Category Archives: Uncategorized

Showing Up

I’m serious about this blogging challenge, but never seem to be able to find time to sit at my desk over the weekend. I come today, pursued by a train of anxieties and tasks leftover from the weekend. My brain is not engaged and it seems all I can do is show up. I think sometimes that has to count for something. Sometimes showing up is all one can do.

On the other hand, maybe it is important sometimes to sit one out, to NOT participate. That’s a very un-Bahá’í-like thought. What do I mean by it?

I am thinking today about Bahá’u’lláh’s words regarding self-knowledge:

The first Ṭaráz and the first effulgence which hath dawned from the horizon of the Mother Book is that man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty.

I have always thought of “what leads to loftiness or lowliness” in terms of making virtuous choices, knowing our limits. For example, alcoholism runs in both sides of my family–I am grateful for the Bahá’í  law forbidding consumption of alcohol especially because I know it has protected me from a grim alternate fate. Alcohol would very likely have lead me to lowliness.

But today I’m thinking about this idea in a different way, in terms of my pursuits and focus in life, especially the path of service. I have always struggled to choose one path of endeavor (both service-related and professional) because I am sort of “medium good” at a number of things. But only now, when I am Not Young (nice euphemism, eh?), am I beginning to see that when it comes to some activities of community life, such as managing large, active groups, I am “medium good” with a large side helping of “trying too hard.” When I engage in those activities, I am not my best self because being good enough takes too much effort on my part, which makes me lose sight of context and emotion, creating problems all around. The dilemma is that there are things that someone needs to do and if I don’t do them they might not get done. Today I’m thinking that maybe I have to let that be the case. Maybe if I let them not be done, someone else will arise and take them on. Maybe my fierce focus on doing is preventing me from seeing others who are ready and able to do.

Is this self-knowledge that will lead me to loftiness or idle fancy that will lead me to lowliness? I guess I have to try it to see.

 

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Joy

Joy is awesome. We all love it, right? Wouldn’t it be great to live every moment in a spirit of joy?

Where do we get it? What is a true source of joy? It seems to me that material joys–luxuries and novelties, fame and fortune–are fleeting at best. I learned this as a child anticipating and experiencing Christmas (and I frankly admit that for my family Christmas was almost wholly a material experience). Oh, the sleepless night before the glorious morning! Then the breath-taking JOY of the avalanche of presents and goodies! It seemed to never end. But then it did. And there was a bit of let-down–but THEN it was time for the feast and the family and playing with new stuff, new clothes… and then… and then… bedtime and, yes, disappointment, anti-climax. All the fun was done. By the time I was a pre-adolescent I had secretly concluded that Christmas, as a material event, was not productive of much true joy. (Believe me, I am not commenting here on the Birth of Christ, which is, in my view, totally unrelated to the commercial aspects of Christmas.)

My experience of other material joys has mirrored this “goodie-based” Christmas experience pretty closely–new cars, new electronics, good jobs, travel, recognition, admiration, all pass and leave one feeling.. a bit empty afterwards. Even beautiful life events such as marriage and children, if one focuses on the material aspects (the ring! the wedding! the dress! the baby clothes! that lovely baby!) can disappoint in the end. They take work, and goodness knows they are not glamorous.

So what is joy really and where do we get it? How can we make it last?

Here, in no particular order, are some things that the Bahá’í Writings tell us bring joy:

  1. Knowledge: “In truth, knowledge is a veritable treasure for man, and a source of glory, of bounty, of joy, of exaltation, of cheer and gladness unto him.”
  2. Reading the Sacred Verses: “To read one verse, or even one word, in a spirit of joy and radiance, is preferable to the perusal of many Books.”
  3. Death! Can you believe it?!: “I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve?” Also: “Death proffereth unto every confident believer the cup that is life indeed. It bestoweth joy, and is the bearer of gladness. It conferreth the gift of everlasting life.”
  4. Being invited to a party: “Whensoever ye be invited to a banquet or festive occasion, respond with joy and gladness, and whoever fulfilleth his promise will be safe from reproof.”
  5. Friendliness and fellowship: “It is permitted that the peoples and kindreds of the world associate with one another with joy and radiance. O people! Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.”
  6. This Day: “This is the Day of great rejoicing. It behooveth everyone to hasten towards the court of His nearness with exceeding joy, gladness, exultation and delight and to deliver himself from the fire of remoteness.”
  7. Being heard by God: “Rejoice with great joy inasmuch as thy call hath ascended unto the Divine Lote-Tree and is answered from the all-glorious Horizon.”
  8. Service: “Verily, We say: The soul is gladdened by goodly deeds and profiteth from the contributions made in the path of God.”

There are many, many other quotes we could peruse, but we can see the theme here, right? It is the spiritual world that brings us joy, closeness to God, and being our true selves. Further, as every child in grade 1 of the children’s classes can tell us, “Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded. We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness.”

Joy really is awesome.

Our Double Life

Humanity has a double life.

On one hand, there is the tidal wave of good works that the human race can take credit for, the amazing acts of individual and collective kindness, the inexorable, if uneven, march of humankind towards a truly humane way of life.

An then there’s the rest of it. War. Disease and poverty that we can solve, but don’t. Exploitation of children, women, minorities, anyone vulnerable. The destruction of our environment. Greed and abuse of power. Injustice. I could go on and on but I’m depressing myself so I won’t.

I often wonder, is it that there are some people who are good, angelic, responsible for all of the progress cited above, while others are bad, irredeemable, going to h-e-double-toothpicks? I just don’t think so. I think we are all a little of each, like those cartoon characters with the miniature versions of themselves sitting on each shoulder, one in a white gown with a halo and one wearing a red cape and horns, carrying a pitchfork.

As INXS put it, “Devil inside, the devil inside, every single one of us, the devil inside”. But the angel too, lest we forget, every single one of us, the ANGEL inside.

`Abdu’l-Baha tells us, “Every child is potentially the light of the world—and at the same time its darkness; wherefore must the question of education be accounted as of primary importance.” (Here’s the reference.) This quote gives me tremendous hope because it says no child is born irredeemable; no one is born bad.

Noble have I created thee,” Bahá’u’lláh, speaking with the voice of God, tells us, “yet thou hast abased thyself.” Angel, devil, good and bad. Choices.

We each have to decide, every moment of every day, whether to turn toward the light of God, the light of love and reciprocity, or whether to turn towards our own selves, our selfish wants, our urge to dominate and control. We get to choose. With proper education, more children will become adults who make better choices, more good angels will prevail more of the time. And we will progress, God willing, we will progress.

 

 

Being Better

My husband and I are smack-dab in the middle of the classic suburban preoccupation—the “school chase.” Our daughter will be starting kindergarten next year and so we have been researching our neighborhood school as well as many charter schools in the area. We are fortunate to live in a place with so much school choice and to be able to comfort ourselves with the knowledge that even if we don’t “win the lottery” and get her into a “better” school, our neighborhood school is a very fine option.

As we’ve struggled with this project, I’ve been struck again and again by the disconnect between my true educational goals for my daughter and what the schools are offering. To be precise, many of the charters are offering parents the chance to make their kids excel over others, to live a life of privilege by comparison, to be better.  And it occurs to me that this idea that I personally find so abhorrent, so damaging to the individual and society, is a veritable obsession in our culture—the idea of being better than our neighbors.

We human beings are strange creatures, loving nothing so much as stratifying our social lives. Every society has its unwritten (and sometimes, written) rules that define who is “above” and who is “below.” We point to egregious examples, such as Apartheid or the Holocaust, and wonder how human beings could have allowed such violations of common decency. But all of us are immersed in a world defined by class, caste, sex, color, rank, wealth. We teach our children to value whiter skin, slimmer bodies, stronger muscles, and higher degrees from better schools. We love to “keep up with the Joneses” or, even better, surpass them. I read once of a survey that asked people to choose between getting a raise, along with all of their peers, or keeping their current salary, while their peers all took a cut. Most chose the latter option. It’s so much better to be better.

