Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Blogging is meant to be personal. Blog = web log or personal journal, right? Yet, to date, I have chosen to post only excerpts on Baha’i Views drawn from the Writings, articles, and personal statements of others accessible via the Internet.

I’ve done excerpt-only publishing before, very modest and personal though it was. About twenty-five years ago I published five issues or so of I Read the News Today, Oh Boy, a quarterly newsletter consisting of excerpts from the press that related to subjects of presumed Baha’i interest. The title came from the lyrics of the Beatle’s tune
A Day in the Life, of course. My subscribers ran – gosh! -- in the whopping dozens. “I read Baha’i Views today, oh boy!” – now that has a nice familiar ring to it.

Questions posed by Baha'i blogger
Marco Oliveira of Lisbon, Portugal, are my inspiration for a little personal disclosure here on the last day of my first month of blogging. Here is my response to Marco's questions.

Photos: The Torre de Belem, Lisbon, Portugal, and The Glass Museum, Tacoma, Washington


Where do you live?
I live in Tacoma, Washington, USA.
How big is your family?
There are three of us in the house, but not for long, as the last of my children is in process of moving out. My wife and I have four adult children, the youngest 21 and the oldest 27.
What is your job?
I work as a mental health counselor for a community mental health center. Much of my work involves working with young children (and their families) who are enrolled in Head Start and Early Head Start programs.
How long have you been a Baha’i?
I declared myself a Baha’i in 1967 so I’m in my 38th year.
How did you become Baha'i?
I became a Baha’i upon reading The Seven Valleys by Baha’u’lah. I had been attending the meetings of the Baha’is on campus at the University of Illinois for some two years. My entry into the Faith was slow and deliberate.
Is your family Baha'i? If not, what was their reaction towards your acceptance of the Faith?
My parents were rationalist/"freethinker"/humanist/Unitarian. I always like to say that I became a Baha’i because of the National Geographic Magazine which was always in my parents' home. Although I would describe them as anti-religious, they were accepting of the fact that I was a Baha’i when they finally figured it out that I was. My wife’s mother became a Baha’i in the 1940’s. Her great-aunt who had become a Baha'i in the 1930's introduced her mother to the Faith.
What is your favorite book/tablet amongst the Baha'i writings?
I will always have special feelings for Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, in addition to The Seven Valleys. Of course, all the Baha'i scripture is "my favorite."
What is your favourite baha'i author?
The Baha'i commentary literature is so rich. I have old favorites and new, Adib Taherzadeh and Moojan Momen among them.
How many are there in your community?
My guess is, about 50 households. This is a vibrant, outward-looking community, one of four making up Cluster 19 (!) in Washington State, an "A cluster" that has already experienced an "entry by troop" last year and is on the verge of "entry by troops" this year.
Have you ever served on a Spiritual Assembly?
I have served on Spiritual Assemblies in the states of Illinois, Montana, and Washington through most of my adults years up to the present moment.
Are you a pioneer, or have you ever consider pioneering?
No, there is so much opportunity right here, right now.
Have you been to Holy Land for a pilgrimage? If so, what is your most outstanding memory of your pilgrimage?
Our pilgrimage is scheduled. We have loved the photos and stories of my step-daughter and her husband who went last year.
Name the countries you have been to. It's a short list: Canada and Mexico, in addition to the 48 contiguous states of this country.
What languages do you speak? English only, I'm afraid.
What is the best book you ever read? Bahiyyih Nahkjivani's The Saddlebag is the best most recent book.
What is the best film you've ever watched?
My mind is blank. It's been years since I've seen a film that I wasn't critical of.
What famous persons (excluding Baha'is) do you admire?
There are many I could cite. Jimmy Carter, American President back in the 1970's, is one. I never thought of him as a politician, rather as a straightforward spiritual man who exemplified many wonderful "Christian" qualities.

On Self-Care: Unaffected by Setbacks and Perils

"Indeed if an avowed follower of Baha'u'llah were to immerse himself in, and fathom the depths of, the ocean of these heavenly teachings, and with utmost care and attention deduce from each of them the subtle mysteries and consummate wisdom that lie enshrined therein, such a person's life, materially, intellectually and spiritually, will be safe from toil and trouble, and unaffected by setbacks and perils, or any sadness or despondency"

Shoghi Effendi, cited in "The Importance of Deepening Our Knowledge and Understanding of the Faith"

Monday, January 30, 2006

On Social Organization: The Appeal of The Baha'i Model

Photo: A delegate casting her vote in May 2005 for the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of South Africa
"African societies have long traditions of respect for authority. They are community oriented, and not individualistic. They are also a compassionate community where large numbers of unemployed people are supported through voluntary contributions by their working relatives. Walking in a township it is quite normal to come across a government minister milling around with the people in the market. African communities are to a large extent class-less societies, while at the same time regard and respect for the elders and for the local chiefs is a normal way of life. Decision making in the community is mostly collaborative, even consultative. These features enable the African societies to accept and adopt the Bahá’í model of social organization far better than the more alien Western model."

