Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Teaching Outline, Part 2

Yesterday I took a bit of a look at that paragraph in The Advent of Divine Justice that goes from page 42 - 44. Within that paragraph, I found 14 steps that the Guardian indicates for us to use when making a teaching plan that goes from resolving to arise and serve, to helping another individual make that same committment.

Those steps, in case anyone forgot (or actually to make it easier for me to keep track of where I am), are:
  1. Resolve to arise and teach
  2. Consider every avenue of approach
  3. Survey possibilities in own life
  4. Proced intelligently and systematically
  5. Devise methods to open ways to more contacts
  6. Bear in mind dignity, etc...
  7. Consider degree of hearer's receptivity
  8. Remember example of 'Abdu'l-Baha
  9. Refrain, at beginning, from insisting on laws that may be too much
  10. Try to nurse the person into full maturity
  11. Help him declare
  12. Introduce him to body of fellow-believers
  13. Enable them to contribute their share to the growth of the Faith
  14. Do not be content until individual arises independently
Yesterday we looked at the first 6 steps, which I believe are about personal preparation. Today I want to look at the other 8 steps.

Now that we have refined our methods of meeting people, and are meeting a number of folks with interests that are similar to ours (in other words, we have something in common), we turn our attention to the individual in question.

Now this is a point of particular interest to me, as I often see myself going into a teaching scenario with my own not-so-hidden agenda. I will, for example, decide that I want to begin a study circle and will, therfore, invite everybody, and their dog, to join, regardless of their interest ("Oh, you really want to say lots of prayers? Well, come join my Book 1"). Or I may decide to host a fireside one evening on some abstract theoretical theological topic ("What did you say? You want to be of service to humanity? Well come and hear a lengthy talk on some subject you have no interest in."). Or someone may express an interest in hearing a little bit more about the Baha'i Faith, and I may begin a long discourse on the Conference of Badasht, when what they are really interested in hearing about is our views of science, or maybe they were just being courteous.

No. The first thing I really need to learn to do is to get to know the person. And this doesn't take long, not like years or anything. In fact, quite often when I'm talking with someone new, it only takes a few minutes of listening to them before they tell me what it is they are interested in hearing. By engaging them in a conversation, as opposed to making them endure a monologue, you can really guage their capacity. This may take some practice, but after talking with a few people, and reflecting afterwards upon the conversation, you will see what I mean. Not everyone is interested in hearing about the Faith, and many who are interested are not ready to be challenged by the mighty claim that Baha'u'llah makes. This is what is meant by an indirect approach, but more on that in another article. Throughout all of this, of course, we are showering them with love.

This, to me, takes care of steps 7 and 8. Oh, not that we've perfected them or anything, but just that we can keep them in mind and try to use this information when teaching.

And now they have declared. They are identifying themselves "with the Cause embodying such teachings". (I bet you were wondering when I was going to copy some of that text. I figured I had copied the whole piece yesterday and didn't need to repeat it again here.)

But this is not all there is to do. It may help, at this point, to think of their faith as a tree. Once they have declared, our job is not yet over, for their tree of faith still needs to be nurtured into full maturity. And one of the fruits of that tree is the laws. Of course, if the tree is young, then it may break under the weight of such laws as are too great a burden. I have seen many friends who have left the Faith because others tried to impose the laws upon them. On the other hand, I have seen other friends who were nurtured in maturity by wise and loving Assemblies who refrained from doing this. In one case, a friend had just bought a house with her boyfriend and they were living together. The Assembly wisely understood that she would withdraw if she was asked to move out. Instead they nurtured her and helped her move into obedience with the law over time. They did not let the law slide, but they let her know that she could grow into obedience.

This, to me, is the height of wisdom.

At this point, when they have matured beyond the breaking point at these silly tests that we impose upon each other, then we are to introduce them "to the body of his fellow-believers". I find it interesting that we do not do this earlier.

Oh, and it is not that we don't introduce them to other Baha'is. It doesn't say that. We introduce them wisely to many Baha'is, but they are not yet their "fellow-believers". It is now, though, that we introduce them to the full body of the Baha'i community, through Feasts and Reflection Meetings and other events and activities that make up that body. It is here that they continue, for they have already begun, in their service to the Cause and to humanity.

Through this, they will come to take a greater ownership of the Faith they have espoused and will, in time, become amongst its ardent supporters.

Yeah. I just love this paragraph.

Tablet of Ahmad, Section 2, Part 2, Addendum

My wife is ill today. She has a bad cold. That's the downside.

The upside is that I was able to read some of the past few articles to her and get her feedback.

Normally I would take her comments and just sort of insert them in the article itself, hopefully unnoticed by anyone but me. But in this case, her point is too good, too profound, and too thought-provoking. Well, actually, it's that it's too long to put into a sentence or two.

Regarding yesterday's article about the Tablet of Ahmad, she pointed out that I seemed to have missed addressing:
"Produce it, O assemblage of false ones.
Nay, by the One in Whose hand is my soul, they are not, and never shall be able to do this, even should they combine to assist one another."

To be honest, I thought I had addressed it, but if she missed it, I guess I did, too.

My thought was that everybody has a proof that works for them regarding their own faith path. Those proofs tend to fall into two diferent categories: silly and profound. If the proof is silly, which it rarely is, people are often aware of it, and will actually admit it, when it is pointed out with love and humour. If the proof is profound, as it often is, the same proof can be applied to Baha'u'llah, or any of the Messengers of God.

I had read this passage with the understanding that it is impossible to come up with a good proof that cannot be applied to all the other Messengers.
Marielle, on the other hand, had a different understanding of this same piece. And that is something that I just love about this Faith of ours: we can all have our own understanding of the Writings, and, as long as it doesn't completely contradict a basic tenet of the Faith, nobody can say we're wrong.
So she linked these sentences a bit more closely to the ones just before them. She reads it more as "If you deny the verse above that says you have to let people choose their own path, then by what proof have you believed in God? Just try to produce it, and you won't be able to." He then goes on and calls the people who do that "False Ones".
She points out, very cogently I might add, that if you read it as I did, then it might appear insulting to people of other faiths. And that just doesn't seem right.
Whereas I read "these verses" as referring to the Bayan, she reads it as referring to the verses about the freedom of choice.
And you know, I think both are valid. We may have a preference one way or the other, but both make sense to me.
Now, let me expand a bit more on what I see within Marielle's interpretation.
If someone is, say, a Christian, and they don't believe in Baha'u'llah's verses, fine. We accept that. They are, after all, entitled to choose their own path. This is a given. But then, if we read this section the way I have, there appears to be a bit of defensiveness coming into it. Well, maybe defensiveness isn't the right term (in fact, I know it isn't). But it could read as if Baha'u'llah is saying, "Don't believe these verses? Just try and do better. You can't, you false one." And that would be an unnecessary insult. After all, we've just acknowledged that the freedom of choice is there, so why be insulting about choosing differently?
No. I don't think this is what Baha'u'llah is doing, and neither does Marielle.
In fact, upon re-reading this passage in the context of the Tablet, I now see a couple of questions that arise. First, who is Baha'u'llah referring to when He says "O people" in the passage that continues "if ye deny these verses"? Second, which verses are He referring to?
From my own reading of it, it seems that this whole section, the second part of the Tablet, is about Ahmad "calling the believers in the divine unity", and therefore the "people" may be referring to the Babis. On the other hand, it could also refer to all those who arise to teach like Ahmad, which also seems quite plausible. On the third hand, which gets into all sorts of genetic mutation scenarios which I will henceforth ignore, it could also refer to all the people of the world, but then we get into the insult scenario, and that seems unlikely to me. So, for myself, I will think of Him as primarily referring to the second set, as that would also include me in my own daily life.
Now, about "these verses". He could be referring to the recently mentioned Bayan, in which case if He is addressing the Babis, may be a reminder to look at His own Writings and then decide if He is "Him Whom God shall make manifest". If a Babi were to decide that they accept the Bab's Writings, and then turn around and deny Baha'u'llah's, claiming that any Babi could write them, He probably wouldn't look too kindly on that, and the accusation of "false ones" could sure apply.
On the other hand, He may be referring to the previously mentioned sentences that speak about freedom to choose. If this is the case, then He seems to be addressing all of us who arise to teach as Ahmad did. And if He is, then it is a reminder to allow those we teach the freedom to choose their own path. This makes a lot of sense to me, as if we do not allow others that freedom of choice, then our own faith is quite suspect, and seemingly filled with egotism. In this case, too, the accusation of "false one" would also be justifiable.
On the not-to-be-mentioned third hand, "these verses" could also refer to His own body of Writings. If that is the case, and it seems unlikely to me, than anybody who is not recognizing Baha'u'llah's Writing as coming from God would be deemed a "false one". And here I have to think it cannot be, for then we are denying people that freedom which was just mentioned a sentence earlier. It would be like saying, "You can choose any path you want, but if you choose the wrong one, you're an idiot." That just doesn't seem right to me.
So once again, I find by discussing the Writings with someone, especially to one as dear to my as my sick wife (physically ill, and not a reference to her state of mind for having said 'yes' when I proposed), I come to a new, and probably better, understanding of the Writings.
Now I can't wait to look at the third section. Perhaps after I get home from the dentist.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Teaching Outline, Part 1

I was looking at a passage from Shoghi Effendi with a friend yesterday, and they asked a wonderful question. They asked, "And what does that mean?" In other words, how does it apply in our life?

You see, I am of the belief that everything in the Writings can be acted upon. I believe that every word and every phrase can have a direct application to our daily life, if we only try and look for it.

