Sunday, 27 May 2007

"Due Process" and the Bahá'í Community

The following is a reflection on the relationship of the concept of procedural due process in relation to the principle of Divine Justice that the House of Justice states is the framework for due process in the Bahá'í administrative Order.

The absence in Bahá'í administration, in particular, of a formal set of procedures to be universally applied for the discovery of facts necessary for the adjudication of a case and the application of sanctions for the infringement of Bahá'í law, has figured prominently in the anti-Bahá'í polemics of the last 20 years, frequently in relation to administrative responses to academic Bahá'ís and former Bahá'ís engaged, in the words of one such academic, in a "culture war" against perceived flaws in the current workings and leadership of Bahá'í institutions.

In this sense due process is defined in terms of procedural justice, and within that, in terms of the participation model of procedural justice. It is argued that a lack of such procedures, and in particular procedures modelled after the participatory model of procedural justice, leads to systemic unfairness, and conversely, that the elaboration and application of such a framework of universally applicable procedures modelled on Western legal systems would ensure fairer processes and outcomes.


In a letter of the Universal House of Justice, the notion of due process as a constitutional principle of legal fairness is endorsed, while the notion of due process as a universal set of formal procedures to be applied is rejected:

"The concept of due process, in the sense of a legal principle which may be embodied in a constitution and which requires the government to treat people fairly, is clearly encompassed by the Bahá'í principle of "Divine justice," a principle characterized as "the crowning distinction of all Local and National Assemblies." It is also implicit in the qualities of rectitude of conduct to be manifested "in every verdict which the elected representatives of the Bahá'í community . . . may be called upon to pronounce.

"The term "due process" is also used to indicate a set of formal legal procedures designed to protect the rights of persons accused of wrongdoing. These procedures vary from place to place and may reflect the prevailing political ideology. The Administrative Order has not adopted a formal set of procedures to be applied universally in the Bahá'í community for dealing with infringements of Bahá'í law. Rather, the Spiritual Assembly in its operation is guided and constrained by the Teachings and committed to protect and preserve the rights of both the individual and the community. Hence, while there is no fixed procedure for the discovery of facts necessary for the adjudication of a case, it is a matter of principle that Assemblies must, before passing judgment, acquaint themselves, through means they themselves devise, with the facts of any case.

"The principal motive is not to condemn and punish the individual but to assist him, if necessary, to bring his behavior into conformity with the Teachings and also to protect the community."

(Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, datedJuly 20, 1988, included with a letter dated January 1, 1989, to a National Spiritual Assembly)
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Dear all, I have been following this discussion with great interest. There is no doubt that the issues at stake are crucial, and likely to grow in importance in relation to both the growth and longevity of Baha'i communities, and in relation to the Faith's emergence from obscurity. The way we deal with dysfunctions, wrongful behaviour, and judicial matters (in the broadest sense) will have an immense impact on our culture, our engagement with wider society, and most crucially on our unity.

I must say that I profoundly sympathise with the concerns raised. There are few things as testing to a sincere Baha'i as being misrepresented or even legitimately "inquired" into. Whatever the actual administrative consequences of such a process, its spiritual and emotional impact should in no way be minimised. Even should such an inquiry proceed no further, it is not an experience anyone would wish for. Likewise, the degree of discretion available to LSA's and other institutions is such that institutional or spiritual immaturities, or even simple ignorance, can have an enormous impact. Often Baha'is affected will not feel able or inclined to take it any further, so communities don't always learn from their mistakes or trials.

This inclines me to agree to the view that some measure of guidance on "due process" would be beneficial, although I do feel closer to the suggested communitarian emphasis on mutual responsibilities (which implies but does not over-emphasise the notion of rights), than to the more legalistic approach likewise put forward. Law, as exercised and understood currently, is in no way a guarantee or even a prerequisite of justice. In point of fact, in UK, for instance, most crime goes undetected, most detected crime never makes it to the courts, and a great deal of the crime that makes it to the courts results in no conviction. In civil law, the situation is not much better, and generally speaking, factors other than due process or validity influence outcomes. Not only the design, but the operation of the law is demonstrably biased against certain social groups, notably ethnic minorities and the poor, and in many areas of the law, women. Due process, for all its rigour, even where followed, is a long way from ensuring justice. Attempts to tackle racism through increased legislation for instance, barely touch the surface, making dents so small as to be hardly noticeable. What is needed, as has been pointsed out, is not, primarily, refined procedures, but a spiritual transformation, as 'Abdu'l-Baha often remarked in relation to the proliferation of legislation in the West.

There are also certain radical problems in my mind about legal procedures that, it has been suggested, if I understand correctly, we incorporate into Baha'ipractice. We can already turn, as individuals, to assistants, Auxiliary Board memebers and Counsellors for advice in our relations to an LSA. This is, however, very different from the idea of "counsel" as it operates in the courts and is implied in legal documents on due process. The idea of a"defense" counsel, whose job is to defend his client regardless of what he might consider to be the truth, is a position I would not envy anybody, and the same goes for the prosecution. The generally lackluster movie Devil'sA dvocate jumps to mind, in the acquital of a pederast whose defense knew him to be guilty. Last Christmas I had dinner with a young man who is today inprison, convicted of rape, on the testimony of a woman who, it emerged after the trial, had made a string of similar accusations before, which had proven false. He was very drunk at the time and did not remember much. Upon his conviction, the prosecution lawyer apologised to his family, and is now helping him with his appeal! There was not, in this case, a single violation of due process, in fact the opposite, it was through due process that the prosecution was impelled to work for a conviction even when, as it became apparent after the fact, the prosecution lawyer considered such an outcome unfair. Be that as it may, a talented young man's life has been shattered.

These are dramatic examples to suggest that the notion that detailed laws and formal processes are the basis of justice is, by itself, flawed. I would invert the equation. The current, litigation based view of "counsel", can be as destructive as it is constructive, and involves an inherent logic that can often pitch it outside the quest for truth. In small community and group settings, in fact, detailed legal codes are no prerequisites of justice, and may often obscure it, in a way that consultative approaches at community level may or may not depending on circumstances. Attempts to import western legal procedures into communal legal processes among indigenous peoples in the Americas have very frequently ended in disasters,and triggered new injustices. I wonder whether any lessons - good and bad - might be shared from the experience of more communitarian styles of justice as practiced among the Navajo? The Zapatista uprising in Mexico in January 1994 focused all its political capital some years later in an attempt to alter the Mexican constitution to respect and protect the indigenous, communitarian judicial processes of the Mayans and other indigenous peoples in Mexico, under the conviction that they were considerably more effective at a community level among their people, than the Roman law that had been imposed on their communities with frequently devastating effects.


Finally, in this problematic, the current discourse on rights tends to come from a conflictive perspective, and has led in the States, and increasinglyin UK, to a culture of litigation that has nothing to do with the original vision of the framers of the Declaration of Human Rights. A recent human rights case in UK involves a prisoner pleading the prohibition on his receiving gay pornography as a fundamental violation of his human rights. The man has a point, since heterosexual pornography is allowed for fellow inmates, but somehow I see a big leap from the ethos and aspirations behind the Universal Declaration. The problem does not lie with the notion ofrights, which the Constitution of the Universal House of Justice explicitly protects, but it does lie in the spiritual, social and legal paradigm within which those rights are interpreted and pursued. It is here where I would return to the emphasis adduced earlier on the covenantal duty of consultation, true consultation, as the basis of the embryonic (if that) Baha'i communal legal practice.

The ethos of litigation which underpins current notions of due process seems to me to be as far removed from the Baha'i spirit of consultation as can be. Where is the prayerfulness? Where is the trust in the group process, and the ownership of ideas, suggestions, and opinions by the group, not the individual? Where is the presence of 'Abdu'l-Baha? American lawyers recognise that their chances of success are often dependent on their careful picking of a jury! To the consultative principles suggested, I would add one more, which is the principle of transcendence. The notion that our true judge is in fact God, and that it is to Him that we are accountable. Neither the wrongful sanction nor the wrongful acquittal by an Assembly will determine our innocence or otherwise, its integrity or otherwise. This means that even in the direst circumstances we retain the freedom of which 'Abdu'l-Baha spoke in prison. This is important, since few if any of our noblest Baha'i heroes have not experienced wrongful accusations, sometimes from each other (think of Lua Getsinger; Louis Gregory; Corinne True; among others; think of 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi!). In the last resort, there was a deeper reserve of legitimacy they could turn to for vision, authenticity and dignity, than the never less than painful opinions of fellow believers.

Notwithstanding, I still think that the idea of some guidance on dueprocess would be invaluable, as small communities of volunteers "improvise"their way around being a responsible Baha'i Assembly. At a time when one assembly constitutes the entire community, and another oversees the affairs of a community thousands strong, such guidance needs to be very flexible and probably minimalistic. I would suggest a "recommended" rather than a binding code of guidance from NSA's, including broad suggestions or quotes on such basic things as what constitutes "blatant or flagrant"; the importance of gathering the facts; the importance of a spirit of love and humility; on mechanisms of appeal; on consultation with the learned arm, assistance available through pastoral care committees of the NSA and the like; on dealing with criminal behaviour; on referrals to qualified professionals; etc. It could be made available on its own, as a point ofreference that Assemblies would turn to when in need of advice.

In any case, thank you for raising these points, and best of luck on your further investigations in this area.

With love,

Ismael

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Daring to be Vulnerable

This meditation was a response to a touching comment by one of the students at the Wilmette Institute, that addresses the nature, power, and imperative of vulnerability as largely unnoticed yet prominent ethical principle in the Bahá'í writings.


