28 September 2020

Moved to Medium.com

 Hi folks. After much frustration with Blogger over the years I finally moved over to Medium.com, which seems to be much easier to manage and share articles. I made a new channel with the Baha'i Coherence name. Please follow here for new posts:


I'm still figuring out some of the details, but as long as you're following the publication, I'll figure out how to send email updates with new articles. Medium does charge $5 for unlimited access to premium content, but my content will remain outside the paywall. If in some strange future I put material behind a paywall, Medium gives everyone 3 free articles a month. 

I've already posted the timely Getting Political, about the Baha'i position on political non-involvement, and a remake of my first post on Baha'i Coherence: Reconciling Genesis with the modern world. I plan on going through my best posts from this blog over many years and cleaning them up for new posts on Medium. 

Thanks for all the good times. 

04 September 2020

Priority: Charity or Baha'i Funds?

Wealth is praiseworthy, if it is earned honestly and used for philanthropic purposes. The desire to better the world leads to figuring out how best to give away money intentionally, getting the most value out of every dollar donated. Giving efficiently means not always responding to the needs in front of your face, but giving consistently to address root problems with a long-term vision.

Naturally, a question arises for Baha'is: how much should I give to charity versus the Baha'i funds?

It turns out, there are many writings already addressing this, and it seems clear that giving to the Baha'i funds should be the highest priority for Baha'is giving to charity. Although it may not be obvious at first, giving to the Baha'i funds is the best way to help the world, because it is building up a solution to address underlying problems. I have two analogies that convey the principle.

01 September 2020

Can Baha'i Assemblies provide welfare?

(I recently wrote about wealth and giving away money, which provide some background to this post about how the Baha'i Funds interplay with charity and welfare.)

I was once on a Local Spiritual Assembly that investigated setting up a humanitarian fund to help individuals in the community who fell on hard times. Of course, superficially this sounds simple: set aside some money and give it to the needy. Similar to the complexities of aid work, there are many pitfalls when crossing over that line of giving away resources. Trying to develop a framework for a local humanitarian portion of the Baha'i Fund was a long process that drove me into researching some interesting areas of the Baha'i Writings. 

12 August 2020

How to give away money

The Baha'i Writings are full of references encouraging charity and generous spending on the poor. Baha'u'llah wrote, "O SON OF MAN! Bestow My wealth upon My poor", and, "O CHILDREN OF DUST! Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth. To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with him that adorneth himself with My virtues." And, "Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity." 

It seems like such a simple thing, if you have money, give it to the poor. But it's not at all that simple. Philanthropy can have unintended negative side effects, my favorite example of which was the very well intentioned Jason Sadler of Florida, who made it his goal to send one million t-shirts to Africa. He stepped into a debate among aid workers, that sometimes incoherent attempts to send aid end up making things worse. In the case of the t-shirts, there was no particular need for shirts (Jason had excess from his company), there were much more pressing problems that needed addressing, and flooding the market with free shirts would ruin many local businesses. That's not an argument not to care, it's just to say that aid is complicated.

28 July 2020

Carmel Baha'i School Online

When I was 14 a visionary married couple in my area started a Baha'i summer camp for youth. It was one of many inspiring events for young Baha'is while I was growing up. It became the only Baha'i summer school with a counselor program outside of the three permanent schools (Bosch, Louhelen, Green Acre), allowing kids as young as 12 to come without parents for a transformative week. 

The camp survived the passing of its founders and met continuously for 25 years, until now. The 2020 Camp Carmel became another casualty of the pandemic, and the in-person gathering has been replaced with a shorter online camp as a placeholder until next summer. 

On the plus side, the online camp will have many of the things that make the in-person camp amazing, like arts classes, some great special guests for evening programs, and even a good ol' counselor program for small group bonding with older youth. It also means that it can be attended by just about anyone. 

Of course, the heart of the camp is a set of classes that will teach about the life of Baha'u'llah, aspects of the future world civilization, and how to build race unity in America. 

It starts next week, and registration will close August 3. If you have any young people in your life, please go register them now!


07 July 2020

Wealth is praiseworthy if...

Maybe it is because I recently spent 3 months in a country with a GDP per capita of $2,100, or maybe because I recently entertained leaving a great job to spend more time with kids, or maybe because the pandemic is wiping out the economy, but I've been thinking about wealth lately. 

The Baha'i Writings are full of references like this: "to be poor in all save God is a wondrous gift, belittle not the value thereof, for in the end it will make thee rich in God" (Baha'u'llah). Or, "In the estimation of them that have fixed their eyes upon the merciful Lord, the riches of the world and its trappings are worth as much as the eye of a dead body, nay even less" (The Bab).

