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Enough? The Baha’i Seven Are Still There**.

**(Lest We Forget)**

The campaign is over now.

There have been several concerted efforts to raise global awareness. One proclaimed the passing of 10,000 hours of unjust, of ridiculously tragic imprisonment of seven Baha’i leaders in Iran. Many fine words were said in numerous dignified contexts, but the “Yaran” – it means “friends” in Farsi – remained in jail. The five-year mark of their astounding 20-year sentences brought another crescendo of polite indignation, but these five years of loss, not only to the persecuted Baha’i minority but to all of Iranian society, moved the Teheran government not a bit.

Will a new logo be needed for nine?

Will a new logo be needed for nine?

In May of 2015, the hashtag #SevenBahaisSevenYears achieved not quite the currency of, say, #BlackLivesMatter (to say nothing of tags for TV shows or celebrity break-ups), but it circled the globe with awareness and a renewed call for justice. Earlier this month, #EnoughIsEnough and #ReleaseBahai7Now had their moments of trendiness as the Yaran’s captivity reached its eight anniversary.

The campaign did its best. More people than before are aware of the human rights situation in Iran, one that puts the Baha’is at the centre of the issue – not that they are the only, or even the largest, group that is oppressed and unjustly incarcerated. In fact, the Baha’i community wishes only to serve the broader population, and is dogged, even when its brightest young people are excluded from university admission, in its pursuit of education for all. Their “crime” is one, plainly and simply, of belief in the teachings of the 19th-century Persian nobleman known as Baha’u’llah, considered a heretic by Shiah Islamic clerics. All the noise about “sedition” and “immorality” and “spying” is nothing but bigoted, ignorant and baseless slander; religious intolerance is the reality.

So here I am. I tweeted and liked. Did my bit, I guess. Maybe so.

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Howdy, Are You Goofin’ on Lateness? * (Hey, Baby!)

The Buddha is supposed to have said that we should think of material existence as a lamp, a cataract, a star in space / an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble / a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning. Baha’u’llah wrote, The world is like the vapor in a desert, which the thirsty dreameth to be water and striveth after it with all his might, until when he cometh unto it, he findeth it to be mere illusion. All is illusion. It’s just a show, fairly useless and finally hollow. That being the case, of what importance is time, for heaven’s sake? (Or my own?) Another fantasy, ridiculous, so what could be the importance of phrases like “two weeks late” or “last month’s news” or “so 2015!”?

Listen, some of what I say could have been done in “January” – an invented construct, as is that of a “week” (see Genesis, Chapter 1) – or even in the earlier weeks of “Febyooary” – not only an arbitrary construct, but also tagged with an unpronounceable label – well, what could the matter be? In the view of the time-bound, the next piece I’ll post was started, oh, 13 days ago – whatever a day is! And some will argue that it should have been out within a “day” or two of the start of the arbitrary, named-after-a-pope-nobody-remembers-or-wants-to, Gregorian Year that apparently we’re calling “2016”. Silly, I know, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Lots of people pay attention to time, timeliness, days and hours, time out of mind. Sometimes I even fall into the trap myself. Though not recently.

But there is more to come.

* Extra points to those who read down to here, and ice cream if you actually got the R.E.M. reference. (In states and provinces where the ice cream provision is void by law, click here, but only if you understood my goofy title.)

Sunday School Picnic (non-Super Bowl edition)

Let’s talk about toxic religion!

 ***

Ask the people in Peshawar. (Though they might have a different answer than you’d think.) Ask in Paris. Ask anybody qui est Charlie. We could ask those affected by the Boko Haram militias spreading like a cancer from northeastern Nigeria, I suppose, if they were still alive, or if we cared about folks so unlike us and so far away. Even in boring old Canada, 2014 brought us faithful killings and rumours of more. What to do when religion goes murderous? (Spare a thought for doctors killed by Christian fundamentalists at abortion clinics, or women abused on Super Bowl Sunday. Beware the deadly fruit of any sort of fanaticism, any belief gone sour, whether it invokes God or racial superiority or football fever.)

You may have heard of “lone wolf” acts of terror in Canada, men allegedly inspired in the name of their Islamic leanings to kill peace-time soldiers who weren’t looking. (Ah, courage.) In the news recently were reports that Muslim Imams here in Ottawa were concerned at the spike of interest in Islam in the wake of the shootings at the national War Memorial and in Parliament itself. Muslim community leaders wondered aloud about some process of slowing down the new-found ardour they were seeing, and they questioned its source. How depressing! People are so desperate for a thing they can stand up for, I thought, they’ll fall for anything! Any port of committed action, however nutty, in an existential storm.

