Monday, December 31, 2007

taking stock

i think all opportunities to reflect and evaluate and bring oneself to account are worth participating in so in this spirit i consider my new year resolutions from last year

"pray more
love more
laugh more
smile more
praise more
connect more
see more sunsets

wake up early EVERY DAY--5:30am--this would revolutionzie my i wish i could accomplish it"

i would say i did all of these more consciously except perhaps see more sunsets and wake up at 5:30 every day! overall it has been a good year. an eventful year. in many ways it has been a year of healing and growth and also a year of moving on.

what would my list be for this year? i think i would like to strive for the following attributes

purity of heart, mind, motive, intention
and JOY

i suppose such a list is endless so i will stop here as these are the items on my wish list that come first to mind.

"unshakeable faith in the oneness of the human family, despite 500 years of slavery, rejection, and discrimination"

On Baha'i Thought and Black America Phillipe Copeland urges us to celebrate January 1st 2008 as "the 200th anniversary of the prohibition of importing enslaved Africans into the United States."

Phillipe says...

"At the very least I encourage everyone to tell everyone about this anniversary so it does not pass unnoticed. You might even include in your New Years resolutions a resolve to redouble your efforts until racial unity and justice prevail in America."

I am endeavoring to take him up on his challenge by at least posting about it here. In keeping with my recent posting theme I even have some MORE music by Baha'i Artists to suggest in your celebrations of this event! --the music of the Columbian Baha'i artists Leonor Dely & Millero Congo. Again fabulous, so fabulous is this music. Such a high quality production. The hand of JB Eckl at work once again I discover!

And why do I link this CD to a celebration of the prohibition of the slave trade??

Here are the liner notes for the CD...
"Millero Congo wants to express our deepest thanks to our friends in the villages of Northern Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Honduras, Guadelope, Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil for having preserved and shared with us their African sacred drumming traditions, their dignity, loving hearts, easy smiles and unshakeable faith in the oneness of the human family, despite 500 years of slavery, rejection and discrimination."

Millero Congo also strives to acheive an integration of musical genres--it seems that this is a common goal among contemporary Baha'i musicians--achieving unity in diversity through music!! In Millero Congo's words:

"We want to take Bahá’u’lláh’s Words and Spirit to everybody, through a new music style that we coined “tribalglobal”, which powerfully welds together North and South, Black and White, and, we hope, will “set the hearts of the listeners ablaze and cause their bodies to soar”."

Tribalglobal!! HOW COOL IS THAT!? I find myself quite prone to excitement these days. I do hope you will pardon me. how is this for TRIBALGLOBAL. In searching for anything Millero Congo on YouTube I found a video someone made of the Baha'i Lotus Temple in New Delhi, India and they chose Oye Oye by Leonor Dely & Millero Congo as their sound track. Even for me, as a self-proclaimed world citizen, this juxtaposition of the tribal and the global is quite mind blowing. Check it out and fall in LOVE with the powerful sounds of African sacred drumming accompanying the sacred words of the Spirit of the Age. The translation of the Spanish is as follows:

"Magnify My cause that I may reveal unto thee the mysteries of My greatness and shine upon thee with the light of eternity. Rejoice in the gladness of thine heart, that thou mayest be worthy to meet Me and to mirror forth My beauty."

Sunday, December 30, 2007

music for the children of the half light--"my beautifuls hold tight"

recently i have stocked up on a whole bunch of music by baha'i artists. there is SO MUCH GOOD STUFF out there now!! WOW! my newest passion is the music of the Dawnbreaker Collective. When I first heard their music a few months ago I think I was so taken aback by the pure hiphopness of it that I couldn't quite accept it as spiritual music. Now that I have the cd I just CANNOT get enough of it! It is truly truly inspired art. Just listen carefully carefully to the incredible genius of the poetry, to the rich use of allusions to Baha'i Scripture, to the powerful transformative messages being conveyed to the hip hop generation and to the rest of the world who may dare to listen. It is so fresh and so exciting.

Furthermore, I feel that no other music could be more suited as a battle cry for the "spiritual warriors" who are doing battle on the toughest frontlines in the world among the neglected victims of oppression, inspiring, and raising individuals up in their earliest years of youth to take their place in the struggle for the spiritualization and unification of the planet. We need them so much and all the receptivity they have to calls of the spirit. We cannot do it without them.

Here is a little documentary of the making of Volume 1 of Arise

And here is a video of "O Son of Being"--please please open your heart and mind to the POWER and beauty of the Baha'i Writings delivered in this medium.

