31 May 2010

The Manifest Evil of Homophobia

 The Economist magazine has an article about the violent and oppressive repercussions of homophobia, especially in developing countries. Here are a few excerpts:
Some 80 countries criminalise consensual homosexual sex. Over half rely on “sodomy” laws left over from British colonialism. But many are trying to make their laws even more repressive. Last year, Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, signed a law criminalising consensual gay sex, despite the Senate’s overwhelming rejection of the bill. A draconian bill proposed in Uganda would dole out jail sentences for failing to report gay people to the police and could impose the death penalty for gay sex if one of the participants is HIV-positive. In March Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, who once described gay people as worse than dogs or pigs, ruled out constitutional changes outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Mourning of an Intellectual

My grandmother passed away last week. Since then, I have been home to pay my last respects and to support my family. Being with friends and family has helped me appreciate the interdependency of our world. Every life is caught up in another. Living is sharing; Living is sharing joys and sorrows, meals, possessions, conversations, a community. All are interconnected. And when one life ends those who remain must reconfigure themselves and their world in light of that absence. The challenge of another's death is to summon up one's own creative power for life; to renew oneself and renew one's world in light of changed conditions.

30 May 2010


Mindful of the loneliness, Everything I love is so fleeting.

Who are you? So you are happy huh, sitting there in grave confidence, creating the stage for which people laugh in giddy relief? And you, always smiling, always playing the shallow yet lovable narcissist? You are excused, for now. And I, never making much of an impression, always distant (I am painfully aware), holding onto the moment with a white knuckle, too often sinking into a third reflection, cycling loneliness, love, contempt, respect, and despair.

The only language I speak in is salvation and tears. That is, when I am awake!

Too easy to shrivel up and release the form always being projected. Every comforting morsel is a mockery, an illusory attempt. Even writing these horrible words...A despicable mockery!

How can words capture a human being? Why do we feel that we are the only ones who are bewildered by the sheer enormity. All I want is to wipe away all defenses and be taken, with everyone.

Most aspiration is smitten with form, a resource for the spirit and a hologram otherwise.

26 May 2010

Positive Playlist: Sharpening Spiritual Perception

As I was looking through the playlist of positive songs Kat posted, it occured to me just how much stronger the junior youth empowerment program is for including a media awareness component. There are many songs with messages that can raise the consciousness of young people. And they can play a powerful role in one's personal development. However, as Jason pointed out with the example of Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, and Pink Floyd, some of that music also promotes unhealthy attitudes and lifestyles. This could be an obstacle. But once a group has reached a certain stage in its progress, such ambiguity can easily be changed into opportunities for critical thinking and in-depth consultation.

24 May 2010

of Power and Policy

Here's a post to check out. It's written from the perspective of a committed supporter of the Democratic Party, but it contains some ideas that can be translated into the terminology used in the Baha'i writings and by the Universal House of Justice. You should read it for yourself, of course. But here's my translation.

When we think of governance as as the pursuit of personal power, we fall into a false dichotomy between personal and collective interest, or into a Hobbesian view of the struggle of all against all. But if we think of governance as the pursuit of good policies that benefit society, these oppositions melt away, and cooperation arises naturally.

It seems to me that for the latter approach to prevail over the former requires a spiritual transformation. Individuals can't continue approaching positions of authority as a means  for serving the promptings of self and passion. Rather, they should be filled with a desire to promote the interests of the broader society. This is something that can only happen in the heart. No technical prescription or cleverness at statecraft can bring about this change. It requires going person to person and assisting them to see the folly of the first and the benefits of the second.

Physical Resurrection: Linchpin of Christianity?