You write regarding the foundation of trust and communication in our communities: "My own observation is that the greatest healing moments come when an individual takes the risk to be vunerable and reach out to another individual. Those healed relationships ripple outwards."

How very true that seems to me too! It recalls to me 'Abdu'l-Baha's injunction to "expose your breasts for a target mirror bright". There is an immense strength in the act of vulnerability, and in fact it seems to me that it is precisely through the power of vulnerability that the Messengers and Chosen Ones of God have established their ascendency and effected change in society beyond their contemporaries' wildest dreams. It was not through the might of arms or wealth or dissimulation or guardedness that They conquered the hearts of humanity, but rather through Their willingness to trust in human beings when all around Them was betrayal and outward disappointment. It was Their willingness to offer love to those who would spurn Them, even unto torture and death. It was Their acts of self-disclosure when the mere thought of the risks entailed in Their unveiling would be enough to throw a lesser being into utter consternation - as Baha'u'llah Himself tells us in the Iqan referring to the Bab's divine mission:
"Another proof and evidence of the truth of this Revelation, which amongst all other proofs shineth as the sun, is the constancy of the eternal Beauty in proclaiming the Faith of God. Though young and tender of age, and though the Cause He revealed was contrary to the desire of all the peoples of earth, both high and low, rich and poor, exalted and abased, king and subject, yet He arose and steadfastly proclaimed it. All have known and heard this. He was afraid of no one; He was regardless of consequences. Could such a thing be made manifest except through the power of a divine Revelation, and the potency of God’s invincible Will? By the righteousness of God! Were any one to entertain so great a Revelation in his heart, the thought of such a declaration would alone confound him! Were the hearts of all men to be crowded into his heart, he would still hesitate to venture upon so awful an enterprise. He could achieve it only by the permission of God, only if the channel of his heart were to be linked with the Source of divine grace, and his soul be assured of the unfailing sustenance of the Almighty." (Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 232)

This passage, at the same time, seems to me to give us the secret of this most healing of vulnerabilities: "He could achieve it only by the permission of God, only if the channel of his heart were to be linked with the Source of divine grace, and his soul be assured of the unfailing sustenance of the Almighty."

It seems to me that, to effect healing and build genuine spiritual intimacy within our communities, we need to achieve this spiritual vulnerability, this self exposure before one another that can deepen and refine love, but that to do so, this vulnerability should be "linked with the Source of divine grace" and sustained by the assurance of the "unfailing sustenance of the Almighty." In other words, in our vulnerability and powerlesness, in expressing our frailty or identifying our brokeness, whether as individuals or as communities, we should not do so expecting reddress or relief from one another, but rather depending on the bounty of the Lord God. For we are all ultimately a community of broken winged birds, and our flight is very slow. "We come with no provision but our sins, with no good deeds to tell of, only hopes" as 'Abdu'l-Baha wrote in the exquisite prayer that forms the second section of Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l Baha.

I have come to think that an inevitable effect of bringing diversity together, not only of ethnicity or culture but also of temperament, inclination, personality, emotional strength, etc., is the noticeable emergence of blindspots that keep us from appreciating or effectively honouring each other's distinctiveness. Our very diversity means that of necesity, as we get to know each other, we will tread on each other's sensibilities, display ignorance about each other's values and, generally inadvertently, act in ways that unconsciously exclude one another from full heartfelt participation in our emerging community. In this context, our readiness to be vulnerable can act both as healing water that gently fills the gaps in our understanding and our insight into each other, or as fuel to fan the flame of disharmony when tied to expectations of each other that are unrealistic, or when expressed in language that is immoderate, or when touched by bitterness or lingering resentment.

When the act of vulnerability is divorced from consciousness of the presence and almighty assistance of God, it generally comes to depend on human or material means for fulfilment, exposing one to disappointment in each other, to hoplesness, and disconnection. When, on the contrary, the act of vulnerability is "linked with the Source of divine grace", then spiritual abundance sustains the act of self exposure, confidence in ultimate fruition in God's will informs the manner and tone of our communication, and the possible outward disappointments and rejections we might suffer are powerless to disillusion or divide us. For such a link with the Source of grace implies a trust in Him above and beyond this world, which is the source of true inner peace and contentment. Indeed, it seems to me that this spiritual vulnerability is captured in the sublime words addressed by the Master to Hand of the Cause Tarazullah Samandari, whose bounty it was to have known Baha'u'llah:

"O thou who art turning thy face towards God! Close thine eyes to all things else, and open them to the realm of the All-Glorious. Ask whatsoever thou wishest of Him alone; seek whatsoever thou seekest from Him alone. With a look He granteth a hundred thousand hopes, with a glance He healeth a hundred thousand incurable ills, with a nod He layeth balm on every wound, with a glimpse He freeth the hearts from the shackles of grief. He doeth as He doeth, and what recourse have we? He carrieth out His Will, He ordaineth what He pleaseth. Then better for thee to bow down thy head in submission, and put thy trust in the All-Merciful Lord.

(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 52)

This means to me that, even as we turn to address the challenges and problems that affect or afflict our community or our relationships within it, in our hearts we seek the remedy from God "alone"; becoming independent and free from material causes and human capacities; depending in Him and trusting in His merciful Will. We supplicate to God, as in our Long Obligatory Prayer, even in the midst of our ardent yearnings and desires, "Look not upon my hopes and my doings, nay, rather look upon Thy Will that hath encompassed the heavens and the earth". Then, in the words of Baha'u'llah, will we feel "the winds of divine contentment blowing from the plane of the spirit." Then will we burn away "the veils of want, and with inward and outward eye, perceiveth within and without all things the day of: “God will compensate each one out of His abundance.” (Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 30)

Our vulnerability, then, begins in a consciousness of God's omniptence and mercy, and human beings' ineradicable imperfection and inadequacy of response (our own included):

"Look ye not upon the creatures, turn ye to their Creator. See ye not the never-yielding people, see but the Lord of Hosts. Gaze ye not down upon the dust, gaze upward at the shining sun, which hath caused every patch of darksome earth to glow with light. O army of God! When calamity striketh, be ye patient and composed. However afflictive your sufferings may be, stay ye undisturbed, and with perfect confidence in the abounding grace of God, brave ye the tempest of tribulations and fiery ordeals." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 75)

Only in such a plane will we attain the divine meekness to which Baha'u'llah called His own son when he counselled: "Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men." (Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 95)

For with the detachment implied in our absolute reliance "on Him alone" and not on each other, comes, inseparably, a meekness towards one another which Baha'u'llah Himself exemplified to us, and which is to me the very essence of the vulnerability the transforms and heals communities:

"Exalted, immeasurably exalted, is His detachment above the reach and ken of the entire creation! Glorified, glorified be His meekness—a meekness that hath melted the hearts of them that have been brought nigh unto God!" (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 244)

It is this divine meekness that holds the secret of unity, as explained by 'Abdu'l-Baha:

"His reason for putting on the heavy iron chains and for becoming the very embodiment of utter resignation and meekness, was to lead every soul on earth to concord, to fellow-feeling, to oneness; to make known amongst all peoples the sign of the singleness of God, so that at last the primal oneness deposited at the heart of all created things would bear its destined fruit, and the splendour of ‘No difference canst thou see in the creation of the God of Mercy,’[1] would cast abroad its rays." [1 Qur’án 67:3 ]
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 264)

May we, through His unfailing bounty, attain to such meekness, and thereby taste of such concord, fellow-feeling, such primal oneness deposited, already, at the heart of all created things. Thank you, luminous Debra for your reflections, and accept these broken thoughts as a token of affection in this wonderful festival of Ridvan.

Your friend in Baha,

Ismael

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Divine Retribution against Jews: Beyond Anti-semitism

The following message addresses a very difficult subject. The notion of divine retribution, the avenging God. Even more troubling, it arose in response to a thread expressing perplexity before the clear association made in the Bahá'í Writings between the Jewish rejection of Christ, and the subsequent destruction of the Temple, and the massacre and forced dispersal of the Jews. I myself am Jewish on my mother's side. My grandma (even the Mexican postman knew her as "granma") left Brooklyn for Mexico in the romantic 1940's, to marry my grandfather (a permanent but definitely less than romantic tie). Her parents, grandparents, aunts, and assorted extras, left Brestlitovsk, on the edge of Belarus, for New York City in the early 1920's. Anyway, this is a meandering way of saying that the awareness runs in the family of how this association between the Jewish rejection of Jesus, and the calamities the Jews underwent at the hand of the Romans, was made into one of the intellectual pillars of a brutal and enduring antisemitism and reppression for centuries to come. To find the association categorically asserted in the Writings, and used as a parallel to and illustration of what the destiny would be of Bahá'u'lláh's detractors, can be, and in this case was to many of the discussants, spiritually taxing.



Here is the quote in question:

"Compare the evidences of Divine visitation which befell the persecutors of Jesus Christ with these historic retributions which, in the latter part of the first century of the Bahá'í Era, have hurled to dust the chief adversary of the religion of Bahá'u'lláh. Had not the Roman Emperor, in the second half of the first century of the Christian Era, after a distressful siege of Jerusalem, laid waste the Holy City, destroyed the Temple, desecrated and robbed the Holy of Holies of its treasures, and transported them to Rome, reared a pagan colony on the mount of Zion, massacred the Jews, and exiled and dispersed the survivors?
Compare, moreover, these words which the persecuted Christ, as witnessed by the Gospel, addressed to Jerusalem, with Bahá'u'lláh's apostrophe to Constantinople, revealed while He lay in His far-off Prison, and recorded in His Most Holy Book: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the Prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings!" And again, as He wept over the city: "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation." (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 176)

Against the backdrop of antisemitism, any effort to address this dilemma runs, like the discussion on homosexuality, into an explosive mix of accumulated grief and grievance, that threatens to derail, before even starting upon it, any attempt at dialogue. The following is a frail bridge to a possible context within which the very concept of divine retribution, itself perplexing to modern ideas of a loving God, can be understood not as whim, vindictiveness, or disproportion, but simpy as evolutionary process, as the effects of a vacuum of urgent and vital insights that elude us when we fail to recognise and, going farther, seek to suppress, the very tendencies that push toward our emancipation from whatever past enablers, now turned obstructions, of our adaptive processes of growth and maturation.

