Sunday, October 28, 2007

How is YOUR geography?

Looks like this little Lilly is really for real!! Wow!!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Human utterance

I have been meditating recently on the power of speech and the extreme importance of the careful use of this power.

Say: Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure.
(Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 143)

O SON OF DUST! The wise are they that speak not unless they obtain a hearing, even as the cup-bearer, who proffereth not his cup till he findeth a seeker, and the lover who crieth not out from the depths of his heart until he gazeth upon the beauty of his beloved. Wherefore sow the seeds of wisdom and knowledge in the pure soil of the heart, and keep them hidden, till the hyacinths of divine wisdom spring from the heart and not from mire and clay.
(Baha'u'llah, The Persian Hidden Words)

Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility.
(Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 172)

He must never seek to exalt himself above any one, must wash away from the tablet of his heart every trace of pride and vain-glory, must cling unto patience and resignation, observe silence and refrain from idle talk. For the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endureth a century.
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 264)

Subdue the citadels of men's hearts with the swords of wisdom and of utterance. They that dispute, as prompted by their desires, are indeed wrapped in a palpable veil. Say: The sword of wisdom is hotter than summer heat, and sharper than blades of steel, if ye do but understand. Draw it forth in My name and through the power of My might, and conquer, then, with it the cities of the hearts of them that have secluded themselves in the stronghold of their corrupt desires.
(Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 54)

How does one go about training this power of utterance, using language with skill, potency, eloquence, illumination? It does seem that it depends a great deal on acquiring knowledge. So there is nothing for it but to just keep learning. Knowledge is one things, but how does one acquire wisdom? It strikes me suddenly that wisdom is often acquired after suffering, disappointment and the making of mistakes. Is that true? If it is then it gives me a whole new appreciation and patience for my "sins" and "sufferings".

Read by the author

I listen to audiobooks on my weekly drive between CT and NJ. I just finished The Kite Runner.

Incredibly touching, powerfully poignant. I not only cried, I sobbed but don't let that discourage you from reading this book! Provides precious insight into aspects of life in Afghanistan, the universality of the problem of prejudice and discrimination and the overwhelmingly devastating effects of such prejudice on human lives. Also develops sensivity to the powerful life-long effects of childhood trauma. The audiobook is read by the author. I have discovered I love to listen to books read by the author. It brings another layer of vividness especially in stories such as this that was peppered with expressions in Farsi.

The book I listened to before this one was Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" which was also read by the author and was similarly heart wrenching but SUCH an important read.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Baha'i Faith BMG style

Hey...look at that. The BMG is drumming up a storm in Washington State too.
Reported today, Oct. 22 on Flitzy Phoebie
"The two men on either side of me seemed to have the energy of a super-storm, of a tornado or a flash flood with a torrent of wind and rain, carving new channels through canyons. I imagined they had the ability to rip continents apart, to reshape the world into something better than anyone could ever imagine it to be, and keep it that way! Perhaps, that is the plan."
And please allow me just one more quotation on racism. This is SUCH a powerful one...taken from today's post on Baha'i Views:
"Racism, one of the most baneful and persistent evils, is a major barrier to peace. Its practice perpetrates too outrageous a violation of the dignity of human beings to be countenanced under any pretext. Racism retards the unfoldment of the boundless potentialities of its victims, corrupts its perpetrators, and blights human progress. Recognition of the oneness of mankind, implemented by appropriate legal measures, must be universally upheld if this problem is to be overcome… World order can be found only on an unshakable consciousness of the oneness of mankind, a spiritual truth which all the human sciences confirm. Anthropology, physiology, psychology, recognize only one human species, albeit infinitely varied in the secondary aspects of life. Recognition of this truth requires abandonment of prejudice – prejudice of every kind –race, class, color, creed, nation, sex, degrees of material civilization, everything which enables people to consider themselves superior to others.”(The Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, pp. 25-29)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

some advice

not sure about the advice to wear sunscreen but all the other advice sounds very good indeed.