Andrew Sullivan, well know blogger and Catholic, reflects upon his faith.
Christianity is in crisis - and in a deeper crisis, in my view, than many Christians are allowing themselves to believe. I start from a simple premise. There can be no conflict between faith and truth. If what we believe in is not true, it is worth nothing. The idea that one should insincerely support religious faith because it is good for others or for society is, for me, a profound blasphemy if you do not share the faith yourself. I respect atheists and agnostics who reject faith; I find it harder to respect fundamentalists - of total papal or Biblical authority - because of the blindness of their sincerity; but I have no respect for those who cynically praise religion for its social uses, while believing in none of it themselves. Sadly, a critical faction of the Straussian right has been engaged in exactly that kind of cynicism for a while now.
But if religion and truth cannot be in conflict, Christians who believe in a God of logos have an obligation to make sense of those moments when modern learning disproves certain religious preconceptions. No modern Christian, it seems to me, can claim the literal inerrancy of the Bible without abandoning logos.

23 May 2010

Positive Playlist: enlisting our culture in spiritual empowerment

The third unit of Ruhi Book 7 is called "Promoting the Arts at the Grassroots." On the subject of music, two major themes for consultation arise. One is the effectiveness of music in addressing the spiritual needs of the community. 'Abdu'l-Baha's reassurance that "... in this new age the Manifest Light hath, in His holy Tablets, specifically proclaimed that music, sung or played, is spiritual food for the soul and heart" lets us know that music does indeed have a place, leaving us to focus on details such as form and venue.

21 May 2010

Choosing One's Choices

One of the most potent forms of social control is to conceal from an individual her own power of choice. This is not to say that she ceases to choose. But rather, that she has a strong tendency to make choices in conformity with the expectations of her peers simply by assuming there are no alternatives. A stranger attacks a young man's family. He feels he has no choice but to seek revenge. An employer insists that an employee perform a task that is neither legal nor ethical. The employee performs the task and consoles himself in thinking that the decision wasn't his to make. A woman is on her deathbed. She can't imagine feeling anything but despair. All are expressions of one condition: the concealment of the individual's inherent freedom.

20 May 2010

I Don't Wanna Talk Anymore: An Analysis of Lady Gaga's "Telephone" Video

link to telephone video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQ95z6ywcBY

Lady Gaga has said that the Telephone video is about America. The Director of the video explained that the video is a continuation of the Paparazzi video. In the Paparazzi video Lady Gaga is thrown off her balcony by her boyfriend and is temporarily crippled. She is famous and even in her crippled state she clings to glamour and fame. At the end of the video, after she has recovered from her injury, she poisons her lover and is arrested for murder. The video ends with her mug shots. Interestingly, the lyrics of Paparazzi are the polar opposite of Telephone’s. We move from fervent adoration to cold apathy. “I’m your biggest fan I’ll follow you until you love me” to “Stop calling stop calling I don’t wanna talk anymore.” Together, the songs form a sort of Act One and Act Two of the popularized, modern day romance. It’s not about love or hate, but rather, a life-sucking worship of another person.

At the beginning of Telephone, Gaga is being brought into a women’s prison. Female inmates are behaving in an overtly sexual and violent manner.

19 May 2010

The Role of Science in a Baha'i Development Context

As someone who aspires to work in the field of international development, I am excited by the increasing reliance of empirical and experimental approaches to discerning the most effective poverty interventions. One of the most trenchant criticisms of international development efforts has been that they are effete at best and often counterproductive. Often good intentions in the form of aid money are wasted away or embezzled by the governments that are supposed to utilize them.

Esther Duflo, co-founder of the Poverty Action Lab, argues in her recent TED talk...

...that we can utilize randomized controlled trials, which have revolutionized the field of medicine, to quantify which policy interventions are most effective in targeting poverty.

Drawing Closer and Setting Apart

I was just having a conversation with a friend about the progress of the Baha'i world right now. It got us thinking that there are two dynamics of the emerging pattern of Baha'i life that can easily contradict each other. One is the desire to reach out to new contacts, share Baha'u'llah's teachings with others, and work with them to improve the life of our communities. The other is the desire to exemplify a lifestyle of devotion to God, detachment from instant gratification, and consecrated service to the plans set out by the Universal House of Justice. Baha'is are called to engage the broader society, while living lifestyles that are very different, often incomprehensible at first, to individuals unfamiliar with the Baha'i Faith.

