14 August 2017

Thoughts on the Far Right

I originally wrote this in September of 2009. At first I didn't share it here to avoid the association it might give the Baha'i Faith to a political ideology. After the white nationalists killing someone in Virginia this weekend, my thoughts went back to this, and now I feel compelled to share:

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Today is my last day of 12 weeks working in Redmond, OR, and exactly 8 years after I woke up to the radio telling me that the tower had just fallen in New York. As I sit here waiting for ice to contract my thigh tissue and heal a pulled muscle, my thoughts keep going back to the rise of the right over the last few years.

Three years ago I went from attending the largest university in Oregon, surrounded by hundreds of well-educated people my age that shared common views of the world, to working at a company where the average employee is 56 and lives outside of a big city. The transition took me from discussions about development and sustainability to discussions about how the government wants to take away our guns and tax us more.


Going through the presidential campaign in the company was another eye opener. In Portland I would see Obama signs in every yard for blocks and blocks, and hear people make comments like, "How could anyone not vote for Obama." Then I would hear others at work wonder, "How could anyone vote for Obama?"

After the election, though, there was a change in tone. A coworker couldn't attend something and explained that it was to attend the Tea Party on tax day, and he very seriously told me that, "This could be one of the most important days of my life." I found that incredibly odd, and later driving together he explained in cryptic words about the 9/12 movement. A quick online search revealed the source as Glenn Beck, one of several radio hosts that also have FOX evening programs.

When I started working, I started listening to NPR. I noticed that every once in awhile they had a slightly left/liberal bias in how they report stories, but generally pretty good. Moving out to Redmond, I decided that I should start listening to the station that plays Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh on the radio, since this was what most people listen to east of the Cascades. I was quickly horrified. The level of outright lying and manipulation was staggering. I can hardly listen a minute without catching some kind of distorted contemptible half-truth. I heard Glenn Beck talk about his "movement" of protesters as if it was a growing militia that he was leading to save the country from internal enemies that have "abandoned the rule of law." I heard Rush Limbaugh say that Obama was, "actively working in opposition to the constitution." I heard Laura Ingraham say that ACORN is a "criminal organisation." I heard Sean Hannity tell everyone that the health care bill is "a total lie and deception on the American people", that it's a Nazi policy, and that it will have death panels killing people off to save the government money. They defended the right to torture. They encouraged listeners to rise up in creative ways in opposition to the government. They said that Obama has a "deep seeded hatred for white people."

But the king of them all is Rush Limbaugh. His show is the highest-rated talk radio show in the US, with over 15 million listeners a week, followed by Sean Hannity, followed by Glenn Beck. During the primaries last year, Rush announced "Operation Chaos", and encouraged his listeners to switch to the democratic party and vote for Hillary Clinton in an attempt to increase division in the party by keeping the primaries going all the way to convention. He later announced that he hopes Obama's presidency fails, and played a song on his show called "Barack the Magic Negro" to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon". His show is constantly attacking and distorting anything related to Obama or liberalism, and building them up as something to fear.

You know the old saying, "follow the money"? Another surprise for me was that the commercials for all these shows were gaining from fear. Their primary sponsor was selling gold, and the ads were spouted directly from the hosts themselves, while they talked about the national debt and inflation. Another common ad was for identity theft and credit protection. Another was selling home security systems. Every single ad that I heard was profiting from people being afraid of other people.

Is it such a surprise then that Congressmen meeting with constituents were shouted down and asked, "Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy, as Obama has?"

If you saw Hotel Rwanda, you heard the Interahamwe radio announcer constantly encouraging the killings. While they're not encouraging murders, and probably never will, the way Rush and Sean and Radio Rwanda communicate to listeners are almost identical: they abuse media power to incite hatred, their listeners are generally less educated, and their power comes from having an enemy.

To emphasize the point, the most recent phenomenon was a string of people bringing hand guns and semi-automatic rifles to protests where Obama was speaking. There is a quote from Thomas Jefferson that goes, "From time to time, the tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of tyrants and patriots." A man with a pistol strapped to his hip held a sign that read, "Now is the time to water the tree of liberty." These people were then hailed by the conservatives as patriots exercising their constitutional rights.

