February 22, 2011


the kids and i walked to school today.  the distance is about .6km, not far at all.  we're finally in a groove for the morning routine so we were prepared by 7am and had enough time to walk instead of drive.  the sun was already hot on the horizon as we set out.  soon there were little complaints about how heavy their bags were.  by the time we were halfway there we had greeted several Zulu people with 'Sawobona', observed a lizard, and gathered seeds all over our calves and ankles from the grasses.  we paused and picked them off the best we could. 

we talked about how people travel by foot each day, walking long distances, without sidewalks, often on the side of highways or narrow roads that put one in danger of being hit by a car.  they are always listening to me as i try to explain life as i understand it.  sometimes i'm sure they don't want to hear what i'm saying, especially when it involves them experiencing what they consider a difficulty.  but i know and trust that these conversations will become little gems of wisdom for them someday as they reflect on how they want to live their lives as adults.  today's walk was barely a hardship by any means, but what it did was open the door again for that significant moment where they can step outside of themselves and hopefully connect their hearts to other peoples' realities while they experience something that is uncomfortable for themselves.

for many years i have felt a close connection with people who walk.  i have always associated it with injustice and race, how it's always the poor people who don't have the cars to travel by, and most of the poor people in the world are people of color whose lives have been touched invariably by racism.  i have doubted that any of them, or perhaps a few, would choose to walk such long distances.  i have felt great empathy for their feet which bear most of the burden & which are most often wearing (and outwearing) shoes that are not comfortable enough -- as we know that the most comfortably made shoes with the best of materials are the most expensive (and i haven't had any of those but i sure have looked at them in the store, weighing the cost with the long-term benefit of being able to keep them for a long time because they are made so well).  all of this and more has made me the kind of person who has high regard for those who walk everywhere, everyday.  it feels like my eyes and heart are very attuned to those who are walking, and i find every opportunity to convey with sincerity my genuine sense of friendliness with respect & joy.

To get water, people walk to a standpipe, filling up containers and walk home
 i know there are wealthy people that take transport and walk through cities to get to work even though they own a car.  and i know there are poor people who appreciate and like walking.  what i'm discontentedly observing here in South Africa, in both Cape Town and now Durban, though, is that the lives of black Africans is hard, while the lives of white people is full of comfort and ease.  i am not comfortable being part of the comfort unless my life reflects as much as possible a sense of justice and generosity through the acts of sacrifice, service, and being of benefit to others.  i am not leaving our car at home to save petrol (although that is another benefit); and i'm not walking to get exercise.  my intention truly, at the deepest level, is to feel connected with those whose lives are touched by hardship & the systematic affects of racism everyday.  it is this connection that matters.  it is walking past another person who is also walking and saying greeting them with a smile in their own language.  it is seeing in their face a great joy to see us walking and being friendly.  it is just simple decisions like this that result in shaking up 'how it is' and letting it resettle into 'how it should be'.

February 16, 2011

Hamilton Naki ~ South Africa's first black heart surgeon

Gardener behind Africa's heart pioneer

By Alastair Leithead
BBC correspondent in Cape Town
Hamilton Naki
Naki lives on a gardener's pension today
The world knows the achievements of Professor Christian Barnard - the first man to carry out a heart transplant in his native South Africa. 

It was 1967 at the height of apartheid.

But behind all the research and testing he carried out on animals that preceded the pioneering operation was a black South African called Hamilton Naki.

Employed at first as a gardener, Mr Naki worked his way up to become even more nimble-fingered on the operating table than Professor Barnard himself.
Hamilton Naki
His work helped the first heart transplant become a reality and for years after that he passed on those skills to thousands of young surgeons.

Until recently his story was ignored, but now a film-maker hopes to change all that.
Professor Barnard carried out the first heart transplant in the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town where years earlier Mr Naki enrolled as a gardener.

