Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012


I noticed, the other day, that there are quite a large number of draft posts sitting around in a folder on this blog. 70 of them, to be exact. Well, 69 as of today. I've decided to make it a goal to clear out that folder and move as many of them as are worth it to the published folder. I'm sure that most of them will be deleted.

This one almost was. I mean, all I had was "middle way is being lost" and "whether its class or political".

Not much to go on.

After all, there was almost no indication of what I had been thinking which prompted me to write down that paucity of words.

Aside - I like Toastmasters. Really. I do. They do great work, and have a format that works for many people. I was first introduced to them a number of years ago by a good friend of mine who brought me to one of their meetings. When I was there, their "word of the day" was paucity. We were asked to get up and try to use it in a sentence. The first guy got up and said "Paucity is a city in northern Manitoba", making a pun on the name "The Pas", which, for some odd reason is pronounced as if it something at the end of a dog's leg. The next attempts made me wonder if they really knew what the word meant. When they asked me to get up, I said, and I have no idea why, except that maybe I'm a smart alec, "The scarcity of paucity will necessarily lead, you see, to what must be veracity." See? It wasn't really a tangent. Just an aside.

And now back to our regularly scheduled topic.

Moderation is such an interesting thing. As we all know, there is a lot in the Writings about moderation, and its importance. The most famous of these quotes is, no doubt, from Gleanings, where Baha'u'llah says, "It is incumbent upon them who are in authority to exercise moderation in all things. Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence." Most often when this passage is quoted, it is only the second half that is used. Given more and more of what I am seeing in the world, I think that it is vital to include the first half, too. You see, positions of authority do not only include those of government, but also those in corporate situations, as well as management positions. They include the leaders of the Boy Scouts, as well as coaches in Little League. They include teachers and doctors. They include any position in which one can exercise a degree of control or influence over another. And there are countless stories of those in such positions abusing that authority. If we would learn the depth of these two sentences, so much abuse of this power would simply disappear.

Another place where Baha'u'llah speaks about moderation is in Tablets of Baha'ul'lah. "Human utterance", He says, "is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets." Even in speaking, it is so important to remember this moderation, for when we speak we can so easily influence others.

That is the essence of this, to me. We need to be especially careful to use moderation when we are in a position in which we can influence others. That is the theme that seems to run through all these quotes, to me. It seems to be yet another area in which the importance of free-will, and the freedom to choose for oneself, is ensured within the Writings.

Perhaps there is no area in human interaction in which this freedom to choose is more important than in the dispensation of justice. When a person transgresses the limits imposed upon them by society, it is the justice system that takes over the limitation of their actions, generally through imprisonment. But, as we have seen all too often, this system can be corrupted.

And in the arena of education, the interest of justice demands the teachers grade the students on their own performance, and not merely on how closely the student agrees with teachers own personal opinion. I do remember one time when I presented a paper to a professor that completely went against their own personal beliefs. My fellow students warned me against it, saying that she would, no doubt, fail me for such a contrary perspective, regardless of whether or not I agreed with it, too. But in the end, she proved herself to be a truly worthy teacher, for she graded me on my argument, and the formulation of it. (I only got a B, but that was really all I deserved.)

"Whoso cleaveth to justice," Baha'u'llah says, "can, under no circumstances, transgress the limits of moderation. He discerneth the truth in all things, through the guidance of Him Who is the All-Seeing. The civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men. Thus warneth you He Who is the All-Knowing. If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation. Meditate on this, O people, and be not of them that wander distraught in the wilderness of error. The day is approaching when its flame will devour the cities, when the Tongue of Grandeur will proclaim: 'The Kingdom is God's, the Almighty, the All-Praised!'"

And so here, in this quote, we see that dire warning that seems to be surrounding us right now. Due to a lack of moderation, which is existent in so many areas, the fire of excess seems to be getting ready to devour us. And as much as I would love to look at this last quote more, I think I will publish this article now, and examine this last quote a bit more later, when I can really look at it in more depth. (I have to go conduct a meditation workshop right now.)

But I did want to end with this last, little snippet from the Writings: In all matters moderation is desirable.

Really. What more can I say?

Friday, September 14, 2012


When my wife and I sold our house in Winnipeg, we looked into buying a new house here in Victoria. After looking around, we decided against it. Why? Simple, really: math. The general rule is that the cost of a house should be about 15 years worth of comparable rent. If the cost is lower, say around 12 years, then the house is supposed to be a very good price. Here in Victoria it seemed to me that the average price was about 22 years worth of rent. In other words, the houses are vastly overpriced right now. And given the fact that my wife is a musician in the military, and we can stay in the military housing for quite a bit lower rent, buying just wasn't a good option at the time.