Admittedly, some are easier to see than others, such as washing your feet every day in the summer. I can do that. That's not too difficult to act upon. In fact, it even feels good, squishing the cool water through your toes on a hot summer day. But I digress.

There are other passages that seem easy, until you try and figure it out in detail. One example would be "Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart..." I mean, really, how do you actually do that? (And obviously you don't go out and buy a nice heart in the butcher's shop, clean it up and plug it into the wall.) For that, you really need to look at more of the Writings to figure it out.

But the one we were looking at yesterday is from The Advent of Divine Justice. And it seems like it should be straightforward, but there are many questions that arise as we begin to act upon it.

It's a fairly lengthy passage, but seems to cover most of the basics about helping someone move from never having heard about the Faith to becoming an avowed supporter of the Cause.

So, in its entirety, here is the paragraph from pages 42 - 44 (I said it was long).

"Having on his own initiative, and undaunted by any hindrances with which either friend or foe may, unwittingly or deliberately, obstruct his path, resolved to arise and respond to the call of teaching, let him carefully consider every avenue of approach which he might utilize in his personal attempts to capture the attention, maintain the interest, and deepen the faith, of those whom he seeks to bring into the fold of his Faith. Let him survey the possibilities which the particular circumstances in which he lives offer him, evaluate their advantages, and proceed intelligently and systematically to utilize them for the achievement of the object he has in mind. Let him also attempt to devise such methods as association with clubs, exhibitions, and societies, lectures on subjects akin to the teachings and ideals of his Cause such as temperance, morality, social welfare, religious and racial tolerance, economic cooperation, Islam, and Comparative Religion, or participation in social, cultural, humanitarian, charitable, and educational organizations and enterprises which, while safeguarding the integrity of his Faith, will open up to him a multitude of ways and means whereby he can enlist successively the sympathy, the support, and ultimately the allegiance of those with whom he comes in contact. Let him, while such contacts are being made, bear in mind the claims which his Faith is constantly making upon him to preserve its dignity, and station, to safeguard the integrity of its laws and principles, to demonstrate its comprehensiveness and universality, and to defend fearlessly its manifold and vital interests. Let him consider the degree of his hearer's receptivity, and decide for himself the suitability of either the direct or indirect method of teaching, whereby he can impress upon the seeker the vital importance of the Divine Message, and persuade him to throw in his lot with those who have already embraced it. Let him remember the example set by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and His constant admonition to shower such kindness upon the seeker, and exemplify to such a degree the spirit of the teachings he hopes to instill into him, that the recipient will be spontaneously impelled to identify himself with the Cause embodying such teachings. Let him refrain, at the outset, from insisting on such laws and observances as might impose too severe a strain on the seeker's newly awakened faith, and endeavor to nurse him, patiently, tactfully, and yet determinedly, into full maturity, and aid him to proclaim his unqualified acceptance of whatever has been ordained by Bahá'u'lláh. Let him, as soon as that stage has been attained, introduce him to the body of his fellow-believers, and seek, through constant fellowship and active participation in the local activities of his community, to enable him to contribute his share to the enrichment of its life, the furtherance of its tasks, the consolidations of its interests, and the coordination of its activities with those of its sister communities. Let him not be content until he has infused into his spiritual child so deep a longing as to impel him to arise independently, in his turn, and devote his energies to the quickening of other souls, and the upholding of the laws and principles laid down by his newly adopted Faith."

Ok. If you're like me, and I know you're not, dear Reader, you probably skipped over most of that and just scrolled down to here.

To make it comprehensible to one as obtuse as myself, I decided to make a bit of an outline, just to see if it made any more sense.

  1. Resolve to arise and teach
  2. Consider every avenue of approach
  3. Survey possibilities in own life
  4. Proced intelligently and systematically
  5. Devise methods to open ways to more contacts
  6. Bear in mind dignity, etc...
  7. Consider degree of hearer's receptivity
  8. Remember example of 'Abdu'l-Baha
  9. Refrain, at beginning, from insisting on laws that may be too much
  10. Try to nurse the person into full maturity
  11. Help him declare
  12. Introduce him to body of fellow-believers
  13. Enable them to contribute their share to the growth of the Faith
  14. Do not be content until individual arises independently
Fourteen steps, some of which occur concurrently, but still. Fourteen steps.

It seems to me that the first four steps are all prepartion. Obviously the first step is to be committed to actually getting up and teaching. If you don't resolve to do it, you'll never actually get off your butt and do it. But even then, you can be determined, but not look at your own reality, your daily life. Steps two, three and four are all about looking at your own life and working within that context. I may want to teach the Faith amongst the Romany people, but there isn't a Romany population here in my home town. Kinda sucks, doesn't it?

No. All our teaching efforts have to be centered around our own circumstances. That is why there is no "correct way" to do all this. Each of us is unique and our circumstances are, too. What works for me may not be applicable to anyone else.

But the outline is still the same.

Sep one (through four) - consider your own life.

Once you have done that, you may have a list that looks something like this: When I am writing, I like to write in coffee shops, so I should find one in which people are more open to talking to others. I love the arts, and am an artist, so I can join an art society. When I put my work in a gallery, I can have an open house in order to meet more people who like what I do.

This is, of course, just a beginning. But you see how each idea connects to my own life?

In step five, we go beyond our ordinary life with work and stuff, and see if we can reach a bit further. I love to cook, and I enjoy people, so volunteering at a soup kitchen may be an idea. I live near a military base, so perhaps I can do some work with the Military Family Resource Centre. I have a passion for religion and interfaith work, so joining an interfaith society may be right up my alley.

This is where I am now beginning to see where my own interests can move me into circles that have similar ideas towhat we see within the Faith.

In step 6, we turn our attention inward a bit. We remember that we should proceed with dignity, as we are representing the Faith to numerous people at this point. The way we dress, the words we say, how we say them, our every action: people are watching. And if we act in a bozoid way, this actually reflects poorly upon the Faith, not just on ourselves.

I remember a situation years ago in which I was selling my artwork at a show, and I had to camp out there for nearly two months. As there were a number of us living on the site, we had something of a small community feel. During that time, although I was not aware of it, a number of these friends began to comment amongst themselves that they noticed I never swore or drank alcohol. They noticed that I always tried to be clean, which can be tricky when you're camping in a muddy field. In short, they noticed many things about me that I wasn't even aware of demonstrating. I'm sure there were many poor qualities they noticed, too, but were just too polite to mention. But as they learned that I was a Baha'i, my previous behaviour worked in my favour. Many were interested in hearing about the Faith, and some even declared. (How cool is that?)

So we always need to be aware of our behaviour and act with dignity, especially when we think nobody is watching.

This brings us up to step 7, in which we finally get to meet the person we are hoping to teach. We have already stepped up to the plate by steeling our resolve. We have gone out and mingled with many individuals, and made sure to be on our best behaviour, but now we narrow it down. Now we are actually dealing with a real person, and not just a crowd.

Tablet of Ahmad, Section 2, Part 2

Well, I didn't quite get as far as I wanted to yesterday. I thought I could go through most of that second part, and kind of got stuck looking at the the first sentence. What can I say? It's a good text I'm looking at.

Aside: Have you ever been getting ready to say a prayer in a group setting when someone turns to you and says, "Can you say a prayer please? Oh, and say a good one." Hmm. Are there any bad ones? I mean, sure, there are some that are inappropriate at times, but bad? (Oh, c'mon, would you really say a prayer for the departed at a wedding?)

Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, the Tablet of Ahmad. Second paragraph of the second section.

Say: O people be obedient to the ordinances of God, which have been enjoined in the Bayan by the Glorious, the Wise One. Verily He is the King of the Messengers and His book is the Mother Book did ye but know.
Now that we have the tools with which we are working, those virtues mentioned yesterday, Baha'u'llah goes and tells us what to say. Ok, He actually tells Ahmad what to say, but let's look at how it applies to us.

Ahmad is, presumably, talking to Babis. And not just any Babis, but specifically Babis who have just survived the whirlwind of death that overtook their community in the 1850s. What we read and admire in the Dawn-Breakers was their daily life. Now most of the pillars of that community had already been slaughtered and, from I have read, there was a number of others who had become disillusioned. They were questioning the validity of their faith, especially given the trouble that Mirza Yahya was making. Now here comes Ahmad with this specific message from Baha'u'llah, one of the most respected and prominent Babis still left: "Be obedient to the ordinances... in the Bayan". Don't forget, he says, the Bab was a Messenger from God. And more than that, "His book is the Mother Book".

These Babis are spiritual giants, even if their faith may have been shaken. They intimately understood the Qur'an and were fluent in many of the traditions surrounding Islam. One of those traditions was the idea of a Mother Book, of which the Qur'an was almost like a shadow. If you loved the Qur'an, well the Mother Book was just so much greater. And here, Baha'u'llah is telling Ahmad to remind these friends of the relation between the Bab and Muhammad, the Bayan and the Qur'an. The Qur'an is the Book of God, but the Bab's Book, the Bayan, is what gave birth to the Qur'an.

To me, this is a reminder to continually remind people of the majesty and glory of the faith in which they were raised. 'Abdu'l-Baha once said that we in the West should know the Bible better than the Christians and help deepen them in its truths. I have found that when I do that, or at least try, there is an openess that is unexpected. When I sincerely praise the faith that they love, the tradition that is dear to their heart, they respond with a sense of joy. In some cases, they also respond with a sense of relief.