February 14, 2011

'The way it is' vs. 'The way it should be'

I just watched the movie, Australia.  What struck me immediately -- aside from the obvious sweetness of the boy's perspective -- was how bothered i was that a movie has to sell itself with a love story about white actors in order to convey the most significant story of the Aboriginal people's oppression.

It is this theme of racial oppression which touches my heart much more than any other theme in the movie.  'Australia' addresses the ever-present, all-pervasive issues of racism that permeate all the social and economic structures of peoples' lives in countries and regions where there is prejudice of color.  It was done in such a touching way mostly by the boy and his grandfather's singing, movements of spiritual expression, and their eyes.  The viewer enters this land at a particular time and is left wanting more -- more understanding of their culture, their sufferings, of the complexities of being considered a half-bred, of being torn away from their families, etc.

There is one line in the film that is repeated:  "This is the way it is."  "That doesn't mean it's the way it should be."  i love this line!  i feel we all have a duty, responsibility and privilege to usher in the surest foundations for unity in this world.  it begins with simple acts that shake up the current standard of conduct and that act in a way that plants a seed of trust, roots us in righteousness, or lays the foundation of dignity for another soul's well-being.

"The diversity in the human family," Abdu'l-Baha claims, "should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord."  "If you meet," is His admonition, "those of a different race and color from yourself, do not mistrust them, and withdraw yourself into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness."

we are all surrounded by ways of living that aren't right, or that are devoid of that spirit of oneness which emanates from our Creator's purpose for us. it can be as simple as not acknowledging each other when we pass by, or it can be as huge, complicated & institutionally established as only black people in Africa living in shacks while no white person in this continent ever lives like that.  the examples are endless.  upholding the oneness of mankind as the pivot of the Teachings of Baha'u'llah requires conscious, daily striving with a heart that is free from any trace of prejudice.  no one can think the issues of race are out of their control or that they will heal themselves without a mighty effort on our part.  we all can make immeasurable contributions toward unity by seemingly insignificant, pure hearted, sincere, & genuine acts of loving-kindness toward everyone.
from the Baha'i Writings:

To discriminate against any race, on the ground of its being socially backward, politically immature, and numerically in a minority, is a flagrant violation of the spirit that animates the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. The consciousness of any division or cleavage in its ranks is alien to its very purpose, principles, and ideals. Once its members have fully recognized the claim of its Author, and, by identifying themselves with its Administrative Order, accepted unreservedly the principles and laws embodied in its teachings, every differentiation of class, creed, or color must automatically be obliterated, and never be allowed, under any pretext, and however great the pressure of events or of public opinion, to reassert itself. If any discrimination is at all to be tolerated, it should be a discrimination not against, but rather in favor of the minority, be it racial or otherwise. Unlike the nations and peoples of the earth, be they of the East or of the West, democratic or authoritarian, communist or capitalist, whether belonging to the Old World or the New, who either ignore, trample upon, or extirpate, the racial, religious, or political minorities within the sphere of their jurisdiction, every organized community enlisted under the banner of Bahá'u'lláh should feel it to be its first and inescapable obligation to nurture, encourage, and safeguard every minority belonging to any faith, race, class, or nation within it. So great and vital is this principle that in such circumstances, as when an equal number of ballots have been cast in an election, or where the qualifications for any office are balanced as between the various races, faiths or nationalities within the community, priority should unhesitatingly be accorded the party representing the minority, and this for no other reason except to stimulate and encourage it, and afford it an opportunity to further the interests of the community. In the light of this principle, and bearing in mind the extreme desirability of having the minority elements participate and share responsibility  36  in the conduct of Bahá'í activity, it should be the duty of every Bahá'í community so to arrange its affairs that in cases where individuals belonging to the divers minority elements within it are already qualified and fulfill the necessary requirements, Bahá'í representative institutions, be they Assemblies, conventions, conferences, or committees, may have represented on them as many of these divers elements, racial or otherwise, as possible. The adoption of such a course, and faithful adherence to it, would not only be a source of inspiration and encouragement to those elements that are numerically small and inadequately represented, but would demonstrate to the world at large the universality and representative character of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, and the freedom of His followers from the taint of those prejudices which have already wrought such havoc in the domestic affairs, as well as the foreign relationships, of the nations.