There are so many tracks that i love on this cd. One that I find particularly moving is a poem recited alongside the singing of a prayer by Baha'u'llah

"Prayers like shoes" (Ruth Foreman, Tara Ellis, Jamey Jaz)

i wear prayers like shoes
pull em on quiet each morning
take me through the uncertainty
don't know what might knock me off course
sit up in bed
pull on the the right then the left
before shower
before teeth

they were my mamma's gift to walk me through this life
she wore strong ones
the kind steady your ankles
i know cos when her man left
her children gone
her eldest son without goodbye
they the only ones keep her standin'
i saw her still standin'

mamma passed on some things to me
my smile
sense of discipline
my subtle behind
but best she passed on
"girl you go to God and get you some good shoes
cos this life ain't steady ground"

now i don't wear hers
you take em with you you know
but i suspect they made by the same company
pull em on each morning
first the right then the left
best piece o' dress i got

"I have risen this morning by Thy grace, O my God, and left my home trusting wholly in Thee, and committing myself to Thy care. Send down, then, upon me, out of the heaven of Thy mercy, a blessing from Thy side, and enable me to return home in safety even as Thou didst enable me to set out under Thy protection with my thoughts fixed steadfastly upon Thee.
There is none other God but Thee, the One, the Incomparable, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise."

pull em on each morning
first the right then the left
best piece o' dress i got

i wear prayers like shoes
like shoes

Saturday, December 29, 2007

calmness, stillness, faith and more baha'i music

On Befriended Stranger today Mitko writes --

if one is not calm, centered, focused on God’s Will in the beginning, probably it will show in the end. And vice versa, if the beginning is rooted in the calm, confident reliance on God’s guidance, the end will be the way it needs to be, regardless of the specifics of the outcome, regardless of our inability to see the end in the beginning.

"The beginning of all things is the knowledge of God, and the end of all things is strict observance of whatsoever hath been sent down from the empyrean of the Divine Will that pervadeth all that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth."
(Baha’u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u'llah, p. 5)

and on the topic of tests and faith Elika Mahony's new cd "Fire and Gold" is just just about to be released in January 2008.

From the lyrics of the title track: "The world is like a vapor in the desert which the thirsty dreameth to be water and striveth after it with all his might until he findeth it to be mere illusion...busy not thyself with this world, for with fire we test the gold and with gold we test Our servants..." Baha'u'llah

Listen to sample tracks here
Sign her guestbook here .
And here is a video for "This is Faith," one of the songs on the album with lyrics from a poem by Amatu'l-Baha Ruhhiyih Khanum.

I have shared some geographical pathways through this life with Elika. She is also a "child of africa" and currently resides in China. I first met Elika in California where she was always the one inspiring her fellow Baha'i youth, myself included, into song. I have so enjoyed immersing myself in the two Melodies of the Nightengale cds and I do look forward to owning my very own copy of Fire and Gold.

Friday, December 28, 2007

SED 2007 Musical presentations

One of the many highlights of the Baha'i Social and Economic Development conference was the music. We were treated to high quality musical presentations every night from some of the Baha'i world's favorite musicians. People who have spent any time with me in the last couple of weeks already know that I am a raving fan of Eric Dozier and JB Eckl having just purchased their fabulous cd Badasht . So you can imagine how thrilled I was to actually see them perform live. I also just love how their music blends and integrates so many musical genres: "Drawing upon the Bahá'í Sacred Writings for lyrics and inspiration, and incorporating elements of soul, rock, Gospel, folk and world music, Eric and JB's first collaboration weaves a rich tapestry of sound at once intimate and expansive, introspective and jubilant." [from the CD cover]. JB Eckl is a first class music producer as well as a musician so the album was in good hands.
They have quite a repertoire and we got to hear songs that were just being born like a new bluesy song from the "Mornin' Suns" which may (or may not?) be the name of their new partnership?? Here they are performing a song that is one of those NOT on Badasht.

sweet sweet sweet!

We were also treated to some "new age/world" music by Afshin Toufighian on piano (original composition) and Gustaff Besungu on his djembe. Mm mmm mm. So nice so nice. Just close your eyes and do some serious meditating to this one.

