POST 41; A Kiwi Knight In Shining Armour
The decade of the ‘seventies was extremely eventful. By that time the Beatles were history while Big Pink, Queen and disco were becoming big. Relentlessly grim television news detailed every tasteless event of Vietnam, Watergate, and the overthrow of the Pahlavi Dynasty, to be followed in December 1979 by the Islamic Revolution and Khomeini becoming Supreme Leader. Prior to this time, I knew nothing about that far away land of Iran that was soon to change my life forever.
I was shortly surprised to learn that it was the same land I’d previously known as Persia, a mysterious place I thought I knew well (wrongly, it would later prove) from tales of ‘Alladin’ and ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, a richly beautiful land of questionable morality: of beautiful doe-eyed, scantily-dressed women dancing erotically in secluded in Harems guarded by eunuchs; in reality merely the fertile imagination of Hollywood film producers.
Meantime, the soundtrack to my own life was ‘The Logical Song’ by Supertramp which, said the song’s writer, ‘was born from my questions about what really matters in life’. No surprise then that my own life was undergoing its own revolution about what really matters. Turns out, I was indeed following the beat of a different drum (yup, sung by Linda Ronstadt).
But I was surprised when on first telling my mother that I had left atheism and become a Bahai - a religion originating in Persia in the previous century where it had grown so fast that threatened Islamic rulers began to subject its adherents to brutal opposition - my mother was not as surprised as I had anticipated. In fact she even seemed to know details about it that I didn’t. With a spirit of keen interest she attended the first ‘fireside’ I held in my home for others who were keen to learn more about this new faith.
I would later learn that back when she was a young girl, my mother had a charismatic young Sunday School teacher, a mere 7 years her elder, at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church, Auckland, by the name of Dulcie Burns. Then, as fate would have it, this same paragon of virtue turned up in my mother’s life several years later, by which time my mother had left school with the intention of acquiring ‘specialised capacity in all office procedure’ at Brain’s Commercial College, Auckland. Here she found the same Miss Burns working as a tutor and learned how, in the intervening years, Miss Burns had become a Bahai.
When my mother completed her time at this College it was with the satisfaction that she had been their top student and awarded Dux. And so it was as a consequence of the example of Dulcie's life, all these years later, that my mother was so well disposed to my adopting her same code of belief which, at any rate, had to be preferable to my previous atheism.
Auckland was soon to be liberally sprinkled with transformative Bahai spirit as a result of the visit of the legendary Martha Root on a last visit prior to her death in Hawaii, during which visit which she shared the words of Baha’u’llah:
"Whoso quickeneth but a single soul in this Revelation, it is as though he had quickened all humanity: Him will God, on the Day of Resurrection, raise again to life in the paradise of His oneness, adorned with the raiment of His own Self, the Sovereign Protector.”
And so it seems unsurprising to me that out of such fertile circumstances my own spirit might have had its painfully slow yet transformative beginnings.
Dulcie was destined to make considerable contributions to the spiritual life of the Australasian/Pacific peoples. In the 1940’s Australasian Bahá'ís were invited to submit papers to the Yerrinbool Summer School. Newly-married Dulcie Burns and fellow Kiwi Ethel Blundell forwarded papers they had written, and perhaps it was due in part to the impact of her paper that Dulcie found herself to be one of 9 delegates to the 1944 National Convention held in Australia, representing the Local Spiritual Assemblies of Adelaide, Sydney and Auckland. Two of the newly elected Assembly members would be from New Zealand: Hugh Blundell, and the newly married Mrs Dulcie (Burns) Dive, who was also elected secretary.
As background to this story, it helps to know that the two nations of Australia and New Zealand were settled by mostly British immigrants within the same few years, and so a certainly friendly rivalry has existed between the two countries who consider one another as ‘cousins’ living ‘across the ditch’ (the Tasman Sea). In the following year Dulcie Dive was again elected, but no New Zealand residents were chosen; Dulcie had by then transferred to Sydney to live and was now an adopted Australian.
The significant decade of 1953 – 1963 bought the ‘Ten Year Crusade’ and challenges given to the Australian Bahá'ís by Shoghi Effendi, greatgrandson of Baha’u’llah, founder of the Bahai Faith. As a consequence, numerous Bahá'ís left Australia to pioneer in the Pacific Islands including six members of the 1953 National Assembly. Amongst them was Dulcie Dive.
And so it was reported in Rarotonga that two women, from different countries but with the same aim, brought the Baha'i Faith to the remote Cook islands; Edith Danielsen, from the United States, and Dulcie Dive, from New Zealand but via Australia, who arrived in 1953 and 1954 respectively and were given the titles of Knights of Baha'u'llah by Shoghi Effendi.
The Cook Islands reported of her that “Dulcie Dive (1909-1962), a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Australia and New Zealand since 1944, left her adopted country of Australia in 1954 to be a Baha'i pioneer in the Cook Islands. Mrs. Dive had a loving nature, which attracted people to her. She is still spoken about with affection in the Cook Islands”.
As a culmination of all the teaching activities resulting from the Crusade, at Ridván 1956 two new Local Assemblies were formed which, together with those of Auckland City and Devonport, participated in the election of the first National Assembly of New Zealand at Ridván 1957. The first National Convention of our country took place in Auckland in 1957, at the Hazíratu'l-Quds in Parnell Road. Dulcie had played a valuable role in each of the stages that finally culminated in this event.
In recognition of my personal appreciation of the role this great spiritual pioneer had played in my own life, in 1994 and twice more in the closing years of the millenium, I had the bounty of travelling to the beautiful Cook Islands myself to give papers on my recently published book “Bahai Families” and engage in related media and educational opportunities.
Subsequently I presented the N.Z. National Assembly with my own mixed media portrait of the unforgettable heroine that was Dulcie Dive (1909-1962) who had so warmly paved the way for my own recognition of the Baha’i Faith. In the years prior to her death, my mother shared with me her own acceptance of Baha’u’llah as the Messenger of God for this Day.
41. A Kiwi Knight In Shining Armour
40. Freed From The Cage
39. And Now For Something Completely Different
38. Global Women Rattle Their Cages
37: Global Women Look Back, March Forward.
36: First Grow, Then Become, Then Contribute
35. Welcome To My World
34. FINAL TRIBUTE TO A BANK ROBBER
33. Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?
32. PEACE; MORE THAN JUST AN END TO WAR
31. The Doomsday Clock Is Ticking LOUDER...
FINAL BLOGGING CHALLENGE POST!
30. UNITY: AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME.
29. The Power of Change
28. DIZZYING POLITICAL CHANGE
27. WOMEN: THE ONLY 51% MINORITY
26. WE ARE THE WORLD, WE ARE THE CHILDREN
25. NATIONS ARE AN AGGREGATE OF FAMILIES
24. WOMEN AS MOTHERS?
23.'UN'RECLAIMING OUR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
22. ONE COMMON FAITH
21. THE GOD IN ALL THINGS
20. KINDNESS TO EVERY LIVING THING
19. WOMEN IN POWER
18. The Dancing Grannies
17. THE POWER OF UNITY
16. The Ascension of 'Abdu'l-Baha
15. The Day of The Covenant
14. Black Friday For The Baha'is In Iran
13. Unity In Diversity
12. Religion In Harmony With Science
11. One School, Many Teachers
10. My Journey From Atheism To Belief
9. Prescription For Living
8. Three Sons
7. Peace, More Than Just An End To War
6. Fixing A Broken Family
5. Some Family Secrets
4. Women Waging Peace
3. One Family
2. Melting Pot
1. One School, Many teachers
POST 40: FREED FROM THE CAGE
So I’m lying on my bed in the warm summer sun, feeling blissed out by the music of Adele or Seals and Crofts, or maybe it was the Killers, and I’m cruising on the after-effects of my wonderful new painkiller, when suddenly the door busts open and one of the caregivers strides up to my bed and urgently insists that I close the curtains. But I’m loving this warm embracing sun. And I don’t want to shut it out. And why on earth is it so important anyway?
But she’s so determined that she’s getting ready to lean right across me and close them herself. So I look out of the window for some clue as to what she’s trying to achieve by all this drama, when I realise that there’s a trolley out there at the Rest Home entrance, and there’s the unmistakeable figure of a person lying under a blanket.
“The body?” I gesture enquiringly with a nod to the trolley. Dumbly she nods her own head, looking embarrassed and at a loss for a response.
“It’s ok,” I reassure her. “I’m fine with dead bodies.” I repeat this several times ‘cos she doesn’t seem to be taking it in. And fine I am. I’ve seen several dead bodies in my time, and been estimated by various G.P.’s to be close to death myself on four occasions. Besides, I’ve realised by now that I just don’t think like most of the people around me do.
When I first arrived here at what was to be my new home, filled with the elderly and infirm, I figured that dying must be pretty high on their radar. I guessed that since it had to be a rather routine kind of event, people would be pretty blasé about the whole thing. How wrong I was. Despite most of this elderly generation describing themselves as Christian and presumably thus being assured of a life after death, the reality turned out to be that even mentioning death around here had the effect of admitting to being a serial killer.
As for me, I’m a Baha’i. ‘Abdu’l-Baha sums up my own attitude by describing a person’s death in these words;
”I have been freed from a small and gloomy cage and, like the birds of the meadows, have soared to the divine world—a world which is spacious, illumined, and ever gay and jubilant.”
Sounds jolly good to me. So death is a pretty well accepted event in my family. One of my children is even publishing a book on related subjects at the moment. And our much admired atheist member is probably so ‘over’ the number of false alarms we’ve had over the years that he should be pretty relaxed about it too, although being a doctor must broaden his attitudes.
So we’ve bought the plot, chosen the venue, agreed on the nature of any organ donation, outlined the programme and enlisted the future help of various friends to wash/wrap/ sing/recite/serve and the numerous other tasks that will be involved. (Hope I didn’t scare you there with too much information). It’s almost an anticlimax now that I seem to be making some kind of an albeit rocky recovery, but M.S. is like that. One day you feel at death’s door and on the next you’ve started writing a new project.
”O SON OF THE SUPREME!
I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve? I made the light to shed on thee its splendor. Why dost thou veil thyself therefrom?”
When I find myself talking with someone who’s a life-after-death sceptic, I encourage them to watch the fascinating Renee Pasarow You Tube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xB-T78qgfHM&t=249s). Or most recently, the excellent talk by real-life TV star and goodlooking Baha’i Justin Baldoni. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRQ9sYdh_d0). In fact I was so impressed by the reassuring nature of his approach that I’ve gone to the extent of asking in my will for all my grandchildren over 10 years of age to watch his show, because it just makes so much sense. You should watch it too.
Anyway, here I am reflecting upon my genealogic roots and their various traditional funerary practices. My Scottish Presbyterian elders seemed to approach funerals as both sombre and sober events with much wearing of black, and no humour whatsoever to enliven the earnest dreadfulness of the proceedings. And you thought it was only the English who were the embodiment of the ‘stiff upper lip’? In my experience, Presbyterians seemed to be born that way. This stands in stark contract with the wake of my distant Irish roots, which seemed to consider death an excellent and lengthy occasion for the consumption of large amounts of alcohol and fairly riotous behaviour, judging solely by the writings of J. P. Donleavy and several other favourite Irish authors of my immature less dignified past. My Cornish Celtic roots were more respectful occasions ennobled by soulstirring male voice choirs.
Personally, I’d prefer to borrow from my part-Maori family and the tangi, which elevates the grief process to a 3-day event combining close family support and warm reunions with the remembrance of ancestral origins and the freedom to grieve freely and collectively, with much singing, all fuelled by generous and ongoing supplies of food whose preparation required men to play an important role with women in its provision (note in its favour; Maori women are not solely relegated to the kitchen).
So here I am, anticipating my own funeral which will be the first one ever in my family history to reflect Baha’i funeral practice. I was going to say ‘embody’ Baha’i funeral practice but then changed that word to ‘reflect’ so as not to disturb my more delicate readers sensitivities by unnecessary attention to the ‘body’ aspect of death.
“O CHILDREN OF NEGLIGENCE! Set not your affections on mortal sovereignty and rejoice not therein. Ye are even as the unwary bird that with full confidence warbleth upon the bough; till of a sudden the fowler Death throws it upon the dust, and the melody, the form and the color are gone, leaving not a trace. Wherefore take heed, O bondslaves of desire!” - Bahá’u’lláh
“Thou hast asked Me concerning the nature of the soul. Know, verily, that the soul is a sign of God, a heavenly gem whose reality the most learned of men hath failed to grasp, and whose mystery no mind, however acute, can ever hope to unravel. It is the first among all created things to declare the excellence of its Creator, the first to recognize His glory, to cleave to His truth, and to bow down in adoration before Him. If it be faithful to God, it will reflect His light, and will, eventually, return unto Him. If it fail, however, in its allegiance to its Creator, it will become a victim to self and passion, and will, in the end, sink in their depths. Whoso hath, in this Day, refused to allow the doubts and fancies of men to turn him away from Him Who is the Eternal Truth, and hath not suffered the tumult provoked by the ecclesiastical and secular authorities to deter him from recognizing His Message, such a man will be regarded by God, the Lord of all men, as one of His mighty signs, and will be numbered among them whose names have been inscribed by the Pen of the Most High in His Book.”
So that’s what I’m looking forward to. I’d like my funeral to be more like the lovely event they prepare for my birthday during which, in place of gifts, both adults and children entertain with various musical offerings on piano, violin, guitar, ukulele and voice. There is still room for tears at such an occasion, such as when the littlest one feels he hasn’t been given his due opportunity as the appointed Master Of Ceremonies for the day. So there must be room for tears and sadness, but I hope my family will be less darkened by a sense of loss and more able to enjoy memories of the special times we spent together, with the reassurance that at last I have been released from my cage.
Whither can a lover go but to the land of his beloved? and what seeker findeth rest away from his heart's desire? To the true lover reunion is life, and separation is death. His breast is void of patience and his heart hath no peace. A myriad lives he would forsake to hasten to the abode of his beloved.” - Bahá’u’lláh
POST 39: AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT...
The Poisoning Survivor Who Slid Down Hills
If I asked you to tell me about one person in your life whom you deeply admire, does someone come readily to mind? Would that person be a famous figure, or a special teacher, or even a parent? In my own life I have had the fortune to meet with the Maori Queen, the Dalai Lama, and also the prime ministers of two different countries plus several ‘knights’, M.P.s and the like, but if I had to choose the one person who has inspired me most throughout the years, I would name one little old lady whom I met several decades ago, one who was defiled, swindled, poisoned and narrowly escaped death yet remained eternally cheerful and sweet-natured throughout.
I had just moved to a small town in the Bay of Plenty on the understanding that we were the first Baha’i’s to live there, and this was a real privilege back in those days when our membership was small. So it was with some surprise that I indirectly learned about an elderly Baha’i woman who had been there for some length of time, and whom I will rename Edith for the sake of her privacy; such a forgettable woman to outward seeming that her presence there was not even recorded. I don’t recall the details of that first meeting because on first appearance she was just that idea of a typical ‘little old lady’, but circumstances would shortly prove her to be anything but such a forgettable figure. And it also became apparent that she wasn’t a difficult person to get to know at all; in fact I had the clear impression that she was unused to anyone taking as much interest in her life as I did. Her enthusiasm to share became more understandable when I learned about the isolation of being a farmer’s wife with little access to transport or off-farm social life at that time.
Edith told me that she and her husband had raised their children on a prosperous farm in the Bay of Plenty. It was on a dusty back road which, in the 70’s, received its fair share of hippies, hitch hikers and backpackers, as was quite common at that time. So it was in this context that she and her husband offered bed and board to a youngish man with the hospitality that was typical of our farming communities, on the understanding that he would help with various chores around the farm. And it was here that Edith met her first Baha’i.
Both Edith and her husband came from quite committed, reserved and fundamentalist Christian families, and so perhaps it was due to the loneliness and isolation of a farmer’s wife and her spirit of natural friendliness and curiosity that she took a liking to this new man. They began to spend more time together as, in response to her endless curiosity, he shared the fundamentals of this new religion, one that seemed to satisfy so many of the aspects of Christ’s return that Edith’s early religious training had given her.
How is it possible, I would later ask myself, for a ‘nice’ lady, raised in a staunchly fundamentalist family, to recognise the still relatively unknown personage of Baha’u’llah on the mere say-so of some unknown itinerant? I recall that at the time of our meeting his name was mentioned but since I would never met him personally I didn’t retain it, although I’d love to meet him today. I suppose he may have shared a few pamphlets with her (unlikely that an itinerant would carry many books), but whatever the exact circumstances, Edith quickly came to recognise in this new Teaching the very one she had been waiting for.
Unfortunately the pronouncement of a new religion did not sit at all well with some members of her Christian family, who proceeded to find various ways of making her life extremely difficult, and gradually a real sense of religiously-inspired antagonism developed on their part. Time passed and her husband aged, so he sold the farm and the couple moved to a lovely home in the centre of town with tennis court, large gardens and out-buildings. It was when he died that her problems began to worsen. It appeared that the daughter, who strongly opposed her mother’s new ‘satanic’ beliefs, now resented that all the wealth from the farm did not immediately come her own way. It was at this point that Edith began to grow increasingly ill with symptoms that, as she later researched, could only be attributed to tutu poisoning derived from toxic honey, a well-known danger in the area and produced as a result of bees feeding on honeydew containing poison from native tutu bushes. This, she sadly confided, was a ‘treat’ her daughter had been regularly feeding her.