* * * * *
Dear all,

Trembling, again, at the magnitude of a difficult subject, I still attempt to offer, lovingly, some half-baked thoughts on the issue of divine retribution. I am far from any books so these unfinished thoughts will also be but vaguely supported, and when scripturally supported, it will be from memory. I pray, however, that through His bounty, the Giver of gifts may "endow my utterance with inspiration from the traces of Thy supreme Pen, that it may attract the reality of all things", as the dear Hand of the Cause Dorothy Baker used so frequently to pray in the words of 'Abdu'l- Baha.

The beloved Guardian refers to World War Two as both an act of divine retribution and a healing influence, and refers in similar terms to the afflictions of our age stating that they are designed ultimately to weld, in the fires of suffering and experience, the conflicting
peoples of the world into a united world.

The Manifestation of God, the Sun of Truth, the Educator of all beings, is said to appear in the world to renew its spiritual and social life, to adapt the eternal principles to the exigencies of the
age. He is said to embody the perfections of the age, and to appear in the winter of civilization, when the existing guidance is no longer sufficient to ensure prosperity. In His divine Law - which to God's lovers is wine of love - are contained the seeds of a new civilization, and His pure breath, as the Most Great Branch explained with such evident eloquence in Some Answered Question, educates humanity in the physical, human and divine levels. The Cause
which the Prophet brings, in the midst of patent stagnation, thus acquires the character of an Ark, designed to take us from an old and dying world unto a new heaven and new earth, and to offer shelter from a flood of impending afflictions which, beginning as a mild rain of obfuscations and confusions soon becomes a torrent of tribulation as the old order begins to totter.

In this light, at the time of the appearance of Jesus, the "signs of impending afflictions and chaos" could then "be discerned," inasmuch as "the prevailing order" appeared to be "lamentably deffective". Jesus' teachings, like those of Moses before Him, constituted a "most
great", a "new World Order". Those who, rising high above the world of names, felt the heat of the sinaitic fire from His beautiful face, took to building that new order, and were equiped with the vision necessary to respond to the present. They were able to broaden and expand their sympathies to include previously irreconciliable groups and nations, and were endowed with a new vitality . Those who rejected the guidance of that Essence of meekness, on the other hand,
found themselves powerless to adapt, to evolve, to face the tests that were so soon to come: powerless, indeed, to stay the same.

Principles which formerly were essential, became accidental, laws which formerly were enforced with utmost vigour became forgotten, and though the spiritual light of Moses shone still with undiminished splendour in the pages of the Holy Bible, His social teachings increasingly eroded, with none to turn to for authoritative guidance to adapt to very different times. Whereas the Jews became marginalised, the Christians, from being a most insignificant Judaic sect, gradually became mainstream. This, not because the Christians were morally superior, but because their vision was more suited to the times.

In other words, the Prophet reflects the maturity of His age, and His teachings liberate humanity from certain values and practices when these values and practices cease to promote the unity and welfare of the human race. Thus the Sign of God, that precious pearl, in The
Promised Day is Come, attributes to the rejection of the kings the calamities with which not only they, but subsequent generations were afflicted. If the kings and queen(s), the Pope, the political and spiritual rulers had obeyed Baha'u'llah - established collective security, reduced taxation, developed democratic processes, held fast to consultation, and generally strove to apply the exhortations of Baha'u'llah regarding peace and servitude to God - there is no doubt
that we would not have suffered two world wars and a myriad more calamities. Those same kings would today be glorified and we would be thankful for all the good they had achieved.
More likely than not, monarchy would not have become a fleeting memory and empty title.

Similarily the same inspired pen ascribes the end of the Quajar dynasty to their oppression and rejection of that celestial Youth. By the same token, 'Abdu'l-Baha states that if the rulers
of Persia had accepted the Blessed Beauty, Iran would have found itself exalted and privileged; and had it paid heed to Baha'u'llah's counsels and refrained from persecution, Baha'u'llah would soon have gained ascendancy over Europe where freedom of thought would have
ensured that His teachings spread and took root in the hearts.

When we reject a Manifestation, we reject at least some of the insights He brings into the world. It is precisely these insights that the merciful Lord reveals in each age to ensure the advancement of humanity. Today, those who cling to conflict, to fanaticism,
unbelief, oppression, sectarianism, unfettered nationalism, etc. in whatever form and under whatever garb, cannot in the long run prosper and develop, for these things are contrary to the stage in which we find ourselves. On the other hand, to the degree to which we truly
follow the guidance which a Bountiful Bestower has graciously proferred unto us, to the degree to which we cling to consultation, the equality of men and women, to the extent to which we see with our own eyes, work towards the establishment of a just and united world along the guidelines we have been given, to that degree we will ensure that we evolve in this new paradigm, this new era, this new Day. I believe that as time goes by the Baha'i Faith will become more mainstream, and the world more sympathetic, and similarily positions that are contrary to it will loose hold. This of course, is a statement of faith. This sort of belief, moreover, does not imply exclusivity. "Unto you be your religion, unto me be my religion". It is not about labels but about growth and truth and present times and change. I see life moving in the direction of Baha'u'llah's vision.

But that is only my belief and I have nothing to prove it except the warmth and light and the thousand voices that seem to cry it out to me. And God knows best. If, as it happens, something else takes place, and life is not as I've conceived it, I will be equally happy, for it is not personal opinions that matter, but rather reality and truth. Allah'u'alam.

" Peace is not only possible but inevitable, it is the next stage
in humanity's evolution. Whether it is to be attained now, by an act
of consultative will on the part of all humanity, or is to be reached
only after unimaginable horrors precipitated by humanity's stubborn
clinging to old patterns of behaviour, is the choice of all on
earth." (Paraphrase of the opening paragraph of the Promise of World
Peace.)

"... unimaginable horrors precipitated by... stubborn clinging to old patterns of behaviour..." Such is divine retribution. It is inherent in the process of evolution itself, and its ultimate fruit is not destruction but growth - liberation. So not just Jews and Muslims, but everyone of us, in our daily lives, faces this challenge. We either choose to fulfill our purpose and grow, or we are led to by necessity. Whilst some may speed to the valley of true knowledge in a single breath, I dare say most are carried in the first place by the redoubtable steed of pain.

"Perish the lover which distinguisheth between the pleasant and the poisonous in the path of his beloved!"

I pray that I may not have thrown too many crimson herrings, and look forward to seeing these unfinished thoughts, which are "as words that are written on water", shake off the dross and wing their flight, that they may catch a scent from the qamis of the long-lost Joseph.

"In thy soul of love build thou a fire,
and burn away all thoughts and words entire."

Astounded at your patience :-),

Ismael


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The Sacred in Motion: A Bahá'í encounter with Lakota spirituality

This reflection was born from a moving and fascinating exchange with Paula Bidwell, a Lakota Bahá'í, and medicine woman, on the subject of spiritual motion, one of the most crucial, and most subtle, spiritual concepts in the Bahá'í Writings, which in Lakota spirituality is associated to the term seminal term "Skan". For me, encountering Paula was a beautiful moment of light, someone from whom I learned much, and who touched my heart. A sign and ambassador of the promise that 'Abdu'l-Bahá beheld in the nobility and spiritual capacity of Native Americans.


The most critical concept in Paula's words is the notion of Skan. As she writes in her initial message:

"The foundation to everything I have to say revolves around the Lakota concept of "skan" (movement). In a medicine or holy context this means themovement of the universe including everything in it, the seen and unseen."

Skan represents movement, not only physical but also, primarily,metaphysical movement. It would be more accurate perhaps in this context to capitalise the word Movement, as in the Dakota tradition Skan is not only aconcept, but a facet of Divinity, indeed, traditionally, a god.

The notion of many gods, common to many belief systems, seems to me to belargely compatible, under a specific lens, with the Bahá'í approach to the Names and Attributes of God. God's essence, unknowable, inaccessible, ismanifested through His Names and Attributes. Bahá'u'lláh links specific cosmogonical and metaphysical events to specific Names of God, so that HisName, the Creator, is the source of all creation; His name, the Fashioner, of the arts and sciences; His name, the Merciful, transmutes sin and revives mankind. He specifically states that each name is accompanied by a like manifestation of power and calls on God to bestow blessings through a multitude of Names, among which the Most Great Name stands transcendent and supreme. This is strongly reminiscent of the function and description of the various gods in so-called "polytheistic" religious systems. Bahá'u'lláh goes further in "concretising" the names and attributes of God, in onefamous instance describing a visitation by Trustworthiness, in the form of a maiden in a pillar of light speaking to its devotees. This is as close as it gets to the language of many gods. It provides a valuable bridge to the language of native american traditions, which likewise have a layered, dynamic relationship to such concepts, often coexisting with a monotheistic vision in a manner reminiscent of the monotheistic vision that suffuses the polytheistic language of many Upanishads in Hinduism.