Why do I find that damaging? I believe the human desire for superiority, seated in the human ego, has driven humanity to every atrocity we’ve known. Not only is “being better” the culprit when it comes to the “isms” we condemn (racism, sexism, et al), but it also drives a wedge between people. How can you be in a state of true unity with someone else if you are trying to out-jockey each other in the eternal race to the nowheresville of superiority? It sets up lose-lose dynamics. We cannot have unity until we find it in ourselves to let go of our ambitions of superiority. I’m not saying that there are not objective ways in which one person may better than another—of course there are. Different people are better are different things and there are degrees to be seen even in the spiritual attributes that makes us noble beings. But when we assign ourselves the task of being better than others, we take on the impossible, at the cost of something more important—solidarity and love.

What if, instead, we set all that aside and decided to embrace the idea that we’re all in this together, that all human beings have value?

Rejection of the preoccupation with a comparative life is at the heart of Bahá’í belief, and an aspect of Bahá’í life that I find most soul-satisfying. Bahá’u’lláh, speaking with the voice of God, tells us,

Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other…. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land…. (The Arabic Hidden Words, #68)

And, from another angle,

The whole duty of man in this Day is to attain that share of the flood of grace which God poureth forth for him. Let none, therefore, consider the largeness or smallness of the receptacle. The portion of some might lie in the palm of a man’s hand, the portion of others might fill a cup, and of others even a gallon-measure. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 8 )

And here is His indispensable advice about living our lives:

Be united in counsel, be one in thought. Let each morn be better than its eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday. Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches. Take heed that your words be purged from idle fancies and worldly desires and your deeds be cleansed from craftiness and suspicion. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 138)

We are called to a systematic approach to our own improvement:

Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning…            (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words)

If we can make our standards relative to our own selves, then we can see real progress. Am I better than I was yesterday? More patient, more kind, working harder, striving more? Am I acquiring a greater degree of each virtue, skill and field of knowledge? Am I being sincere with those around me? A personal-best approach frees us to move forward, unhindered by the artificial limits of what others choose to do.

How different the world would look if each of us took this as our standard to such a degree that we would find it taught to our children in schools.

Divine Love Story: Birth of a New Revelation

Here is a link to a blog post of mine on the Huffington Post, in honor of the Birth of Baha’u’llah Holy Day.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-weinberg/bahai-revelation-divine-love-story_b_1086896.html

Adrift

A number of years ago, I went rafting. Those who know me will find this hard to believe—I can only say that I was probably trying to impress my future husband, because nothing on God’s green earth could get me into a raft today. Also, it was a very gentle river.

Need I mention that this is a true story? This is not an allegory, though it sounds like one. It actually happened.

A group of nine of us piled into one raft, with other friends in other rafts, and as we set out, our group took on a competitive tenor. We wanted to “get there” before everyone else. We nominated one from our midst to be our leader, someone I’ll call “Solid Experience.” He was the self-proclaimed One Who Had Done It Before.

Poor “Solid Experience” never really stood a chance. He told us, right off the bat, that the most important thing was that we should all paddle our oars at the same time, in sync. I think it was understood, or should have been, that we should all paddle in the same direction. But we did not, God help us; we did no such thing. The eight of us each paddled our own way in our own rhythm, while Solid Experience shouted fruitlessly at us. In the end, we recalled him from his high office; we were sliding through the river sideways and we deemed him inept.

The next unfortunate soul to lead our excursion was elected more for popularity than for experience. “Popular” was well-liked and usually people listened to her. We thought we could get it together if Popular was leading us. But Popular’s charm availed her not; no one would do what she said to do and, actually, she didn’t offer too much useful direction anyway. Plus, Solid Experience was sulking and useless. In the end, as we floated backwards down the river, chuckling and unrepentant, we canned her and chose a new leader.

