06 April 2014

God, global self-government, and male domination

Dear Ones and Friends,
One of the things I have realized about world federation theory as a result of a recent Wilmette Institute course on this subject is the extent to which both the theory as articulated by scholars and the actual efforts of good-willed people in the direction of world federation are disabled by a failure to take account of male evolutionary psychology and the ritual displays that almost all males, including human males, go through when threatened with loss of territory or control.

Just as Baha'u'llah was the prisoner of male leaders, so too world federation and His world order--the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth--are the prisoner of specifically male political thinking.

By the amount to which we fail to address and overcome typical male thinking in relation to world order, by the amount to which we fail to empower girls, women, and non-adversarial patterns and methods of self-government, by that amount we fail to appreciate the nature of the Kingdom, of the world order of Baha'u'llah, and the notion of global self-government guided by God.

The nasty, pathological aspects of alpha male evolutionary psychology are again dominating recent headlines and distracting the public from urgent issues of humanity’s future sustainability. First, there was Putin’s gesture in Crimea, then North Korean missile tests, and now Japan's reaction to North Korea.  Suddenly the world of “politics” reveals itself again as mostly a snake pit of male-psychology-driven tensions. Meanwhile, NASA and UN reports on climate change paint an ever more urgent picture of the need for massive global cooperation in human family problem-solving.
For example, in the face of North Korean alpha male bluster, the alpha male Japanese government apparently now thinks it is more urgent to shoot down future unarmed North Korean missiles flown out over the ocean than to do anything effective about the radiation pouring out of Fukushima—radiation that will, if not stopped, increasingly contaminate the entire Pacific Ocean, affecting the immediate and future health and food security of literally hundreds of millions of people, not to mention the health and genetic integrity of future generationsrandchildren.
Here's the article:


The International Court of Justice has just recently outlawed Japan's Antarctic whaling practices, but what government has filed suit in the International Court of Justice against Japan's unbelievable laxity and public safety failures in the Fukushima calamity?
Where will this new round of “crazy male” idiocy and idiosyncrasy stop? 
Or will we, allegedly intelligent beings, continue to just stick our heads in the sand and do nothing constructive as tensions keep getting escalated by male heads of nation-states as they put on their pathetic public displays of strength and virility and “readiness for conflict” in response to one another's rhetorical challenges and military gestures?
Humanity doesn’t have time for this puerile waste of focus and energy! We have to get our global act together.  We should have been doing so decades ago.
When will we begin see through this charade and do something serious about this pathetic illusion, foisted on us by the males of the One Percent, of their so-called leadership, which constantly in fact sets back and destroys the collective unity we need in order to be building a viable global society that works for everybody?  When will we start envisioning the real possibility of better patterns and methods of self-government that progressively move us away from the primitive rituals of male adversariality?
Self-government by ganging up in pyramids of rank under the supreme direction of adversarial individual alpha males has been tried now for roughly 10,000 years as a method of governing ourselves in a “civilized” way and in metaphysical alignment with our image of a male deity living somewhere “above” us, and this method and its devastating results have moved humanity to the brink of imminent global system collapse.
None of the 195 national governments on Earth, the vast majority of them led by males, currently puts the future benefits and sustainability of the Peoples of the Earth as a whole above its own narrow self-interests. It’s been 70 years since the founding of the United Nations, and despite all the talk by male leaders since WW II of democracy and self-determination, those leaders have confined the methods of democratic decision-making to within the nation-state so the Peoples of Earth still have no direct democratic advisory vote within the framework of the United Nations on global public issues and policies.  Creation of humanity-wide programs and policies relating to the global human future (e.g., shifting from fossil fuels to a globally coordinated system of sustainable energy) require humanity-wide democratic mandates for purposes of creating motivation, empowerment, and a unity of will.  But when was the last time your government asked you to vote in a worldwide advisory referendum as a direct citizen of the United Nations?
The fact that this has never happened shows us male leadership under the current system for what it really is: not a genuine concern for global public system benefits but a façade using the discourse of public benefits to maintain the more basic agenda of personal and class and male gender control.  Or maybe, with some leaders, the concern for benefits is real but publicly unable to be honestly articulated because the leader is embedded within a hierarchical and adversarial system of money and force that makes power and control and “survival” in a position of leadership an ultimate value and goal in and of itself for which all other principles get sacrificed.  Expressing a “feminine” concern for the health and viability of the global human household would be attacked by other males as “weakness” in the face of our “enemies” against whom we must always maintain a posture of hostility.
How is the colossal and continuing failure to of male-dominated national governments to use the United Nations to its full capacity in order to achieve global human welfare otherwise explainable?  What else but primitive male evolutionary psychology can explain the gross failure of most governments to meet their promises to contribute 0.007 of their gross domestic product to meeting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals?
And where is the global democratic outcry against this failure of leaders to work in cooperation through the UN?  Where is the search by rational and intuitively sensitive people for ways around this central bottleneck to global cooperation and viability?
Time to wake up!   Time to start seeing that the current world order system, as the founder of the Baha'i world community said 150 years ago, is "lamentably defective."  Time to start seeing that we need new patterns and methods of self-government on this planet. 
But what are the alternatives to what we have? 
Well, why not begin by looking at the principles, attitudes, and the functional patterns and methods of self-government at work within the Baha'i community itself. Among the features of that multiracial, multilingual world community are:
·        A Covenantal duty of urgent concern for the problems of one’s present historical epoch and situation;
·        A systematic approach to the discovery of fact and the application of values and principles in the solution of these problems;
·        A supreme Covenantal and guiding value of the oneness and communicational health of the human system (“The earth is but one country and humanity its citizens.”)
·        Strong emphasis on justice in economic relations and the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty through multiple ways that move toward well-being and a spirit of unity.
·        Strong emphasis on the dignity and social empowerment of women and the education of the girl child.
·        Seeing the purpose and aim of immediate physical life as making a personal contribution to an ethically ever-advancing global civilization.
·        In terms of administrative functionality, no individual leaders, only group decision-making, all the way up;
·        Strong emphasis on ensuring gender balance and inclusion of diversity in the groups elected;
·        No self-chosen and self-promoted candidates for leadership; everyone is open for being chosen.
·        No nominating.
·        No campaigning or campaign contributions.
·        No "parties."
·        No "corporate free speech.”
·        Instead, just people previously consulting and getting acquainted with ideas and possible solutions and then voting reflectively, prayerfully, and by secret ballot for those whom they think are, in character and specialized talent, best qualified to solve the problems and to serve the best interests of the community in question.
The time is over when the world can afford to waste energy on watching male political displays and outdated methods of partisan, adversarial self-government. 
We need a vision of a non-adversarial democratic form of self-government that, in the spirit and way it functions and in the way it incentivizes people, actually supports the spiritual-political aims of global justice, sustainability, peace, and good will.
IMO, we live in an age that, in its prophetic, spiritualizing, and inward reality, is radical, evolutionary, and progressive beyond anything imagined by our general ethical, religious, and political culture.  We no longer have to wait for it; instead, we are already living in the beginning of a fulfilment that has been promised to us for thousands of years.
I urge, therefore: let us try to truly grasp the enormous historical importance of this age and of being alive at this time of history, and let us try to be a source of illumination, inspiration, and real hope to one another and to our fellow human beings.
John Dale