Burned Bridge--Race in Australia

There is an inevitable amiable struggle over whose Netflix movie to watch together on the weekends. mbh has an exasperating tendency to search out obscure movies of unreliable "quality" but he is very skillful in marketing his choice of movies to me. This week again..."What is it called?" I demand as we begin our negotiations. "Burned Bridge"..."Nooo" I groan feeling like it doesn't sound like a movie I want to watch. "You'll like it" he says as always "It is about aboriginal issues in Australia." That did sound persuasive. He knows me so well. And indeed I am finding it VERY worth watching and UNCANNILY in keeping with my recent ruminations on race. (There are several episodes to the program.) How srikingly race issues in Australia parallel race issues in the US! How unsettling the injustice and damage that "white" social structures are wreaking on our planet.
The first episode of the series is really poorly shot--terrible lighting and editing and videography but the following episodes are so much better and maybe it is also because the story sucks you in so that you no longer notice the unrefined technique. The series is striking in its realism and the gradual unfoldment of the characters' lives so that one gradually feels trapped by the maddening complexity of the issues and theblatant injustices perpetrated knowingly and, even more often, unknowingly. We are given an insight into aboriginal life, family and culture in contemporary Australia. Also played out so well are the internal contradictions faced by those of aboriginal background who manage to "succeed" in the white man's world. They must constantly struggle to make it, all the while feeling torn in their hearts by a sense of betrayal and disloyalty to their own people.
Most certainly a study of the micropractices that construct White privilege in society-- to borrow from Michelle Fine's terminology in her chapter Witnessing Whiteness [Fine, M. (2004). Witnessing Whiteness/Gathering Intelligence. In M. Fine & L. Weis & L. Powell Pruitt & A. Burns (Eds.), Off White: Readings on Power, Privilege, and Resistance. New York: Routledge.]

Friday, October 19, 2007

Intellectual stimulation and spiritual refreshment all in one place!

We have such sweet, intellectually stimulating and spiritually refreshing devotional gatherings in Highland Park, NJ. They are attended mainly by students from Rutgers, the large university on the other side of the river, and every week is a different experience depending on who shows up. We spend the first hour or so wrapped in spontaneous intellectual conversations about so many topics. Every week I come away with new insights to ponder. Last night the devotional gathering moved to my little apartment. Usually they are at Bradley and Cynthia's. Bradley is doing his Phd in Geography, studying the fair trade movement and its impact on coffee growers in Nicaragua.
Bradley and I share a love of the work of Paolo Freire, the Brazilian educator, whose thought was so influential in the design of the world-wide movement embodied in the Ruhi Study Circle --a participatory educational program being undertaken by the Baha'i international community that is designed to empower individuals wherever they live to become a force for positive change in the world.

I see it as a kind of a revolution--not in the traditional sense of the word revolution but rather a spiritual revolution where individuals unlock their capacity to love ALL humanity and act in service to overcome injustice, inequity and suffering around them.

The study circle concept was first developed in Columbia but is now used all over the world, from the remotest mountain villages to the largest metropolitan centers, as a tool for personal and community transformation.

Baha'i study circle in Thailand.

Bradlely likes to comment that it is a "third world solution to first world problems"...this comment really strikes me as beautiful as I find myself tiring of first world solutions to "third world" problems.
Cynthia is a doctoral student in Women's studies and every time I chat with her she gets me thinking once again about issues of gender inequality and what true gender equality might actually look like. The last couple of weeks we have considered the topic of gender equality in some depth at our devotional gatherings and have said special prayers for women who have suffered physical and sexual abuse.

Two wonderful sisters who often attend come from a Jewish family but have invested a great deal in learning about Arabic culture. Lisa has studied in Egypt and has a high proficiency in the Arabic language. Last week she stunned me with her insights and comments on the wearing of the hijab and the degree to which it is usually an active choice that Muslim women make and can even be a political statement and an assertion and celebration of one's identity as a Muslim woman and a symbol of allegiance to one's faith.
The spontaneous genuine heartfelt conversations laced with love and spirit of such openness drift so naturally into the prayers and readings that follow. Sometimes there is a theme suggested, but always it is a spontaneous meditative sharing by the individuals in attendance of prayers, songs or readings from the Baha'i Writings and any of the world's great Scriptures.
The most well-known devotional gathering in the Northeast United States was started by members of the Black Men's Gathering . Baha'is in the area will often say "Have you been to the HushHarbor devotional at the New York City Baha'i Center? Oh you should go, it is an amazing experience." One of these days I will make it there.