But this led us to another question altogether: What do we do with the money we received from our sale of the house?

Payment of the applicable Right of God and contributions to the Fund aside, we were still left with a sizable chunk of change. How, we wondered, should we use it?

The first thing we did was put some of it towards my artwork, allowing me to buy materials that I could not have afforded otherwise. This has allowed me to expand my work, and make a decent living with it at the same time. Nice, that.

Then we put some money in with Investor's Group. Now, however, we are re-thinking that last decision.


Well, I'm glad you asked, dear Reader.

Marielle and I have been talking a lot about the current global situation, as well as the effect that the money markets have on the planet. One thing that caught our attention was the injunction in Islam forbidding the charging of interest on a loan. In the Qur'an, verse 2:275, it says "But Allah has permitted trade and has forbidden interest."

Baha'u'llah has rescinded this in the following passage, but the very concept still has me thinking:

As to thy question concerning interest and profit on gold and silver: Some years ago the following passage was revealed from the heaven of the All-Merciful in honour of the one who beareth the name of God, entitled Zaynu'l-Muqarrabin -- upon him be the glory of the Most Glorious. He -- exalted be His Word -- saith: Many people stand in need of this. Because if there were no prospect for gaining interest, the affairs of men would suffer collapse or dislocation. One can seldom find a person who would manifest such consideration towards his fellow-man, his countryman or towards his own brother and would show such tender solicitude for him as to be well-disposed to grant him a loan on benevolent terms. (Such loans as bear no interest and are repayable whenever the borrower pleases.) Therefore as a token of favour towards men We have prescribed that interest on money should be treated like other business transactions that are current amongst men. Thus, now that this lucid commandment hath descended from the heaven of the Will of God, it is lawful and proper to charge interest on money, that the people of the world may, in a spirit of amity and fellowship and with joy and gladness, devotedly engage themselves in magnifying the Name of Him Who is the Well-Beloved of all mankind. Verily He ordaineth according to His Own choosing. He hath now made interest on money lawful, even as He had made it unlawful in the past. Within His grasp He holdeth the kingdom of authority. He doeth and ordaineth. He is in truth the Ordainer, the All-Knowing.

My first question is why was it a problem in the first place? What is the result of charging interest? And even though Baha'u'llah has said that it is now lawful, should we still approach it with caution?

Here are my thoughts, which, of course, are nothing official, but they do guide my own direction with investing.

First of all, I think we can look at Wall Street as the extreme form of this process. I do not think it is the norm in regards to the investing of money, although that format has developed to be most popular. (Which I guess makes it the norm in terms of dollar amounts, but I don't think most of the people in the world would think of using their money in this manner.) The sole concern with Wall Street, I think it is safe to say, is the making of a profit. This, unfortunately, often comes at the expense of things like individuals, the environment, moral behaviour, and so forth. And while I do not think there is anything wrong with wanting to make a profit, "Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation", Baha'u'llah says, "will cease to exert a beneficial influence."

This, to my untrained eye, is the source of many of the problems that are facing the world at this time. There are just too many people whose sole concern is making money for themselves, and they do not appear to see the dangers of this.

The second thing about Wall Street is that they, as a formless entity, produce nothing. They do not create anything tangible. All they do is move money around, which in itself is an intangible thing, and then charge a percentage fee to do so. If anything, they assist the businesses that they help to be more effective in producing things like business plans, which in turn help them be more efficient.

Either way, I still think they charge too much money for doing virtually nothing.

But what can I do? Baha'u'llah says that it is ok to invest our money, but I do not feel comfortable placing my money at the disposal of those who do demonstrate a concern for the welfare of the planet.

Simple. (And I really like simple answers.)

I can invest locally.

How? I am so glad you asked, dear Reader.

There are many options for this. One of them is to loan money through a micro-loan organization, and there are many of these around now. While the payback rate is quite high, though, you don't always get to see the impact of your investment.

For me, I prefer, and will be looking into, making loans in my own community. There are plenty of farmers who could use the assistance, and in return I would not only get my money back at some point in the future, but I would also get some of the crops as an extra payment. This, to me, would be my profit: food.

I can also invest in local artists, or artisans.