This time we thought we’d got it right. We elected my good friend “Despot.” Despot had a certain knack for making people obey her. In day-to-day dealings, she was known for getting the job done. By this time we considered personal freedom a luxury—we just wanted to stop going backwards. So Despot got the job. Her tenure was arguably one of the most unsuccessful of all. Solid Experience and Popular were antagonistic to her dictates from the start; her force of personality was not sufficient to rein them in nor those they pulled over to their rebellion. Now we were not only floating backwards downstream, but we were all yelling at each other while we did it.

The hiring and firing of leaders continued and I looked forward to my turn. I thought for sure I could improve things, simply by getting everyone to focus on the task at hand—paddling together and in the same direction. It really shouldn’t have been that hard, it was so self-evident. But my dispensation of “Pragmatism” was short-lived. The masses ignored my good advice and shouted down my moment of leadership.

Eventually, every one of the nine had her or his turn as the boss. Every one of us failed. When we came to the rapids, we avoided upset only by the fact that they really weren’t very rapid—they were more “kind of faster than usuals” rather than “rapids”. Whatever you call them, we went over them, spinning in circles and screaming.

I suppose there may have been more going on than I was aware of at the time: undercurrents (pardon the pun) of tension, resentment, or hostility; maybe some thought the chaos was fun or others were deliberately sabotaging our excursion for private reasons. Anything could have been bubbling away beneath the surface.

At the end of the day, we chuckled over our own incompetence and listed the experience amongst the surprisingly fun adventures we’ve had in our lives. Because it really didn’t matter—the water wasn’t rough, no one got hurt. We went for fun and we’d had fun and that was all that mattered.

This odd little story of my heedless youth illustrates something about power and governance, something that is, unlike a fun day of rafting, significant and potentially alarming. Speaking of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the Declaration of Independence points out that “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” None of our raft leaders garnered the “consent of the governed.” The people refused to obey and naturally the ship of state foundered. Our people had no agreement with each other and refused to support their leaders. Disaster was the outcome. In the end, power is with the people. This puts the onus on us, we the people, to change our own condition. Can we set aside our petty differences, our private agendas, and devote ourselves to our collective well being?

The Bahá’í writings tell us that success in group undertakings can be found only when we work in unity. The Bahá’í concept of unity is not to be confused with some Borg-like hive mind (a Star Trek reference, for those of you who care); we do not seek a condition of society in which the masses blindly obey and walk in lock-step. We seek unity in action, unity in accomplishing something, not a seeming unity of people who pretend to love one another and then go their separate ways.

The Bahá’í writings even speak of this unity in terms of the movement of water:

“What a blessing that will be—when all shall come together, even as once separate torrents, rivers and streams, running brooks and single drops, when collected together in one place will form a mighty sea.” (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 260)

At times it feels as though it were impossible for any true unity to ever be achieved in this world. But if we look carefully we can find it, little trickles of good intent, flowing inexorably in one common direction, blending together in larger and larger bodies as they are drawn by gravity to the low-lying ground of our common humanity.

Compulsion

Here‘s a piece on CNN.com about Iranian students barred from university, based on their political or religious convictions.

It never ceases to boggle my mind that people seek to force others to think in a certain way. The efforts of the Iranian government to shut down opposing views by such punishing ploys is not only thuggish, but also amazingly short-sighted and wrong-headed. When has anyone ever succeeded in forcing another to change their mind? People under duress will certainly fake it, and can do so for generations if need be, but the underlying reality of human conviction will out in the end.

The Baha’i International Community, calling for the release of condemned Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, points out:

“Which temporal government in the world can reasonably decide it has the power to curtail freedom of belief? Belief is not something that can be taken away or bartered; it is a matter of conviction, of the heart, the mind and the soul, beyond the realm of any government’s control.”

Here‘s a link to more info on Pastor Nadarkhani’s peril at the hands of the Iranian government.