a light to the world

Talking to the four-year-old about blogging.

Papa: I’m going to be doing some writing soon.
Dude: Writing?
Papa: Yeah, writing. What do you think I should write about?
Dude: Write about Bahá’u’lláh’s birthday.
Papa: That’s a good idea. What should I write about Bahá’u’lláh’s birthday?
Dude: Write about how Bahá’u’lláh was always worried about the poor, and how He took care of them.
Papa: OK.
Dude: And how He loved roses.
Papa: That’s good too. Any other special things I should write about?
Dude: Write how He wrote a lot of things, all of His teachings.
Papa: That’s a great idea. What kinds of teachings?
Dude: He taught us that we have to be kind and love each other.

On the weekend of October 21st–22nd, Bahá’ís around the world celebrated the Festival of the Twin Holy Birthdays, which commemorate the “twin birthdays” of the Twin Manifestations of the Bahá’í Faith: The Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. That would be awesome on its own, but this year also happens to be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh. During this bicentenary year, officials and public figures around the world have paid tribute to Bahá’u’lláh and to His teachings, which have inspired a growing worldwide community, characterized by its unity and inclusivity, to arise and dedicate themselves to lives of service to their fellow human beings, becoming like a light to the world.

Bahá’u’lláh was born to a noble Persian family. His father was a minister in the court of the Sháh, and it was expected that He would follow in His father’s footsteps. Instead, however, He dedicated himself to caring for those who were less fortunate than He was, becoming known as the “Father of the Poor” for His great generosity. Even while very young, He showed signs of greatness that led others to believe that He was destined for something much greater than a life of ease in the court of the Sháh.

In time, Bahá’u’lláh became a follower of the Báb, who had proclaimed that the time had come for a renewal of religion, and that a great figure would soon be made manifest to bring humanity into a new era of justice and peace. Bahá’u’lláh quickly became a respected and influential member of the Báb’s religion. But because many of the clergy of Persia felt threatened by the Báb’s message, Bahá’u’lláh also became a target for those who wished ill will to the new religion. In 1853, Bahá’u’lláh and many others were imprisoned in a notorious, stench-filled dungeon in Tehran known as the “Black Pit”, or Siyáh-Chál. Although this was one of the darkest moments of Bahá’u’lláh’s life, it was also the moment at which a new light dawned upon Him; it was in this dungeon that He received a Divine revelation that He was that great figure whose advent was foretold by the Báb.

Released from the dungeon after four months, Bahá’u’lláh was banished from Persia to Baghdád, in the Ottoman Empire. He spent many years in the area, including two years living in solitude in the mountains of Kurdistan. With every year, His fame continued to grow. Fearing His growing influence, the Persian authorities petitioned the Ottoman authorities to remove Bahá’u’lláh to a place farther from Persian borders. The people of Baghdád wept when they learned He was to leave the city, but their sorrow would turn into joy when, in a rose-filled garden known as the Garden of Ridván (Paradise), Bahá’u’lláh declared Himself to be the One whom the Báb had foretold. During the twelve days He spent in that garden—days which are now celebrated as the Festival of Ridván—He welcomed countless citizens: rich and poor, men and women, Jews, Christians and Muslims, beggars and dignitaries, offering them each a rose picked from the garden as a token of His loving-kindness.

Throughout His life, Bahá’u’lláh revealed many teachings and laws meant to help His followers work together to carry forward an ever-advancing, global civilization: “It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.” “Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship.” “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” With these words, and many more, He laid the foundation for a world that will eventually rise above petty differences and firmly establish a great peace based on principles of justice, equality, unity, and love.

let’s be heroes

overcoming lethargy and apathy, May 8, 2013

Inspire. Dream.A hero is someone who shows a virtue that we admire. Superman, Spider-Man and their ilk aren’t heroes because they leap tall buildings, sling webs, or wear cool costumes, it’s because they stop people from committing injustice. They show courage, compassion, determination, faith, sacrifice, and a sense of service and purpose. They are us as we wish we could be or would be; they are guiding lights that illuminate the path of righteousness. If our heroes fail along the path, they must rise up and continue, or they are no longer heroes.

References to heroes and heroism are scattered like precious jewels throughout the writings of Shoghi Effendi; in naming the earliest era of the Bahá’í Faith the Heroic Age, he called on us to reflect on the heroic sacrifices of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, and their early followers who blazed trails through the wilderness of error, trails that we now tread as we follow their lead towards the light of Divine guidance. But Shoghi Effendi warned us—especially the Western believers—of the severe trials that would await along this path. Established as it was upon centuries-old traditions of materialism, exploitation and injustice, Western society would continue to fall deeper and deeper into a well of corruption and decay that would sap the moral strength of so many of its citizens, and plunge them into a state of lethargy and apathy.

