Tuesday, June 27, 2017

My Son, the Friend

My son and I were reading a quote this morning, as we are wont to do, and ran across the following passage:
"O friends! Be not careless of the virtues with which ye have been endowed, neither be neglectful of your high destiny. Suffer not your labors to be wasted through the vain imaginations which certain hearts have devised. Ye are the stars of the heaven of understanding, the breeze that stirreth at the break of day, the soft-flowing waters upon which must depend the very life of all men, the letters inscribed upon His sacred scroll."
And again, as we are wont to do, we talked about it as we walked together to his bus stop.

"O friends!" Isn't it wonderful that Baha'u'llah refers to us as His friends? That made us feel pretty good this morning.

"Be not careless of the virtues with which ye have been endowed..." Well, that led us to ask with which virtues we have been endowed. Obviously, all of them. But then, just because we are given something doesn't mean that we can't lose it. You can be endowed with great strength, but if you don't use it, that strength can fade and fail. It can go away. Similarly, if we don't use our virtues, if we are careless with them, then they, too, can diminish in power and intensity.

"...(N)either be neglectful of your high destiny." Wait. What? We have a "high destiny"? How cool is that. But what exactly does that mean? What is this destiny to which He is referring? Great question. And, as usual, I'm not really sure, but I have to wonder if it is referred to in the last few lines of this quote, which are not quoted above, so I'll just quote them here. He asks God that we "may be graciously assisted to appreciate the rank conferred upon such of His loved ones as have arisen to serve Him and magnify His name. Upon them be the glory of God, the glory of all that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth, and the glory of the inmates of the most exalted Paradise, the heaven of heavens." Could that be it? I often have thought of that last line as a bit of a "the end" to His Writings, but maybe it is actually more than that. Perhaps He is reminding us that if we do arise to serve His Cause, then the glory of God will shine from our faces, as well as all those other glories He mentions. I mean, this is pretty awesome, if you think about it in that context.

"Suffer not your labors to be wasted through the vain imaginations which certain hearts have devised." Hmmm. Well, to us that spoke of how we spend our time. I mean, this rank is conferred upon us only if we "have arisen to serve Him and magnify His name." So, presumably, if we don't do that, then this glory doesn't rest upon us. And if all we do is spend our time trying to get money, or a higher score in that video game, then aren't we, in the long run, wasting our time?

But this last bit, wow. That was what got us to talk about it all the way to the bus stop:
Ye are the stars of the heaven of understanding, the breeze that stirreth at the break of day, the soft-flowing waters upon which must depend the very life of all men, the letters inscribed upon His sacred scroll.
I want to put this in flashing gold letters, sparkling and shimmering, guaranteed to catch your attention so that it is permanently emblazoned in your memory.

We, all of us, His friends, each and every one of us are one of those stars, that breeze, that water, one of those letters. Isn't this a far cry from seeing ourselves as having been created in sin, fundamentally flawed, somehow unworthy of life itself?

No. Noble He created us, and this is how we should see each other. This is how we need to see ourselves. This is how we all need to treat each other.

As we were talking about it, we asked ourselves some basic questions, like what is the purpose of the stars. Shoghi's first thought was that they give light, but then we realized that they don't give that much light, at least not when compared to the sun. And you can't read by starlight, even on a clear night. No. The stars, in history, have always been the source of guidance. It was by the light of the stars and their positions that we were able to take advantage of the sea and understand where we were going. It was through the stars that we were able to better explore the world around us and discover what lay hidden just over the horizon. And when we who are familiar with the Writings and Teachings of Baha'u'llah share His wisdom, are we not helping others explore the vast horizon of the world of the spirit as shown to us by His bounty?

Then, after we talked about that for a moment or two, or three or four, we realized that the order in which He gave us those last attributes reminded us of camping.

We camp under the stars, enjoying the vast beauty of the universe above our heads. Then, after a beautiful night's sleep, we awake to the soft cool breeze gently blowing over us in our tent. This, in our opinion, is probably the finest way in which we can wake. After being gently roused, nothing is better than heading down to the river and splashing the cool refreshing water over our face. Finally, to round out the morning, we read a bit of the Writings.

Just like we did this morning.

Hmmm. If only we had slept in a tent last night.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Missing Years: 9 Years of the Future Passed

Time travel.

