Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tablet of Wisdom, part 3

Well, that last paragraph was a bit of a downer. But don't worry. Just as He is there to show us how far down we are, or at least where we are headed, Baha'u'llah is also there to lift us right back up again. He not only shows us where we can be, but also tells us how to get there. (Nice of Him, isn't it?)

If we are at all concerned about the vision that He gave us in that last paragraph, and I think we should be, then it is this next paragraph that gives us the tools to get out of that rut.
O peoples of the world! Forsake all evil, hold fast that which is good. Strive to be shining examples unto all mankind, and true reminders of the virtues of God amidst men. He that riseth to serve My Cause should manifest My wisdom, and bend every effort to banish ignorance from the earth. Be united in counsel, be one in thought. Let each morn be better than its eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday. Man's merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches. Take heed that your words be purged from idle fancies and worldly desires and your deeds be cleansed from craftiness and suspicion. Dissipate not the wealth of your precious lives in the pursuit of evil and corrupt affection, nor let your endeavours be spent in promoting your personal interest. Be generous in your days of plenty, and be patient in the hour of loss. Adversity is followed by success and rejoicings follow woe. Guard against idleness and sloth, and cling unto that which profiteth mankind, whether young or old, whether high or low. Beware lest ye sow tares of dissension among men or plant thorns of doubt in pure and radiant hearts.

Ah, the usual problem: where to begin? Well, let's go for my usual answer: at the beginning.

As you know, dear Reader, I am a big fan of the idea that everything is there in order for a reason. Now I'm not saying that this is the case, just that it is a nice hypothesis.

I've had a few questions about my methodology in blogging, so here it is. What I've done here, in case you want to follow along, is cut and paste that first paragraph below. I will take the first sentence, or clause, and write my thoughts about it, adding lots of blank lines between it and the rest of the paragraph. When I am ready, I will delete those blank lines and continue with the next phrase or sentence.

For example, it begins, "Forsake all evil, hold fast that which is good." (Simple insertion of a few line breaks allows me to look at this one sentence on its own for a moment, and you don't even notice the long blank below, as I've deleted it by the time you read it.) Well, that's just good general advice. It's not easy to do, mind you, but still, a good beginning. Forsake, just for clarification, means to either give up or to abandon. If we're giving it up, it means that we had it in the first place. If we are abandoning it, it means we were with it. either way, it implies that what we have been doing, either on purpose or by through circumstance, has been evil. In other words, He is asking us to change our lives. After all, if we embrace the Faith, acknowledge His teachings, but don't change the way we behave, what is the point? But just letting go of what is bad in our lives is not enough. "Stop doing bad." Great. Ok. Now what? Here He tells us to really hold on to doing what is good. (That's it for this sentence, even though I could really keep going. I do like to keep it relatively brief, you know.)

Now that we are doing good, he asks us to kick it up a notch: "Strive to be shining examples unto all mankind..." (That was a simple cut and paste.) There are many people out there who are generally nice people who are doing good things. This is great, and we should encourage them, but we are actually being asked to do more. Most people who do good generally keep a low profile. And while I do not believe that Baha'u'llah is asking us to be boastful, He is asking us to shine. This means that people should notice us. They should notice our example, even without us telling them about it. Remember, deeds, not words.

And that leads into the next phrase: "...and true reminders of the virtues of God amidst men." Many people talk about the importance of virtues, but do not demonstrate them. That is sort of like the parent who yells at their child to be quiet. It's totally ridiculous. No. The true reminder of the virtues is our demonstration of them. I tell my son to be courteous, but more importantly, I demonstrate courtesy. (Or at least I try. There are times when he reminds me that I forgot to say please, or something.) For years now, Shoghi has seen me being nice to those around me, and guess what? He is a nice kid. His level of courtesy astonishes me! I was never that nice as a kid. God truly is merciful, for I totally deserved a brat of a kid. I know how awful I was to my parents. (Amusing, sure, but I must have been a constant source of frustration to them.) Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, our ability to be true reminders of the virtues of God lies squarely in our ability to demonstrate those virtues in action.

