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Sanai (on pearls, swine, and patience)

Jesus Christ, when he made the famous statement Cast not pearls before swine, must have meant something like “Hey buddy, don’t waste your breath. No sense talkin’ if there’s nobody listenin’.” Something like, “Speak not until ye obtain a hearing”. Something like, Don’t let a precious thing be plopped down into the porking feedlot of distraction.

Sanai, I read recently, put it this elegant way:

“If to the fool my love you’d bring,

Or think my secret can be told

To him who is not wise —

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No Academy Award — Just Light in a Dark, Dark Room

My friend Sherri asked me to help out with an event she was helping to organize. So I did. I got to see a woefully underviewed but important film. For free. And I hardly had to do anything, but I got to write this:

Sherri Yazdani is a prairie girl, but as her surname suggests, she married into an Iranian family. Sherri is a mother, a storyteller, a lawyer, and when she stood in front of a nearly full auditorium in my city, she stood for human rights victims half a world away, yet not far from her family. She was a symbol, without making any fuss. She was there to bear witness to the ongoing, and indeed worsening, situation of the Baha’i community of Iran — maybe you’ve heard about this? — and to introduce the Ottawa screening of the documentary film To Light a Candle. She was one of several voices that brought local accents to its stirring international subject.

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Bahari is on the right, and that's Jon Stewart in the middle. (Sorry, other guy!)

That’s Jon Stewart in the middle, actor Gael Garcia Bernal on the left, and on the right, the man he portrayed in Rosewater, Maziar Bahari. (Thanks, Sherri, for the edit!)

Canadians familiar with Maziar Bahari likely know him from the 2014 Jon Stewart biopic Rosewater, or perhaps from the Iranian-Canadian Bahari’s best-selling memoir Then They Came For Me, the book that inspired Stewart to make his directoral debut. However, before his now-famous stay and forced “confession” in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison following the suspicious 2009 elections, Mr. Bahari was Newsweek’s Iran correspondent and the award-winning maker of numerous documentaries. His most recent film is To Light a Candle.

Mr. Bahari, as part of a global campaign (www.educationisnotacrime.me), chose February 27 as an international day of conscience and awareness, and many Canadian communities screened To Light a Candle, supporting Bahari’s efforts to spotlight another notable injustice from his homeland: the Iranian government’s denial of education to Baha’i youth. (Bahari is not a Baha’i himself.) Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including South Africa’s Desmond Tutu¹ and Iran’s Shirin Ebadi, joined with Mr. Bahari and many other notable artists and public figures in speaking up for the beleaguered Baha’i community of Iran.

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Abdu’l-Baha (on the Tao of Jesus)

Sigh. I could blame the exams, the final projects, the nutbars that I live with or another knock to my already addled head, but I’m late, as usual.

Of course, we don’t actually know the precise date of the birth of Jesus, so I could also plead historical vagueness as a virtue, but that’s not why I missed, either. Let’s just say it’s the season. Let’s just say that it has taken me some time before I could really think much about The Reason for the Season, as Christian friends back home like to remind themselves and their fellow crazed consumizens. (In China these days, it is even more bluntly obvious than it is among comfort-craving North Americans: avid consumption is the best-understood expression of citizenship. “Consumizens.” Not bad.) In fact, it was the thoughtful questions about Christianity from a young Chinese friend that got me thinking more deeply about why this time of year still stirs my blood and brain.

Anyway, I ran across this statement

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Hitting ‘Refresh’: One Dark Night, This Ol’ Dad

I just didn’t get it. (I never seem to, as he often reminds me.)

We’d had a pretty good time at the basketball courts, my 13 year-old son and me and a half dozen temporary teammates. I thought so, anyway; I was gassed, toast, bagged (as we used to say in the Grand valley), as usual, but fairly content. I’d had a good run. Some shots and passes found their targets. No ankles were harmed in the making of that afternoon which had turned into an early Dalian evening. We had a 20-minute walk home, but somehow we couldn’t pull it off.

Ours was not a Norman Rockwell moment.

I can’t rebuild that wrecked conversation now, and there’s no instant replay available – all I know is that I must have said a steaming pile of Wrong Things, and before I could say “that was fun” my lad was snorting and huffing, you just don’t get-ting and stomping his way as far from the Dysfunctional Father Unit as he could get. He’s a fiery critter, and a stubborn, and maybe-just-maybe a little too much like his old man for our collective good. Here we go again, I muttered. How did we get here from there?  

It was dark, and I was alone, and except for the relationship shrapnel, that was fine by me. Breathing room. A little peace and quiet. Yes. But not only that: I also remembered to turn to an old favourite consolation.

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Slowed by Fasting

For a while there, I just gave up on eating and drinking. I’m telling you, I was done with it.

Fasting.

What a weird and counter-cultural thing to do in a world of Whoppers and I’m Lovin’ It and Have it Your Way, to say nothing of obesity epidemics and 140-character limits on attention. (Yeah, I guess I might as well say it. Harrumph.)

Fasting. Muslims do it. Christians used to, though even by my faithful mother’s heyday, she would merely give up one of her oral pleasures – usually chocolate, never cigarettes – for the Lenten leadup to Easter. (Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 famous days in the

Not the view from downtown Dalian, but sunrise is lovely anywhere.

wilderness, getting ready to bear a mighty Ministry; however, this exemplary practice seems to have been largely abandoned  by followers of the Son.) Baha’u’llah also prescribed it for a 19-day period leading up to the first day of spring (the Baha’i new year), from sunup to sundown.

