoke about the flowers. On and on about the flowers. I talked about how boring my garden was, with only one type of flower, and how much I loved looking at all the different types of flowers in theirs.

I don't need to go on any more here, because I know you get the point. They seemed to, also. Slowly and appreciatively. It was incredible as they took no offense. All I could keep in mind was the advice from Baha'u'llah to speak with "words as mild as milk".

But that's not really what I wanted to write about.

No, what I wanted to mention was something that occurred a few years after that. I had forgotten all about it until just this morning.

I was visiting a community, a fairly large community, and decided to attend the Feast at their local Baha'i Centre. My memory says that there were about a thousand people there, but I'm sure my memory is exaggerating.


It was really full.

The consultation topic was all about the race unity movement and how they (or we) could further it. It was a vibrant consultation, with many wonderful points thrown in and lots of strategies upon which they could act. It was a model of consultation.

Then came the social portion. For some reason, during the switch from the adminstrative to the social portion, I decided to step back and watch.

They broke into perfectly seperated racial groups. The White folk were in one corner. The African-Americans in another. Persian friends were over there, with another racial group over yonder. It was astonishingly precise in its segregation.

I was stunned.

Now, I am fairly White in my complexion, so I decided to try and approach one of the "other" groups. I couldn't get a word in edgewise. It seemed as if I was shouldered out. So I tried another one, and the same thing happened again.

At that point, I moved over to a wall and leaned against it, alone with my thoughts.

After a moment or two, a man slipped up next to me, silent as he watched the same sight. We spoke for a few minutes about what we were witnessing, almost confirming what we saw. I told him of my experience in trying to break in to one of the groups, and he contemplated the meaning of it.

It turned out that he was an Auxiliary Board member for Protection and was there to verify the reports of this. Evidently he was able to talk with the community about it, explaining it as a simple habit of which they were unaware. Once it was brought to their attention, they were able to successfully address it within a couple of months.

So why am I bringing both of these incidents up in the same article? Simple really. It showed me the difference between these two communities, and how within the Baha'i Faith we have the tools to address these issues in a meaningful way. We also have the volition.

I don't know the full results of my short talk in that first community, nor do I know what was said in the second community. But I do know that in the first one, the racist attitude was conscious, and in the second it was accidental. I didn't do anything to really address either situation, but was blessed to be present and witness each. They really stood in contrast to each other.

So, dear Reader, if you happen to find yourself watching something that seems at odds with the Teachings within a Baha'i community, I think we can presume that it is not conscious. A simple conversation with the right institution will almost always take care of it.

Hmm. I just love being a member of this community.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Gift

I wasn't really expecting to write anything else today. I thought I'd just enjoy a nice sunny afternoon before climbing into a car for a few hours. Really, I did.

But as we all know, we make our own plans, and God makes His. Sometimes I think it's bit more straightforward than that: We make our plans and God just laughs.

So what happened that changed my plan? I'm glad you asked. I can always count on you, dear Reader, to pick up on these cues.

As we were driving earlier today, I told my son that I was leaving town for a few days.

This is not something unusual. It seems like either my wife or I leave town at least one weekend every month, so he is fairly used to it. But today (I guess it's a Papa day) his lip started to quiver. And let me tell you, watching your five year-old son's lip quiver when he hears that you're going out of town for two days is enough to melt even the toughest of hearts. Well, it melted mine, and that's what counts.

So we talked about it.

I told him that every time I leave town, I am reminded of how much I love him, how much I treasure being with him almost every single day of his life. And in his tiny little voice, he echoed, "Me, too." I told him how much I was looking forward to seeing him again on Sunday.

"But I want to play with you tomorrow. Why are you going?" Now he wasn't on the verge of tears when  he asked this. I thought he would be. But no, he asked this question as just a matter of curiosity, and so I answered him simply and honestly.

"Shoghi," I said, "I am going out of town to try and be of service to Baha'u'llah. I have been asked to serve on an institution of the Faith, and we are meeting this weekend, so I have to be there to offer my contribution."

He asked me some questions about the role of this institution, what the geographical jurisdiction of this body was (no, not in those words), and what the meeting would be like.

So I answered him as simply as I could. I told him a bit about what we would consult on, how I would have to get up early in the morning and sit in a room for most of a 12-hour day. He asked if he could join me, and as much as I wanted to let him, I had to explain how we wouldn't be able to walk around and enjoy the area.

While I answered, he thought about what I was saying. He thought for quite a long time.

"Papa?" came the little voice from the backseat.

"Yes, Shoghi?"

"Can I give Baha'u'llah a gift?"