The poisoning didn’t succeed in killing her, but there followed a long slow recovery after which her speech remained slightly slurred and her once very bright and enquiring mind could become noticeably fuzzy at times. Other symptoms remained with her for life. Eventually, recognising her powerlessness and being under considerable pressure, Edith consented to leave her beautiful home which the daughter’s family promptly occupied, and instead she was moved into a small uninsulated shed at the back of the property. It was here that I would visit her and be appalled by rivers of condensation, caused by an un-flued gas heater, which ran down the walls and into her moulding bedding. I was also concerned by her dependence on preparing whatever sparse meals she consumed by means of a small and ineffective gas cooker, which further contributed to the condensation problems, whilst the daughter supplied her own family from the large kitchen that once was Edith’s.
Such was her faith in God and her trust that prayer was guiding her actions that, despite enduring the rejection of the daughter she had lovingly raised, and the cruel deception, theft, betrayal, and eventual loss of her physical health, Edith remained ever cheerful and optimistic. She would attend our small Bahai gatherings with great enthusiasm but little knowledge of any protocol (which is kept minimal anyway), and often she would be so carried away with the sheer happiness of our company that, in the middle of some deeply-felt prayer or reading, she would feel moved to spontaneously break in with some happy little story of her life, or other sudden inspiration.
At this unexpected point Edith’s son - totally absent until now - suddenly appeared on the scene, to take over her tragic circumstances with actual plans from which he proceeded to build a beautiful large strikingly modern home on a hill overlooking the township. There was a certain irony for me because once it was built Edith was able, like the Queen she was in my eyes, to gaze out from her garden and survey her world, down across the valley below to where her lost home remained, but now with a sense of real satisfaction that she was now being cared for just as her Christian husband would have wished.
I can tell you all this only because Edith trusted me enough to confide a situation that was heartbreaking for her to acknowledge, since she never spoke of her family members with anything other than warm and genuine love.
It was at that point that I was obliged to move to a new town where I proceeded to develop a long and painful illness myself, during which there were many occasions when I had reason to remember Edith, her quiet long-suffering and courage under duress, and her devotion to what others considered an obscure new religion, one vehemently opposed by her family and about which she had only second-hand stories, yet throughout all these adversities she retained a spirit of radiant acquiescence to the will of God.
My last hours with Edith were on a Baha’i Holy Day that she had offered to host in her beautiful new home. When the time came that all the friends had arrived and were seated, there was no sign of our hostess. On further investigation we eventually came upon her in the excited company of the small neighbouring children whom she clearly adored; together they were exuberantly sliding down a nearby hillside on old sheets of cardboard, Edith eyes sparkling with joy in her ‘best’ clothes, wispy white hair flying, and shrieking with the sheer delight and happiness of it all. So that’s my story of the most inspirational person I ever met, and since I was not well enough to attend her funeral, I am grateful for the opportunity to offer this, my personal tribute to her, and to all those humble and faceless Baha’i’s who, over the years have lived lives of quiet dedication to Baha’u’llah in the face of hidden hardship.
“Be thou not unhappy; the tempest of sorrow shall pass; regret will not last; disappointment will vanish; the fire of the love of God will become enkindled, and the thorns and briars of sadness and despondency will be consumed! Be thou happy; rest thou assured upon the favors of Baha, so that uncertainty and hesitation may become non-existent and the invisible outpourings descend upon the arena of being!” - Abdu’l-Baha
Post 37. Global Women Look Back, March Forward.
The Case of the Invisible Womens March
I can hardly believe it has happened again. Is this deja vu, or is it some strange kind of ‘realityTV ground hog’ day? Surely it can’t really have happened again? I look at the calendar and yes, it’s just like last January 21, 2017 all over again. So because you might be reading this from where I live in New Zealand and probably didn’t know it, I’ll explain that it was on that day, precisely one year ago as I write this, that women all over the world came together en masse, millions upon millions of them, in a worldwide Women's March; a protest to advocate legislation and policies regarding human rights and other issues, including women's rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, the natural environment, LGBTQI+ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and more.
How did I know of this? Did my local radio tell me? Or was it television news? No, it was none of those. I stumbled across it when couch-surfing on the following day, on the more obscure Aljazeera channel. Wouldn’t you think that my country of New Zealand – first in the world to win votes for women – would be a frontrunner in heralding this news? A year ago, I was almost becoming willing to believe that, just possibly, such a vital piece of news could have escaped this avid listener/watcher. And just when I’m starting to believe that explanation, here it is again. It was in my earlier 'Post 31. The Doomsday Clock Is Ticking LOUDER...' that I lamented the silence of the New Zealand media on this remarkable event.
And now, behold! Selective intelligence strikes the N.Z. media once again. As history repeats itself here in 2018 and women all over the world come together, millions upon millions of them, in a worldwide Women's March, our media seems to fall silent. Now, I admit that I don’t read every single piece of print media or watch every piece of news footage, but this vacuum is unacceptable. I want other Kiwi women and girls to know about this important movement that directly concerns them.
The mission of the 2018 Women’s March is again to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities in creating transformative social change. That’s something our mothers, sisters and daughters need to know about. This crucial March is a women-led movement that aims to provide education on a diverse range of issues, and to encourage the emergence of a new age of grass-roots activists and organizers. What an exciting opportunity for a new generation of Kiwi women to play such a vital role! What a great opportunity for them to foster engagement in their local communities through training, outreach programs and events. Working as their great grandmothers did, to increase wider commitment in dismantling systems of oppression through non-violent resistance, and building inclusive structures guided by self-determination, dignity and respect. What harm is there in this?
Men can only benefit by being partnered by strong, educated, effective partners. Generations of humanity can only benefit from being mothered by educated, strong and effective mothers. Can’t we all benefit from reform of our immigration and healthcare system? Can’t we collaborate in improving issues related to reproductive rights and the natural environment? Don’t we need to investigate what can be done to address necessary LGBTQI+ rights?
These aren’t personal or even national concerns. Racial equality, freedom of religion and the like are global issues, demanding a global response. I love that good old feminist slogan that states ‘the personal is political’. What we do as individuals determines our collective future. A theme of the present march is ‘Look Back, March Forward’. The Bible warns, ‘As you sow, so shall you reap’. This is pay-back time, time to acknowledge the hardships of those past generations of women who laboured under the shackles of inequality, yet raised generations of citizens who enabled us to stand here today, strong, effective, and extremely advantaged, with a great debt of gratitude towards our forebears.
Post 36: First Grow, Then Become And Then Contribute
Racism has done so much damage to our world. Its pernicious effects are even to the extent that those who would be loving friends may be perceived as enemies. Baha’u’llah aptly describes the world’s present situation:
"We can well perceive how the whole human race is encompassed with great, with incalculable afflictions. We see it languishing on its bed of sickness, sore-tried and disillusioned. They that are intoxicated by self-conceit have interposed themselves between it and the Divine and infallible Physician. Witness how they have entangled all men, themselves included, in the mesh of their devices. They can neither discover the cause of the disease, nor have they any knowledge of the remedy. They have conceived the straight to be crooked, and have imagined their friend an enemy." - Baha’u’llah
Such is the pain of the victim of racism that, for many a well-meaning friend, the very act of reaching out makes the victim flinch away, as if their emotional skin is so badly burned that even the lightest touch must be avoided at all costs. An unfortunate consequence can be that unless that friend is extremely pure hearted and long-suffering, they may feel pushed away and rejected. It is even possible for a sense of alienation to develop. That is a situation we all must avoid. My heart must say: ‘I will love and respect you no matter what, and my friendship will continue in the hope that one day you may be able to respond’.
If we hope to connect with another soul, first we must ‘see’ that soul. We need to reassure them, by our listening ear and our true empathy, that we want to learn what it is to live their life with all its hurts, rejections and worse. This can take considerable time. First we must learn, only then can we teach. ‘Abdu’l-Baha chose to live amongst the poor and the sick and the lowly, just as Christ did before Him. By living side by side, They too experienced the same hardships. By living alongside with other communities, we will experience more of their reality than by reading an article or watching a documentary. The world is full of do-gooders who are unable to touch hearts because they are not seen to practice what they preach. Living the life is the first step. Winning trust is another thing altogether. It is a long process and can’t be short-circuited. And there is no nation on earth that is free of its own subgroup of people who are the victims of prejudice.
New Zealanders who wanted to fulfil the hope of the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, by reaching the indigenous Maori, “a people much admired for their noble qualities..”, were advised to leave their own homes and move to communities where many Maori lived.
He said that we could achieve great things if our vision was clear, our purpose unshaken, our zeal undiminished and our hopes undimmed. He warned of the inevitability of obstacles and disappointments, and advised that whenever faced with trials, we should recall Baha’u’llah’s own, innumerable sufferings.
The word “Arohanui” is a Maori word and, as with many Polynesian words, there is no direct translation into English. The literal meaning is “big love”, or “much love” or “great love”. In naming his book, “Arohanui: Letters from Shoghi Effendi to New Zealand”, he used it in its more expressive meaning, “enfolding love”, or “that love which binds a community together”, or “that love which creates bonds of mutual trust and loyalty”, or “that love which builds and carries forward culture or civilization”.
It has always been the case with the growth of every religion that some pure soul sows seeds in the hearts of a few who are most pure and most receptive. In this way the purpose of Jesus Christ, the salvation of mankind, was established. And how small the group of His disciples was!
The development of present day humanity is a greater challenge; the evils of material civilization and the negligence of mankind call for greater effort. Divine light must make itself manifest in our daily life and deeds. The three mottoes of education hold true: first grow, then become and then contribute. We in the western world have developed; we have established ourselves, and now it is time to contribute to others. We have inexhaustible capital. The candles of our spiritual lives must constantly weep away their lives in shedding light to the world, and they must never become exhausted.
Post 35. Welcome To My World
I'm a Bahai and we believe in non-involvement in politics (it's the divisive party-political version we avoid; we're very caring and involved otherwise). So I won’t mention Donald Trump. But there’s not much else on the box here. I've found that when you're still relatively young (well, turning 70 in 2 short years, but time's all relative, isn't it. Isn’t it?), and when you can't drive or walk and you get tired doing pretty much anything after 20 minutes, it's a real challenge just to pass the time. Aah, I hear you sighing, having limitless time to oneself, time to lie in bed for as long at you like, meals brought to you and washing done, time to read all those books you always promised yourself; what bliss! Just like being at some fancy all-services-laid-on resort!
Yeah, it's just like that. Did I mention that my vision can't cope with too much reading? I tried every semi-literate ‘talking book’ in the city library (that’s Audio Book for you fancy millenials), but found it too frustrating trying to save where I'd got up to, and so I kept having to listen to the same sections again and again. Oh, I hear you thinking, doesn't she know that if she just presses this button and fast-forwards with that one that's connected to the other one, and then turns it all off for half an hour and remember to back it up again... GO AWAY! I know all that sounds easy to you and it probably did for me too before my 2 mini-strokes, but now this ex-teacher and graphic designer even has to find out how to make the shapes of particular letters of the alphabet or numbers by looking for something, anything, with writing on it, that I can copy. Yep, that particular memory chip's been well and truly corrupted.
No, wait. Come back. I'm sorry for being so rude and complaining, and if I lose my patience, as well as some other lost faculties I won't mention, I'll really be in trouble. So I'm going to use my experience profitably by giving you a Guide to Rest Home life, since there's a good chance you'll end up here too.
I find that it's not all hard going if you can medicate at least some of the grinding pain away for a while, and keep your sense of humour and compassion. There are lots of curious and fascinating and rewarding things going on. The lady in the room next door thinks that she and I are the only ones in the facility who have whole apartments to ourselves (even though she's been in my room and must know it's pretty much the same size as the others). She believes that she and I both get 'dressed for dinner' unlike the others - what she calls the Hoi polloi - who clearly do not 'dress' for dinner, much less change their raggy old pyjama bottoms. This immaculately groomed, well-intentioned lady wanders the grounds complete with a stylish floral parasol, and is glad to have my company as the only one left who is not entirely insulted by her belief that only she and I have the right to sit in the adjoining lounge, since to her it is an 'extension' of our two private apartments.
I like to say hello and introduce myself to each new and more communicative resident, so they’ll remember and know there’s someone familiar there that they can go to if necessary. I’ve found a small few that I've been able to have a more elevated connection with. One unlikely man arrived at my door one afternoon and, after much grunting and gesticulating, I was able to establish that he'd found one of the Baha'i books I'd put in the small resident's library, complete with small prayer book to keep, and a note to say how to find me if the reader would like to know more. Although his speech impediment made our attempts at discussion almost incomprehensible, he gratefully accepted the few books I offered at his request, and now I keep returning to find he has read all the copies I've shared and has even completed the considerable tome that is "The Dawn-Breakers"; let's be honest; lots of devoted Baha'i's don't get to read the whole thing ever.
One of the most intelligent residents is an author like me. Yes, we are not all dribbling and incontinent. Well, not all the time anyway. I met him when a nurse, who knew of my counselling background, came to me with a problem. Her newest admission was a previously strong, but now desperately suicidal, man who was not able to be constantly monitored by the limited staff to stop him from harming himself. Could I, she wondered, meet with him and see if I could be of any help? I told her that I used spiritual principles in my counselling but if she was happy with that, I would be only too glad to be of use. He also had a degree of speech impediment but fortunately not as advanced as the previous man. For two weeks we had a daily hour-long meeting while he explained how he felt that the effects of the stroke had rendered his entire life meaningless, since he was now unable to walk, type or even speak without difficulty. (C’est moi! - that’s French for Ditto! - I thought to myself at this point, except my speech problem is the opposite; my GP won’t need to take my pulse to measure the point of my death; it will be that moment when I finally stop talking.) And so, this man believed, his whole career and life purpose as a contributing member of society was ended. In getting to know this witty cynic, I explained that I used Bahai spiritual principles but did not intend to discuss the Faith as a religion, unless it was something he wanted to learn about once our two-weeks of formal counselling was completed. Fortunately our exploration of these principles was able to lift his spirits and give him a wider sense of true life purpose.
It helped that like him, I too was unable to travel without a wheelchair, and had clearly experienced having my own sphere of usefulness in the world entirely up-ended by developing M.S. although I’d faced that life challenge from my 30’s, a very much younger age. Right from the outset he was interested to read the books I had written and to discuss their ideas although, coming from an atheist Semitic background, he was not immediately sympatico with it all. However, we seemed to share the same wry cynical humour and that was enough to make a special bond between us. He has since jointly published another book in company with some seriously brainy guys, so I think its fair to say that, after much admirable effort on his part, his life is taking off again.
Then there’s the elderly man who’s the dad of a friend of a friend who’s a daughter of a Baha’i. I like him as a good bloke, although recently I haven’t been well enough to visit as much as either of us would like. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool Catholic, with so many portraits of the Pope - the good old pope, he says to me, not the fancy replacement one – that you feel like you’re being watched and about to be ordered to drop and say 40 Hail Mary’s, but he’s also the kind that likes a nice tipple and a good yarn. I sometimes get the feeling that he likes the ladies, but he’s too much of a gentleman to do anything about it. At his age! He’s a typical kiwi-farmer-type, tells it like it is (well, like HE thinks it is) which clearly allows no room for Baha’i, and he still enjoys my company, despite acting like I’d told him I was an alien being when I mentioned I was one.
Finally, there’s the ‘threesome’; separate people when they first arrived. The ‘good-looking for his age’ man enjoyed the company of both women for an idyllic few weeks, at which point he developed a sudden territorial appreciation for the prettier of the two. This didn’t sit at all well with the first woman, who was obliged to observe in silent helplessness (along with all the other facinated residents) as romance grew, all watching as this real-life soap opera unfolded and the two slowly drew their dining room chairs ever closer together, to gradually become completely inseparable. Then the entire rest home was shocked (and delighted) when she silently moved into his room one night and from there didn’t budge. The torrid relationship was brought to a sudden end when she unexpectedly died. So the two remaining singles quickly rekindled the embers of early possibility, only for him to have a major stroke. Today I sometimes see her sitting silently at his side, his aged hand lying motionless in hers, quitely relishing that in the end it was she who was the victor.
There’s never a dull moment if you pick the right rest home! And there's so much more I could tell you, but I’m not the gossiping type. Actually, I’m really quite a recluse and seldom emerge from my room unless there’s a distressed resident who needs someone to just sit with them and listen with respect and compassion. I don’t join the others in the lounge who are singing those good ole wartime songs, or batting around a balloon to keep up dexterity, or the other little (but purposeful) games they play. I lie on my bed in the soporific sunlight and cruise along to easy-listening music, or I silently meditate for long stretches of time, or keep up with a little easy yoga, or work on my present Memoir. But right now my hands are tired and I want to lie down. To watch Al Jazeera. In my private suite. With staff to serve my every need, whilst I wonder what the chef is preparing for my special vegetarian meal.
I’ll save a bed for you...
Post 34. FINAL TRIBUTE TO A BANK ROBBER
I hadn’t been planning to leave my comfortable home and pleasant lifestyle. I didn’t want to abandon those precious memories of my children’s childhood faces and places, or lose friends with whom I’d shared many happy hours, nor to farewell companions with whom I had learned so much. I didn’t want to turn my back on any of that. But, as I would shortly learn from the Quran; God plans, and man plans, and God verily is the best of planners. #Quran 8:30. However, since for me God didn’t even exist, I had no idea that, in His planning, He would be taking any interest at all in my own private life. Funny how bad things overtake you just as you’re thinking you’re really getting your stuff together.