25 January 2014

Buddhism, Meditation, and the Baha'i Faith: Part 3

Part 1 here and part 2 here.  

I realize that most people go into meditation looking for stability, happiness, and comfort in the face of their own existence...I have spent many years cultivating extreme experiential instability, careful awareness of the minutia of my suffering and the clear perception that I don't even exist as a separate entity...I can honestly say that these practices are without doubt the sanest thing I have ever done in my life. -Daniel Ingram

The path of insight is not known to be easy. There are said to be many ups and downs - ecstatic bliss and energy one moment and crushing fear and misery the next. There are many maps of this territory, all different on a superficial level, yet all containing many of the same fundamentals. In the words of Ingram:

One of the most profound things about these stages is that they are strangely predictable regardless of the practitioner or the insight tradition. Texts two thousand years old describe the stages just the way people go through them today, though there will be some individual variation on some of the particulars today as then. The Christian maps, the Sufi maps, the Buddhist maps of the Tibetans and the Theravada, and the maps of the Khabbalists and Hindus are all remarkably consistent in their fundamentals. I chanced into these classic experiences before I had any training in meditation, and I have met a large number of people who have done likewise. These maps, Buddhist or otherwise, are talking about something inherent in how our minds progress in fundamental wisdom that has little to do with any tradition and lots to do with the mysteries of the human mind and body. They are describing basic human development. These stages are not Buddhist but universal, and Buddhism is merely one of the traditions that describes them, albeit unusually well.

In this post I will discuss the map, known as the "Progress of Insight", which is originally derived from the Pali cannon in the Theravada tradition, as related by Mahasi Sayada and Daniel Ingram. The part of the map that I will discuss is "1st path" (there are four successive paths) which is basically the road to initial, but not complete, enlightenment, to a point after which insight generates itself automatically whether one practices or not, beyond the "plane of limitation". I will also relate this path to the first Four Valleys in the Sufi tradition, as commented on by Baha'u'llah: Search, Love, Knowledge, and Unity. 

My motivation for doing this is simply to share something that has become a big part of my life. This is my own working model of spiritual development and I will relate some of my experiential reports traveling along this path. 

24 January 2014

Hotels, Ruhi, and an Inherently Implausible Goal

I'm paid to care about you.
Baha'is and hotels are running into similar problems

The century leading up to 1960 was an era of grand hotels. Palace-like, they catered to the rich and provided a unique, personal experience because they were mostly independently owned or part of small groups.

Then came the chains. In the 1950s a young Mr Hilton started building his hotels around the world and abandoned the grand hotel model. Soon came Mr Marriott and others with standard operating procedures (SOPs) that made every hotel in the chain conform to protocols, down to how long an egg is cooked, how many times the phone is allowed to ring before picking up, and what is available on TV. A hotel might have 2,000 SOPs to follow.

The shift from character-filled grand hotels to ubiquitous uniformity meant that the personal connections were lost. Now, customers have no fealty, and would hardly know the difference between hotels were it not for the brand name on the building.

