Wednesday, March 22, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a bazaar name, at least in English.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Thoughts on Economy, part 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then there is the concluding paragraph.

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

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thoughts on Economy, part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyways, back to paragraph 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Thoughts on Economy, part 2

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

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

Ok. "Rectitude of conduct".

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


I'm glad you asked.

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

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

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

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

All right. Let's look at that list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More thoughts on this letter over the next few days.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Thoughts on Economy, part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All times?

Under all conditions?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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