Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gems of Divine Mysteries

It might also help me to read Gems of Divine Mysteries, as I've been wanting to do for some time.

"He is the Exalted, the Most High!

"O thou who treadest the path of justice and beholdest the countenance of mercy!"

(Baha'u'llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 2)

I walked slowly through our apartment, imagining that I was finding my way along a path, until I was facing some paintings on the wall that bring me merciful feelings.

"Thine epistle was received, thy question was noted, and the sweet accents of thy soul were heard from the inmost chambers of thy heart."

I imagined Baha'u'llah saying that to me. One of my questions is "What am I missing?" Another one is "What can I do about it?"

"Whereupon the clouds of the Divine Will were raised to rain upon thee the outpourings of heavenly wisdom, to divest thee of all that thou hadst acquired aforetime, to draw thee from the realms of contradiction unto the retreats of oneness, and to lead thee to the sacred streams of His Law."

That sounds very promising. I see a hint of the fresh look I wanted to take, and "retreats of oneness" sounds very appealing.

"Perchance thou mayest quaff therefrom, repose therein, quench thy thirst, refresh thy soul, and be numbered with those whom the light of God hath guided aright in this day."

Perchance, perchance . . . quaff therefrom . . . repose therein . . . quench my thirst . . . refresh my soul . . . be guided aright . . . yes . . . yes . . . please, let it be so.

Trying it on

Once before when I was discovering Baha'u'llah, I decided to try following His laws, to see what would happen. That turned out very well. I'm thinking now of searching for passages addressed to the people of Baha'u'llah, to study and practice them. I'll be posting about that in my Deeds, Not Words blog.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Rediscovering Baha'u'llah

Sometimes I have feelings of something missing in my life, which lead to thoughts about rediscovering Baha'u'llah. I'm considering ways I might take a fresh look at Baha'u'llah, what He's saying and what to do about it. I'm looking for passages in His writings addressed to us, individually and collectively, telling us what He's all about. Some phrases that come to mind are "O people," "O my friend" and "It is the duty of every seeker . . ." I might start with the Tablet of Ahmad, and the tablet of the true seeker. I would warmly welcome any ideas from anyone.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Removals from the membership

I've posted some ideas in the past about why the House of Justice removed Alison, Sen and Michael from the membership. I've decided now that all I can say, from any authoritative source, is that it does not recognize them as possessing the qualifications of Bahá'í faith and practice.
The Bahá'í Community shall consist of all persons recognized by the Universal House of Justice as possessing the qualifications of Bahá'í faith and practice.
- The Constitution of the Universal House of Justice

Belief and its expression

Thinking about Steve's "Freedom of expression," I thought of what Abdu'l-Baha wrote about teaching with wisdom. He talks about what to do and what not to do in adverse circumstances, and he concludes:

"But when there is no peace and safety, extreme wisdom should be exercised, though no complete cessation of effort is permissible, for in that case the divine assistance shall be entirely cut off."

I've been thinking about how I might apply Abdu'l-Baha's advice if I thought it was wrong for Baha'is to follow the House of Justice wherever it goes, or if following Baha'u'llah meant for me to promote some interests contrary to those of the House of Justice.

I've always promoted some ideas that were unpopular in the Baha'i community, and stood my ground against some practices that were popular. My application of Abdu'l-Baha's advice is to establish relations of friendship and right dealings with people, continually improve my practice of whatever I'm trying to promote, seeking always to remove estrangement before I try to teach anyone anything. When my message becomes a cause of disturbance I stop whatever I'm doing that's disturbing people for a while, and look for a better approach.

Cormorants: bake them or watch them

I see that two of my friends are interested in Cormorants. One likes to bake them, and one likes to watch them and learn from them.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On Sen's "The Knower as Servant"

These are some of my thoughts while reading Sen's "The knower as servant."

"However when I think of the needy, whom knowledge can help, it is not the merely ignorant, but rather the conflicted, that I have in mind."

A lot of my work on the Internet has been driven by concerns for people who might be confused, distracted or demoralized by Baha'i feuds.