Commentators invoke loneliness and anomie, and lament that the mentally fragile, vulnerable to the attractions of religious madness, don’t get the help they need. What we rarely hear in the public debate is mention of moral bankruptcy, how entire societies and classes and governments appear to have little on their minds other than consumerism, the almighty GDP and personal comforts. How blind must we be to not see how hungry so many people are for a sense of meaning that rises above well I got mine and we’re the greatest country in the world and what’s wrong with those crazy bastards over there? And, more unsettling, right HERE.

North America – and, no doubt, for Muslims and many other sorts of barely tolerated immigrants in France and over much of Europe – is a hard place to be if you’re not on the winning side. (This is why sports are better than real life: one percent of players, no matter how good they were, could never kick the living snot out of a team ninety-nine times bigger, and keep on doing it and doing it.) No wonder the frustrated, “lookin’ like a dog that’s been beat too much / Till you spend half your life just coverin’ up” guys, even if they were Born in the USA or Ottawa or a Paris suburb, want to do something about it. Are we so smug, so insulated in whatever socioeconomic or cultural bubble we call home, that we really find such a search for meaning and usefulness incomprehensible? Yes. I think that most of us are.

Young men want to kill authority figures, or go fight with the “men of faith”. They want their lives to mean something, to stand for something. (Suddenly I think of DeNiro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver: “Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere….There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man….Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum,…the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up.” Talk about jihad!) This is all I could think of, hearing of an interest in Islam that was worrisome even to Muslim community leaders. It was days before I was able to consider another way of understanding it. There have to be some people (I thought, as the lights came on) who are just curious about what Islam really is. It’s slower to filter through than reflexive religious bigotry is, but after 9-11, after Charlie Hebdo or any number of atrocities committed by those who claim to honour the Arabian Prophet, there are always the voices, not always or even predominantly Muslim themselves, who say, This is not Islam. This is religion perverted to justify power-seeking and oppression.

And people learn something about the vast majority of Muslims, and they wonder what it is that compels believers to peacefully hold on to their faith in spite of suspicion, outright bigotry, and the humiliation, the resentment, the frustration, of constantly having to apologize for the misguided hatred of the fanatical few. I’m not denying that there are Travis Bickles out there who see in jihadist extremism a convenient container for their disaffection and their revenge fantasies. But listen: religion has been around for a lot longer than the fashionably modern rejection of it. There must be something more to religion than hatred and ignorance and division, or it couldn’t have survived. We shouldn’t judge a Book because of a Bickle who carries it around with his rage.

That’s why I went to (of all things!) my local celebration of World Religion Day.

In Part Two, I wade into the teeth of a multifaith storm, and come out unbloodied, unbowed, and pretty darned hopeful. Refreshed. Coming soon. (Pinky-swear!)

Men and Guns and Murdered Sleep

UPDATE: A shorter version of this piece, with a somewhat different focus and some extra authority, also appears at the Baha’i Teachings website.

I can’t help myself. I have to say something about Santa Barbara, but what to say that others haven’t about a young “man” – oh, how that word is mutating like attention-deficit cancer cells – who so pathetically, so enragingly, so outrageously, so pitiably, so hatefully, so sadly and so narcissistically wore all his grievances on his electronic sleeve. Then he found, what – not courage, for God’s sake – enough petulance-gone-mad, enough entitlement-gone-toxic, enough Internet-chutzpah-gone-fatally-virulent, to spew the tantrums of a deeply spoiled child with the sick can-do of an adult, and with the cold metal of “equalizers” that would never require him to face his victims as an equal. God help the innocent. God help us all to sleep, and to keep finding hope and goodness.

The numbers are hard to gather, let alone fathom. Just in the USA, some dedicated carnage-counters in the gun-addled States (the on-line magazine Slate, for one) throw out statistics that mainly seem to numb us. “35,000 gun deaths since Sandy Hook”. “A mass shooting every five days.” “90 American gun deaths per day.” And so on. More than half of these are suicides without the murder, it appears, since guns are the American way to take arms against a sea of troubles / And by opposing end them… So yes, Hamlet, there’s that, but at a certain level of super-hero self-hatred, offing yourself just isn’t cinematic enough anymore.

But there’s more.

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William Butler Yeats (on perceiving beauty)

“The world is full of magic things,
patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

Guilty, guilty, guilty: I am a fan of W.B. Yeats, the Irish poet, and need this reminder, the all-I-need-to-know-I-learned-in-kindergarten reminder, to LOOK. Or the Yogi Berra  “dumb jock”-as-zen-philosopher koan: “It’s amazing what you can observe just by looking.” It’s amazing how much we don’t see, and discouraging how much natural, wholesome and otherworldly goodness we fail to notice because we’re fixated on the trashy, the tinsel, the temporary, the trite and the televisual. (That’s right, just call me “Mr. T”.)

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Baha’u’llah (the essence of all…)

I’ve been reading a short, incredibly dense series of statements by Baha’u’llah from “Words of Wisdom”. Each brief pronouncement names the “essence of understanding”, “the source of courage”, the “beginning of magnanimity”, “true remembrance”, and the like. It is five minutes of reading, and a lifetime of grasping. It concludes this way:

The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye.”