But sometimes acting on those virtues can sometimes be tricky. I could be excelling in truthfulness but sorely lacking in tact. ("Wow, that dress looks awful on you.") Fortunately Baha'u'llah comes to our rescue again: "He that riseth to serve My Cause should manifest My wisdom..." Remember, in Words of Paradise, Baha'u'llah says "the greatest gift and the most wondrous blessing hath ever been and will continue to be Wisdom... It is all-knowing and the foremost Teacher in the school of existence." (For more on that, you can go here and here.) If we truly want to shine in our generation, then we need to use wisdom in our application of the virtues. Indeed, we need to strive to show wisdom at all times, and under all conditions. And part of that wisdom will be demonstrated in where we put our efforts, and what we strive to convey to others.

And hey, that leads right into the next phrase. Coincidence? I don't think so. He tells us to "bend every effort to banish ignorance from the earth." After all, the more we can banish ignorance, the better off we will all be. Can you imagine a world in which people were aware of the effects of their actions? A world in which people understood what was behind the various political policies or corporate schemes? When we become more aware of the world around us, including other people and their motivations, then we can make more informed decisions and really change far more than we ever dreamed of changing. My favorite simple example is the dolphin-safe tuna. Through a simple campaign of awareness, way back 30 or 40 years ago, enough people decided to stop buying canned tuna because they didn't like the thought of accidentally killing dolphins. The result? The industry changed. They found a new way to catch the tuna that would allow the dolphins to escape unharmed. The more that we can banish ignorance, the more we can shed the light of knowledge and understanding, the greater the changes we will see in the world around us.

Again, that sounds really great, but how do we do this? One way is to get together with others and discuss the problems that need to be faced. While immersed in these discussions, which will often times be in the form of consultation, we can remember Baha'u'llah's next sentence: "Be united in counsel, be one in thought." This first phrase implies a harmony of opinion, and it continues on a deeper level in the second. Through this unity of counsel and thought we will better be able to tackle the issues that face us. And we won't all tackle the same issues. We can't. There are just too many of them. But if each group tackles its own issue, communicates with like-minded groups, supports each other in their endeavours, then we can make great strides. One area in which this is so important is in agriculture. We need to grow food, but by putting too many fertilizers on the fields we are damaging our watersheds, and even the ocean itself. This is where we have to find a balance between the various needs of our culture. If we keep an overall goal in mind, such a feeding all people in a sustainable manner, then we can deal with each problem under that light. By identifying our overall vision, then we can slowly make our way towards that, day by day, step by step.

"Let each morn be better than its eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday." (Have you noticed that I'm still cutting and pasting one line or phrase at a time?) Every day, a little at a time. This is a reminder, to me at least, that these issues mentioned in the previous step will take time. They will not be solved quickly. After all, this Dispensation is to last at least 1000 years, so we can presume that the issues it addresses will take most of that time to solve. But solve them we will. It will take time, effort and resources, but each and every one them are solvable.

This may seem like an aside, but it isn't really. It has been estimated that the most major issues facing humanity today are all within our means to solve. Whether we are talking about fresh water for all people on the planet, or cleaning up greenhouse gases, a price tag has been put on every one of these major issues. The price tag was a realistic estimate based on scientific and economic criteria by a number of various scientists. The total bill for solving something like the top 25 (my memory says top 100, but let's be conservative here) was something like one week of the world's military budget. So, if we manage to reduce our military budgets to a reasonable level for internal security, then we will begin to see a huge amount of money freed up for other uses. Let's say we cut the global budget by only a half, that still gives us 25 of these huge issues solutions paid for in a week. What do we do with the other 25 weeks of money? Oh, and that's only the first year's of budget. What about next year? Either way, there is a reminder for us in the very next line: "Man's merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches." Whatever we do, we need to remember that our true merit comes from our service to humanity, and not in the glorification and flaunting of our wealth. But this is not to say that we can't enjoy our wealth. After all, if we work hard, pay our Huququ'llah, or give to charity if you're not a Baha'i, then we can enjoy the benefits. But we should remember that they are not a demonstration of our merit. It is our selfless service that should distinguish us.