But to return to Skan. Skan, or Motion, I suggest, is an attribute of God, and a mighty attribute indeed, whence existence springs and of which existence inherently partakes. The absence of movement, the absence ofSkan, is the absence of existence. All creation is an expression ofSkan/Motion. This emphasis is not the one most Baha'is typically stress inrelation to their Faith, yet a survey of the writings shows that it is entirely appropriate. Bahá'u'lláh writes:"He. Who is both Stillness and Motion, is now manifest before your eyes. Behold how, in this Day, out of Stillness Motion hath been engendered." GWB168

From His stillness, then, He has manifested Himself in motion. All motion proceeds from Him, and in that sense, God is in all things, in His name, the Mover.

"For He, the Mover of all beings, that glorified Countenance, is the source of such potencies as neither this wronged One can reveal, nor this unworthy people comprehend. Immensely exalted is He above men's praise of His sovereignty; glorified is He beyond that which they attribute unto Him!" (KIp.124)

"Know thou moreover that all else besides Him have been created through thepotency of a word from His presence, while of themselves they have no motion nor stillness, except at His bidding and by His leave." (GWB p.109-110).

All motion, then, is His motion, all skan His Skan, though not all direction is His direction nor all purpose His purpose. As we prostrate ourselves in prayer, in the dust of worship, Bahá'u'lláh's sublime words rise from our lips:

"Say: O my Lord, my Best-Beloved, the Mover of my actions, the Lode Star ofmy soul, the Voice that crieth in mine inmost being, the Object of mine heart's adoration!"

"my Aim and the Aim of all things, my Mover and theMover of all things"

"Thou art He Who from everlasting hath been the King ofthe entire creation and its Prime Mover" (GWB p.310, PM p.59, PM p.262)

God's attribute, "the Mover", is so sublime, His motion, His skan, takes place in such an exalted sphere, that we are powerless to extol, much less comprehend it:

"How can, then, such a man succeed in befittingly extolling the One through a motion of Whose finger all the names and their kingdom were called into being, and all the attributes and their dominion were created, and Who, through yet another motion of that same finger, hath united the letters B and E (Be) and knit them together, manifesting thereby what the highest thoughts of Thy chosen ones who enjoy near access to Thee are unable to grasp" (PM p303)

And so, our origin and the origin of all things, the origin, even, of all names, begins in motion, and existence itself consists of the motion traced by those sublime fingers, uniting the letters B and E in one. This concept, of the inseparability of motion and existence, which is the axis of Paula's post, was one which 'Abdu'l-Baha was at pains to convey toHis Western audiences, both while imprisoned in Palestine and in His heroicjourneys in both Europe and America. This emphasis gives the impression of His trying to impart an insight which the West particularly needed to grasp. To Laura Clifford Barney He explained:"Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose--that is tosay, all things are in motion . Everything is either growing or declining;all things are either coming from nonexistence into being, or going fromexistence into nonexistence." (SAQ p.233)And in Paris He devoted an entire talk to the subject, saying that:"Absolute repose does not exist in nature. All things either make progress or lose ground. Everything moves forward or backward, nothing is without motion . From his birth, a man progresses physically until he reaches maturity, then, having arrived at the prime of his life, he begins to decline, the strength and powers of his body decrease, and he gradually arrives at the hour of death. Now let us consider the soul. We have seen that movement is essential to existence; nothing that has life is without motion . All creation, whether of the mineral, vegetable or animal kingdom,is compelled to obey the law of motion; it must either ascend or descend.But with the human soul, there is no decline. Its only movement is towards perfection; growth and progress alone constitute the motion of the soul. In the world of spirit there is no retrogression. The world of mortality is a world of contradictions, of opposites; motion being compulsory everything must either go forward or retreat. In the realm of spirit there is no retreat possible, all movement is bound to be towards a perfect state.`Progress' is the expression of spirit in the world of matter." (PTpp.88-90)

He returned to the subject several times, sometimes in extenso, in the United States. In one particularly significant statement, He articulated concepts that could have emmanated from Paula's reflections on Skan."Creation is the expression of motion. Motion is life. A moving object is aliving object, whereas that which is motionless and inert is as dead. Allcreated forms are progressive in their planes, or kingdoms of existence,under the stimulus of the power or spirit of life. The universal energy isdynamic. Nothing is stationary in the material world of outer phenomena orin the inner world of intellect" ( PUP p.140) Likewise in His tablet of the Universe, 'Abdu'l-Baha states:"Divine and all-encompassing Wisdom hath ordained that motion be an inseparable concomitant of existence, whether inherently or accidentally, spiritually or materially." (p.1)

And returning to the theme of Bahá'u'lláh's meditations, 'Abdu'l-Baha states that "Motion without a mover or cause of motion is inconceivable." (PUP p.307). The very same concept formed a foundation of His divine response to the eminent Swiss scientist August Forel.Thus the Mover who originates the motion of existence and Who is Himself Motion as well as Stillness, generates creation, and invests it with His motion. Creation itself is the expression of motion, which leads us back in an ascending arc towards the motion of His pen, towards the ultimate stillness of the Unknowable, through His name, the Mover. Towards skan. And as the embodiment of all His names and attributes, we have seen that Him Who is both Stillness and Motion, Him Who is both Stillness and Skan, is at last manifest in Baha'u'llah. And the Bab while imprisoned in Adhirbayjan, proclaims the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy which He cites in a powerful tablet, from that fount of mystic knowledge, the Imam Baqir. The prophecy also establishes the response expected:"What must needs befall us in Ádhirbayján is inevitable and withoutparallel. When this happeneth, rest ye in your homes and remain patient aswe have remained patient. As soon as the Mover moveth make ye haste to attain unto Him, even though ye have to crawl over the snow.' " (SWB 17)

And so we have the Manifestation of God as the supreme embodiment of Skan, the Mover Who moveth. And by our own responsive motion or inertness we determine the quality of our spiritual life. Salvation is motion towards Him, perdition immobility, which is nothing less than drifting away from Him, for nothing is still. And when we move towards the Mover, even if crawling through snow, we warm and vitalise the entire universe, so that Bahá'u'lláh admonishes: "Be thou as a throbbing artery, pulsating in the body of the entire creation, that through the heat generated by this motion there may appear that which will quicken the hearts of those who hesitate." (TB p.142) And so, it is for us to become pure vehicles for skan. And as hearts quicken, hesitation vanishes. And motion, skan, quickens even history, sot hat perhaps the 20th century, in spite of all its shadows, will come to be regarded as the Century of Light precisely on account of the unprecedented motion it engendered, as joyously proclaimed by 'Abdu'l-Baha: "This is the century of motion , divine stimulus and accomplishment, the century of human solidarity and altruistic service, the century of universal peace and the reality of the divine Kingdom." (PUP p.143) Perhaps the motion, skan, towards peace, altruism and solidarity, however long it takes to reach fruition, will be seen to have been generated in this twentieth century, and to this very skan, this same motion, will our eventual maturation be traced. And so our generation is the last to have experienced the tumultuous trials and victories of this Century of Light, this Century of Motion, this Century of Skan.

May we become embodiments of skan, letting His skan, move us toward Him, Who is both Stillness and Skan, and who is manifest in this Great Day. May skan lead us to Him, even should we crawl over the melting snow to reach Him.

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Failure, Grace and Self-Disclosure

The following is a moment in one of my most unforgettable and spiritual experiences of correspondence, with an unbalkingly sincere, and powerfully intelligent, veteran soul that I am grateful and privileged to be able to call my friend. It was a burst of spiritual encounter that lasted a few days only, and turned words into rivers of fire, and left its traces for eternity. Every few years we get to exchange pleasantries, converse a little, and not much more. And yet that moment of conversation, for me at least, simply IS, and remains.

I remember reading Ruhiyyih Khanum's obituary of Enoch Olinga (she inherited her compelling gift for obituaries from her mother), where she recalls a metaphor of which Enoch Olinga was fond. It likens man to a guitar, that wishes to be tuned by God to be strummed by His hand. God explains the guitar lacks the capacity to serve as His instrument. The guitar begs nonetheless for the boon. So God tunes one string up and up until it snaps. The guitar, undeterred, beseeches Him to try anew. And yet another string strains and breaks. And another. And another. And another. Until the very last string snaps.

That's it? That's it. The metaphor at first repelled me as a statement of hopelessness. It now sings to me as capturing my striving for perfection. "The ability to contain the maximum paradox is the definition of true heroism". How true. You mentioned the shattering paradox of the Manifestation of God in the body and soul of a human. That is the extreme paradox of the Arc of Descent. Is not the supreme paradox of the Arc of Ascent our infinite thirst and finite capacity? Our systematic pursuit of misunderstanding and subsequent panicked flight from spiritual law; our desperate climb of irrational walls built out of immense amounts folly; and the final, mortal leap to self destruction leading to the disconcertingly serendipitous resurrection of reunion, so tentative, so fragile? Why do we strive with all our might after mis-conceived or mis-shapen goals, only to find our heart's desire lightly tapping our shoulder from behind us, not merely disconnected from our deserving, but even from our trajectory? To seek His face in these conditions is surely a mad heroic paradox that makes the unpredicted coins of the spirit spin.

So our strings collapse. Each and all. The sins of the righteous are the good deeds of the near ones. Then what's the point? The point is that invisible line of yearning, of regret, and aspiration, that continues to rise when the line of actuality crumbles in a heap. The line of our innocent dream, our unguarded hope, that precedes and heroically survives the savage wound, frequently buried in bandages.

"Is it possible to tell the tale of one's self in such terms without a kind of spiritual vivisection taking place?"

