Thoughts of a Free Baha’i

 

In the middle of the 19th Century – a man called by the title “Baha’u’llah,” (Glory of God) made the astounding claim that he was the Prophet of this age. The return of Christ and the fulfillment of the prophecies of all religions. I have no idea how such a claim can be verified or proved. But the suffering and persecutions that Baha’u’llah experienced did not deter him or defeat his resolve to speak out. Which, if not proving that someone speaks the truth, at least proves their sincerity in proclaiming it.

After Baha’u’llah passed away – his son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha assumed the role of being the exemplar and teacher of the principles that Baha’u’llah had revealed. For over 40 years – ‘Abdu’l-Baha suffered imprisonment and exile before he was allowed to travel and spread his teachings to the western world.

Shoghi Effendi, the grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, was appointed by him to be the Guardian of the Faith. The interpreter and administrator for the next generation of Baha’is as the faith expanded in the world.

As religions go – the Baha’i Faith is unique in several ways:

1. Although it is an independent world religion, it includes and expounds on all other religions and fulfills their ultimate purpose.

2. It claims for itself that it holds the key to understanding divine principles that for centuries were considered as mysteries or secret doctrines.

3. It has no clergy or monastic order because it reveals the fulness of the Holy Spirit to all men without the sacrifice of having to live apart from the world.

4. Although it claims to be the latest revelation of God’s evolving truth – it does not claim to be the last word from God, as so many others have claimed.

But, unfortunately, like all other religions, the Baha’i Faith has adopted a hierarchical approach to managing the truth, by building a legal administrative body with the intention of preserve its teachings and interpretations. However, this has not been the ultimate outcome of this organization. Rather it has sought to codify and restrict the respective action of those who seek in earnest for the ultimate truth. This fact has always been the inevitable stumbling block for me. The divine message, at first full of hope and wisdom, soon becomes distilled and ultimately distorted into the mere thoughts and interpretations of men that, although earnest in their intent, seemingly unavoidably seek to spread their own versions of the original.

Baha’u’llah wrote:

“The essence of these words is this: they that tread the path of faith, they that thirst for the wine of certitude, must cleanse themselves of all that is earthly—their ears from idle talk, their minds from vain imaginings, their hearts from worldly affections, their eyes from that which perisheth. They should put their trust in God, and, holding fast unto Him, follow in His way. Then will they be made worthy of the effulgent glories of the sun of divine knowledge and understanding, and become the recipients of a grace that is infinite and unseen, inasmuch as man can never hope to attain unto the knowledge of the All-Glorious, can never quaff from the stream of divine knowledge and wisdom, can never enter the abode of immortality, nor partake of the cup of divine nearness and favour, unless and until he ceases to regard the words and deeds of mortal men as a standard for the true understanding and recognition of God and His Prophets.”

- The Kitáb-i-Íqán, (The Book of Certitude)

Once true – always true.

This is why the saving grace of the Baha’i Faith; that which will cause it to survive the distortions and detractions of its organizational structure, is that it holds the independent investigation of truth as a core principle. This principle, for me, is the lodestone of preserving the truth.  In honor of that principle, and in obedience to it, I call myself a “Free Baha’i.”

I have faith in Baha’u’llah and his teachings – but beyond that I have faith in God. Baha’u’llah always deferred the ultimate truth to the revelation of God and the reality of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Honest doubt is always more honorable than feigned belief. To seek the truth honestly; to be open to reality as it is, is truth’s ultimate preservation.

Rigid fundamentalism is the antithesis of the Baha’i approach to truth. Truth is never to be restricted to organizational proclamation and understanding – it has to be experienced personally. It is only then that it can truly transform our characters and help us to develop our divine natures.

After all the years of spiritual seeking I have realized that I cannot ever claim to have arrived. To have done so is presumption on my part. It is to limit the influence of God that stretches beyond our human understanding. God is limitless and therefore his truth is boundless and eternally continues to reveal itself.

Baha’u’llah wrote:

“Immerse yourselves in the ocean of My words, that ye may unravel its secrets, and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depths. Take heed that ye do not vacillate in your determination to embrace the truth of this Cause—a Cause through which the potentialities of the might of God have been revealed, and His sovereignty established. With faces beaming with joy, hasten ye unto Him. This is the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future. Let him that seeketh, attain it; and as to him that hath refused to seek it—verily, God is Self-Sufficient, above any need of His creatures.”