"I think that the role of the servant is a better model for the learned Bahai than that of a scout, because the scout explores where he wants to go, while the servant helps people where they are."

In my understanding, it is not a part of the definition of "scout" that she explores where she wants to go. In fact it seems clear to me from the context of Mr. Lample's paper that he's talking about the kind of scout who explores where her community might go, as a service to the community.

I see scouting and pastoral work as two possible ways of serving. I don't see scouting as inherently any more self-centered than pastoral work. It depends entirely on the spirit and manner in which it is done. Helping people in distress is notorious for its possibilities as an excuse for cruelty, violence and other ugliness. It's also notorious for its use as a way of recruiting people to serve some other people's economic and political interests. That includes economic and political interests masquerading as religious pursuits.

Since we moved to China, I've been doing a lot of scouting to prepare for my outings with Patty. Since she started having trouble with her knees, it's been very hard for her to walk, especially up and down stairs. I've been practicing using buses and the Metro, and finding the places we need and want to go, for shopping, for doctors and for recreation for example, to make things as easy as possible for her when we go together. I often have to put off exploring places that appeal to me, and when I do explore them, I don't call it "scouting."

"If we are first clear that the function of religious knowledge (theology) and of the theologian is to minister to the faithful, where they are and with whatever needs they have . . ."

I practice and promote using all of our knowledge and capacities to serve Baha'u'llah's purposes, in accordance with His prescriptions. I don't see theology as a special case. My understanding of Baha'u'llah's purposes includes, but is not limited to, what I would call "ministering to the faithful." If the intent here is to promote using theology only for "ministering to the faithful," that sounds very unhealthy to me.

I practice and promote walking and working with people wherever they are. For me that includes serving all their interests, not only what I would call their needs. It includes where they are going and what they are trying to do with their lives.

I would not agree that "that the function of religious knowledge (theology) and of the theologian is to minister to the faithful, where they are and with whatever needs they have," without further clarification. However, I'll keep it in mind as a context for what follows. I'll also keep in mind "Very often, intellectual conflicts come because what our innate feeling for the good tells us is not in line with what we think 'religious' teachings are, or what 'being religious' means in practice." I'll consider, as a possible context for what follows, using knowledge to respond to the needs of people who are torn between their own sense of good and of right and wrong, and what they think their religion says about it.

"In the second place, if we are not clear that our scouting is a hobby, and the real work is serving the community where it finds itself, we set up a trap of pride or frustration for ourselves, because we imagine we have some right to set the agenda."

That is not at all my idea of a scout. I would never call that scouting. I would simply call it exploring. It seems clear to me that that is not what Mr. Lample means by "scout."

Mr. Lample writes:

"Perhaps the learned Bahá’í is more like the 'scout' who helps to guide an expedition on a journey into unexplored territory. This is someone who participates actively in the journey, but whose specialized knowledge, skills, and experience informs various aspects of the struggle to make progress: constructive perspectives into the past, present, and future; insight and technical capacity for ongoing study of the text; problem posing and problem solving; the defining of culture and intercultural relations. On this journey, the learned individual/scout does not have authority, and, while making a vital contribution, like any other participant is fallible and learns over time."

Back to Sen's paper:

"Thirdly, the idea of the scholar as a scout going out to unexplored territories implies that the community already knows all it needs to know about the territory it now occupies."

Not at all. Not in the least. Totally false. It implies that some people might be interested in learning about where we might go from here. It implies that knowledge about the territory the community now occupies is not all that anyone needs or wants to know. Patty's interests in Shanghai are not, and never will be, limited to the apartment complex where we live, or to all the places where we've already been. That does not in the least imply that we already know all we need to know about where we live or where we've been.

"If we are first clear that the function of religious knowledge (theology) and of the theologian is to minister to the faithful, where they are and with whatever needs they have, then there is no need to make a priori rules about what this involves."

I agree that there don't need to be any a priori rules about what it involves. I also don't think there need to be any a priori rules about what it does not involve. In particular:

- There does not need to be a rule that says it can't involve any scouting.
- There does not need to be a rule that says it must always involve responding to distress.