Yes! It must be. That is what Yourcenar's Ana Soror is all about. But that, after all, is fiction. And yet, there is a rare and infinitesimal space, I think, in which such matters may be told beside fiction. The space occupied, not by the confessor and not the therapist, but by the friend. There is no merit in sharing shame, but something is created, restored, in the exchange of fragments of broken hearts in a state of supplication. It is in the dust of our collapse that we find the meekness to pray. It is in the wounds of irrevocable errors that we find the tears to love. It is in our consciousness of indelible failure that the awareness of the infinite potency of His grace, and might and compassion dawns. It is, finally, in the precipice of impotent despair that the awsome impact of His name, the Unconstrained, the Self-subsisting, destroys our self-sufficiency and gives birth to the seed of tavakul, of reliance upon God. Alí Nakhjavani sealed this budding realisation in my heart in just five minutes that I once shared with him, in the course of a concentrated, abrupt transmission of longing as he returned from crying out his prayers at the Guardian's sacred resting place.

Do we dare trust that the space exists in the madness of our conversation? Dare we expose the points of collapse that make the line of ascent an invisible one? It is a reckless adventure, but one which dangerously yet tentatively calls to me in our encounter. Can we learn something from meeting one another in the defended spot whence our suplication rises? Can we reach out with our hands into one another's heart and draw them out white? Or is this a song best apprehended in silence, by indirection, turning to what in 17th century literature became known as 'conceits'?

I only know that the little of "the rest" which you shared with me evoked dimly yet irreducibly the bridges of fire which in an earlier letter I intuited you had crossed. No one speaks with your voice without having been broken first. I myself fear unwisdom, yet feel inclined, with trepidation, to explore with you moments of krasis, where hope and despair mingle with guts and tears and flesh and joy and are transmuted into landmarks, bridges or lifelines from which we climb out of the mesh of self-absorption toward the arms of the Slayer of lovers.

Something more than our personal encounter impels me in this direction. It is the consciousness that as a community we do not know how to embrace our shadows. We remain scared, and therefore lonely. We must tap the wellsprings of spirituality that vitalise the finer, subtler language of compassion. We should open our eyes to the purity and ardour, the intransigent heroism that keeps us striving for perfection in the sea of our own folly. For this is the true tie that binds us a believers, did we but know. Not our meetings, not our services, not even our interactions - but our undefeated yearnings, even when the things we touch with trembling fingers turn to dust and it's our fault, and we cut the tree of our hope with our own hands - yet still yearn, still wish our touch had been more delicate, our aim more true, our obfuscation less. The invisible line remains unbroken even when hidden to our own eyes. The bond of undiminished yearning in the face of infinite frailty, the inescapable attraction of His face even when our eyes are shut against the storm - that is what binds the people of Bahá in the beginning that has no beginning and in the end that has no end.

I speak to you in the fire.

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Bahá'í Scope for Political Activism

A great many Bahá'ís, impelled by the social vision and insistent imperative for justice, find themselves frustrated with the limits placed on their involvement in political activism. Those limits however, are not fixed, but appear in fact to have expanded with time. This message seeks to explore the stretching yet undeniable boundaries of political action within the Bahá'í community.


Thank you all for the urgent and thought provoking comments in this thread.

I too feel the issue is less clear than may at first appear. The culture ofthe Baha'i community is changing, and things that would have been unthinkable in the past are now becoming acceptable. Non-involvement in partisan politics is less clear than it used to be. For instance, Century of Light is a highly political statement, far more specific in its analysis than we have ever had. Its critique of communism, given the existence of communit regimes like Cuba and North Korea, where Baha'is dwell, is trenchant and specific, naming names, well beyond the Guardian's own generalised critique of communism. Likewise its allusion to desaparecidos is a live political issue that polarises discourse throughout Latin America and beyond. The critique of Western cold-war politics, exposing aid efforts as a toolf or political control, and pointing out the policy of arming and encouragement of what it calls "authoritarian regimes" (p.88), would never have appeared in a Baha'i joural before Century of Light. The same document identifies the Ethiopian regime of the 1980's as "a brutal dictatorship". At a timewhen Ethiopia remains a politically devided country, mostly along tribal lines, such assertions are enormously political and potentially inflamatory within an Ethiopian context. Contemporary happenings in Cambodia are unequivocally characterised as "a campaign of genocide". The statement, on page 136, that "Tragically, what Bahá'ís see in present-day society is unbridled exploitation of the masses of humanity by greed that excuses itself as the operation of "impersonal market forces", could be construed aspolitically loaded.

Nevertheless, the document concludes: "for a Bahá'í the ultimate issues are spiritual. The Cause is not a political party nor an ideology, much less an engine for political agitation against this or that social wrong. The process of transformation it has set in motion advances by inducing a fundamental change of consciousness, and the challenge it poses to everyone who would serve it is to free oneself from attachment to inherited assumptions and preferences that are irreconcilable with the Will of God for humanity's coming of age. Paradoxically, even the distress caused by prevailing conditions that violate one's conscience aids in this process of spiritual liberation. In the final analysis, such disillusionment drives a Bahá'í to confront a truth emphasized over and over again in the Writings ofthe Faith: "He hath chosen out of the whole world the hearts of His servants, and madethem each a seat for the revelation of His glory. Wherefore, sanctify themfrom every defilement, that the things for which they were created may beengraven upon them.[150]"

It seems to me that the parameters for Baha'i political discourse have extended. Silence is no longer straightforward. Non-involvement has acquired novel nuances. Examples abound. In UK, for instance, there was an opening for the Baha'is to have a representative in the House of Lords, not affiliated to a particular party. The UHJ gave its permission, in principle, for Baha'is to avail themselves of this opportunity. This would have gone against the grain of popular Baha'i understanding of non-involvement in politics. The proposals for reform of the House of Lords did not go through and the precedent did not take place. Again, the UK NSA (at least), with permission of the UHJ, used the Baha'i community as an instrument to collect signatures petitioning the establishment of an International Criminal Court. The first time in my experience that Baha'is were being asked by an NSA to sign a political petition issued by outside institutions to lobby political decision makers on an issue not directly related to the welfare of the Baha'i community.

If these are the ambiguities present in our institutions, how much more with individuals. The UHJ, in an unpublished letter validates what they refer to as "various forms of public protest", when"motivated by the dictates of conscience, as opposed to such reasons as the mere venting of personal frustration or violence for its own sake". Such protest, they say, contributes "in no small measure to the awakening of public concern and to the required revision of public policy. Obviously,the effectiveness of such intervention depends on the extent to which the"conscience" motivating the activity is itself enlightened and its dictates relevant to the situation." (on behalf of UHJ to an individual, dated 27November 2001)

So, if Baha'is can participate is public protests born of enlightened conscience; if Baha'i institutions can be part of the very machinery of national government (in principle); if they can lobby for the creation of political institutions; identify publicly "brutal dictatorships"; critique Western aid policy, etc., yet not support a campaign such as Jubilee 2000 for the ending of the debt or join Amnesty International; we face a context of greater ambiguity than is normally thought. Thus I would suggest that we are in a new territory, that there are no easy answers, and we are at this juncture "experimenting" to find the boundaries and duties imposed by our commitment to social justice and our commitment to unity both. This range of experiments and approaches are, I would suggest, necessary. As the UHJ explains in the above quoted letter, there are certain parameters within which our pursuit of social justice and response to injustice operates, among which they highlight the following:

1) "The most obvious parameter... is, of course, the moral obligation to demonstrate in our lives the sense of justice that the faith teaches."

2) non-involvement in partisan politics. "This principle should not,however, be misunderstood. The programme of the Baha'i Cause itself operates in the political realm to the extent that it is concerned with inducing changes in public policy and behaviour at local, national and international levels... In doing so, its efforts are scrupulous to avoid entanglement in the agendas that serve the interests of particular parties, factions, or similarly biased political forces."

3) That our actions, even if not involving "inappropriate politicalbehaviour", should not harm long-term the Cause or reflect negatively on it.

Having listed these parameters, the UHJ comes to the very crux of ourdicussion:"In the context of such parameters, each one of us must determine the priorities that will govern his or her efforts... This is, admittedly, a process of experimentation which, like all experimentation, entails a degree of risk. Risk is, however, a part of life and cannot in itself be allowed to deter us from fulfilling our responsibilities as Baha'is."

The powerful quotes that have been shared, to my mind, clarify the parameters within which the dilemmas present themselves, but do not eradicate the dilemmas themselves, do not answer them. Non-involvement in politics is not an answer, it is a question demanding a multitude of individual responses, "experimentation", "risk". Like many here, I am profoundly distressed by the events in the Holy Land. I cannot condone the siege, not only of militias, but of refugees and priests in the Church where Christ is believed to have been born. I cannot condone the destruction to dozens of frequently politically disengaged and entirely innocent teenage lives by suicide bombing. I cannot accept that a man should be made to sit for 27 hours next to the decaying bodies of hiswife and uncle, prevented from burying them by tanks and soldiers that claimed their lives. Nor the tear gassing and violent dispersion of a non-violent, quiet peace protest of Israelis, Palestinians, and Europeans, nor the indoctrination of little children that leads an 8 year old girl to grab a knife and announce, in all earnestness, that she is going out to kill Jews, an indoctrination reinforced and even sealed by the sound of tank and missile fire disturbing her young sleep.

These are things that transcend parties and factions. They are violations of the human spirit, whichever way you look at it. Conflict is never simple. Blame is always a suspect quantity. Injustice, like justice, is no respecter of national identities or political affiliations. Injustice to one is injustice to all, and the line between ends and means is not always clearly drawn.