- “Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah,” LXX, p. 136

“O My servants! Through the might of God and His power, and out of the treasury of His knowledge and wisdom, I have brought forth and revealed unto you the pearls that lay concealed in the depths of His everlasting ocean. I have summoned the Maids of Heaven to emerge from behind the veil of concealment, and have clothed them with these words of Mine—words of consummate power and wisdom. I have, moreover, with the hand of divine power, unsealed the choice wine of My Revelation, and have wafted its holy, its hidden, and musk-laden fragrance upon all created things. Who else but yourselves is to be blamed if ye choose to remain unendowed with so great an outpouring of God’s transcendent and all-encompassing grace, with so bright a revelation of His resplendent mercy?…”

- “Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah,” CLIII, p. 328-328

My spiritual search now continues from this address, although truth’s home is never further away than the very center of the heart.  

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The Pledge of Human Kindness

“Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring. Be an ornament to the countenance of truth, a crown to the brow of fidelity, a pillar of the temple of righteousness, a breath of life to the body of mankind, an ensign of the hosts of justice, a luminary above the horizon of virtue, a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit upon the tree of humility.”

- Baha’u’llah, “Gleanings,” CXXX

What a wonderful world it could be if  schoolchildren could be freely taught this “pledge” of human kindness and mercy, beyond that which glorifies the pride of nationalism and its symbols…………………………

This is one of my favorite passages from the writings of Baha’u’llah because it transcends the context of religious allegiance or any particular view of God and focuses on the fruits of spirituality – there is nothing to believe in this passage. There is only the demonstrated virtuous action that is the fruit of religious belief beyond all dogmas and systems.

Baha’u’llah’s teachings, although often framed in the words of the cultural poetry of his environment – can be embraced by people of every nation. They bridge both the mystical and practical aspects of spiritual life, and offer a means of breaking down the differences that divide and separate religions from one another.

When I consider the teachings of Baha’u’llah from the perspective of a world citizen and not just from my own western Christian-based viewpoint, I can see the spirit of fulfillment and reconciliation across cultural barriers. I believe this is why the Baha’i Faith has been embraced relatively quickly and willingly by so many diverse cultures around the world, without the influence of political power or violence.

To those of us living in the western world, many of the teachings of Baha’u’llah were openly embraced in the early 20th Century because our approach to individual freedom was expanding and evolving more quickly than the rest of the world. However, to cultures that were, or are still, oppressed by religious superstition, mindless tradition and social prejudice, these teachings offer a fresh breath of God’s wisdom, and encourage free-thinking and acceptance.

The peaceful cry of the Baha’is is that “Mankind is One.” We are, in this new age, to transcend the boundaries of political borders and past philosophical differences. This is the fulfillment and expansion of the human family from a single tree to a boundless, fruitful forest of humanity.

God is once again, drawing all humanity to himself in a new and fresh way – and not demanding blind belief but fruitful allegiance to the evolution of the human spirit by the expression of real and meaningful virtues.

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The End of Dogma

Thought for the day:

“…This is the day when dogmas must be sacrificed in our search for truth. We must leave behind all save what is necessary for the needs of today, nor attach ourselves to any form or ritual which is in opposition to moral evolution.

Search untiringly for truth and reiterate the teachings which harmonize with the crying needs of the hour. This will be the cause of the progress of man, the illumination of the Orient and the Occident.”

- (Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 67)

The original spirit of the teachings of the Baha’i Faith is to cause the mind, heart and spirit to be refreshed. To abandon those beliefs that do not foster positive character transformation and encourage the moral evolution of the world. Because we are now more “connected” with one another throughout the world in so many ways it is time for us to stop dividing this planet into nations, races and philosophies.

In truth there is only one race – the HUMAN RACE – we are all different variations on that one race. Just as the parts of our body are different aspects of one human form.

The time to abandon fundamentalist views about nationality, creed, color, gender, and race. It is time to abandon dogmas and philosophies that hold people as prisoners or slaves to their culture or social condition.

The Baha’i Faith is not a religion that strives to divide a portion of humanity into another category of division from the rest of the world – it is the resolution of all the perceived unfulfilled promises that other faiths have either explained away or have minimized to maintain a status quo. As a human institution, the Baha’i Faith is far from perfect in its execution. But its purpose is to unveil the ultimate divinity of humanity and to reconcile all people to the One and Only Source of Life.