It seems to me that this twin dynamic is set up by breaking down certain barriers with the broader society, while at the same time, throwing up others. By no means, do I think this is a self-defeating process, quite the opposite. But my friend and I certainly noticed that this change of culture is not something we can learn overnight.

What are your thoughts on this?

18 May 2010

Questions for Neighborhoods

Who are our neighbors?
What do we believe?
What do we desire?
What do we dream of?
What do we need?

What are our capacities?
What are our strengths?

In what ways and to what degree are our needs being met and our dreams realized by using our capacities and strengths, today?

In what ways and to what degree could our needs be met and our dreams realized by using our capacities and strengths, today?

In what ways and to what degree are our capacities and strengths unable to meet our needs and realize our dreams?

What do we need to close this gap?

Do we need more …


What tried-and-true processes are ready and waiting for us to take advantage of them in order to address these issues?

And why haven’t we already begun?


Homosexuality has become the most prominent social issue of my generation, and I continually have conversations about it. To some the issue is equivalent to the civil rights movement, fighting against discrimination, injustice, and religious fanaticism. To others, the issue is a classic battle of values against an increasingly immoral civilization.

The differing opinions revolve around a few key issues that are difficult to talk about. Without good communication, people unwittingly fall into categories of pro- or anti-gay. Below are some of my thoughts on how to navigate the conversation. As you may know, the Baha'i teachings don't fall into either the pro or anti category.

17 May 2010

"Our church is in our hearts. We take it wherever we go."

When I was first introduced to the Baha'i Faith, the Baha'is I knew conducted a devotional gathering at a nearby home. The first time I gathered with the Baha'is to pray I was struck by the simplicity and focus of their approach to communal prayer. There were no rituals. Socialization waited until after prayers were done. Participants would recite prayers individually as they felt inspired. They would sing songs even if nobody else knew the words to sing them. The devotional portion of the gathering focused entirely on prayer and meditation. And because it didn't follow a pre-established program, individuals would participate to the extent that they felt inspired. As a Catholic re-engaging with my faith tradition I found that approach to worship deeply moving. I didn't feel in any way pressured. I didn't feel like a sheep lost in my own flock. Instead, I felt united with those around me in the common purpose of worshipping our creator.

10 May 2010

Social Action and the Love of God: 'Abdu'l-Baha at Hull House

One of the exciting features of the recorded utterances from 'Abdu'l-Baha's travels in North America and Europe is that many of the individuals and organizations he spoke before have their own distinguished history. Abdu'l-Baha met with such luminaries as Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Theodore Roosevelt, and Bertha von Suttner, a leading peace activist who influenced Alfred Nobel in establishing the peace prize. They were engaged in vigorous conversations that continues to this day on topics of humanity's social and spiritual prosperity. But since 1921 'Abdu'l-Baha's physical voice has fallen silent. So, if Baha'is want his wisdom to be taken into account today they'll have to speak up on his behalf.

04 May 2010

Love of Others: The Light and the Lamp

More often than I think is justified, love is held up as the panacea for all the worlds problems. If only we showed more love for foreigners, we wouldn't have so many wars, if only we loved those less fortunate than us, we wouldn't have so much poverty. If only there was more love, people would feel less need for material goods. One famous artist has affirmed, "All you need is love." Perhaps, but only if we have a clear vision of what we mean by love. It seems to me, not nearly enough attention goes to fundamental questions about love and its place in society. Love is taken as something self-evident, already understood, and only in need of being spread further. I want to focus on the question of where our love should be directed, of what is most worthy of our love. And I think a very useful starting point can be found in passages from the Baha'i Writings discussing love shown towards the founders of the world's religions. I think they provide concepts with which we can rethink our approach to personal relationships, and beyond that, to the life of society.