The point for me is that I need to act, and act constructively. I need to build something solid. In my own little corner but also in the Baha'icommunity. I must live what I hope others will follow; and I must work with genuine urgency, with consecration, to build the Baha'i community, likewise, into a living example of what we preach to others. Above all, I need to live, to demonstrate, what I dream about. And apportioning blame, given the urgency of the times, is most frequently a wasteful distraction that makes torpid my imagination, through which I search for, create, new avenues when none are apparent, even if they involve a lot of walking. When the obstacle is very large, getting around it cant ake time. I can only seek the right direction and walk towards it at the pace of my capacity, making friends along the way, trusting that in time I, or my children, or their children, will get to the other side, as theBeatles said, with a little help from my friends, and theirs, along the road.

It's early times yet, a mere century and a half, but I believe we're getting there. The second Baha'i century would witness, the Guardian said, the stirrings of Baha'u'llah's new World Order. Our challenge today is, it seems to me, to mediate the encounter of the Baha'i community and the wider world. Merely to engage fully with the world "outside", merely to communicate effectively across the gap of values, merely to maintain hope in the future, hope in the present, and demonstrate its basis in our practice and ourd iscourse, is challenge enough.

Future generations will take on the task of reconstruction, though we can indicate some broad directions and make some crude beginnings even now.

Always your friend,

Ismael


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Dealing with Racism within the Bahá'í Community

In the course of my travels to various Bahá'í communities, and in my correspondence with Bahá'ís of various backgrounds, I have become keenly conscious that one of the greatest challenges of being a Bahá'í lies in the fact that the Bahá'í community brings us to a frontal encounter with cultural diversity, and, inevitably, with cross-cultural tension. No one can be expected to know adequately and relate effectively to a culture to which they have been but little exposed, more so when some kind of stigma attaches in wider society to a given ethnic or cultural group.

The response below is addressed to such a situation, when friction becomes excessive, and its burden well nigh intolerable. It looks to 'Abdu'l-Bahá for possible avenues of approach to overcome the painful, tragic deadlock of racism when it raises its ugly head among what remain, even so, with the whole human race, our brothers and our sisters.

Dearest,

I must say that I was shocked at the message you shared, and it is a very sad example on the alienating impact of unkind words and harsh attitudes, that add to the pain of cultural misunderstanding the barbs of hostility. Clearly, Shoghi Effendi wrote in Advent of Divine Justice that no one can claim to be free from prejudice, and that is a battle we must all wage within our souls. The implication is that prejudice is also a constant in our interaction with fellow human beings. What there are is degrees and nuances, and some expressions of prejudice are more apparent and more hurtful than others.

The Bahá'í Faith traces the goal of unity, furnishes the impulse and energy required to face and gradually overcome its obstacles, not in a linear, but in an organic way, paved not just with advances but reverses also, and gives us an array of potent tools to transform millenia upon millenia of disunity. But it does not save us from walking the distance with our own feet. In the course of that journey, we discover we are but poorly shod, the road is thorny, and, sometimes, our feet bleed.

Nowhere is this more palpable to me than among indigenous populations the world over, who have been historically marginalized in their own countries, frequently in a brutal and violent manner, for hundreds of years. When these precious souls join the Bahá'í community, they bring, like all of us, very high expectations of the maturity and freedom from prejudice of a community committed, like no other, to the unity of humanity in all its diversity. It can be very hard to discover that the Bahá'í community is not, as in the Christian ideal, a "community of the elect". Rather, it is a community of humanity, warts and all. In it coexist the good, the bad and the ugly, except Clint Eastwood has yet to convert.

What brings us together is not a level of spiritual achievement, but a level of aspiration, that makes sense of a remark attributed to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, when asked how one particularly obnoxious individual could be a Bahá'í: "Imagine what he would be like if he weren't!". What brings us together is not that we are all morally, spiritually and socially excellent. It is that we all, whatever our starting point, want to become better, and our direction and our path and our strength is found, for all of us, in Bahá'u'lláh.

Be that as it may, it is hardbreaking when, expecting to find a refuge from prejudice, one has the misfortune of encountering it within our own community. Whether among Gypsy Bahá'ís in Spain, American Indian Bahá'ís in the United States, or Maori Bahá'ís in New Zealand, many are the anguished voices that tell painful stories of ignorance, prejudice and intolerance from their brothers and sisters in the Faith. From one perspective it is distressing, since it negates the very aims that sustain our aspirations, albeit generally unconsciously. From another perspective it is truly encouraging. It means that we are encountering one another beyond the surface, and are confronting, not avoiding, the very real and deep seated factors that have so bitterly and intractably divided our societies. As events, they are discouraging, but seen within a process of reconciliation on a global scale, they are in fact important milestones in our painstaking advance toward unity. If conflict were not in place, reconciliation would be irrelevant. But, our writings state, the purpose of this Faith is the reconciliation of the contending peoples of the world. If there was no pain in this encounter, chances are that the encounter, in an authentic way, was not taking place. Without friction, there is no movement possible. But excess of friction stops all movement.

The question is how to face prejudice and constructively transform it. In this we might most profitably look at 'Abdu'l-Baha's example of dealing with a lifetime of vicious prejudice against as well as within the Baha'i community. I see four key elements in His response:

1) Uncompromising in His upholding of the principle of the unity of humanity and the equality of the races. Without respect for the occasion He took every opportunity to demonstrate in His own actions the principle of the oneness of humanity, whether by encouraging Baha'is to inter-marry, giving honour to minorities within the very environment that excluded them, instructing the Baha'is to hold integrated meetings when the community was split down the middle on the wisdom of doing this, etc.

2) Unconfrontational in His engagement with the issues. Not once in His talks or the accounts of pilgrims or in His writings does 'Abdu'l-Baha directly condemn an individual or a specific segment of the population as racist, even as His actions quietly but unmistakably challenge the very foundations of prejudice. This is in sharp contrast to the strategies of the anti-racism movement, which often concentrate on exposure, controversy, and at times violent protest.

3) Long-term in His strategy. When they arrived in Akka, Baha'u'llah and His companions were ostracised, jeered, deprived of food, and mistreated. 'Abdu'l-Baha set out to undermine the very root of prejudice by establishing bonds of friendship and respect with the very source of the attacks; resulting by the end of Baha'u'llah's imprisonment in the passive disobedience of jailors, of their orders to maintain the stringent confinement and incommunication of Baha'u'llah and His followers, indeed allowing Him to move into house imprisonment. Prejudices had, it must be admitted, severely eroded - over a period of decades of consistent and systematic cultivation of genuine bonds of love. With the American Baha'is, rather than condemn those who opposed interracial marriages flouting His explicit and widely circulated guidance; or those who persisted in holding segregated meetings when He called for integrated ones, He focused on reinforcing the progressive tendencies and proscribing, without aggressively condemning, the regressive tendencies in the community. The Baha'i community, with all its imperfections, was well in advance of any other community of a similar size and make-up in their journey to overcome the legacy of centuries of prejudice, resentment, oppression and hostility between the races.

4) Reliant on the power and divine impulse in the Faith, which transforms copper into gold. Not for an instant, in the gloomiest moments, was His hope and confidence shaken, His certitude in the regenerating power of His Cause and its capacity to heal the prejudices of mankind. Consequently, His response was grounded in a peacefulness and a joy and an abundance that stands in sharp contrast with the (legitimate) anger, hopelessness, and alienation that characterises much of today's noble efforts to heal racism.

And so, when attitudes like those of the woman who posted such a hurtful, unkind message concerning a long-oppressed, noble people, surface in the Cause, they are part of the process of healing. They are part of what we bring into the crucible of the Baha'i community to be transformed by our mutual love for the Cause of Baha'u'llah, which takes our prejudices, our frailties, our blinkers and blindspots, and turns them into light, little by little, day by day. Prejudices act as a veil between the soul and its beloved, and so, if one is sincere in love, love itself will teach us, painfully, to let go of prejudice, and if not, love itself will marginalise our views, render us powerless and isolate us, for love feeds on love, and makes no room for bitterness or for resentment.

Rejoice, therefore, your struggles are in the path of love. They are noble, and ennobling. "Not for a moment are ye alone. Not for a moment are ye left to yourselves. The Beauty of Abha is with you. The Glorious God is with you. The King of Kings is with you." And we, your friends in His love, broken winged birds that we are, we too, are with you.

Ismael


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A Reconciliatory Approach to Homosexuality

This is a message I addressed to a bulletin board of homosexuals who were or had been Bahá'ís, in the context of the great polarisation that the discussion of homosexuality in a religious context tends to engender. Following the logic of reconciliation that I understand to be one of the animating principles of Bahá'í hermeneutics, and inspired by the model of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's approach and interactions with those whose views were at times directly challenging to the teachings, I offer these thoughts as a possible path toward, not removing the inevitable tensions that the position of homosexuality in the Bahá'í Faith generates, but framing their discussion in a more unifying, more potentially constructive perspective.


Dear all,

I have been moved by all your comments to participate in this heart-deep exchange. I should clarify that I am a Baha'i, and I am not gay. Many of my friends are gay, and I lived for many months in a gay household when Iwas 15. From my perspective, there is no denying that being gay in today's world may prove a painful experience (although not only painful...). There is stigma and prejudice resulting at times in violence, physical or psychological. In a Baha'i community that remains small, widely scattered and, according to its own testimony, embryonic, the challenge of relating effectively to homosexuality is even greater, both for homosexual and heterosexual Baha'is.