The Baha’i Faith is not a “replacement” for other religions, an alternate viewpoint – it is the fulfilling unification of all of them into the original eternal religion of God. It is the renewing of  “the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.”

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Spiritual Sunrise

The Baha'i House of Worship at Sunrise

“Praise be to God, the All-Possessing, the King of incomparable glory, a praise which is immeasurably above the understanding of all created things, and is exalted beyond the grasp of the minds of men. None else besides Him hath ever been able to sing adequately His praise, nor will any man succeed at any time in describing the full measure of His glory. Who is it that can claim to have attained the heights of His exalted Essence, and what mind can measure the depths of His unfathomable mystery? From each and every revelation emanating from the Source of His glory, holy and never-ending evidences of unimaginable splendor have appeared, and out of every manifestation of His invincible power oceans of eternal light have outpoured. How immensely exalted are the wondrous testimonies of His almighty sovereignty, a glimmer of which, if it but touched them, would utterly consume all that are in the heavens and in the earth! How indescribably lofty are the tokens of His consummate power, a single sign of which, however inconsiderable, must transcend the comprehension of whatsoever hath, from the beginning that hath no beginning, been brought into being, or will be created in the future till the end that hath no end. All the Embodiments of His Names wander in the wilderness of search, athirst and eager to discover His Essence, and all the Manifestations of His Attributes implore Him, from the Sinai of Holiness, to unravel His mystery.

A drop of the billowing ocean of His endless mercy hath adorned all creation with the ornament of existence, and a breath wafted from His peerless Paradise hath invested all beings with the robe of His sanctity and glory. A sprinkling from the unfathomed deep of His sovereign and all-pervasive Will hath, out of utter nothingness, called into being a creation which is infinite in its range and deathless in its duration. The wonders of His bounty can never cease, and the stream of His merciful grace can never be arrested. The process of His creation hath had no beginning, and can have no end.

In every age and cycle He hath, through the splendorous light shed by the Manifestations of His wondrous Essence, recreated all things, so that whatsoever reflecteth in the heavens and on the earth the signs of His glory may not be deprived of the outpourings of His mercy, nor despair of the showers of His favors. How all-encompassing are the wonders of His boundless grace! Behold how they have pervaded the whole of creation. Such is their virtue that not a single atom in the entire universe can be found which doth not declare the evidences of His might, which doth not glorify His holy Name, or is not expressive of the effulgent light of His unity. So perfect and comprehensive is His creation that no mind nor heart, however keen or pure, can ever grasp the nature of the most insignificant of His creatures; much less fathom the mystery of Him Who is the Day Star of Truth, Who is the invisible and unknowable Essence. The conceptions of the devoutest of mystics, the attainments of the most accomplished amongst men, the highest praise which human tongue or pen can render are all the product of man’s finite mind and are conditioned by its limitations. Ten thousand Prophets, each a Moses, are thunderstruck upon the Sinai of their search at His forbidding voice, “Thou shalt never behold Me!”; whilst a myriad Messengers, each as great as Jesus, stand dismayed upon their heavenly thrones by the interdiction, “Mine Essence thou shalt never apprehend!” From time immemorial He hath been veiled in the ineffable sanctity of His exalted Self, and will everlastingly continue to be wrapt in the impenetrable mystery of His unknowable Essence. Every attempt to attain to an understanding of His inaccessible Reality hath ended in complete bewilderment, and every effort to approach His exalted Self and envisage His Essence hath resulted in hopelessness and failure.