Once that stage has occurred, I also begin to talk about Baha'u'llah as another Messenger of God. When I do this, I try not to do so in a manner that derides Whomever they follow, or in a way that places Baha'u'llah above Them. No. I try to show that They are both Messengers of God, and that I see no difference between Them.

Here I try to keep in mind that marvelous passage from Gleanings: "Whoso maketh the slightest possible difference between their persons, their words, their messages, their acts and manners, hath indeed disbelieved in God, hath repudiated His signs, and betrayed the Cause of His Messengers."

By showing a love for the Messenger they follow, and showing an identical love for Baha'u'llah, I have often found their heart to be warmed and opened.

Thus doth the Nightingale utter His call unto you from this prison. He hath but to deliver this clear message. Whosoever desireth, let him turn aside from this counsel and whosoever desireth let him choose the path to his Lord.
Here could go on about the metaphor of a nightingale, but let's just say that it is a bird whose song is loud and beautiful, and is is also noted for singing just before the dawn. While it sings throughout the night, and can even be heard during the day, it is conspicuous around dawn, as that is when it is defending its territory. Here, Baha'u'llah is obviously referring to Himself as this bird.

Now that He has done so, He states His purpose: "to deliver this clear message".

And isn't that what we are being trained to do? To deliver Baha'u'llah's message? And not only to deliver it, but to do so clearly.

Then comes the reminder that this is the end of our responsibility. Our job is to deliver it, not to make sure it is received. God has given us all free will, and none can take that away. And every time that we try to impose our beliefs upon another, either through the negative form of prosyletizing, or the postive form of "Oh, you're a Baha'i, but you just don't know it", we are inadvertantly trying to take away this God-given gift. And generally, people don't react too kindly to that.

Once the message has been given, it is up to the individual what they do with it. They can either turn aside, or "choose the path to (their) Lord". This is also an interesting turn of phrase, for it does not, to me, imply that those who turn aside will never get there. I can choose the direct path from A to B, or I can turn aside and go from A to C, and then from C to B. Which way is better? Both end up at B, but the first one is shorter. Does that make it better? I know I prefer it, and I understand that there is far less chance of getting lost, but I can't, in my own view, say that it is inherently better.

It seems to me, and this is, of course, only my own opinion, that Baha'u'llah is giving the people the freedom to choose as they will. He, like us, is probably just hoping that they choose the path with the least trouble.
O people, if ye deny these verses, by what proof have ye believed in God? Produce it, O assemblage of false ones.
Nay, by the One in Whose hand is my soul, they are not, and never shall be able to do this, even should they combine to assist one another.

And here is the crux of the argument, to me. In the beginning of this paragraph, I feel like I am reminded to ask people what their own Faith path is. Here, I feel like I am to ask them "Why?" I have done this many times, and it is always a joy, and what's more, people don't seem to get offended by it. They may have trouble answering the question, but they seem to feel that it is a good one. "You believe in this particular faith? Why? What is it about it that tells you that it is true?"

No matter what they answer, I have found that it is either silly, and they agree, or that Baha'u'llah also lives up to that proof.

If they say that they follow a faith, and know it's true, because their parents follow it, then by that argument all Christians should be Jewish and all Buddhists should be Hindu. By that logic, Abraham should never have rebelled against His forefathers. No. The inheritance argument just doesn't hold any water, except to say that it is worth examing the faith of your parents because they may, after all, be right. But really, it isn't a proof.

When it comes down to it, the most solid proof of a faith is the Writings upon which it is based, and the stories of the life of the Founder.

And so, if someone says that the Writings of Baha'u'llah do not come from God, then we can ask them to show us writings that they believe do. But this should never be done in an insulting manner, nor in the manner of "our God is better than yours" or "our Messenger can beat up your Messenger". No. It should be done with love, tact and respect. After all, when discussing matters of faith, you are walking upon holy ground, the earth of men's hearts, and you should tread carefully.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tablet of Ahmad, Section 2, Part 1

For many years now, whenever I have been asked to talk a little about the Tablet of Ahmad, I have usually focussed on the first section. Why? Because it is what I knew the best. It was a fairly simple and straightforward look at the verbs in that paragraph, and how they foreshadowed the rest of the Tablet, outlining it, if you will. You can read my initial article about that here.

Since that time, I have been asked on numerous occasions to look at the rest of it. I gotta tell you, though, it makes me a bit nervous. I mean, I feel like I had a bit of an insight that first time around, so will be I get another one this time? No clue. Oh well. Nothing like trusting in God and taking that leap. In public. With people watching. Or reading, as the case may be.

You may recall that I like to think of this Tablet as divided into four sections, with Ahmad's name doing the dividing. So, the second part is as follows:
O Ahmad! Bear thou witness that verily He is God and there is no God but Him, the King, the Protector, the Incomparable, the Omnipotent. And that the One Whom He hath sent forth by the name of Ali [The Bab] was the true One from God, to Whose commands we are all conforming.

Say: O people be obedient to the ordinances of God, which have been enjoined in the Bayan by the Glorious, the Wise One. Verily He is the King of the Messengers and His book is the Mother Book did ye but know.

Thus doth the Nightingale utter His call unto you from this prison. He hath but to deliver this clear message. Whosoever desireth, let him turn aside from this counsel and whosoever desireth let him choose the path to his Lord.

O people, if ye deny these verses, by what proof have ye believed in God? Produce it, O assemblage of false ones.

Nay, by the One in Whose hand is my soul, they are not, and never shall be able to do this, even should they combine to assist one another.
To begin, I just want to remind you that I see this whole section within the context of that first paragraph. We can see Baha'u'llah moving from a broad proclamation in the beginning to a call. In particular, He is "calling the believers in the Divine Unity to the court of the Presence of the Generous One", and I will be looking at this section in that light.

Oh, and I should also give you the regular reminder that I am not writing this from any authoritative position. I'm just giving my own take on it, and you can agree or not, as you will.

Here, He seems to be giving Ahmad a mission: to bear witness to God, and remind the people that the Bab was a true Messenger from Him. Well, this seems fairly straightforward, given that He is already "calling the believers". But let us not forget the climate in which Ahmad was asked to do this: torture and execution were the most likely outcome for him.

But for now, for the sake of brevity, let's grant him wisdom, and presume that he is only talking amongst the believers.

What is he telling them? What powers does he draw upon to carry out this noble task? And how does all this help us in our teaching work? As usual, I think the answers can be found to the second and third questions in the attributes of God that Baha'u'llah puts in at this point: "the King, the Protector, the Incomparable, the Omnipotent".

First of all, God is the King, and we are His subjects. But we are not just His subjects, for we were created in His image. This, to my way of thinking, makes us noble. There is an inherent nobility that we draw upon when we are delivering His message, and it is this that helps make the message a bit more attractive, initially, to some people. There is something about the dignity of the nobles that is inherently attractive. Of course, once people begin to see the message for themselves, it is the message that continues the attraction, not the individual. It is also worth noting that when we recognize this same nobility within all whom we meet, this sense of attraction becomes that much stronger all around.

The seccond attribute here is "the Protector". This seems to go in many directions, for surely God is protecting us from harm when we carry out His work. Oh, and I don't mean physical harm, for of what concern is that? No, I mean spiritual harm. Just knowing that we are helping deliver this incredible message will aid us in doing this very scary task.

But I think there is another dimension to it. As a teacher of the Cause, I believe that we have some responsibility to those we are teaching. We have to be careful, almost protect them, if you will. Remember, Baha'u'llah tells us that "an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk". Why would this be, if not to protect the hearer from "spiritual indigestion"? Too often have I said too much about Baha'u'llah when introducing the Faith to someone, and only later wished that I had had the wisdom to have said less. Even now, when writing to different people, I am often a bit too blunt with my words, regretting it in hindsight.

There seems to be another pointer in that direction from the Guardian, in The Advent of Divine Justice. In that book, he is describing the movement of an individual from never having heard about the Baha'i Faith to proclaiming "his unqualified acceptance of whatever has been ordained by Bahá'u'lláh". It is only then, "as soon as that stage has been attained", that we are to "introduce him to the body of his fellow-believers". Why would that be, if not for their protection from the inadvertant tests that we impose upon each other?

The third attribute that Baha'u'llah mentions here is that of "the Imcomparable". Aside from the obvious fact that there is nothing that even comes close to comparing with the scope and depth of Baha'u'llah's teachings, I see this as a reminder to be on my best behaviour. Although I cannot imagine it happening, especially to me, 'Abdu'l-Baha did say, "If any one of you enters a city he must become the center of attraction because of the sincerity, faithfulness, love, honesty, fidelity, truthfulness and loving-kindness of his disposition and nature toward all the inhabitants of the world, that the people of the city may all cry out: 'This person is unquestionably a Bahá'í; for his manners, his behavior, his conduct, his morals, his nature and his disposition are of the attributes of the Bahá'ís.'" This, to me, speaks of that attribute of incomparableness, and I can only hope to begin to think about striving towards it.

The last of those attributes offered here is that of "the Omnipotent". Although God is truly the Omnipotent, we, too, have power, and nothing should deter us from our work.

These four attributes, when combined, will be a powerful force aiding us in our teaching work.

Finally, after all of that, Ahmad is pointedly reminded that he is speaking to Babis. At this point, it would be so easy to turn away from, or perhaps even disregard, the Bab, in favour of Baha'u'llah. But no, we are not to do that. The Bab is a Messenger, sent by God, and we are all conforming to His teachings, even Baha'u'llah. He had not yet revealed His laws, and it was to the Bab's laws that He was turning.