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Edith Hamilton (Weston) Main

The picture I remember best is an old black-and-white that I only saw a couple of times. Her hair is long and loose, her smile carelessly radiant, and her eyes draw one’s gaze again and again. She’s young, and she’s gorgeous, and it surprised a teenaged me to see the middle-aged, slightly doughy housewife – the one who had so lovingly welcomed, guided, and cared for me – looking so confident and free. I had known her as a quiet, self-effacing baker of cherry cheesecake and dispenser of tea, but here she looked like a screen star. This was my future mother-in-law, likely at about the age of her daughter when I married her. She was Edith, “Mother Main” (and not just to me), but I mostly called her Mum. I still do, though it’s been years since I’ve seen her.

The other photo comes 50 years later, I guess. It is more formal, a rather conventional studio shot that can’t hide her silvered, warm-eyed beauty. She is again slender, and her quiet dignity is clear. By this time, she was my ex-mother-in-law, marital fortunes being what they are in these times and in this heart. I was grateful when that same daughter, re-married, as I am, emailed from afar to let me know that Edith was preparing for take-off. She had turned 89 weeks before, and her life had become a smaller and smaller thing. She hung on for another week, and last Wednesday flight confirmation arrived. Friday’s funeral was not a tragic one.

Except that for me, it partly was.

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IEF: A Backward Glance

One of the main things that I wasn’t posting about when JH.com was down was a conference that had absorbed my family unit for several months before it actually happened. EcoBride was one of the main organizers of the 11th annual conference of the International Environment Forum, a collection of people inspired by the teachings of the Baha’i Faith to seek out ecological understanding and action. This was the first time the IEF has conferred formally in Canada, and I saw many of the anxious hours, the e-mail flurries and the telephone marathons that make an event like this happen. I am glad that the conference is over, partly because it was superb and I got to be present for a lot of it. I’d almost say that I’m getting my wife back, except that she now has more invitations to speak and will soon be off to Sweden for a more work-related gathering on eco-labelling practices. (There will likely not be a JH report on the mysteries of consumer environmental regulations…)

I won’t give you the full summaries — I wrote for the on-line discussion, and will link you to these more complete notes — but I want to offer you some of the flavour of this conference, entitled Responding to Climate Change: Scientific Realities, Spiritual Imperatives.

An Inconvenient Truth, by Gerbis!  (13 October, morning)

Michael Gerbis is the CEO of the Delphi Group, an Ottawa environmental consulting company, and one of 20 Canadians who have been trained by Al Gore in giving this presentation on the causes, effects and solutions to global climate change. The challenging irony of the situation was clear early in Mike’s presentation – the majority of attendees have already seen An Inconvenient Truth, and some have read the book. Preaching to the converted, of course, and the implicit challenge of how to take this message to those whose lives, politics, education or commitments leave them outside the “in-group” of environmentalists. One of Gerbis’s solutions is to take it to the schools, a very different audience from this one!

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children and grandchildren.” Mike, father of two, began in this vein of native spirituality. This is a businessman, someone who has decided to seek out the opportunities presented by ecological imperatives. His approach is not primarily a spiritual one, but his presentation fit well into the overall search of this conference for the ethical and moral dimensions of this scientifically complex phenomenon of climate change. Mr. Gerbis’s contribution was that of a sobering reminder and a summary of the overwhelming scientific consensus that will perhaps eventually filter down to inform the consciousness of the mass of citizens, in Canada and everywhere.

  • The correlation between the accumulation of so-called “greenhouse gases” and increasing global temperatures are now clear; the 10 hottest years on record have ALL occurred in the last 14 years. Crazy weather is now a staple of newscasts, and we’re starting to believe what scientists are in the process of proving.
  • Among the most stunning visuals for me show the retreat of the glaciers world-wide. The Inuit, of course, see this at first hand in their hunting and living grounds.
  • We’ve lost 20% of the world’s coral reefs, and much more is desperately threatened.
  • Gerbis, a businessman, finds the countervailing economic arguments very short-sighted and limiting. There are major economic opportunities out there, which his own company is based upon.
  • Australia has had five “hundred-year droughts” in the last ten years. This and other “freak” occurrences are increasing exponentially. They are accelerating.
  • This is most dramatically seen, perhaps, in the rapid melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice shelves, and is beginning to be seen in low-lying territories.
  • But perhaps the biggest problem is our way of thinking: our denial, our unwillingness to sacrifice privilege and comfort and the apparently urgent imperatives of economic growth.
  • And get this straight, says Mr. Gerbis: there is NO lack of scientific consensus; there has never been anything about which practising scientists (as opposed to industry lobbyists) have been more in agreement about.

As with Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore’s documentary, it was a sobering picture, but not a despairing one. The scientific and technical prowess to make dramatic changes exists, but the ethical impetus is still lacking. The main place of change is in people’s hearts. Gerbis concluded with these words of Martin Luther King, given in a different context but applicable to this global emergency:

“When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point but victory. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

It is our moral obligation to do everything we can to give the planet back to our children in such a way that it will benefit them; the earth will be fine, it’s not going anywhere, but will it be a liveable place for those that follow us?