But even that service comes with a warning. There have been many who have done all sorts of service acts for ulterior motives. Some have done it only for the tax benefits, while others perform such deeds in order to win people over the their particular cause. Over the years this has prejudiced many, forcing them to be cautious of those who arise to serve. This is why it is so important that we heed the next line of counsel from the Pen of Glory: "Take heed that your words be purged from idle fancies and worldly desires and your deeds be cleansed from craftiness and suspicion." Whether it is by word or by deed, we need to ensure the purity of heart is there. I do not write these articles in order to make anyone Baha'i. I write them to share my thoughts, and perhaps even get some of them in order. I write them because others have asked me to keep sharing. And when I perform any sort of service to my community, it is very important to me that I have no other motive than to merely serve out of love. Even when talking to some friends, I have heard some say that they are doing service in order to have the opportunity to mention the Faith. And while mentioning the Faith is good and all, I cannot do service with that as my motive. To me, and others think otherwise and that is fine, if I did that, it would be crafty.

Of course, there is a lot more that I can in my life than serve. I could spend all sorts of extra time working to get money to go on a cruise. I could spend all my free time playing video games. I could spend an inordinate amount of time watching television or movies. Instead I budget my time. I have to work a certain amount. I write a certain amount. I have to spend time with my family. And I dedicate a certain amount of time to my service work. Out of the time that is left, some is spent playing video games. I see the occasional movie. I watch the odd video on youtube (and sometimes they are very odd, let me tell you). I spend a bit of money on myself, usually in the form of books. But in all, I really try to take to heart what Baha'u'llah says here: "Dissipate not the wealth of your precious lives in the pursuit of evil and corrupt affection, nor let your endeavours be spent in promoting your personal interest." (Yup. I'm still doing the cut and paste thing. Not much left now.)

"Be generous in your days of plenty..." As long as we are on the subject of wealth, it is good to remember that it is when we have a lot that we can give the most. Whether it is about our financial success, or about a bountiful harvest in our garden, or even in the amount of time we have when we are in good health, it is during these times when we can give the most that we really should. "...(A)nd be patient in the hour of loss." And when we have less, we should recognize that it is part of the cycle of our life. There are times when we will fall ill (I'm still trying to shake off a cough), or times when that harvest isn't as good as we had hoped. It is during these times that we need to be thankful and patient. We need to be grateful for all that we did have, and the fact that we were able to share at that time, and work towards a better time. (I'm drinking a really marvelous cup of tea, hoping to help get rid of that persistent cough.) We also need to be willing to allow others to extend their helping hand toward us. Of course, we could be bitter, upset, cursing and screaming all the while, but has that ever really helped anybody? (I mean, it might make you feel a bit better in the short term, but it tends to drive others away, and not accomplish much in the long term.)

It is during these ups and downs, and especially in the downs, that we need to remember "Adversity is followed by success and rejoicings follow woe." This is true not only in our daily life, but also in the life of the planet. We are living in a time of great adversity, with tremendous woes all over the planet. But this line gives us the hope to continue on striving for a better future. Yes, things are bad, and they may even get worse. Alright, they will likely get worse. But is a guarantee that they will get better. When and how is most likely up to us. The harder we work towards a better future, the more likely that this better future, this success and these rejoicings, will come sooner.

But we need to "Guard against idleness and sloth, and cling unto that which profiteth mankind, whether young or old, whether high or low." It requires work. It requires selfless, dedicated work. And we are not just doing this service for one small group of people. It is, and must be, for everyone. We are too interconnected to say that we will only help the poor, or those of our particular class or ethnic background. If we want to help the planet, we must help everyone, always.

And there is still one last warning: "Beware lest ye sow tares of dissension among men or plant thorns of doubt in pure and radiant hearts." It is too easy to say that one particular group is responsible, or that some other group hurt us. We cannot afford this kind of dissension, no matter how justified it may seem. And those thorns of doubt can do nothing less than cripple the efforts of those who would otherwise have been able to lend their great share. When I am talking with my dear son, who is only 7, so I truly think of him as one of those with a pure and radiant heart, I try to be so careful. I will unhesitatingly talk with him about the problems of the world, explaining the problems as I see them in terms that I think he will understand. I will use such metaphors as make these trying times clear to me, and hopefully to him, too. But I always leave him with solutions. I speak as if these problems are already on the way to being solved, and that we just need to work a little bit more. I leave no room for doubt, for Baha'u'llah has not given us any. While I will tell him of the grave problems we face, and those even graver issues he will face in his lifetime, I also speak so glowingly of that bright promise Baha'u'llah has given us for the future.