Baha’u’llah (1817-1892) was the Founder of the Baha’i Faith and the Author,

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Abdu’l-Baha (on peace, happiness & everything)

“The body of the human world is sick. Its remedy and healing will be the oneness of the kingdom of humanity. Its life is ‘The Most Great Peace.’ Its illumination and quickening is love. Its happiness is the attainment of spiritual perfections.”

‘Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921) was the son of Baha’u’llah, the source of the Baha’i system of knowledge and practice.

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Take the Red Pill! Rainn Wilson & The Matrix II

This is the second part of my recollection of actor Rainn Wilson’s talk at the recent Association for Baha’i Studies conference in Irvine, California. Part One is here.

Rainn Wilson related, with wonder and amusement, how excited many people became in  connecting the “man was embryonic in the world of the matrix” quote of ‘Abdu’l-Baha to the  mind-blowing Matrix trilogy. He said that there were groups of people who embrace “Matrixism” as religion, and regard ‘Abdu’l-Baha as its early prophetic voice, and as its link to the entire history of revealed religion. This was news to me, but I found them in a most curious and bemusing on-line presence. One of their four basic tenets is the use of hallucinogenics as a sacrament; another is “adherence to the principles of one or more of the world’s religions until such time as the One [Neo doesn’t count] returns”. This tiny group does elaborate a few more funky laws, my favourite of which is that “all forms of professional athletic competition have now been abrogated”. (The revenge of the picked-on against the surly jocks!) That’s funny stuff, I guess, unless it’s pathetic. However, it points out again, if we needed more evidence, how hungry human beings are for a sense of meaning in life.

Wilson showed another clip from Matrix the first. Neo faces off with the baddies who are trying to prevent him from penetrating and exposing the mass hallucination that intelligent machines have created. Their programming illusion is intended to convince the humans that life is as it always was – meanwhile, their actual bodies are imprisoned in pods and used as robot fuel. This is where many of the oh cool! effects of the movie are featured. Neo bends

“Bullets, be still and know that I am Neo!” Who hasn’t done this?

space and time. A hail of bullets slows at his silent command and clatters to the floor. He leans at impossible angles, and leaps with impossible speed. He artfully decomposes a bad dude by flying right into his holographic gut and exploding him from the inside. (Nice!) Neo has wondrous powers in the supercomputer-generated matrix because he understands that it is only a projection, an unreal construction. (Well, and because he is The Chosen One, which obviously helps.) By knowing the reality of life in that world, he becomes the master of it. 

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Albert Schweitzer (on human purpose)

“The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve…The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others.”

Albert Schweitzer (1875 – 1965) was a Christian theologian and medical missionary in Africa (in what is now known as Gabon). He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 because of the above, off-the-beaten-path but eminently Christian philosophy. This may the heart of all true and useful religion. Was he his “brother’s keeper”, a la Jesus Christ, practising the Buddha’s “right action”, and applying Baha’u’llah’s injunction to “carry forward an ever-advancing civilization”? He tried.

An Eccentric Perfection

The Arabic term “Kamal” means something like perfection. Last night, I found myself among the endearingly odd and tiny Bahá’í community of – hmm, to tell the truth, I don’t even know where I was, though we had a gorgeous view of Baptiste Lake, wherever that is. We had joined them for their Feast of Kamal, a community gathering that combines prayer and study, community consultation and, in this case, gobs of ice cream and fresh fruit. There was sweetness on so many levels.

We four city-dwelling vacationers had wandered, not quite aimlessly, down country roads, through near-villages, past lovely lakes and the key turn. We were finally guided by cellphone along ever-smaller lanes to the Feast, whose size we nearly doubled, and were charmed by the beauty of the scene and the homey welcome of the host friends. Our program of writings, treating on the perfections of creation and the potential perfections in human beings, had been hand-printed and photocopied. No clergy, of course, in a Baha’i gathering, but I was touched, amused and impressed by the great care our hosts took in distributing the readings. We read aloud to the accompaniment of sunset sparkling on the lake, wind in the poplars, the occasional burst of laughter from the neighbouring patio or their kids squealing at the waterfront, and the tail-wagging, bumping visits of Max, the golden Lab next door.

It was too hot to be inside, and too beautiful to pay much heed to distraction. I’m sure we were something of a distraction to this elderly, close-knit band ourselves. But they never let us feel that way. Everyone was sweet to my seven-year-old Sam, the only person under 40 present. It was sweet to hear the words of Bahá’u’lláh in the sunlight and the wind. The raspberries and blueberries were bursting with sweetness. And the ice cream was, well, it was ice cream. Perfection, indeed, thanks to Slim and Mary Lou.