"It may involve archaeological activity, in the form of text-critical and philological work that re-examines those areas in which the Text seems to be teaching one thing, while the Spirit is telling us another. It may involve being the impartial, or critical, observer and reporter, for self-deception is the inevitable accompaniment of a misfit between what we think we ought to think and what we know is right. The one who cries that the king 'is in the altogether, the altogether,' is also serving the community."

I would say that those are all possible ways of serving the community. That might be a response to Mr. Lample's "The learned Baha'i is not . . ." statements. Instead of that, I might say, "Baha'i scholarship is not limited to . . ." and I would say the same thing about scouting.

I don't see Mr. Lample depreciating archaeological activity, the application of academic methods to examine apparent conflicts between the Text and the Spirit, or impartial and critical observing and reporting. I see him saying that "the community of believers is not dependent upon a body of specialists in order to understand the meaning of the text," that "the purpose of Bahá’í scholarship is not merely to explain the community at a moment in history and present the resulting picture as its reality," that "the 'true' meaning of the Faith is not lost somewhere in the past, to be recaptured by excavating layers of erroneous interpretation and practice," that "the teachings of Baha'u'llah have an intended meaning and an intended aim," that "the resolution of important questions requires more than the application of methods of the natural sciences,"and that "it is not possible to stand apart from the community to study it without influencing it or being influenced by it."

Friday, October 17, 2008

All things made new

Mr. Lample writes:

"Achieving Bahá’u’lláh’s intended purpose for the human race requires new morals, new ways of generating knowledge, new ways of communicating, new ways of acting, and new institutions."

I'm imagining humankind in the middle of a transformation like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. Two of my thoughts about how we will learn to be all we can be together are by people seeing the possibilities and pursuing them, and by people learning to follow Baha'u'llah. One way I think of following Baha'u'llah is learning to understand and serve His purposes, in accordance with His prescriptions. Another way I think of following Baha'u'llah is by serving as His apprentice.

I see clearly the idea of new morals. I see in Baha'u'llah's writings a standard of right and wrong, and a code of conduct, different from any that are currently popular in any part of society.

It's a new idea to me to think of knowledge as being "generated." I'm used to thinking of it as acquired or learned. Now that I think of it, I can see it being generated in the processes of investigation. I can see how following Baha'u'llah calls for new ways of generating knowledge. I'd also like to see people learning new ways of looking at knowledge and using it.

I don't remember thinking in terms of "new ways of communicating" before. One idea that comes to mind is Baha'u'llah's prescriptions for consultation and for promoting our ideas.

I see clearly the idea of new ways of acting. That's one of my favorite subjects.

I see clearly the idea of new institutions. I've thought of consultation as ways of using the energy generated between polarities in ideas and interests, comparing it to electrical energy. I think of the energy released violently in lightening being tamed in the form of electrical and electronic devices. I think of the energy released violently between conflicting political interests being tamed in the form of the new institutions.

I've been thinking for some time that we all have a responsibility to investigate for ourselves the possibilities in Baha'u'llah's revelation, and to practice and promote the ideas that come out of that investigation, however unpopular they may be. As I see it, that responsibility is inseparable from the responsibility to learn to investigate, and to practice and promote our ideas, in ways that accord with Baha'u'llah's purposes and prescriptions. That includes his purposes and prescriptions for institutions. I can see that leading to new ways of generating knowledge, new ways of communicating, and new ways of acting.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Learning and the evolution of the Baha'i Community

These are some of my thoughts while I'm reading Paul Lample's article.

He quotes Baha'u'llah:

“It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding, to
strive to translate that which hath been written into reality and action.”

I've always thought of working to improve myself as a central part of recognizing Baha'u'llah. A lot of what I've done trying to follow Baha'u'llah has revolved around learning how to go about it. I've done a lot of studying and thinking and experimenting, trying to learn what I can do to help improve my character and conduct. Recently I've been working on kindness. I keep forgetting about that, and I get sidetracked a lot.

"And yet, is not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions? For if the character of mankind be not changed, the futility of God's universal Manifestations would be apparent."

