May 29, 2013

'religious prejudices'

below is a speech addressing religious prejudice -- one of the greatest causes of war and disunity in the world.  it conveys the vital need for love and unity amongst the followers of all religions. 

this address was offered by Abdu'l-Baha in Paris in the early 1900's:


The basis of the teaching of Bahá'u'lláh is the Unity of Mankind, and His greatest desire was that love and goodwill should live in the heart of men.

As He exhorted the people to do away with strife and discord, so I wish to explain to you the principal reason of the unrest among nations. The chief cause is the misrepresentation of religion by the religious leaders and teachers. They teach their followers to believe that their own form of religion is the only one pleasing to God, and that followers of any other persuasion are condemned by the All-Loving Father and deprived of His Mercy and Grace. Hence arise among the peoples, disapproval, contempt, disputes and hatred. If these religious prejudices could be swept away, the nations would soon enjoy peace and concord.

I was once at Tiberias where the Jews have a Temple. I was staying in a house just opposite the Temple, and there I saw and heard a Rabbi speaking to his congregation of Jews, and he spoke thus:

'O Jews, you are in truth the people of God! All other races and religions are of the devil. God has created you the descendants of Abraham, and He has showered His blessings upon you. Unto you God sent Moses, Jacob and Joseph, and many other great prophets. These prophets, one and all, were of your race.

'It was for you that God broke the power of Pharaoh and caused the Red Sea to dry up; to you also He sent manna from above to be your food, and out of the stony rock did He give you water to quench your thirst. You are indeed the chosen people of God, you are above all the races of the earth! Therefore, all other races are abhorrent to God, and condemned by Him. In truth you will govern and subdue the world, and all men shall become your slaves.

'Do not profane yourselves by consorting with people who are not of your own religion, make not friends of such men.'

When the Rabbi had finished his eloquent discourse, his hearers were filled with joy and satisfaction. It is impossible to describe to you their happiness!

Alas! It is misguided ones like these who are the cause of division and hatred upon earth. Today there are millions of people who still worship idols, and the great religions of the world are at war among themselves. For 1,300 years, Christians and Muslims have been quarrelling, when with very little effort their differences and disputes could be overcome and peace and harmony could exist between them and the world could be at rest!

In the Qur'án we read that Muhammad spoke to his followers, saying:

'Why do you not believe in Christ, and in the Gospel? Why will you not accept Moses and the Prophets, for surely the Bible is the Book of God? In truth, Moses was a sublime Prophet, and Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit. He came to the world through the Power of God, born of the Holy Spirit and of the blessed Virgin Mary. Mary, His mother, was a saint from Heaven. She passed her days in the Temple at prayer and food was sent to her from above. Her father, Zacharias, came to her and asked her from whence the food came, and Mary made answer, "From on high." Surely God made Mary to be exalted above all other women.'

This is what Muhammad taught His people concerning Jesus and Moses, and He reproached them for their lack of faith in these great Teachers, and taught them the lessons of truth and tolerance. Muhammad was sent from God to work among a people as savage and uncivilized as the wild beasts. They were quite devoid of understanding, nor had they any feelings of love, sympathy and pity. Women were so degraded and despised that a man could bury his daughter alive, and he had as many wives to be his slaves as he chose.

Among these half animal people Muhammad was sent with His divine Message. He taught the people that idol worship was wrong, but that they should reverence Christ, Moses and the Prophets. Under His influence they became a more enlightened and civilized people and arose from the degraded state in which He found them. Was not this a good work, and worthy of all praise, respect and love?

Look at the Gospel of the Lord Christ and see how glorious it is! Yet even today men fail to understand its priceless beauty, and misinterpret its words of wisdom.

Christ forbade war! When the disciple Peter, thinking to defend his Lord, cut off the ear of the servant of the High Priest, Christ said to him: 'Put up thy sword into the sheath'.[1] Yet, in spite of the direct command of the Lord they profess to serve -- men still dispute, make war, and kill one another, and His counsels and teaching seem quite forgotten.
[1 St John xviii, 11.]

But do not therefore attribute to the Masters and Prophets the evil deeds of their followers. If the priests, teachers and people, lead lives which are contrary to the religion they profess to follow, is that the fault of Christ or the other Teachers?

The people of Islam were taught to realize how Jesus came from God and was born of the Spirit, and that He must be glorified of all men. Moses was a prophet of God, and revealed in His day and for the people to whom He was sent, the Book of God.

Muhammad recognized the sublime grandeur of Christ and the greatness of Moses and the prophets. If only the whole world would acknowledge the greatness of Muhammad and all the Heaven-sent Teachers, strife and discord would soon vanish from the face of the earth, and God's Kingdom would come among men.