This, to me, is also a message about how we should regard the Messengers of the past, each and every one of Them. They should be held in the highest regard, and we should always strive to conform to the spirit of Their laws.

But this post has gone on long enough. I'll continue it later. As usual, feedback is always welcome.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I just saw a wonderful post on Facebook, in which the individual asked why others thought Baha'u'llah may have imposed a 95-day limit on marriage engagements. The responses were varied, and very interesting, so I thought I would share my own take on it here.

First of all, we should, of course, see what Baha'u'llah actually says. This law, as you would imagine, is found in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book. But it is interesting, because it is not found in the original text itself, but in response to one of the questions that was asked by an individual who was given the bounty of being able to read the Book before it was released and ask any questions he had about it. These questions and the responses were considered by Baha'u'llah to be an additional part of the Text, and are regarded as such. The question, in question, and the answer are as follows:
43. QUESTION: Concerning the betrothal of a girl before maturity.
ANSWER: This practice hath been pronounced unlawful by the Source of Authority, and it is unlawful to announce a marriage earlier than ninety-five days before the wedding.
It is from this that we have the law requiring an engagement period of no more than 95 days. Oh, and it should also be noted that this law is only binding upon the Persian Baha'is.

Without going into the question of why it is only binding upon one group, what constitutes a person of that group, or how the laws within the Baha'i Faith are progressively applied, I'd like to look a bit at the "why" of the law. That's what I found interesting in this discussion.

One of the first suggestions, obviously, was that it was in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, and we should therefore obey it. Well, this was never in question, but it's always good to repeat. It's a nice reminder that we may not always understand everything within the Writings, but we should still be obedient to it. Of course, this is not just a blind obedience under some sort of threat or coercion, but rather an open obedience based upon trust. In other words, I'm a Baha'i because I have come to recognize that Baha'u'llah is a Messenger of God and has a far better perspective of reality than I do. This is a conscious recognition. And one of the implications of this recognition is that if He says something I either disagree with, or don't understand, I have already admitted that He is far wiser than I am, so I should be more willing to be obedient, and try to understand. If this is in question for someone, then the real question would be why are they a Baha'i.

But it seems reasonable to me, and to the one who posted that response, that we should still strive to come to a better understanding for the rationale of this law.

Another person posted the idea of mysticism being part of it. After all, 95 is 5 times 19. And 5 is the numerical equivalent of the Bab, while 19 is the numerical value of the word "vahid", or "unity", which is the pivot of Baha'u'llah's teachings. It is interesting to note that this number, 95, also appears in other places within the Writings, like being the number of times we say the Greatest Name every day. Fascinating as this may be, and as much as I love numbers, this doesn't really satisfy me.

The next point really spoke to the quote iteself, although it didn't actually look at the quote. It talked about how this law has overturned the ancient practice in some parts of the world of the engagement of children. And isn't that really what the original question was all about? Are girls allowed to be engaged before the age of maturity?

Well, let's look at what Baha'u'llah did with that question. First, He categorically said "No" without actually saying "No" to the question. Instead, He put it in a much larger context. He prohibited anybody from being engaged for more then, bascially, 3 months, or one full season.

Further to that, later in the Writings the original step in the marriage process was removed from the parents altogether. It is first up to the children to decide whom they wish to marry. They, and not the parents, make that first selection. Then, and only then, is it up to the parents to give approval. Once that approval has been given, then the 95 days begins.

Now this is not to say that the child can't consult with their parents ahead of time, for this is all about unity. But the initial step is, in the end, up to the child.

It does, interestingly enough, remind me of one other aspect of the Faith, namely that of the Guardianship. Shoghi Effendi was appointed by 'Abdu'l-Baha, Himself. In order to appoint a succcessor, Shoghi Effendi would have had to first name one. But then it wasn't over. After naming his successor, he had to seek the approval of the Hands of the Cause. They couldn't choose his successor, but they had to approve it by majority. This may be quite the side-step, but it does seem similar to me.

So there is one reason for the short period of engagement: to prevent unwanted engagements of minors.

But by expanding the boundaries of His answer, it seems that there is more to it than meets the eye.

In a letter to an individual, the Universal House of Justice wrote, "…Bahá’u’lláh ordained that Bahá’í engagement should not exceed 95 days, and, although this law has not yet been applied universally, it highlights the desirability of marrying quickly once the decision to marry has been firmly taken and parental consent obtained."

Personally, I can think of a few reasons for this, and the wisdom of it. First, it cuts down on any possible temptation to act inappropriately before the wedding. I mean let's face it, as a young couple (or even not so young), you really want to hold or kiss your partner, or perhaps even more. For many of us, or maybe I'm just speaking for myself, the temptation grows as that date gets closer. I'm very glad that my wife and I had a short engagement, for I don't think I could have handled much more of that.

The second reason is that more and more people are getting more and more extravagent in their weddings. It is not unreasonable for a family to drop $25,000 on a wedding in the United States, and they're not even at the top of the list. If I'm going to spend that kind of money on something, I either want to be able to drive it safely for years, or live in it. (No unkind comments on that sentence, please.)

How many families are still paying for the wedding long after it has ended? And how many marriages have broken up because of arguments that began about the wedding itself?

No. I think there is something to be said for simple and elegant wedding ceremonies.

My wife and I had literally a couple dozen people at our ceremony. That was all. It was small, simple and beautiful.

After the ceremony (at the Assiniboine Park Conservatory), we went to the Winnipeg Baha'i Centre and had a pot-luck dinner with stage presentations. Many of our friends performed music. Some told stories. And the variety of food was unbelievable. It was so diverse.

And our wedding cake? A very good friend of mine made a pyramis of cream puffs. They were filled with vanilla, chocolate, orange or rose flavoured cream. Then they were piled in a pyramid stack, and stuck together with choclate. Edible floewrs were added for decoration, and it was all wonderful. Oh, it cost far, far less than a traditional wedding cake.
Yeah, I am very glad for this law, even if it is not binding on all of us. It's still a good idea, and I encourage all my friends who are getting married to try and follow it.

I'm also glad that my friend Valerie posted the original inspiration for this. Thanks, Valerie.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Have you ever notifced that we, in the Baha'i community, are just regular people? No, seriously. It's true.

While the Writings and the guidance may be astonishing in their scope and perspective, the community itself is just not up to that standard. I mean, how could we be? The standard is divine, and we are not.

I only mention this because I think it is very important. I have lost track of the number of people I hvae met who have not declared their faith because they felt that they couldn't live up to the standard set by the community. They felt that they just weren't good enough to be Baha'i. I've also met people who have been turned off to the Faith because they felt that we were just too stuck up, like we knew it all. Sad, I know, but true.

So what is it that we can learn from these comments? And more importantly, what can we do about it?

I think the first thing is to look at the Master. Haji Mirza Haydar-Ali, in his book The Delight of Hearts, talks about 'Abdu'l-Baha listening to the people He is teaching. He reports Baha'u'llah saying that we should teach like the Master, listening so carefully that the other person thought they were teaching Him something. This exemplifies a position of humility that is profound, and far beyond where I am at.

I remember when I was investigating the Faith, my friend Lucki would ask me every week what I had found in my studies of religion. And then she would be just as excited as I was when I shared what I had read. More than that, though, she would show me how there were similar teachings in all the different religions, including the Baha'i Faith. She listened to me share what I had learned, no matter how absurd it may have been, and then always found those grains of truth and helped expose them for my consideration.

Oh, and if I asked her a question about what the Baha'i Writings said on a topic, she would carefully evade an answer. She would claim to have read something about it, but wasn't quite sure where. She would then suggest that I read a section of Gleanings, or some other Baha'i text, confident that my answer would be found in there. At no time did I ever get the sense that she "knew it all".

And then I remember a staff meeting when I was working at the US Baha'i National Center. I have no clue what the meeting was about, but I clearly recall Robert Henderson saying that we were building a "new world order", and that nobody had ever done that before. We didn't know what it would look like, but were confident that the blueprints in the Writings were good ones.

It reminds me of the story of the man walking through the woods at night. His flashlight only shines a few feet in front of him, and that is all he can see. He knows he's still on the path, but can't see any more than the next few steps he needs to take. And as he takes them, the next few steps become visible.

That is what we are doing now. We are taking a few steps at a time, reflecting on what we have done, and getting a clearer vision of the next few steps we need to take.

Anyone, in my opinion, who says that they know more than the next few steps is either lying or deluded.

But let's go back to the initial statements I made: we are all just regular people, here in the Faith.

What does this mean? It means that we are bound to make mistakes (yes, even me, or perhaps I should say especially me). And this means that we will be each other's test, for we don't like to see mistakes being made. Remember, we are promised that we will be each other's greatest tests.

Let me give you two examples, both of which are true. I know, for I was there.

The first occurred the day after I declared my faith. I went to the Temple in Wilmette, excited at the thought of going to this Temple for the first time as a Baha'i. Of course, I had been there many times before that, including the day before, when I declared my faith in the Visitor's Center, but this was my first time actually going there as a Baha'i. I went upstairs to the auditorium, and was met by a greeter at the door. She was all smiles and lovingly said, "Welcome to the Baha'i Temple. Is this your first time here?"

"No," I replied. "But it is my first time as a Baha'i. I just declared yesterday."

"Oh," she said, clasping her hands in delight, justl ike my Grandmother would have. "Isn't that wonderful? And what is your name?"

I was touched that she asked, and said, "Mead".

"What an interesting name. And what does it mean."

"Well, it's honey wine."

"Oh," she said, just a bit taken aback by this. "And is it alcoholic?"