It has been the dream of people for such a long time, the seeds of which are found in such places as the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, from the ancient Greek Oracles to the modern H G Wells' The Time Machine. It has cropped up in many arenas, from the iconic Dr Who to the absurdism of Groundhog Day. It has been used in countless movies and stories in a wide variety of genres.

But imagine actually being able to travel in time. Imagine, for a moment, going a mere 9 years into the future. Better still, imagine arriving today from just a few years, 9 years, in the past. Just imagine all that has happened since 2008.

We have seen the coming, and going, of America's first Black President.

In 2008 racism seemed to be on the decline. Today, it almost feels as if we have gone back 80 years, what with the unbearable rise in racist attacks and Islamophobia. And we aren't even mentioning the attacks on the rights of women.

The number of refugees in the world nearly a decade ago, while alarming, was not quite at a full-blown crisis stage. Today, displaced peoples number in the many millions, a figure that staggers the imagination.

Back in 2008, just over 25% of the world's population was on the internet, as opposed to more than 50% today. And while we had twitter and facebook, we never dreamed that they would help shape global politics.

In just the past few years, we have seen a resurgence of diseases that we thought were gone, due to the mis-guided anti-vaccine movement.

9 years ago, you had to be on the fringes of society to question the reality of climate change. Today, the denial of science is considered normal in many places in the United States, as more and more countries around the world are finding themselves struggling with the effects of a changing environment.

From the status of minorities to a global shift in the approach to science, many fundamental changes have occurred in such a short time.

But now imagine what would have changed for you.

Imagine that your mother passed away. You would have missed being at her side during her final days, not to mention the funeral. Parents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, dearly loved friends: how many of those funerals would you have missed?

Imagine your young grandchild back in 2008, now a junior youth. Your daughter has gone from being in 8th grade to having graduated university. And you missed all that that entails.

You missed the marriage of your son, the passing of your wife, major changes in the field of your career. The list goes on. Life, you can imagine, would not be the same. Things you took for granted upon leaving nearly a decade ago have been irrevocably altered.

But you know, this is not fiction. It is not the case where you come out nice and young, healthy and refreshed. These are stories where people went into that time machine of prison with black hair, and may come out grey. Their skin is now wrinkled. Their health has been broken by their time in prison. This is the story of one man whose heart condition has been exacerbated by his suffering, who, if he were free, would have been able to seek the medical help he needed. This is the story of a woman who went in as the director of an educational institution and is now at the age of retirement, having been denied the opportunity to help so many young adults in their studies. This is the story of many others who have been irrevocably changed by their experience, but who are still dreaming of a beautiful future for humanity. This is the true story of those who were working for the betterment of their community, and society as a whole.

This is the story of those who have been wrongfully imprisoned for daring to hope, and acting on the promise of a better tomorrow.

This is the true story of the Yaran.

Please read about them, see what they are suffering, and know that their greatest desire is to help establish unity and justice, to ensure that others need not suffer as they have. Please read about them, and don't allow them to be in prison for another year.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pilgrimage thoughts

Recently, my family and I got back home from the Holy Land.What an amazing experience, as I'm sure you can imagine.

Pilgrimage.

What can I say about it? For those of you who have had this incredible experience, you know what I mean, and for those who have not yet had this great bounty, well, nothing I say can begin to describe it.

One thing I can mention fairly easily is how it is a full-person workout. On the one hand, it is truly an uplifting experience for the soul, at the end of which experience you will feel completely exhausted and yet refreshed. On the other hand, it is also a work out for the mind, giving greater clarity to your purpose in life through meditation on your prayers in the Shrines, as well as the reward of the talks by the members of senior institutions in the evenings. On the third hand, it is also a great physical workout, bringing together the spirit, mind and body through the climbing of the seemingly interminable number of steps on the terraces of the Shrine of the Bab. I learned that climbing the stairs is a cardio workout, which left me gasping for breath after just a few of the Terraces, while going down the steps is a muscular workout, of which my now-steel calves are still reminding me.

But really, the big question is what is the purpose of pilgrimage? Why do we do it? I mean, aside from the fact that Baha'u'llah has said we should.

Now, I could give you all sorts of quotes about it, beginning with the actual law in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, as well as the various commentaries by either 'Abdu'l-Baha or Shoghi Effendi, but this is not the purpose of this article. No, I would rather you do your own research on this subtle yet weighty topic. Besides, I'm not that big a fan of quotification, preferring a sprinkling of one or two quotes that really emphasize the point, as opposed to drowning the poor reader in the ocean of His Writings.

