Why These Seven?

(Two responses to this question. One is my apologia, my reasons for concerning myself so — and so often — with seven people I’ve never met. The other is for the Iranian government to make. How do you solve a problem like the Baha’is? They need new answers, to both questions.)

They have endured a lot since this photo was taken.

There are countless political prisoners in the world. We call them the “unjustly accused”, “prisoners of conscience”, and they’re everywhere. There are likely some in North American and European jails, too, lest we get too self-righteous. More commonly, though, “First World” inmates, even if wrongfully held, face punishments for minor crimes based on class or racial bias. A number of Canadians, one of my sons among them, make their warehoused fellow citizens a personal cause. I don’t. Nor do I devote much time to the, what, tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands? of souls locked up by tyrannical regimes simply because of opposition, real or paranoically imagined. As my mother-in-law says, pick only one or two lost causes to get behind.

So why was I writing little-read protests about the Yaran (Farsi for “friends”), the “Baha’i Seven”, two years ago, and 18 months ago, and again now? Why flood the Inboxes of my hearty band of Twitter followers with news of the continued imprisonment of this small group in an Iranian prison? Why these Seven? I’ll start with the lamest of my reasons, which also happens to be the most emotionally compelling. This is PERSONAL:

Because they’re Baha’is, and so am I. Global citizens, we in the Baha’i community are called to be. Lovers of humanity, and not simply of our own family, congregation, tribe or nation. But I can’t help it: I identify with these people because we share a spiritual choice, though our cultural backgrounds differ widely. Barely one in a thousand citizens of Earth belong to this community, and it is natural to stand up for your own. Necessary.

Because there’s no other way to fight. Baha’is don’t oppose their governments.

Continue Reading >>

By the Waters of Galilee

Among the delights of a summer spent home in Canada, squeezed between two years in China, was a weekend with the Baha’is in a little town near my capital home. Summer school: reunion, reflection, prayer and conversation, kids and laughter and sun through the trees. We talked and studied and played in a gorgeous riverside retreat, an oasis of Christian calm and service garnished with pine trees and sparkling waters. Sweet.

Bernie took his canoe, for dawn prayers of the paddling kind. Dona brought tennis rackets, and found a hitting partner slightly less disastrous than his bride. Rhonda retreated from just having packed her life to go to Pakistan – two weeks before the deluge. Wee Carmel brought her brown astonished eyes, and we were grateful. Our family circle grew, like a deep breath in, inspiration, maybe for a few days, possibly beyond. Nobody watched TV.

I watched clouds and learned from faces. I listened to spirited seminars and conversations blown through the woods. I try to see and hear them now, in the midst of the city millions, the car horns and the concrete and the day’s discourse that I don’t understand. I am in Dalian. I am in China. But I spent a few divine days in Galilee.

Slowing and Fasting

I know, I know. Where are the rants on the Olympics from the sports-loving Canadian expatriate? They’re in gestation. It has been a fun sort of oddness to watch Chinese sports television — CCTV 5: All Skating, all the Time! — from a Canuck mindset. For now, you might want to check out a recent non-Olympics post on an athletic passing, not quite so tragic or sudden as that of the Georgian luger, but still one that moved me. It’s in the It’s All About Sports! section.

Okay, so what about those Better Read Than Never reviews? Don’t you do any reading while you’re in China? Well, you bet I do, and I’m even publishing some of my earlier rambles in a glossy but editorially questionable ex-pat magazine here called Focus Dalian. But to answer your question, here are a few recent alphabetical journeys: another re-reading of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, a spiritual butt-kicking for those “whose reach is beyond their grasp“; The Rebel Angels, a witty and erudite Robertson Davies novel, first of the Cornish trilogy; Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man?, in which former hoopstar Charles Barkley wonders interestingly about race and power “and why everyone should buy my book” in conversation with a pre-Presidential Obama, a post-Presidential Clinton, Morgan Freeman, Ice Cube and other American notables; Mind, Heart, & Spirit: Educators Speak, a remarkable collection of testimonies and memoirs stitched together by Canadian poet Heather Cardin; Changing Planes, linked short stories by Ursula K. Leguin that acerbically explore alternate nearly-human realities (gosh, she’s good — I’ve also been reading her Earthsea Cycle as bedtime for a few young bonzos, deep and wondrous tales that an adult can also thrill to); Norman Bethune, my old boss Adrienne Clarkson’s biography of the great Canadian hero of revolutionary China; Waiting, a fascinating and distinctive novel of a Cultural Revolution-era family, by the expatriate Chinese novelist Ha Jin; The Advent of Divine Justice, a powerful book which is really one long letter to the then-tiny North American Baha’i community by the Faith’s Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, before the Second World War (a vision and a call just as awesome in 2010); Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s classic romance, glorious writing and funnier than I’d expected; and last, so that this listing paragraph might be righted (and written), Dreams of My Father, Obama’s pre-Presidential and pre-Senatorial memoir, and how wonderful is it, if we must have individuals in such positions of power and fame, that the Number One Dude can think and really write? It’s not easy to find English books in Dalian, but we brought plenty and (who knew?) our Thailand sojourn led us to a little Chiang Mai hub of remarkably good used bookstores. We will survive.