How bewildering to me, insignificant as I am, is the attempt to fathom the sacred depths of Thy knowledge! How futile my efforts to visualize the magnitude of the power inherent in Thine handiwork—the revelation of Thy creative power! How can mine eye, which hath no faculty to perceive itself, claim to have discerned Thine Essence, and how can mine heart, already powerless to apprehend the significance of its own potentialities, pretend to have comprehended Thy nature? How can I claim to have known Thee, when the entire creation is bewildered by Thy mystery, and how can I confess not to have known Thee, when, lo, the whole universe proclaimeth Thy Presence and testifieth to Thy truth? The portals of Thy grace have throughout eternity been open, and the means of access unto Thy Presence made available, unto all created things, and the revelations of Thy matchless Beauty have at all times been imprinted upon the realities of all beings, visible and invisible. Yet, notwithstanding this most gracious favor, this perfect and consummate bestowal, I am moved to testify that Thy court of holiness and glory is immeasurably exalted above the knowledge of all else besides Thee, and the mystery of Thy Presence is inscrutable to every mind except Thine own. No one except Thyself can unravel the secret of Thy nature, and naught else but Thy transcendental Essence can grasp the reality of Thy unsearchable being. How vast the number of those heavenly and all-glorious beings who, in the wilderness of their separation from Thee, have wandered all the days of their lives, and failed in the end to find Thee! How great the multitude of the sanctified and immortal souls who were lost and bewildered while seeking in the desert of search to behold Thy face! Myriad are Thine ardent lovers whom the consuming flame of remoteness from Thee hath caused to sink and perish, and numberless are the faithful souls who have willingly laid down their lives in the hope of gazing on the light of Thy countenance. The sighs and moans of these longing hearts that pant after Thee can never reach Thy holy court, neither can the lamentations of the wayfarers that thirst to appear before Thy face attain Thy seat of glory.”

Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, XXVI

It seems that most of my life I’ve lived with the idea that there is an ultimate truth that can be known – a God that exists as a being that can be known. I have read countless accounts of those who have tried to express their experience in words. In almost every case their efforts to explain the indescribable seem to fall short of their own expectations. The Prophets of old often declared God to be frightening and unapproachable, while the Mystics speak of God as being closer than our very breath, as the very essence of love and compassion.

Over the lifetime of my search I have so often “discovered” the God that I wanted; the God of my own making, and accepted this version as the ultimate reality. My own sense of accomplishment was fulfilled and gave me a false sense of entitlement. As the very essence of God was in my possession, and that I had hold of something that others could not grasp.

I was a much younger man when I first read the words of Baha’u’llah. At that time I was excited to see a “new” religion that, in my mind, resolved a lot of the doubts and confusion that  I had about all other religions and their relationships to each other. I was a zealous new Baha’i at that time. Looking back on that period now I can see that I was naive and perhaps too self-obsessed to consider those that I tried to proselytize and “recruit” to the Baha’i ranks – as if it were a battle and I was the commander.

It is not hard, in hindsight, to see that I could not have maintained this intensity for too long. My expectations of others in the faith were unrealistic, and my own expectations of my sincerity were impossible to attain. So I drifted away – beginning a long, long, journey of exercising the key Baha’i principle of “independent investigation of truth.”

I jumped on the spiritual seeking bandwagon and began to read, and ultimately “follow” many paths…..Alan Watts, Sri Chinmoy, Meher Baba, Krishnamurti, The Hare Krsna Movement, various schools of Buddhism, and finally passing through Evangelical Christianity into Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

Now in 2012, I have come full circle – back to Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Returning to that original spirit that I first saw in the Baha’i writings and philosophy that drew me to it. I am not attached to the administrative rule-keeping side of the organization; for like all organizations that are founded by fallible people, they so often fall short of their original intentions and tend to mistake the preservation of the principles of their founder with the definition of them. Thus, like the religions of the past they unwittingly become obsessed with their own existence and despite good intentions, often block the way of the spirit that birthed the movement in the first place. Such has been the fate of Christianity – where the beauty of the truth of boundless grace has become guarded and somewhat held as an exclusive gift, under the guise of preserving “the sanctity of the mysteries.”

In the Baha’i Faith, as intended in the writings and example of Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha, I can see a blueprint for true, patient and compassionate reform of the world’s systems of politics, economics and religion. Before the Baha’i Faith was revealed to the world these three systems had become fairly detached from each other. The theocratic government model fell into direct competition with scientific progress and economic development, and, particularly in the last few centuries, religion has become more and more allied with politics, to where the idea of supporting the “wrong” political party is to be accused of going against your religion or moral beliefs!!