Hotel owners are aware of the problem. The best hotels have a happy atmosphere and staff that go out of their way to be helpful, and such hotels are more profitable. Bosses have tried to manufacture this emotional connection for guests, but how would that come through an SOP? As soon as customers realize that the smile and personal note on their receipt is a job requirement, the magic is gone. Is it even possible to mass-produce genuine emotional connections?

A recent article, Be My Guest, in The Economist magazine (from which I gathered much of the above) had a great line that summed up something I haven't been able to put to words myself:
"Replicating intimate service on a mass scale is an inherently implausible goal"
If you can't see where I'm going with this, the worldwide Baha'i community has been struggling with this for decades.

Order in the New Order

The Baha'i Faith had its start in a heroic age of the central figures where intimate personal connections attracted hearts to a revelation from God. This pinnacle of emotional attraction caused individuals to sacrifice themselves for a greater cause (forget the fleeting attention that hotels are hoping for).

Then the Baha'i world entered a new phase. When Shoghi Effendi took office as the first Guardian, there were just over 100,000 Baha'is spread out in about 35 countries, and just a few National Spiritual Assemblies. A haphazard or passive approach to teaching would leave a slow trickle of new Baha'is. Shoghi Effendi quickly began building institutions and organizing the work of teaching, which was previously very informal. Soon the elected institutions that Baha'u'llah envisioned were formed around the world. Donations flowed into official funds, and committees formed to assist the expansion work that was already going on. In eloquent letters Shoghi Effendi communicated a vision for growth with clear goals and maintained extensive correspondence with individuals around the world. The effort was incredibly successful and spread the Faith to every nook on earth.

Systematizing the intimacy needed for transforming souls fell foul with some of the early Baha'is in Europe and America who thought that the Baha'i club could not be "organized". Many westerners who were attracted to the magnetic personality of `Abdu'l-Baha, yet lacked an understanding of the Covenant, simply fell away into obscurity.

Fast forward several decades and you will hear a similar tale. In America few Baha'i communities had more than fifteen people until the 1970s, as they were encouraged to spread around and not congregate. Annual gatherings dominated by charismatic presenters were the staple for isolated Baha'is, who maintained deeply intimate relationships with any new converts. Teaching projects, deepenings, and children's classes were haphazardly put together. This model was excellent for that stage of growth, but it could never satisfy the needs for large-scale expansion. In the late 1980s the Universal House of Justice encouraged training programs that would systematically deepen believers and stir them to action. Out of that came the success of the Ruhi Institute and its adoption as the primary training tool for Baha'is worldwide.

A robot kind of mind

Putting up this framework for action fell foul with some of the long-time Baha'is who bemoaned the lack of emotion and spontaneity that they previously felt from charismatic deepenings or from smaller groups. This problem was exacerbated by early tutors who themselves lacked an understanding of how the system was supposed to work and implemented Ruhi like a college course. Again, some Baha'is thought that real teaching could not be "organized". Like a chef who didn't want to conform to the omelette SOP because it lacked character, they viewed the study circle practices as empty motions. In my lifetime I've seen many fall away into obscurity.

Those frustrated with the process had something right, but they were also missing something huge. Genuine caring and intimacy are needed for teaching, and "replicating intimate service on a mass scale is an inherently implausible goal," but without structure nothing would be sustained. I have witnessed countless attempts at enthusiastic teaching projects that lost steam after weeks or months or years. The institute process, the sequence of courses, the children's and youth classes, and devotional gatherings are a framework for action. It's just a framework. Without the frame, all that genuine desire to better the world cannot be realized, and without the intimacy and affection in small groups, the framework will be empty. It takes individuals exemplifying the eternal principles of God working within a framework of action for these teachings to spread.

By 2003 I was just finishing up the sequence of courses, and I, too, was skeptical of its ability to carry the emotional connection that attracts hearts to God. A few years later, after going through the courses again as a tutor or participant, I started to notice that the texts themselves were advocating for the attitude I was trying to promote. The Ruhi texts often basically say, "Hey! Don't be a robot! Build skills and knowledge, and apply them with wisdom to each situation! And don't be a robot!" When I began tutoring study circles myself, I felt free to be creative and implement them as my conscious dictated, but all within the study circle model.

I also came to realize that even though it was organized, I was engaging in more action. For example, in my normal life I don't put aside time to memorize, sing, practice telling stories, or scope out my neighborhood for opportunities to spiritualize children. But within the framework of the institute process, I had something prodding me along toward what I know is good for me.

Bring on the emotions

The emotional failure of uniform hotels has caused a new era of hotel building that started in the 1990s. SOPs are being relaxed, and more stress is placed on improvisation and flexibility. Now boutique hotels try to have a theme, such as Chinese hospitality, heavy metal, fashion, eco-friendliness, families with children, or retirees. The attempt to manufacture connection has been a success. I stayed in one such hotel in Seattle about 4 years ago, and I can still remember the layout of the room. I can't say the same for that other hotel I stayed in 3 months ago.

For the institute process and hotel chains, striking the balance between rigidity and flexibility has been one of the keys to success. Like the corporate hotel management, Baha'i institutions can build a framework that individuals work inside. If the framework is too rigid and specific, it stifles creativity and individual initiative. If the framework is too flexible and vague, it stifles growth. If hotels get it right, the economy grows a little. If Baha'is get it right, the Kingdom of God is a little more established on earth.