But then, suddenly, I find I’ve left that ‘successful’ life behind and I’m choosing to live in a council estate with people I never even knew existed, and I’m teaching their Pacifica children. More than that, I’m beginning to find myself waking up each day with a sense of deep inner contentment, even sometimes, bordering on a sense of ecstasy. And I’m developing real friendships with a whole range of people I’d never met before, some of whom would have been dismissed as down-and-outs by my previous circle of friends.
And that’s when I met Bryce whom I’ve mentioned in a previous post, and who proceeded to become a regular feature of my special-needs classroom, where he’d turn up in a battered old van, with ever-present cigarette, guitar and dog. It was in that unlikely setting that his true joy in making children happy turned my early suspicions of his intentions into gratitude and then admiration.
As it happened, it was also taking a while to win Bryce’s own confidence in me; in his eyes I was probably a ‘stuck-up’ privileged middle class woman. However, little by little I did win that trust until, over copious amounts of coffee, he relaxed enough to begin sharing glimpses of his earlier life before discovering Baha’u’llah; accounts of an absent father and often absent mother who was, as my grandmother would have delicately put it, ‘no better than she needed to be.’ Accounts of a long procession of female ‘friends’ and various alarming scrapes with the law. One of these stories, ‘enhanced’ or not I couldn’t tell, was of a robbery carried out late one night with a few of his similarly disreputable mates.
It was only after they’d succeeded in getting away with an enormously heavy safe that they were faced with the dilemma of how to open it, for none knew the combination. After much drunken argument, they decided that the easiest method was to simply toss it down a steep bank somewhere, in the hope that the crashing and banging would cause the vault to open. So far, so good. But instead of the hoped for outcome, to their alarm, the bank-safe veered off course and ended up crashing into the roof of someone’s home below from where, the newspapers reported on the following day, it had landed to the great surprise of the homeowners, fair and square in their toilet.
When you knew Bryce long enough, the stories of his life ceased to surprise. And soon I learned why he was so happy to spend time in my rowdy, hyperactive, special-needs class which most people felt cautious to even enter. It turned out that when he was little, this very class, in this very school, in this very rundown neighbourhood where I was now teaching, had been his own class. And he loved me for being the kind of teacher he would have loved so much, had he been fortunate enough at the time to have found one.
Throughout all Bryce’s non-conformist life I never detected any real malice towards any of the ‘victims’ of his various activities. The deeply thoughtful philosopher whom I now knew was a transformed man, no longer an illiterate special-needs drop-out trouble-maker, but a respected recorded songwriter and more. He told me (in much less refined terms) that the continually unsatisfied relationships he had been seeking in that succession of women was the love he finally discovered in his recognition of Baha’u’llah. He came to realise that, in all that time, he had really been trying to replace the missing love and tenderness of his elusive mother, and these qualities were the understanding, forgiveness and tenderness that he had finally found in this Bahai Messenger. And so it was that, after a long and unrequited search, an illiterate nobody became a devout student of those same literary gems that I too finally found in the Writings of Baha’u’llah, and about which it was the joy of his heart to share with others.
Amongst the valuable lessons I learned from my time with this unique soul was not to be prejudiced about someone because of their past or their appearance, nor be quick to doubt the capacity of another soul, or to assume that the least likely person could not open to learning about Baha’u’llah. It seems somehow fitting to me that the very rest home from where Bryce eventually left this mortal life is the same rest home where I have now spent the last five years of my own life and from where it is probable that I too will eventually take my flight. Bryce...I feel your spirit still in this place and I know I’ll have been in good company to the end.
Post 33. Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?
One afternoon Bryce and I found ourselves in a rather seedy and rundown café, discussing a topic that I had previously explored with my mother: Why do bad things happen to good people? Why, since God loves us, should there be so much suffering in the world? We were seated at a table on which some previous guest had spilt sugar – whether recently or even days ago we could not tell. As we chatted, my down-at-heel, unemployed philosophic friend was absent-mindedly pushing crystals of sugar into random shapes with his thumb. My amusement with his patient sugar ‘construction’ made him suddenly aware of what he’d been doing and he laughed and then began to tell me a story about another time, and another table, where he’d also been playing with fallen sugar.
He said he hadn’t paid much attention to his actions at the time until he noticed a small ant running about distractedly at the farthest end of the table, searching for food scraps. Recognizing that there was plenty of food for the ant to enjoy if it could just make its way across the table top, he patiently followed the ant’s erratic path with a hovering hand. Each time the ant veered off course and away from the unsuspected sugar bounty waiting at the far side, he would plant his big thumb in its path. The ant would run headlong into his thumb and be deflected into a path that would take it closer to the sugar.
This was quite a time-consuming process and after a while he began to imagine the irritation the little creature must be feeling as it collided with one obstacle after another, seemingly to no purpose. He imagined the ant beginning to feel quite irritated and then, as the obstacles continued, the irritation would turn to anger and eventually to overwhelming frustration, despair and futility. The ant had no way of knowing that each seemingly arbitrary obstacle was really the intervention of an unseen force that had the ant’s true well-being at heart or that, with each apparent misfortune, the object of its search was drawing ever closer.
That’s pretty much been the story of my own life: running headlong into painful obstacles. I was the despair of my headmistress at school, and of my Bible Class teacher at church. I won’t list all the disasters here because I’ve embarrassed my parents enough already, so you’ll just have to trust me. But I’ve grown up enough now to know that running into painful obstacles is not that exceptional after all. Now I’m old enough to look back and recognise that it was those very experiences that taught me the most valuable life lessons. With the development of spiritual maturity I increasingly recognized that the very purpose of those unwanted life events was to draw my attention to what I most needed to learn, and to guide me towards the very thing my heart most deeply longed for.
I know that Bryce’s brief experience with that little ant had made a profound impression on him, for he had seen his own life in the journey of the ant, who was not able to appreciate that each barrier it ran into was in reality guiding it to the very object of its search. For the first time he recognized a purpose in many of the considerable adversities he had encountered in his own life. He could see that each episode had been especially designed for him and him alone, to help him to grow and develop, to lead him to a recognition of the purpose of his creation and in the process to identify and acquire the spiritual qualities that would be needed for him to successfully fulfil his divine purpose on this plane.
This process of encountering the challenges in our lives is just like the various activities I planned as a teacher; like all the stories, activities, experiments, quizzes and puzzles that I presented to my previous class – also 12-13 years old but with average or above IQ - pupils, knowing that as they worked to find solutions and answers, they would be growing in knowledge and wisdom. By comparison, for my special class I would plan for sunny strolls up to the village shops, observing road rules and courteously greeting the shop owners, and collaborating to select, purchase and pay for each of the ingredients required on our return to class where a small kitchen and facilities enabled us to prepare simple recipes like pancakes or toasties. On another day we would take the short walk to my flat and carry out tasks like weeding and planting the small garden, or using a vacuum cleaner and attending to the many other simple tasks that would be required by these children as they grew older. Frequently when other pupils in our school heard about our ‘lessons’ they were envious and resented the activities of my special class which they considered unfair, unjust and unkind.
Even some teachers considered my work ‘cushy’, but only those who had never seen the endless patience and kindness it required, or the wisdom in responding to frequent violent outbursts from strong 13year old boys with the emotional skills of a 5 year old. But I knew that this apparent injustice in the eyes of other pupils, the apparent ease of my children compared with the challenges of others, was in reality an outcome of their greater gifts and capacities; qualities that the special class children wished they too possessed. So that is what I think about in my work as a counsellor, when I learn of the great burdens some people have to face in their lives compared with the relative ease and comfort of others.
Some life lessons are fun and appealing. Some are confronting and difficult. However, I have grown old enough and wise enough to realise that this process is true for both our material and spiritual education; in responding with strength, patience and determination to adversity, we stretch and expand our present capacity, and uncover innate powers and hidden gifts that we may otherwise have never discovered. Bryce has passed on now but I know he’d agree with me that, although it’s really tough at the time, we wouldn’t have missed a moment of it.
So, getting back to that original query of ‘Why do bad things happen to good people? Why, since God loves us, should there be so much suffering in the world?’, in spiritual terms, tests and difficulties may outwardly appear as ‘bad’ but in reality they carry precious lessons.
“O Son of Man! My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy. Hasten thereunto that thou mayest become an eternal light and an immortal spirit. This is My command unto thee, do thou observe it.”
32. PEACE; MORE THAN JUST AN END TO WAR
Woo-hoo! I am writing this at the outset of the great New Zealand holiday season! Six whole weeks of school holidays, prelude to a long hot summer at a favourite beach. In pursuit of this dream, we queue up for hours of irritable perspiration in overpacked cars on melting-hot highways, while our kids argue restlessly in the back seat. No reindeer and snowmen here. For some lucky few it will be Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all Men. But what does peace on earth look like today?
It seems we may never have had Christmas at all, were it not for a certain Three Wise Men, the Magi of St. Matthew’s gospel. If they had never decided to leave Persia in the first place to follow that star shining brightly in the heavens, they would never have discovered the infant Christ. Failing that, His story of peace and goodwill might never have been told. It appears that the Magi were Zoroastrian, one of the oldest major religions in the world. There is probably no people on earth currently more in need of peace and goodwill than present time Zoroastrians. Today, the U.N. reports that the Azidis, a branch of this ancient religion, are enduring genocide in their ancestral land of Iraq at the hands of ISIL (Islamic State). One of my regular correspondents, himself an Azidi, has shared with me his personal accounts of abductions and massacres that turn my stomach, making my mind struggle to expunge the sheer horror of knowing that human beings are treating others in hideous ways that not even the fiercest animal would devise. His community is now desperately trying to raise awareness about their beliefs and the unthinkable persecution that they face. How tragic that these first discoverers of the Prince of Peace should be amongst the last to enjoy that peace.
Two thousand years have passed since Christ’s birth, since He called the little children to Him and addressed His followers from the Mount of Karn Hattin saying "blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God". After the passage of all those years, the Holy Land should be the most perfect place on earth. It should be a place of peace and prosperity, one that all the children of the world can consider as our collective 'home', the birthplace of our common spiritual ancestor Abraham. However, any realist would have to admit that in many ways we don’t seem to have come a long way since.
It is some 25 years since I first went to Israel, since I sat on that same hillside where Christ spoke those words and gazed out across the troubled waters of Galilee lying greyly below, with the same hard metallic grey as the skies above. The wind was blowing coldly down from the hills of the Golan Heights. Up there somewhere, concealed in those black hills, were the cruel metallic weapons of war, poised to guard and repel. On the journey to that sacred spot we had passed many tanks, silent lumbering beasts of death. Yet for me it was the peaceful words of Christ that resonated most powerfully. For the truth is that, despite all the bloodshed over those many ages, one of the words you hear most often in this land is ‘peace’. If you’re amongst the Jewish community below the base of the Golan Heights, the greeting is Shalom, a Hebrew word meaning peace. Or if you’re on the top of that mountain, you’ll hear the greeting of salaam; "Peace be upon you". In a land so dense with weapons of war, that constant reference to peace seems ironic in the extreme.
So what is this elusive term that is ‘peace’? Is it the case that, if a land is not presently engaged in active conflict, it can be considered to be at peace? If that’s true, then for the present point at least, Israel is at peace. But that’s not how all her citizens experience it. Peace is so much more than just an end to war. It is both a noun – a naming word – and a verb – a doing word.
The ‘noun’ of peace is closer to the condition Christians and greeting cards imagine when they speak of Peace on Earth. It suggests ‘names’ like harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquillity. Wikipedia describes it somewhat cynically as ‘a certain quality of existence which has been sought after, yet seldom found in a long enduring form, since time immemorial’. As a ‘doing’ word, peace seems more about ‘un’doing: freedom from conflict, prejudice, violence etc.
It can be argued that you don’t need religion to have morals: if you can’t determine right from wrong then you lack empathy, not religion. For many in the West, the positive educative function of religious authority has been challenged. Shocking personal disclosures by clergy have contributed to a current situation where true religion seems to have dissolved and vanished; considered at best a fiction and at worst an opiate, in either case, a factor inhibiting progress. Individuals are now left free to maintain whatever relationship they believe connects their lives to anything other than their own material existence. Abandoning any moral or spiritual authority, humanity has taken its destiny into its own hands.
Peace doesn’t come naturally. We share, after all, many of the qualities that are essentially animal; the survival of the fittest. But unlike animals, we are also extremely responsive to change, education and civilising. While animals retain pretty much the same patterns as they have over the ages, mankind has experienced a continuing process of civilisation. Animals are not moral creatures; morality and civilisation are the functions of true religion. The current turmoil in global society doesn’t negate the purpose of religion; rather, it expresses the lack of true religion, and demonstrates the failure of religious institutions to assist humanity in dealing with challenges that are essentially spiritual and moral.
The time has come when religious leadership must face honestly the implications of the truth that God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion is likewise one. A sea change in human consciousness is under way. As our world grows to maturity we are being called – often painfully and reluctantly - to recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and to put in place the principles and factors that can best apply this fundamental principle in our lives. Humanity is being compelled to recognise that its well-being, peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. A wishful grafitti tag reads "Teach Peace!”. Now is the time to make peace a doing word.
Peace: some have called it dream. Baha’i’s call it a plan. It goes like this:
everyone should be free to investigate truth for themselves
God is one, known by different names
humanity is genetically and spiritually one family
education should be universal and compulsory
men and women are equal
teaching a universal language will increase mutual understanding
universal peace will be established and upheld as a consequence of just world government
religious fanaticism must be overcome
true science and religion possess an essential unity
racial and religious prejudice must end
differences should be resolved through consultation
Good plan, huh? Why don’t you work with us in achieving it?
31. The Doomsday Clock Is Ticking LOUDER...
I am in shock. I can hardly believe I am writing a headline like this. It’s 4 decades since those heady days of the ‘70’s that I had recalled in a previous entry, yet I remember them as if they were yesterday. Ironically, l live close enough to a large concert venue to be able to hear at this very moment the strains of Yusuf/Cat Stephens, who is presently visiting the country and thrilling the air waves - and also my son in the crowd - as we all listen in rapt attention to the anthem that is “Peace Train”. For me the ideals of those days were more than just wishful thinking; in that decade my life changed forever, in a way that resonates still.
I refuse to accept that it was mere idealism for, in my imagination, there I am still; flowers in my long hair, patchouli dabbed behind my ears, the smoky fragrance of joss sticks wafting through the air. I'm wearing a long muslin dress, a fringed top, with long beads and sandals on my feet. That was my '70's, in one great visual and fragrant feast. But times have moved on...
Today I have good news and bad news. I’m giving you the good news first. As a long-time feminist and peacenik, I am thrilled to report on two major events which took place in our world in the course of this year. Thrilled that they happened, certainly not thrilled by how under-reported they seemed to be here in N.Z. - an omission that seems particularly remiss, given that we led the world in achieving votes for women (a big call for lots of bold-case lettering in this post!).
The first of these was the Women's March on Washington; the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. The march earlier this year on January 21, was organised to send a bold message to the new administration on their first day in office, and to the world, that “women’s rights are human rights". It rapidly became a worldwide protest with participation estimated at over five million.
The purpose was to advocate legislation and policies on a diverse range of human rights and other issues, including women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, the natural environment, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and workers' rights.
Most of the rallies were aimed at Donald Trump, immediately following his inauguration as President of the United States, largely due to statements that he had made and positions that he had taken which were regarded by many as anti-women or otherwise offensive. (Refer to my previous post on the ‘Me Too’ hashtag movement). Marches were worldwide, on all seven continents. In Washington D.C. alone, the march was the largest single political demonstration since the anti-Vietnam war protests.
Two months ago - Oct 6, 2017 - the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (the ICAN campaign) whose head chided Donald Trump for ramping up a nuclear standoff, observing that the US president has a track record of “not listening to expertise”. Speaking in the hours after the award, Beatrice Fihn, the group’s executive director, said Trump “puts a spotlight” on the dangers of nuclear weapons.
“The election of President Donald Trump has made a lot of people feel very uncomfortable with the fact that he alone can authorise the use of nuclear weapons,” she told reporters in Geneva, adding that “there are no right hands for nuclear weapons”, and that the prize was a tribute to all anti-nuclear campaigners. It sent a message to all nuclear-armed states that “we can’t threaten to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians in the name of security”.
The chair of the Norwegian Nobel committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said the award had been made in recognition of Ican’s work “to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”.
It underlines the mounting danger of nuclear conflict between the US and North Korea and the increasing vulnerability of the Iran nuclear deal. It is a reprimand to the world’s nine nuclear-armed powers – the US, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel – all of whom boycotted negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons that was approved by 122 non-nuclear nations at the UN in July.
The Nobel committee said “the risk of nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time” and there was “a real danger that more countries will try to procure nuclear weapons, as exemplified by North Korea”. It said the peace prize was also a call to nuclear-armed states “to initiate serious negotiations with a view to the gradual, balanced and carefully monitored elimination of the almost 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world”.
Meantime, for those of you who follow the Doomsday Clock, courtesy of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, it is now two and a half minutes to midnight. For the last two years, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock stayed set at three minutes before the hour, the closest it had been to midnight since the early 1980s. However, in its two most recent annual announcements on the Clock, the Science and Security Board warned: “The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.