Where had that little brain of his taken him that he would ask such a beautiful question?

"Of course you can, my sweet. What would you like to give Him?"

"I want to give Him my missing you."

I am so grateful to God that we were at a stoplight when he said that. Even as I type this, I have tears in my eyes at the purity of his heart and the generosity of his gift.

A short trip down memory lane: A few years ago, before Shoghi was born, I was serving as a Regional Coordinator for the Baha'i Institute in my area. This job took me on the road nearly 3 months every year and as a relatively new husband, it was like a torture for my wife. Me, too.

One night, just before a week-long trip, Marielle looked at me, with tears welling up in her eyes, and said that she was going to really miss me. Then she steeled her resolve and informed me that she was going to give up this feeling of missing me on the altar of God, as her gift and contribution to ensure the success of my work.

My admiration for her spirit grew so much in that moment.

Just as my admiration for my son has grown.

I remember that trip after Marielle said that so vividly because I spoke about her sacrifice to the friends at that time. One evening, the last one before I headed home, one of the friends came up to me with a gift. It was a gift for Marielle: a drum. It was a drum he had made, and he wanted to offer it to her as way of saying thanks for encouraging my service.

We still have that drum, and it holds a very special place in our home and in our hearts.

I don't know what will come Shoghi's way, but he has already given me a gift that is beyond compare.

I have no doubt that Baha'u'llah will accept Shoghi's gift in the spirit it was offered, too.

The Heart

Why am I sad about leaving Winnipeg, my home for the past 16 years? Many reasons, and most of them are some very dear friends.

One reason that is not about friends is actually about geography. Winnipeg, if you look on the map, is almost like the heart of Canada, and that means a lot to me.

You see, to me, the heart is very important. It is mentioned over and over again in the Writings, from the sanctifying of our heart that we must do in order to "attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding", to the fact that His "first counsel" is all about the heart. As it is spoken of so often in the Writings, I, too, have written a lot about it.

One thing that is often overlooked is that it is what must be lifted up in order for the whole body to be raised.

For example, get a towel and place it either on the table next to you, or on the ground, or on a bed or some other flat surface where you can spread it out. I'll wait. I'm not going anywhere.

Got it? Good. (Nice colour) Now spread it out. What happens when you lift a corner? The corner raises up. Nifty, but not surprising.

Now what happens when you raise the centre, the heart, the same amount? Everything gathers around it and is raise up, too. There, dear Reader, is a metaphor worth noting. (I know, I know, I just noted it here.)

Raise a corner, and you raise the edge. Raise the heart, and you raise the body.

Have you ever noticed that the Mother Temple of the West is in the heart of the continent? Right there in the middle, on a hill overlooking the water? I do not believe this to be a coincidence.

I think, for it to have the full spiritual impact that it does, it needed to be right there. At the heart of things.

And that is what Winnipeg is, to me. It is in the heart of the country. A bit south, to be sure, but there in the middle.

When writing about the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, the Temple, 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "It forgeth bonds of unity from heart to heart; it is a collective center for men's souls." Once again, it is about the heart and the centre.

For almost my entire life, whether growingup in Chicago, or living here in Winnipeg, I have always lived near the heart of my country. Now I get to move out to the fringes. I wonder what lessons I'll learn out there?

Thursday, April 15, 2010


"Prayer", says 'Abdu'l-Baha, "is conversation with God."
Of all the words in Baha'u'llah and the New Era, these are probably the ones that I remember best. It helps that they were made even more memorable in Ruhi Book 1, Reflections on the Life of the Spirit.

Today, I was reminded of that quote when someone said that they always ask God for something when they pray. "What else can you do?" This was a real heartfelt plea.

The simple answer was to ask, "Why do you pray?"

"Because I need something."

"Why else can you pray?"

The group arose to the occassion and came up with a few more anwers: help, guidance, gratitude, to name just a few.

One person shared the quote, "In the highest prayer, men pray only for the love of God, not because they fear Him or Hell, or hope for bounty or heaven."

Then the question of "conversation" came up. What does it mean to have a conversation? That was when an idea came up that I felt I just had to share here. It really made me think.

"I often talk with my wife," I began. "I could call her right now and ask her to pick up some milk on her way home from work. She would gladly do it. When she gets home I could apologize to her for dropping her favorite bowl and breaking it. And she'd no doubt forgive me. But would either of those conversations help us become closer as a husband and wife? Would we grow to love each other more?"

Nobody thought so, although they did agree that we might grow to resent each other if we didn't have those simple conversations.

We all felt that what really gets us closer, what really keeps us focussed on the same path, is when we tell each other of our love, or discuss spiritual issues together as a couple. This is our joy. This is when we really feel that we grow as a couple.