In addition to these rich listening experiences we heard from Jack Lenz [who also put the whole musical program together], Gwendolyn Watson [virtuoso cello player and improviser], Vedad Theophilus, and Roya Bauman. As if this were not enough Red Grammar was there too! Wow!! He is a very well-known and popular singer of children's music that adults LOVE too. He sang so many so many of everyone's old favorites including Teaching Peace, Listen, the ABCs of you ... Here he is singing "We're rich" which he introduces by explaining the inspiration for the song in the following quote from a document put out by Baha'i International Community in 1995 entitled "The Prosperity of Humankind"

"History has thus far recorded principally the experience of tribes, cultures, classes, and nations. With the physical unification of the planet in this century and acknowledgement of the interdependence of all who live on it, the history of humanity as one people is now beginning. The long, slow civilizing of human character has been a sporadic development, uneven and admittedly inequitable in the material advantages it has conferred. Nevertheless, endowed with the wealth of all the genetic and cultural diversity that has evolved through past ages, the earth's inhabitants are now challenged to draw on their collective inheritance to take up, consciously and systematically, the responsibility for the design of their future.

(Baha'i International Community, 1995 Mar 03, The Prosperity of Humankind)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Erica Toussaint and the unity of humankind

ALL of the plenary sessions at the Baha'i social and economic development conference 2007 were incredibly inspiring and uplifting. It was worth coming down to Florida even just for the first night's opening program to hear Erica Toussaint speak. She is a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States and an incredibly brilliant, down-to-earth, joyful individual.

She kicked off the conference by reminding us that the Baha'i Faith is one huge social and economic development project and that we were all already actively engaged in this project through the work in community building and the fostering of unity that every Baha'i naturally engages in. She spoke of education as being foundational to everything that the Baha'is do and that it is through education that we seek to achieve our mission which is the spiritualization of human society and civilization.

She referred to this wonderful quotation of 'Abdu'l-Baha in connection with the importance of education:

"Material civilization, through the power of punitive and retaliatory laws, restraineth the people from criminal acts; and notwithstanding this, while laws to retaliate against and punish a man are continually proliferating, as ye can see, no laws exist to reward him. In all the cities of Europe and America, vast buildings have been erected to serve as jails for the criminals.
Divine civilization, however, so traineth every member of society that no one, with the exception of a negligible few, will undertake to commit a crime. There is thus a great difference between the prevention of crime through measures that are violent and retaliatory, and so training the people, and enlightening them, and spiritualizing them, that without any fear of punishment or vengeance to come, they will shun all criminal acts. They will, indeed, look upon the very commission of a crime as a great disgrace and in itself the harshest of punishments. They will become enamoured of human perfections, and will consecrate their lives to whatever will bring light to the world and will further those qualities which are acceptable at the Holy Threshold of God." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 132)

Erica Toussaint also reminded us that while engaging in all manner of specific social and economic development projects is of course important and valuable, the "well-being of mankind, its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established."
And so we should always keep in mind this greater goal for which we are working---the unity of humankind.

In light of this goal of the Baha'i World Community, let me display some proof of the success that the Baha'i World Community enjoys in bringing us all together-- the beautiful faces that I had the bounty of laying eyes upon at the conference.

I caught these three in animated conversation and asked if I could take a picture of them as they were so beautiful in their shared joy representing as they do the great nations of India, Cameroon, and China.

Another picture of Gustaff Besungu and his drum (you can just see it peeking out from behind him).

I met old friends from Macau --Farah and Farid Samandari. They introduced me to this wonderful Turkish woman who now lives in Germany and who I was not able to speak with as she is "only" able to speak Turkish, Farsi and German.

I wanted to take a picture of Navid's shirt. He is from Togo (of Iranian descent) and every day wore a different wonderful shirt.

He is currently a graduate student at MIT. This other friend in the picture lived in Tianjin, China for some years and we had nice conversation in Chinese together.

One of the very lovely faces in the bookstore.

Wife of the late Norwegian Baha'i sculptor Arild Juel Petterson and co-founder of Martha's Barn which is a "19th century barn that is in the process of being restored to be used as a facility devoted to promote education in the arts/sciences, encourage non-violent conflict resolution, and stand as restored historic site." What is unique about this barn tucked away in rural Pennsylvania is that it belonged to that great Baha'i heroine and world traveler Martha Root.

These two delighted everyone with their mutual love and affection.

"These children are neither Oriental nor Occidental, neither Asiatic nor American, neither European nor African, but they are of the Kingdom; their native home is heaven..." (Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha v3, p. 647)

Baha'i social and economic development conference 2007

I have been wanting to attend the annual Baha'i Social and Economic Development conference held in Orlando, Florida for many years. This year I finally did it and being in a large group of Baha'is felt like a wonderful homecoming. The Baha'i world community has come a long way in the last decade and there is a very tangible growth in the capacity of the Baha'i community to begin having a transformative impact on the culture and civilization of humankind.

Before the conference even started I began having heart-warming interactions. As I walked into the bookstore after registering I saw a radiant woman who I remembered from almost 20 years ago (honestly can I REALLY be this old????) when she was doing her Baha'i youth year of service coming from the US to travel through the countries of Southern Africa. Now she is living in Chicago.