Myself, I'm more concerned at this time with a different question altogether: How do the various aspects of pilgrimage today work together as a coherent whole?

Well, let's see. What are these various aspects of which I speak? I'm glad you asked. Oh, and please remember that this is just my own personal opinion and nothing official.

To start, the most important thing, the primary purpose of the pilgrimage is to be able to pray at the Holy Shrines. Everything revolves around that.

Aside from the time spent in the Shrines, you visit the places in Akka associated with Baha'u'llah, 'Abdu'l-Baha, and Shoghi Effendi. You also get to visit the administrative buildings on Mount Carmel, such as the Seat of he Universal House of Justice, the International Teaching Centre, the Centre for the Study of the Sacred Texts, as well as the International Archives. And then there are the various gardens and houses associated with the Central Figures. Oh, and the talks in the evenings. Can't forget those.

So, let's look at this. Why do we spend so much time at these other places if our primary purpose is to pray at the Shrines?

I think it is because when we spend time at these other places we get a better idea of what They went through and just how miraculous it is that the Faith is where it is today. I mean, our group began by looking over at the sea gate in Akka, and I recalled the absolute antagonism that Baha'u'llah and His companions faced when they entered the city. Personally, I compared this to my own welcome where people said, "Oh, you're Baha'i? Here on pilgrimage? I love the Baha'is." Truly, we could not have been more warmly welcomed.

We continued through the land gate and looked at the building where the enemies of the Faith who were exiled with Baha'u'llah lived. From this vantage point they were able to notify the authorities of any Baha'is who came to Akka, thus preventing them from meeting Baha'u'llah. We heard the stories, and saw the actual places. How could we not think about the sufferings of the friends when we went to the Shrines later that evening?

As we progressed on our pilgrimage, we moved from the dreariness of the prison to the House of Abbud. We heard the story of the murder of the Azalis and how the Baha'is were treated: Baha'u'llah re-imprisoned, the Master in chains, some of the innocent Baha'is held unjustly for months, and even the fear of His neighbour which led the re-inforcing of the wall between the houses. I could recount the stories here, but I'm sure you know them. And if you don't, they are easy enough to find without me having to type them here.

As Pilgrimage continued, we moved through history a decade or two per day, from the small house in Akka to the mansion at Mazraih. We saw the beautiful gardens that Baha'u'llah was finally able to enjoy towards the end of His life. We spent time in Bahji, in awe of the sheer beauty of the place, especially when compared and contrasted to what He suffered in Akka.

We went to the International Archives, able to see some of the relics that we had heard about, artifacts from the very places we had just seen in the previous few days. We went, for example, from seeing the skylight in the Citadel where Miraz Mihdi fell to his death to seeing the actual blood-stained shirt he was wearing when he fell. The Archives, far from being a museum, helped plunge the reality of these stories ever deeper into our hearts. These were not some distant heroes out of a remote history. They were real people that lived just a few short decades ago. They lived and breathed. They had to wash their clothing, and brushed their hair. But then, as we stepped outside and saw the magnificent administrative buildings arcing across the mountain, we could see what their heroic and epic lives led to. As we heard the talks in the evenings, we began to get a glimpse of Their vision for what was not only potential for humanity in the future, but was slowly becoming a reality before our very eyes.

We saw the displays at the Visitor's Centre, and were given a vision of how to better present the Faith to the general public. We heard stories of great and simple triumphs from all over the world and left with a better idea of how to bring this transformative power of the Faith more effectively to bear on our own communities. And we entered the Shrines every day with a greater sense of awe at what They had accomplished, a greater love in our hearts for what They suffered to bring this vision to fruition.

And every day we awoke ever more eager to soak in what we could before being turned out to face the world once again.

Pilgrimage really is an amazing experience, and in many ways reminds me of the Kitab-i-Iqan.

Part 1 of the Book of Certitude is all about how to recognize a Messenger of God, and the beginning of the Pilgrimage, the time you are there, is all about better appreciating those Messengers Who have been sent to help raise humanity out of the depths of the misery in which we find ourselves.

But Part 2 of the Kitab-i-Iqan, to me, seems to say, "So what? You've recognized. Now, what are you going to do about it?" Now is our Part 2. We've come home. Refreshed. Rejuvenated. And with a new vision.

So what?

What are we going to do about it?