Devotional meeting pulses with energy
NEW YORK 28 November 2005 (BWNS)
The sounds of African drums and soaring voices burst out over a normally quiet lower Manhattan Street lined with antique dealers and four-story apartment buildings.

It was a recent Sunday morning and the pulsating energy was coming from the New York Baha'i Center where a drum circle was being led by African-American men, with people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds joining in.
The gathering was a striking example of a new and growing feature of Baha'i community life: community devotional meetings designed to engage the world at large through uplifting and inspirational prayers, music, readings and more.
In this case, the monthly event also offers a striking antidote to the sometimes subtle, sometimes overt sense of racial segregation that still pervades American society.
Called the "Hush Harbor Devotional," the gathering takes its name from meetings held by slaves who hung wet fabric on tree branches to stop their voices carrying while they were praying and planning escapes.
"The whole idea is to extend that idea of a safe place, not just for black folks but for everyone that comes to the devotional," said Lloyd Lawrence, one of the organizers.
"I think we free people up from their own cultural limitations," Mr. Lawrence said.
"Many people want to have a conversation with God, feel the spirit of the Almighty," said Dr. Roberts.
"They want to have their souls quickened with that spirit -- and coming into this kind of devotional allows them to feel that spirit."
... In addition to drumming and singing, the Hush Harbor Devotional also features the chanting of prayers in a wide range of languages, including Arabic, Persian, Mandarin, and Spanish.
...The purpose [of Hush Harbor] is not to perform, it's not to read perfectly, but to pray," said Dr. Roberts.
Kenneth Ray, who organizes the event with Mr. Lawrence, said he thought it had helped the community to understand its wonderful diversity.
"When we first started, Hush Harbor was mainly attracting the African-American community, but now it is inclusive of people from all backgrounds, Baha'is and non-Baha'is alike," ...

..."Really what's happened is we've witnessed men who have been marginalized in their community step forward," Dr. Roberts said.
"It allowed them to know that being a Baha'i does not mean you have to put aside your culture, your way of doing things," he said.
Mr. Ray said that the devotional provides many with a different understanding of diversity and worship.
"It's a way for everyone to express his or her spirit -- it's about the full participation of everyone in the room," he said.
"We seek to touch people's hearts. If people's hearts are affected then Hush Harbor is serving its purpose." ...Read more

Monday, October 15, 2007

October 15th--Blog Action Day --Blog for the environment

This is the day when blogs around the world who are participating in blog action day blog about the environment. I have been trying to be more environmentally friendly in the last few weeks.
1. I actually started being more systematic about recycling in the home.
2. I have started using my reusable grocery bags.
3. Rather than wishing we could move into a house I am now feeling like, as far as I am concerned, the reason we are not in a house is that apartment living is so much more resource efficient.
4. I am more conscious than ever about not buying things unless i really need them.

Great list of resources on the blog action day website

For example, you could take the ecological footprint quiz to see how many planets we would need if everyone lived like you do. We would need 6.4 planets if everyone lived like me :(

Of course what is really needed is drastic reform at the macrostructural level. This man develops a rational argument for why this seems to be the best course of action based on his risk analysis of the situation:

It strikes me that noone ever dares to actually propose any substantial structural changes in US society. The way our cities are laid out, with our traveling to megastores to do our shopping, our agribusiness farming, our miles and miles of pavement for highways and parking lots, how impossible it is to get anywhere without a car. There is no way that this institutionalized network is going to be changed without complete collapse. Who would dare suggest it? And how are you going to get so many millions of people to sacrifice house, car, convenience willingly, voluntarily? It seems to me that sustainable living would entail things such as growing our food closer to where we live in more sustainable ways, living closer to where we work in more concentrated groups so that public transportation could be more efficient.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Racial prejudice: "the most vital and challenging issue"

Race has been on my mind a lot recently and it seems that there are lessons that I am supposed to be learning about it as I seem to be confronted with the issue more than usual in recent weeks. I have an outstanding group of students this semester in a class I am teaching "The Sociological Foundations of Education." One of the most striking things about the class and the reason I just love it so much is the great diversity among the students. A central question that we tackle in the class is the relationship between schooling and social inequality. In the US, social inequalities fall starkly along racial lines. We have just begun grappling with this sensitive and painful topic.