Freedom from racial prejudice, in any of its forms, should, at such a time as this when an increasingly large section of the human race is falling a victim to its devastating ferocity, be adopted as the watchword of the entire body of the American believers, in whichever state they reside, in whatever circles they move, whatever their age, traditions, tastes, and habits. It should be consistently demonstrated in every phase of their activity and life, whether in the Bahá'í community or outside it, in public or in private, formally as well as informally, individually as well as in their official capacity as organized groups, committees and Assemblies. It should be deliberately cultivated through the various and everyday opportunities, no matter how insignificant, that present themselves, whether in their homes, their business offices, their schools and colleges, their social parties and recreation grounds, their Bahá'í meetings, conferences, conventions, summer schools and Assemblies. It should, above all else, become the keynote of the policy of that august body which, in its capacity as the national representative, and the director and coordinator of the affairs of the community,  must set the example, and facilitate the application of such a vital principle to the lives and activities of those whose interests it safeguards and represents.

"O ye discerning ones!" Bahá'u'lláh has written, "Verily, the words which have descended from the heaven of the Will of God are the source of unity and harmony for the world. Close your eyes to racial differences, and welcome all with the light of oneness." "We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations," He proclaims, "...that all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled." " Bahá'u'lláh hath said," writes 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "that the various races of humankind lend a composite harmony and beauty of color to the whole. Let all associate, therefore, in this great human garden even as flowers grow and blend together side by side without discord or disagreement between them." " Bahá'u'lláh," 'Abdu'l-Bahá moreover has said, "once compared the colored people to the black pupil of the eye surrounded by the white. In this black pupil is seen the reflection of that which is before it, and through it the light of the spirit shineth forth."

"God," 'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself declares, "maketh no distinction between the white and the black. If the hearts are pure both are acceptable unto Him. God is no respecter of persons on account of either color or race. All colors are acceptable unto Him, be they white, black, or yellow. Inasmuch as all were created in the image of God, we must bring ourselves to realize that all embody divine possibilities." "In the estimation of God," He states, "all men are equal. There is no distinction or preference for any soul, in the realm of His justice and equity." "God did not make these divisions," He affirms; "these divisions have had their origin in man himself. Therefore, as they are against the plan and purpose of God they are false and imaginary." "In the estimation of God," He again affirms, "there is no distinction of color; all are one in the color and beauty of servitude to Him. Color is not important; the heart is all-important. It mattereth not what the exterior may be if the heart is pure and white within. God doth not behold differences  38  of hue and complexion. He looketh at the hearts. He whose morals and virtues are praiseworthy is preferred in the presence of God; he who is devoted to the Kingdom is most beloved. In the realm of genesis and creation the question of color is of least importance." "Throughout the animal kingdom," He explains, "we do not find the creatures separated because of color. They recognize unity of species and oneness of kind. If we do not find color distinction drawn in a kingdom of lower intelligence and reason, how can it be justified among human beings, especially when we know that all have come from the same source and belong to the same household? In origin and intention of creation mankind is one. Distinctions of race and color have arisen afterward." "Man is endowed with superior reasoning power and the faculty of perception"; He further explains, "he is the manifestation of divine bestowals. Shall racial ideas prevail and obscure the creative purpose of unity in his kingdom?" "One of the important questions," He significantly remarks, "which affect the unity and the solidarity of mankind is the fellowship and equality of the white and colored races. Between these two races certain points of agreement and points of distinction exist which warrant just and mutual consideration. The points of contact are many.... In this country, the United States of America, patriotism is common to both races; all have equal rights to citizenship, speak one language, receive the blessings of the same civilization, and follow the precepts of the same religion. In fact numerous points of partnership and agreement exist between the two races, whereas the one point of distinction is that of color. Shall this, the least of all distinctions, be allowed to separate you as races and individuals?" "This variety in forms and coloring," He stresses, "which is manifest in all the kingdoms is according to creative Wisdom and hath a divine purpose." "The diversity in the human family," He claims, "should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord." "If you meet," is His admonition, "those of a different race and color from yourself, do not mistrust them, and withdraw yourself into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness." "In the world of being," He testifies, "the meeting is  39  blessed when the white and colored races meet together with infinite spiritual love and heavenly harmony. When such meetings are established, and the participants associate with each other with perfect love, unity and kindness, the angels of the Kingdom praise them, and the Beauty of Bahá'u'lláh addresseth them, 'Blessed are ye! Blessed are ye!'" "When a gathering of these two races is brought about," He likewise asserts, "that assemblage will become the magnet of the Concourse on high, and the confirmation of the Blessed Beauty will surround it." "Strive earnestly," He again exhorts both races, "and put forth your greatest endeavor toward the accomplishment of this fellowship and the cementing of this bond of brotherhood between you. Such an attainment is not possible without will and effort on the part of each; from one, expressions of gratitude and appreciation; from the other, kindliness and recognition of equality. Each one should endeavor to develop and assist the other toward mutual advancement.... Love and unity will be fostered between you, thereby bringing about the oneness of mankind. For the accomplishment of unity between the colored and white will be an assurance of the world's peace." "I hope," He thus addresses members of the white race, "that ye may cause that downtrodden race to become glorious, and to be joined with the white race, to serve the world of man with the utmost sincerity, faithfulness, love, and purity. This opposition, enmity, and prejudice among the white race and the colored cannot be effaced except through faith, assurance, and the teachings of the Blessed Beauty." "This question of the union of the white and the black is very important," He warns, "for if it is not realized, erelong great difficulties will arise, and harmful results will follow." "If this matter remaineth without change," is yet another warning, "enmity will be increased day by day, and the final result will be hardship and may end in bloodshed."