And that, dear Reader, is the real Pilgrimage: when we put this new vision into more effective action.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bazaar

In preparation for Pilgrimage, I've been studying a bit of the history of the various places we're going to see. And as part of my Fast, I also began re-reading Baha'u'llah, King of Glory, by Balyuzi.

There is so much that I have forgotten, it's incredible. I could probably write volumes about what I've forgotten. Some would say that it already feels as if I have.

Anyways, another thing that 's been going on in my life, which impacts what I'm writing about today, is that I'm seriously thinking of opening a store-front for my business. Oh, in case you didn't know, I'm a fashion designer in the wonderful medium of chain-mail. (You can see my work at www.facebook.com/mead19) (blatant plug)

So all of this, combined with that recent message from the Universal House of Justice that I just spent the past four articles looking at, has gotten me thinking about bazaars.

Actually, what really made me note bazaars in particular was this photograph in King of Glory:



The man in the centre is Mirza Musa, Baha'u'llah's faithful brother. As you may recall, he was the one who met the student at the gate that had come with the message of the Bab from Mulla Husayn. The man in the upper right-hand corner is Nabil, of the Dawn-breakers fame.

Now, the story is that they were walking in Constantinople at the bazaar when a photographer came up to Mirza Musa. He said he wished to take his photo, without charge, and would present him with a number of copies. Mirza Musa said to his companions, "He wants to earn something by photographing us. This is his means of livelihood. We will not deprive him of it."

What stood out for me, in addition to being able to see these men in the prime of their lives, is that this event occurred at the Big-Ughli Bazaar.

When I read this out loud to Shoghi, we both just stopped. I mean, literally. We kind of froze. He looked over my shoulder and read it for himself, and then we both broke into such laughter. We couldn't stop laughing about it for a good ten minutes.

I swear, if we ever find ourselves in Constantinople, or even in Istanbul, we will have to ask someone where the Big-Ughli Bazaar is.

What a bazaar name, at least in English.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Thoughts on Economy, part 4

Ok. So the other day's article wasn't as fun as most of my posts, except for the comment about my cat (whose name is Kismet). Sorry about that. (You know, she really likes her ears scratched.) And I didn't have as many fun insights and weird connections as I usually do. (Did you know that 'kismet' means 'fate, or luck' in Arabic?) I'll try to do better today.

Now, where were we? Oh, yes. In the middle of paragraph 7 of that letter from the Universal House of Justice, dated 1 March 2017.

There is an interesting challenge nestled in there, when they quote the Master (which is far easier than typing 'Abdu'l-Baha) saying that no greater undertaking could be taken than "if a judicious and resourceful individual should initiate measures which would universally enrich the masses of the people". I mean, what a challenge to us. He's not even talking about a group of people; He says just one individual can do this. And this would be regarded as "the supreme achievement" in the sight of God? Wow. What are we waiting for?

But come on. Is this realistic? Well, when I think about Elon Musk using his wealth that was generated from PayPal to create a better electric car, as well as solar receptive roofing tiles, and the numerous other ecologically-minded creations that he's helping develop, I would say that yes, it is. And this just one example. There are countless other examples, on the smaller scale, of people getting together in small groups to try out new ideas of living. Some focus on farming, others on engineering, still others on medicine. Some are trying various methods of commune living, while some are trying new business models.

Another example is Bill Mollison, who coined the term 'permaculture', and worked hard to show how we can grow many sustainable plants by letting nature just do the work. He showed people how to farm without complicated machinery or artificial fertilizers, no matter what the environment, whether it was a desert or a swamp, or a small island in the south Pacific. He taught people the basic principles and then sent them back to their home areas, while always maintaining contact with them to help them with their problems, or listen to their discoveries. And then, years later, he visited many of his early students and saw first-hand how they had revolutionized the growing of food in their areas. There are a ton of videos on YouTube about him. Well worth watching.

So yes, I can categorically say that an individual can arise to do this.

And then there is Huququ'llah, that "indispensable discipline". I have written quite a bit about it, this article here and this other one here being the main examples, so I won't go into it here. Let's just say that this Mighty Law does actually "bring one's priorities into balance, purify whatever wealth one possesses, and ensure that the share which is the Right of God provides for the greater good." And it is for this, ensuring the greater good, that helps me feel truly joyous to pay it. Some of you, I'm sure, are just able to get your joy from your obedience, but I'm not there yet. I get it out of knowing that it helps many millions around the world, and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

But, as paragraph 8 says, "The forces of materialism promote a quite contrary line of thinking". They talk about "justice and rights", compassion and all sorts of other lofty ideals, all the while masking their true goal of self-interest. They flee from hardships, delving into distractions with a wild abandon, and giving in to every conceivable pleasure they can dream up.