21 January 2014

The Role Families Can Play in World Peace: Let Women Lead

We all want men and women to be equal. The conceptual idea that men are better than women had died a much overdue death. Polls are showing that most people agree to equality “Few Identify as Feminists, But Most Believe In Equality Of Sexes”. This concept is solidified in recent articles such “The End of Men”, “Women are Better Doctors then Men” “Women are More Competitive than Men” “Four Ways Women are Better Investors than Men” and “Are Women Better than Men at Multi-tasking?”.  So have we achieved, in this world, what Bahá'u'lláh states: “Women and men have been and will always be equal in the sight of God”? 

The answer will likely come from asking a woman these questions: Do you feel equal to men in all aspects of your life (work, home, family, friendships, school, etc.)? Do you feel as valued as men in all aspects of your life? Do you feel that if you were a man your life would be different? Would it be better or worse? 

Let me answer some of these questions personally: 

Do you feel equal to men in all aspects of your life (work, home, family, friendships, school, etc.)? Do you feel as valued as men in all aspects of your life? 

No. I feel that I have to constantly think about how I am being perceived based on my gender. I have to think “I am being too assertive to this male coworker, that he feels threatened?” “Does this male professor think that I am hitting on him and therefore is giving me attention?” “Do I have to choose between being a good mother and being successful at work?” “If I speak up too much during this date will he feel ‘intimidated’?” “Why should his career be more important than mine?” “If I don’t want to have children or get married, does that make me less of a woman?” All these things run through my mind and make me feel less valued. 

Do you feel that if you were a man your life would be different? Would it be better or worse? 

If I were a man, I would receive positive feedback about different parts of my being.  I am often highly recognized for qualities I possess which are typically associated with men – such as intelligence, leadership, competitiveness and assertiveness. When I am really good at a math problem or articulate in my arguments, I notice that men and women value me more. But when I exhibit equalities associated with women – care, love, supportiveness and encouragement – I don’t feel as valued. If I were a man, people would value me for being a leader, intelligent and competitive and they would value me even more if I were loving, caring and encouraging (because I am would be seen as a well rounded person). 

15 January 2014

The House of Emotions

Emotions are our means of recognizing and celebrating the attributes of God in this world. They are both innate to and learned throughout their lives by the individual. Jalaluddin Rumi best illustrates a human's intimate relationship with emotions in the poem "The Guest House":

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
- Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi

13 January 2014

How the Sufi met the Yogi.

In the past few months, I have been increasingly interested in Bahá'u'lláh’s reference to the 12th Century Persian ṣūfī, Farīd ud-Dīn ʿAṭṭār’s epic poem, The Conference of Birds. His reference is made in the Seven Valleys within The Valley of Love. He refers to ʿAṭṭār saying: “For the infidel, error—for the faithful, faith; For ʿAṭṭār’s heart, an atom of Thy pain” and continues “The steed of this Valley is pain; and if there be no pain this journey will never end” (p. 13). The overwhelming and all consuming pain of love is mystic and a prerequisite to the spirit’s ascent towards God. This mystical love for our Higher Source is clearly important. This lead to the question: what insights did ṣūfīs offer, related to the mystical love of God, which Islam could not in 12th Century Persia?

I was raised in a Hindu tradition, where meditation was a prerequisite of prayer. Hindu and Buddhist meditative practices were pervasive in the 12th Century when Islam spread to the Indian subcontinent. I began to wonder: was ṣūfī mysticism at all related to the meditative practices of Eastern religion? I stumbled across an insightful article written by Carl Ernst entitled “Sufism and Yoga” published in the Journal of Royal Asiatic Society. Ernst states that some specific practices, such a breath control, were in fact transferred from yogis to ṣūfīs in the 12th and 13th Century. A disciple of Christi master Nizam al-Din Awliya’ (d.1325) stated
“The essence of this matter is restraint of breath, that is, the Sufi ought to hold his breath during meditation. As long as he holds his breath, his interior is concentrated, and when he releases his breath, the interior is distracted, and it destroys his momentary state…Therefore the Sufi is he whose breath is counted. The adept is a master of breath; this has but a single meaning. The accomplished yogis, who are called siddha in the Indian language, breathe counted breaths”.
Clearly 12th and 13th Century Persian mystics gave importance to the more refined meditative practices of religious dispensations in the East.

10 January 2014

Intimacy: The dimensions of connection between human beings.

Recently youth and junior youth in our communities expressed a deep desire to learn about relationships and how to navigate them. As young animators and those providing mutual support and accompaniment, we weren't sure where to start. This short essay was an attempt to create a framework for such conversations based on my reading of several texts and documents.

Intimacy: The dimensions of connection between human beings.

When we are accepted and acknowledged by another soul in the most intimate sense, we somehow feel acknowledge by another piece of God.  We all long for intimacy with other human beings because we derive from the same Higher Source and because we were made to love. That intimacy has critical dimensions that build on one another, which could be categorized as spiritual, emotional and physical. It is possible to replace the need for intimacy with multiple feelings of intensity. But ultimately the most fulfilling experience is to know and be seen, to the depth of one’s soul, by another human being. To develop this intimacy all three dimensions may need to be exercised.