In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, and global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way."
FINAL BLOGGING CHALLENGE POST!
Whew.... Writing a fresh blog for 30 days in a row turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. To quote my daughter, I am absolutely exhaustipated! But only 35 more unique visitors to go and it will have reached 2,000!
Quite honestly, I couldn't have done it without your support. It helped that I knew someone out there was reading these words, might be reflecting upon them, and perhaps even reordering their own personal views. And so, despite everything, I'm hooked now, and I'll keep it up, on an occasional basis. (I've still got 1 manuscript sitting hopefully at my publishers and another halfway through).
I hope you'll keep checking in every now and then.
Love from bahaigirl9
30. UNITY: AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME.
29. The Power of Change
When the light of Baha’u’llah broke upon the world, humanity was completing an age-old journey that had travelled from family to community to city state, and most recently t:o the experience of nation state. This process is to be followed by the unification of the entire planet, a process progressively gradually effected though application of the Principle of Unity. The core Teachings of Baha’u’llah address such essential themes as the oneness of God and of religion, and the oneness of humanity. He stated:
“That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith.
28. DIZZYING POLITICAL CHANGE
I've been a fan of Bertrand Russell (b. 1870) since my atheist days of the 60’s and 70’s when I found it very reassuring to read;
“And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence”
And his words really resonate today in respect of some current political leaders: "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Today, as I expound on my own Baha’i beliefs, I take comfort in his advice; “Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.”
Popular media has made it possible for new ideas and global collaborations to develop almost instantaneously. Hence, my simple idea to develop a blog – an idea that occurred barely a month or so ago – has been able to attract 1900+ readers from around the world. So those who feel despairing of having any beneficial influence should take comfort from the vastly increased potential for real and rapid change in today’s world.
Consider, for example, the present "Me Too" movement which was formed in the aftermath of Mr Trump’s presidential campaign, when a 2005 audio recording of his intimate comments surfaced on the election trail. It increased to spread virally as a two-word hashtag which was first used on social media in October 2017 to denounce sexual assault and harassment. In the wake of other sexual misconduct allegations, the "Me Too" hashtag, initially used in this sense by a social activist, then became popularized by an actress who consequently encouraged women to tweet it to publicize their own experiences and to thereby demonstrate the widespread nature of misogynistic behaviour.
Since then, millions of people including many celebrities, have used the hashtag to come forward with their own experiences. This example, whilst perhaps extreme, should be very comforting for those who recognise the imperative need for change in the world, but who feel paralysed by the apparent impossibility of contributing to that change.
Previously I referred to Baha’u’llah’s comment that the reality of man is his thought, not his material body. It is hard to make enduring physical changes in the world. Every sustainable outward physical change began with a thought. Therefore it follows that we make real and sustainable change when we change our thoughts. No one and no thing can change our own thoughts. We are in complete control. This is why the practice of meditation is so important, as it enables us to become consciously of our thought processes.
I wonder what enduring change will be brought about as the result of shaming people into change, as the "Me Too" movement tends to do. If someone's change isn't the outcome of a genuine change in belief and understanding, an individual will only sustain that change for as long as they perceive personal social disapproval.
If the men concerned in this story are not developing a genuinely enhanced attitude to women by recognising the negative consequence of their behaviour, I doubt their apparent change will endure. But on the other hand, when we truly recognise our shortcomings and increase in our knowledge and values, that becomes expressed in a change in thought, which exerts a real effect, not just on the individual, but on the planet as a whole. To view this principle on its greatest scale;
27. WOMEN: THE ONLY 51% MINORITY
A decade ago I was privileged to attend a meeting at the Beehive (NZ's centre of Government) to meet the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali. As I sat there I realised how much that gathering reminded me of those familiar televised scenes of the United Nations in session. It was similar in one crucial respect - in that large room full of people I was very aware of being one of the very few female faces in a sea of men. And it reminded me that in spite of all the advances which women of the world have made in the last hundred years, in those areas of the greatest influence and decision-making, our voice is still barely more than a whisper. Some time later when representing the NZ Bahai Office of External Affairs at the opening of the United Nations Association Seminar on Global Governance - held in 2002 at the same venue - I was very happy to note the high number of women members and women officer bearers amongst the hosting U. N. A., an indication that they were indeed practising what they preached.
What possible influence could you or I have as single individuals on the future of the planet? Very little if we gauge this from a purely material point of view. The problems are all just too big, too entrenched in human behaviour, to make a difference. However, from a spiritual perspective, it can be seen that what takes place outwardly is a response to our inner thought processes.
The author Deepak Chopra explains that the reality of things is often not what is outwardly there, but rather what we tell ourselves about it. He gives the example that if he was in India and he came across a cobra on the path, he would jump with fright. However, a snake collector would bend forward with interest. A Hindu devotee, recognising the sacred form of Shiva, might bow in awe. It seems to me that similarly, whether one views the family primarily as a consumer unit, or an outdated social convention, or alternatively as the foundation stone of human society is really dependent on our choice. We can throw up our hands in despair that there is nothing we can do at this late stage to make a change, or we can decide that the time is now to implement inner personal change. The personal is not just political but also predictive. We change the world, a little bit a time, by changing our thoughts. And if we do this in groups, the change becomes ever more powerful.
Baha'u'llah advocated the necessity for independent investigation of reality - whether scientific or religious - in order that people will develop in accord with their own convictions, freed from dependence upon the learning or the approval of others; to become self-educating. In the past we needed Priests, Rabbis and Mullahs because they were the only ones in society who had the privilege of a level of education required to read and study the Holy Books of the time. Today, being self-educating requires that all members have access to universal education. Because the true reality of man is his thought, not his material condition, it therefore follows that true education will necessarily involves the training of thought. All Baha'i principles and practices have a role in facilitating this process of education, to a greater or lesser degree.
Amongst these principles is the value placed upon questioning, as the means of provoking a search for understanding. The regular practice of personal meditation expands individual consciousness and comprehension, and is conducive to a well trained mind. The ability to work in groups is also valued because it enables individuals to draw upon the strengths and perceptions of others, whilst still taking responsibility for their own individual development. Baha'u'llah also enjoined the practice of consultation in groups, a skill to be taught and practised from the earliest years as it fosters greater understanding and enables the exploration of reality, making it an essential tool for education.
Lack of resources temporarily limits the ability of communities and nations to totally fulfil the provision of ideal education, imposing a certain ordering of priorities. Decision-making agencies would benefit from applying the Baha'i principle of giving first priority to the education of women and girls, since it is through educated mothers that the benefits of knowledge can be most effectively and rapidly diffused throughout society.
The complete participation of women in every aspect of human life will enhance all humanity and greatly accelerate the advancement of society in general. Until the present time, fully one half of the world’s population has been repressed. In order to gain the benefits which will follow the liberation of this vast body of human resources, opportunities for equal education must be provided and the barriers to advancement and progress be removed. Inherent in this great expansion of human resources is the increased ability of our age to resolve many of those issues which until now had proved both major and insoluble.
In harmony with the explicit principle of equality is a recognition of the diversity of human society, a harmony expressed in the phrase Unity in Diversity. In addition to the uniqueness of talent and capacity which exists between individuals, the Baha'i Faith acknowledges difference in physical condition. Women have the unique capacity to bear and nurture infant children, and have a special role to play in these early years, especially in the area of moral education, as a foundation of good character and values such as truth, courtesy, kindliness, cleanliness and so forth, is laid down in the hearts of the children.
However, far from limiting the roles of either sex, the Baha’I concept of equality fosters a broader range of human endeavour. The horizons of men must also be widened, freeing them from a narrow range of stereotyped roles and behaviours, empowering them to express a range of qualities, and to fulfil roles, which in the past were often considered unmasculine, including full involvement in the nurturing and development of their children. Children will be greatly benefitted through receiving parenting from better trained and educated women, and from fathers who are freed from many historical restraints which have limited their involvement with their children.
26. WE ARE THE WORLD, WE ARE THE CHILDREN
Maybe some of my recent posts have suggested to you that I’ve been - to use a phrase from the 60’s - ‘on a bit of a downer’ about this nuclear thing. Not really. In fact I’m relentlessly positive, have even been accused of being a bit of a Pollyanna (yes, another phrase from the ‘60’s). And at least that’s better than being accused of being on some kind of crazy religious high. The truth as I see it is more practical, more achievable, more down-home.
And perhaps you’re wondering by now if I get all my opinions from rock songs and the popular press. Now, as if to justify that impression, I’m going to quote from a song that hit the spot with humanity so profoundly that it sold 20 million copies. Michael Jackson’s ‘We Are The World’ simply gave expression to a thought that was growing in the planet’s consciousness:
"There comes a time,
When we hear a certain call
When the world must come together as one
There are people dying
And it's time to lend a hand to life
The greatest gift of all.
We can't go on,
Pretending day by day
That someone, somehow will soon make a change
We are all a part of
God's great big family
And the truth, you know; love is all we need
We are the world
We are the children
I agree with this. In the absence of any other influences capable of redirecting the fortunes of humanity, I have come to believe that the future of this war-weary world lies, not in the hands of politicians or social benefactors or international conventions, but in our own hands. Its future lies in the re-spiritualisation of mankind, beginning in the family.
Such a radical goal requires a new paradigm of family life that involves the ability for women, and for men, to have greater, not fewer, choices which reflect and preserve the diversity of the human species - whether of gender, race, religion, colour or culture. We need choices which acknowledge that not all women are mothers, that the actual period of hands-on mothering is only a relatively short time in a woman's life and that also allows opportunity for women to complement mothering with the fulfilment of other roles.
To achieve this challenge requires us to identify, and progressively implement, a range of clear unifying principles, and to find ways of applying them, that reflect the diversity of our communities, whilst acknowledging that every family situation is unique. We need to promote the high status of parenting, and develop a variety of models which reflect positive roles for the father as well as for the mother. We need to develop and apply the skill of consultation because this is the greatest tool to achieving agreement and unity.
We must continue to give consideration to how the principle of the equality of men and women can be applied in respect of the family, so that mothers can reconcile the high status of child-rearing on the one hand, with the need to participate fully and capably in the affairs of the world on the other. Precedence must be given to developing the resources, services, materials, and training, which will support these principles.
For Maori, the unique and priceless role of women is so aptly expressed in the description of her child-bearing role - te whare tangata, the house of the people. The womb nurtures the first level of human existence. The placenta of the mother links the newly created soul to those presently on the earth, and further back to the ancestors, and to the land which nurtured them.
The woman carries within her the first world of existence. She is the link between past and future souls, between the first plane of physical existence and the next world. The first few years of life are of crucial importance. The importance of timely provision of needs can be seen with kittens: if a kitten does not use its sight in the first 2 or 3 days of life it will remain blind. The infant in the human world also has needs that are critical to each new phase of life.
In a world where men and their activities have always taken priority, we face a unique challenge; to upend the mental pyramid that places man at the top, and replace it with children. The author of a book entitled "All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" claims that everything one needs to know about how to live and what to do and how to be, he learned, not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but in his earliest years; in the sandpile, at Sunday School, in kindergarten. These are some of the things he learned:
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic and stick together.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest of all - LOOK.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Take any of those terms and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if...all governments had a basic policy to always put things away where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, it is best to hold hands and stick together."
`A child is as a young plant: it will grow in whatever way you train it. If you rear it to be truthful, and kind, and righteous, it will grow straight, it will be fresh and tender, and will flourish. But if not, then from faulty training it will grow bent, and stand awry,and there will be no hope of changing it...Every child is potentially the light of the world-and at the same time its darkness; wherefore must the question of education be accounted as of primary importance."
25. NATIONS ARE AN AGGREGATE OF FAMILIES
It seems almost unbelievable to me that some of the nations of our world are presently contemplating nuclear warfare. Seriously, guys? Were you on the planet back in the 50’s while I was just a little school kid laying on my back in the grass of the school playing field, worrying in my head about whether the world was about to implode? Do you know how near the world came to that catastrophe, and all because of a simple misunderstanding? Back then I trusted grown-ups..
Little as I was, back in the ‘50’s, I’d heard enough on the radio to know I should be worried about this nuclear thing. An American destroyer had began dropping depth charges on a nuclear-armed Soviet submarine which its captain mistook for live explosives. Convinced he was witnessing the opening salvo of World War III, he angrily ordered his men to arm the nuclear-tipped torpedo and prepare for attack. By some stroke of Providence, the captain’s second in command refused to give consent.
Guys, we’re back at that same stage again. Didn’t you learn anything from the ‘60’s, folk music, Woodstock, and the Summer of Love? Even little kids know this situation is not right. After aeons of warfare, surely we must be able to do better now? How did we come to have this monster that is nuclear energy seemingly able to run rampant in our world? I’m sure such a time would never have been anticipated by our own Kiwi physicist Earnest Rutherford who was the first to discover in 1932 that when lithium atoms were "split" by protons from a proton accelerator, immense amounts of energy could be released.
Apparently, he and other nuclear physics pioneers Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein believed that harnessing the power of the atom for practical purposes anytime in the near future was unlikely, with Rutherford labelling such expectations "moonshine." To be fair, there are many extremely beneficial uses of nuclear energy, in areas such as the obvious one of fuel but also medicine and the space program, but unless and until we change our attitude towards our fellow man, the lethal types need to have much better control. Ideally a global ban.
We need to change our historic attitudes and start operating like a family; the Family Of Man. Sounds good to me. The challenge as I see it is to become models of new and evolving constructs of family life, which reflect our diversity of culture and roles, and that respond to the pace of change which is an inescapable feature of our time. The families which it is the challenge of our present generation to build must serve a new paradigm, one utterly unlike anything which we have known before, because it must be sufficient to meet the needs of an utterly new Age.
The 21st Century has arrived so fast, and we hardly had time to consider how we should we approach it. In my mind, it comes with a set of instructions - the Baha’i teachings. And kids today know so much more: compared with the children in my grandparents time, there are no 7 year olds left - only 35 year olds in 7 year old bodies!
`Abdu'l-Baha', son of Baha'u'llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha'i Faith, asserted the strategic potential of the family, saying;
"Compare the nations of the world to the members of a family. A family is a nation in miniature. Simply enlarge the circle of the household, and you have the nation. Enlarge the circle of nations, and you have all humanity. The conditions surrounding the family surround the nation. The happenings in the family are the happenings in the life of the nation...nations are but an aggregate of families."
24. WOMEN AS MOTHERS?
When I first found myself out in the suburbs with young children, I knew I had arrived in the human mud flats. This was the unappealing, dull backwater of society; not a whale of a place to be. Whilst during the day the suburbs were a place for children, mothers, the sick, disabled, and old people, their value to the movers and shakers, the whales and the dolphins, of the human world was as a place to rest and to sleep. But those of us who lived our days there felt washed up, beached, stranded, and longed for the chance to play a fuller and more influential role in our society.
Sadly, the attitudes I first encountered as a young mother are still a very ingrained part of social thought. The reality is that in some ways things are worse; I watched, helpless with frustration, at the conditions faced by my daughter, a young Maori woman trying as best she and her husband could to raise their family in the suburb of Otara, in conditions worse in many ways than my own at her age.
The value which our society places upon home and family can be gauged by looking at the planning provisions made by local bodies for their communities. A clue to this value can be found in both local body terminology and in dictionaries. At the time I was raising children in the suburbs, the very word `suburban' was defined in Collins Dictionary as "mildly degenerative, narrow or unadventurous in outlook". So this was how people saw the environment in which they raised their children, the future citizens of tomorrow, during their most precious formative years; they relegated them to a degenerative, narrow, unadventurous environment. In town planner terminology these were ‘dormitory suburbs’, which Collins Dictionary defines as `denoting or relating to an area from which most of the residents commute to work'. That town planners and local bodies called them the dormitory suburbs implies that their primary expectation of the suburbs for which they planned was that they were good places to sleep. Not to rear babies. Not to raise and educate children. Not to provide good quality family life. To sleep.
At the time when I first became house-centred with young babies, significant numbers of mothers were found to be suffering from a new disease; it became known as `suburban neurosis'- defined as a `relatively mild mental disorder characterised by hysteria, anxiety or obsessive behaviour'. The treatment was what one pop song of the day called a `mother's little helper'; tranquillisers of Librium, Valium and the like. This symptom of the continuing failure of women to thrive in the western, middle-class, suburban environment reinforced the prejudice that women are weak and of less importance, and the value of mothers negligible.
In the absence of recognition, support, and a range of resources necessary to support the high expectations of the role, many women tried to escape the undervaluing and low esteem of the mother in the home by joining the traditional domain of men; our suburban mudflat homes were increasingly exchanged for the sparkling blue and white shores of the paid work force. In this way a strong impetus was created for men and women to lose sight of the value of parenting and to replace it with the search for a bigger and better pay cheque. Babies were relegated to Day Care centres, old folk to Rest homes, the disabled to institutions. Fathers felt at a loss as to what their roles should be. The family had become a great place for budgies, tabby cats and garden gnomes, but a very unsafe place for people.
In a study of the time entitled "From Birth to Death III", Judith Davey, Lecturer in Social Policy at Victoria University, lent support to the call from community welfare groups for urgently needed new directions in social policy. Many of the findings of this study related to family breakdown. It highlighted the need for more funding for work with children in women's refuges, identified increasingly higher proportions of children living in sole-parent families, more older teenagers staying at home and dependent on parents, and a trebling of the rate of youth unemployment. It noted that one in four males were convicted of criminal offences before age 24.