Farzin Aghdasi, "Characteristics of Bahá'í Administrative Order and Liberal Democratic Notions – A Comparative Study"

On Spiritual Practice: Without Esteeming Yourself to Be Superior

"Show forbearance and benevolence and love to one another. Should any one among you be incapable of grasping a certain truth, or be striving to comprehend it, show forth, when conversing with him, a spirit of extreme kindliness and good-will. Help him to see and recognize the truth, without esteeming yourself to be, in the least, superior to him, or to be possessed of greater endowments."

Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah

Friday, January 27, 2006

On Abortion and Homosexuality: Legislating on Morality

"The Universal House of Justice does not feel that the time has come for it to provide detailed legislation on subjects such as abortion, homosexuality and other moral issues. The principles pertaining to these issues are available in the book Lights of Guidance and elsewhere. In studying these principles, it should be noted that in most areas of human behaviour there are acts which are clearly contrary to the law of God and others which are clearly approved or permissible; between these there is often a grey area where it is not immediately apparent what should be done. It has been a human tendency to wish to eliminate these grey areas so that every aspect of life is clearly prescribed. A result of this tendency has been the tremendous accretion of interpretation and subsidiary legislation which has smothered the spirit of certain of the older religions. In the Bahá'í Faith moderation, which is so strongly upheld by Bahá'u'lláh, is applied here also. Provision is made for supplementary legislation by the Universal House of Justice -- legislation which it can itself abrogate and amend as conditions change. There is also a clear pattern already established in the Sacred Scriptures, in the interpretations made by `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and in the decisions so far made by the Universal House of Justice, whereby an area of the application of the laws is intentionally left to the conscience of each individual believer. This is the age in which mankind must attain maturity, and one aspect of this is the assumption by individuals of the responsibility for deciding, with the assistance of consultation, their own course of action in areas which are left open by the law of God."

The Universal House of Justice, "Legislating on Morality"

On Divine Revelation: More Comprehensive Wisdom

"The Bahá'í writings propose that divine revelation is more comprehensive than conventional wisdom will currently allow, and certainly more relevant to worldly affairs than society has tolerated in recent decades. These writings further suggest that unadulterated divine revelation on the one hand,and authentic scientific enterprise on the other, are–-and have always been–-complementary processes that will eventually be harmonized and integrated. Needless to say an upsurge in religious fanaticism and the accelerating mixture of cultures and religions throughout the globe has only ramified an already challenging—yet promising—prospect."

Rick Harmsen, "The Coming Synthesis: Baha'i Scholarship in an Age of Conflict and Controversy"

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

On Politics: Political Methods Eschewed

"Clearly the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth is a 'political' enterprise, and the Teachings of the Faith are filled with 'political' principles -- using the word in the sense of the science of government and of the organization of human society. At the same time the Baha'i world community repeatedly and emphatically denies being a 'political' organization, and Baha'is are required, on pain of deprivation of their administrative rights, to refrain from becoming involved in 'political' matters and from taking sides in 'political' disputes. In other words, the Baha'is are following a completely different path from that usually followed by those who wish to reform society. They eschew politcal methods towards the achievement of their aims, and concentrate on revitalizing the hearts, minds and behaviour of people and on presenting a working model as evidence of the reality and practicality of the way of life they propound."

Department of the Secretariat, The Unversal House of Justice, letter of 27 September 1995

On Baha'i Scholarship: Greater Expectations

"Baha'i Scholarship is something unique carrying with it certain characteristics and requirements, making it somewhat of a hybrid, and different than scholarship as it may be identified in the non-Baha'i world. It is not something reserved for a selected few in the Faith, nor is it the exclusive domain of the educated, or the recognized, or self-appointed scholars. In general, pursuit of Baha'i Scholarship is open to everyone....

"...Baha'u'llah has expectations greater than education, logic, and argumentation alone, for those who would be scholars in His fold.