And you know what? Shoghi seems to understand. He expresses his concerns back to me, and he always seeks the solutions that he knows must be hidden within each problem, for he knows that every crisis has within it the seeds of its own victory. And that is wisdom.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Tablet of Wisdom, part 2

The Lawh-i-Hikmat really is a fascinating piece. And I don't just say that because I'm a Baha'i. No, it's because of the content of it. The way it is organized and the various topics He addresses are unusual for a piece of religious and spiritual writing.

According to Adib Taherzadeh, Baha'u'llah says "in each verse of the Tablet of Hikmat an ocean is concealed". (This is evidently found in Athar-i-Qalam-A'la, volume 7, page 113, but as I can't find my copy in English, I'm taking his word on it.) (And my wife can't find her French copy either.)

So now that we have the introduction to this piece, and we have some vague idea of the overall purpose of this Tablet (namely that it is a "breath of life" for all of us "who dwell in the realm of creation"), let's take a look at the next paragraph, shall we? (Oh yeah. Disclaimer. This is nothing official. Only my own thoughts on it, so take it or leave it. But if you're interested, please share your thoughts, too.)
We exhort mankind in these days when the countenance of Justice is soiled with dust, when the flames of unbelief are burning high and the robe of wisdom rent asunder, when tranquillity and faithfulness have ebbed away and trials and tribulations have waxed severe, when covenants are broken and ties are severed, when no man knoweth how to discern light and darkness or to distinguish guidance from error.
This is pretty dismal, isn't it? And if we thought these 9 points were evident 100 years ago, we can easily see that they are only more evident today.

Oh, sorry. 9 points? Yes, well, let's take a look at them:
  1. the countenance of Justice is soiled with dust
  2. the flames of unbelief are burning high
  3. the robe of wisdom is rent asunder
  4. tranquillity and faithfulness have ebbed away
  5. trials and tribulations have waxed severe
  6. covenants are broken
  7. ties are severed
  8. nobody knows how to discern light and darkness
  9. nobody knows how to distinguish guidance from error
I think each of these are fairly easily discernible in our modern society. We only need to look around to see that justice is fairly difficult to come by if you are poor, or a minority, in many cultures.

Atheism is not only at an all-time high, but is considered fashionable, and even "intelligent". It has become standard to ridicule anyone of any faith, regardless of how sensible they may be. Religious fanaticism is so prevalent that it is difficult to fault this reaction, but it is still a sad prejudice that has overtaken many otherwise wonderful people.

And what passes for wisdom is not only ridiculous, but dangerously short-sighted. A singular example is the propensity to think that we can "manage" nature. With fish stocks collapsing all over the planet, we still don't generally recognize the need for no-fish zones. (Watch David Suzuki's One Ocean for a good summary of this, now available at most public libraries on DVD, or here on youtube.) We pump tons of fertilizers onto our farms, allowing the runoff to spill into the rivers, and into the oceans, causing dead zones in ever-increasing areas, while at the same time eliminating as much natural wetlands as possible in order to build more oceanfront property. These wetlands, by the way, are nature's filtration system, designed to absorb these same fertilizers to continue to grow these wetlands, and protect the ocean water from unchecked algae growth.

Number four, tranquility and faithfulness, is getting nearly impossible to find. We have managed to create so many time-saving devices that we can't begin to work hard enough to get them all. our communal stress levels are through the roof. And those areas in which we have traditionally shown faith, whether it be in our church-type setting, or to our family, or even to our employer, have all been eroded away. While there are still some noble and high-minded religious leaders, too many have violated the trust of their communities, often in ways that are shameful to mention. The time that parents spend with their children seems to be continually decreasing. And too many companies are far too interested in making a profit for their shareholders that they don't give their workers any chance of a stable future.