A number of parameters are clear. The bottom line in terms of homosexual practice and the Baha'i community, is that it is not allowed in the Baha'i Faith. As has already been said, there is no room for compromise on this principle, as it is based on the scriptures themselves and backed up by the authorised interpretations thereof. The UHJ simply does not have the powers to change such a law. This means that a Baha'i with homosexual tendencies or a homosexual identity will find reconciling their Baha'i and sexual identities an area of unavoidable tension in the Faith. I'll come back to this in a minute.

Equally crucial, is the unequivocal and primary principle of the oneness of humanity, trancending sexual, racial, religious and even moral divides. There is no exception, no leaf that does not belong to the tree of humanity. There is, it is evident from even a cursory reading of 'Abdu'l-Baha's writings, no warrant whatsoever for Baha'i attitudes toward homosexuals that involve hostility, shunning, or any form of aggression. If such attitudes are sometimes found among Baha'is, it is because this is a very young Faith, still learning to walk, and even struggling to grasp the transforming vision of Baha'u'llah. In such circumstances, we often fall back on inherited patterns of behaviour. The difference is that those patterns are not sanctioned in the writings, and that we are committed to gradually but permanently replacing them with new standards of interaction based on the oneness of humanity. Similar challenges face us as Baha'is in dealing with all the forces that currently tear humanity apart. After all, as theUniversal House of Justice states,"As you know, the Baha'is are distinguished not by their perfection or their immunity from the negative influences of the wider society in which they live, but by their acceptance of Baha'u'llah's vision and willingness to work toward it. Each of us must strike a balance between realistically facing our community's shortcomings, and focusing on Baha'u'llah's Teachings rather than our fellow believers as a standard of faith. This comment is not intended to belittle your concerns, but rather place them in perspective so that you may not become discouraged as you strive toward the ideal."

Thus I believe that as the years go by, while the tension between homosexuality and faith in the Baha'i community will not go away (only one of the many possible tensions confronting a Baha'i), the climate in which such tensions are resolved will become much more refined, more spiritually informed, less conditioned by the past, and more unifying and transformative. This does not promise a "final answer" that satisfies everyone, but a nurturing and positive process, that increasingly liberates our human potential and ability to communicate with one another above our differences and blindspots and frailties. Another dimension of this, is that gay identity itself is in flux, and embryonic too. The powerful poem in this site attests to nuances and layers of identity that are yet to fully find their voice in gay discourse. All of humanity will have much to learn, as will the Baha'is, from the spiritual insights gained by homosexuals around the world who have suffered from the venomous hostility of many in their society. And I suspect the gay world will likewise discover that there are voices within its ranks that remain silent or excluded, and which, as they are heard, will transform the meaning of homosexual identities. Again, this will not resolve the tension between Baha'i identities and gay sexuality, but it may well open new and more constructive spaces and arenas in which to address such tensions.

As to the laws of the Aqdas specifying punishments and sanctions against extramarital sexuality, it is evident that laws and society define one another. The reason why such laws are not in force anywhere in the Baha'iworld today, is, according to the Universal House of Justice, not on account of limited numbers (we have areas with entire Baha'i villages in which such laws could well be applied), but because the society does not exist yet with the refinement required to furnish an appropriate context to such laws. Ag reat deal of complementary legislation remains for the Universal House of Justice to formulate (and change later if necessary) that may qualify, clarify and even deeply challenge the common-sense meaning which we might attribute to a law which is unlikely to apply for decades or centuries tocome. So it would be misleading, both for Baha'is and others, to derive a code of behaviour from laws which, as long as society remains in its current state of development, are neither applicable, nor fully comprehensible.

Another theme discussed are administrative sanctions. These are explicitly not to be applied in relation to individual lifestyles, except when those lifestyles affect in a serious way the wider perception of the Baha'icommunity. To give you a real life example, I once visited a Baha'i community near the Gulf of Mexico. It so happened, that the most receptive population to the Baha'i message in that city was the large local gay community. The Local Spiritual Assembly which administers the faith in that city adopted a welcoming and tolerant approach, making clear the Baha'i teachings on homosexuality, but leaving individuals to work on their own relationship to the Faith in accordance with the dictates of their conscience and the passing of time. The enrolements grew among gays in the city, to the point that when I invited someone to visit the Baha'i centre, he told me that he thought that was a gay club! In this context, a local Baha'i community was placed in a dilemma, whereby the public built a picture of the Baha'i community which, rightly or wrongly, is not the community envisioned byBaha'u'llah. For the sake of honesty, both towards the public and towards itself, the Baha'i community must prevent this sort of scenario from emerging. This does not mean that a wave of administrative sanctions followed against gay Baha'is. It didn't. It is merely to point out the delicate juggling act between preserving individual rights and freedoms, and acting as custodians of the community and institutions designed explicitly by Baha'u'llah.

There are no easy answers to such dilemmas within a faith perspective. Knee-jerk responses of condemnation, of either the Baha'i community or individuals struggling to reconcile their faith and sexuality, are in myview inappropriate. Slowly, I have no doubt, we will develop processes and discourses that allow these dilemmas to be faced in a life-affirming, soul-ennobling fashion. I say slowly, because we are struggling against the inertial of millenial instincts to conflict and power struggles. I say I have no doubt about the positive outcome, because no unprejudiced observer would question the depth of Baha'i commitment to (however embryonic the understanding of) the oneness of humanity. Baha'is daily sacrifice careers and security to place themselves in situations of painful diversity, only to struggle, day in and day out, to reconcile their differences. We have been doing this for one hundred and fifty years, and we will, God willing, continue to work on this for another thousand more. Already, against all odds, a sociologist who is not a Baha'i described the Baha'i community as the single most unified, most diverse body of people in the planet. It sounds good, but it's not easy, and the heroism of the Baha'i community lies in not running away from the inevitable pain that must precede understanding. After all, it is, Baha'u'llah tells us, patience that leads from search to love; and pain that leads from love to knowledge. And so, in this early stage of dealing with the issue of homosexuality within the Baha'i community, patience is required, as is pain; but also the spirit of search and love and the thirst for knowledge. Every time we create a breakthrough of understanding, we are pioneering into a new country, in which the proscription of extramarital sex does not translate into virulent hostility and aggression, and in which the preservation of a homosexual identity does not require the vilification of a Faith community. A new country in which what matters is increasing mutual understanding, sacrificing our lives for one another, and building a peaceful and united world.

At the basis of such processes, lies the Baha'i principle of the independent investigation of truth. No one is forced to become a Baha'i. Someone who decides not to be a Baha'i is not considered damned or evil. So becoming a Baha'i is a matter of choice and recognition; a decision to embrace Baha'u'llah's authority to teach and legislate, affirming but transcending (stretching) our deep spiritual insights, based on a recognition of the spiritual integrity and beauty of His voice and of His life and of His message.

Such recognition cannot be manufactured or imposed, but if it is there, it requires that we abide by its principles. When a homosexual person finds his heart captivated by the Slayer of Lovers; when his or her soul discovers in Baha'u'llah the Ancient Beauty; and when Baha'u'llah's global vision encompasses the horizon of his or her heart, then he or she will enter a world of wonder, of struggle, of joy and disappointment; of loss and reunion; of plenitude and powerlessness. When a heterosexual responds in the same way, the very same experience will follow, nor will the trials be less, merely different. And if a homosexual finds that he is tested by attitudes within the infant Baha'i community he or she has joined; so will a heterosexual be tested, and in equal measure. If our sense of vision and rapture and recognition is greater and more compelling than the trials and sorrows that accompany all spiritual journeys, we will remain, homosexual and heterosexual alike, humble lovers of Baha'u'llah; and with infinite longing offer up our lives in the path of love. Otherwise, our search will continue along different routes, and God willing, the Baha'i Faith will prove to have been a valuable milestone in our path to God.

"For whoso maketh efforts for Us, in Our ways shall Weguide them".

With deep love and humble admiration for the honesty and yearning ardour of the voices in this space,

Your broken winged brother,

Ismael


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Direct Teaching Methods and the Institute Process

I was once unexpectedly invited to join a list made up principally of Bahá'ís who had been deeply involved decades ago in the mass teaching projects that saw a significant expansion of the Bahá'í community in the United States. It was inspiring to see the passion for teaching, and the commitment to learn and audaciously experiment. A point of dialogue was how the earlier approaches to "teaching the masses" fit in with the new processes associated with the last 5 Year Plan. The following is my introductory letter to the group, that articulates my thoughts on the subject. It is followed by a response to a two friends, elsewhere, to their reservations regarding the validity or wisdom of mass teaching methods.

Honoured friends,


With great humility I join your list, as our beloved Master wrote, "with no good deeds to tell of, only hopes". I am fascinated to hear of your initiative, and touched by the San Antonio project's goal of "Growth without creating conflict in the community", which combines like the projects described in the newsletter audacious, systematic and intense individual initiative with a deep engagement with and humility before the institutions of the Cause.

I admire the vitality of commitment evinced, together with the "learning mode" which our beloved said was the greatest legacy of the Four Year Plan and the first intimation of the change of culture that ushered in the Fifth Epoch of the Formative age of our Faith. It calls to mind the vision and methods championed by Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhajir, and appears already to be yielding significant results.

I would be very grateful to hear, in this light, the current progressis in the Army of Light initiative in connection with "the goal to welcome into the Cause of God at least 2001 new souls in this One Year Plan, byRidvan 2001, and then 5000 in each year of the Five Year Plan". How many souls did enter the Faith in the One Year Plan by Ridvan 2001? Where are we now?

For my part, I have had experience of such direct teaching methods across the UK, in Mexico, former Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Ireland. Almost without exception, such initiatives have in my experience proven successful in attracting new souls into the Faith, sometimes in substantial numbers. What has proven hardest has been, on the one hand, successfully integrating such souls into existing communities in a lasting and fulfilling manner, and on the other, in UK at least, making direct teaching methods culturally acceptable to the Baha'icommunity.