I had to search deep to decide whether there was any credence to the revolutionary ideology being encouraged. My conclusion was: absolutely not. Any perception of totalitarianism only came from half-truths or outright lies. Assuming that these radio hosts are mildly intelligent, I've come to the conclusion that they have essentially intentionally manufactured a crisis for three reasons: money, power, and ego.

In pilgrims' notes from visiting Shoghi Effendi, Ramona Brown noted,
"Americans are exposed to great dangers. Today the power of America is in the hands of the masses. There is a terrific power in the press and the people are swayed by it."

Glenn Beck's 9/12 project was supposed to culminate on September 12th, which is tomorrow. He and tens of thousands of listeners are going to converge on Washington DC, the day after the anniversary of the attacks, and protest against taxes, government, socialism, and the perception that Obama is a fascist who wants to take all their guns away and implement an Orwellian government. At least one of my coworkers will be there. They will continue the protest until Monday, because otherwise nobody will be at work to watch them protest.

The situation will only worsen. The US political system is intentionally divisive. It relies fundamentally on competition and cannot heal its rifts within its constitution. The rise of an angry and emboldened right, convinced by daily rants on the evils of government, will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. They want something to fight against.

The issues with the conservative right are only symptoms of more fundamental problems in society. The system of government needs drastic reforms that can't be accomplished from within. America will need shock medicine to purge it of a distaste for cooperation. It is the excesses of liberty and civilization, and institutionalized partisanship that are causing animosity and aggressiveness.

I believe the world will be united and balanced someday. The absence of a world government is the root of many of society's problems today, and just as a storm will continue until the imbalance that created it is corrected, society will continue to suffer and churn until its institutions and morals are corrected and aligned with God's plan for humanity today.

We live in such an interesting world.

31 July 2017

Waiting for my real life to begin.

I've been told I'm not normal. I sleep too little or too much. My light is usually on when all other lights go out, and though I'm perceived as being a public personality, I'm in fact incredibly private in some ways. When people ask me what my dreams are or how I define success for myself I do not trust to hope and avoid fully answering. I think, "Who's business is that anyway?!"   ~_~   I'd be lying though if I said the fever dreams of success and the fear they awaken, doesn't frequently snatch sleep from me so late, that the light creeps over the rolling hills behind my house, and I abandon my bed to watch the sun rise.

I smell the cool morning air, listen to the birds chirp and remember my younger self. She would romanticize a moment such as this. The so called struggle of the artist. For she has seen it in the books and movies she pours over. This would be the moment in which a character would usually find themselves reflecting and coming to some great epiphany about their lives. Some supporting character might be there helping them solve some problem and inevitably the solution would come like a storm in spring. They would figure everything out and the book, series, or movie would leave them at the high point of their journey and understood positive upswing. I've come to understand more and more that those single scenes in stories really represent for most, years and years of internal struggle and difficulty. But real life stories aren't fast and sexy like book and film.

Its easy to think that that is how life works when you see only fragments of people's lives. The confident and sure veneers. The ones that say, "Look at me! I'm normal and put together, well liked and generally useful to the world." It's easy to be seduced by this simple idea that life goals are meant to be easily won and that mental challenges and basic struggles with motivation, time, and skill sets are personal failings that are entirely due to you just inherently sucking where everyone else succeeds. I think that's why this idea of "Normal" is so popular and so disempowering. Its just a mirage; a hierarchy that the herd subconsciously decides upon and then agrees to based off of what appears to be lowest risk, highest reward, or at least what is predictable.

We humans love our hierarchies...

And so the meandering thoughts tantrum until listening to the birds awaken and taking in the glowing greens of the leaves kissed by new light somehow silences them all and I find a still peace.

I listen to "Waiting for my real life to begin" by Colin Hay and cry tears of relief, hearing my life in his song and for those 5 minutes and 40 seconds, feeling a little less alone in my experience of the world.