As a young person I was enthusiastic for change – and anxious to bring about that change in myself as quickly as possible. I had thought that subscribing to a set of beliefs was a possible short-cut to transformation. But, it didn’t work that way for me. As a Christian I believed in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit – but I always seemed to fall short of being “worthy” of attaining it. The Holy Spirit became something that was given “through” a sacrament – by a ceremony of incantations. As beautiful as the Divine Liturgy and Mass are – they preserve the idea that God is separate from us in daily life. That God is only present in certain places and certain times. As much as the mystical teachings of the Church Fathers, saints and sages would proclaim that the Holy Spirit is “everywhere present.” The actions of the organized Church would seem to indicate otherwise. In the Baha’i Faith – the spirit may be physically experienced more strongly when people are gathered together or during a pilgrimage to a place associated with its founders. But it is not something that is denied anyone, anywhere, and at anytime. The Baha’i teaching is the same as that found in the Gospel of John, where the apostle declares that “the true light that gives light to everyone (came) into the world.” Baha’u’llah is giving the same light to the world in fact, it has never left – Baha’u’llah is the continued reflection of that light for this day and age.

In embracing the Baha’i Faith, I have not turned my back on the stopping points of my journey to and from this spot. Rather, I am happy to fully embrace them for what they all reveal in their unique way.  All religions proclaim, with Baha’u’llah, that:

“no mind nor heart, however keen or pure, can ever…..fathom the mystery of Him Who is the Day Star of Truth, Who is the invisible and unknowable Essence.”

All religions and divine philosophies are attempts to reveal the invisible and unknowable, that which cannot be known with certainty in this physical realm. But God can be trusted to guide us to the spirit to all truth if we let ourselves rest in him, by accepting reality for what it is according to his design and not to our own, often misguided, wishes and desires.

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time you’ll have noticed that I change my loyalties and religious affiliations quite frequently. But, in all of this I hope that you’ll see behind all of this the heart of a true seeker, rather than a “religion shopper.” My motives have always been to seek the truth in all its forms – and ironically, I realize now that the spirit of that motivation came from my initial exposure to the Baha’i Faith – so, I consider that this journey has come full circle for me. The other religions and philosophies that I’ve embraced – even my bout with Atheism out of periodic frustration with all religious organization – have caused me to grow in unexpected ways. I can now see God in so many different ways – even through the eyes of a proclaimed hardened atheist!!!

To paraphrase Baha’u’llah, all of this has taught me to:

“see with (my) own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and (to) know (by my) own knowledge and not through the knowledge of (my) neighbor.”

“(I have) ponder(ed) this in (my) heart; (and see it as a) sign of (God’s) loving-kindness.”

- Paraphrase of Baha’u’llah’s Hidden Words (Arabic #2)

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Re-Cognizing the Truth

“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know it for the first time.”

- T. S. Eliot (Little Gidding)

“Praise be to Thee, O my Lord, for having enabled me to recognize the Manifestation of Thine own Self, and aided me to fix mine heart on the court of Thy presence, the object of my soul’s adoration. I beseech Thee, by Thy name that caused the heavens to be rent and the earth to be cleft asunder, to ordain for me what Thou didst ordain for them that have turned away from all else but Thee, and rested their hearts firmly upon Thee. Grant that I may be seated in Thy presence on the seat of truth, within the Tabernacle of Glory. Powerful art Thou to do what Thou willest. There is none other God but Thee, the All-Glorious, the All-Wise.”

 – “Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh,” CXLIII

To re-cognize someone or something is to recall it from memory; to see in it something familiar or similar to what has been seen before.

I first “discovered” the Bahá’í Faith back in 1973 almost by “accident.” I was spending an afternoon at Gillson Park near Wilmette Harbor in Chicago when I happened to notice the beautiful Bahá’í House of Worship (also known as the “Bahá’í Temple.”), and struck by its majestic white contrast against the blue sky, I decided to visit and find out more about it.

Firstly, it welcomed peoples of all faiths, and on its alcoves and doorways were inscribed beautiful poetic sayings that echoed the essential truths of all religions:

There are nine inspiring inscriptions carved above the entrances of the temple:

  • “The earth is but one country; and mankind its citizens.”
  • “The best beloved of all things in My sight is justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me.”
  • “My love is My stronghold; he that entereth therein is safe and secure.”
  • “Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner.”
  • “Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent.”
  • “I have made death a messenger of joy to thee; wherefore dost thou grieve?”
  • “Make mention of Me on My earth that in My heaven I may remember thee.”
  • “O rich ones on earth! The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My Trust.”
  • “The source of all learning is the knowledge of God, exalted be His glory.”