The same study also stated that compared with Pakeha New Zealanders, Maori and Pacific Island people continue to be disadvantaged in almost all aspects of social and economic life; these differences were great in areas including income, work force participation, life expectancy, and health status, and they especially disadvantaged women. The study noted a deterioration in household income where children were aged 5 to 14. Nearly one in two Maori males were convicted of criminal offences before age 24, and the report stated that response to the high rate of offending must recognise the effect of alcohol and drug abuse.
Fast forward to today: the most important problems reported to be facing Kiwis in 2017 are housing related, but also reflect a world facing economic, war and terrorism problems in almost equal measure. The biggest global problems are now economic issues - poverty and the gap between rich and poor - and over-population. Following this are problems associated with war and terrorism, security issues, and the refugee crisis. In addition are climate change, Donald Trump, social apathy, lack of values, lack of empathy towards others, intolerance and issues related to Government, politicians and political unrest.
All this paints a picture of 'domestic' issues that extend far beyond our shores. The personal has indeed become the political. No words could be more true than the 1624 Meditation of John Donne who famously observed: 'No man is an island, entire and complete of himself".
The digital revolution has transformed workplaces and people’s lives. The growing demand for gender equality and the increasingly-recognised business benefits of diversity have highlighted the need for economic empowerment for all women. Last year, the 8th CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women) report to the United Nations, showed that New Zealand women are doing well in education and work. However, it outlined three areas of forward focus;
- encouraging wider uptake of flexible work so that women aren’t penalised for their choice to balance work with other responsibilities
- encouragement and support for women to work and train in areas that offer good pay and good prospects, such as digital technology, engineering, and trades and construction.
- promotion of diversity in leadership through programmes that educate others on the valuable skills women bring to the table.
This year’s focus area is The Empowerment of Indigenous Women. Government has developed unique approaches to support Māori development, with the principle of “partnership” being central to this approach. Examples include initiatives to get more Māori women into trades training; the Māori Women Development Incorporated provides loans to Māori women to assist them to commence business, and runs a coaching and leadership programme for indigenous women. So far, so good for my Maori daughter's, and granddaughter's, whanau...
New Zealand seems to recognise that we still have much to do to achieve gender equity, and to empower women and girls in all aspects of their lives, to deliver positive outcomes for all at a global level. But I remain wondering to what extent the primary consideration of the communities for which we plan is to rear babies. Is it to raise and educate children? Is it to provide good quality family life? When will we raise the status of the family - of mothers and fathers - to the highest level?
To recall the previous quotation:
"The happenings in the family are the happenings in the life of the nation... So it is in the great family of nations, for nations are but an aggregate of families.”
23.'UN'RECLAIMING OUR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
When I was a child growing up in Papatoetoe, most of the neighbourhood families had no cars, no televisions. We got where we wanted to go by push bike. Due to what most other countries would consider a remarkable geographical quirk, living in Papatoetoe meant that only a short bike ride would take me to the sea on the west coast of New Zealand, a slightly longer bike ride to the east coast. During the long hot days of our summer holidays, my brothers and I would roll up our swimming togs in towels with a bottle of cordial, put them on our carriers and bike off to to the beach. Our favourite was Buckland's Beach on the east coast. It had blue water, white sand, lots of other families for company, and a dairy to buy ice cream. Unfortunately, it was also quite a long bike ride on a very hot day.
Alternatively, we could bike the shorter journey to Wiri Beach on the west coast. Here we could be almost certain of having the beach to ourselves; there were no dairies for miles. We had to push our bikes across a farmer's paddock and the beach was really a mudflat; at high tide you could swim in the brownish water but as the tide went out it exposed a muddy, smelly, slimy sea floor riddled with crabs and other murky creatures; no white sand, no blue water, no dairies. We had to be desperate for a swim to use this beach.
In later years the mud flats around Auckland began to disappear in the name of progress. Sometimes if the mud flats were near valuable residential or industrial areas they were filled and `reclaimed'. (Reclaimed from what, I wondered: weren’t they previously untouched preserved of the natural world? How do we un-reclaim them today?). In other places they were turned into marinas. Today some which remain are dotted with signs warning; “Pollution - do not take seafood, do not fish, do not bathe.” It seems to me that some serious 'un-reclaiming' is called for ASAP.
During my childhood years, most people saw the mud flats as being beaches that never quite made the grade. Then, slowly, environmentalists started to open our eyes to the consequences of this belief. Whilst our attention had been directed to saving the whales and the dolphins that were big, and appealing, and shared many human features that we could relate to, we were actually destroying an environment which was crucial to their very existence.
Those unappealing mud flats - in what my son's science book told me was the `photic zone'- those mud flats were their larders: the crabs and phytoplankton and seaweed which flourished in the shallow, sunlit areas of the sea shore were the foundation of their food chain, the preservers of the health of their environment. The mud flats, and the plants which colonised them, absorbed harmful chemicals and excess nutrients, filtered out sediment, and helped purify the rivers and oceans. This photic zone extending 100 metres from the shore is only a small percentage of the total ocean area but supports most of the life; it is only here that plants can grow and photosynthesise in the relative warmth and provide food for animal life.
Today we are increasingly aware of the changes we are making to our fragile planet. Previously people had been largely unaware of the place of lowly creatures like eels and whitebait. Today we have community conservation programmes dedicated to the vision of actively engaging schools, tangata whenua and community groups in restoration programmes throughout NZ. These provide support for all participating groups and schools, incorporating cutting edge environmental practices and education. In the process they gain a better understanding of the distribution of species, including pest fish species, and share knowledge about the effects of land-use practices on freshwater ecosystems. These strengthen the relationships between government departments, schools, community groups and tangata whenua.
Reflecting on the neglect our society has contributed to the natural world parallels for me, the neglect paid to our families, and explains many of our most perplexing social issues like marriage breakdown, family violence, youth suicide, and recourse to chemical stimulants. We are essentially spiritual beings,experiencing an earthly material existence. Until our materialistic western societies recognise that ‘spiritual’ takes precedence over ‘material’, until we become collectively spiritualised, for so long will these problems continue.
“Compare the nations of the world to the members of a family. A family is a nation in miniature. Simply enlarge the circle of the household, and you have the nation. Enlarge the circle of nations, and you have all humanity. The conditions surrounding the family surround the nation. The happenings in the family are the happenings in the life of the nation. Would it add to the progress and advancement of a family if dissensions should arise among its members, all fighting, pillaging each other, jealous and revengeful of injury, seeking selfish advantage? Nay, this would be the cause of the effacement of progress and advancement. So it is in the great family of nations, for nations are but an aggregate of families.”
22. ONE COMMON FAITH
Change is an essential feature of life. If something is remains changeless (like an overly-botoxed face?) it’s a pretty good indication that it’s dead. This applies to people and also to countries. Around 1,500 years ago the Roman empire appeared invincible and yet it fell apart, which must have been as unthinkable at the time as for those living through the collapse of the Egyptian rule. Ditto for Greece, the Incas and Aztecs, the British Empire and so on.
Our previous model of living in ‘countries’ is being gradually overtaken by recognition that the whole world is made up of nation-states; people with common attributes and characteristics, with an organised political system exerting sovereignty over a defined space, with borders agreed by other nation-states. This would have been unthinkable prior to the coming of Baha’u’llah. But today, try to imagine a world without countries – you can’t. Our whole sense of who we are, our loyalties, our rights and obligations, is bound up in them. But they’re not really that old.
Until the mid-19th century, most of the world was just a sprawl of empires, unclaimed land, city-states and principalities, which travellers crossed without checks or passports. As industrialisation made societies more complex, larger systems of governance were required in order to manage them. Those best able to unify and coordinate their activities – their physical regions, languages, records, economies and actions - grew more powerful than their neighbours.
Greater communications unified language, culture and identity. Gradually the nation-state model spread worldwide; there are now 193 nation-states ruling the world. But their seemingly invincible rule is rapidly diminishing. This nation-state with its borders, centralised governments, common people and sovereign authority has been becoming increasingly out of step with the world.
The case against the nation-state is hardly new. Twenty years ago, many were anticipating its imminent demise. The futurists anguished that globalisation would spell the end of a nation-states’ power to enforce change. Without that control, what dire effects could this have on businesses, finance and people? The exciting, new internet seemed to herald a borderless, free, identity-less future.
When the light of Baha’u’llah broke upon the world, humanity was completing an age-old journey that had travelled from family to community to city state, and most recently the experience of nation state. This process is to be followed by the unification of the entire planet, a process progressively gradually effected though application of the Principle of Unity.
The core Teachings of Baha’u’llah address such essential themes as the oneness of God and of religion, and the oneness of humanity. He stated:
“That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith.”
21. THE GOD IN ALL THINGS
NZ has a major problem with bullying; it is listed as one of the top 5 areas of concern amongst both schoolchildren and adults generally, - who experience it particularly in the work place. It is also closely linked to our high youth suicide rate. Often it is only when confronted with the effects of our actions in a compelling and thought-provoking way that we are motivated to take responsibility. However, with spiritual education, a person’s vision expands to include the well-being of her neighbour, and this awareness and sensitivity produces a broader sphere of concern.
I learned about the principle of justice early on in my life, thanks to Anne. When I was eight years old I was placed mid-term into a higher class. In this class was one girl who stood out from the others. Her name was Anne, which also happened to be the name of our Commonwealth’s beautiful young princess, and this distinction, coupled with Anne’s own attractive appearance and personality, inspired some of the children to give her the title ‘Princess’ Anne. I quickly learned that in my new class one of the many ways we were expected to pay homage to our new princess was by giving her first option on our little school lunches. In those days a typical lunch usually consisted of a few rather plain sandwiches and a piece of home-baked cake or biscuit, wrapped in paper. As a consequence, Anne soon came to recognize that my mother was a capable cook, and from that point onwards, she was able to enjoy my mother’s baking rather more often than I was.
Some of the girls, feeling a sense of inferiority owing to Anne’s loveliness and perceiving their own positions in the classroom social hierarchy to be under threat, responded by creating among the remaining girls roles that were even more inferior than their own. As the new kid on the block, I became the target of choice. I had no existing circle of friends to shelter me, nor any other redeeming grace in the eyes of these new schoolmates. Thus began a period of constant bullying and cunning spitefulness that some young girls seem particularly capable of. The girls that ran the school lunch extortion scam seized on my lunches with delight. Every lunchtime they ruthlessly curried favour with Anne by presenting my lunches to her, as if they were the crown jewels. In their efforts to subjugate me, one thing that contributed to the armoury at their disposal was that in childhood my name had been shortened to Pat. This made me a target for any child who had enough intelligence to be able to form a simple rhyme. Pat rhymed with fat, rhymed with rat, which was made to rhyme with all manner of similarly unpleasant things.
One of the girls, who took the same route home as myself, used to wait after school every day until I left the school gate and then walk a few steps behind me, slamming her school bag into my legs at each step and chanting ‘Fat Pat, Fat Pat’ until we were within sight of my home. This ongoing treatment, plus the many other subtle ways that eight year old girls have of letting both favourites and rejects know their respective places in the social pecking order, made my life unbearably miserable. I began to have what in later years I knew to be panic attacks whenever my mother left me alone. When I subsequently developed what our family doctor told my mother at the time was New Zealand’s youngest recorded case of shingles, the intense and ongoing pain of this debilitating condition was far outweighed for me by the sheer delight of knowing that I wouldn’t need to go back to school for a very long time.
This story remains sharply etched in my memory because of what I learned from what happened next. And what happened next was that in my little eight year old mind I conceived the idea of establishing my own place in the class hierarchy. I looked around and my eyes fell on Christy. In her I recognized the perfect target. In contrast to my own childhood puppy fat, which my mother kindly attributed to being big-boned and well built, Christy was clearly much more deserving of the label ‘fat’. Even more conveniently, she walked home along the same route as mine. So it was that after school that day I waited nervously at the school gate for Christy to appear and, when she did, I fell into place behind her and began slamming my bag into her legs with each step. But alas, as I trudged along behind her, rhythmically swinging the bag back and forth, there was no resultant surge of pleasure. Christy uttered not one word but kept walking soundlessly, almost mechanically, and without any outward reaction at all. And instead of the hoped-for sense of superiority, I felt only foolish and hollow.
Without any words being exchanged between us, I had recognized the feeling of shock, disbelief and unpreparedness that lay behind her silence, like that of an animal caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. I knew what that soundless panic felt like. I saw myself mirrored in her and felt disgusted by the reflection that I saw there. Although I have never seen her since, Christy still lives in my memory because her quiet suffering that day taught me the power of the virtue of empathy. My first response to bullying had been to emulate that same behaviour, thinking that by becoming a bully myself, I would no longer be a victim. Instead when I looked at Christy and saw my own self in her, I became immediately, totally disempowered, stripped of any desire to harm her. In fact, I became my own victim because I was sickened by what I had discovered in my own soul. Although Christy quite possibly retains no recollection of me, I am forever grateful for the powerful and enduring lesson I learned through her that day.
I saw the importance of having personal integrity in the choices I would make from then onwards and in the efforts I would make to overcome future hardships in my life. And I learned the truth of a verse I would later discover in Hindu scriptures: ‘When a man sees that the God in himself is the same God in all that lives, he hurts not himself by hurting others’. As we grow in virtues such as empathy, knowledge, kindliness and so forth, we reflect that growth by a change in our previous patterns of thought and, as a consequence, in our actions. Just as in the physical world where every action creates a reaction, so too do our spiritual choices have consequences. It is in our own best interest that we recognize these consequences at the time, while we still have the opportunity to learn and grow and make amends, to understand the ways in which we are presently inadequate and to reflect that self-knowledge by making wiser choices. Even on this earth, the greatest punishment is one we bring to ourselves, if and when we eventually become aware of the negative consequences of our actions, like the overwhelming shame I felt when I recognized the distress I had caused to Christy. However, if we can recognize our shortcomings within this lifetime and begin to use the remainder of our lives wisely, by developing our spiritual natures and then using them in service to others, the reward can be heavenly.
As I grew older it gradually began to occur to me that my growth seemed to occur more as a consequence of my miserable failures – as in the Christy episode – than as a result of my successes. In fact, failures occurred with such regularity that eventually, as I entered young adulthood, I grew tired of being a slow learner and began to develop a more mature and effective, spiritualized response to the challenges of life.
"Be fair to yourselves and to others, that the evidences of justice may be revealed, through your deeds..."
20. KINDNESS TO EVERY LIVING THING
I could barely sleep with excitement the night after we acquired the sweet little butterballs that were my father’s new batch of barely hatched chickens. Waking early before anyone in the house began to stir, I crept to the back door, pulled on my still mud-caked boots, and ran silently down the long pathway that led to the orchard. When I reached the wire enclosure that contained our hens and also prevented a certain few of the neighbourhood children from helping themselves to our fruit and eggs, I slipped open the gate latch and picked my way carefully over the muddy ground towards the new cage that my father had built in preparation for our new 'toys'.
Can you imagine the shock and disappointment I felt when, inside the cage, I saw no bundles of fluff, no balls of cotton? Instead, huddled miserably in one corner was a muddy, miserable collection of shivering wet scraps voicing no chirps, only pathetic complaints. No sign of their former cuteness, no longer adorable, merely an unappealing straggly assortment of avian misery.
Recovering from the initial shock and disappointment, I began to imagine my father's despair when he, too, made this frightful discovery. As I wondered what could be done to snatch hope from the jaws of defeat, it occurred to me that perhaps all was not lost. How happy my parents would be if I bathed the chickens, just as I had seen my mother bathe my new-born brother. I thought of how he always gurgled and laughed when it was time for his bath. I remembered the happy look on my mother's face as she soaped and tickled and baby-talked him. Imagine their surprise if, instead of having to be faced with the pathetic sight that had shocked and saddened my own eyes that morning, my parents awoke only to the reassuring sight of the sweet cotton balls of the day before joyfully exploring the delights of their new home! Inspired and touched by the thought of this selfless act of goodness on my part, I collected the tin bowl that was kept near the tap in the cowshed. I filled it with water and, with as much care as a two-year-old can muster, my short outstretched arms carried the slopping, slapping contents until I reached the chickens.
I could hardly contain my excitement at the thrill I was about to give my father's new acquisitions. I thought about a recent visit with my grandmother to the duck ponds in the Auckland Domain where we had watched the little ducklings splashing and wriggling their tail feathers, or sailing serenely on the still surface, dipping down and then bobbing up again, full of the sheer joy of new life. Inspired by this image, I gathered up hands-full of soggy chicks and tossed them into the water, where I splashed them around and around, squishing water through their dirtier places until the once-clear water was now the same colour as the wet mud on which my cold rear end was firmly planted. Although the chicks had seemed quite animated when they first entered the water, I was a bit disappointed at how quickly the thrill seemed to fade and their little bodies ceased to flap and squirm. In fact, a few of them were no longer even floating. I picked some of these out of the bowl for a closer examination. By now, all had grown still. Nothing cheeped or squirmed. There was only a muddy bowl filled with muddy brown water and cold, wet, mucky blobs. My heart began to sink. I knew something terrible had happened. I didn't know how, and I didn't know why, but my heart felt as though it, too, was lying at the bottom of that cold muddy bowl.