We are all longing for intimacy: a want to be emotionally, spiritual and physically bare in front of another person. One could think of these elements as levels of a pyramid:

09 January 2014

10 of My Favorite Posts From Other Baha'i Coherence Bloggers

There has been a lot of great blogging here over the last few years. In the the spirit of nostalgia I felt compelled to highlight 10 of my favorite posts by other bloggers, although many others could have easily made the list.

1.) Aria's post Montessori, Evolution, and Spirituality
2) Daniel's Post Animal Companions in Life and Death, Part II
3) Greg's post Some Thoughts on how Baha'is Approach Moral and Social Questions
4) Bryan's post 29 Nations of the Earth
5) Kat's post On Behalf of the Village: Neighborhood Children's Classes and the Baha'i Child
6) Bryan's post The End of War
7) Jakes post Why should we REALLY Care about Poverty
8) Ryan's post Does motivation matter? Motivation, incentive-based policies, and their interconnectedness.
9) Mary's post Benjamin Franklin's America
10) Greg's series on Christianity and the Baha'i Faith 1 2 3 4

31 December 2013

Buddhism, Meditation, and the Baha'i Faith: Part 2

-Part 1 Here-
And if we turn inward and prove our True Nature, that True Self is no-self, our own self is no-self, we go beyond ego and past clever words. Then the gate to the oneness of cause-and-effect is thrown open. Not two and not three, straight ahead runs the Way. Our form now being no-form, in going and returning we never leave home. Our thought now being no-thought, our dancing and songs are the Voice of the Dharma. How vast is the heaven of boundless Samadhi! How bright and transparent the moonlight of wisdom! What is there outside us? What is there we lack? 
-From the Song of Zazen

The Baha'i Faith is a mystical religion. Baha'u'llah describes the spiritual seeker in the Valley of Knowledge - "the last plane of limitation" - as one who has "passed over the worlds of names, and fled beyond the worlds of attributes as swift as lightning" and has "made their dwelling-place in the shadow of the Essence." 

It is also a practical religion. Baha'u'llah emphasizes the need to be "anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements."

Putting these two things together requires being “in the world, but not of the world” so to speak. This requires a delicate balance and careful integration of the two modes; yet they are each distinct. They are mutually reinforcing but they also develop along different axis.

Somewhat along these lines, in Buddhism there are three types of training which reinforce and integrate with each other, yet are distinct: moralityconcentration, and insight

29 December 2013

Buddhism, Meditation, and the Baha’i Faith: Part 1

So the true goal of meditation is achieved through a dialectical process that alternates between dissolving into flowing nothingness and detecting subtler and subtler instances of solidified somethingness. - Shinzen Young
In my opinion, the Baha’i community is exceptionally well developed in two important ways. 

The first way has to do with thinking about and acting in the world.  It has a comprehensive system of morality - with laws and principles that guide personal conduct and attitude; it has a brilliant evolving mechanism for interacting in the world and trying to make it better - the institute process; it has a universal and unique system of governance; and it is philosophically and theologically rich and modern.

The second is along a mode of spiritual practice: prayer and contemplation. There are countless prayers revealed by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l Baha, and clear instructions for ideal practice, for example in the long obligatory prayer. The writings are poetic and intriguing and, by both the content and the very structure of the language, evoke positive spiritual feelings, mystical inclinations, and realizations of oneness.  

01 December 2013

Summer of Consecration

I was raised attending Baha’i activities and associated as a Baha’i, but it wasn’t until just before my 17th birthday that I decided to take it more seriously. I had just come back from a Baha’i youth camp in southern Oregon and realized how unhappy I was. A bit odd that a Baha’i gathering would leave me depressed. Being exposed to an atmosphere of intense kindness for a week, I realized that my regular life was leaving me spiritually handicapped, and I realized that spirituality is all that matters.

After returning I knew that my happiness would soon fade away and I would return to the slog of negativity that makes up normal life. So I stayed up late one night and prayed fervently for something to change in my life. I wanted either my school friends to transform into better people, or I wanted to get rid of them and spend time with Baha’is.

Years later I realized that my prayers were answered almost immediately. Four things changed right away in my life.

30 November 2013

Another Blog Update - Losing My Faith

After seeing Bryan's post I felt compelled to update as well, after about two years of inactivity. This is essentially a coming out post. I have only told a handful of people where I am at - out of worry that I would disappoint friends. Now it has been a while, and since I helped start this blog I feel like I should use this forum to explain myself. To put it simply: I lost my faith. Since then I have regained interest in spiritual practice - but not belief in a Baha'i sense. Let me explain.

29 November 2013

Blog Update

I haven't posted anything in seven months, and the other bloggers haven't posted in well over two years, so I thought a status update would be nice.

In 2010 I started writing a book, which is sitting unpublished until the new translation of Some Answered Questions becomes available (any day now, I hear). The same year I was elected to the Local Spiritual Assembly in Portland. In 2011 I had my first child and was also elected secretary of the Assembly. Needless to say, my blogging slowed down. Since then I have squeezed out a few posts, but nothing like the 29 Nations of the Earth that I used to do. 