Generally, such mass teaching initiatives are built around individuals with confidence and skill in the process, who act as catalysts for involving other Baha'is in the campaign and enrolling new believers. In UK, most Baha'is are deeply, intensely uncomfortable about approaching people in the street about the teachings, associating such behaviour with either aggressive proselytisation or marginal religious behaviour. It is the sort of approach that they would personally cross the street to try to avoid if it was coming from someone else. Individuals who see the promise of such an approach generally manage such reluctance and diminish it in at least a proportion of the community, who supports and joins them in teaching. The problem is that when such an individual or group leaves, the momentum is lost and the community returns to more culturally comfortable ways of expressing their faith.

In relation to the new believers that invariably emerge when direct teaching is done skillfully and with sincerity, the problem of consolidation tends to arise either because the individuals who have been instrumental in the declaration and enrolment of the new believer have moved on, and the remaining Baha'is are unable to replicate the spiritual connection built with the original teacher; or because the new believer approaches his new faith from an entirely different cultural standpoint to that prevailing in his new Baha'i community. In Britain, where the culture of the Baha'i community has tended to be professional, literate, and ethnically predominantly white British and Persian, episodes of substantial growth among working class and unemployed families, and among ethnic minorities, have generally petered out after a few years, not only in terms of new enrolements, but in terms of retention of new believers too.

I recall, in this connection, the passages in Century of Light which the Universal House of Justice mentions in their remarkable letter to me which I believe Rich shared earlier with this list:

"Determined efforts were made to respond to the guidance of the World Centre that expansion and consolidation are twin processes that must go hand inhand. Where hoped for results did not readily materialize, however, a measure of discouragement frequently set in. The initial rapid rise in enrolment rates slowed markedly in many countries, tempting some Baha'iinstitutions and communities to turn back to more familiar activities and more accessible publics.
"The principal effect of the setbacks, however, was that they brought home to communities that the high expectations of the early years were in some respects quite unrealistic. Although the easy successes of the initial teaching activities were encouraging, they did not, by themselves, build a Baha'i community life that could meet the needs of its new members and be self-generating. Rather, pioneers and new believers alike faced questions for which Baha'i experience in Western lands - or even Iran - offered few answers." (Century of Light, pp.101-102)

It seems to me that what we have achieved in the past are "successes" in "teaching activities", but a crucial element was missing without which such activities were inherently fragile, and the accompanying expectations "quite unrealistic". That element without which the process of entry by troops is hamstrung is, as I understand it, "a Baha'i community life that could meet the needs of its new members and be self-generating" (ibid). What followed was a process of learning and experimentation described in such letters from the beloved as those of the 26 Dec 1995 to the Conference of the Continental Board of Counsellors; April 1998 on Training Institutes, February 2000 on Training Institutes and Systematic Growth, and 9 January 2001 to the Counsellors. The distilled insight of the last decade has resulted, across the world, in the emergence of the three core activities of study circles, devotional gatherings, and children's classes, as the key instrument for achieving "a Baha'i community life that could meet the needs of its new members and be self-generating". As we invest ourselves heart and soul in the process of establishing these critical elements of Baha'i community development over the next twenty years, and as we integrate our non-Baha'ifriends into these activities, we will move our clusters through successive stages of development till we achieve the "culture of growth" which, the Universal House of Justice points to in their letter to me as the ultimate goal of the Four, One and Five Year Plans.

The key difference then, in my mind, in relation to prevous patterns of large-scale expansion, is that whereas in the past the fundamental motor of such enrolements was the enthusiastic and skilled efforts of a small number of Baha'i teachers, in future I anticipate the key motor of large-scale growth will be the achievement of a critical mass of growth-focused and effective "category A" clusters, consisting of:

"a high level of enthusiasm among a sizable group of devoted and capable believers who understand the prerequisites for sustainable growth and can take the ownership of the program; some basic experience on the part of a few communities in the cluster in holding classes for spiritual education of children, devotional meetings, and the Nineteen Day Feast; the existence ofa reasonable degree of administrative capacity in at least a few Local Spiritual Assemblies; the active involvement of several assistants to Auxiliary Board members in promoting community life; a pronounced spirit of collaboration among the various institutions working in the area; and above all, the strong presence of the training institutes with a scheme of coordination that supports the systematic multiplication of study circles."(UHJ January 9, 2001)

How do these faltering and obfuscated thoughts resonate across the ocean among such valiant and exemplary souls and true eagles in the firmament of servitude and consecration to the Blessed Beauty and His precious, sacred Universal House of Justice?

Your affectionate and humbled pupil,

Ismael



* * * * *^
Dear both,
Thank you for your kind and encouraging responses. If there was no note of contrariness, beloved ones, it is because I do believe that mass teaching approaches do retain immense potential even now, when combined with the patterns of community life fostered by the House of Justice in their Jan 9 letter; when embedded in the attitudes of openess and lack of exclusivism called for in the message to the religious leaders; and when built on the foundation of clusters that evince the characteristics called for by the beloved, and focused on growth. I do not see personal teaching, the development of study circles, devotional meetings and children's classes truly "open to all" on the one hand, and large scale, well-planned, direct teaching campaigns on the other, as mutually incompatible, although the latter, unlike the former, need not be universal.
I recall our House of Justice's explanation that: "At this stage in the development of the Faith there are many new experiments taking place in the teaching field and also in the work of consolidation. It is obvious that not all these experiments will meet with success. Many have great merit while others may have little or none. However, in the present period of transition and rapid growth of the Cause we must seek diligently for the merit of every method devised to teach and deepen the masses." The Universal House of Justice, DDBC, 7.2 Each time I have overcome my inherited (and I must say substantial) discomfort to sally forth to gather souls in His Name with a direct method, on the streets of Britain for instance, each time I have encountered truly precious souls, ready souls, looking for the Faith, yet with no one to share with them the message, and felt deeply moved and grateful at having been part of such a sacred and soul enriching process which beyond the joys of service resulted in some deeply precious friendships with souls I would never otherwise have encountered, nor, it is likely, any other local Baha'is. This condition of yearning after new truth and not knowing where to turn for it Baha'u'llah describes in the Iqan as "the great oppression" of the latter days prophecied in the great Gospels. The bulk of the global Baha'i community owes the gift of the faith, it seems to me, to precisely such audacious and for many in the West counter-intuitive approaches, however discomforting they may, still, initially be in certain corners of my mindset.
Their effectiveness had nothing to do with the illiteracy or material ignorance of the target audience, as was demonstrated by the response of tens of thousands of cultured and educated individuals in Eastern Europe, and had already been shown among hundreds of like souls in Western countries. I recognise that such approaches are not suitable to all, and hold inherent spiritual pitfalls, but I cannot think of a single approach that does not. I therefore truly respect and admire those souls who feel called to advance this particular approach with sincerity, thoroughness, and in a learning mode and spirit of unity and submissiveness to the institutions, and look on with interest and prayerfulness for their progress.
For one thing I do not think has changed in Baha'i culture, is our focus on expansion. Rather, I would suggest the contrary to be the case, and that the culture the House of Justice is specifically and explicitly seeking to move us towards is what they designate as "a culture of growth". The key innovations are not, it seems to me, in deviating from a focus on expansion, but rather in our overall approach, which has become systematic, focused on learning from trial and error, and centred around a universal core of community activities which are not exclusive to Baha'is and which build a nurturing and self-generating community life. This does imply, as you reminds us, a much more open outlook towards the Other than may have been the case before, a much more dynamic and fluid boundary between the Baha'i community and its environment. At the same time it appears to me that, ultimately, it also calls for a more universal, more mature, and more consecrated focus on expansion on the part of each and every one of us.
As our beloved source of guidance wrote to an individual believer on April 1 1996, at the very begining of the House of Justice's efforts to evolve to a new stage our prevalent Baha'i culture: "In the future the Cause of God will spread throughout America; millions will be enlisted under its banner and race prejudice will finally be exorcised from the body politic. Of this have no doubt. It is inexorable,because it is the Will of Almighty God. However, as the House of Justice hasbeen trying to get the friends to understand for some time, the necessary precondition to translation of our community's social vision into reality is a massive expansion in the number of committed, deepened believers who are well grounded in the essentials of the Cause. Those who fail to comprehend the urgency assigned to the objective of achieving a large expansion have obviously failed to appreciate the moral imperative behind this aim."(quoted in "Raising the Call: The Individual and Effective Teaching", p.12)
It seems from this quote that we seem "for some time" to have had difficulty grasping "the urgency assigned to the objective of achieving a large expansion", on account of not understanding clearly enough "the moral imperative behind this aim". I certainly feel that such an analysis reflects my own frailties, and that the intellectual and more crucially spiritual connection between "our community's social vision" and the need for "a massive expansion in the number of committed, deepened believers who are well grounded in the essentials of the Cause.", with the clear emphasis on "massive expansion" and on "urgency", is one that has not always been clearly present in my heart, or animated in an authentic and personal way my labours and priorities in the Cause. The work of the souls in San Antonio; in Bryan/College station where 50 souls (mostly hispanics and African-Americans) have embraced the faith; in Northeast Oklahoma where 90 new believers have entered the Cause including a new LSA composed entirely of Cherokee Nation believers; etc., are all personally inspiring responses to both the moral imperative and the urgency of expansion, that have challenged me to reflect on my own response, and seek His signs in the regions and in my self.
With humble love,
Your friend,
Ismael



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