“We, today, face that test,” said Dr. Peter Khan in a 1995 address on the subject of tests, “the test of overcoming apathy and lethargy. The test that those around us increasingly lack zeal and idealism and a passion for changing the world.” As society around us falters under the crushing weight of materialism and the frenetic struggle for existence that it engenders, he argues, we must commit ourselves to work for a different life, a different existence, based on principles that uplift the human spirit. We must take on the qualities of the empowered, distinguishing ourselves as being willing to work for this new way of living.

“We are people committed to the creation of a new society. We are summoned to heroism. We are summoned to sacrifice. We are summoned to idealism and to altruism. We are people creating a new society, a new civilization. We are people who love and are concerned about generations yet unborn and we are prepared to dedicate our lives that those generations to come, in decades and centuries into the future, may have a better life; may have a life of peace and unity and harmony and the possibility for the full development of their potential.”

It’s become something of a cliché that “not all heroes wear capes”. But, indeed, few heroes do. You don’t need a cape to care about the world and to strive to make it a better place for people to live. You just need to try and to persevere, and before you know it, you’ll have insured ultimate and complete victory.

The original post, overcoming lethargy and apathy, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Photo: Inspire. Dream. by Justin W. Moore (www.outdoorphoto.com)

it’s a doberman pizza life

Hey everyone. It’s been a little while since I actually used this blog as a blog. Thanks to some encouragement from friends, a little planning and a lot of creative ideas, I’ve joined up with the Baha’i Blogging Challenge to breathe a little life into this quiet little website. So for the next thirty days you’ll have something new to read on doberman pizza, as well as on many more Baha’i blogs.

Life has been nice and busy, as you can imagine. Quỳnh and I welcomed our second child into the world very recently, and we’ve been running around changing diapers and cleaning up after both of our little ones. Work and service are going quite well; even though I’ve been too busy with kids to be serving in quite the same way as I used to, I’ve been getting lots of good work done and finding new ways to serve.

I’ve been blessed to receive a lot of great feedback about doberman pizza in the past little while. I’ve never really been very conscious of being “known” as a Baha’i blogger, but several people have mentioned to me lately how they’ve appreciated reading what I write here. Besides what that might bring me in terms of “fame”—which I figure I’ll always be more comfortable forgetting—it’s really nice to know that what I’ve written here and there might actually have helped someone, somewhere, to progress a little farther in their great journey of understanding. If you’re one of those people, then God bless you and thanks for being here. And if you’re not, well, read on and hopefully you’ll find something that’ll be uplifting, or at least funny.

So, what I’m planning on doing this month is part journalling (i.e. “normal” blogging) and part reviewing what I’ve written in the past. Depending on who you ask, some of the posts on this blog are more or less popular. I’m going to select some of them that have been particularly popular over the years over the years, and have a look back at them. Perhaps I’ll have a few words to add to each of them, or perhaps they’ll hit a nerve and I’ll have a lot more to say. Either way, we’ll take a trip back through the past fifteen years to see some of the most engaging posts doberman pizza has had to offer. If any of them have been favourites of yours, feel free to say so in the comments. And if you don’t see one of your favourites show up, then tell me which one, and perhaps we can find the time to take a look back together.

the baha’i stance on homosexuality

One of the hot-button topics that tends to pop up a lot on Reddit’s Baha’i group is that of homosexuality, and Baha’i reactions and beliefs about it. That makes sense, because Baha’i beliefs about homosexuality are nuanced, rather than being black-and-white like much of the discourse that goes on in society today. So when a user asked recently about the Baha’i stance on homosexuality, I went ahead and offered the following reply.

First of all, another user posted a link to the most recent guidance from the Universal House of Justice on homosexuality; you can take it as the official Bahá’í perspective.

In general, you’ll find that Bahá’í belief is based on its written texts, in which the Writings of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh have been authoritatively interpreted by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and by the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi. The Universal House of Justice has the power to legislate on things that aren’t covered by these Writings, but not to change the Writings themselves.

The important thing to remember is that we can say whatever we want on /r/bahai, but belief isn’t based on the judgements of individual Bahá’ís. When in doubt, we turn towards the Writings, and towards guidance of the Universal House of Justice, and we use that guidance to help us advance our understanding of the issue in question.

I would say that the Bahá’í view of homosexuality is nuanced and doesn’t lend itself well to being condensed into the short, pithy, categorical statements that we often expect to hear in public discourse these days. It doesn’t make the Bahá’í view any less valid, of course; it just means that it bears reflection.