With heavy feet, my boots trudged back up the path to await whatever horrified parental reaction was awaiting. It seemed as if, in the space of mere moments, I had been changed from the caring, thoughtful child who restored sullied newborns to innocent purity and won the admiration and acclaim of parents, only to mutate - in one dreadful act - into the Monster Child who seized upon innocent little creatures that were my father's hope and joy and coldly murdered them. No-one called me a murderer, but I saw the shocked looks on the faces of my family and in my heart I, too, wondered how an other-wise normal child could have become such a beast.
Honesty impels me to add that, far from this being the tale of a pure and innocent child who was cruelly misunderstood, the truth is that not too many days later I found myself feeling very angry with my mother for some now forgotten reason. After completing my regular chore of gathering up the day's harvest of eggs, I relieved that built-up ill feeling by stomping up the same path whilst, with each step that I took, I forcefully smashed one egg after another onto the grey concrete in satisfyingly vivid orange splatters.
'show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature. For in all physical respects, and where the animal spirit is concerned, the selfsame feelings are shared by animal and man. Man hath not grasped this truth, however, and he believeth that physical sensations are confined to human beings, wherefore is he unjust to the animals, and cruel.'
19. WOMEN IN POWER
It was extremely discouraging to note that the engagement of women in politics by 2016 was only 22.8 per cent of all national parliamentarians. Currently, 11 women are serving as Head of State and 12 as Head of Government, regarding which I am pleased to say that NZ has recently elected its third woman Prime Minister. Since NZ became the first country in the world to secure votes for women, their empowerment continues to have real relevance. However, it may be surprising to learn that it is Rwanda that has the highest number of women in political power. The good news is that political gender equality in industrialised democracies has grown tremendously in the past 50 years. More women are running for, and being elected to, national parliaments than ever before.
Despite this success in women’s representation and the emergence of high profile women in politics around the globe, women are still under-represented in most parliaments, with an overall world average of 23.6 percent. Despite its early triumph, New Zealand has elected only 31.4 percent women Members of Parliament since the first elections under MMP in 1996.
Although the growing representation of women is increasingly taken for granted, the real struggle for equal representation remains. As half the population, it is important that women appear in parliament in the same number as men. This presence is essential both for democratic and symbolic reasons. Research shows that women MPs are seen as role models, encouraging other women to engage in politics and increasing their political interest and knowledge.
in his address to the UN General Assembly after his oath of office, Secretary-General António Guterres encouragingly committed to full gender balance in the UN secretariat for all high-level positions, including under-secretaries-general, assistant secretaries-general, envoys and special advisers.
There is growing evidence that women's leadership in political decision-making processes improves them. This is because women are shown to demonstrate political leadership by working across party lines through parliamentary women's caucuses – in even the most politically combative environments - by championing issues of gender equality, such as the elimination of gender-based violence, parental leave and childcare, pensions, gender-equality laws and electoral reform.
But most of all, the change has to come from you and me as individuals, because real change begins with the individual. The following quotation from the writings of the Baha’i Faith expresses the ideal relationship between women and men.
“The world of humanity has two wings - one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible”.
18. The Dancing Grannies
The mid-19th century appearance of a dignified young man known as the Bab and his subsequent execution in 1844 before representatives of the crowned heads of Europe, rather than silencing His teachings, opened the gate for their global spread, encouraging all humanity to unite.
The subsequent appearance of Baha’u’llah brought much needed teachings focussed on unity, justice and equality: the equality of women and men, the unity of blacks and whites, the oneness of God and the unity of religions, the equalisation of extremes of wealth and poverty, and many more.
These teachings proved to be forerunners of a succession of movements which centred on growing unity.
One of the first was that of women when, at the conference of Badasht in 1848 which took place over three weeks in June and July, famous Iranian woman poet Tahireh announced before those assembled that the time had come for the emancipation of women. This was accompanied by the dramatic gesture of removing her veil, an act that profoundly shocked many of those present. Mere days later, on the other side of the planet, on 19th and 20th of July 1848, at Seneca Falls in the United States, the very first women’s conference took place “to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women”.
From this point the power of unity spread. There was a growing influence of groups for women's rights and for the labour movement. Women's suffrage became an important political issue in the late nineteenth century. In New Zealand, as in European societies, women had been excluded from involvement in politics.
However public opinion began to change in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and on 19 September 1893 as a result of landmark legislation, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
Political change was afoot throughout the world. The process of unity was beginning to exert a greater effect upon the nations of the world.
The League of Nations, first proposed by US President Woodrow Wilson, came into effect on 10 January 1920. The limitations of this development highlighted the need for a yet greater unity. The body named the "United Nations", coined by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially came into existence on 24 October 1945.
The United States' Apollo 11 craft moon landing was the first manned mission to land on the Moon, on 20 July 1969. As astronaut Neil Armstrong famously observed; "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Steven Dick, NASA's chief historian commented "Putting a man on the moon not only inspired the nation, but also the world."
The 1960s were a tumultuous time in the U.S., and the moon landing showed what could be accomplished at a time when not much else was going right. But more than that, it showed all humanity as being common citizens of one global homeland".
Woodstock was a 1969 music festival held on a dairy farm in northwest New York city which attracted an audience of over 400,000. Billed as "An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music", it attracted 32 acts who performed outdoors before an audience of more than 400,000 people. It is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, and the impetus for the evolving counter culture generation. Rollingstone magazine called it one of the 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll.
New Zealand produced similar events on a lesser scale, like Nambassa and Sweetwaters, followed by WOMAD and The Big Day Out. Nambassa exerted a profound effect on those who attended. We felt that we were part of something much greater than ourselves, participating in a powerful illustration of the energy, joy, and passion of an emerging generation. (By way of contrast, currently being planned is a Mudtopia Festival in Rotorua - mud-pool capital of the country - which includes such a thing as a free ‘mud pass’!).
The Berlin Wall was a lengthy solid wall constructed to separate the Eastern side of Berlin from the Western side. People trying to get from east to west were regarded as traitors, and guards were instructed to shoot but not kill, if they attempted to cross. However, official figures show that at least 136 people died. This became a propaganda disaster for the Soviet Union and East Germany by showing communists as tyrannical. The Wall became an international symbol of The Cold War until it fell in 1989. The incredibly popular music by Pink Floyd names ‘The Wall’ was not written with this event in mind, but became almost synonymous with it.
However, internal unity was still being tested. The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 were student-led demonstrations in Beijing, the capital of the People's Republic of China, which went on to inspire a popular national movement during that time. They also highlighted the growing power and influence of youth which would become a prevalent aspect of future international events.
Due in large part to the appearance of the Internet, political and social movements became increasingly global. The ‘Occupy’ movement became an international "global justice movement" movement against the lack of "real democracy". The first Occupy protest to receive widespread attention was Occupy Wall Street in New York beginning on 17 September 2011. By 9 October, Occupy protests had taken place or were ongoing in over 951 cities across 82 countries, and over 600 communities in the United States. By October 2012 there had been Occupy protests and occupations in dozens of other countries across every inhabited continent.
Throughout the world, the growth of women’s events became increasingly supplemented by literature, drama, poetry, dance and more. Mention has previously been made of the 3 United Women’s Conventions in New Zealand. Independent initiatives followed, like Sister’s Overseas Service which countered NZ’s decreased access to legalised abortion by establishing a service to counsel, advise, and where necessary, finance efforts to link New Zealand women with legal abortions at a time when these were not possible.
Currently China is dealing with problems created by large numbers of mostly senior women who take to the streets with loud music, and dance together. USAToday reported that ‘Old Chinese women won't stop dancing in the streets.’ Complaints are that 150 million ‘dancing grannies’ spend early mornings and whole evenings jiving in public parks to highly audible mixes of techno, Mandopop or revolutionary music, creating such tension that officials have had to start regulating the practice, saying that "there will no longer be different dance routines for each community, but instead unified national routines." Fortunately, spontaneous public dancing continues unconstrained in places like Latin America, Cuba, Italy and France.
But I’d like to end with one of the many wonderful examples of unity and compassion that our globally linked village has made possible, such as NZ’s ‘Givealittle’ page, enabling crowdfunding for simple, ordinary New Zealanders who never meet each other; ‘fundraising for the things that matter, a way to give and share the Kiwi spirit’. This basic and humble venture has achieved such diverse things as enabling Nat to journey to Russia for HSCT treatment to rid herself of MS and regain her life. Or helping Lettie, the dog, whose incorrect vet care resulted in her foot possibly needing to be amputated or having correction surgery. It’s an example of the old feminist ideal to ‘think globally, act locally’. Imagine if the whole world could live by this example.
"God grant that the light of unity may envelop the whole earth..."
17. THE POWER OF UNITY
Today, mankind's previous model of living in separate countries is being gradually overtaken by a recognition that the whole world is made up of nation-states; people with common attributes and characteristics, with organised political systems exerting sovereignty over their defined spaces, these borders being agreed upon by other nation-states. This would have been unthinkable prior to the coming of Baha’u’llah in the mid-nineteenth century. But today, try to imagine a world without countries – tricky, isn't it? Our whole sense of who we are, our loyalties, our rights and obligations, is bound up in them. But they’re not really that old.
Until the mid-19th century, most of the world was just a sprawl of empires, of unclaimed land, city-states and principalities, which travellers crossed without any checks or passports. As industrialisation made societies more complex, larger and more appropriate systems of governance were required in order to manage them. Those peoples who were most able to unify and coordinate their activities - their physical regions, languages, records, economies and actions - grew more powerful than their neighbours. A consequence of greater communication was the unification of diverse people's language, culture and identity. Gradually the nation-state model spread worldwide; there are now 193 nation-states ruling the world. But that seemingly invincible rule of the past is rapidly diminishing. This nation-state with its borders, centralised governments, common people and sovereign authority has been growing increasingly out of step with the world.
The case against the nation-state is hardly new. Twenty years ago, many were anticipating its imminent demise. These futurists anguished that globalisation would spell the end of a nation-states’ power to enforce change. Without that control, what dire effects could this have on businesses, finance and people?
When the light of Baha’u’llah broke upon the world in the 19th century, humanity was completing an age-old journey that had travelled from family to community to city state, and most recently to the experience of nation state. According to Baha’u’llah’s teachings this process would be followed by the unification of the entire planet, a process to be progressively gradually effected through application of the principle of Unity.
And then, seemingly without warning, the appearance of an exciting new internet seemed to herald a borderless future. Suddenly our friends and trading partners and learning communities were situated all over the planet. A new phrase entered public currency; that of the ‘global village’. The world would never be the same again. Suddenly it became more essential than ever, that mankind must learn to live together on this shared planet with cooperation and harmony.
The core Teachings of Baha’u’llah address such essential themes as the oneness of God and religion, and the oneness of humanity. He stated:
“That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith."
16. The Ascension of 'Abdu'l-Baha
It is 13 years ago on this day since I stood in a simple room in Israel with my children, Megan and Daniel, and silently contemplated the life of its former occupant, ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́, who quietly passed away in this home in Haifa at the age of 77. Today is a Holy Day for all the Baha'i's of the world, as we honour this extraordinary man (1844–1921) who was destined to succeed His father Baha'u’llah, Prophet-founder of the Baha'ı Faith, and lead a progressively established global community.
Despite having spent 40 years of His life in prison, subject to successive exiles, and against considerable opposition from both ecclesiastics and governments, He became well known in Palestine and abroad. As an example of the spread of His influence, immediately upon learning of ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́’s death, Winston Churchill, then British Secretary of State for the Colonies, telegraphed to the High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir Herbert Samuel, who was the highest-ranking official in the country, instructing him to “convey to the Bahai Community, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, their sympathy and condolence on the death of Sir ‘Abdu’l Baha ́ ‘Abbas Effendi".
The title “Sir” refers to the Knighthood of the British Empire that was conferred on ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́ at a ceremony in the garden of the military governor of Haifa on April 17 on April 17, 1920, in recognition of ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́’s humanitarian work in Palestine during World War I.
One might surmise from all this that Abdul-Bahá had lived a life of privilege in His birthplace of Iran. In fact, despite being born into a family of wealth and prestige, at the age of 8 His father was imprisoned in Teheran at the command of the Shah. Seeing His father in this state - hair and beard unkempt, His neck swollen from the heavy steel collar, His body bent by chains - made an indelible impression on the mind of young Abdul-Bahá. Whilst these events were unfolding, the family was ostracised, and children stoned Him in the streets. Four months after the initial imprisonment, Bahá’u’lláh was released and banished from Iran with His family. They were never to see their native land again.
On the trek to Baghdad - then a part of the Ottoman Empire - a young ‘Abdu’l-Bahá suffered frostbite and grieved over separation from his baby brother, Mihdí, who was not strong enough to make the gruelling journey. Navab, the saintly wife of Baha'u'llah, was pregnant and ill-suited for this journey in heavy snow over the mountains. One court order followed another, one prison followed another, as the family was moved ever further away from the land of origin; from Iran to Iraq to Turkey and eventually to Israel (Palestine).
Hence, the Holy Land became the final destination, and eventually the world centre, of the infant Bahá'í Community. Today, of all the world religions, the Baha’i Faith is the newest and the fastest-growing. According to 'The World’s Religions in Figures: An Introduction to International Religious Demography', 'The Baha’i Faith is the only religion to have grown faster in every United Nations region over the past 100 years than the general population; Baha’i was thus the fastest-growing religion between 1910 and 2010, growing at least twice as fast as the population of almost every UN region. (p. 59.)
“The Funeral of AbdulBaha "a funeral the like of which Palestine had never seen" drew no less than ten thousand people...representing every class, religion and race in that country." "A great throng," the British High Comissioner wrote, "had gathered together, sorrowing for His death, but rejoicing also for ahis life." The Governor of Jerusalem at the time also wrote in describing the funeral: "I have never known a more united expression of regret and respect than was called forth by the utter simplicity of the ceremony".
Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth; it should give birth to spirituality, and bring light and life to every soul. If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it would be better to be without it... Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion." 'Abdu'l-Bahá
15. The Day of The Covenant
On this special day Baha'is around the world celebrate the unity of their Faith.
This Holy Day recognizes the appointment of Abdu’l-Baha as the Center of Baha’u’llah’s Covenant, that unbroken, unified line of guidance that safeguards the Baha’i Faith from division and disunity. The Day of the Covenant recognizes the overall concept of a covenant between God and humanity, which finds expression in all Faiths. For Baha’is the idea of that covenant underpins one of the core concepts of the Baha’i teachings – progressive revelation. The Baha’i teachings say that God reveals religious and mystical truth through a systematic succession of Prophets and Manifestations throughout history. Baha’is see those great teachers, the founders of the world’s major Faiths, as bringing different stages in one continuous spiritual educational system for humanity. And Baha’is believe that those Manifestations of God each made a promise to their followers that they would return, their reality re-appearing to lead humanity to God again. That eternal covenant, which calls on every person of faith to recognize and accept the next Manifestation, forms the basis of the system of divine education called progressive revelation.
"The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: 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. He Who is the Daystar of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth."
14. BLACK FRIDAY FOR BAHA'I'S in IRAN
Why is it unsafe for me to visit my friends families in Iran and miss out on all that delicious Tah-diq? Could it possibly be the same reason why, if I'm going to London, I have to go more than halfway around the world because it's not safe for me to stop over in certain places in the Middle East? Clearly something is very wrong with this wonderful country of Persia that gave us exquisite architecture, illumined poets and extraordinary contributions to our collective human history.
A recent survey showed that it is the youngest child in a family who is most likely to be the favourite. Unfortunately not so with religions, of which the Baha'i Faith is the world's youngest. Even the several hacking attacks this site has experienced in its relatively short time suggest that opposition to Bahá'í activity in this country is alive and well. The situation in the country of its birth, whose laws do not even recognize the Baha’i Faith as a religion, is profoundly more dire.
From that time when international attention became focussed on TV footage of a humbled deposed Shah of Iran overcome by the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Baha'is have been the tragic target of government policy. During that first decade of persecution, more than 200 were killed or executed. Hundreds more were tortured or imprisoned, and tens of thousands lost jobs, access to education, and other rights – solely because of their religious belief.
Forward to today's world, where this week a committee of the United Nations General Assembly, in its 30th such resolution since 1985, condemned Iran for its continuing violations of human rights; specifically the treatment of Baha'is, its largest non-Muslim religious minority. It highlighted continuing economic and educational discrimination and called on Iran to release the more than 97 Baha’is who are unjustly held in Iranian prisons.
Other restrictions include exclusion from university education and prevention from working in a wide range of jobs including those in government offices and the private sector. Last year a hundred shops belonging to Baha’is were closed, and 115 were banned from universities.
Youth is a time of idealism, of opportunity to begin the realisation of dreams, preparing for future possibilities. Instead, BahaiNews website reported that efforts by Bahai youth to enter university often led to long-term imprisonment. This year officials told Baha’is who had passed their entrance exams that they might be able to study only if they wrote a letter to disavow their faith; most won’t, under any circumstances.
Over the last 12 years Government-led attacks have only intensified. More than 1006 Baha'is have been arrested, and the number in prison rose from fewer than five to currently 97. These include seven members of the leadership group that formerly served the Baha'i community of Iran after the previous assembly was banned. In 2010, these seven were sentenced to 20 years in prison, at that time the longest term facing any prisoner of conscience in Iran. Five years later, changes in the Penal Code reduced sentences from 20 to 10 years. The seventh member, Mahvash Sabet, was released 2 months ago, but only after completing her 10-year sentence.