Did I mention my wife is in residency and working 70 hours a week? Well she is, and she is in the home stretch. In July 2014 she will be released from the prison of medical residency and enter a job where she works 24 hours a week. She is also pregnant with baby #2, so she will keep low hours for another few years until all the kids are in preschool. I hope to also lighten my load at work by then so I can take on some other projects (like blogging!).

So by the end of 2014 my life will be completely different, and you loyal blog followers will actually have something to follow again. 

I think the other contributors to this blog are long gone. There was a long run of good posts in 2009-2010. The only contributor I knew personally was Jason, who is currently finishing up a masters at Michigan State University. Baha'i Coherence was first assembled by Jason as a multi-contributor "collaborative space to share and reflect upon reality." If anyone wants to contribute posts, just email bahaicoherence@gmail.com and I will work on getting you signed up.

25 May 2013

Priority of Baha'i Funds

I found an intriguing insight while perusing the Baha'i Writings on Funds. I have known for awhile that only Baha'is may contribute to Baha'i Funds, that the act of giving is entirely voluntary, and that each Baha'i should contribute directly to the various funds (local, national, and international). I always thought that when it comes to priority, the local fund should be the most important, with the international fund receiving the smallest share from individuals. As it turns out, it's the other way around.

"At the level of the individual believer, attention to the needs of the funds of the Faith parallels the principles which govern multiple loyalties. The first loyalty of a Baha'i to the whole of mankind, for the benefit of the part is best achieved through the welfare of the whole. But this widest loyalty does not eliminate the lesser loyalties of love for one's country, for the area in which one lives, or for one's family. They all constitute a network of interdependent and mutually beneficial loyalties. So it is with the individual believer's relationship to the International, Continental, National and Local Funds."
(On behalf of the Universal House of Justice, 31 October 1993)

There is a great lesson hidden here, and it's not just about fund contributions. Our loyalty to the whole of mankind should be our highest loyalty, and a corollary is that our sacrificial giving to funds should put international concerns over local concerns. This is counter-intuitive, but absolutely correct. If everyone held their highest loyalty to their tribe, city, or state, international peace would be impossible. Everyone seeks to improve their immediate surroundings, but we also have to look beyond the things in front of our faces and seek to improve the lot of the world, and by doing so we will improve our individual lives. 

So when it comes to prioritizing Baha'i Fund contributions, the most should go to the international fund, then continental, national, regional, and least to the local fund. In this way too, the world will reduce extremes of wealth and poverty. If people gave the most to local needs, then the rich cities, counties, and states would stay wealthy, and the poor would stay poor. This was reinforced when a friend recently told me that 80% of the National Baha'i Fund of Nicaragua (a very poor nation) is paid directly by the International Baha'i Fund.

For those in the United States, there is now an online contribution system (https://ocs.bahai.us) that allows electronic contributions directly into regional, national, continental, and international funds, AND it allows automatic payments at the interval of your choosing (including once per Baha'i month). I highly recommend it.

03 March 2013

The Gift of Education

A close friend of mine, who happens to be a Baha'i, picked up and moved with her family to the Dominican Republic two years ago. They wanted to help relieve poverty on the poorest island in the western hemisphere. Avoiding the pitfalls of so many well-intentioned aid organizations, they spent those years getting to know the population and looking holistically at what is actually needed and what can raise up local resources. 

Their conclusion: a library.

They are currently fundraising for the project and they're almost halfway to their goal of $19,000 to get it funded sustainably. 

Please consider giving. Here is their indiegogo campaign:

The video below documents their thought process and goals. 

In case you want to "follow the money", they provided this pie chart of their budget.

24 October 2012

Paid Service

The first Local Spiritual Assembly of Bekune, Cameroon (1960)
I previously wrote about the changing role of Baha'i Centers and how they are no longer central to the model of Baha'i community growth. Changing how we meet our space needs could (on paper) reduce costs by around $25k/year. That amount of money is just enough to hire someone full-time.

I also previously wrote about the problem of incumbency in Baha'i elections and how current membership status should not be considered when casting votes.

These offer a backdrop to a related topic that has the potential for significant positive change in Baha'i communities. There is a stumbling block lying ahead for communities as they grow, but the bump is avoidable.

Oregon currently has three large Baha'i communities: Eugene, Beaverton, and Portland. These have at least 100 active participants, a Baha'i Center, and a history of many decades. Each city has for the last 15+ years had a dedicated Assembly secretary who acted as a workhorse, providing upwards of 15 hours every week of their free time (aka, retirement) serving the local assembly. Within a few years of each other, all three left their posts due to retirement or other work. Filling in behind them was a cadre of working parents and others who looked on the appointment with a kind of horror realizing the magnitude and criticality of the work.


Here is roughly what happened in Portland. The new secretary looks in the Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies to see what to do. Can't resign from Assembly, but can resign from being an Officer. Ok. But Shoghi Effendi really really doesn't like that. Ok. Guidelines outline duties of Secretary. Yep, the duties are well articulated and extensive. Aha! There it is!