Our conversations with our Creator can also be like that. Sure, there are times when we need help. My favorite prayer, as you know, is the one that goes, "Oh God, HELP!" And yes, there are times when we need to ask forgiveness (I probably need to do that a lot more than most of you out there). And of course there are those times when we are asking for guidance ("Hmm, should I go to this coffee shop or that one? Where will I meet someone who is interested in hearing about the Faith?").

I have no doubt that God is glad to assist us with each and every one of those prayers, but it is not the same as those loving, heartfelt conversations like the ones where Marielle and I just talk to express our love for each other.
There are many different types of conversations, and they are all important. They all have their place, and we can't neglect any of them, or our relationships with others suffer.
Now I am reminded of Ruhiyyih Khanum, and the time she met with Marcus Bach, just before his famous interview with Shoghi Effendi. They spoke for only a short time, but he said, "She talked as though time and conversation were intended for the deepening of knowledge and faith."
To me, that just sums it up. Time and conversation were created for the deepening of knowledge and faith.
He goes on to say, "...she spoke in the lyrical style of Baha'u'llah Himself, and it was difficult to tell which thoughts were hers and which were His. It was Baha'i philosophy to be sure, but it was presented as though it were her own."
So although this doesn't have to do with prayer, or conversations with my wife, it does have an important point contained within it that I don't want to neglect: Sure we can speak in quotes, quotifying all the time, and never sounding like we have an original thought, but we can also make the Faith our own. We can use our words, sprinkling our conversation with the Holy Writings so that it has greater effect, and the friends with whom we meet know that we are speaking from our heart.
Both are necessary.
We need to constantly deepen our understanding of the Faith so that when we do present, we are presenting the purity of the Faith and not our own mistaken ideas.

W also need to remember to listen when we speak. A conversation is two-way, not just uni-directional. Perhaps this is why the Guardian listed "prayer and meditation" as the first of his five steps of prayer. If our prayer is when we speak to God, meditation is when we listen. But I've spoken at length on this elsewhere.

For now, I need to call my wife. We're out of milk.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Question on Voting

It didn't really come in as a question, but more as a statement. A letter actually. Almost like a thesis. Except that it didn't seem all that well researched.

Basically, it was about voting in Baha'i elections: Aren't there other considerations, besides the ones I listed?

That primary list, again, is as follows:
  • unquestioned loyalty
  • selfless devotion
  • a well-trained mind
  • recognized ability
  • mature experience
 The secondary list is:
  • age distribution
  • diversity
  • gender
While I thought this was rather comprehensive, some questions did arise about qualifications that people inadvertantly seem to use.

One example raised in this letter is the skill of being a gifted speaker. For some reason, it sometimes appears that people are voted in based on their ability to do this.

While this is a very valuable skill, the question arises if it is a sign of a well-trained mind. It may well be, but there are still four other primary factors to consider. I can think of many gifted speakers who do not exhibit mature experience, much less selfless devotion. Remember, Hitler was an astonishingly gifted speaker.

For me, it comes down to the question of how they are using their talents and whether or not their actions are in accord with their words. After all, "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning."

Long overdue aside: This raises another question that has come up over and over again. "Isn't it just enough to live the life? After all," some will say, "the Master said, 'If we are true Bahá'ís speech is not needed'. So why should we teach with words?"

Yes, that may be, is my personal response, but you must look at that quote in context. First, in the context of 'Abdu'l-Baha's life, He wrote continually, and spoke to many thousands of people. If He is the Master, should we not follow that example, as much as we are able? Second, in context of the quote itself, He is talking about those who speak good things, but do not act on their words. This, He says, we must not do. Our actions must show the truth of our words. If we say that we want love and sincerity in the world, then we must be loving and sincere.

Oh, and many people say that it you don't need to believe in God to do good deeds. Well, that is true, but the Master addresses that, also. In Some Answered Questions, He says, "Know that such actions, such efforts and such words are praiseworthy and approved, and are the glory of humanity. But these actions alone are not sufficient; they are a body of the greatest loveliness, but without spirit."

He speaks at length about the importance of tying the love of God to those actions in order to make them "perfect and complete". I often think of it in my own mind as that house that is built without a foundation. It may be beautiful and spacious and wonderful, but it is not complete.

OK, where was I? Oh yes, other criteria people sometimes use for voting.

There is nothing wrong with speaking well. It is a gift that should be used in service to humanity, and in the path of the Faith, but by itself is not enough, to me. Anyone that I would consider voting for (assuming, of course, that there are more than nine or ten eligible people in the area), must have demonstrated a degree of unquestioned loyalty over the past year, or so. They need to have shown some selfless devotion, or at least what I would perceive it to be.(Really, I'm not trying to judge people, just sort out these criteria the best I can.)