That seemed an odd question, when I had just said it was wine. "Well, yes it is."

She seemed satisfied with that and said, "What a good reason to change your name."

And that was when I heard the Councourse on High singing over my shoulders, with bells ringing and harps playing, "Test! This is a test!" I only smiled back at her and went on in to pray.

But do you see how easily that could have driven me away? I'm only grateful that I have no clue who she was, and that my faith was a bit stronger than that.

The second incident occurred a short time later at a youth conference. This was a fairly major conference, with many people there, including a member of the Universal House of Justice.

During this conference, there was a play on stage about the issue of homosexuality. But before I continue, let me assure you that this was a singular thing, and guidance has come out about a more proper attitude towards homosexuality, guiding us towards love and acceptance. We have been reminded that the laws of the Baha'i Faith are for Baha'is, and also that we should not condemn anyone at any time. Prejudice is prejudice, no matter whom it is directed against.

In this play there was the sweet little Baha'i family, and the son brought his friend over for dinner. During the dinner, the friend "came out", telling the family that he was gay. The mother ran off stage screaming. The father stormed off angry. And the sister ran off crying. All the while, the son proceeded to "explain" the Baha'i perspective (I should put that in quotes, too) and the friend realized the error of his ways (perhaps I should just put the whole sentence in quotes).

This was very similar to a dear friend of mine who confided in me a few years back that she was questioning whether or not she should still be a Baha'i. When I asked her why, she said that she found herself intolerant of homosexuals, whereas before she had become Baha'i, she had many friends who were gay. We sat down and talked about what was then (and still is in some areas) the prevalent attitude towards gay people in the Baha'i community (this was some years ago, please remember), and then looked at the guidance. We found quite the disparity between the two, and found that the Baha'i Faith is very respectful towards people of all backgrounds, despite what we may have seen.

This attitude, as far as I can tell, is far better now than it was at the time. And that play also made me seriously question if I wanted to be a member of a Faith that espoused that type of attitude. Needless to say, it wasn't the Faith, but only the perspective of the people who wrote that play.

On a lighter note, I remember hearing about this one woman who wanted to enrol, but never did. She was very close to the Faith and seemed to be attending all the activities she could. Finally someone asked her if she wanted to formally enrol. "Oh, I couldn't", she said.

"But why not?"

"I don't look good in a black dress."

It seems that she lived in a community where virtually all of the Baha'is were from Iran, and all the women wore black dresses. It was just the fashion. And she thought it was part of the Faith.

That actually reminds of my neighbour just last week. We were standing outside my home and he asked if there was a law in the Baha'i Writings about not having curtains in your home. You see, my wife and I just moved earlier this year, and have never gotten around to putting up curtains on the first floor. We like the light. And he thought it might be for religious reasons.

I'm glad he asked.

It's kind of crazy what people think may be a part of the Faith. And, for what it's worth, I don't think I'd look too good in a black dress, either.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to sit in on a meeting in which the role of the local Spiritual Assembly within a cluster was discussed. It was quite wonderful, and I feel I learned a lot from it. But, as usual, one particular question caught my attention and I felt that I should share it here, along with my own few thoughts. Perhaps you can share your thoughts on it, too.

Although I don't actually recall the question itself, it went something like this: How can we intensify our efforts when we are already as busy as we can possibly be?

As you know, we are all moving towards aligning our individual actions with those of our cluster. This includes beginning to learn what it means to work in cycles, generally about 3 months duration, the first two weeks of which are exemplified by a greater intensity of effort. There is a lot in the recent guidance from the World Centre about this, and I'm sure I don't need to go into detail here, as you are all far ahead of me in this.

The question, the way it was raised, spoke about how busy everyone is throughout the week, what with committee meetings, or Assembly meetings, holy days, Feasts, and so on and so forth. She said, "How can we be expected to do more?" And this sentiment was echoed in someone else asking how we can even be expected to find the time to go out and meet people of "like-minded organizations".

So, how can we intensify our actions?

Well, I think the first point is to understand what it is we are being asked to do. Now please remember, I am no expert, and am not speaking in an official capacity. I'm only one Baha'i (hence the name of the blog), and this is only my own take on it.

First, it seems evident to me that what we are doing is, quite simply, not enough. Oh, it's not that we're not busy enough, or that we're not having any discernable effect. No. It's just that what we're doing isn't having enough of an effect.

But please, don't let this sound discouraging to you. For it shouldn't be. Instead, we need to re-examine what it is we are doing, see what is working well, and try to become more effective in the areas that are most promising. And isn't that the guidance from the World Centre is helping us do? For me, it helped to think of it in terms of gardening. I can go out with my small watering can and water a few plants near my door. But if I have acres and acres, this is not enough. I will need to invest in a large-scale watering system. New circumstances require new tools.

When we speak of intensification during an expansion phase, we are looking at a short period of time, not the rest of our lives. Remember, this expansion phase is only to be sustainable for a couple of weeks. Now, I could talk about it at length here, but I think it is far better to give an example of what it might look like. By doing this, I find it a lot more understandable (and remember how slow I am).

Oh, and one other thing that I think bears mentioning. From what I have heard, and read, when clusters are just beginning to launch their intensive program of growth, their expansion phase, in reality, is only one weekend. Two days. That is all that the friends can commit to doing. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that, but we must remember that it doesn't stop there. When we do this for a single weekend, I think that what we are doing is training ourselves in what an expansion phase can look like. Getting practice, if you will. As we begin to learn how to make that full commitment, then we have it twice, over two successive weekends. Than as we get better at it, we link those two weekends and have a full 9 days of intensive acitivity during our expansion phase. Once we have reached that stage, then we learn how to make it the full, and most effective, two weeks. And it is not everyone that can make that commitment. Remember, there are 4 expansion phases during a year, and most of us can only take off two weeks from work during that time. That means that we can only fully take part in one of four expansion phases. Well, that's alright. Nothing wrong with that.

But what is it that we are doing?

In the expansion phase (and please note that I'm careful in how I refer to it, for the whole cycle is an "intensive program of growth"), in those clusters that are just beginning to become effective in their work, a small team generally meets every day. They begin by waking up early (and I do mean early) and getting together to say prayers. Oh, and they don't just say a few prayers. no. They pray. They pray for hours. They really get down and pray, for guidance, for assistance, for strength, and for anything else that they think they should pray for. They make a concentrated effort at really trying to draw upon those spiritual powers that are just waiting to come to our aid.

Once they have charged up their spiritual batteries, so to speak, they reflect, if they haven't already done it the night before, upon their activities of the previous day. But let's presume they have already done this, and I'll talk a bit more about it later, as they end their day.

Now that they have an idea of what worked well the day before, and where they need to try and improve, they look at the guidance. Quite often this means that someone picked out a few relevant sections from the Ruhi Books, or a few passages from the Writings or the guidance from the World Centre. Oh, and when I say "a few", I do mean a few. We are not looking at pages and pages of stuff, drowning ourselves in the Ocean of His Revelation. We are refreshing ourselves with a "dewdrop out of this ocean". Part of this study will, of course, look at it in light of the work done the day before, and help us prepare for the actions of the day.

Once we have studied and reflected, then we consult on the plans for the day. What are we going to do? Where are we going to go? What is it that we will be inviting people to? This will obviously differ from community to community, and I won't dwell on it here.

Once the plans are set, and all know them, then we go out. We carry out those plans. We meet people and talk with them, either having already made an appointment to meet with them, or not, as the circumstances warrant.

Quite often there are community activities scheduled during this time, either a children's class or a junior youth group in the afternoon, or a devotional gathering or study circle. Perhaps there is a fireside scheduled for the evening. Whatever is decided, people who will respond to that activity are warmly and lovingly invited. Study circles are started during this time. Needs are assessed and responded to. Friendships are begun.

We see an expansion in our work. Either more people have joined core activities, more activities have begun, or perhaps we have even seen some enrollments. Expansion means that there is growth in some area, and growth is measurable.

When it is all over for the day, the team gets back together and reflects upon what they did, and what they have learned. Someone is asked to prepare the study for the next day, and they all head off for a well-deserved rest. 6 am until 11 pm. It's pretty tough, but very energizing. This type of work is quite the rush.

But is it sustainable? Of course not. We are even told that it should not be.

But now let's look at the daily busy-ness that was referred to earlier. How many meetings do we have in a given week? One. Perhaps two, if we include holy days, feasts, and the like. One, maybe two, study circles. A children's class, usually on a weekend, and maybe a devotional gathering. That seems to take up four nights a week, plus a bit of time on the weekend.

Is this sustainable? Probably.

But even then, it is not enough.

We cannot do this all on our own.

As we expand our activities during the expansion phase, we have to be very careful not to overextend ourselves. If, during the previous consolidation phase, someone finished Book 7 and is ready to tutor Book 1, or if someone is ready to begin a children's class, then we need to help them do this. If we tally up the number of tutors who are ready to begin a new study circle, we better not start more than that number. If we know that we have enough teachers for 20 children, we better stop inviting people when the class is filled. This is only wisdom.

And as we are expanding our community of interest, we are also seeking out those people who want to assist us in riasing up a new community based on spiritual principals. So we are expanding our base of human resources, increasing the number of people we can draw upon.

One last little point. We should not expect miracles. Our own expectations can often get us down. When we reach this level of intensity during our expansion phase, I usually don't notice any significant difference until about the fourth day. For some reason that I don't understand, everything just leaps forward after the fourth day. And then, of we can still keep it up, it leaps again towards the end of the second week. There is something mystical about this sustained level of intensity. it just seems to draw down those mystical forces, of which I spoke earlier.