I don't wish to be stuck here. But maybe I just have to be patient and persevere. I can't help but thinking I'm at the part of the movie right before the tensions are released, I just have to keep pushing forward. and stop waiting for my "real" life to begin, like everyone else seems to be. I'm living it. And it is as unique and beautiful and as common and basic as the bird songs, the leaves, and the morning light.


18 July 2017

The Decline of Christianity








There is a clear trend in America: religion is on the decline. Go visit just about any church in the United States, and you'll see a lot more retired people than you do college students. This trend shows no signs of reversing. The "unaffiliated" saw a 6.7 point increase from 2007-2014. If you narrow it down to those born in the 1980s, the increase was 9 points in just 7 years. The Catholic church is losing about half of all people who grew up in it.

As a Baha'i, this creates an interesting dynamic. The social forces pushing down Christianity are pushing down religion as a whole, and replacing it with materialism. Baha'is are affected by the same trend, struggling to train youth against powerful social forces that pull them away from religion. So what may at first look like an opportunity to teach, is actually a sad slide into irreligion. It also calls to mind some warnings in Baha'i scripture about what will happen when the light of religion is extinguished:
"The weakening of the pillars of religion hath strengthened the hands of the ignorant and made them bold and arrogant. Verily I say, whatsoever hath lowered the lofty station of religion hath increased the waywardness of the wicked, and the result cannot be but anarchy."
Baha'u'llah. Tablets of Baha'u'llah
“Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness, of justice, of tranquillity and peace cease to shine.”
Baha'u'llah. Tablets of Baha'ullah

13 July 2017

Churches and Chicken

My city is segregated by affluence and poverty. 

Drive west in Nashville and you'll find old money, the bourgeoisie, and white coeds sipping $5 tea. Drive north and you'll find Fisk University, mostly poor black and some white people, and the roads always need repair. Drive east and you'll find where black people used to live, but now it's full of white hipsters who like the area for its "history" (it feels like Portland, OR). 

And then there's the southern part of town, my part of town. Full of hookah bars, taco shops, and people of color from all around the world trying to make a living in a place where upward mobility for most is a pipe dream. You can have your car worked on by Essy, the most universally trusted local mechanic. Walk down the street and get baklava or a pupusa while you wait. 

07 July 2017

Framily

Friends do things together
In 2012 I left Oregon, where I went through middle school and high school, and I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. I moved to serve the Baha'i Faith in a metro area where the junior youth program was just beginning. I found a place in Nashville through a Baha'i friend who was already there, and since I'm a musician it kind of made sense.

I knew that moving to Nashville would be difficult because the cultures are so drastically different between the west coast and the southeast. But I had no idea what kind of culture shock I would experience. The two friends I already knew when I walked into town, I never ended up seeing more than twice a year in my five year stint living there. My closest family member was an 8 hour drive away. The Baha'i community felt foreign to me. They were so excited to have a youth (I was 18) with experience in the junior youth spiritual empowerment program, a relatively new Baha'i core activity. I was immediately thrust with no cultural context or real friendships into leadership rolls. As I got to know more and more people I realized that the isolation and difficulty making friends was not unique to myself. There were people in the general population who grew up together or lived together and didn't know basic facts about each others' lives, such as the existence of siblings, a death in the family, what people did for work, or basic likes. The first question asked by anyone, anywhere, was, "Where do you worship? Where do you go to church?"

Most Baha'is my age didn't want much to do with me, and so I was there for almost two years with little to no meaningful connections. Until, a Baha'i lady was moved by my singing voice and came up to me after a devotional gathering and said, "You need to come to my house!" in a soulful plea. So I did. We hung out, and she became my first real connection and lasting bond in the Baha'i community. She's a mother of two sons, she's a black woman in an interracial relationship, and she's a writer, a thinker, and a rebel. Her best friend is a flaming red haired MENSA member Italian Jewish Baha'i. These two became my best friends for the last four years.