- WORDS OF BAHÁ’U’LLÁH

There are also nine equally inspiring inscriptions appearing in the temple alcoves:

  • “All the prophets of God proclaim the same faith.”
  • “Religion is a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold.”
  • “Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.”
  • “So powerful is unity’s light that it can illumine the whole earth.”
  • “Consort with the followers of all religions with friendliness.”
  • “O Son of Being! Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee.”
  • “O Son of Being! Walk in My statutes for love of Me.”
  • “Thy Paradise is My love; thy heavenly home reunion with Me.”
  • “The light of a good character surpasseth the light of the sun.”

- WORDS OF BAHÁ’U’LLÁH

I found out very quickly that the Baha’i Faith was not a syncretic blending of the teachings of other religions, but rather claimed to be a renewal of the “Changeless Faith of God” that was revealed through the Prophet for this age: Bahá’u’lláh. (“Baha’i” means “Follower of Bahá’u’lláh”). It was impulsive of me but I found myself suddenly fulfilled in my search for the truth. It was not that I had “found” the truth – but that I re-cognized in its teachings all that I somehow already knew, or at least desired, to be true.

  • The Oneness of God, Religion and Humanity……..
  • The Equality of Men and Women
  • The Harmony of Science and Religion.
  • The Elimination of All Kinds of Prejudice
  • The Independent Investigation of Truth 

This encouragement to keep seeking from within the faith may have ironically been my downfall as it exposed me to a whole world of spirituality that I had no experience of before. But having explored so many spiritual paths because of practicing this principle and having repeatedly experienced glimpses of the underlying truth within all religions, today I value this principle as being a vital approach in all areas of my life.

‘Abdu’l-Baha, the Son of Baha’u’llah said:  “Man is not intended to see through the eyes of another, hear through another’s ears nor comprehend with another’s brain. Each human creature has individual endowment, power and responsibility in the creative plan of God.”

Thus I “declared” myself to be a Baha’i in a very short period of time. Looking back on it now I should have been more patient and spent more time learning more about the Faith, and then I would have been more prepared for the challenges I experienced as a new believer in a new religion, and having no experience of membership in any other religion or of life in a gathered spiritual community.

I struggled with the personalities of other Baha’is in the community that I joined. Some had come from fundamentalist backgrounds that I was not familiar with, and others had come from the background of persecution in Iran and having been born into the Baha’i Faith, often did not understand why I had questions and doubts. I became disillusioned and became inactive within 18 months.

In 1997 – I returned to the Baha’i Faith again. This time I really longed to fit in and unfortunately the politics of the established community got in the way. I did little to express my concerns or seek consultation with the community leaders and so I once again became disillusioned. Looking back on it now I think it was that I was more disappointed in myself in failing to be honest about my feelings. The Baha’i Community is a lot more graceful and patient than I gave them credit for. Some of my favorite people are Baha’is, and of all the acquaintances that I’ve made in all of the spiritual communities I’ve been involved in, the Baha’is have always been at the top of my list for friendliness and total acceptance.

Recently I began studying the Baha’i teachings again. Re-reading the words of Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha, listening to podcasts by Baha’i teachers, and watching hours of You Tube videos. Today being a rainy day – I absorbed myself in a lot of Baha’i material.

I found myself seriously entertaining the thought that Baha’u’llah may, in fact, be the return of Christ, based on the teaching videos of a man named Alex Gottdank, who has written a book called “Preparing for Christ’s New Name.”  His videos, although roughly recorded and slow going at first are fascinating. Click here to see them.

So, this afternoon – in full rational awareness – I re-enrolled in the Baha’i Faith. It was a big step and a little frightening for me….but I have faith.

Thank you for your loving patience with me, Baha’u’llah.

I feel I am home again for the first time. Right back where I started seems to be a good place to rest from all the seeking.

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Rainn Wilson’s Spiritual Journey

Whenever I find anyone that shares a perspective that resembles, or at least, sympathizes with part of my spiritual journey – I feel I must share what they have to say. Here’s one such case:

Posted in Comparative Religion, Spiritual Seeking, Spiritual Teaching | Leave a comment

Happy Easter

I’ve been kicked right down
I’ve been spat in the face
I’ve been pulled, weighed down
To the lowest place
I’ve been lied to, shamed
I have been disgraced
Been ex-communicated from every holy place
I’ve been beat up and robbed
I’ve been left for dead
For the way I look
For the things I said

When trouble thinks it’s found us
The world falls down around us
I promise baby you won’t ever
You won’t ever feel a thing

Chorus:
Cause I will take it on the chin
Eh, for you
So lay your cuts and bruises over my skin
I promise you won’t feel a thing
Cause everything the world could throw
I’ll stand in front. I’ll take the blow for you.
For you.