Last year, considering the conduct of people on the Internet who claim allegiance to Baha'u'llah, individually and collectively, I had one of my occasional moments of doubt about Baha'u'llah's claims. I got over that somehow, but I don't remember how.

Mr. Lample writes:

"Achieving Bahá’u’lláh’s intended purpose for the human race requires new morals, new ways of generating knowledge, new ways of communicating, new ways of acting, and new institutions."

Some time ago I was thinking that it's popular among Baha'is to imagine that what the world needs is for people to change the way they think. In my view what it needs is for people to change the way they act, and what people need is not someone to tell them that, but someone to show them that.

Learning and the evolution of the Baha'i Community

I just read Alison's article "Learning the Lingo," written after she read the paper "Learning and the Evolution of the Bahá'í Community." I decided to read the paper, and post some of my ideas and experiences on the topic.

First, some highlights of my own experiences with the development of the current growth plans.

1. Followup agonies after "mass teaching" campaigns in the seventies.

2. Ruhi courses.

3. Evolution of teaching institutes.

4. Back in the USA.

5. Core activities.

6. Clusters.


1. Followup agonies after "mass teaching" campaigns.

First in Florida, then in Martinique, I participated in some of those campaigns, and in followup efforts. I heard that in the US it all started somewhere in North or South Carolina, when some people who had been attending some firesides started joining by the dozens. Then it started happening in some other places. By the time I got involved we were walking around talking to people in small town streets, talking about the oneness of God, of mankind, and of the religions. If they said they agreed with us, we told them they were Baha'is and we signed them up. Later I found out some people thought they were signing up for magazine subscriptions.

I heard that in Martinique, people were invited to meetings, and they were signed up as they came in the door.

I remember going all over Martinique trying to find people on the list. It was popular when we did find them, just to socialize and not talk to them about the Baha'i community, its goals and plans, or its administration, because that might scare them away. I remember every Ridvan frantically trying to find just one person in each locality who would agree to vote for the local spiritual assembly. Most of all I remember the perpetual agonizing anxiety and guilt. Consolidate, consolidate, but never let up on teaching.

2. Ruhi courses.

One of the board members had brought some Ruhi courses from Columbia in Spanish and English. There weren't any available yet in French. A few of us started studying them together. Then he left, and that fizzled out. Later, when they were available in French, I started using them with some of my neighbors. Another board member started organizing training institutes in Martinique using Ruhi courses.

3. Evolution of teaching institutes.

I remember reading some messages from the International Teaching Center about teaching/training institutes, and not equating them with buildings and centralized courses. I remember them calling for interested Baha'is to form small "core groups" to work together to develop training programs. I met a few times with the only two other Baha'is in Martinique who said they were interested, but all they wanted to do was socialize, and it fizzled out.

4. Back in the USA.

After we moved back to the US, my daughter tried to organize some Ruhi courses, but there was no interest. Later, after the clusters were formed, my son and I organized the reflection meetings in our cluster for a year or two, until they became popular.

5. Core activities.

I loved everything about the new plans for core activities and cluster development. I saw in them all of my dreams for the Faith coming to life.

I tried a few times to invite some neighbors for weekly devotions, but no one ever came. Finally one day I decided I was going to find someone to come and say prayers with me, even if I had to talk to 1000 people. I started with some neighbors I barely knew two houses away from ours. They invited me to come in and say prayers with them right then. Would you believe, I had to think about it! It wasn't part of my plan.

I came to my senses and went in. They invited me to come any time, so I went once a week to say prayers with them, and we became good friends. Later, one of them wanted to work with me on activities with children in the neighborhood, and we started working on that, and studying Ruhi courses together.

6. Clusters.

Before the clusters were formed, spiritual assemblies were asked by our Regional Council to make recommendations, based on a number of considerations. I remember discussing it at our meetings.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Improving the signal-to-noise ratio for my purposes on the Internet

Some time ago I decided that I want to help organize the Internet to facilitate networking for people who are working to spread peace, justice, beauty and kindness. One way I thought of helping was by contributing to some of the existing directories, and by helping to develop search engines for those purposes.