Any of the arts on their own, outside of the personal experience of working with someone, do not, in my opinion, demonstrate the qualities needed for a member of an institution of the Faith. They are tools that can be used for the Faith, but are not necessarily good on their own. (Countless musicians and performers, both good and bad, come to mind, to start with.)

Some other criteria that have been mentioned are things such as degrees from universities, or a high position in a good company. To that, I would merely point out that there are many fine examples of people in the history of the Faith who have violated the Covenant who were in those categories. Of course, there are also many fine examples of Hands of the Cause, or members of the Universal House of Justice, who had those qualities, but on their own, again, they are not enough. They must be accompanied by those other attributes mentioned, as well as humility. For it is always the ego that leads one to the violation of the Covenant, and when you speak with those esteemed members of the Universal House of Justice, or read the stories of the Hands of the Cause, you neever see a trace of ego there.

It always seems to come down to the question of character. What virtues are they exhibiting? Are they demonstrating a spiritual life?

In fact, it is just like trying to find a partner in life. You must become thoroughly acquainted with the other person's character. When voting, I believe that you should be at least very well acquainted with the character of the people in your community.

Like all things in the Faith, we need to use the criteria set forth in the Writings, and not those standards that are "current amongst men".

Oh, and a last minute addition - A friend of mine, over coffee, pointed out that there are some who base their vote on how well someone serves the friends. I'm sure this is only a few people, and cannot imagine it being a significant number, but still, I found it interesting. This, once again, is like those people who are gifted public speakers, or well-trained as business managers. They are great qualities and skills, worthy of admiration and appreciation, but they are still not part of the qualities mentioned by the Master or Guardian. I prefer to keep to their list.

But that's just me.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Who are our ancestors? I mean, who are those dear souls from whom we inherited our Faith?

Oh sure, we all know about Mulla Husayn and the Letters of the Living, or people like Thornton Chase, the first Baha'i in North America, but who connects us to them?

My friend, Lucki, took this question and has traced our family tree back to the Master. She found the story of the Rabbi who was taught by 'Abdu'l-Baha, who in turn taught Rezvaniyyih, who shared the Faith with Lucki, who passed it on to me.

But what about all those other stories? Who are those passers of the baton in the middle of our "family " tree, to mix metaphors?

This morning, as I was looking over my bookshelf, I thought about this, and pulled down some old volumes of The Baha'i World. How many of us actually read those old, dusty tomes? Come to think of it, how many of us actually read those scholarly articles in the newer volumes?

I have to tell you, they are one of my favorite reads. In a single volume, number 4 to be precise, you will find articles from Hands of the Cause of God George Townshend, Horace Holley, Keith Ransom-Kehler, Martha Root, and Louis Gregory, before any of them were appointed to that high station. There are also articles by Louis Bourgeois, the architect of the Mother Temple of the West, Lady Blomfield, Stanwood Cobb, and Lydja Zamenhof, just to name a few. There is a tribute to the Faith from China, a history of the Faith in Italy, one from Japan, another from London, still another from Palestine, a pilgrim's report from Bahji, stories of Persian Jews, and still I haven't exhausted what is in it. As I glance through the tables of contents of other early volumes, I am equally impressed by the roster of names, and the locales covered. It is basically a history of the growth of the Faith and a map of its stars.

To anyone who wants to get a better understanding of the development of the Faith as seen through the eyes of those who were living it, there is no better resource than these priceless volumes given to us by the Guardian himself.

One of my favorite sections to read through is the In Memorium. Who are these people, that merited a place in so historic a book? What did they do?

If you take a look at the first volume, you will quickly notice that the first article about someone's passing is that of the Master, Who had died only a couple years earlier. But if we don't count that article, the next one is a memorial of Hand of the Cause of God, John Esselmont.

In Volume 9, 1940 - 1944, there are a number of amazing people remembered there: Hands of the Cause of God John Dunn and 'Abdu'l-Jalil Bey Sa'ad, Haji Mirza Buzurg Afnan 'Ala-i, Howard Colby Ives, Carol Lombard, Alma Knobloch, and many, many more.

As I was reading through them earlier today, one really stood out for me: Mary Revell.

This name stood out to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I knew of Jessie and Ethel from reading the history of the Faith and their incalculable services to the Guardian in the Holy Land. Second, my copy of volume 2 of the Baha'i World is signed by "the Three Revells", and so, being the curious sort, I researched who they were. As near as I could figure it out, the signature refers to Jessie and Ethel, and their mother, Mary.