I’ve been put on the street
I’ve been left in the cold
Had my dreams held up
Had them shot full of holes
I’ve been laughed at, burnt, beat and butt of the joke
I’ve been lit up in flames
I have gone down in smoke
I’ve been stabbed in the back
While they promised the earth
Tried to keep my head high
For all I am worth

Outside our double glazing
I know a war is raging
I promise baby you won’t ever
You won’t ever feel a thing

Chorus.

Yeah.
And if I fall here
At least you know my dear that I would die for you
Promise you won’t ever feel a thing
And if I fall here
At least you know my dear that I would die for you
Promise you won’t ever feel a thing

Chorus.

Yeah everything the world could throw
I’ll take the sticks, I’ll take the stones for you
For you

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Insurrection of Love

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LET MY PEOPLE GO…….

“The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.'”

- Exodus 3:7-10

Insurrection:

in·sur·rec·tion/ˌinsəˈrekSHən/
Noun:  An uprising against an authority or government: “opposition to the new regime led to insurrection”.

In the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar it is the Third Sunday of Lent: “Sunday of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross.”

During this period of Lent it is customary in many Orthodox Churches to hear homilies and expository teachings on the Old Testament book of Exodus. For the Church Fathers the story of the Israelites breaking free from the tyranny of the Pharoah and the slavery of his institutions is a pre-figuring of the sacrifice of Christ that frees humanity from the tyranny of sin and death. Such was the case this morning as we heard of how God provided a means, through the person of Moses, for the freedom of his people from the oppression of an unjust regime.

Either by coincidence, or could it be divine providence? I began reading a book this week called “Insurrection,” written by the young Irish Philosopher Peter Rollins. It’s a controversial book that proposes a very un-orthodox, and perhaps some would consider, a heretical view of Christianity, and is particularly challenging to the structure of the institution of the Church.

So far, in the first few chapters, Rollins has offered an alternate view of the crucifixion and its purpose. One that I find both appealing, and inspirational.

As I understand it; and perhaps this is much more than Rollins intended, but, as the story of the Exodus of the Israelites revealed how God freed them from the tyranny of their captors, so perhaps the advent of Christ and his crucifixion was declaring not only a freedom from the consequences of sin and spiritual death; offering eternal life through a transformation of mind and heart, but also the emancipation of humanity from the tyranny of religion.

The Jews, although free from Egyptian domination – soon became slaves to a much more subtle abuse of authority through the teachings of their own religion that demanded impractical obedience to non-sensical rules of righteousness that were impossible to maintain, and downright unjust to many in the society.

Jesus, was condemned by the religious leaders and authorities of his time, and crucified by the government that approved the condemnation. The Apostle Paul himself, as the pre-christian Saul, even participated in the subsequent persecution of those who followed the “rebellious” way of Jesus.

The traditional “Orthodox” view of the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection is that death has been defeated through the sacrifice of Christ. But, this was very much the result of much debate and discussion amongst early believers, and was not necessarily always believed to be the case. The identity and nature of Christ was in fact not formally declared in the early church until the fourth century!!

What is obvious to see in the early accounts of the formation of the Church found in the Book of Acts, and letters of Paul, Peter and Jude, is that the society that formed around the personality and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, changed the nature of religion into a manner of living rather than a manner of believing. The “rules” of the new community were not founded on dogmas and doctrines, but in the behavior of those who identified themselves with the mission. Action was based on love and not the achieving of merited righteousness.

In several places in Acts there is a glimpse of a conciliatory process that relied on community dialogue and not on absolute authority of an individual. In Acts 6 we can see the community organizing itself to handle problems from within by delegating responsibility, a process that resulted in an agreed upon “proposal (that) pleased the whole group.” (Acts 6:5).

In Acts 15, we see another example of conciliatory dialogue, as a “the apostles and elders, with the whole church,” (Acts 15:22) agreed on an answer to a question of whether gentiles were to be required to convert to Judaism before they were to be included in the community. The answer, unanimously accepted, was that Gentiles did not need to conform to all of the Jewish laws.

Rollins makes a compelling argument that perhaps in this day and age the question is not whether one needs to be aligned with Jewish traditions and practices, but rather the question is whether religion is even necessary in order to be considered a citizen in the kingdom of heaven?