The people of Islam who glorify Christ are not humiliated by so doing.

Christ was the Prophet of the Christians, Moses of the Jews -- why should not the followers of each prophet recognize and honour the other prophets also? If men could only learn the lesson of mutual tolerance, understanding, and brotherly love, the unity of the world would soon be an established fact.

Bahá'u'lláh spent His life teaching this lesson of Love and Unity. Let us then put away from us all prejudice and intolerance, and strive with all our hearts and souls to bring about understanding and unity between Christians and Muslims.

 ~ Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 48

May 22, 2013

new hip hop artist ~ Ridvan Tu'itahi


a dear friend of mine just introduced me to Ridvan Tu'itahi, her nephew from Tonga.  he has a fresh style that reminds me of Tupac.  i was immediately taken by his story and then felt taken back to a time when rap was full of lyrics and meaning.  i love how rap has spread around the world and touched many young people's lives in positive ways.  i hope his music spreads from the south Pacific and touches many lives throughout the rest of the world.

i love listening to rhythms that move me, that penetrate my heart and enable me to feel connected to the Oneness of our humanity.  i especially love hip hop (without profanity).  it tells a story.  it introduces a message.  it makes you reflect.  sometimes it reminds you of what's wrong with the world, or what morals have declined but it's honest.  it's in my veins as if it's a part of me even though i'm far removed from the world in which its being told. the beats and rhymes have been reverberating through me for more than 25 years.. 

May 21, 2013

keepin' it real

security guards in Accra
i appreciate knowing people who wake before dawn, travel to work without comfort, earn so little they can barely survive, and smile with radiance no matter how tired, hungry or hot they are..

an Ewe neighbor who spends most of her day outside of her house cleaning, cooking & caring for her children
i enjoy being with women who sweep away ants and debris from their outside living area everyday before cooking outside on dirt floors; who know how to manage a baby on their backs while carrying a heavy basin of water on their heads; who are not embarrassed to nurse in front of others; who listen to their transistor radio while washing, cooking and hanging out; and who manage amazingly well while their husband is gone most of the time..

Madiba..a radiant and magnanimous soul
i admire people who become radiantly acquiescent through experiencing tremendous difficulties, who turn away from temptations of this world because they love God more than themselves, and who have suffered through the atrocities of war, injustice and oppression..

..these souls keep me real, humbled, grateful and in awe of the human spirit..

May 14, 2013

mother's day ~ a surprise gift

    "If the mother is educated then her children will be well taught. When the mother is wise, then will the children be led into the path of wisdom. If the mother be religious she will show her children how they should love God. If the mother is moral she guides her little ones into the ways of uprightness.

    It is clear therefore that the future generation depends on the mothers of today."
 ~ Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 161

i woke up yesterday not expecting anything special for Mother's Day.  my husband is out of town and the kids are not inundated with media marketing here in Ghana so they forget these kinds of things.

all i felt throughout the day was gratitude for our family.  we have built a foundation of love that surpasses all of the temporary tests of life and it made me deeply happy and thankful..

my heart was focused on bringing joy to the mamas down the road by baking them a heart-shaped cake to share.  i found myself thinking of my Xhosa mama friends whose lives are full of hardships and i sent them all an sms to wish them a happy Mother's Day.  my heart was full of thankfulness for my mom, my step-mom, and my dear friends -- all from whom i have been nurtured and loved, supported and inspired, uplifted and enriched.  to me, it was a day of feeling interconnected with all mothers in the world and remembering the exalted station we have in the sight of God.  i called my mom and step-mom, wrote a few friends and reached out to many of my African was a good day.

tonight i received an unexpected surprise from my 12 year old son: a belated Mother's Day card.  he decided to make me a card with these words inside because he didn't remember yesterday:

i couldn't be more thankful for my son's reflections today.  what a gift from his soul to mine.  certainly i have many moments of doubting my words of good counsel, or regretting my tone of voice, and becoming impatient when the moments become overwhelming.  these words are a sign of how the love and grace of God is all-pervasive in our lives as we continually strive to be better as mothers and fathers.

May 09, 2013

opposing forces within man

"There are two contrasting forces working within man, the animal nature and the spiritual one. Self and passion may be described as the expression of the animal nature in the life of man, that nature which tends to drag him down into the abyss of material existence. On the other hand, the soul, which emanates from the spiritual worlds of God, becomes, if illumined with the light of faith, the motive power for the elevation of man into the realms of the spirit. One brings about his perishing on this earth, the other confers eternal life in the realms of God.

"These two opposing forces within man are similar to the force of gravity pulling down a bird and the force of its wings lifting it upwards. As long as man turns away from the Manifestation of God -- in this day Bahá'u'lláh -- his soul is in darkness and devoid of the necessary power to lift itself up from the fetters of this mortal world. The animal nature becomes victor and the soul a bond-slave of self and passion."