Here she is with her beautiful half-Iranian son.

Walking out of the bookstore I greeted another beautiful young woman identifiable as a conference participant by her name tag. We started chatting and she mentioned she was thinking of getting something to eat and so I invited myself along. What an opportunity that was!!! Really what blessings and grace are available to us if we are just a little open to them.

She is originally from South Carolina and now living in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her four kids. She announced she was a fourth generation Baha'i. I said..."Oh you have some Iranian heritage?" as that is what I tend to assume when I meet people who have such a long Baha'i heritage. No... she is a fourth generation African American Baha'i. The story really begins with her uncle Rick. Uncle Rick at 12 years old started hanging around with the Baha'is in the 1950s in the south. Rick's father (Shelley's grandfather), Charles Abercrombie, was an important leader in a Southern Baptist church and was really worried about this "cult" that his son, Rick, was getting involved with. So Charles Abercrombie asked Rick to invite some of the Baha'is to come to their home so that he could learn more about the Baha'is. Rick invited two ladies who were best friends and who were traveling together in areas of South Carolina for the purpose of teaching people about the Baha'i Faith. These two friends were Joy Failey Benson--a white woman --and Ulele Bobo--an African American woman. These two women came to visit with the Abercrombies and to talk with them about the Baha'i Faith. The conversation went long into the night and Charles said..." Now wait a minute you have to come back now because I still have not understood what you are trying to tell me."

So over the next few days these two ladies came back and spoke with them night after night until really late and Charles had his Bible in hand and they had their Baha'i Writings and they had very heated exchanges. Finally the grandfather and the grandmother were still not satisified and they said that since they were at their house so much and were staying so late every day they might as well come and just move in for a while!! So Ulele Bobo moved in with the Abercrombies for three weeks and after this time of intensive interaction the grandfather and the grandmother became Baha'is. What followed was a period of intense testing. Charles went back to the church to tell them that Christ had returned! The Abercrombies, perhaps not surprisingly, were subsequently ostracized from the church and the community for becoming Baha'is and Charles lost his job. The Abercrombies had their own large plot of farmland and to this they returned and and grew their own food and they built properties that they could rent out and they did just fine. This spiritually receptive couple went on to have eight children who all became staunch supporters of the Faith.

Shelley's father, Sherryfield Abercrombie, was six when Joy and Ulele walked together into his family's home for that first time and the shock of seeing a white woman and a black woman together as friends in the Jim Crow south was enough to persuade his very young heart of the power of the message they brought. He said right there and then that he wanted to be a Baha'i. Sherryfield is now retired and is "pioneering" all on his own out remote in the African bush of Lesotho thereby answering the call of the Universal House of Justice (the governing body of the Baha'i World Community) for African American Baha'is to travel to Africa to serve humanity and teach people about the Baha'i Faith there. He is using his own money to establish a school there and now Shelley is here at the Social and Economic Development conference to help to realize her goal of supporting her father in establishing his school as an official non-profit organization that can apply for grants.

So Shelley is a fourth generation Baha'i because her great-grandmother learned of the Faith from her grandfather and became a Baha'i too. And now Shelley who works in a restaurant, is studying full time for her Masters in Business Education, is a full-time Mom and a full-time Baha'i, active in absolutely everything and she is raising the fifth generation of the Abercrombie Baha'is. She said that with all the children and grand-children and great-grandchildren of these two original pure-hearted souls there are now 60 Baha'is in their family. She has relatives serving the Faith all over the world but she is right there serving in inner-city Ann Arbor with her new fiance who has made it possible for her to come out here to the conference and who works as the executive director of Peace Neighborhood Center. I felt so honored to have met her and to have had a chance to chat with her.

The experience chatting with Shelley reinforced my awareness of the power of personal narratives!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Icelanders in China

Joa's lovely sister Hildigunnur and her just as lovely best friend Birna are taking time away from Iceland between high school and college to travel around the world.
They spent some time in China including time in Shanxi with spectacular Sophia. They had a few days in New York too and I just had to see them and hear their China stories so I zoomed up to pick them up from the airport and take them for breakfast and deposit them in Brooklyn where they were to stay with friends/family.

We ended up in a quaint little cafe in Brooklyn called the Flying Saucer where we were served by the sweetest androgynous person. We sat ourselves down on leather sofas that looked like they had been purchased at the Salvation Army with our coffee and babka and bagels and had a nice chat about their travels. After New York they are on their way to the Dominican Republic and then a month or two in various countries in Latin America.
What sweet, gentle, strong and independent young women they are.