I never really knew anything of Mary's life until today, when I took a few minutes to read her tribute in that book. I knew that she was an early Baha'i in North America, but never knew anything about her life.

She had been active in her church in Philadelphia when she recognized Baha'u'llah, and this led to active persecution from the minister. In response to this, the Master sent a tablet to the city's believers, in which He wrote, "It is easy to advance toward the Kingdom but it is difficult to remain firm and steadfast." Words that are just as true today as they were when written.

She was a much loved hostess, providing hospitality not only for 'Abdu'l-Baha when He was in Philadelphia, but also for such notable believers as Martha Root, May Maxwell, Keith Ransom-Kehler, and countless others from both the East and the West. Literally hundreds of people heard about the Faith within her walls.

It was of her that the Master said, "This is a firm believer. Her spirit is larger than her body."

There is a wonderful story of her when she was present at the dedication of the Temple grounds by 'Abdu'l-Baha. It seems that a believer  from Persia had requested that she touch the hem of His garment for him. So, the day of the dedication, while there on the grounds, she said a silent prayer that she might fulfill this man's request. No sooner had she breathed this to the heavens than she found 'Abdu'l-Baha standing directly in front of her. "Quietly she touchd the hem of His robe, while thinking of the brother in far-away Persia, and then 'Abdu'l-Baha walked away."

Later, she went to New York to see 'Abdu'l-Baha again. At the end of that visit, she said her farewells to everyone and left with one of her daughters for the train station. Suddenly, her daughter realized that she had left her baggage at the place she was staying. Because of this delay, they decided to attend the evening meeting where the Master was speaking that night. When they went in, they discovered the crowd was very large, and the Master was sitting at the far end of the room with an empty seat on either side of Him. "To their surprise and delight, He motioned for them to be seated beside Him. Although they had said their farewells to the friends, 'Abdu'l-Baha knew they would be present that evening; and because His time had been entirely occupied, and they had had no opportunity for a personal visit, ...He bestowed upon them this great favor. Many of the friends later said they had wondered for whom 'Abdu'l-Baha was reserving the seats beside Him."

As she passed away, years later, her last words were, "Ya-Baha'u'l-Abha."

Reading this simple story reminded me of the beauty of the lives of those who had the bounty of living at that time.

A few pages later, I had the pleasure of reading the story of the first Baha'i in Australia, and his fellow-believer who passed away from a stroke suffered at his funeral.

This touching story is followed a few pages later by countless stories shared by Howard Colby-Ives about his meetings with 'Abdu'l-Baha, followed immediately by another believer who had been born in 1844 into a Jewish family. This man served the Faith in many incredible ways, including offering land for the burial of Baha'is who were refused to be allowed to be buried in other cemetaries.

Then there is the story of Matthew Kaszab who carried the Faith to Nicaragua, amid much hardship and turmoil. Of his short life, filled with suffering and pain, the Guardian said, "His services are unforgettable." Four words that we all would give anything to have said of us.

Whether it is stories like these, or the teasingly sparse story of Haji Ali Yazdi, described as "The oldest survivor in the Holy Land of the early days of the Faith", we find inspiration and joy in remembering these often untold tales, replete with gems of wisdom and humour.

There are too many to go into here, but I will leave you with one last bit that brought a smile to face.

Philip Effendi Naimi, who passed away in Egypt in 1942, was in hospital when the authorities summoned a priest to perform last rites. He turned to him, on his deathbed, and clearly said, "I am a Baha'i and I am no longer in need of your services."

I pray that when I pass away, there will something that I will have done in my life that will be worthy of even a few words mention.

Until then, my tip for the day: If it grows together, it goes together. That is my view of spices and herbs. Whenever they grow in the same area, they always seem to go together well in food.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Love, Love, Love

My wife and I recently learned that we are moving to Victoria, BC. She is a musician in the military and is being transferred. As you can imagine, we are both excited at the prospect of moving and sad at the thought of leaving. We've begun telling all of our friends and are now receiving the variety of responses you would expect: tears, joy, "it's about time", "oh no", and so on and so forth. OK, I'm only kidding about that third one. Nobody has said that. At least not yet.

As the different responses have come in, we have begun to realize a few things about our dear friends, things that we feel give some insight into the nature of our relationships.

To start, we have begun to understand that a number of our friends come from cultures that have a very difficult time expressing their love. It is these friends, we have noticed, that really need to feel that they are loved. When we compliment them, praise them, or sometimes just tell them that they are loved, they drink it in like a thirsty wanderer in the desert.