 ~ Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha'u'llah v 3, p. 35 

after getting the kids off to school, i sit down with a french-pressed cup of black coffee to relax and read some news before a full day of activity begins.  i peruse the headlines of the BBC, the New York Times and Aljazeera on my iGoogle page.  i overlook the political ones and try to find ones that look worthy of attention or interesting..

today i was attracted to a headline highlighting '10,000 political prisoners jailed in Eritrea'.  i immediately wondered how and why such a large number of people could be imprisoned.  after reading about the elusiveness of how Eritrea governs itself, my eye was drawn to the chilling and unthinkably devastating and deplorably horrendous headline about Congolese soldiers raping children.  this is the moment when serenity left my heart and the coffee lost its flavor..

as a Baha'i who feels like a cell that's intricately connected with every other cell in the body of humanity, this kind of atrocity against people, especially children -- and rape being of the category of the most despicable of crimes violating the dignity of a female -- leaves me in that state where my stomach feels sick.  humanity is sick with these spiritual diseases; it needs every cell to be healthy and to strengthen the body like the immune cells work together to combat disease.  when i feel that aching and disgust of our fellow human beings treating the human family in unimaginably terrible ways, i draw upon my spiritual powers and resolve once again to do my part -- to banishing ignorant prejudice from hearts by demonstrating unconditional love to all i can in every possible circumstance; to explaining to boys and men how humanity is like a bird with one wing being the women who must be respectfully treated and just as able to help the bird soar; to validating every person who feels less than others who are materially and usually educationally more advanced than they are; and to touching every girl and boy i meet and know with the love of God in order to infuse such love into their own hearts so that they will never want to hurt anyone..

in the scheme of humanity's evolution we are experiencing a phenomenal emergence into all that is possible to ultimately achieve world peace -- the purpose underlying all that is enabling humanity to become one beautifully diverse human family -- but before that cherished dream is attained, the ravages of rape, war and other atrocities against human beings proliferates because there are still too many people without the divine Teachings from God for this Day..

i am living at this extraordinary time for a definite purpose of which i ponder and strive consciously to fulfill each day.  i am investing as much energy as i can toward the betterment of the world, upon which depends each of us making choices that are worthy of our high station as human beings.

the world has become so known, so full of information, of media and images, which provides us limitless opportunities to connect, to learn, to build bridges of understanding, etc.  but it also provides a darkened heart a vehicle for evil to spread.  i search for the good, the social, educational and economic advancements, the ecological restorations, the progressive discoveries, the interesting innovations, and the spiritual victories.  i immerse myself in the world with the intent that it will not harm or hurt my spirit, cloud my judgment, steal my energy, darken my outlook, or disturb my mind.

as much as i consciously make decisions to protect my spirit from the impact of all that pertains to the disintegration and degradation of humanity, each day i must put on my spiritual armor of prayer, recitation of the holy Word of God, selfless service and striving to exemplify a high standard of conduct to combat those forces which pollute my spirit and weigh down the wings of my soul..

May 03, 2013

service project ~ creating beauty in the community

 it took weeks of practicing consultation to make a decision and plan a service project, but finally the 'gems of justice' group agreed on creating a flower garden along a public pathway near my home.

they first went and got permission from the neighbor along whose wall it touches.  she was happy to have the weeds gone and some plants growing against her compound wall.

weeding and clearing out rocks & other debris
they came back and wrote down the materials they would need -- i explained to them that i had extra chicken fertilizer and cow manure that they could use to enrich the soil.  they agreed that each member would contribute what they could afford to create a fund to buy the plants.  one member said that he wouldn't be able to offer any money and they all supported him, saying that it was ok.

when most of the jr. youth were on school holiday, we spent a couple of hours clearing the land, mixing in chicken fertilizer and cow manure, and carrying cement blocks to form a barrier around it.

mixing in fertilizer & manure
the next morning we drove to a plant nursery with their money and talked about the principles of consultation before they walked around to choose the plants.  they understood that it was most important to listen to everyone's ideas and to find agreement before deciding which plants to choose.  i stayed in the car while they worked together -- they were thinking about cost as well as the type of plant, whether it would grow to be a bush or a tall and slender plant, etc.