And you know, if you can keep it up for longer, Mazel Tov. I'm sure there are many other hidden blessings that we just haven't uncovered yet. Perhaps with time, we'll learn about them, too. But for now, a weekend or two will do.


The other day, I was listening to Marielle pray, and she was reciting a passage from Gleanings: "Be as resigned and submissive as the earth, that from the soil of your being there may blossom the fragrant, the holy and multicolored hyacinths of My knowledge."

Now, I know what a hyacinth is, but I got to wondering why does Baha'u'llah refer to that particular flower? There are many times in the Writings when He refers to different flowers, such as the rose or the tulip, but He seems to use the hyacinth in a particular way, and I wonder why.

Here is a photo of some hyacinths, and as you can tell, they are a very beautiful flower, with many dense flowers on a single stalk. They are also smell amazing, and their scent is quite strong. Oh, and yes, they really are mutli-coloured, just like He said.

But why a hyacinth?

And thus my search for the day began.

Upon googling it, my first stop was Wikipedia, in which I learned that the hyacinth is native to western Iran. Who knew? It is used on the Haftseen table, that table that Persians put out for Naw Ruz, and it is symbolic of the rebirth that occurs every Spring Equinox.

The hyacinth, interestingly enough, is named after a Greek youth (whose name, coincidentally, was Hyacinth), who was greatly loved by Apollo. In the story, they were throwing the discus when Zephyr, the god of the West Wind, blew the discus off course and it struck Hyacinth, killing him. Apollo, grieving for his friend, refused to allow Hades to take him to the Underworld and, instead, grew the flower from the drops of his blood that were on the ground.

And why, you may ask, do I mention this?

Because Apollo is seen as the god of light and the sun, truth and prophecy, music, poetry, and the arts. Do you see a connection in all of this? To my eye, these are all elements of the same thing. And when you connect them to the Knowledge of God, as in the above quote, you can see how they all relate. When looking up the "meaning of flowers", the hyacinth is said to symbolize knowledge, which is reflected in all of the above. I find it appropriate that the god of truth and the arts would love the symbol of knowledge.

But I wasn't satisfied. I wanted to learn more about what Baha'u'llah says about this flower.

In the Persian Hidden Words, Baha'u'llah says, almost identically twice (in numbers 33 and 78), "Sow the seeds of My divine wisdom in the pure soil of thy heart, and water them with the water of certitude, that the hyacinths of My knowledge and wisdom may spring up fresh and green in the sacred city of thy heart." And again, in that same Book, He writes, "Wherefore sow the seeds of wisdom and knowledge in the pure soil of the heart, and keep them hidden, till the hyacinths of divine wisdom spring from the heart and not from mire and clay."

Once again, we have that connection to knowledge and wisdom, but this time it is combined with the "seeds of (God's) wisdom", and those seeds are sown in our heart. They don't just grow on their own, but need to be planted in the fertile soil of our heart. Oh, and this metaphor can also spawn many articles all by itself, but I won't digress here.

In the Kitab-i-Iqan, Baha'u'llah says that those who "labour in quest of God's will, when once they have renounced all else but Him," "will hearken unto infallible proofs from the Hyacinth of that assembly". So here, the hyacinth is the bearer of the proofs of God.

And you may note, especially in connection with the first quote, that resignation to the Will of God is another theme that runs throught these quotes.

So what have I found in all this?

I think it begins with resignation to God's will, which helps us grow spirituality. By submitting to the various tests and trials that we encounter in life, and accepting them for what they are, we till the soil of our heart. As 'Abdu'l-Baha says, "The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment."

When the soil of the heart is well prepared, then we can "Sow the seeds of My divine wisdom", with the hope that those seeds will take root. If we regularly water that soil with "the living waters of Thy knowledge", and illumine it "with the light of the fear of God," then it is fairly certain that these flowers will grow.

But how will we know they are growing? Because our words will become more fragrant, attracting those around us, as we strive to speak with the knowledge of God. But this knowledge is not uniform. It is multicoloured, shining in many different ways. For some, this knowledge will express itself in public talks on economy, for others it will manifest itself as a poem. There are some who show it as a beautiful building, and others as music. This knowledge will find expression through all the ways that people communicate with the world, especially in the arts. But one thing remains constant: all of these flowers are attractive.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Bit More on Totems

Yesterday I wrote a post about education and totems, and the recognition of different personality types. A very profound comment, which I reposted there, suggested that "We have to be able to teach all modalities (aural, visual, kinesthetic) to all children." And while I completely agree with this, it is not quite the same as what I was talking about.

While thinking about it, I realized that there are different things being learned in school, different things being taught by the teachers. The primary one that society seems to focus on is the intellectual stuff, which can be taught to the teachers and further conveyed to all the students. To do this, we need to learn to reach all the students in many different ways, not only because people learn differently, but also because people pick up different things in each modality. This is experienced by all of us as we go through the Ruhi Books in the training institute in our area. We learn some things by memorizing, and other things by answering the various questions. We learn still more by doing the practices, and then reflecting on how that experience sheds new light upon what we have studied.

But there is still something else, altogether, to be said for the teacher / student interaction in the school setting: Not all teachers can reach out and connect with every student on that profound level that makes a huge difference in the life of that student.

Oh, and this is not the fault of the teacher, nor the fault of the student. It's just the way it is.

Aside: There is a great story of a famous teacher of the Cause (I think it was either Ali Kuli Khan or Lutfullah Hakim, but I wouldn't swear to it) who was giving a  talk one evening, and Ruhiyyih Khanum was there in the audience. At the end of the talk, they said, "And now Ruhiyyih Khanum will tell you a little bit about the Faith." She was shocked by this, but went up and spoke anyways. Afterwards, she went up to the speaker and asked what he thought he was doing, putting her on the spot like that. He explained that there may have been people in the audience whom he would never have been able to reach, just because of their different personalities. No matter how he tried, he said, he would never be able to connect with them. Perhaps, because she was different, she might be able to reach them, and how could he deny them this opportunity?

This is how I feel about teachers in the school system.

When I was a child I had some excellent teachers who, through no fault of their own, just didn't connect with me. They were excellent teachers, and I learned a lot from them, but there was no "connection" there. Then there was another teacher who almost universally hated by my classmates, but for some reason, her and I just became very good friends. She is one my cherished teachers and I would say she changed the course of my life.

This is what I'm referring to.

My history teacher, whom everyone loved, and who taught us so much about the love of history, just didn't click with me. My chemistry teacher, however, did. She first taught me a lot about the subject she was paid to teach, but then went on and taught me about how to see what is important in life.

It seems to me unrealistic to expect all teachers to connect with all children. Life just doesn't work like that. We are not interchangeable cogs on a wheel. Some people we work well with, and others we don't.

And it is here that I find the personal animal totem a useful metaphor. Oh, and to be sure, this is different from the family, clan or tribal totems. You just need to do a bit of a search on totems to see the difference.

So bear with me while I recount what I know of how this system worked.

A child would be born and grow up in a village. They would be watched by everyone around them. All would get to know who they were. Then, at the appropriate time, which differed amongst different tribes, the child would be given their totem. This was a public ceremony, presided over by either a shaman or an elder. Through this, the child would be consciously aware of what their totem was, as would everyone else. Also, the totem was not usually chosen by the child, but by people who had lots of experience and knew what traits to look for.

Today, I have worked in offices where personality tests were adminstered to help people understand inter-office dynamics. To me, this seems a bit similar to the idea of the totems that I am talking about in a school. But let's face it, it far more fun to be a skunk than an "istj".

You see, when we are a bit more aware of how people interact, we can actually put that information to good use. Those of us who have had the bounty of staying after school with a teacher, willingly, and helped them clean their room while they just chatted, know of what I am speaking. It is those conversations, those friendships with someone in a position of authority, that are life changing.

So why not do what we can to encourage it?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Children's Education and Totems

My wife and I recently went to an exhibit on Aboriginal American artwork, and it included many totem poles, shamanic masks, sculptures and paintings.

We also recently taught a children's class on spiritual development in our neighbourhood.

In the exhibit there was a stunning mask of the bear spirit, and a sculpture of a raven shaman.

In the class there was one beautiful little child who was so shy, but she comes to life whenever she colours. There's another child who always wants to run around and play rough games.

'Abdu'l-Baha once said that the Aboriginal peoples of the Americas "will become so illumined as to enlighten the whole world", "should they be educated and guided".

Baha'u'llah said that we should "Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom."

In a previous article, I wrote about how each of us shows forth these gems of divine virtues differently, and how it is a challenge for the teachers of children to understand how to polish each rough stone the way it needs to be polished, in order to bring out its best qualities.

As my wife and I were talking the other day, we realized that we already see the very beginning of this recognition within our current educational system, through the idea that people learn differently, or that there are different types of intelligence. We found ourselves having to applaud the recognition that some people learn, for example, by lecture, while others learn by writing, and still others by doing. We were very grateful that others understand the notion that some people have, for instance, a high physical intellingence, like most sports players, while some might have a mathematical intelligence.

But both of these understandings only deal with the input side of school and education. They don't actually help in the interpersonal stuff.

As we walked amongst the totem poles, we found ourselves looking at what we presumed was the history of a family. As we gazed in wonder at the shamanic masks, we saw ourselves staring at the open recognition of different personality types, expressed through the attributes of the animals.

We already understand that the various animal spirits represent different attributes of God. We know implicitly that the Bear Spirit, to name one, can be easily seen as God, the All-Powerful. Or that the Raven can be viewed as God, the Creator. This is nothing new to us.