"This theme is further explained and expanded by the Universal House of Justice: '...scholarly endeavour should be characterized by the welcome it offers to all who wish to be involved in it, each in his or her own way, by mutual encouragement and cooperation among its participants, and by the respect accorded to distinguished accomplishment and outstanding achievement. The spirit and approach should be far removed from the arrogance, contention, and exclusiveness which have too often sullied the name of scholarship in the wider society, and which have created barriers to the sound development of this worthy pursuit.' (Letter from The Universal House of Justice To selected National Spiritual Assemblies 10 February 1995)"

Loren, "Scholarship in the Baha'i Faith"

Monday, January 23, 2006

On Revelation: I Beheld a Maiden

"While engulfed in tribulations I heard a most wondrous, a most sweet voice, calling above My head. Turning My face, I beheld a Maiden - the embodiment of the remembrance of the name of My Lord - suspended in the air before Me. So rejoiced was she in her very soul that her countenance shone with the ornament of the good-pleasure of God, and her cheeks glowed with the brightness of the All-Merciful. Betwixt Earth and Heaven she was raising a call which captivated the hearts and minds of men. She was imparting to both My inward and outer being tidings which rejoiced My soul, and the souls of God's honoured servants. Pointing with her finger unto My head, she addressed all who are in Heaven and all who are on Earth saying: 'By God! This is the best beloved of the worlds, and yet ye comprehend not. This is the Beauty of God amongst you, and the power of His sovereignty within you, could ye but understand.'"

Baha'u'llah, in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By

On Human Nature: Reflecting the Divine

"Human nature is also a reflection of the Divine nature. Just as the essence of God is unknowable, there are deep and mysterious aspects in our nature, which in some ways make our own nature 'unknowable' to us. Each of us reflects something of the Divine, and yet we all have our lower, more selfish and egotistical qualities. When these lower qualities are bad enough we call them 'evil.' Our challenge in life is to struggle against our lower nature as we reach for the higher. The Divine teachings help us approach God, as we 'overcome' ourselves. Every human being has the potential to overcome himself, and thus transcend the material world. Ultimately human nature is 'spiritual,' but the degree to which we can perfect ourselves, or improve ourselves in many ways depends on the extent to which we have access or exposure to the teachings of the Prophets, the Founders of the world's major religions. These teachings have provided the ennobling and civilizing influences in our world, down through history, despite the terrible things humans have done in the name of religion. The influence of the Prophets is direct if you study their teachings, and the concepts of virtue and nobility in every society can be traced back to some Divine Teacher or Educator. The latter is an indirect influence, but it has enabled civilizations to distinguish between right and wrong, establish laws and human rights, etc. Without these divine Eduacators, the human conscience alone cannot make these distinctions. Every society has had these divine Teachers sent to them. God has never left humanity-- His creation-- alone, without guidance."

Gregory Watson, "My Answer to GeoCities Survey 'What is the Baha'i Faith?'"

Saturday, January 21, 2006

On Systems Thinking: The Parts and the Whole

Photo: Capra's The Turning Point in the hands of dear friend Patabi Raman

"Bahá'í teachings are essentially systemic in nature. The view of humanity as an indivisible whole is paramount in Bahá'í teachings. Yet individual parts are not subdued for the primacy of the whole. On the contrary, the whole and its constituent parts interact harmoniously in...a 'social system.' A social system not only has a purpose of its own, each part of the system has its own purpose (e.g. spiritual growth) which cannot be achieved independent of the purpose of the whole (i.e. transformation of human society, ever advancing civilisation). This is in contrast to a mechanistic (Newtonian) system or an organic system, in which parts of the system while having individual functions do not have independent purposes (e.g. while the human body has a purpose, the heart or the lungs do not have a purpose of their own). At the societal level too, Bahá'í teachings are the embodiment of systemic view as they operate in interaction with each other. Stated differently, none of the social teachings of the Faith can singly, and in isolation from other teachings, provide a complete solution on its own. For example, without 'independent investigation of truth' and 'elimination of prejudices,' the goal of 'equality of men and women' is unachievable."

Kambiz Maani, "Commentary on Roy Steiner's 'The Bahá'í community as a learning organisation'"

On Humankind: Neither Corrupt Nor Good

"Bahá'u'lláh's image of man is a clear verdict on the pessimistic image associated with Christianity (especially with Protestant theology), as well as on the simplistic message of the Enlightenment that man is good. In contrast to Church dogma man is not born with a corrupt nature, in a state of sin. He is not a fallen being who lost his freedom in 'Adam's Fall' and has lived thereafter in corruption, his nature perverted and his reason completely clouded. On the other hand, man is not programmed for good either so that under the right social conditions happiness and peace follow inevitably. Even in 'the best of all possible worlds,' happiness and peace are not available if man fails to develop-- through his own efforts and through the grace of God--into that for which he was created."