Here, however, the Universal House of Justice outlines how the Baha'i educational program can assist us in counteracting this disturbing trend. By surrounding our children with other Baha'is, and regularly attending the activities of our community, they are surrounded with a very different norm. Those involved in the programs for the junior youth are consciously shown how to be discerning. And the youth and adults of the community are put on a path of service, of which their economic activities can be a part. All of these combined, they point out to us, can "help individuals to see past the illusions that, at every stage of life, the world uses to pull attention away from service and towards the self."

And if this isn't enough, they give us a beautiful summation, right there at the end of this paragraph: "...the systematic study of the Word of God and the exploration of its implications raises consciousness of the need to manage one's material affairs in keeping with the divine teachings." I'm so grateful for this, for it tells me that we are on the right path, searching the Writings for these implications and seeing how they apply to our daily life.

Then there is the concluding paragraph.

These extremes of wealth and poverty that we are seeing increasing in the world around us are not able to be maintained, nor can they be defended, for that is the very definition of 'untenable'. This very inequity is obviously to be questioned, as more and more are doing every day. If we weren't aware, we surely are now that this is truly a time of great receptivity, for whenever people are put into the position of questioning their beliefs, the culture, their very surroundings, we can easily step in and offer them the healing draught that has been given us by Baha'u'llah. More than that, though, when the Baha'i community is a large enough presence, as they say, there is a greater responsibility. They then have to step beyond this simple offering of the teachings to more and more people, and begin to look at, and address, the root causes of the poverty in their own community. And really, if we are willing to admit it, there are different causes in differing communities all over the world. While they may have similarities, they will be addressed differently.

We may have been able to ignore this aspect of civilization building before now, but the hope of the House of Justice is, rightfully so, that "this exploration become a more pronounced feature of community life, institutional thought, and individual action in the years ahead."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thoughts on Economy, part 3

Yesterday, as you know, I wrote a little bit about the phrase "rectitude of conduct" which we found in paragraph 5 of the recent message from the Universal House of Justice, dated 1 March 2017.

Today I'm going to continue to look at paragraphs 5 - 8, which I think of as the heart of this letter.

So, moving on from "rectitude of conduct", we see the phrase "every choice... leaves a trace". This is something that many people in the world today have either forgotten about, or are so inoculated against it from their time spent on the internet that they no longer consider it relevant. But nevertheless, it's true. And while we may not always be able to determine the extent of that trace, or the impact of it, there are still certain parts of it that we can control.

What do I mean by that? Well, let's consider. In the past couple of articles I mentioned the idea of buying bananas and fair trade. I also mentioned the highly questionable practice of using prisoners incarcerated at privately owned prisons to make various things such as clothing. The more we look into it, the more we can see heinous practices in many different businesses all over the world, from child slave labour being forced to harvest the cocoa for some of the big chocolate companies to the blood-diamond trade, not to mention in the development of many other commodities all over the planet. When we consider environmental costs, the list becomes unmanageable for a blog such as this.

Still, we can continue to educate ourselves, and see what alternatives we have with our purchases.

Another aspect of this is the way in which we invest our money. When my wife and I began to look at investments, we discovered a few highly disturbing things. First, we learned that we get a much better tax break by investing our money in the stock market than we do by giving our money to charity. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. When we began to look into established portfolios, it was almost impossible to find one that didn't heavily invest in either cigarettes or oil. The more we looked into these portfolios, the less we wanted to invest. Of course, we could have just tossed our money there, hoping to cash in and make as much moola as we could, but we chose not to. We were not willing to sacrifice our ideals just to make a bit more cash. Now, we may be less well off financially for this decision, and having our own difficult time to see how I can open a retail store for my work, but it's worth it. We can hold our heads high, in satisfaction with how we are living our life, and we can sleep well at night. Well, we would, except that we have a cat who likes to come in our room and jump on our bed at 3 am, but that's another thing entirely.

Anyways, back to paragraph 5.

These are just a few of the ways that our personal life is affected by holding to a moral standard in our economic life.