But when we look at a child and watch them move with a sinuous grace, playful in all aspects of life, generous beyond all expectation, we recognize that they can easily be seen as an otter. And that the other child, lumbering around in a body too big for him, slightly aggressive and very assertive in his demeanour, can be looked at as a bear. Neither one is better than the other, and neither one is any less precious, but they cannot be handled in the same way. The games of the otter are not the same as the games of the bear.

In the Aboriginal cultures, from what we understand, these children would have been given their totem by their community, consciously acknowledging their strengths, and then guided by people of that same totem, or personality type. Each would have been raised to be the most productive person they could have been in their culture, drawing upon their strengths and compensating for their weaknesses.

Today, it seems that all children are expected to fit into a similar mold, even if it is recognized that they may have different learning styles. They are not expected to seperate into their individual specialties until at least university. By this point, sadly, many have already dropped out of the school system, or are so thoroughly entrenched in their habits that it is practically too late to do anything about them.

And while it is not practical to have a dozen different school systems for the myriad personality types, there are some lessons to be learned from this tradition of the Aboriginal peoples.

Marielle, who was a school teacher for many years, shared some insights about this.

She spoke about those children whose natural assertiveness made them more prone to being bullies, and how they tended to abuse those teachers whose personalities were far more placid. It was expected that the Principal would be the one to handle these issues, but quite often they, too, were far more gentle than was good for the situation. She then talked about one school where she worked in which it was the janitor who stepped in, even though it wasn't in his job description. He was the one who looked out for the teachers, and if any child stepped over the line, he was swift to call them on it. When I was a kid, it was a gym teacher who filled that role.

And all of this led us to some practical thoughts about this problem.

A school, you see, is not made up of a bunch of individual classrooms. It is a full community, dedicated to the raising and educating of children, helping prepare them to become the best contributing members of society that they can. It is there to help them draw upon their strengths, and compensate for their weaknesses.

When we recognize that it is the job of all the staff in a school, including the janitor, to do this, then we have more resources to draw upon. This would also be aided when we better understand how different personality types can work with the different children.

But it isn't limited to the staff at the school. It can't be, nor should it be. The school is just part of the circle of resources for the children. That circle, to be healthy, also needs to include the school board, the parents and all the other people of the area in which the school exists.

We should look at the personality strengths of each teacher and help them learn how to draw upon their strengths of virtue, not just their intellectual education, in helping guide the children.

And besides, in the end, this approach will also help the children learn to interact in a healthy manner with all the other children in their school, too. Which is a great lesson to prepare them for life.

Maybe this is one of those rays of light that this culture will shine upon the world.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Arts - a Thought

Maybe it's just me, and I'm sure it is, but I couldn't stop laughing this morning. I was looking through the compilation "The Importance of the Arts" and ran across a quote from the Guardian:
Shoghi Effendi wishes me to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated October 27th 1931, together with the accompanying music of "The Lonely Stranger" sent through.... He sincerely hopes that as the Cause grows and talented persons come under its banner, they will begin to produce in art the divine spirit that animates their soul. Every religion has brought with it some form of art -- let us see what wonders this Cause is going to bring along. Such a glorious spirit should also give vent to a glorious art. The Temple with all its beauty is only the first ray of an early dawn; even more wondrous things are to be achieved in the future.
Isn't that beautiful? Isn't it encouraging? I can just imagine being the recipient of this letter and thinking, "Wow, he approves and is hoping that this music of mine will help animate someone's soul." Even more, I might think he was calling my piece "glorious", but I don't think I'd go that far.

Then he goes on and gives us a vision of the glorious future of this mighy Cause, linking it to the Temple, the most conspicuous work within the Faith at that time.

So what, you may be thinking, did I find so funny? Well, like it said, it's probably just me, but I shifted the emphasis a bit as I re-read it. I seemed to focus on the hope that "talented persons" enter into the Faith. Does that mean that the person who wrote this music was not talented?

Ok. Obviously not. But it was enough to give me the giggles for some time.

In fact, when I showed it to my friend Bob, he gave me a far more lucid explanation.

He said that it may have been a good piece, and Shoghi Efendi applauded that, but that they may have missed a point. The artist may have been lamenting the loneliness of the Stranger, and perhaps Shoghi Effendi wanted something more upbeat. Or at least less lamenting.

It is rare, Bob said, that a lament really uplifts someone and "animates their soul".

Well, all this got me thinking.

I looked through some old copies of The Baha'i World, and there, in volume five, 1932 - 1934, I found the work in question.

It is a fairly simple piece, a duet played andante. This is a moderately slow tempo, but not so slow that it's a dirge. It is between allagretto and adagio, or two beats per second. The lyrics read fairly well, but they are not what I would call uplifting. My friend called them "juvenile", but that could have also been the way I was reading them. Here is a small sampling:
Welcome to the stranger in this desert drear
His most holy footprints follow without fear
He will guide and keep thee; give to Him thy hand
Our dear Master leads us thru earth's toilsome land
To my eye, it's not exactly inspired, but it's a good beginning.

I now read this letter of the Guardian's as an inspiration, a way to say, "Good start, now keep practicing."

It is also a reminder that we are not yet at the point of producing the "great art" of this Dispensation, a reminder that is found throughout the compilation. But just because we are not yet there does not mean we should give up. It just means that we are the very beginning of this Dispensation. And as he says elsewhere, "We need poets..." "We need... writers..."

Now, upon re-reading, and getting all of those pesky giggles out of my system, I see this as a call to raise the standard higher. And today, there are many works of art that are of a considerably higher quality than what we saw within the Faith 100, 50 or even 20 years ago.
But you know, we still have a long way to go: "even more wondrous things are to be achieved in the future".

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Last weekend I was helping a friend out by subbing for her as a tutor of Ruhi Book 7. She had to go out of town and didn't want that to interrupt the flow of the course. It was kind of funny, as she had told me that they were at the last section of the second unit, so I should prepare for the arts in the third unit. When I got there, the participants told me that they were about five sections from the end. I guess my friend made a typo about the section. We actually finished where we were supposed to begin.

But this session got me thinking.

When we began, I explained that I really didn't know the participants and I wanted to get to know them a bit before getting into the book itself. In the midst of our conversation, I asked a question that I think is pertinant to Ruhi Book 7, the one that helps train you to be a tutor of the previous books. "What is the difference between teaching and training?"

I think many of us never really stop to think about that. I mean, have you ever noticed how the Universal House of Justice refers to this core activity? I may be mistaken, but I don't believe that they refer to it as "Stucy Circles". They call it "the training institute", of which the study circle is one component. Some of the other pieces of this institute are things like the sequence of courses, but I'm sure you already know all this.

Teaching, to me, is the imparting of information, while training is the gradual development of skills. Sports players are not taught how to be better players; they undergo training. And this training requires practice, reflection, information, analysis, and more practice, and on and on.

Based on the conversation that we had, the other participants and I, it seemed timely to share this quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha. After I read it, their reaction told me that it was useful, and so, with that in mind, here it is:
The Blessed Perfection suffered innumerable ordeals and calamities, but during His lifetime He trained in all regions many souls who were peerless. The purpose of the appearance of the Manifestations of God is the training of the people. That is the only result of Their mission, the real outcome. The outcome of the whole life of Jesus was the training of eleven disciples and two women. Why did He suffer troubles, ordeals and calamities? For the training of these few followers. That was the result of His life. The product of the life of Christ was not the churches but the illumined souls of those who believed in Him. Afterward, they spread His teachings.

It is my hope that you all may become the product of the life of Bahá'u'lláh and the outcomes of His heavenly training. When the people ask you, "What has Bahá'u'lláh accomplished?" say to them, "He has created these; He has trained us."
Thinking about this gave me a deeper appreciation for this core activity. We, or at least I, often refer to it as a study circle, which seems to place the emphasis on study. This gives great weight to the book learning side of it.

But when I think of it as a part of the training institute, then the emphasis is more properly placed on the training and practice side of it.

Today I believe we could do no better than to remember these words of 'Abdu'l-Baha and look at what He is trying to tell us. The purpose of Baha'u'llah's life was not to build the temples and the Administrative Order: it was to train us. Each and every one of us.

Oh, and as a tutor, or as a teacher of the Faith, that means not just us. It means those to whom we are reaching out, also. Truly each and every one of us.

When I am sitting there in a study circle, listening to the questions and insights of the other participants, I try to remember that I am listening to those saints and angels that Baha'u'llah is helping to raise. When I listen to the heartfelt questions of the seekers with whom I have the pleasure of talking, I need to keep in mind that these are the souls that He has sent to help train me, too. And that they, also, are being trained. We are all being trained to raise up a new civilization based upon spiritual principles, in which all peoples are given the love and respect due each human being upon this planet.

This is why He suffered. This is the outcome of His life.

And this is one of the reasons why I am so grateful to be able to walk this path with each of you reading this. Thanks for making it possible.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


It's odd, what catches my attention. I mean, there I am, going about my day, walking with my son to catch his schoolbus, and an idea pops out of the woods and say "Write about me! Write about me!"

A few days ago, as we were walking, and the sun was beginning to think about getting up, Shoghi said that he wished he could sleep in just a little bit later. Well, I can certainly relate to that.

I said to him, "Shoghi, do you know what we do tomorrow?"

He looked up at me, hope gleaming in his eyes, "Sleep in?"

"Even better." I could just hear him thinking what could be better than that. "We set the clocks back to where they belong."