More Flickr pictures of their trip to Shanxi and other parts of the world are available here. And just in case Icelandic is one of your languages, they are keeping a blog of their travels too--Heimsreisa ójá!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

happy holidays

thanks to dear dear friends and colleagues I am getting all my holiday celebrations in this year. I was invited to Hannukkah dinner with the magical family of a colleague in their large and rambling home in Montclair, NJ. It was a delight to meet

and Kai

and to watch the menorah being lit accompanied by songs. we then feasted on a traditional Russian "peasant" meal that included

potato latkes and brisket. Delicious! Then there were gifts for the kids. it was such a wonderful cultural experience for me and I was so grateful to have been invited. here is a little documentary of lighting the menorah. it starts out VERY dark but the light comes as the menorah is lighted.

I have also been immersed in Christmas spirit. dear Krista invited me to Princeton this weekend and we went out to a little square in downtown Princeton where there is a huge Christmas tree and many lights all around. Student acapella groups sang Christmas carols like my favorite Silent Night. And each group seemed to have a humorous song to offer as well, much to the delight of the crowd.

Monday, December 17, 2007


solitude can seem frightening and overwhelming. we do so much in the modern world to stay so connected to others. it seems to me that solitude can be a spiritually potent state if one allows oneself to embrace it. it is so tempting to try to escape it. to fill it with activities and thoughts and longings and imaginations. if one can submit to it entirely perhaps one will be able to experience the all-encompassing ecstasy of prayer. perhaps if one stays with it one will arrive at a place of peace and calm and clarity.

embracing true solitude seems to require complete severance from the world...

a baha'i year of patience is a beautiful opportunity to practice such solitude, detachment and severance. it strikes me that it is very similar to the practice of fasting. i am delighted at the thought of a year. the part that I find more difficult is to embrace the possibility of a life time of solitude. of course, it will not be constant solitude--there will be plenty of room for all manner of new friends and joys and activities and more purposeful and pure hearted service. but, in all, perhaps the opportunity that a single celibate life affords for solitude must needs be treasured and utilized to its fullest potential. activities and friends should never be used as a means to simply fill up a void.

Cousin Dave has chosen a life of solitude in his work as a missionary in the Ukraine. I asked him recently if he had any suggestions about achieving a state of true prayer and acquiring spiritual discipline and I found his simple answer to be so powerful. . Part of what he said was...

"It seems to me that being disciplined in spiritual activities like prayer and reading and meditating on passages from the Bible, and keeping one day a week set aside for resting and focusing on God etc. will not in themselves bring me into a close relationship with the Lord, but on the other hand, you can't have a close relationship with the Lord without them... I know in my life, and I see it in most other people, getting too busy with lots of good things prevents me from focusing on the best thing - my relationship with the Lord. That is why a day of rest is really important, as I see it. Not just that we need physical rest, but we need to stop the rat race and have some time to consider the spiritual. That runs counter to society around us as you well know."

I say it is simple...because really it is so obvious and yet how many of us really do make this time for our own concentrated spiritual growth and development? It is only now in my new life of solitude that I have been really endeavoring to make real time every morning and evening for my prayers, readings and meditations.

A couple quotes on solitude from here...

"Solitude, the safeguard of mediocrity, is to genius the stern friend, the cold, obscure shelter where moult the wings which will bear it farther than the suns and the stars. He who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from traveling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions. "In the morning - solitude;" said Pythagoras; that Nature may speak to the imagination, as she does never in company, and that her favorite may take acquaintance with those divine strengths which disclose themselves to serious and abstracted thought. 'Tis very certain that Plato, Plotinus, Archimedes, Hermes, Newton, Milton, Wordsworth, did not live in a crowd, but descended into it from time to time as benefactors: and the wise instructor will press this point of securing to the young soul in the disposition of time and the arrangements of living, periods and habits of solitude." -- from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Conduct of Life"

"Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius."Sir Edward Gibbon

Monday, December 10, 2007

cold and sunny in Kamloops

i got a lovely little greeting from my brother in Kamloops, BC today! Just what I needed to make my day. Here it is :)

And here he is surveying the British Columbia beauty during my summer 2003 visit.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Cultural experiences and end of semester celebrations

Last night in my class with my favorite group of students we had an end of semester party. I had consulted my colleague in a nearby office for suggestions for places to order food and she had pulled out a huge stack of menus and she shared her own enthusiastic descriptions of the food at some of her favorite places. She is such an endless repository of local information.