Today I attended the Baha'i Unit Convention in my electoral unit in CT. The first order of business at an annual Unit Convention is to elect a delegate who will go to the national convention to elect the governing body of the Baha'is of the United States. But before we do this we elect a chairperson and a secretary for the convention from among any of the adult members in attendance. There was a diversity of people in attendance, as there should be in a healthy Baha'i community. The young and dynamic chairperson, the convention secretary and the delegate who were all elected were all African American.
After the election of our delegate, the next order of business was for the electoral unit to consult among themselves about the affairs of the regional Baha'i community and to offer suggestions to be conveyed to the National Spiritual Assembly. There were two direct, urgent and heartfelt pleas (both made by white people) for action against racial prejudice to be taken both within the Baha'i community and by Baha'is in the community at large to continue to focus on this issue that Shoghi Effendi marked as the "most vital and challenging issue" facing the Baha'i community in North America. One of the readings prior to the start of the consultation was a brief excerpt from Shoghi Effendi's instructions to the American Baha'i community that were written way back then in the 1920s in his book/letter The Advent of Divine Justice. Here I include a much longer exerpt from that same book:

"As to racial prejudice, the corrosion of which, for well-nigh a century, has bitten into the fiber, and attacked the whole social structure of American society, it should be regarded as constituting the most vital and challenging issue confronting the Bahá'í community at the present stage of its evolution. The ceaseless exertions which this issue of paramount importance calls for, the sacrifices it must impose, the care and vigilance it demands, the moral courage and fortitude it requires, the tact and sympathy it necessitates, invest this problem, which the American believers are still far from having satisfactorily resolved, with an urgency and importance that cannot be overestimated. ...To discriminate against any race, on the ground of its being socially backward, politically immature, and numerically in a minority, is a flagrant violation of the spirit that animates the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. The consciousness of any division or cleavage in its ranks is alien to its very purpose, principles, and ideals. Once its members have fully recognized the claim of its Author, and, by identifying themselves with its Administrative Order, accepted unreservedly the principles and laws embodied in its teachings, every differentiation of class, creed, or color must automatically be obliterated, and never be allowed, under any pretext, and however great the pressure of events or of public opinion, to reassert itself. If any discrimination is at all to be tolerated, it should be a discrimination not against, but rather in favor of the minority, be it racial or otherwise. 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. So great and vital is this principle that in such circumstances, as when an equal number of ballots have been cast in an election, or where the qualifications for any office are balanced as between the various races, faiths or nationalities within the community, priority should unhesitatingly be accorded the party representing the minority, and this for no other reason except to stimulate and encourage it, and afford it an opportunity to further the interests of the community. In the light of this principle, and bearing in mind the extreme desirability of having the minority elements participate and share responsibility in the conduct of Bahá'í activity, it should be the duty of every Bahá'í community so to arrange its affairs that in cases where individuals belonging to the divers minority elements within it are already qualified and fulfill the necessary requirements, Bahá'í representative institutions, be they Assemblies, conventions, conferences, or committees, may have represented on them as many of these divers elements, racial or otherwise, as possible. The adoption of such a course, and faithful adherence to it, would not only be a source of inspiration and encouragement to those elements that are numerically small and inadequately represented, but would demonstrate to the world at large the universality and representative character of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, and the freedom of His followers from the taint of those prejudices which have already wrought such havoc in the domestic affairs, as well as the foreign relationships, of the nations.