Trials and tribulations have, indeed, waxed severe. Whether this is due to increasing severity of weather due to global warming, or climate change, or the increased number of shootings in either the workplace or in public schools, there definitely seems to be a greater severity to the crises we are facing as a people. And while some may rightfully argue that there are less wars today on the planet than there were 20 years ago (true fact), hatred and violence are still on the rise. While there may be less nations at war with other nations, interpersonal violence is on the rise.

Covenants, those promises made between two parties, are increasingly being violated. Whether it is the covenant of marriage between two individuals, or something more complex, like an agreement between a bank and its depositors, the spirit of the contract is seen more and more as something ephemeral. This has gotten to such a bizarre stage that it is even common to have yet another agreement about how to divide the property in case of divorce even before the two individuals get married.

More and more often people are dissociating themselves from their traditional groups. There seems to be a greater sense of isolation amongst people. And even among those who do seem to be stable in their relationships with others, there are more and more stories of those who just get up and leave either out of a sense of dissatisfaction, or for the lure of money. The various ties that used to bind people together in some sort of social cohesion seem to be getting weaker and weaker.

As for discerning light and darkness, the most obvious examples are those religious groups that purport to follow such luminaries as Jesus or Muhammad, and yet preach hatred. The followers seem to think that the darkness of hatred and anger are somehow the light of God and love.

In regards to distinguishing guidance from error, we only need to watch the news, listen to the various political speeches and debates, or read the newspapers, whether on-line or hard copy. What often passes for guidance is nothing more than palpable error.

Overall, the prospect for the future sure seems dim.

But this is just the beginning of the Tablet. Baha'u'llah has some thoughts on how to address these issues which we may wish to consider.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Tablet of Wisdom, part 1

Just the other day, I saw a facebook post from my friend Kurt. He was looking at the quote, "Let each morn be better than its eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday." Then he noticed the context of that quote, and it struck him that this particular line is possibly taken out of context on a regular basis.

Well, it's not that we misunderstand it, but just, perhaps, that we don't look deep enough into it.

As you can imagine, dear Reader, this got me thinking.

Aside - While this particular quote is found in the Tablet of Wisdom, in Tablets of Baha'u'llah, it did make me wonder about the word "glean", as in "Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah". To glean is to gather slowly and laboriously bit by bit, as in gleaning the fields after the reapers. It also mean to discover or learn slowly, bit by bit. I had long thought it meant something like "glistening", which is actually "gleaming". The reason I had thought this, aside from sheer ignorance, is that I often think of those passages in Gleanings as being tiny gems found within the long context of the Tablets Baha'u'llah wrote. My mistake, but still a useful analogy.

Back to this quote at hand, though. What, I wondered, is the full context of that particular line?

My friend looked at the next line in the Tablet, and it shifted his thinking about it, which in turn shifted mine.

I was going to write an article on just that singular line, and try to place it within some sort of a grander context, but then I got thinking. Dangerous, I know, but I did. I thought that it might be interesting to look at the whole Tablet.

As you know, I am of the belief that everything within the Sacred Writings is precisely where it needs to be, and that every word, phrase and sentence conveys a far greater meaning within the whole. And so, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at this remarkable Tablet in its entirety.

Now, as you know, I am no expert on this. I am merely an individual Baha'i who loves to dive into this vast ocean that is His Writings. If you have any thoughts or insights on these same passages, I would very much love to read your thoughts. (Disclaimer and request done for now.)

This particular Tablet was revealed for Nabil-i-Akbar, an incredible early believer who was elevated to the station of Hand of the Cause posthumously by 'Abdu'l-Baha. A little bit about him can be found here, as well as in Memorials of the Faithful, and The Revelation Baha'u'llah volume 1.

The Tablet begins:

This is an Epistle which the All-Merciful hath sent down from the Kingdom of Utterance. It is truly a breath of life unto those who dwell in the realm of creation. Glorified be the Lord of all worlds! In this Epistle mention is made of him who magnifieth the Name of God, his Lord, and who is named Nabil in a weighty Tablet.