08 October 2012

Baha'i Centers & Growth

In November, 2007, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States wrote a letter to all local assemblies addressing the role of Baha'i Centers as physical assets of communities. The letter announced the formation of a Baha'i Center Assistance organization, with a manual of strategies for Baha'i Centers. I highly recommend reading the letter from the NSA (only 1.5 pages), but I'll share some of the highlights.

It is time to take a fresh look at the role of buildings in building Baha'i communities. Our most precious asset is the vibrancy and love reflected among Baha'is, and our intense focus is currently on large-scale growth. Physical assets and funds must be aligned in support of these goals, and Local Spiritual Assemblies are responsible for maintaining focus.

Assemblies should also maintain a realistic appraisal of the cost, time, efforts involved in purchasing, renovating, and maintaining a Baha'i Center. Building ownership is not an investment, since the day-to-day operating costs will easily swamp any perceived long-term savings. Fundraising, renovations, and "prolonged debates about location, design, and usage," can be detrimental and distract from core activities and growth.

Baha'i community life is moving away from the model of a large area commuting to a central location. Instead, Baha'is are increasingly promoting decentralized activities at the grass roots that serve a much larger population. Considering this shift, Assemblies interested in purchasing or renovating should "give careful consideration to the question of whether such action would support or detract" from the goals of the current Plan of the Universal House of Justice. In most situations, Assemblies should use personal homes and daily rentals for their needs. If a more permanent fixture is desired, a long-term lease of a facility would be appropriate.

05 July 2012

Carmel Baha'i School

Last week I spent 7 days working alongside 30 other staff to facilitate a Baha'i camp for over 70 youth. There is much to share. I attended the first Carmel session ever in 1995 as an awkward 13 year old and I've only missed two or three years since, transitioning along the way from a camper to a counselor to an organizer. It was this camp, plus a few other annual events, that brought me out of my spiritual lethargy. They inspired me to actually sit down and read a Baha'i book just before my 17th birthday and get involved throughout the year with other Baha'i youth.

For those who don't know, the Baha'i camps in Oregon have always been pretty advanced compared to the rest of the country. Just a few years ago, there were four in the state (now three) plus another two on the Washington side not far from Portland. Most states have only one or two, if any. Going back even further, there was an old camp called "Lobstock" in Lobster Valley (you can tell some hippies were involved in naming that one!) that galvanized dozens of youth into direct travel teaching projects around the state. There were also other smaller intermittent youth gatherings. Back in the 1980s when only a small section of the public knew of the Faith, these periodic gatherings provided a dose of medicine to isolated believers who were starved for the fellowship of other Baha'is. Annual gatherings became the focal point for growth over a large area, providing a Baha'i education and facilitating social connections between hundreds of people.

But that was the eighties. Around the year 2000 things started to change in the worldwide Baha'i community. In the United States, public recognition of the Faith grew dramatically, so Baha'is were no longer worried about people thinking they're in a weird cult. The Baha'i community grew dramatically, maybe even doubling in some towns and cities. The Universal House of Justice announced the new administrative structures of the Regional Council and the Cluster, providing groupings of states or counties with corresponding institutions to manage growth. They also announced as far back as the early nineties the formation of Training Institutes that would provide systematic growth instead of the haphazard stumbling along that is characterized by spontaneous bursts of energy.

06 June 2012

The Future of Power

Having worked in the power industry for six years after completing a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, I have noticed a few common misconceptions about power generation. I also live in one of the more progressive and environmentally conscious cities in America, and see a lot of misdirected energies when it comes to saving the world. Here, I'll try to describe how to fix some of the long-term problems facing the planet.

First let's talk about "the grid". My company is the grid. We control the vast majority of high voltage transmssion lines and substations across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and western Montana. Power flows dynamically, so energy goes in at many different points on the grid, and energy comes out at many different points. At any given point, you can measure the flow of energy, but all the electrons are mixed together. I think a good comparison is a lake. You have one person dumping a galon of water into the lake and getting paid by someone pulling a gallon out. Technically they didn't pay for the exact same water that went in.

This is important because I frequently see utilities advertising a "green" option where you can pay an extra $6/month and your electricity will come from renewable energy. That is almost a lie. What's really happening is you are making a donation of $6 that is then earmarked for the purchase, construction or maintenance of renewable energy. The electricity you get is exactly the same as you did before.

24 May 2012

Homosexuality again, thanks to Obama

I don't want to look like all I blog about is homosexuality, or that it is the most important thing to discuss. But, Obama making comments on gay marriage has generated a media storm and a corresponding social discourse, so I have some thoughts.

Over the years, wading through all the talk about homosexuality, I've come up with an analogous trait for comparison on issues. Because society is so polarized on gay marriage, it's hard to avoid being labeled as backwards if you do anything short of promoting homosexuality. So when issues come up I compare homosexuality with obesity. That's right, I said it. You see, being overweight isn't a politicized issue, so it allows for reasonable thoughts and conclusions. It is similar in several respects: both can appear from a predisposition, both are influenced by social conditioning, both are socially stigmatized, and both are undesirable. If you're offended by the comparison, you'll have to wait until the end, but for now just bear with me and assume that homosexuality is an undesirable trait of comparable value. I'll show you how this works by comparing all the major controversial issues going on.