We liked to go out and "mess" with people who didn't understand why we would be friends. It's not common in most parts of the country to see strong multi-generational, multi-cultural, and multi-ethnic relationships, let alone to see three people outwardly so different laughing to the brink of peeing themselves in an Applebee's restaurant on a late Friday night, because that's the only place open and Mama be hungry.

We talked about knowing Who you answer to. Not putting other people or things in the God seat, if you will. I spent many a night those first few years on their couches processing through the latest struggle or disappointment in my ongoing attempts to make friends. We've decided that the most important family you have is family you choose, and we are that for each other. We bonded over BTS (Korean Pop). We talked about sex. I don't know many women in their fifties cool with talking about sex and marriage. They say that after a certain point they found the confidence and self-worth to keep their relationship with God clear and not give a damn about the opinions or idle chatter of others. We all need strong women, intelligent, powerful women in our lives. They are teaching me how to be one. 

26 June 2017

Battle of Armageddon


Baha'u'llah is not just the Prophet of the Baha'i Faith. He taught that religion is periodically and progressively revealed from age to age to advance material and spiritual civilization to new heights. All the great religions of the world teach of a Promised One, coming during a time of great world cataclysms and ushering in a new era of righteousness. In the American psyche, this is most pronounced in Christian prophecies of the seven years of tribulation, the anti-Christ, and the battle of Armageddon.

Baha'u'llah's revelation fulfills the expectations of a second coming of Christ, but not as commonly interpreted. In an almost perfect repeat of the first coming, Christian clergy are expecting their prophecies to be fulfilled literally, and according to their fanciful interpretations that leave them as rulers of the earth. Jesus experienced a similar attitude. The Jewish priests thought the Messiah would come as a political ruler who would burn his enemies like chaff. Instead of promoting them to power, Jesus said His kingdom is "not of this world" and "inside you" and "among you". He called the priests hypocrites and vipers, so they killed him. 

Just as the Jewish priests were blinded by their own scripture from recognizing the Manifestation of God, now Christians shut their ears when they hear the claim of Jesus returned because they are told by their priests that they should not investigate any claim of divinity. They are sitting around waiting for the end times, and to them it will be so obvious that they don't have to watch. I've lost track of how many Christians have told me that they have no need to investigate Baha'u'llah's claims because when Jesus returns it will be "obvious", despite some strongly worded scripture saying the opposite. 

So with this background, occasionally Christians want to look deeper and ask some questions about prophecies.

09 June 2017

How Many Baha'is Are in the World?

I found some!
How many Baha'is are in the world? The correct answer is: nobody knows. But there is a deep primordial need for Baha'is and non-Baha'is alike to somehow gauge the relative success and strength of the world religions. This need is most easily met with the simplest of statistics, how many believers are there?

To Baha'is who expect their religion to gradually permeate the majority of the world's population over the next few centuries, they will be excited to see its growth. In fact, they will most likely overstate its actual growth because growth begets growth. When an idea spreads in a population, it can quickly move from 10 to 50% of the population, but the growth from 0 to 10% can be painfully slow and difficult.

There are also those who want to see the Baha'i Faith fail. They will be excited for low estimates of the Baha'i population worldwide, because lower numbers are discouraging. It takes extra moral strength to carry beliefs that are different from the majority of society.

From 1991 until present, the Baha'i World Centre has said that there are "more than five million Baha'is." Outside observers have actually given a higher number, listing the community as "more than seven million", ranging from 7.2 to 7.8 million.

Internally, the Baha'i number is most likely from worldwide membership rolls, and the external observer sources are a variety of censuses and surveys. I'd like to explore some ideas about both of these sources, and if this is boring I totally understand if you want to go do something else.

15 March 2017

Health Care Reform

I wrote this originally in September, 2009, as death panels were being debated.
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This week I listened to three members of the Oregon Health Authority talk about past and present reforms to Oregon's health system, and I also listened to the chair of Family Medicine at OHSU. Over the past few years I've been increasingly engrossed in the issues of health care reform, and here, tonight, live on the Internet, I'm going to lay out how to fix health care in the United States. That's right, the whole thing.