I'd like to share a few stories of our friends, and our thoughts about them as we prepare to move our household and our lives.

There is one dear lady, an elderly Catholic nun (but don't call her elderly to her face because she'll chase you down and tackle you until you take it back), who exemplifies this need for feeling loved. Whenever we pass a compliment her way, she seems to look at us in disbelief, asking "You really think so?" We have to repeat it four or five times before she accepts it. She is so distraught that we are leaving, that she is "losing her best friend", Marielle, that we are going to make sure to take her out for dinner before we go.

This is the woman whom we asked to study a prayer with when we were doing the practices from Ruhi Book 1. She was so stunned to have been asked, and so appreciative that we had thought of her, that our relationship has never been the same. She treats our son as a loved grandchild and is swift to lavish gifts upon him, especially books and candy.

She is also a choir director. Her voice is remarkable, and her demand upon her singers is professional in quality. This demand for excellence, although well-intended, has often led her to forget the joy of singing with a group of friends. Marielle has been key in helping her remember.

As a woman who has dedicated her life to Jesus, we do all we can to support her and encourage her in her work. We often refer to Biblical teachings in our conversations, while sprinkling the words of Baha'u'llah throughout. I am certain that our last few months here will be spent really encouraging her in her love for her community, and the need to demonstrate it in both her words and her actions.

In fact, we will probably talk about how Jesus taught this, and how this demonstration of love is the root of Christianity. Come to think of it, it is the foundation of all religions. 'Abdu'l-Baha said it so well when He said, "Love ye all religions and all races with a love that is true and sincere and show that love through deeds and not through the tongue; for the latter hath no importance, as the majority of men are, in speech, well-wishers, while action is the best."

While we all know the importance of action, my wife and I had to wonder why so many cultures suppress the demonstration of this love. My guess is that by not demonstrating it, they don't necessarily acknowledge it, and this means that they won't be as hurt if that love is lost.

You see, when you love someone, you open your heart to them. When your heart is open to someone, it allows them to reach in and touch you with that love, but it also means that they can hurt you more, as you are vulnerable there.

There is another dear soul in our neighbourhood who we met quite by accident. Marielle was driving home late from work one night, when these two Aboriginal ladies approached her when she was at a stop sign. They asked for a ride home, explaining that they were lost and couldn't walk much further. Marielle was only a block away from our home, and nervous about giving two people a ride in our neighbourhood. We don't live in the safest of places. She said that she didn't know where their street was and was going to pick me up to have me give directions.

A few minutes later, all four of us were in the car and on our way to their home. When we got there, one of them said that she didn't know how they could repay us. Not one to pass up an obvious opportunity, I asked them to say a prayer for us, as she had earlier made a religious reference which escapes me right now. Surprised at so simple and sincere a request, they asked if we could say prayers right then and there, in the car. So we did.

Needless to say, a deep friendship developed between us and their whole family. Almost every day now, either one of them, or their brother, or one of their cousins, stops by to chat, or get a ride somewhere, or have a cup of tea with us.

In the few months that we have known them, we have really come to learn that family is extremely important to them. Dorothy, one of those first two ladies we met, has lost a lot of extended family members in the past few weeks and she weeps long and hard for each one of them. Every time she hears of someone passing, she comes over and asks for prayers with us. We are all too happy to supply them.

I have to mention that there is a lot of alcoholism and drug use in her family. Some of them even have gang involvement, which, as you can imagine, causes a lot of pain amongst them. One afternoon, one of the family members commented, "We're a lot of trouble", referring to some habits that are rife within her community. Marielle replied, "No, you're not. You've just suffered a lot, but it hasn't affected your heart."

Finally, there is another friend I'd like to mention. This woman had a very troubled youth, involved in drugs, gangs and on and on.

One day, the first time I met her, she phoned me in my studio and asked me how much a dress would cost. You see, I used to be a fashion designer working in chain-mail. When I told her, she choked, and in a quiet voice asked if I would teach her how to make it.

"Sure," I replied, "come on by."

The next few months I spent deepening our friendship and teaching her my craft. She came in one afternoon and handed me a bracelet she had made, asking me if was acceptable for sale. I glanced at it and said, "No", handing it back to her.

She took it away with her and came back the next day. "How's this?" "Nope." I showed her where her closings were sloppy or her rings bent.

The next day the same thing occurred again, but this time she was getting frustrated. The following day, visibly upset, she handed me another bracelet, practically growling, "How's this?"

I looked at the piece and, without a word, grabbed three identical bracelets from my box. I tossed all four on the counter and asked, "Which one is yours?"