A tremendous effort is required by both races if their outlook, their manners, and conduct are to reflect, in this darkened age, the spirit and teachings of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. Casting away once and for all the fallacious doctrine of racial superiority, with all its attendant evils, confusion, and miseries, and welcoming and encouraging the intermixture  40  of races, and tearing down the barriers that now divide them, they should each endeavor, day and night, to fulfill their particular responsibilities in the common task which so urgently faces them. Let them, while each is attempting to contribute its share to the solution of this perplexing problem, call to mind the warnings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and visualize, while there is yet time, the dire consequences that must follow if this challenging and unhappy situation that faces the entire American nation is not definitely remedied.

Let the white make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem, to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race, to persuade them through their intimate, spontaneous and informal association with them of the genuineness of their friendship and the sincerity of their intentions, and to master their impatience of any lack of responsiveness on the part of a people who have received, for so long a period, such grievous and slow-healing wounds. Let the Negroes, through a corresponding effort on their part, show by every means in their power the warmth of their response, their readiness to forget the past, and their ability to wipe out every trace of suspicion that may still linger in their hearts and minds. Let neither think that the solution of so vast a problem is a matter that exclusively concerns the other. Let neither think that such a problem can either easily or immediately be resolved. Let neither think that they can wait confidently for the solution of this problem until the initiative has been taken, and the favorable circumstances created, by agencies that stand outside the orbit of their Faith. Let neither think that anything short of genuine love, extreme patience, true humility, consummate tact, sound initiative, mature wisdom, and deliberate, persistent, and prayerful effort, can succeed in blotting out the stain which this patent evil has left on the fair name of their common country. Let them rather believe, and be firmly convinced,  41  that on their mutual understanding, their amity, and sustained cooperation, must depend, more than on any other force or organization operating outside the circle of their Faith, the deflection of that dangerous course so greatly feared by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and the materialization of the hopes He cherished for their joint contribution to the fulfillment of that country's glorious destiny.

(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 34)