Now, it may just be me, but it seems to me that by calling this Epistle a "breath of life" for all of us "who dwell in the realm of creation", He is giving us the overall vision of this particular Tablet. Much of what follows is as a breath of fresh air. This is the perspective that I will take for this Tablet. I will be presuming that everything within this is meant to be like that refreshing cool breeze on a hot summer day. Given that, let's look at the second paragraph.

O Muhammad! Hearken unto the Voice proceeding out of the Realm of Glory, calling aloud from the celestial Tree which hath risen above the land of Za'faran: Verily, no God is there but Me, the Omniscient, the Wise. Be thou as the breezes of the All-Merciful for the trees of the realm of existence and foster their growth through the potency of the Name of thy Lord, the Just, the All-Informed. We desire to acquaint thee with that which will serve as a reminder unto the people, that they may put away the things current amongst them and set their faces towards God, the Lord of the sincere.

While I am not going to go into any historio-linguistic analysis of this piece, I will let you know, dear Reader, that Baha'u'llah does not appear to be referring to Muhammad, the Prophet of God, here. Nabil-i-Akbar's given name was Muhammad, and both of these names have the same numerical value in the Abjad system. (Look it up if you don't know.) But it is possible, in some obscure way that He is referring to both. Just don't ask me to make a case for it.

I will, however, mention that this is the second time in this tablet that He is referring to wind, in some way. This Tablet is a "breath of life", as stated in paragraph 1, and now we are being told to be like a breeze "of the All-Merciful for the trees of the realm of existence and foster their growth..." The wind, interestingly enough, is what causes the roots of a tree to become strong. It is through the battering of the wind that the roots naturally learn to cling more tightly to the earth, digging deeper and becoming stronger. There is the story of the trees that were planted in a biome, given all that they needed, but there was no wind. one day, for no apparent reason, they all fell over. It took the wisdom of an elder to point out that the lack of wind gave the roots no reason to be strong. Perhaps that is why the attribute of "potency" is used in this context.

Then, in the last sentence, Baha'u'llah states more clearly His intention. He desires to acquaint us with those things that will serve as a reminder to all people to "put away the things current amongst them and set their faces towards God, the Lord of the sincere."

Sincerity, by the way, is often found at the very beginning of so much in the Writings. You can see it in the very beginning of the Tablet of Ahmad, and in so many other areas in which the search for Truth is the goal.

I could write more today, but I think this is a good beginning. The next few paragraphs talk about the state of the world, and give some good bite-sized pieces of guidance about what to do to better the place in which we live.

Besides, I have to go conduct a meditation workshop now.

Talk you all tomorrow.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Justice and Compassion

Yesterday was World Religion Day, and here in Victoria, we hosted a celebration at the University of Victoria. It was truly amazing.

We had 2 panels of 4 speakers, representing 8 different faith backgrounds. the first panel of four discussed the question "How do we balance compassion and justice, based on the teachings and spiritual principles of our respective faiths?"  The representatives for that question were Muslim, Buddhist, Christian and Aboriginal. The second question was "What does a compassionate world and compassionate community look like, especially when dealing with those who hold a different world view?" This was responded to by a Baha'i, a Jew, a Hindu and a Sikh.

Before this, though, I had been asked to give a 5-minute intro to the topic for the day.

5 minutes.

How can you introduce so much in so short a time? Well, that was the challenge, wasn't it?

Here is the short talk I prepared. I hope you enjoy it.


When we think of justice, some think of distributive justice, which is the proper allocation of things amongst a group of people. Others think of punishment, such as is found within the justice system. Today I think we are talking about a balancing, which is upheld by the combination of both reward and retribution. And this, of course, has to be tempered with wisdom, which is illumined by compassion. I could talk more about this, but you will surely hear about it from the panelists.

Instead, I'd like you to think about a fetus in the womb. Early on, when it's just a small group of identical cells, a very interesting thing occurs. At some point, when it's floating around in there, it bumps into the uterine wall. Now admittedly, that's not very interesting, but those cells the suffer under the impact begin to change. They could, in a sense, complain and whine, or even die off from this impact, but no. They rise to the challenge. They grow and develop into something that we could never have predicted ahead of time.They become the brain and spinal cord of the infant. It is because of that very impact that the most physically important part of our body emerges, the central nervous system.