In our community, though, it plays out a bit differently. At holy days, for example, we are trying to help educate our community to not use styrofoam cups, or other disposable items. And you know what? It has worked. It's been a few years since I've seen throw away items like that at a holy day celebration. You see how this could grow? As more and more of us become more aware of the implications of the teachings on the environment, these decisions will reflect it.

At a recent meeting for the celebration of Naw Ruz, it was decided to spend a bit more money on a better quality cake than to go the cheaper route for one that was less healthy and more filled with questionable ingredients. I love it. And really, this is only scratching the surface. "Such efforts", though, we are promised, "will add to a growing storehouse of knowledge in this regard."

Moving on to paragraph 6, we find that a "foundational concept to explore in this context is the spiritual reality of man". When thinking about this, we can remember all the myriad people who are involved in the various commodities that we purchase, from the cashier that sells it to us, all the way back through to the farmer or miner who started the whole process of production. Aside from generally being nice to the cashier and treating them with respect, just because we can see them right there in front of us, we should also remember the family of the farmer, or the miner and his health. We may never meet them, but they are still a real human being, spiritual in nature and worthy of respect. Many times over the years I have commented that I don't think the insertion of various attributes of God in the Writings is accidental, that they are actually there to call to mind those attributes within us. Here I think it is the same. The Universal House of Justice has invoked the names "the Compassionate, the Bestower, the Bountiful", and aren't these the same qualities that they are asking us to be aware of within ourselves as we prepare to deal with questions of economics? Aren't these what we should show forth every time we encounter someone? When we purchase something?

I could easily go on at length about this, and the further attributes they mention after this, such as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, generosity, and so forth, but I'll let you meditate on them yourself. Otherwise this will become wearisome, I am sure.

The last point for today comes in paragraph 7. We are reminded to engage in an occupation, a trade or a craft. Baha'u'llah, here, does not give preference to any one over the other, except perhaps in the order in which He states them, so we, too, should not denigrate any of them. Over the years I have had many people tell me, explicitly or by implication, that since I am a self-employed artist, I must not be working. Or that since I am not overly concerned about making as much money as I can, since I don't buy tons of stuff, I must be on welfare of some sort. Oh, and of those who say or imply things like this, a number of them are Baha'i. So, I'm just curious, why do some of us feel that being an artist is somehow less than, say, being a garbage collector? And yes, I know this is not the norm, but it's happened often enough that I feel it important to raise the point. I am earning a living through my craft. I am not a burden to others. And I am able to give some to the poor, and help others, even though I may not have a lot myself.

It doesn't really make that much of a difference what you do for a living, as long as you are contributing to the advancement of society. Whether it is through your actual vocation, or in your voluntary time, we can all help others advance. Perhaps a scientist who makes a major discovery will be able to help advance more than the physio-therapist, or the gas station attendant, but all are able to lend their share.

Remember, there is no shame in being poor, especially if you are exerting yourself. And we are also told that there is no shame in wealth either, to cover the other extreme. Just as I've heard it said that one end of the spectrum is bad, so have I heard the same about the other end of that spectrum.

Wealth is fine, just as long as it doesn't come between us and God. We're even told that wealth earned by your own efforts, and the grace of God, is highly praiseworthy, but that comes with a caveat. It is only praiseworthy in the highest degree if it is expended for philanthropic purposes, and not at the expense of others. All should be made wealthy by our efforts.

But now we're getting into the section on the Right of God, and that will take up a lot more time and wordage. For now, I need to get out and walk a bit. More on this over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Thoughts on Economy, part 2

In part 1 I looked at what I call the introduction to the 1 March 2017 letter from the Universal House of Justice, namely the first four paragraphs. Today I want to begin to look at the next four paragraphs which I consider to be the heart of the letter.

They begin this section by saying their "call to examine the implications of the Revelation of Baha'u'llah for economic life" is primarily directed to us, the individual Baha'is. And then they point out that this new model of community life given to us by Baha'u'llah will only emerge if we demonstrate in our "own lives the rectitude of conduct that is one of its most distinguishing features".

Ok. "Rectitude of conduct".

That is one of those phrases, dear Reader, that always raises a flag in my mind. Oh, not in a bad way, mind you, but rather in the sense of calling it to my attention.

Why?

I'm glad you asked.