Now how odd of a phrase is that? And what does all this have to do with the Baha'i Faith? Patience, dear Reader, patience. I'm in a fairly stream-of-thought mood today.

So there I was, walking with a five-year old boy, trying to explain daylight savings time (when we turn the clocks back, does that mean it's daylight wastings time?) and why we have it. And before I begin, yes, I m aware of the various reasons touted for having it. I just don't buy it. That's all.

You see, we, humanity, have a habit of thinking that we can control every aspect of our world around us, changing it as we will to suit our desires. As I explained to Shoghi, we forget that we live in a world of nature.

Noon, in  case it has slipped anyone's mind, is when the sun is supposed to be at its zenith, the highest point in the sky. But rather than accept this, and adjust our lives around the movement of the planet, we try and change the numbers on the clock, instead.

To my eye, it is yet another sign that we are just not living in touch with nature around us.

I asked my son if he had noticed that the sun is getting up later and later every day. "Of  course, Papa."

I asked him if he had noticed that the moon is getting lower and lower every morning when we walk to the bus. "Yes, Papa."

Then I asked him what letter the moon looked like that morning. After thinking about it for a moment, because it was hidden behind a cloud, he said, "C, Papa."

"That's right. And is the C getting fatter or thinner?"

"Thinner." He practically jumped with joy, because he knew that one.

"Did you know, Shoghi, that many people today do not know that? They don't know that the moon moves further east every day, if you check at the same time day after day. And they don't know that the C-moon gets thinner. If you ask them which order the moon goes in, whether it is C-O-D or D-O-C, they don't know. I would guess that the majority of the people around us are not aware as many things in nature as you are right now."

Then he asked me the simple question about why we change the clocks. What could I say? Many people have argued that it is good for the environment, cutting down on the amount of energy used with lighting and air conditioning and stuff, but this has never been proved. In fact, there are many contradictory studies about it. Some say that it helps retail sales, sports and other things that are done after work hours that use sunlight, but it adversely affects just as many other things, including sleep patterns and record keeping (at least during that questionable hour), not to mention the effect on farming and farmers.

No. I see this as a silly attempt to try and exert control over time, instead of adjusting ourselves to the realities of the world. If we really were concerned about retail sales, why not just adjust our store hours? If we were concerned about advertising revenue on prime time television, why not shift the schedule a bit, instead of trying to move the whole clock? For one who tries to be flexible in the way he lives his life, this whole concept of daylight savings time just seems absurd to me.

But this is not an isolated incident. To my untrained eye, it follows on the heels of a number of other attempts at similar things. Back in the 18th and 19th century, there was the attempt of seperating church and state, which, while not a bad idea in the way that it was originally stated, has gone to a ridiculous length in that people are being chastised for using their moral beliefs in trying to make political decisions. Then there was Marx's attempt at removing the spiritual from the political world altogether, with Marxism and Communism, not to mention the various strides in this direction made in the psychological and scientific realms.

(I may be stepping out on a limb here, but I see this as mankind's final attempt to "go at it" without God. It is of interesting coincidence to me that Marx lived during the formative years of the Babi and Baha'i Revelations. Now, so much later, we are really beginning to see that we cannot "go at it" without God.)

It seems to me that we have so much freedom here on this planet, but there are some things we cannot control, and we balk when we find things we cannot do. We need to include God and spirituality in all our daily works, while being careful not to overstep the bounds of courtesy and love.

And we cannot stop the movement of the planets, even though we can bring light to our previously darkened nights.

No, this whole idea of Daylight Savings Time really seems absurd to me and every year, twice a year, I wonder why we bother.

There is something beautiful about being able to go outside, look at the sun, and say, "Yeah, it seems to be about noon."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Strings and Teaching

I may have mentioned it before, but I am currently writing for another blog, called Spiritually Speaking. It is part of the Times-Colonist website, the local newspaper here in Victoria. As I've been mulling over the purpose of this other blog and what I hope to do there, a few thoughts about teaching came to mind. I figured it might be a good idea to place them here for your consideration.

To start, let me tell you a story. It's a familiar one to many of us, I'm sure. It all begins when someone asks me about the faith, usually with something along the lines of "So what is Baha'i?" This is always asked as if such a broad question can be answered in just a few moments. Then I begin to panic, thinking this may be the only chance I will ever have of telling this person about the Baha'i Faith, and what if I blow it, and they never get a chance to hear about it again and how would I feel when I get to the next world, and the list of internal panic questions just goes on and on. Well, then I begin to speak as fast as possible about the Baha'i Faith which began in 1844 when the Bab, a young merchant from Shiraz, Iran, declared His Faith to Mulla Husayn, cramming as much raw data as I can into the space of just a few moments, and did I mention Tahirih, the only female Letter of the Living, and the Conference of Badasht, and how 'Abdul-Baha came to North America in 1912, and Shoghi Effendi appointed 27 Hands of the Cause just before he passed away, hoping to touch on every aspect of the Faith as much as I can before they run screaming into the distance. And, as I predicted, I never get a chance to tell them anything more about the Faith.

I'm sure you know what I mean, and recognize that this is not the best way to try and share the Faith with someone. Knowing this, a number of years ago I took it upon myself to try and find a simple way of answering that question in under a minute. But then I realized that this wasn't enough. I needed to answer the question in such a way that they were encouraged to ask another question that would tell me what they wanted to hear.

Aside, as if all that wasn't enough of an aside yet: I remember hearing one person do this to some unfortunate guy. He asked, and she went on for what seemed like two hours. Non-stop. Almost without breath. It reminded of Mark Twain's comment that he hadn't spoken to his wife in fifteen years, because he didn't want to interrupt her. This gentleman and I were both too polite to interrupt this woman. As soon as I could, I politely stepped in front of her, and asked the man if he liked baseball. It's not that I did, but I noticed that he had something baseball-like in his hands (a program or magazine or some such). This took us on a totally unrelated topic, and changed his expression from "get me out of here" to "let's talk some more". From there, we spoke of unity on the teams, and how important unity is in our life. He then wanted to come to a fireside that was being held later that night.

All this to say that I don't think it is enough to merely answer a question, or to tell someone something so that they say, "Thanks, that answers my question." For that is a dead end.

No, I want to engage them in a conversation so that they will then ask me something in return. My favorite thing is when I'm asked a really good question and have to say, "Wow, that is wonderful, but I'll have answer it next time", for then the conversation is not over.

It is sort of like Shaherazad and the 1001 Arabian Nights. She had to keep the Shah wanting more of the story. If she ever got to the end, she would have died the next day, and she knew it.

But for us, it is a bit different. We are trying to share something so beautiful, so profound, and we are trying to help create a new civilization in the process. We can't just tell people what we think they want to hear, for most of the people out there really don't care about the Letters of the Living, or have no interest in hearing yet again about world peace or gender equality. They have their own interests. And we need to listen to them to find out what they are.

It is sort of like what Baha'u'llah is reported to have said, in Stories from the Delight of Hearts: "Consider the way in which the Master teaches the people. He listens very carefully to the most hollow and senseless talk. He listens so intently that the speaker says to himself, 'He is trying to learn from me.' Then the Master gradually and very carefully, by means that the other person does not perceive, puts him on the right path and endows him with a fresh power of understanding."

You see, "He listens very carefully". He finds out what they are interested in, and then helps elevate the conversation, just like in Ruhi Book 2.

But how does this apply to writing? We know that this doesn't work in conversations, but it can also kill a readers interest.

With this other blog, I realize that the first thing we need to do is find out what is of interest to the readers. Then we need to write about it. Just a bit. Offer a little taste of what the Writings say, and leave room for comments. If we do not leave room for comments, and tie up everything nice and neat, then we are not engaged in conversation. We are lecturing. We can speak on controversial or conservative issues; I'm not sure it really matters. But if we speak about controversial issues, in a respectful and loving manner, then the editors will see lots and lots of exciting comments and be more inclined to keep the forum open.

This is what I mean when I say "strings" in the title. We need to offer a bit on an idea, but not so much that there is no room for comment. We can talk a lot about one aspect of something, such as God's love in the presentation in Book 6, and only a tiny bit about something else, such as the Covenant. This opens up the conversation in that direction, as many will ask about it.

It is the same with writing. We can write about the gay marriage issue, as I once did, helping place it within a context that makes the issue easier to grapple with. Some may have noticed that I never said what the Baha'i perspective was in that particular article, but that is because it was irrelevant to the issue at hand, which was about re-framing the question. Once I did that, it helped a number of people realized that they were, in fact, confusing the two issues (one being the legal marriage and the other the religious marriage). By this point, they were aware that I didn't condemn anyone for not being Baha'i, and were open to hearing our perspective, whether or not they agreed with it. If they did, fine. If they disagreed, they knew it was ok. They could freely choose to follow another path, without concern of me attacking them for it.

To see more on this issue, take another look at the outline you made for the presentation in Ruhi Book 6. You will see that it talks about the eternal Covenant. From there, it talks about Baha'u'llah, the latest link in this eternal chain. It just makes sense. "Eternal covenant", you say. "And Who are some of these Manifestations," they may ask. You list a few and be sure to end with Baha'u'llah. They may ask a bit about Him, and you talk about the pivot of His teachings: unity. They then naturally ask to hear more about Him, which carries you forward in the talk. At every step there is room for questions. At every point, whether in conversation or in writing, we need to keep it open to hear the response from others, to hear what is happening in their heart. For then you will hear what to write about next.

And this is what I think about when I'm writing about the Faith. How do I keep the conversation open? And on-going?