Now, if we look at that infant a few years later, so self-absorbed, aware only of its own needs, there comes a point when it begins interacting with others similar in age and development. It wants a particular toy, perhaps crying and screaming when they don't get it. But, through this social... impact... and with the loving guidance of the parents and the community, she learns to share. She begins to develop those most important qualities of generosity, and yes, compassion.

Today we see a lot of images on the internet, in the media, showing the earth as a baby. I think this is true, in a sense.

We have mapped out the planet.. well, almost, in the case of AppleMaps. The nations have developed. Boundaries are, for the most part, set. And we are bumping into each other. Our challenge in these encounters is to grow into a new dynamic of interaction, in which compassion dominates the scene, overshadowing the past pains of aggression.

Like that child who is just beginning to play with others, we, too, need to learn to grow in relation to those other cultures around us.

It is through our clumsy interaction with others that we find we develop those most essential traits of our character. We learn to share, developing our sense of generosity and compassion. We learn to apologize for our mistakes, developing our sense of humility. It is at those most painfully awkward times that we learn to stand up for both ourselves and others, cultivating our sense of courage, assertiveness, courtesy, and other virtues so important in our life.

When we face this struggle, and cling to the principle of compassion, we will discover that we are, somehow, creating that central nervous system which will become the most pivotal component in the world that is currently being born.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Effective Service

As you may have noticed, the number of postings I have done in recent months has been much lower than in the past. The reason is quite simple: it hasn't been the highest priority for me. That doesn't mean it's not important to me, just that there were other things that were more important. After all, I'm making a living as an artist again, and that means the Christmas season is very busy for me.

There have also been other avenues of service to humanity and the Faith that have taken up my time, and that leads me to my question, or thought, for today.

To start, the Guardian once said that no one person can do everything, and not all people can do the same thing. (Obviously that's not a direct quote, but it sure is close. Find it yourself, if you're interested.)

What does that mean? To me, and remember this is only my own opinion and nothing official, it means that we have to find our own area of service.

But how are we to do this?

Now there's the question.

It means I need to know myself. I need to know my strengths, my weaknesses, my likes and my dislikes. I also need to know the needs of my community, both the Baha'i community and the greater community.

In a strange sense it reminds me of shopping for food. When I go grocery shopping, there are a few things I consider: nutrition, price and taste. It may seem obvious, but many people I talk with don't actually realize that this is what they are doing. Earlier this evening, when I went to the store, I said to myself, "Self, we need more fruits and vegetables, along with some protein source for lunch for Shoghi this week." I looked at the fruits and chose some that were organic and high in nutritional content. I then did the same for the veggies.

When I looked at the protein sources for lunch, I actually chose a cheese that had less nutritional value, was more expensive, but tasted far more wonderful than the others. I knew Shoghi would like it, and decided the extra flavour was worth the cost as a special treat to him. This was only possible because it was still within our budget.

Some people who have less disposable income than I do may put price as their first priority. But if they do so without looking at the nutritional content, they will probably end up spending more money in the long run, either because they need more food, or have to pay more on doctor bills because they are unhealthy. Wonder Bread versus whole wheat bread is a great example. It may cost half the price, but you have to eat about 6 times as many slices to feel as satisfied. (Actually, I usually think it's a wonder they call that stuff bread at all.) So even though it costs more initially, the whole wheat bread is less expensive in the long run.

For service, I look at how much time it takes me,the impact it has on the community, and how much joy I get out of it. Some areas of service can take more energy out of you than they are worth, while some you may enjoy have very little impact on the world.

One example that comes to mind is writing. This is something that needs to be done, either as letters for an Assembly, or in my case, a blog to share some ideas from the Faith that others may find useful. I find writing easy and enjoyable, and I can usually do it fairly quickly. Someone else may find it an onerous chore that takes tons of time and stresses them to no end. To me, it only makes sense to ask someone like me to do that job, and let the other person do something that they can do more easily.