I decided I wanted something ethnic and the menu from Sahara looked like just the thing. I called to ask about delivery for a group of 14 people and the owner, Sam, invited me to come to talk to him in person about my options. This sounded like an adventure so I walked from our building down the streets of New Brunswick, NJ lined with run down houses to some entirely new and undiscovered territory. Surrounded by the desolation of urban decay was a brand new building that looked like an oasis of sorts. I entered the cavernous interior space and Sam arrived to chat with me. It struck me that this was a cultural experience I was having here. In the middle of central Jersey I was being treated to a Middle Eastern experience of building relationships and business at the same time. "Would you like to try some of our baklava?" Sam asked and also brought a glass cup of tea for me. It was some of the best baklava ever. After a little small talk we started to discuss the order.

He gave me such a good deal and the food when it was delivered was just superb. Everyone seemed to feel so. Chicken kebab and various other assorted meats, falafel, cucumber and yogurt, salad, rice, and all kinds of appetizers. I wish I had thought to take my own pictures.

For our party entertainment we played YouTube videos projected onto the screen from popular singers in Ukraine...

India (Om Shanti Om theme song--a big Bollywood blockbuster apparently)....

China, Japan and even a few from US popular culture ending with some socially conscious gospel and smooth Jazz.

Monday, December 03, 2007

i am married to an old school feminist

I don't have the authority to speak about feminism. Unfortunately I have not studied the history of feminism or women's movements and this is a shame given that I am a woman. But I would still like to take the liberty of calling My Beloved Husband an "old-school feminist."
When we were getting married and I was considering whether or not to take his name or do something hyphenated he had VERY strong opinions about the matter. Why on earth would I want to change my name? How inconvenient and unnecessary this would be and what would be the benefit of it? Indeed in China women have kept their own names after marriage for decades. During the era of the Communist revolution everyone was referred to as the androgynous "Comrade." For example a woman with a surname of Li would be Comrade Li (Li Tongzhi) whether married or not. It seems to me that in mainland China it would be considered downright feudal and insulting to refer to someone as Mrs. Lu (Lu Taitai) taking the name of the husband. So I kept my last name and I am SO glad I did. My last name connects me to my own family roots (albeit to my father's side of the family) but this is a tradition of which I am very proud and somehow my very identity feels strongly connected to this name of mine. So thank you very much to mbh.

That is the first way in which mbh is a feminist. Secondly, I had for the longest time prior to marriage longed to have a large number of children and to stay at home to raise them. Mbh was horrified at this notion. "I would HATE to be married to a housewife!" he declared exclaiming at how boring and dreadful that would be. Furthermore he was astounded that I would consider the possibility of being so completely financially and emotionally dependent on another person and so he set about urging and encouraging me in the thoughts that I had of pursuing my PhD.

He has a singular disdain for anything domestic, any kind of household chores and is always urging me to focus on my research and publication rather than wasting too much time on household beautifcation or housework. His parents have been with us for the last couple of years and they too hold this view that for young people in their careers, both men and women, it is better to focus one hundred percent on this important work and they are happy to take on the household supporting roles in this respect.

All this is really quite wonderful. I am most grateful to mbh for this support and encouragement. My heart expands in gratitude in fact. So why say that he is an "old-school" feminist.

Most certainly I feel with all my heart that women should establish their own independent identities beyond their husbands, develop in their careers and contribute to the society and the world in this way and should not be chained to the kitchen and household chores like dependent slaves.

But what of the raising of children, the time taken to nurture family members and relationships, to show hospitality, warmth and caring to friends, neighbours and community members, to take the time to smell the roses, to bake cookies, to love and to laugh and to show compassion, and to savor the beauty and deep meaning of the manual labor and activities that go into the extraordinarily valuable work of homemaking. Women have been doing these absolutely essential activities for so many centuries. They have been forces for the unity and solace and caring of humanity. I celebrate all the momentous work that they have done and all the splendid results that have emanated therefrom. Therefore I say these are NOT women's work alone BUT they are extaordinarily VALUABLE and indeed INDISPENSABLE to human life and community. Men who do not truly value, and partake in these types of "feminine" activities are depriving themselves and also the rest of the world.

I just love the stories in the previous post about Dorothy Nelson. It illustrates my point exactly. I am frustrated beyond belief by the erroneous notion that politics and justice absolutely must have their foundation in conflict. Dorothy Nelson describes the rise of the methods of mediation in the legal field. Love, consultation, understanding, listening...surely these too have a role in the establishment of justice.

The other story that I just love from her post is as follows. When she became the first woman dean of the law school at the University of Southern California her well-intentioned male colleagues gave her some advice about the faculty meeting--"come 15 minutes late and show them who is the boss". Instead she baked some cookies to share with everyone and came 15 minutes early so that she could greet everyone.