"Rectitude of conduct", as I'm sure you know, is one of the three "spiritual prerequisites of success, which constitute the bedrock on which the security of all teaching plans.., and financial schemes, must ultimately rest", as described by Shoghi Effendi, in The Advent of Divine Justice. He goes on to say, in that very same paragraph, "Upon the extent to which these basic requirements are met.. must depend the measure of the manifold blessings which the All-Bountiful Possessor can vouchsafe" to us all.

There is much to be said about it, and as I'm sure you can guess, I'm going to say a bit about it here.

To start, I want to look at what Shoghi Effendi says about it, which I always figure is a good place to begin. And for those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time, I apologize if I'm repeating myself, but I figure this bears repeating.

"This rectitude of conduct," he begins, "with its implications of justice, equity, truthfulness, honesty, fair-mindedness, reliability, and trustworthiness, must distinguish every phase of the life of the Bahá’í community."

All right. Let's look at that list.

Before we do that, though, I want to talk about geometry. (How's that for a seeming tangent?)

Euclid, as you may recall from high school, is regarded as the founder of geometry, which isn't quite true. There were many other geometric systems before his, but what he did was come up with the most remarkable set of axioms. Axioms are the foundation, those things that we just take for granted, from which all the theorems are derived. The best systems have the least number of axioms, of which Euclid only has five, and those axioms should not overlap in their definitions. For centuries people tried to come up with a more concise version of his fifth postulate, but couldn't. Finally someone took the opposite of that postulate and tried to see if they could come up with another entirely consistent system, just to prove that this fifth postulate was independent of the other four. Well, it worked, and that is called non-Euclidean geometry.

Me? I tried to apply this same logic to this list that Shoghi Effendi offered us here. Was he concise? Was this list as definitive as possible? Did any of the terms overlap? Yes, yes and no.

For conciseness, and to prove that they don't overlap, I always point people to the two terms "truthfulness " and "honesty". Many of us think that these are the same thing, as I did back when I first read this passage. But really, they are not. And not only are they different, they are actually independent from each other, although we would hope that they would merge.

"Truthfulness" is saying that which conforms to reality, or that which is true. "Honesty" is stating what we believe. And as I said, we would hope that these would be the same thing.

But let's look at a real life example: Suppose someone asked you my age. If you thought I was 50, and said "Mead is 50", you would be honest, but not truthful. If you thought I was 50, but wanted to make me seem a bit younger, you could say, "Mead is 49". Then you would be truthful, but not honest. Of course, you could always ask me, and then tell them, "Mead is 49", and you would be both truthful and honest.

You can see here how these two terms are related, but do not overlap.

And you know what? This actually works with any two of these terms in this list from the Guardian.

Justice, equity, truthfulness, honesty, fair-mindedness, reliability, and trustworthiness: What a list. And doesn't it seem so relevant to this letter from the Universal House of Justice?

Moving on in this same paragraph from Shoghi Effendi, he goes on to quote Baha'u'llah at length. In the very first of these many quotes, we are told that we "must show forth such trustworthiness, such truthfulness and perseverance, such deeds and character that all mankind may profit by their example." All mankind may profit. Sound familiar?

In another quote He says that the true servant of God would "pass through cities of silver and gold, would not deign to look upon them" and that our "heart would remain pure and undefiled from whatever things can be seen in this world".

Later in the same paragraph, Baha'u'llah says that "One righteous act is endowed with a potency" that has the "power  to restore the force that hath spent itself and vanished..." When I think of the power of our economic systems, and how they seem to have spent themselves out, I am left in wonder.

In fact, as we read these passages, many of them will sound familiar. A large number of them are found in those opening sections of Ruhi Book 1, such as "The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct." And isn't this whole letter from the Universal House of Justice all about the betterment of the world? So if we look upon the simple purchase of a banana (remember, it's the Fast) as a moral act, choosing to buy that banana from a company that is engaged in fair trade, it is even more obvious how this can better the world.

These six paragraphs of the Guardian's that expound this essential principle are so laden with meanings and implications. They are so powerful that I really felt it important to draw our attention back to them, given the use of this phrase in the letter from the House of Justice. After all, they are all three, those spiritual prerequisites, deemed "preeminent and vital" by him, meaning that without them, our endeavours and plans die.

And this is just the very beginning of the heart of this message from the House of Justice on the importance of our moral conduct within the economy of the world, our various nations, and in our own neighbourhoods.

More thoughts on this letter over the next few days.