Widespread persecution of Baha'is includes constant threats of raids, arrests, and detention or imprisonment, and these are not subsiding. At least 84 have been arrested so far this year, up from a total of 81 the previous year. Other types of persecution include economic and educational discrimination, strict limits on the right to assemble and worship, and the dissemination of anti-Baha’i propaganda in the government-led news media. Attacks on Baha'is or Baha'i-owned properties go unprosecuted and unpunished.
Since 2005, for example, there have been at least 52 incidents of arson against Baha’i properties, crimes for which no one has been arrested. During the same period, at least 60 incidents of vandalism or desecration at Baha’i cemeteries have been recorded.
As noted by a top UN human rights official, the government-led persecution spans “all areas of state activity, from family law provisions to schooling, education, and security". The situation facing Baha’is has not changed since the coming to power of President Hassan Rouhani in August 2013, despite his promises to end religious intolerance. So what are the teachings of this new faith that are so deserving of extinction?
"We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations, that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened... what harm is there in this?... these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the 'Most Great Peace' shall come".
13. UNITY IN DIVERSITY
What really aggravates people is that we don't all see things in exactly the same way. But if we're to continue as one peaceful global community we need to allow for diversity. I will have certain views and you will have others. And that's ok. Imagine a garden where all the flowers were the same colour. Or, if you're no gardener, a wardrobe where all your dresses and accessories were identical. And to be fully gender-free, trying to find your car in a parking lot where all the cars were the same.
Depending on where on our planet you live, the Creator of this existence - if you believe such a being even exists, and more and more people don't - is variously known as Yahweh, Atua, Dieu, Krishna, God, Jehovah, 'he who has no name' or any one of many others, depending on our languages.
In the past many people understood this diversity of names to mean that the religions concerned worshipped many different gods. However, it is increasingly recognised that these seemingly diverse names merely reflect a variation of language. Some religions use in the place of God those names that express various divine attributes, such as Power, Might, Love, Forgiveness, often with different names for feminine or masculine qualities, yet they still describe that single God. One God.
This complex Creator is increasingly recognised as a vast unknowable force of indefinable nature whose influence is capable of creating vast solar systems, the size of which is beyond our mortal capacity to comprehend.
This God needs no feminine or masculine name and is beyond gender. However, due to our own limited consciousness, the very idea of a limitless eternal existence daunts the human mind, so it's not surprising that we have needed to develop much simpler, often childlike, embodiments of this 'force' or 'being' that will also embody the attributes of knowledge, intelligence, attraction and love that are associated with such a Being.
So what does all this lead to? In my own personal paradigm as described in this blog, I believe that there is only one God known by different names. Humanity is one common race and our different Prophets have come to different places on the planet at different times, bringing messages inspired by our one God with the purpose of healing the diverse problems that have been unique to each age. Humanity's great challenge in this day is to recognise the extent to which in the past we have 'anthropomorphised' this vast force that is God, and find a new way of exploring what is meant by that great Reality which is beyond our limited human minds to comprehend.
I think that we are being called to a new way of being in this wonderful family, and that now is the time for the unification of the whole human race.
'The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens'. - Baha'u'llah
12. RELIGION IN HARMONY WITH SCIENCE
Some things just go in and out of fashion, like bellbottoms, bouffant hair and stiletto heels, (ok, you’ll need to ask a woman over 60). Back when I was a pre-teen undergoing religious instruction, our national statistics showed that pretty much everyone was 'religious', except for a few hardy atheists and communists. Religion was for the most part like the recently ended war - not a polite topic of conversation - and attitudes to religion seemed to follow what would in future become the U.S. Armed Service’s attitude towards homosexuality of 'don't ask, don't tell'.
I had always found Sunday School to be a kind of interesting story-telling event during which parables were like fairy tales where amazing things happened, of seas being parted and people walking on water. Every year I succeeded in my personal goal to win the annual Sunday School prize which was invariably a well chosen book, thus providing me with quality reading for the long school holidays ahead.
However, these pleasant story telling sessions became increasingly troubling when the forthcoming Religious Confirmation classes began insisting I believe that hell lay beneath the surface of the planet, where souls of the unbelievers were condemned to eternal fire and brimstone, whilst heaven soared triumphantly above our heads, lorded over by a grey-bearded God on his throne, surrounded by adoring cherubim and seraphim. At the same time, my science class taught contradictory things like the earth having a molten core, and the heavens being a vast universe of increasingly identifiable planets and supernovas.
The creation story of Adam and Eve was similarly perplexing. God made Eve from one of Adam's ribs? That didn't help the gender equity issues I struggled with, having been raised an only girl in a family of boys. When my biology class that taught about the function of ectoskeletons and endoskeletons, this suggested to me that ribless Adam must have had a hard time manning up to whatever dinosaurs etc. still roamed the earth in his day, and required conquering.
Needless to say, I was labelled argumentative and certainly not encouraged for having such a 'thoughtful' attitude to my religious studies. Eventually, nascent atheism triumphed over easy contentment with a double standard, and I knew the time had arrived to 'come out'. That phrase with all its implications of shame and condemnation was how it felt to be announcing oneself as an atheist back in the early '60's. Then, with the self-righteousness of the new convert, I insisted to my virtuous, pioneering mother, who had been one of the very first women Elders in the Presbyterian Church of NZ, that she arrange for me to be formally excommunicated from the local church which she and my father had personally helped to establish, thus carrying for them those same connotations of family shock and shame. But I had felt it wasn't enough to simply stop attending church services; I was making the bold point that I was no drop out, but a firm 'ex-believer' (an act that was extremely courageous at the time, yet merely symptomatic of present standards).
It was only when I explored the Bahai teachings that I realised those early Bible stories were our 'Europeanised' Semitic creation stories; our 'Adam and Eve' were like 'Rangi and Papatuanuku', or much later, like the morality tales of Hans Christian Anderson. They served an important purpose at the time, but now was a new age; now it was essential that religion be in harmony with science.
"Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require."
11. One School, Many Teachers
One day, in a state of openness to the unexpected, I came across a new neighbour labouring in an unkempt vegetable garden, whilst dressed in a surprisingly unflattering pink towelling jumpsuit. Keen to get to know fellow residents, I invited this sweaty new friend into my flat and we introduced ourselves. As a well-known feminist, I was surprised when Suzi herself began to talk enthusiastically about the equality of men and women. This wasn’t a dialogue I had been expecting. Intrigued now, I listened with growing attention as she asked if I knew about such matters as the first women’s suffrage conference and the first women’s suffrage martyr. Humbly admitting my ignorance, I began to learn about a woman who was such a greatly respected poet that the Shah of Iran himself, in this very male-dominated nation, held her in high esteem. Then Suzi asked if I’d like to read some more about this unique figure, Tahereh. To mix metaphors, the die was cast and I was hooked.
One book followed another, as I learned about the very subjects – life after death, care of the environment, principles of education, and many more – that had been the focus of passionate enquiry for much of my life. Over 3 days and nights I used every moment of whatever spare time could be snatched between teaching and parenting to devour the many books Suzi shared with me, whilst in passionate conversation we discovered so very much in common with two otherwise vastly different lives.
Although it may seem sudden now, after those 3 extraordinary days I was like a new creation. I found to my surprise that I now recognised myself as a Bahai. Suddenly I remembered that long ago conversation with another Susie, whose mother had predicted that if I ever became religious again, I would be a Bahai. Equal only to the sheer joy and wonderment this realisation brought was a sense of irritation. Why, I asked myself, after all those years of passionate search, had I never heard of this before? And how did Suzi, admittedly no great feminist or intellect, know about it years before myself?
And that’s where Barry Crump fits in. Because it was he – renegade hunter, author and raconteur – who did a search of his own and found Lena. And Lena found the Bahai Faith from Shirley Charters who, as legend had it last time I knew, simply read a newspaper article about it back in the ‘50’s and found herself hooked forever.
Shirley turned out to be a kind of Johnny Appleseed because, thanks in large part to her, Lena, Barry, Suzi, and the considerable number of spiritual ‘seekers’ they went on to inspire, the Bahai Faith is today widely known and respected in this country, and increasingly around the world. I thank God that I acquired enough of that early quality of humility to learn from unexpected sources way back when I became ‘waterworks’. And all this is the fruit of those great Teachers - Abraham, Christ, Baha’u’llah and that divine company - who brought us to this pivotal time in the development of our mutual Home, the earth.
"These principles and laws, these firmly-established and mighty systems, have proceeded from one Source, and are the rays of one Light. That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated."
10. MY JOURNEY FROM ATHEISM TO BELIEF
Thanks so much to all my readers; over 1,600 hits in only a few weeks, and from places as far away as Iraq. What a powerful reminder of the great new world we live in. It took countless years for the story of Adam and Eve and the teachings of Abraham and Krishna to reach today’s world, and like the old game of Chinese Whispers, it changed over the years in many ways, but the underlying message remains the same.
My first ever teacher, Mrs Melrose, was the beginning of a lifetime of learning. She would be supplanted in the years to come by Mr Park, Mr Elliot, Mr Whitmore and others, culminating finally with dear Miss Smith. Each built upon the knowledge acquired from previous teachers. Over these same years, on Sundays I was learning about other teachers like Moses and Christ. In the hippy years to come I learned about Krishna and Buddha, and in the atheist years that followed, of C.S. Lewis and Bertrand Russell, about all whom my father and I would exchange passionate, contrary yet respectful views over Sunday lunch. These lengthy and pleasurable conversations were made even more so because, my being otherwise occupied with a subject both parents approved of, the brothers would be roped in to wash dishes in my place as the only girl in the family.
After all those year’s study of both religion and science I became despairing of anything better to follow atheism, and threw myself into feminism with a vengeance. However, whilst continuing with a lifelong belief in the equality of the genders, beneath it all my heart was dissatisfied and roamed about restlessly. Eventually I found myself by choice living in a lowly council flat, rubbing shoulders with a diverse group of people I’d never had an opportunity to meet previously. I was teaching a small group of 4 ‘special class’ or developmentally delayed children from Samoa, Tonga, Nuie and Maori backgrounds. Whilst it was every teacher’s dream to have only 4 pupils, this was a group unlike any previously experienced, who dispensed hugs, kisses and bruises in equal measures, and whom I will never forget for the very best of reasons. This experience marked the beginning of a whole new life for me.
'The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” - Bahaullah
9. PRESCRIPTION FOR LIVING
’God is dead’ exclaimed German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche as far back as 1882. Today as I write in 2017, God has often become little more than an exclamation of irritation, or a personal lifestyle choice like one’s brand of soap or political party. Either that or it is a source of interpersonal conflict amongst total strangers.
Yes, my hacker(s) are back. Oh dear, and we were getting along so well there for a while. Clearly you don't like the religious ideas I'm talking about. I don't know what you - yes, you know who I'm talking about - hope to achieve, but if it helps, I do admire your spiritual qualities of persistence, perseverance, hard work and
Oh dear hackers, why can't we be friends? Maybe if we met, my mother and your mother might even become buddies. Ok, so she’s passed on now, but even in the afterlife they might be chatting away like longtime gal pals. My mum was like that: she loved the differences between people although she was often shy. Differences can make us shy, but we mustn't let it become a barrier. Wouldn't it be lovely if our children and our grandchildren could play together in peace and harmony?
I have previously described the differences that make up the various religions as constituting diverse ‘ingredients’ that work together to make a delicious recipe. Many cultures use food, applied according to the correct methods and necessary amounts, as a prescription for illness. By practising the teachings of the prophets within the various communities in which they arose, inherent social weaknesses were overcome and the establishment of new and powerful civilisations enabled. These are examples of religion acting as a 'prescription for living'.
I believe that this is the true function of religion; to offer an ideal pattern for 'prescription for living' human lives and communities. The various ingredients of each was designed specifically to heal the unique and differing problems of the age in which they appeared. However, the teachings of these religions and prophets have all too often become highly contentious, and can only be summarised in a most superficial way;
Hinduism, (approximately 500 BC) prescribed eternal principles such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, and compassion, among others. The wisdom of the sacred cow, often scorned by ignorant westerners, has actually ensured the preservation of its countless adherents over millennia, ensuring a sustainable source of needs as diverse as ‘vegetarian’ drinks and food, transport, and building materials, with dung being used in many ways including as an energy source and a ‘plaster’ for walls and floor,
The teachings of Buddha (2500 years ago) include not to harm others and to live peacefully and gently, working towards the ultimate goal of pure and lasting happiness for all living beings.
Judaism was founded in the Middle East over 3500 years ago and teaches that the unspoken divinity appointed Jews as a chosen people in order to set an example of holiness and ethical behaviour to the world. It teaches that divinity is one, unique and eternal, with prayer being directed to that divinity. The words of the Torah given by Moses, greatest of the Hebrew prophets, are accepted as truth. This divinity knows the thoughts and deeds of men, and will reward the good and punish the wicked. (However even these very basic and general principles are disputed by the liberal movements of Judaism).
Christianity (2,000years ago) teaches that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. His teachings can be summarised briefly as the love of God and love of one's neighbour. Today there are countless denominations of Christianity, each with unique beliefs and practices.
Islam is another Abrahamic monotheistic religion, teaching that there is only one God (Allah) and that Muhammad is his Messenger. The teachings of Muhammad united the warring tribes of Arabia and succeeded in establishing a great civilisation, extending at its peak from Spain in the west to Indonesia in the eas, going on to exert a powerful influence on many branches of science.
Bahá'ís see the Báb as the forerunner of Bahá'ullah. His writings introduced the concept of a Messianic figure whose coming was announced in the scriptures of all of the world's great religions.
The Baha'i Faith, established by Baha'u'llah, upholds the oneness of God, the unity of religion, and the oneness of humankind. It promotes the agreement of science and religion, the equality of the sexes and the elimination of all prejudice and racism.
In this extremely basic exploration of the world religions a pattern emerges. We can see humanity over the ages as pupils in a graded school. The earliest of the religions offered a syllabus for grade 1 children, teaching the very basics of elementary school, including ideas around sharing, safe foods, and basic hygiene. Subsequent religions built upon and reinforced what was learned in earlier grades. They taught principles upon which advanced societies could become developed. The most recent of these religions, the Bahá'í Faith, teaches principles at ‘college’ and ‘university’ level, whose application can result in an harmonious global world community.
This is where we stand today. We, the collective descendants of that single African woman, and working together with our newly discovered global family, are collectively charged with the peaceful unification of our home, the Planet.
"The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established" -Baha'u'llah
8. THREE SONS
Oh dear. I've only been writing this for a short while and already one of our unidentified 'cousins' is steaming angry with me. So angry that he/she hacked my writing and left in its place some obscene material. You see how hard it is to keep unity in the family?
That's pretty much been our history ever since Abraham thought he could keep several wives happy at the same time. Depending on which one of our family you're talking to, the story goes something like this; in brief, Sarah was Abraham's wife. Hagar was a concubine or 'secondary wife' given to Abraham by Sarah, since she was too old and seemingly unable to produce a child of her own. Just to confuse the story, in her old age Sarah did unexpectedly produce a healthy son.
After Sarah's death, Abraham took another "wife", Keturah, according to Genesis 25:1. However in a later record she is called a concubine. To the sons of his 'secondary' wives Abraham gave gifts and sent them away from his son eldest Isaac.
Now, you don't have to be a Marriage Counsellor to see that right there, in the opening chapters of the Bible, we have a recipe for a soap opera of magnificent proportion. And so it proved to be, because least we take all this too lightly, the descendants of these three wives became founders of four great world religions; Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Bahá'í Faith.
In this way it can really be claimed that Abraham fulfilled the prophecy of becoming the Father of Nations. As a consequence of this convoluted past, the various family stories recounted in the Bible, Torah, Quran and Kitab-i-Iqan have been creating confusion and disagreement ever since.
According to Biblical account, Christ is descended from Abraham through Sarah's son Isaac. Muhammad, prophet of Islam, is descended through Ishmael, born to Abraham's and Sarah's handmaiden Hagar, and viewed as the final prophet of God in all the main branches of Islam, though some modern denominations diverge from this belief. Finally, Bahá'ís trace Baha'u'llah's ancestry through Abraham's wife Keturah , but he is also of the family of Zoroaster and of Jesse of the Tribe of Judah.
You can probably guess from the story so far that we did not live happily ever after.
"If any man were to meditate on that which the Scriptures, sent down from the heaven of God's holy will, have been revealed, he will readily recognise that their purpose is that all men shall be regarded as one soul...".
7. Peace, More Than Just An Absence of War.
I unapologetically loved the' 70's. I loved the blend of that good time rock'n'roll with gentle folk music, and the great outdoor concerts like Nambassa and Sweet Waters (to my children; don't judge. You weren't there. We didn't have heavy metal in those days). I loved the dancing and the beads, the long hair and long hemlines, the very air itself perfumed by joss sticks and incense (...etc...!) and especially the great prophetic folk music
I loved our wonderful N.Z. United Women's Conventions, and the challenges and pleasures I found in helping convene the last one in 1979, but in my view there was one serious omission. Whilst we showed significant leadership in providing workshops for Maori and lesbian women, and for a considerable number of other important areas, there was no plan for women as mothers.
Back in the 60's and 70's, being a mother conversely seemed a serious impediment to the vision 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'.