03 March 2017

The Eradication of Racism in America

In response to "the critical nature" and "historic opportunity" presented by this "pivotal juncture in our nation's history", the National Spiritual Assembly wrote to the American Baha'i community on February 25, 2017 to reinforce the principle of the oneness of mankind, the chief and distinguishing feature of the Faith Baha'u'llah. In the letter, the National Assembly wrote that "in the decades ahead, Baha'is will contribute in an ever more effective way to the eventual eradication of racism in our country."

We live in an exciting time. At first glance things are going poorly. America is stratifying by race and class, a xenophobic militarism just swept into power, and the government is gearing up to dissolve consumer protections and unleash thousands of police to round up minorities. Mosques, synagogues, black churches, and their followers are being targeted, harassed, or killed. 

If this were not the case, those attitudes would still be laying dormant in 40% of America, just stewing. Does this wave of injustice represent the beginning of a long reign of terror, or the last throws of a white nationalism that must be eradicated to move the nation forward? Can you honestly believe that open and ugly racism is going to be the new norm? Absolutely not! And why? Because it is not the truth! 

26 February 2017

Black History and Affirmative Action

One of these things is not like the others.
"Unlike the nations and peoples of the earth, be they of the East or of the West, democratic or authoritarian, communist or capitalist, whether belonging to the Old World or the New, who either ignore, trample upon, or extirpate, the racial, religious, or political minorities within the sphere of their jurisdiction, every organized community enlisted under the banner of Bahá’u’lláh should feel it to be its first and inescapable obligation to nurture, encourage, and safeguard every minority belonging to any faith, race, class, or nation within it."
 -Shoghi Effendi. Advent of Divine Justice
It's black history month, so I'm going to talk about black history. The uncomfortable history. I want to talk about the America that just pulled a big wad of white supremacy out of its pocket and slammed it on the table for all to see.

When would you say the playing field was leveled for all races in America? When did we achieve the ideal of equality of opportunity?

01 February 2017

Black People

I'm a fairly rich white guy living in a poor, mostly black neighborhood. I moved in almost four years ago to join ongoing efforts to grow and sustain Baha'i core activities, which have been moving along successfully. But this is not about children's classes, this is about some observations on race.

I'm not only a fairly rich white guy, but I'm in the whitest big city in the country. Portland had two neighborhoods where black people were funneled into during the 1950s, and where they had to stay. Both areas turned into high poverty/crime neighborhoods in the 1980s and 90s. One of these was gentrified and people migrated to poorer parts of Portland. The other was renovated with a federal grant and turned into mixed income housing, and that is where I live. Here are some of the antics that have gone on since I got here.

20 January 2017

President Trump

In the summer of 2013 the Universal House of Justice initiated youth conferences around the world. My wife was just below the age cutoff at the time, and I was bringing several youth from my neighborhood, so we went to Tacoma, Washington and stayed several nights. It was really a special time, discussing high ideals about shaping the future of the world. On one of those nights I had a dream that seemed significant, so I wrote it down.

The dream had a nefarious character that seized power, and at the time I perceived it as a potentially prophetic dream about a real person whose identity might become clear in the future. Two and a half years later I was on a late night flight and while walking down the aisle of the plane I saw an ominously similar vision on the plane as I saw in the dream. On the plane I was walking down a dark aisle with people on both sides sitting staring at phones and computers, and in the dream I was walking down a dark aisle with people on both sides sitting on bunks staring at phones and computers.

Less than a week later I was driving and listening to a story about Donald Trump, and in a flood everything became clear. Keep in mind that this was January 2016 and the primaries were far from over, but I realized that Trump was the prisoner in my dream, and I realized with great certainty that he was going to be the next President. It all made sense, why he was going to win, what he would do, and what would come of it. As the vote grew closer I was confused by all the projections showing him definitively losing but I knew an upset was coming. In fact I have had absolutely no anxiety from that day until now, inauguration day.