Steaming now, she grabbed hers and stormed off.

The next day she came back and, without a word, walked to my stockbox and took out a bracelet. She tossed it on the counter with three of hers. "Alright, which one is yours?"

I couldn't tell. That was when I knew she understood the need for excellence. Every time we did a show together after that, she outsold me.

I cannot tell you how proud I am of her, and how much I love her. She is truly one of my dearest friends, and there is very little that I wouldn't do for her or her family.

Now, you may be wondering why I am sharing all of this. Me, too.

Actually, it's because I feel that it demonstrates something very important. All three stories talk about love, friendship and the love expressed in action. All three of these people are very dear to me, and I have made it a conscious point to let them know.

Some people think that Marielle and I are doing something unique, or that we are somehow beyond the norm in the way that we care for people, but I don't think that's it at all. Or at least it shouldn't be.

These friends, each in their way, with their own peculiar background, love us, too. And they show it in the way that they are able. They each have told us that they don't know how they will survive without us, and we have told them that they'll do just fine. We'll miss each other, but we'll still be there, in their hearts.

Their love for us is not a reflection of us, but more a reflection of something that is missing in society. We all need this love, and many of us don't know how to find it.

I tell people that we will miss our friends terribly when we go, but I believe this to be a lie. I don't think I'll miss them terribly at all. I bet that I will be nearly professional in my ability to miss them. In fact, I am certain that I'll be quite excellent at it.

Another helpful hint, while I'm at it: When you plant your garden, you can plant alternating rows of spinach and mixed herbs. This way the spinach will adopt the flavour of the various herbs. Tastes amazing.

Friday, April 9, 2010


I received an e-mail the other day with a very amusing story in it. My friend told me that some Mormons regularly come over to her place, and one day the Faith came up. One of them said, "Oh, Baha'is. They're those guys that believe everything." To which she responded, "Yes, and you're in that church where the men have all those wives. How many are you planning on?" After they stopped choking, she was able to talk to them about the idea of progressive revelation, and how important it is to not make blanket assumptions like that.

I smiled upon reading that story, but as you can tell, it got me thinking. Hmm. It occurs to me that you probably get the sense that a lot of things get me thinking. I suspect you're correct.

But thinking, it did get me to do, and I began to really wonder about this concept of perceptions, and how we are affected by them. On a whim, I decided to ask a few friends how they perceived the Baha'i Faith, and their answers came as a bit of a surprise.

To start, I have to say that there was very little in their answers that was about the Faith itself, and a lot more about us Baha'is as people. Aside from that slight skew in the responses, the answers were actually fairly consistent. They do, however, show that many people, as far as I can tell, connect with people rather than with abstract ideas, and this presents its own bounties and challenges. It means that we are the first line of contact that people have with the Faith. The impression they have of us will, to a great extent, determine how far they may be willing to investigate. This can be good, but it can also prove to be a challenge to later connect them to the Writings of Baha'u'llah, which, as we know, is essential.

So, what were their impressions? Although, as you would expect, there was some diversity, four things stood out as being fairly consistent.

First, we are viewed as peaceful, loving and resolvers of conflict. Not bad. I kind of like that image. It's kind of that image given when the Faith first appeared in The Simpsons. ("Look out! It's a gentle Baha'i.") Oh, and see, there's a fun effect a Baha'i had on a college roommate. (What, did you think Matt Groening found out about the Faith in a vaccuum?)

Second, we are seen as being trustworthy and dependable. Again, a nice image to have, and one that we all work hard to maintain. So, good job everybody.

Third, we are seen as pushy, single-minded and wanting to convert others. Hmm. Not what I was hoping for, but not completely unexpected. I'll go into that a bit more in a moment.

Finally, some of us are seen as only wanting to help Baha'is. OK, now that's just not a good image to have.

I'm not sure which is worse, the third or the fourth observation. But these are fairly common observations, and I think we all need to be aware of them, for if we aren't, how can we address them?

In looking at the third point, the fact of the matter is that we are passionate about our Faith. We really do tend to link all aspects of our life to it, and we are even being trained to do that more effectively and naturally through the Ruhi curriculum, especially Book 2 with the "elevated conversations".

Is there anything wrong with this? Probably not. After all, how many people regularly talk about their passion? Don't new parents talk about their child? Doesn't a baseball fan talk a lot about baseball?

I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with speaking about your interest, but we do need to see it from the perspective of those that don't share our passion. To them, it probably does seem a bit much.

So what do we do about it? Diversify. Have other interests. Myself, I like movies and books, gardening and cooking, artwork and storytelling. Chances are that with these various interests, I'll probably find something in common with the person I am talking to. As we are talking about gardening, I might introduce the concept of unity and diversity. Cooking? I'll speak of my love of other cultures.