Yeah, but we still remember a promise, hmm, last August (!), that “there will be details” of this Chinese experience? Justice is on your side, faithful readers, but the trouble is that I’ve been too busy experiencing. And justice is also on my side, because I didn’t say when, now did I? Luckily, my bride is a more prompt, practical and pictorial reporter than I am, and so your lust for details on our lives in China can be satisfied with a trip to her LiveJournal record. It’s fun and thoughtful stuff.

What about fasting? Yes, we’ve heard about my chronic slowness, but we’ve hit that sacred, spring is coming time of year and I’m fasting, fellow babies, I’m fasting for the 37th consecutive March. I hope to do it well, to go beyond syllables and sounds, beyond brainless fridge-prowling and absurd appetites, and beyond eat-drink to pray. I wish me luck, and I hope for sparks and progress, but I always love it. A cool blogger called Phil is writing his experience of fasting the Baha’i way, and I recommend him. He’s always a good read.

So here’s my question: is there anything else you’d like to know? You could comment. I’m also told that it’s easy — hey, I’m the god-king of this little electronic pasture, so I’ve never actually subscribed to it — to get hand-delivered to your Inbox by hitting the orane button up top. Let me know how that goes. Thanks, as always, for reading.

(Pulling a) Fast One

The warmest of shouts out to the people of Bahá today, et bon courage, as they enter their period of fasting. (And give yourself an extra helping of sausage tomorrow morning if you got the pun in the title, be you believer or not.) I’d write more about this fasting business, but I’ve been up since six and it’s a SNOW DAY IN OTTAWA but I drove Sam to school and I’m going back to bed! Yippee!!

Today’s cosy indulgence will be sponsored by the cracking open of a novel, The Go-Between by the (alas, no longer scribbling with us¹) English writer L.P. Hartley. It’s the one with that pregnant first line, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there…” No matter how well it begins, there will likely be sleep. There has already been guitar, and there may be more. There will certainly be shovelling. (Yes, my sweet, and dishes and laundry.) And today’s forecast is that the sweet and overwhelming inspiration to write will strike me with both fists at exactly 1:00 pm this afternoon.

¹ Anyone out there get this particular literary allusion? Think snow falling “like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards”. (And if you can’t wait for next Christmas – or you need to know the answer NOW – please click here for my favourite re-creation of childhood. It’s worth five minutes. Heck. Six.)

Holy Birthday to You (and me).

It was a fine day yesterday, hanging out with the Bahá’ís as the community and its friends celebrated one of the Faith’s holy days, the birth of its Founder, Bahá’u’lláh.* He was born in Tehran in 1817, and it occurs to me to imagine that the twelfth of November eleven years from now will be a big day in the Bahá’í universe. (And baby, better stand back when those crazy Bahá’ís start celebrating…!)

Okay, so there probably won’t be a need for riot police and pepper spray, but I like partying with the nine-pointed stars and their friends anyway. The courtesy never fails to refresh, the greetings are warm and the laughter comes easily. (In fact, I found the conversations so good that I forgot to elbow my way to the dessert table. Shocking omission, yes, but I’d warmed up with a neighbourly lunch before the afternoon bonanza.)

And it’s important fun, if that’s allowed. (Too often, there’s a nearly iron-bound divider between amusement — must be extreme, loud, trivial — and social betterment — must be stern, humourless and apocalyptic.Yesterday, it was. Solemn prayer beside the balloons. Learning along with every second conversational giggle. One aspect of community education is key: we’re understanding, steady by quick, how to not just tolerate but to venerate, to celebrate diversity while we stand together on the essentials. So a 15-year-old classical violinist shared the stage with a young white gospel singer, and exuberant African drumming and singing followed the plaintive strains of traditional Persian drumming, singing and the plucking of the tar. French, English, Arabic and Farsi were spoken. It was a smorgasbord. (Thank-you, Sweden, for that tasty word.)

(* Yes, faithful readers, give yourself a bonus point in the standings if you correctly identified Bahá’u’lláh as the “Persian exile” in the November 11 post. Give yourself two points if you hit the link either time.)