There are also other references that praise wealth. These are not in conflict with the need to denounce riches, but require virtue in the acquisition and use of funds. Here are two examples.

28 June 2020

Good Black Things

Did you ever notice how the English language describes dark things as worse? Think of 'whitelist' and 'blacklist', or how movies dealing with something bad or evil are called 'dark'. You know who noticed? Black people. Americans have been trying really hard to come up with a name for the descendants of African slaves. It has gone from negro, colored, or black, to African American, to another way of saying colored. But the most common name is still 'black', so all the negative imagery with blackness leaves some room for improvement. 

Explicitly racist language has mostly been removed (look up what Brazil nuts used to be called), and people are trying to come up with alternatives to the phrase 'blacklist' (we'll see what catches on). Honestly, it will take some work to change phrases. 

We all need to work on positive imagery associated with black skin, so here are a few examples of things that are great because they are black. 

14 June 2020

The George Floyd Protests

"Why are all rich people white?" That question came out of nowhere from an African-born teenager visiting my house years ago. "It's complicated," I said.

A majority of people in America want to see racial harmony. People want life outcomes to be based on the content of one's character and not the color of their skin. However, the life outcomes of black citizens in the United States tend to fare worse than those of its white citizens. The roots of this problem are not simple or easy to fix.

Watching the George Floyd protests I have been surprised at the positive response from the masses of white people. This week my company held a townhall phone meeting just to let people share their thoughts on race in America for an hour and a half. It was full of spontaneous personal testimonies and calls for empathy, awareness, justice, and inclusion. It was attended by 1,000 people, about a third of the company. 

The current conversation about race feels different than anything I've experienced in my life, and I think some positive change will come of it. I want to share some thoughts on this moment and I hope to cut through some of the meme-fueled anger and get into the nuance that doesn't fit onto protester signs. 

20 May 2020

Universal House of Justice on the Pandemic

On 9 May 2020, the Universal House of Justice wrote a letter to all Baha'i National Spiritual Assemblies on applying the current global plan to the new situation of a pandemic and some thoughts on what is to come. Or as they put it, "The world is caught in the grip of a fast-spreading virus that has claimed many thousands of lives and severely disrupted a large share of humanity’s social and economic activity... we wish to explore more fully what the coming year might entail."

The House of Justice has released multi-year plans to direct the worldwide Baha'i community and focus on certain incremental goals. In 2001 they launched into a series of four 5-year plans that would culminate in 2021, which will be the centennial anniversary of Abdu'l-Baha's passing. The importance of this transitional year has been talked about among Baha'is for over a decade, so it's not totally surprising that a once-in-a-century pandemic is taunting the world and the next 12 months are ominously uncertain.

Millennium Development Goals.
Created at the Millennium Summit in 2000. 
In an earlier letter of 18 January 2019, exactly 100 years after the opening of the Paris Peace Conference that ended WWI, the House of Justice wrote that three major steps were taken in the preceding century toward world order: the formation of the League of Nations following WWI, the formation of the United Nations after WWII, and a decade of international cooperation and agreements that followed the end of the Cold War, culminating in the Millennial Summit. The deficiencies in each of these advancements led to the instability that became the impetus toward another, greater push towards world order. Though the last decade of the 20th century saw a major improvement in world peace, throughout the 21st century the trend has been away from world order. According to the letter, "the dominant currents in societies everywhere are pushing people apart", "political and economic systems have enabled the enrichment of small coteries with grossly exorbitant wealth--a condition that fuels fundamental instability", "religious fundamentalism is warping the character of communities, even nations", "a decline in public trust... systematically exploited by vested interests seeking to undermine the credibility of all sources of knowledge", "certain shared ethical principles... are eroded", and "the will to engage in international collective action.... has been cowed, assailed by resurgent forces of racism, nationalism, and factionalism."

The forces of disorder and disintegration have been gaining ground, and world unity will certainly worsen, "possibly with catastrophic consequences" according to the 2019 letter. Every major push toward world unity has been preceded by some dramatic and destructive changes that push people toward the inevitable world federal system Baha'u'llah envisioned. The current movement away from world order will continue, according to the House of Justice, "until a chastened humanity sees fit to take another significant step, perhaps this time decisive, towards enduring peace."