For me, the principal takeaways from the May 2014 letter include: 1) certain facts, including the prohibition of homosexual acts and the definition of marriage as occurring between a man and a woman, are authoritative and are not subject to change, not even by the Universal House of Justice; 2) that Bahá’í laws apply to Bahá’ís, and that we cannot, and do not, seek to force others to conform to those laws; 3) that Bahá’ís must strive to show love, kindness and fellowship to every human being, no matter their beliefs or their physical, emotional, or mental particularities, and that shunning someone simply based on sexual orientation is unjust.

One more thing is that I wouldn’t say that the West should be “ignored”, as you put it. One of the great advances that the West has helped to bring to light in the world is the formal, secular definition of human rights, and the concept that you can’t just squash someone just because they’re different from you. My understanding is that this is a concept that’s reflected in Divine teachings, as well: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I also believe that there are no contradictions in Divine teachings; contradictions only arise when we fail to comprehend the purport of the Divine teachings, or how they relate to one another. As we strive to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization, we’re going to need to rise above all of our differences and explore reality together in the light of these Divine teachings, to see what they mean for us—what a Divine civilization will look like in real, concrete terms.

the role of sex and sexuality

So I was looking back at the very first Baha’i AMA we hosted a while back, with the help of a bunch of users from Reddit’s Baha’i group. One of the questions had to do with the Baha’i view of the role of sexuality and gender identity. It was answered quite well, but I decided to offer my own perspective on the role of sexuality in Bahá’í life.

The sex impulse is a natural bestowal, and Baha’u’llah says it should be regulated in its expression to just with our marriage partner. […]

Just a bit of digression on this: Sexuality, in and of itself, is a part of the human experience. The Bahá’í teachings emphasize the dual nature of human life: we have a higher, spiritual, divine nature, and a lower, material, animal nature. Both are necessary for us to progress in this physical world, but our spiritual self—our soul—is all that we bring with us into the spiritual worlds of God. The laws and precepts revealed by Bahá’u’lláh constitute the means for us to refine and prepare our spiritual self for its eternal journey, which has its beginnings in the womb of the mother, continues through this physical world and into the hereafter.

The Universal House of Justice explains: “Just as there are laws governing our physical lives, requiring that we must supply our bodies with certain foods, maintain them within a certain range of temperatures, and so forth, if we wish to avoid physical disabilities, so also there are laws governing our spiritual lives. These laws are revealed to mankind in each age by the Manifestation of God, and obedience to them is of vital importance if each human being, and mankind in general, is to develop properly and harmoniously.”

The law of chastity revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, then, is basically a way for us to remain in control of our sexual impulses, which enables us to develop true, profound and lasting friendships and relationships with members of both sexes, freed from the constraints of an excessive focus on sexuality. The law of marriage, which, as /u/finnerpeace noted, is defined as being between a man and a woman, was revealed to give those impulses their highest and most constructive expression.

From the Universal House of Justice again: “…the Bahá’í Faith recognizes the value of the sex impulse and holds that the institution of marriage has been established as the channel of its rightful expression. Bahá’ís do not believe that the sex impulse should be suppressed but that it should be regulated and controlled. Chastity in no way implies withdrawal from human relationships. It liberates people from the tyranny of the ubiquity of sex. A person who is in control of his sexual impulses is enabled to have profound and enduring friendships with many people, both men and women, without ever sullying that unique and priceless bond that should unite man and wife.”

All this being said, the application of these laws, as with many Bahá’í laws, is left to the discretion of the believers. Except in cases where people are somehow hurting or otherwise negatively affecting themselves or others, it’s not something that people get upset over. Everyone has his or her own path to follow and his or her own spiritual row to hoe. Confession of sins to others is forbidden for Bahá’ís, as is fault-finding—in fact, Bahá’u’lláh regards fault-finding and backbiting as the worst possible sin. Every Bahá’í, then, is directly responsible before God for his or her own actions, inactions, and overall spiritual growth.

One last quote from the Universal House of Justice: “It is neither possible nor desirable for the Universal House of Justice to set forth a set of rules covering every situation. Rather is it the task of the individual believer to determine, according to his own prayerful understanding of the Writings, precisely what his course of conduct should be in relation to situations which he encounters in his daily life. If he is to fulfil his true mission in life as a follower of the Blessed Perfection, he will pattern his life according to the Teachings. The believer cannot attain this objective merely by living according to a set of rigid regulations. When his life is oriented toward service to Bahá’u’lláh, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.”