Freedom from racial prejudice, in any of its forms, should, at such a time as this when an increasingly large section of the human race is falling a victim to its devastating ferocity, be adopted as the watchword of the entire body of the American believers, in whichever state they reside, in whatever circles they move, whatever their age, traditions, tastes, and habits. It should be consistently demonstrated in every phase of their activity and life, whether in the Bahá'í community or outside it, in public or in private, formally as well as informally, individually as well as in their official capacity as organized groups, committees and Assemblies. It should be deliberately cultivated through the various and everyday opportunities, no matter how insignificant, that present themselves, whether in their homes, their business offices, their schools and colleges, their social parties and recreation grounds, their Bahá'í meetings, conferences, conventions, summer schools and Assemblies. ..."O ye discerning ones!" Bahá'u'lláh has written, "Verily, the words which have descended from the heaven of the Will of God are the source of unity and harmony for the world. Close your eyes to racial differences, and welcome all with the light of oneness." "We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations," He proclaims, "...that all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled." " Bahá'u'lláh hath said," writes 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "that the various races of humankind lend a composite harmony and beauty of color to the whole. Let all associate, therefore, in this great human garden even as flowers grow and blend together side by side without discord or disagreement between them." " Bahá'u'lláh," 'Abdu'l-Bahá moreover has said, "once compared the colored people to the black pupil of the eye surrounded by the white. In this black pupil is seen the reflection of that which is before it, and through it the light of the spirit shineth forth."
"God," 'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself declares, "maketh no distinction between the white and the black. If the hearts are pure both are acceptable unto Him. God is no respecter of persons on account of either color or race. All colors are acceptable unto Him, be they white, black, or yellow. Inasmuch as all were created in the image of God, we must bring ourselves to realize that all embody divine possibilities." "In the estimation of God," He states, "all men are equal. There is no distinction or preference for any soul, in the realm of His justice and equity." "God did not make these divisions," He affirms; "these divisions have had their origin in man himself. Therefore, as they are against the plan and purpose of God they are false and imaginary." "In the estimation of God," He again affirms, "there is no distinction of color; all are one in the color and beauty of servitude to Him. Color is not important; the heart is all-important. ... "Man is endowed with superior reasoning power and the faculty of perception"; He further explains, "he is the manifestation of divine bestowals. Shall racial ideas prevail and obscure the creative purpose of unity in his kingdom?" ... "In the world of being," He testifies, "the meeting is blessed when the white and colored races meet together with infinite spiritual love and heavenly harmony. When such meetings are established, and the participants associate with each other with perfect love, unity and kindness, the angels of the Kingdom praise them, and the Beauty of Bahá'u'lláh addresseth them, 'Blessed are ye! Blessed are ye!'" ...He again exhorts both races, "put forth your greatest endeavor toward the accomplishment of this fellowship and the cementing of this bond of brotherhood between you...Each one should endeavor to develop and assist the other toward mutual advancement.... Love and unity will be fostered between you, thereby bringing about the oneness of mankind. For the accomplishment of unity between the colored and white will be an assurance of the world's peace."
A tremendous effort is required by both races if their outlook, their manners, and conduct are to reflect, in this darkened age, the spirit and teachings of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. Casting away once and for all the fallacious doctrine of racial superiority, with all its attendant evils, confusion, and miseries, and welcoming and encouraging the intermixture of races, and tearing down the barriers that now divide them, they should each endeavor, day and night, to fulfill their particular responsibilities in the common task which so urgently faces them. ...Let the white make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem, to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race, to persuade them through their intimate, spontaneous and informal association with them of the genuineness of their friendship and the sincerity of their intentions, and to master their impatience of any lack of responsiveness on the part of a people who have received, for so long a period, such grievous and slow-healing wounds. Let the Negroes, through a corresponding effort on their part, show by every means in their power the warmth of their response, their readiness to forget the past, and their ability to wipe out every trace of suspicion that may still linger in their hearts and minds. Let neither think that the solution of so vast a problem is a matter that exclusively concerns the other. Let neither think that such a problem can either easily or immediately be resolved. Let neither think that they can wait confidently for the solution of this problem until the initiative has been taken, and the favorable circumstances created, by agencies that stand outside the orbit of their Faith. Let neither think that anything short of genuine love, extreme patience, true humility, consummate tact, sound initiative, mature wisdom, and deliberate, persistent, and prayerful effort, can succeed in blotting out the stain which this patent evil has left on the fair name of their common country."
(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 40)