Some people have complained about the core activities, claiming that they don't like teaching children's classes. Fine, I say. Don't. There are still three other core activities to choose from. And if none of those suit your fancy, and there are others to do them in your area, choose an area of service that you do love.

My wife is a trained teacher, with her degree in education. She used to be a music teacher. Putting on a children's class is almost second nature to her. Of course, it still takes preparation and effort, but far less effort than I would need. After all, I don't have the training she does. However, if there is nobody else to do it, then I will, for there is little that is more important than the education of children.

So although my preference is tutoring study circles, in my neighbourhood we need help with children's classes. While it takes me far more effort for me than her, and is more draining on my personal energy reserves, I assist where I can, like those times when she's out of town.

But why am I writing about this now?


I recently reviewed my areas of service, and looked at the needs of the community again. While I had been writing blogs for the local newspaper over the past couple of years, a task that I found both easy and enjoyable, I discovered that the expectations had changed without my knowledge. The new tasks involved were far more challenging for me and took up a lot more of my time, while draining my energy from other more important areas of service. In the end I concluded that it was no longer worth it. That blog was not a core activity, nor did I feel it was as effective in helping others move closer to their Creator as, say, the children's class or study circle I am tutoring. Oh, and it's not that it was a bad forum or anything. Quite the contrary. I believe it was wonderful, and I look forward to seeing other Baha'is write for it. But it began to take up too much of my energy, and was no longer a high priority for me.

It's like giving up a food I love to eat, but which costs more and is not as nutritional. If my money is limited, or health concerns mean I shouldn't eat it, then I need to make my choice based on those other factors.

Now, if you think that is a good place to end this article, feel free to do something else. I won't be offended. But, if it's all the same to you, I'm going to continue with just a bit more.

I was reading a quote the other night with Marielle and it got us thinking about service, too. In Gleanings, on page 170, Baha'u'llah says:
The people of Baha, who are the inmates of the Ark of God, are, one and all, well aware of one another's state and condition, and are united in the bonds of intimacy and fellowship. Such a state, however, must depend upon their faith and their conduct. They that are of the same grade and station are fully aware of one another's capacity, character, accomplishments and merits. They that are of a lower grade, however, are incapable of comprehending adequately the station, or of estimating the merits, of those that rank above them. Each shall receive his share from thy Lord. Blessed is the man that hath turned his face towards God, and walked steadfastly in His love, until his soul hath winged its flight unto God, the Sovereign Lord of all, the Most Powerful, the Ever-Forgiving, the All-Merciful.

He begins by reminding us that the "people of Baha" are "the inmates of the Ark of God". He talks about how aware we are of each other, knowing, among other things, each other's state. But, and here's the kicker,  this state is dependent upon our faith and our conduct. Our presumably spiritual state is dependent upon our internal faith and our actions.

Then He divides us up according to our grade and station. There are some who are above others. They are the ones who have demonstrated a spirituality far beyond the rest of us. I think, for example, of the members of the Universal House of Justice. Obviously I am below them in grade and station. I am not aware of their capacity, or probably their character. While I can read about their accomplishments, I certainly am not fully aware of their merits. They, however, are fully aware of the capacity of the entire Baha'i community. They know our global character. They continually mirror to us our accomplishments and merits. It is through their wisdom, and ability to be aware of others in the way described here, that they are able to appoint the Counsellors, which is yet another "grade and station".

The Counsellors, in their turn, are fully aware of the capacity of the entire Baha'i community under their guidance, meaning the continent for which they serve. And the Auxiliary Board members under them also have this understanding in their area of service.

On the other side of the Administrative Order, the Spiritual Assemblies, too, have this awareness of their respective communities. We continually see it in their decisions, their guidance and their love. Are they infallible? Of course not. But they do the best that they can, and if, by some chance, they underestimate the full capacity of their community, their vision is raised by those higher institutions.

There are many times when I do not feel myself capable of serving in a particular area, but an Assembly has asked me to do so. It is precisely at those times that I have to trust in their awareness of my capacity.

And when I do? When I trust their awareness of my capacity over my own understanding of myself? Well, Baha'u'llah says, "Each shall receive his share from thy Lord. Blessed is the man that hath turned his face towards God, and walked steadfastly in His love..."