To my dearly beloved husband and our dearly beloved brothers in the world can I kindly ask you to step aside and open your minds to alternative ways of thinking, doing and being!!

"Women have equal rights with men upon earth; in religion and society they are a very important element. As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 133)

"So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease; for woman will be the obstacle and hindrance to it. This is true and without doubt."
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 134)

And thanks to iguana for pointing me to this beautiful quote:

"The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over women by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting -- force is losing its weight and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age, less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals -- or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced."
('Abdu'l-Baha, Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 615)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Women changing law

This week in class we will be discussing issues related to gender and education. I found this blog post by Judge Dorothy Nelson by way of Baha'i Views by way of mixed salad of thoughts [goodness it gets difficult to acknowledge everyone that leads one to a discovery in this increasingly interconnected world]

First Women: Dorothy W. Nelson
Submitted by Judge Dorothy Nelson on 6 February 2007 - 3:13pm.
It is an honor to participate in the “First Women Lawyers” series of Ms. JD. I am particularly happy to do so in the company of Professor Barbara Babcock, one of the most admired and distinguished members of our profession. She is a marvelous mentor to her female law students, many of whom I have hired as my law clerks.
Like Professor Babcock, I was the first woman faculty member of the law school that hired me-the University of Southern California. At that time (1957), I decided to insert into the curriculum something that had not been taught but was part of my deeply held beliefs. This was contrary to the advice of my friends on the faculty who advised that as the first woman on the faculty, I shouldn’t “rock the boat”. Nonetheless, I noted that everyone on the faculty appeared to accept the “adversary system” as a given and no courses or materials were offered in the field of alternative dispute resolution. As a member of the Bahá’í Faith, I believe in the process of consultation to resolve conflicts peacefully. I inserted materials on mediation, the closest thing to consultation, in my seminar on the administration of justice. One day at a faculty meeting, I overheard a faculty member say to another, just what is this thing called mediation that Dorothy is teaching in her seminar? The response was: “Oh, it’s a woman’s thing. She is trying to get everyone to love each other”. Well, it gives me the greatest pleasure to say that alternative dispute resolution (particularly mediation) is one of the hottest topics in the justice system today.
When I became the first woman dean, one of the senior faculty members called me into his office and advised me to arrive at the next faculty meeting 15 minutes late to show the faculty who was boss. Instead, I rushed home and baked 5 dozen chocolate cookies and arrived 15 minutes early to greet everyone. I also announced that we would have food at all faculty meetings henceforth. I have always found that in meetings and in crisis situations, food brings people closer together and improves communication immeasurably.
These two small examples reflect what I think is important to remember as a woman. While men and women must achieve full equality with respect to education, employment, salaries, and advancement opportunities, men and women have some distinct attributes which must be present if we are to have a just and peaceful society. In the Bahá’í Writings it is stated that men and women are like the two wings of a bird-the one is male and the other is female. Unless they are both strong the bird cannot fly heavenwards. However, you cannot take the left wing of a bird and put it in the right socket. The wings although equal have different qualities.Why are so many women opting out of the legal profession? One answer may be that women have tried to conform to a male model which values long hours and neglect of family in pursuit of material wealth. One of my favorite stories is that of one of my first woman clerks. She was brilliant, highly motivated, a superb writer and researcher with an impeccable resume. She went to work for a major law firm after clerking for me. She called to tell me that she was pregnant, but had told the law firm that she had already hired a nanny and would be at work the day after the baby was born. The day after the baby was born, she called me from the hospital and said: “Judge, I’ve got a problem.” I said, “I know what it is. You don’t want to go back to work right away.” She agreed. I told her to call the law firm and ask for three months leave. She did and the leave was granted. Two months later she called and said: “Judge, I have a problem”. I replied that I knew what it was. She wasn’t ready to go back to work full time. I told her to decide just how many hours she would like to work and ask the law firm to let her remain on a part-time basis. She worried that she wouldn’t make partner as soon as her contemporaries. My reply was to ask her if that was her purpose in life - to make partner as soon as her peers. She did call the law firm and the request was granted. However, three months later, the senior partner of the law firm called me and said: “Judge, what are you doing to my law firm? Three young male associates who had families said they had been observing my former clerk and like her wanted to spend more time with their families. They knew they wouldn’t make partner as soon but they decided their families were more important. I said to the senior partner that I thought it was wonderful that they were making this decision, especially considering that fact that the local bar association was spending close to $200,000 a year offering counseling to young associates who had drug and marital problems. The senior partner agreed and the environment of the entire law firm has changed. Thus, women lawyers have much to offer in improving the lawyers’ workplace.Laws and practices need to be radically different from what we are accustomed to now in all aspect including parental leave times, flexibility in schedules, “interrupting” careers for raising children, perhaps employment type benefits for parents who are engaged in full time rasing of children (such as social security, health insurance and disability coverage). Society should act as if it seriously cared about child-rearing and should accept responsibility for these endeavors.
Carol Gilligan’s work in the book “A Different Voice” suggests that women invoke an “ethic of care”, and are concerned with preserving relationships and with the context of problems. Men, in contrast, invoke an “ethic of rights” on abstract notions of right and wrong and on objective rationality. This may be one reason why women have been playing such a role in alternative dispute resolution. The adversary system with its win-lose philosophy is, in the words of former Chief Justice Warren Burger, “too costly, too painful, too inefficient and too destructive for a truly civilized society. The movement is toward more appropriate forms of dispute resolution such as mediation where parties voluntarily and confidentially try to reach their own solutions with the help of an impartial neutral. Here the qualities of mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which women are strong are gaining ascendency.When I was meeting with the All China Women’s Federation in Beijing for the first time in l989 and discussing many of these issues, my husband (a retired Superior Court judge) asked for permission to speak. The women were delighted for men had never participated in their discussions. My husband stated that until women achieve full equality, men can never be the best of what they can be. After thunderous applause, the President of the Federation ran down the hall and returned with a gift of lacquered boxes for him. As we left, in gestures uncharacteristic for Chinese women, they patted him on the back as he went by and called out in Chinese, “model husband. model husband”.
As Professor Babcock wrote, the male-created and male centered model is under an unprecedented attack. Like her, I believe that the scene is set for revolutionary change-but not just for women but for all of mankind as well.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