02 May 2012

Forgotten People in Debates over Homosexuality

I'm copying below a post from Jim that he asked to share here. ~Bryan

Jim Habegger

Here are some concerns I might share with some people, on both sides of the homosexuality debates.
1. Concerns about people who are struggling with homosexuality being misused by others, with harmful consequences to them, turning them away from their own hearts, or turning them away from God.
2. Concerns about the teachings of the Faith being compromised and/or misrepresented to others, about God and his laws, or about fellowship and diversity.
3. Concerns about prejudice against gays in the Baha'i Community, and its consequences.

Those are all anxious concerns of mine, which I have been actively addressing for more than ten years, and I would love to exchange ideas and experiences with anyone who is trying to do anything about them besides debating about them.

However, my most pressing concern now, in relation to homosexuality, is possible harmful effects of debates about homosexuality, on Baha'is who see themselves as homosexual or possibly homosexual, and who take very seriously everything that Shoghi Effendi and the House of Justice have said about homosexuality. I think it might mean a lot to them, to see more Baha'is on line who do not depreciate same-sex love, or the House of Justice, either one; and who are not maligning or scolding anyone. I'm hoping that there are a lot more of those people out there than I have ever seen or heard of.

I can see very good reasons for them not to come out on line. They might have much better things to do off line. They might not see any potential on line to do anyone any good. They might be afraid of failing to resist temptations to engage in acrimonious debate, or to reflect on the character of others. They might be afraid of the arrows that will come flying from all directions. They might, in humility or uncertainty, hesitate to put themselves on display.

I think that being seen as people who do not depreciate same-sex love, who do not depreciate the House of Justice, and who are not maligning or scolding anyone, does not require any certainty or arrogance about our own views, or even to debate about them at all. It might not even require discussing our own views. It might not require a lot of time on line, either. Just a post here and there, that allows people to see that we don't depreciate same-sex love, that we don't depreciate the House of Justice, and that if ever we malign or scold anyone, we recognize it as wrong and take immediate and decisive steps to rectify it and keep it from happening again.

I don't know what to say about the possible futility of such efforts, or the arrows flying at us from all directions, other than to weigh those against the possibility of offering some hope and cheer to someone who thinks that God despises her, possibly without ever knowing that you have done so.

31 March 2012


Truly monumental leaps in technology have dotted the pages of history. On 24 May 1844, Samuel Morse sent the words, "What hath God wrought" in electrical pulses over 61 kilometers of copper wire. On 10 Mar 1876, Alexander Graham Bell carried his own voice over the first telephone and said to his assistant, "Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you." And he did. On 13 May 1897, Guglielmo Marconi transmitted electromagnetic pulses across the Bristol Channel to send the message, "Are you ready?" By 1970, a series of technology breakthroughs allowed Corning Glass Works to run high-speed data over a glass fiber. The optical transport allowed rates tens of thousands of times faster than any electrical wire, thus allowing the dramatic rise in data communications that accompanied the age of the internet.

Today these remain the primary mediums for communicating information. A network of fiber optics and radio links overlays the entire earth, distributing instant voice and data to billions of people. This month a new type of communication was successfully tested, and it has the potential to be as transformative as anything seen in the last 175 years.

17 March 2012

The Future of Alcohol

Alcohol is almost universally acceptable in Western culture, so people investigating the Baha'i Faith are often turned off by the prohibition of alcohol for Baha'is. It also becomes a challenge that young Baha'is have to struggle with as almost all their friends begin social drinking (usually by age 15).

There is a gap in the perceived morality of alcohol, with society believing that moderate drinking is acceptable, healthy, and part of normal life. It should be simple to address the issue of alcohol and determine whether Baha'i teachings are correct to prohibit it. Having a standard that is at variance with society does not discourage Baha'is, because the purpose of religion is to prescribe remedies to the problems that are eating away at society, and the teachings of religion are always at variance with the desires of society (at the time of revelation). If it were otherwise, what good would religion be? It would simply confirm what is commonly understood and not provide any improvement.

If the Baha'i approach is moral, meaning that alcohol is bad for the individual and society, then given enough time there will be a shift away from general acceptance and toward general intolerance. I have an idea about how this will work, and what people can do to move the process forward without being fanatical about it.

First, it is important to review why alcohol is bad (I'll come back to the good).

23 February 2012

Demand a UN-Supervised Referendum in Syria

Dear Friends of the effort to build Earth Community,

Please, let us start today to send a message of care and support to the people of Syria.  Let us work through our government, our elected officials, our religious organizations, and through civic groups such as Citizens for Global Solutions, http://www.globalsolutions.org, and the United Nations Association USA, http://www.una-usa.org, to call for a UN-supervised referendum  in Syria so that the people of Syria can determine their own future democratically and non-violently, as is their universal human right. 
What’s at Stake? 
The relative failure up to now of the International Community, through the UN system or otherwise, to come to the effective aid and rescue of the Syrian people in their struggle for democratic methods of self-government is a travesty and a tragedy.  By some estimates, over 7000 pro-democracy protesters have been killed by Syrian governments forces.  At stake is the future of Syria and, more broadly, of the Arab human rights revolution.