Then I thought of looking through the other end of the telescope. Now I would like to search the Internet for blogs, Web pages, and other writings on the Internet of people who are working to spread peace, justice, beauty and kindness; and help them find resources they can use.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Scholarship and the study of the Baha'i Faith

I'm planning to study and practice the compilations on scholarship and the study of the Baha'i Faith, and post my ideas and experiences in my Deeds Not Words blog.

Picture stories

That didn't last very long.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

Picture stories and my art

I think of myself as an artist whose medium is his own life. For some time I've been pondering ways to exhibit my works. One way I've thought of exhibiting them is in the form of stories, but first I would have to become a better story teller. Maybe I can find a partner who would like using my works in her stories.

I love Priscilla's picture stories. Maybe I could learn to do that too.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Random thoughts about a post on "Love's Labors Lost"

I want to practice and promote reading people's blogs as a way of getting closer to them, learning from them and finding ways to support and encourage them and serve their interests. Just now I'm reading "Bonsai Theater" on "Love's Labors Lost." I had some thoughts that I wanted to post somewhere, and I decided to post them here.

I had never heard of the "4th wall," so I yahooed "fourth wall" with "'theater." I found a Wikipedia article about it and had lots of fun reading it.

LLL: "The very act of living is a drama."

I thought of how I use my own life as a medium for my art, and about finding other people who do that too.

LLL: "Forests, oceans, deserts, mountains - all have eons of narrative, ages of plot behind them."

I thought of my experiences with listening to trees.

LLL: "Like the geek I am, I read the little display plaques talking about where bonsai come from, how they're shaped, what they mean."

That's what I do, too.

LLL: "So as I was looking at the bonsai, I thought of them as miniature models for a story. I took in the details about each one, wondering what its story was. A trunk bent at a severe angle recalls a powerful storm that razed the land. A blue bowl was more than an aesthetic touch - it was the suggestion of water. What body of water? Where? What happened near or beneath the tree? Who or what was involved?"

I've been trying to learn to immerse myself in my surroundings. One way I've learned is to look for what I call "impressions." The way one branch of a tree crosses in front of another, or the broken bricks in a sidewalk, might have an impression on me that's like a friend from long ago or a long-forgotten memory. I especially look for impressions that I have no words for.

Some years ago I started wondering about what makes little incidents in movies seem so significant when the same thing would mean so little to me in my everyday life. A falling leaf for example. I imagine it's because the attention focused on it in the movie tells me that it means something. When I started learning to immerse myself in my surroundings, I started having feelings about the significance of things around me like the feelings I have watching movies, and I liked it a lot.

LLL: "The process is quite Zen, 'empty,' because the active part is invisible . . ."

I yahooed "zen" with "invisible" and with "empty," and found the story about the Zen master pouring tea for the professor.

LLL: "Let us imagine that I'm just giving you small slices of the overall story . . ."

In the Darmok episode of "Star Trek, the Next Generation," Captain Picard learns how to communicate with the Tamarians, whose language has previously defied all attempts by the Federation to understand it. Rather than directly narrating what they're thinking, their language uses imagery to convey their ideas and feelings. "Timba, his arms wide" means something like "Here, this is for you." "Sinda, his face black, his eyes red" might mean "I'm very angry."

Some of the imagery is in slices from Tamarian mythology. "The river Tamock, in winter," means something like a demand for silence, or maybe peace or cessation of hostile action.

For more examples, see Toward a Tamari Vocabulary.


I was just posting thoughts that came to me while I was reading the post. Now I'm thinking that free association like this might help me learn more from a person's post, and get to know her better.

Now I want to read the post again a few more times, hoping to see and feel more of what the author is seeing and feeling.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Please tell me what to write about!

In my Bits & Pieces blog I've posted a list of some current activities and interests, two lists of things to do, and a shopping list. I'm going to look through them for ideas of what to say about our life in China. Anyone who reads this, if you have any ideas of what you'd like to read about, please let me know. You can email me at geotalk@yahoo.com .