From the motherland of music

Music from Africa also feeds me, soothes me, makes me feel like I am at "home".
In my car I have been playing the same CD over and over again for the last few weeks since I got it--Thomas Mapfumo's Rise Up. According to the Wikipedia entry on Thomas Mapfumo he is known as the Lion of Zimbabwe and has wielded immense political influence during the fight for independence and now in the fight against the newest "oppressive regime". Thomas Mapfumo's chimurenga (struggle) music is political but it is still so soothing to me. I realize that I must have been immersed in it all the years I was growing up. Thomas Mapfumo is a force for the celebration and development of traditional African culture and identity. He sings in his native Shona and has taken the traditional Zimbabwean instrument, the mbira, "finger piano" which is so gentle and simple and has electrified it like an electronic guitar! Please listen on his MySpace page and you will hear the sounds of Zimbabwe.

I also just bought a couple of songs off of Lucky Dube's last album before his tragic death. It is entitled, Respect. Lucky Dube was killed in a carjacking just a couple of months ago. He is one of the most well-known South African reggae artists. He is another example of a great man with an extraordinarily magnanimous heart that has learned to forgive and who preaches love and forgiveness to all through his music. The expansiveness of the African heart for forgiveness and joy and love is something so enormously astonishing. Jonathan Jansen spoke of this to his audience of largely African American students--the capacity for Africans to forgive and he has even taken it upon himself to encourage African Americans to leave behind their anger and even to scold them ever so gently. He even recounts a story of scolding Gloria Ladson Billings on his visit to the University of Wisconsin!! Extraordinary.

Here are lyrics to one of Lucky Dube's most popular songs ever "Together as One" [you really have to hear it sung though with all the richness of the reggae twang]

In my whole life,
My whole life
I've got a dream (x2)

Chorus: (x3)
Hey you rasta man
Hey European, Indian man
We've got to come together as one

Not forgetting the Japanese

The cats and the dogs Have forgiven each other
What is wrong with us (x2)

All those years Fighting each other But no solution (x2)
Chorus: (x2)

And the lyrics to Respect

When you flash that badge
You want everyone to shiver
When you flash that badge
You want everyone to worship you
I got no time to worship human kind
I only worship the All Mighty
Through his prophets
I have learned
To give respect to everything he created

I give love to those who gimme love
Love those who gimme war
I love those who hate me
I bless even those who curse me yeah x 2

Chorus Gimme gimme respect
Show me show me respect.

You could be the president
You could be his deputy
You don't even have to know
My political affiliation
You don't even have to know
My religious affiliation
Respect me, for who I am
And not what I am
Nobody even cares about your dollars
Nobody even cares about your bling bling

Give love to those who give you love
Love to those who hate you
Bless even those who curse you, yeah x 2

Gimme respect
Show me show me respect