To do this, I am looking at the Wall Street model for guidance, without their underlying principles. I will be asking the artist to show me their portfolio, as well as business statements. I want them to show me that they know what they are doing, capable business people, and proficient artists. In other words, they should be able to demonstrate to me that they will use the money wisely.

And what would I like in return? Well, that depends. Sometimes a bit of a profit on the money, over a few years time, or else perhaps a work of art in addition to the money back. In other words, I don't want to just buy a work of art. I have enough of that already. Instead, I want to be able to help them develop and grow in their field, as I have been able to do in mine.

There is also the possibility of helping someone with start-up costs in a non-artistic business, but this is more theoretical for me. I mean, I am an artist after all, so my natural inclination is to support the arts.

Anyways, I have to go and sell my own work today, so I have to leave it here, but I wanted to share a few of these thoughts that have been going through my mind. I would dearly love to hear feedback on this, and any suggestions for wise investing that you may have.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Thought on a Profession

I love my job.

No, really. I do.

I have the incredible bounty of making jewelry and artwork for a vocation, and then selling it to people who seem to appreciate it. (I only figure they appreciate it because they generally smile as they give me money.) It is so much fun and such a delightful way to spend my time that I often confuse the concepts of vocation and vacation.

As you can imagine, dear Reader, I didn't just happen to think about this as I woke up this morning. No. I was reading some of the Writings, specifically paragraph 33 in the Kitab-i-Aqdas (actually, the nearly identical paragraph in Tablets of Baha'u'llah, but it looks more impressive when I quote the Aqdas) when some thoughts on work came to mind.

The paragraph in question, in case you're wondering, is:

O people of Baha! It is incumbent upon each one of you to engage in some occupation -- such as a craft, a trade or the like. We have exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship of the one true God. Reflect, O people, on the grace and blessings of your Lord, and yield Him thanks at eventide and dawn. Waste not your hours in idleness and sloth, but occupy yourselves with what will profit you and others. Thus hath it been decreed in this Tablet from whose horizon hath shone the day-star of wisdom and utterance. The most despised of men in the sight of God are they who sit and beg. Hold ye fast unto the cord of means and place your trust in God, the Provider of all means.

This is a very interesting paragraph in that it comes just after the command to go on Pilgrimage, and right before the prohibition on the kissing of hands. It is as if you read that you have to make your way to the Holy Land for a length of time and ask God "How am I going to pay for it?" Well, here you go. Get a job.

And then you are there, in the Holy Land, meeting these most saintly of all people, and you are then reminded not to kiss their hands. (I wonder if the spouses of the Hands of the Cause were allowed to kiss the Hands. I mean, it does say, "The kissing of hands hath been forbidden in the Book.")

Again, in the Hidden Words, He also tells us of the importance of working:

Ye are the trees of My garden; ye must give forth goodly and wondrous fruits, that ye yourselves and others may profit therefrom. Thus it is incumbent on every one to engage in crafts and professions, for therein lies the secret of wealth, O men of understanding! For results depend upon means, and the grace of God shall be all-sufficient unto you. Trees that yield no fruit have been and will ever be for the fire.

I was wondering, as I was heading into work today, why this would be the case. I mean, yeah, I know it's important to contribute to the betterment of the world, and all that, but why else?

It seems to me, when I look at my own life, can be seen like a house. My work, in that case, is like the frame. It gives shape and structure to my life. It may not be the most important thing in my life, but it is important and does have a place. My entire life schedule seems to be built around my work schedule.

Now, as a married man, as opposed to life before marriage, it revolves around my own work schedule, as well as Marielle's, and even Shoghi's school schedule, which is like his work. The image that comes to mind is that of a simple square frame on my own, and then a reinforced x-frame in married life. It gives a new image to me of that "fortress for well-being and salvation".

If my work life is the frame, then I think my family is like the roof. It is my family that helps give me shelter, and protects me. The walls are like my friends, surrounding me, enabling me to better appreciate the beauty that I include in my life, kind of like art hanging on those walls. After all, it is with my friends that I enjoy most of the pleasures in my life, like the sharing of books, movies, art, recreation, and so forth.

It is also the background structure of my life, like my work, that enables me to best appreciate the time I have with those same friends.

And last, but definitely not least, is the very foundation of that house. This, to me, is the result of my immersion in the Writings. "Truthfulness", after all, "is the foundation of all human virtues."

Now I should go back to "work".