Udo Schaefer, "The New Morality: An Outline"

Friday, January 20, 2006

On Art: An Act of Worship

Photo: Marion Jack, Baha'i and lanscape painter

On Ego: We Can Never Afford to Rest on Our Oars

"Life is a constant struggle, not only against forces around us, but above all against our own ego. We can never afford to rest on our oars, for if we do, we soon see ourselves carried down stream again."

A letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny

On Ideals: A Unique Delivery System

Photo: Brisbane Austrailia
"Bahá’ís can very easily be labelled as utopian idealists, new age people, simply dreaming of a wonderful world, anticipating that if you dream hard enough it will come true. We can defend ourselves against those accusations because not only do we have the shining ideal set out in our Writings but much more than that we have the mechanism to bring it about, the vehicle for its accomplishment through the Administrative Order. So when people say to us “Your ideals are wonderful” and pat us on the head, at least metaphorically, occasionally physically, and say, “You are such a wonderful person. You have wonderful ideals” the subtext being, “It’ll never happen. Go away. It won’t ever come true”. We can respond to them by drawing their attention to the fact that we have a unique delivery system, designed to provide the means to bring these high ideals into practice. It’s a realistic mechanism which takes account of the deficiencies of human nature, the capacity of individuals to be destructive and malicious and divisive – which accommodates those negative elements of human nature as well as the positive ones."

Peter Khan, talk given in Brisbane, Austrailia, 14 August 2005

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

On Location of Power: A More Feminine Society

Photo: Hand of the Cause of God Ruhiyyih Khanum
"[T]here is the vexed issue of why there are no women on the Universal House of Justice. This, in the context of present-day society, is a question of the location of power. ...[T]he very fact that this question of power is such a burning issue is an indication of the extent to which the values of this society are distant from those which the Bahá'í Faith envisages. It is the assumption that membership of this body is a powerful, high status position, that makes the exclusion of women from membership of this institution such a problem. And the extent to which this is perceived as a problem is thus a benchmark of our success in transforming society. We will truly have achieved a more feminine society when the question of who wields power is no longer important. "

Moojan Momen, "In All the Ways that Matter, Women Don't Count"

On Intelligent Design: Science and Religion Combine

"The Intelligent Design debate was addressed by Stephen Friberg, a physicist, and Peter Terry, a philosopher and researcher into middle-eastern studies. Friberg argued that although Intelligent Design was not a science, it addressed legitimate concerns that should not be ignored. "The scientific community should do two things," he said. "It should engage in dialogue with the Intelligent Design movement, helping people now opposed to evolution to see its beauty. And it should censor and condemn dogmatic attacks on religion from the scientific community with the same vigor and energy that it condemns anti-evolution rhetoric from religious communities." Terry pointed out that the Bahá’í writings describe the universe as created by God and designed for the existence of humanity."

Association of Baha'i Studies Science & Religion Special Interest Group Conference Report, "Science and Religion Combine to have 'Unimaginable' Potential for Long Range Social Transformation"

On Prayer for Families: Let Heavenly Blessings Descend

Monday, January 16, 2006

On Belief: An Inextinguishable Urge of the Species

"Belief is thus a necessary and inextinguishable urge of the species that has been described by an influential modern thinker as 'evolution become conscious of itself'. If, as the events of the twentieth century provide sad and compelling evidence, the natural expression of faith is artificially blocked, it will invent objects of worship however unworthy—or even debased—that may in some measure appease the yearning for certitude. It is an impulse that will not be denied."

The Universal House of Justice, One Common Faith

On Foretelling Future Events: Tablet of the Holy Mariner

"He is the Gracious, the Well-Beloved!
O Holy Mariner! Bid thine ark of eternity appear before the Celestial Concourse,
Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!
Launch it upon the ancient sea, in His Name, the Most Wondrous,
Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!
And let the angelic spirits enter, in the Name of God, the Most High.
Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!
Unmoor it, then, that it may sail upon the ocean of glory,
Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!
Haply the dwellers therein may attain the retreats of nearness in the everlasting realm.
Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!"