filling up water at my house to carry to the garden
they returned to the car very happy that they had purchased 6 very diverse plants with their very own money (which was a small amount).  they suggested coming back later to plant them since the sun was very hot by the time we were finished shopping for the plants.  the heavy rains came so a few days passed until 4 of them returned to arrange the plants in the garden.  this part of the project was the most fun -- loosening the packed soil, digging holes, arranging the plants, watering them & covering them with some fertilizer.
almost done; enjoying how the garden looks
applying chicken fertilizer after watering the plants
they learned a lot about how to create a healthy garden for plants, as well as how to value each person's contribution in the process of applying skills and making decisions.  they needed some spiritual guidance along the pathway of learning but truly mined their own gems in making this service project a success!

friendship growing through working together :)

May 01, 2013

struggling for survival

today is May Day, a public holiday in 80 countries around the world.  i never knew about it growing up in America.  now that i have lived in South Africa and Ghana, i have become well acquainted with the conditions and complaints of workers who receive so little pay and have very few rights for the hard work they perform.

after reading about today's global protests, i reflected on how people here in Ghana are struggling to survive.  i don't hear anyone protesting, and i see a lot of workers still working hard even though it's supposed to be a public holiday.  i know that great economic disparities still exist and are being exacerbated every time there is an increase in the price of fuel, but people acquiesce and make adjustments in small and big ways.

the day following the latest hike in fuel prices resulted in an increase in every commodity that people purchase.  everything that is transported was affected -- from tomatoes to biscuits and toilet paper.   the common person in Ghana cannot afford most of what is being sold in the supermarkets so they depend on a reasonable rate at the local markets and roadside food stands which provide most of the meals eaten by those who are working outside of their home.  when they go to buy a meal now they receive a smaller portion for the price they were paying before.  some merchants who are trying to sell goods are selling less or are going out of business.  others raise their prices too much or are less flexible to bargain.  many workers choose to walk long distances to save money on transport; they are very aware of how little they make and how much it costs to travel to work or transport goods back to their shop.  overall, the working poor eat less, save nothing, borrow more and experience suffering in ways that are very difficult..

these are some examples of 'untold stories' amongst people i know who work hard each and every day:
  • sleeping outside (and being eaten by mosquitoes) when the electricity goes out because it's so hot inside without a fan to generate a cool breeze
  • living without electricity in a flat-board make-shift home where the ants crawl under the mosquito net and disturb sleeping (especially the babies)
  • husband working 6 days a week while the wife earns money cleaning, selling or styling hair -- they don't earn enough to pay for their youth's high school fees so they feel forced to borrow money which they will never be able to pay back
  • no extra money for a band-aid to cover an open wound, or a pencil when it breaks, or transport to attend a funeral
  • kids without shoes.. kids wearing flip flops that are worn out.. kids wearing flip flops that are too small.. kids wearing clothes that are too big or too small.. kids wearing the same clothes over and over again.. kids not knowing what shampoo is because they have only ever washed their head with a bar of soap.. kids not attending school because their parents can't afford the basic school fees, or notebooks, or uniform.. kids not being able to study after 6pm because it's dark and there is no electricity to light their home.. kids forced to sell goods on their heads instead of going to school.. kids being caned at school.. and beaten by their parents.. kids longing for unconditional love and attention.. kids smiling even though their daily life is full of extreme hardship
  • guards working 72 hours a week, earning about $50/month, while receiving no benefits and abusive supervisors -- most are underweight and experience hunger because the people and businesses they serve do not care enough to share anything they have with them (like a meal)
the 'midnight sighing of the poor', which Baha'u'llah admonishes us to hear, is a daily rhythm for my heart as i see and hear about so much hardship from the injustices of how society is built.  this guidance from Abdu'l-Baha is the key toward resolving all of these struggles:
"In the world of nature the dominant note is the struggle for existence -- the result of  which is the survival of the fittest. The law of the survival of the fittest is the origin of all difficulties. It is the cause of war and strife, hatred and animosity, between human beings. In the world of nature there is tyranny, egoism, aggression, overbearance,
usurpation of the rights of others and other blameworthy attributes which are defects of the animal world. Therefore, so long as the requirements of the natural world play
paramount part among the children of men, success and prosperity are impossible. Nature is warlike, nature is bloodthirsty, nature is tyrannical, for nature is unaware of God the Almighty. That is why these cruel qualities are natural to the animal world.
Therefore the Lord of mankind, having great love and mercy, has caused the appearance of the prophets and the revelation of the Holy Books, so that through divine education
humanity may be released from the corruption of nature and the darkness of ignorance, be confirmed with ideal virtues and spiritual attributes, and become the dawning-place of merciful emotions...
A hundred thousand times, alas! that ignorant prejudice, unnatural differences and antagonistic principles are yet displayed by the nations of the world toward one another,
thus causing the retardation of general progress.  This retrogression comes from the fact that the principles of divine civilization are completely abandoned, and the teachings of the prophets are forgotten."

    (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha'u'llah and the New Era, p. 156)