13 May 2020

Thoughts on God

    "O All-Sufficient One! Thou dost suffice Me in every hardship that may descend upon Me and in every affliction that may wax great before Me. Thou art My sole Companion in My loneliness, the Delight of My heart in My solitude and My Best Beloved in My prison and in My Abode. No God is there but Thee!"
The Bab

"Nicolae, I don't believe in the God that you don't believe in", was how Ali-Akbar Furutan responded to his Soviet friend who asked him, "Do you believe in God". If he responded that he believed in God, he risked a visit to the gulag. If he said he didn't believe in God, he would be lying.

I tend not to u
se the word "God" in normal speech. It means so many different things to different people that it almost needs definition when bringing it up. I can agree with an atheist that the traditional vision of God is a false and harmful idea. When speaking to a Christian, I would profess myself as a believer in God. If that sounds confusing, keep reading.

What I actually believe about God is so different than the common understanding that I need a different word other than "God", but there is no such word available, and I'm not even sure how to articulate what I think I believe. I know what God is not, which is the superman miracle worker who manages heaven, but I also recognize that whatever I might be able to articulate about God is probably also wrong. And if God is unknowable and unarticulatable, then why even worry about it?

I've gone back and forth wondering whether figuring out God is either the most important question, or so esoteric as to be divorced from practical daily life.
Probably not.
After some thought, I concluded that the absence of the supernatural God of lore extends much deeper than I imagined. God has no material form, and in a sense doesn't exist in the universe. What I mean by God comes down to two things: the inherent virtues that exist potentially in all people, and the Manifestations of God. 

03 April 2020

Thoughts on a pandemic

There seem to be two ideas on how to handle this pandemic. One is to enter a period of isolation so that the virus will burn itself down, followed by massive testing and case tracking to completely eliminate it. The other approach is to enter a period of isolation so that the bulge of initial cases doesn't create rationing in the health system, then the virus will become endemic and more slowly spread in a manageable way.

My impression is that a majority of people view the first scenario as realistic and see anyone proposing the second as okay with mass murder.

The evidence supports the second scenario, and it's not nearly as scary as everyone first assumed. The virus is already endemic, as of today the world has 1 million confirmed cases touching almost every country, but the real infection rate is probably many times that number because half of those infected barely notice they have it. In places like the United States where testing for the virus was initially very low, the actual infection rate is at least 4 times the number of confirmed cases.

25 March 2020

Do healing prayers work?

There were a variety of habits and beliefs of early Christian kingdoms that today we would recognize as superstition. For example, people believed that God was continuously intervening in the world, so in the case of a serious dispute they would let the two people fight to the death, believing that God would intervene on the side of the righteous and help them win. This belief was so complete that the guilty party would often confess their crimes to avoid the divinely guided fight.

It’s easy to recognize in hindsight that some early beliefs were erroneous and not guided by the teachings of God, but what about today’s beliefs?

I remember being somewhat of an adult and realizing one day, “Ghosts aren’t real!” I’ve found this subject surprisingly polarizing when I mention it to people. Some are convinced that spirits can still materially influence the world after death, and of course others deny the existence of any such spirit and view a belief in ghosts as a superstition of the ignorant. I’ve found the same split among Baháʼís who sometimes believe that supernatural phenomena go hand in hand with belief in God. For the record, ghosts aren’t real, but that’s for another blog.

I also remember realizing one day, “Prayers don’t heal people!” Sort of. At least not the way I previously thought. This is a little more complicated than the ghost story but it’s still true, and it gets to the very heart of what it means to pray.

24 March 2020

A revolution in cars

Left to right: 2013 Chevy Volt, 2016 Chevy Spark EV, 2018 Pacifica PHEV
Despite the current chaos and social isolation amid the coronavirus, there are things to look forward to. In about 10 years a majority of people in Europe and America will be buying electric cars, and it will have an enormous positive effect on the economy, the environment, and your health.

06 March 2020

Multifaith Devotional Cards

Many years ago I made my own prints of quotes from the Bible, Qur'an, and Baha'i writings to use in devotional gatherings. I drew the quotes from readings that personally inspired me and printed them on color coordinated cardstock to give them a nice feel. I'm sharing the files here for anyone looking for a quick way to spice up your meeting and make it friendly for people of different faiths. 

The junior youth group (now youth group) that I originally made these for was composed of African immigrants with a mix of Christian and Muslim families. Initially the youth would choose to read from their family's tradition, which gave them and their parents a sense of stability and a point of reference. Over time, everyone began readings a mix of the different sources and started to notice and point out the common threads that run between all scriptures. 

I'm sharing the Word format as well in case anyone wants to change the quotes around. If you have any recommendations, have trouble downloading, or want to share your own tools, email bahaicoherence@gmail.com and comment below.


Word Docs