As much as I love the beauty of the ancient Liturgy, the Icons, the incense, and the traditions of the version of the Church that reaches back to its deep middle-eastern roots. I wonder if it is not time to re-evaluate the needs of the community – just as the early Apostles and leaders did in the first century.

Of course, as Rollins says, we cannot go back to the original Church of the first century, but we can go back to the intentions and motivations that started the Church in the first place.

In this modern world people are being divided by their beliefs about God, rather than by their trust in God. Belief does not determine the reality or unreality of God, and conflicting beliefs become so quickly an impenetrable wall between the hearts of people who sincerely seek the truth.

When Jesus said “Love one another” – I believe that this was the only “rule” of the Kingdom. A rule of love that extends beyond ethnic, political, gender and religious boundaries. Demonstrated in the parables of Christ – this rule of love was to break down the walls of divisive religion that separated the righteous from the regular, and bring together the wise and the weak.

It’s time for an “Insurrection” in the name of the resurrection of love.

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Coffee Shop Thoughts

I do some of my deepest thinking over a good, hot cup of coffee. I feel strongly that today’s coffee houses have become the community gathering places where the great mysteries of life are discussed and debated.

It is in coffee shops that I sometimes compose these blogs; at least in my mind. I let go of the “worldly,” urgent issues and dwell on deeper level spiritual and, for me, more important eternal matters in my life.

This morning I thought a little about the important spiritual questions. Lately I’ve been very dry spiritually. It usually happens during what is usually considered as a traditionally spiritually focused time. In this case it is Lent for Christians, and the annual Fast for Baha’is.

At the beginning of Lent several people asked me what I was “giving up” for Lent, and I, almost without thinking, said that I had decided to give up the very idea that “giving up” something for Lent would draw me closer to God. This answer came from a very deep, almost DNA level within me. It was definitely not just a glib comment.

I was thinking about that spontaneous comment as I pondered the blackness of my coffee.

I thought it might be good to harvest that deeper level of my thinking, and get it out here where I can see it! So I wrote the following as a “stream of consciousness” without hesitation; and I think it expresses what I honestly feel these days.

“I believe in One God – but not as a Father or Person, but as that which is beyond understanding; the source of life and love.

I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ as a man who knew his eternal reality and expressed them within the context, times and culture of his earthly life.

I believe in the Spirit that is present everywhere and fills all things as the life and cause of existence of all things.

I believe religion is at best a human interpretation of a divine reality and offers a relationship with that reality and not a definition or limitation of it. Unconditional love is the highest expression of religion, rather than the clear definition of beliefs or adoption of doctrines and dogmas.

I believe that God is always for us – even when we are not.

God is unconditional love not righteous judgement, and as God is unconditional love then “salvation” is not earned or found – it is always already the case.

Our sins are our punishment – not the wrath of God.

If a religion is not founded on love and acceptance and does not practice unconditional love and acceptance then it is a false religion.

Religion is not what we believe – it is how we LIVE.

If God asks that we love our enemies – then we do not need fear judgement or condemnation. We are to do likewise.”

This is, I concur, another version of the “Monkey Manifesto,” that I wrote last year – and confirms for me, despite its somewhat “post Christian” theme, that I still feel strongly about faith and religion, even though no longer in the traditional or Orthodox sense.

Over the past few months that I’ve been wrestling with my Orthodox faith I’ve realized how much I’ve WANTED something to be true despite my deepest counter intuitions. I’m wrestling with God in my heart and mind and I’m not sure who is winning! I’ve sought an experience of God according to the understanding that religion offered and that experience has not come. Rather what has come is this experience of God that is totally different than my desired version.

It appears that religious organizations are playing a dangerous game when they teach dogma and doctrines that limit the reality of an experience of God to their exclusive interpretation. I am certain that the original intention was well-founded, but over the years, the preservation of the original teachings has become more important than the experience that the original teachings communicate.

At the “risk” of being at least figuratively “excommunicated,” I have to follow my conscience and trust in the grace of God that is greater than any theory. My beliefs do not determine reality – neither do my disbeliefs. I’m putting my faith in that.

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Through These Godless Eyes

Observations by a Spiritual Atheist – Beautiful!

I was very moved by this brief video that deals with some very deep questions about the nature of religion and its relevance to life.

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