Friday, April 25, 2008

Fellowship on the Internet

In the post before last I described some of my first reactions to Alison's Ridvan vision, and in the last post I described some of my second thoughts. I concluded that my best response to Baha'i Internet feuds is walking and working with abused and marginalized people in my local community, as I have been doing for years. I now see new horizons in applying the guidance about black/white relationships to all relationships between the dominant culture in each community, and the rest of the community.

That doesn't mean I will abandon practicing and promoting fellowship on the Internet, between people who are promoting the interests of the House of Justice, and people who have grievances against it. I'm on a break now from Internet discussions, but after that I'm planning to try practicing fellowship on the Talisman9 list with people who have grievances against the House of Justice.

Another way of practicing fellowship on the Internet, besides in Internet discussions, might be reading and commenting on people's blog's and Web pages, and linking to them from mine.

I might get ideas by observing more how people with grievances against the House of Justice practice fellowship with each other. They might have learned a lot about practicing fellowship on the Internet, because that's virtually the only place they've been able to do it.

Alison's Ridvan vision: second thoughts

In my previous post, I described some of my first reactions to Alison's Ridvan vision. After those first reactions, I started having second thoughts. Were she and I really thinking about the same problem? Was she really saying what I thought she was saying about possible solutions? That led to some other questions. What problem was I thinking about, and what solutions was I proposing? Something about a division among Baha'is, associated in my mind with the dialogue/Talisman feud, but who is divided from whom?

The thought came to me that there's more than one division. In fact, there might be as many divisions as there are people involved. Now I see the image of two opposing sides as a red herring. What needs to change is each person's estrangement from some other people.

More questions. Out of all the strife and conflict in the world, is there some reason for me to single these Baha'i Internet feuds? Here's one reason:

"Nothing whatsoever can, in this Day, inflict a greater harm upon this Cause than dissension and strife, contention, estrangement and apathy, among the loved ones of God."

Another reason is moral leadership in helping to check the disease of sectarian hatreds, which I see as the last stand for global violence. We need to lead the way by addressing the sectarian hatreds in our own community.

What solutions am I proposing?

I'm imagining each person making prayerful efforts to recover from her own feelings of estrangement, and to feel closer to anyone she feels estranged from.

What can I do to help, besides practicing that myself? I can share my ideas and experiences, in learning to flee from estrangement. One example is "Fleeing from Estrangement." Another is "Glimpses of the dialogue/Talisman chronicles."

Objection: Some estrangement is a result of injustice and abuse. It seems wrong to me to appeal to people to seek fellowship with people who have wronged and abused them, without addressing the injustice and abuse.

That rings a bell. The same issues are involved in the relationships between black people and white people. Those issues are addressed in the Advent of Divine Justice. Maybe the same principles can be applied here, and to all relationships between the dominant culture in each community, and the rest of the community.

This brings me full circle, back to walking and working with abused and marginalized people in my own local community, and helping to provide to every person the kind of encouragement and support that really helps, in her initiatives and in the challenges she's facing. The roots of Baha'i feuding on the Internet are in bandwagon abuse, and in people depreciating and repressing themselves, in every Baha'i community everywhere.

Alison's Ridvan vision: first reactions

These are some of my first reactions to Alison's Ridvan vision.

I was very happy to see it. For years I've been dreaming of seeing more online displays of fellowship between followers of Baha'u'llah who openly disagree with the House of Justice and those who don't. It's already happened here and there between Karen and me, and between Steve and me, and maybe some others, but I would like to see it happen a lot more, and I would like it to be a lot more visible. I sometimes think of what Jesus said: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."

I know that there are such friendships, and always have been, but I keep wishing for them to be more visible. Alison's post about rapprochement might do a lot to help. In any case, it's wonderful confirmation and encouragement for me.

It's popular in the Baha'i community to imagine that the only thing that protects the Faith from schism is declaring people Covenant breakers, and shunning them. I see much, much more in the Will and Testament than that, including friendship with enemies. Apart from that, here's my idea of what can protect the Faith from schism:

"If any differences arise amongst you, behold Me standing before your face, and overlook the faults of one another for My name's sake and as a token of your love for My manifest and resplendent Cause."

Some time ago I made a compilation about fellowship, with this vision in mind.

Baha'u'llah says that the goal of fellowship excels every other goal, and calls it "the monarch of aspirations." Part of my purpose in writing "Glimpses of the dialogue/Talisman chronicles" was to help non-protesting Baha'is relate personally to Talisman liberals.

Alison wrote: "If I have hurt any of you in any way, I unreservedly apologise."