I'm sure you see how each of these can easily be connected to the Faith, if there is interest on the part of the other person.

This point reminds me of a quote from the Guardian, in which he said, "It is just as important for the Baha'i young boys and girls to become properly educated in colleges of high standing as it is to be spiritually educated." Just as important. Interesting point, and one I like to ponder.

But going back to the idea that we appear to be pushy and intent on conversion, I believe that the pushiness is from our desire to always talk about the Faith. Quite often, in our zealousness to bring it up, many of us do so in an unnatural manner. Perhaps that is why so much emphasis is laid on the naturalness of conversations in Ruhi Book 2, third unit. They don't ask which conversations can be connected to the Faith, for like all Faiths, everything can connect to it, but which we do so in a natural manner.

No, I think the idea is to be aware of the spiritual in everything, and gently raise it as we can, not to force it in people's faces. That's just rude.

As for being seen as wanting to convert others, this is probably just our love for people combined with our love for the Faith. There are, however, a few rare cases in which a few of the friends (very few to be sure), really do seem to think that everyone needs to be Baha'i, and that it is their job to make them so. And just in case you think I'm exagerating, this is actually what someone once told me. On the other hand, though, there are a few others who feel that they don't need to teach, as every religion is from God.

To overcome this stigma of insisting on conversion, or the problem of the immobility of not teaching, I think we need to look at the Universal House of Justice.

In a letter to an individual (that would be me), dated 23 November 2005, they wrote the following:

"In attempting to resolve the apparent conflict between teaching the Faith and the Bahá’í principle that acknowledges the divine origin of all religions, it is essential to avoid a superficial dichotomy between exclusiveness and a form of religious relativism that are both irreconcilable with the Bahá’í teachings..."

"Bahá’ís have the obligation to teach the Faith with the aim of assisting receptive souls to embrace the Cause, but the nature of the response is ultimately between the hearer and the Almighty..."

"Upon learning about Bahá’u’lláh, an individual may accept the Cause, reject it, wish to investigate further or simply participate in Bahá’í activities. It is for God to judge the sincerity of every soul, not for a Bahá’í. To those who are receptive, the teacher responds according to their capacity. Yet, Bahá’ís are enjoined to love all, whether friend or foe, fellow believer or stranger, and to consort with the followers of all religions with friendliness and fellowship. Unhesitatingly recognizing the divine Source of all the great religions, Bahá’ís are happy to engage in dialogue or common endeavour with other religious communities to contribute to the betterment of the world..."
To repeat, they said that we "should neither impose the teachings nor be heedless of opportunities which arise..." This is the balance I believe we need to achieve.

One last thought on this point: a friend of mine used to tell people very early in talking about the Faith that Baha'u'llah was the return of Christ. As you can imagine, they would freak out upon hearing this. I asked him if this was his desired result, and he said "Of course not." "Then why do say that to people?" I think too often we get into this habit of using a particular method or phrase without actually reflecting on the outcome. When we do that, we are no longer teaching people, for they, as individuals, no longer matter. The script has become the important thing. And that is not a good place to be.

I truly believe that when we treat people as the individuals that they are, respond to their responses, engage them in their interests, and seize the opportunities as they come, this third observation will change for the better.

Finally, there is the mistaken idea that we only help other Baha'is. As we know, this is just not the case. It is not the example that was set by the Master, nor is it our intention. And yet I have heard people say that they became Baha'i only to get help, so where does this notion come from?

As you can imagine, I'm really not sure, but I think it might arise from the thought that we are a charity.

We do charitable works, and work towards the betterment of humanity, fully engaging in social and economic devleopment projects, but I don't think that is the same as what most people think of as a charity. It is also probably right at the root of the reason why we are told not to mix the teaching work with the SED projects. That is when people enrol for the wrong reasons, and get hurt.

I'm not sure what solution to offer, except to say that we should be aware of this. I know most of you are, but as it caught me off guard, I figured I had to mention it here.

In general, though, most people seem to have a verry favourable impression of the Faith, and that just makes our work a lot easier. So, as one of the people benefiting from this overall impression, thank you. If it wasn't for your efforts, my own work trying to help teach the Faith would be a lot more difficult.

Overall, I think we're doing pretty good. We are still not that community of the future, who will exemplify the teachings of Baha'u'llah a hundred times better than we do, but I think we're well on our way.

To close, here's another helpful tip from yours truly: When sauteeing onions, add just a dash of cocoa and cinnamon. They go amazingly well in chili or hashbrowns.