, Tablet of the Holy Mariner

On Philosophy: We Are All Mariners

"...[W]e Bahá'ís are not pilgrims headed for a final destination be it Paradise, or Nirvana or Valhalla, but rather, we are all mariners and our lives are a journey that never ends. Days and nights, in different weathers, on different seas and through changing climates we sail ever onward discovering new lands and our prows are aimed at the horizon and the Great Attractor whose brightness draws us forever onward. Each moment is an arrival and departure; a 'Land-ho!' and 'Anchors aweigh!'; a parting sigh and a welcoming smile, a discovery and a recognition, a being-toward-death and a being-toward-birth, a self-transcendence and a self-disappointment, a 'Ready-aye-ready' and a 'Not-yet', a moment of knowledge and a moment of mystery, a falling into the troughs and a rising onto the crests. Like all mariners, we are 'in-between'. We live between waves and winds, between sea and sky, between being ourselves and never being ourselves, between anticipation and anxiety, between here and not-here, between peace with ourselves and internal conflict, between being true and being untruth. Yet, through this all, we try as best we can to see the light of the Great Attractor and to guide our ships by that light."

Ian Klug , "Call into Being: A Prolegomena to a Baha'i Existentialism"

Sunday, January 15, 2006

On Hyperbolic Language: Speaking With Many Voices

"For the early Christians, the religious experience of encountering Jesus was so different to everyday experience that they used what Leonard Swidler, a professor of interreligious dialogue, has called 'hyperbolic language'. This type of language is metaphorical and poetic, and is used to express extraordinary feelings and emotions that transcend everyday language....A clear endorsement of 'hyperbolic language' has come from the Universal House of Justice. In answering a question about the meaning of one of its statements, it has written that the manifestations of God speak in a language replete with 'poetry, analogy, hyperbole and paradox': 'we must accept that they are realities that cannot be defined in a rigourous manner, as one would attempt to define the terms of mathematics or even of philosophy. This is a realm of knowledge in which poetry, analogy, hyperbole and paradox are to be expected; a realm in which the Manifestations themselves speak with many voices' (From a letter on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, dated 15 October 1992).

Seena Fazel, "Understanding Exclusivist Bahá'i Texts"

On Metaphorical Flight: We Are Even as the Bird

Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah

Saturday, January 14, 2006

On Hidden Mysteries: The Heart Must Be Cleansed

"The heart must needs therefore be cleansed from the idle sayings of men, and sanctified from every earthly affection, so that it may discover the hidden meaning of divine inspiration, and become the treasury of the mysteries of divine knowledge."

Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan

On Evil: Spiritual Disease

"A corollary of the abandonment of faith in God has been a paralysis of ability to address effectively the problem of evil or, in many cases, even to acknowledge it. While Bahá’ís do not attribute to the phenomenon the objective existence it was assumed at earlier stages of religious history to possess, the negation of the good that evil represents, as with darkness, ignorance or disease, is severely crippling in its effect. Few publishing seasons pass that do not offer the educated reader a range of new and imaginative analyses of the character of some of the monstrous figures who, during the twentieth century, systematically tortured, degraded and exterminated millions of their fellow human beings. One is invited by scholarly authority to ponder the weight that should be given, variously, to paternal abuse, social rejection, professional disappointments, poverty, injustice, war experiences, possible genetic impairment, nihilistic literature—or various combinations of the foregoing—in seeking to understand the obsessions fuelling an apparently bottomless hatred of humankind. Conspicuously missing from such contemporary speculation is what experienced commentators, even as recently as a century ago, would have recognized as spiritual disease, whatever its accompanying features."

The Universal House of Justice, One Common Faith

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

On Contention: Dispute Not With Any One

"Beware lest ye contend with any one, nay, strive to make him aware of the truth with kindly manner and most convincing exhortation. If your hearer respond, he will have responded to his own behoof, and if not, turn ye away from him, and set your faces towards God’s sacred Court, the seat of resplendent holiness. Dispute not with any one concerning the things of this world and its affairs, for God hath abandoned them to such as have set their affection upon them."

Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah

Moral and Spiritual Education

"The Bahá’í writings attach great importance to the periods of childhood and youth, providing clear guidance to parents and communities to raise children in a nurturing and unambiguous environment."

"Moral and Spiritual Education for the Next Generation," The Baha'is, the International Website of the Baha'i Faith

The Search for Values in an Age of Transition

"At this juncture of our evolution as a global community, the search for shared values -- beyond the clash of extremes -- is paramount for effective action. A concern with exclusively material considerations will fail to appreciate the degree to which religious, ideological, and cultural variables shape diplomacy and decision-making. In an effort to move beyond a community of nations bound by primarily economic relationships to one with shared responsibilities for one another's well-being and security, the question of values must take a central place in deliberations, be articulated and made explicit."

A statement of the Baha'i International Community on the Occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the United Nations