This shortcoming contributed to the development of harmful attitudes to youth, children, women and marriages. In the process we also rejected Doctor Spock (not he of Star Trek fame, but a highly respected U.S. doctor by whose wisdom generations of Kiwi kids were raised) as well as religion, the nuclear family and their various limitations, yet nothing very helpful was put in their place.
The insight that might in the past have been paid to the healthy optimal development of youth, children, women and marriages was lacking. The required attention was no longer focussed on their needs. And this, I contend, resulted in a lack of those conditions that contribute to a truly peaceful society.
I think we need a branch of Women Wage Peace right here in New Zealand. Why, you may ask, does our nation - globally applauded for its world-leading anti-nuclear policy, votes for women, and innovator of great early social reforms - need such a thing?
The 'war' we need calls for both men and women, and its battle field is wide. We need to fight against the nation-wide horror that is child abuse, the high youth suicide rate, school bullying, the incidence of domestic violence, and the rising inequality of income that creates homelessness. These are peace issues. There is no peace in the home of a child living with family violence. There is no peace in the existence of a youth who has no sense of life purpose or wellbeing in his life. There is no peace for a woman experiencing domestic abuse, or for a man living under plastic sheeting on the streets.
How does all that relate to the idea of religion? It seems that religion has become nothing more than a kind of brand, a label like Macdonalds or Burgerking, Democrat or Liberal, contentious and with little relevance to the world we now live in. True living religion is intended to be a 'recipe' for human wellbeing and a healing balm for the ills of the age. On consideration it will be seen that the great civilisations of the past - the early Vedic religious communities of the Indus Valley, those of Greece, Rome, Angkor Wat, Persia, the Incas, and Aztecs of Mesoamerica and more - were built upon moral and social foundations laid by religion.
True religion is not just a noun. It is a verb, a 'doing' word. It holds practical advice, social guidance, and a recipe for the needs of each age in which it was revealed. Unless and until that recipe for the unique needs of today is discovered, and that healing balm applied, for so long will true Peace evade us.
"Thy day of service is now come".
6. FIXING A BROKEN FAMILY
What a contentious subject! I guessed that our global 'family' wasn't going to like my delving into this area, and I mentioned in the first pages of this blog that I'd already had an earlier section hacked.
Today I received another warning by a friend. As a result I had my system checked by a cheerful computer Geek who was glad to assure me that all was OK, and sell me a new laptop in the process. Now you know I have already confessed I am a blog newbie to all this, so hopefully if you have a threat, you will be forewarned.
Why are some in the family so aggravated by all this? What happened to the Summer of Love, to the 'peace, love and mung beans' days of the 60's, with flowers in our hair and suspicious smelling smoke in the air, to all those uplifting folk songs calling us to 'give peace a chance'? To the inspiring influence of Bob Geldof, singer songwriter and political activist, and Michael Jackson's 'Man In The Mirror', challenging each of us to demonstrate personal commitment? Wasn't it all supposed to be about peace, love and unity, or did someone write a new plot? Did the script change and no one told us?
Instead of Nirvana, what followed the Summer Of Love was the Vietnam War and Helter Skelter, a cult of Charles Manson responsible for committing a series of gruesome murders, accompanied by an escalation of other social disorders which proved that love needed to be much more than the feel-good consequences of chemically induced highs.
Into the social and and moral vacuum that followed the rejection of organised religion and its accompanying cynicism, I first heard the words of the Baha'i Faith, once again calling us to love, but this time with clear guidance on how that could be achieved. It was not just a feel-good love. This was a love that called for deeds, not words, for the practical application of true unity and equality of opportunity - for all religions, for women and men, blacks and whites, for equal access to education and economic advantage.
Rather than sitting back idly and letting our brave new world be overrun by haters, it required women and men of all faiths, like those who supported Women Wage Peace, to join countless others in the global family to Wage Peace. And so an increasing number of us are arising with spiritual banners in our souls that cry 'One Planet, One People Please'.
'Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind'
- Baha'u'llah .
5. SOME FAMILY SECRETS
I've been working on this blog for a while now and supposedly it has had over 1,600 unique visits, which is great if people are actually reading it. But unless people leave comments, how do I know if it is being read, or just glanced at and immediately flicked away to some item more appealing to public interest like hair restoration or an article on Angelina Jolie? So now it's time to set the cat among the pigeons as they say, and make some comments that are bound to get you thinking.
An earlier reference was made to the ability of genetic science to prove that we are all genetically related. This means that we all share common ancestors, by extrapolation can imagine one ancient African grandmother. Some call her Eve. Ethiopians claim as family a woman known as Dinquines, aka 'Lucy', whose complete fossilised bones, dating back 4 million years, helped to clarify the lines of our human evolution. Maori call her Papatuanuku. Although Maori had no written language, they did have prodigious memories, and so even today many can recite their forebears back many many generations.
Knowledge of the past is even more the case with ancient tribes like the Jews, Arabs, and those of the early Persian dynasties. An example of how this awareness lives in the present can be seen in a previous entry about the movement Women Wage Peace, where on their March for Peace a tent was named for Hagar and Sarah, wives of Abraham and scriptural mothers of Ishmael and Isaac, the half-brother patriarchs of both Muslims and Jews (Genesis 25:1).
But wait, there's more! This commonality was really foretold way back when our earliest books like the Bible and the Quran began, with a story of how one of these ancient ancestors, Abraham, was promised by God that he would become the Father of Nations. Not only did his three sons go on to establish the great communities of Jews, Christians, Muslims and Bahais that would eventually become established across the planet, but these are very active and influential even to the present day.
The impetus behind Women Waging Peace was not only an Israeli/Palestinian creation; rather, it was inspired by earlier women's movements in Northern Ireland and Liberia, where women of different faiths had also united to help resolve violent conflicts.
However, true to our ancient family roots, all has not been well within the family, and certain members have disowned others. To be frank - and since you and I are family, I can trust this will go no further - some terrible things have been, and are being, done. Poor old Abraham must be turning in his grave. More about our 'family shame' to follow...
"Pride is not for him who loves his country, but for him who loves the [whole world]."
4. WOMEN WAGING PEACE
Ok, it's time to square a few things up, cos I'm all for honesty: Confession # 1; I'm bahaigirl9 and I'm a new blogger.
It was only after having chosen that name out of a narrow list of possibilities that a friend pointed out that names ending in ...girl are common on porn sites. Reflecting on this new piece of information (while idly wondering to myself how he knows so much about porn sites), I decided that even porn addicts need to care about this world we're all part of, and whether we truly like the way things are going with it. That's pretty much what motivates me.
Confession #2; Not only am I a blog newbie and not the 'girl' that my website name might have you believe (although I like to think that I still have much of the sense of wonder and amazement of that time) but now my own girls have had girls, and the world has moved on. However, in many ways we're still struggling with the same old things, so it gave me great joy to listen to one news item in particular that caught my attention yesterday
I had just had an appointment with a delightful cardiologist who told me a little of her grandparents' experience of the holocaust. I mentioned that I had been to Israel twice, and so it was with echoes of that conversation and the age old struggles of the Jewish people still fresh in my mind that I listened to a news item on radio about a movement called Women Wage Peace.
This essentially a simple grassroots movement began with the purpose of raising awareness, and engaging the public in consultations about the possibilities of a political resolution to the Israeli Palestine situation. During formal and informal meetings of individuals and groups, national events such as demonstrations and protests became organised. These are all helping to pressure decision makers to work toward reaching a viable peace agreement.
I found this grassroots effort to be an inspiring example of what can be achieved when both women and men of different races, languages and religions come together in a spirit of good will and commitment, echoing 'Abdu'l-Bahá's words in a previous entry.
Dressed in white, the women came together to demand a political solution to the conflict which has divided the two communities for decades. They also demanded that women have an equal say in peace negotiations.
“We are women from the right, the left, Jews and Arabs, from the cities and the periphery and we have decided that we stop the next war," they stated.
The gathering lasted for two weeks and culminated in a meeting in a “tent of reconciliation”, where women and children crafted signs reading “peace be upon you” in Arabic and Hebrew. The tent was named for Hagar and Sarah, scriptural mothers of Ishmael and Isaac, the half-brother patriarchs of Muslims and Jews.
One Planet, One People Please.
3. ONE FAMILY
Isn't it lovely that our genes have proved that we all belong to the same family? That's really worth celebrating. But what do we know about that solitary symbolic woman from whom we are all descended? The Bible calls her Eve. Maori call her Papa which sounds like it should be her partner's name but no. Her full name is Papatuanuku, mother of the earth and all things. Both stories show what an influential role this woman had.
But how did that work out for her? Somewhere along the way Eve's female descendents got relegated mostly to the home and child rearing whilst men went out with their bows, arrows and tiaha to kill the enemy which, thanks to our new genetic understanding, very often happened to be their own cousins. Progress in DNA science shows that we are no more than 50th cousins of one another.
Now, after conquering threats to our existence, shaping the lives of the next generation has got to be the most important thing we could be doing. It would be nice to think that there was lots of support for shaping, and a diminishing need for conquering these days. But no. Our screens show a never ending procession of soldiers in Yemen, Syria, Korea, Somalia, ... still the list goes on. Men never suffer from a want of employment when there's a good war to carry on, and it does great things for many economies.
The real-life picture captured on camera is truly appalling as we are gripped by footage of exhausted Rohingya trudging ankle deep though mud and driving rain, carrying frail elderly relatives strapped to their own emaciated bodies as they abandon a country established in the spirit of Buddha. Restricted from freedom of movement, state education and civil service jobs, the legal conditions faced by the majority Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar have been compared with apartheid.
We need the true spirit of Buddha now more than ever, He of the golden head, whose visage is so well loved of exclusive interior designers, who appears in countless glamorous interiors and designer courtyards, exuding peace and tranquillity, but also a comforting unattainability. We need to find our way back to the true spirit of the Eightfold Path and its eight practices of right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right "samadhi" or meditative absorption.
Every one of the world's great religions has come with 'dietary' practices for the new age in which they appeared, with social and spiritual 'recipes' or 'prescriptions' which, if rightfully carried out, were capable of resolving the crying needs of that time, of returning people to a society that would be just, unifying and peaceful. The reality that each eventually failed to accomplish those ideals in their entirety does not mean that the ideals were faulty, only that a subsequent age needed to find a recipe more appropriate to the needs of the new time.
So, getting back to that 'recipe' calling for a 'great big melting pot', it's my view that it's time for a new recipe that will suit the special dietary needs of this unique age. OK, I know you're not all going to buy that view, and I expect to hear the familiar arguments against it. I'm just asking you to respectfully think about it. And because traditionally one of the biggest roles in the kitchen has gone to the woman, it is about her that I direct my closing comment.
'The most momentous question of this day is international peace and arbitration, and universal peace is impossible without universal suffrage. Children are educated by the women. The mother bears the troubles and anxieties of rearing the child, undergoes the ordeal of its birth and training. Therefore, it is most difficult for mothers to send to the battlefield those upon whom they have lavished such love and care. Consider a son reared and trained twenty years by a devoted mother. What sleepless nights and restless, anxious days she has spent! Having brought him through dangers and difficulties to the age of maturity, how agonizing then to sacrifice him upon the battlefield! Therefore, the mothers will not sanction war nor be satisfied with it. 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.'
2. MELTING POT
I like to think that I will learn something new everyday. Today, as I enjoyed my usual morning breakfast of tea, prunes and kiwifruit (yes, I do have that problem), I learned of such a thing as a mini-nuclear warhead. This sounds more loveable than the large economy-sized one but, by burrowing through the earth below to knock out under ground military facilities, it apparently still has the tendency to kill large numbers of people. Yet it also has the advantage of helping people to believe that we can now have nice clean international warfare whilst allowing our fellow world citizens to go quietly on with their daily lives. They're faceless strangers after all, aren't they? And there are no shattered villages and broken bridges to tell the tale, no battered crops or destroyed vegetation to see. And so the dream goes on...
Well, it must have seemed downright disillusional to believe in a time of future peace in days gone by, whilst engaged in those countless wars our forefathers fought. Today, thanks to the knowledge that we are all genetically descended from that one lonely symbolic African woman, now we know that we are originally one single family, subsequently dispersed over the face of the planet, where we went on to acquire different colourings, different beliefs, learned different languages, dances, foods, arts and crafts; all those things that make this such a fascinating planet to learn about, to communicate amongst, travel over - yes, we can do all that today.
Remember that song that sings of a 'great big melting pot, big enough to take the world and all its got'? Well, that pot is here and it's happening, and we, the brothers and cousins and aunts descended from that African lady, had better learn the new recipe. It's a combination of ingredients both new and very old that I think about a lot and that I enjoy sharing with other friends who, like me, have found other parts of that recipe. I'd like to share them with you.
"Ye are all the fruit of one tree and the leaves of one branch."
- Abdu'l- Baha
1. ONE SCHOOL, MANY TEACHERS
Do you remember your earliest experiences of school? Someone - I think it was my old mate Barry Crump - reckoned that he only went to school to eat his lunch. Well, as a best selling author he apparently managed to learn a lot more at the same time, but I can imagine he wasn't necessarily a star pupil. Still, if it wasn't for him, I would never have learned what turned out to be something that would forever change my life.
I don't know how your first school was run, but in my school we didn't have cafeterias but instead brought our own wrapped, homemade lunches with a smaller 'play lunch' for mid morning snack. Because New Zealand is a legendary dairy producer, our play lunches were accompanied by small bottles of N.Z.s finest, full cream milk which had invariably been sitting out in crates in the hot sun for an hour or two. This warm, semi-curdled milk produced generations of children educated to varying degrees but often with powerful aversions to NZ's finest.
However the positive side of my junior education was that I was a champion speller; since I was known as Pat, I could conveniently spell numerous words like rat, cat, fat, sat, mat, hat, bat etc. This augured well for me to eventually become a teacher and writer, but I will draw a curtain over my capacity in math. I share this jewel with you to illustrate my point that education is various. It reflects what is known in the culture at the time, the resources available, and what the teacher understands of the capacity of each pupil. As these factors change and evolve and as individuals progress, so does the teacher's education of the children.
My first and most important teacher was my mother, to whom I will be forever grateful, although she never managed to teach me to like eating peas or doing my homework. Mr. Park taught me the excitement of drama, and Mr. Elliot the helpfulness of times tables, a knowledge which I found to have a very short shelf life. Mr. Whitmore taught me to love gymnastics, and Miss Smith revealed the charms of Shakespeare. Despite recognising their differing subjects and methods, I knew to treat these teachers with equal respect and courtesy, and to value what they taught as stepping stones to my further education.
Religion shares many features in common with schooling. Since reality is one, it follows that spiritual education should be compatible with material education. There was no competition between my various childhood teachers, just as there should be no competition between our spiritual teachers. They do not come to the earth as competing 'brands' to foster the many wars that have been fought on their names, but as a series of great educators. What we learn in religious education should harmonise with scientific education. If these two are not harmonious, this must be challenged, for science and religion must be in unity.
Attending a school requires that there be an extremely knowledgable teacher. This teacher is uniquely qualified to teach the present level. However, he or she is also required to be thoroughly familiar with the knowledge level of previous grades which their children have experienced. In addition they need to possess an understanding of what will be studied in the future classes for which pupils are now being prepared. This is the function of a school, to offer a series of progressive classes, each of which builds upon the knowledge received in previous grades.
So it is with divine teachers. Baha'is believe that just as the Torah, for example, tells the story of the early Hebrew prophets and teachers, so the Bible and Quran continue these stories and reinforce them with yet more advanced concepts. So, too, do the teachings of the Bab and Baha'u'llah build upon the earlier teachings of Moses, Christ and Mohammed; one essential curriculum taught to humanity at different stages of our collective development.
It is this continuing revelation of knowledge, both material and divine, which has enabled humanity to develop an ever-advancing civilisation. And it follows that in the future there will be other great teachers for which we are presently being prepared. This is the principle of Progressive Revelation. And progressive it proved to be for me too. I first learned about the word 'Bahá'í' from my friend Susie D, and then heard it again only a few months later from a new friend who happened to be a Suzi W. Barry Crump fits in there too. I'll tell you more about that another time...
1. One School, Many teachers
2. Melting Pot
3. One Family
4. Women Waging Peace
5. Some Family Secrets
6. Fixing A Broken Family
7. Peace, More Than Just An End To War
8. Three Sons
9. Prescription For Living
10. My Journey From Atheism To Belief
11. One School, Many Teachers
12. Religion In Harmony With Science
13. Unity In Diversity
14. Black Friday For The Baha'is In Iran
15. The Day Of The Covenant
16. The Ascension Of 'Abdu'l-Baha
17. The Power Of Unity
18. The Dancing Grannies
19. Women In Power
20. Kindness To Every Living Thing
21. The God In All Things
22. One Common Faith
23. 'Un' reclaiming Our Natural Environment
24. Women As Mothers
25. Nations Are An Aggregate Of Families
26. We Are The World, We Are The Children
27. Women; The Only 51% Minority
28. Dizzying Polical Change
29. The Power Of Change
30. Unity; An Idea Whose Time Has Come
31. The Doomsday Clock Is Ticking LOUDER
32. Peace, More Than Just An End To War
33. Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?
34. My Final Tribute To A Bank Robber
35. Welcome To My World.
36. First Grow, Then Become, Then Contribute
37. Global Women Look Back, March Forward
38. Global Women Rattle Their Cages