She has never hurt me. The worst I've ever felt was that maybe she wasn't much interested in me and my ideas, and I don't even know if that was true. Even so, she always treated me very kindly and made me feel welcome.

Alison wrote: "I recall, when I was a member of the community, there used to be people who would come to Baha'i events but who were not enrolled members of the community."

That's even more true today. One of the central elements of current Baha'i community goals and plans is including non-members in the devotional meetings, study circles, children's classes and cluster reflection meetings that are now at the heart of community life. People who despise the Ruhi courses might still attend devotional gatherings, and bring their ideas to cluster reflection meetings. In localities where unenrolled Baha'is are practicing their own ideas of Baha'i teachings, related to the Dawning Place for example, non-protesting Baha'is might participate in those activities.

It's very hard for enrolled and unenrolled Baha'is to practice fellowship together on the Internet, because there are no Baha'i forums where one group or the other does not feel unsafe and unwelcome. We might be able to do it in non-Baha'i forums, multifaith forums for example. Another thing that makes it hard for us to practice fellowship is being persecuted by vigilantes on both sides when we do it. For example someone very near and dear to me threatened to incite someone to kill someone in my family, because of my friendships with Karen, Fred, Wahid and Dermod. When that failed, he threatened to get himself killed. There are a few people who disparage and malign me in every Baha'i forum, because of those friendships.

Another thing that makes it hard for me is the lack of open reciprocation. Steve and Rod are the only protesting Baha'is I can think of who are openly friendly to me on the Internet, after more than six years of being openly friendly towards all of them,and defending them in Baha'i bandwagon forums and on my Web pages, and being maligned and harassed from all directions because of it. In fact, the lack of visible reciprocation of my friendship towards unenrolled Baha'is, might discourage other enrolled Baha'is from following my example.

The few non-protesting Baha'is I know who are aware of the dialogue/Talisman feud are immersed in it themselves, or consider it inconsequential, or both. I don't see it as inconsequential, no matter how few people are involved. How can any such feud involving*any* number of followers of Baha'u'llah be inconsequential?

After years of effort, I've given up hope of any change in the behavior of the worst feuders. What I still hope for is more visibility of the fellowship that is happening.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Practicing and promoting life at its best

After a few days of working on the "Deeds, Not Words" site, I started thinking about working with other people of all religions to practice and promote God-centered living on the Internet. Of course the usual concern arose about implicitly excluding atheists. I searched Web for "atheist values," and found a lot to work with.

Two examples:

An Atheist's Values

What an Atheist Ought to Stand For

Saturday, April 12, 2008

My city and the world

A friend of mine who is devoted to promoting and improving the community life of the city was saying he didn't have much use for visions of a better world. I pondered that for a day or two, and thought of one way to use visions of a better world.

What happens in any part of the world affects what happens in every other part of the world. Initiatives to improve community life in each city might be improved by setting them in a context of improving the world.

Wayfarers and Artists

In recent years I've been learning to think of myself as an artist. I try to shape my life to visions I see in the writings of Baha'u'llah. In my 21 March post in Jim's Blog, I wrote about Tehching Hsieh, another person who is known for using his life as his artistic medium.

I've wondered a few times about how to exhibit my art, and I'm especially interested in that now. One of my recent works is about helping to check the disease of sectarian hatreds, which I see as the last stand for global violence, now that racism and nationalism have lost a lot their of popularity as pretexts for violence.

Last week I thought of exhibiting that in the form of a case study for research, and I started working on an example. Today I was thinking that case studies might not appeal to the field workers I most want to reach. Then I thought of exhibiting my works in the form of a wayfarer's tales.

Before I started this blog, I had started writing about some of my works in the form of a wayfarer's tales, for my own benefit. Sometimes I've longed for someone to talk to about my adventures. I've fantasized about being in Rivendell, surrounded by a group of elves eager to hear my tales.

I stopped here to search the Web for a virtual Rivendell, and I found one!

I started writing about some of my works as if I were telling my tales to some eager listeners in Rivendell. Some people told me they really enjoyed reading that. Usually my writing is not that fun to read. I've decided to start writing stories in that form, about my "life as art" works, and post them on some Web pages.

I searched the Web to see if anyone was already using the title "A Wayfarer's Tales," and I found this:

Welcome to Wayfarers Tales
"As a writer I got the chance to make a buck or two writing a few inspirational pieces. Once I started looking at the world that way it seemed like inspiration and wonder were all around!"

I've added a link to it here in my blog.

Then I searched for "life as art," and found this:
"I tend to see my life as a sculpture or work of art in progress, a continuous state of becoming."

There were many other "life as art" pages, but that's the one that's closest to what I'm thinking.