Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ridvan, Ensaf and God’s Peace Plan

Peace Plan

Thoughts on the Second Day of Ridvan

By John Taylor; 2010 April 22, Jalal 13, 167 BE

Yesterday, the first day of Ridvan, was a warm, beautiful day. My 10-year-old son Thomas and I walked and shopped, biked and hiked around Dunnville before the Holy Day and election, which took place in late afternoon.

We have a total of 24 believers in Haldimand, and over half voted; but so few of us are able, willing or active that it pretty much meant that a discernable pulse and a willingness to show your face once a year (and sometimes not even the latter) is sufficient qualification to be elected to the Assembly. One hopeful sign however was an apparent unanimity of opinion among voters as to who should serve. Normally, the Assembly member with the greatest number of votes becomes the convener, who is responsible to arrange the first meeting where the officers are elected. In this case, however, seven of the nine were tied at twelve votes each. Seven convenors? We decided just to leave the job up to the former secretary.

A sad note was that Ron Speer was not re-elected, having moved to Georgetown earlier in the year. He was on the old Dunnville Assembly and later on the amalgamated Haldimand LSA for a total of over thirty years, since its foundation.

Our daily Baha'i class continues unabated. Tomaso insisted that we read God Loves Laughter for what must be the fifth or sixth time. Each time I read it, it is different. One reading I got the impression that Sears' family was run by a father who today would be considered a child abuser. He was always ready to whack his son and Bill as a result became closer to his grandfather. The next reading refuted that thesis. I noticed that Sears was close to his father, and the father with the rest of the family, in spite of the corporal punishment. My father always prided himself that he never hit the five kids he raised; he thought that hitting is an act not only of cowardice but of stupidity – if you cannot outsmart a little tyro like that, you are not really using your brain.

Anyway, Bill Sears' family was probably pretty normal for the time, and if you banished all humour at the expense of fathers you would have to shut down the whole genre of the family sitcom.

Our reading of GLL this time is different. I notice typos that are themselves amusing. The copy we have is clearly the first edition, printed in England. You can see the Hand of the Cause writing something and then an officious copywriter coming along and changing it to something incomprehensible. For example, there is a reference to the Green Bay Packets, instead of the Packers...

This morning, Ridvan Day Two, I lured Thomas out of bed and persuaded him to get ready for school by reading aloud the twelfth chapter of the novel City of Ember, which his teacher read to his Grade Five class, and which he liked so much we are reading it again together. This is youth fiction, with a restricted vocabulary.

For me, when I read a novel the main lure is the author's command of language. If the novelist is not as much poet as storyteller, I rapidly grow bored. So as a way to amuse myself with the author's pedestrian diction, I read with an Oxford accent or Irish brogue, or, as lately, I mimic a famous actor, like John Wayne or, lately, Christopher Walkin. This is surprisingly difficult to do, because if my parody gets at all noticeable, Thomas, or Silvie before him, immediately stops me and asks that I read in a "normal voice." So I have to keep it very subtle, it has to be an impression, not a send up, or my little accent buzzer goes off.

This morning we were at an exciting point in the novel with much action and suspense, so I was able to push the limits with my accent game. The buzzer went off only once, late in the chapter. By then it was too late. I had actually become Christopher Walkin and I could not shake that broken lilt, that downturn at the end of each sentence, even when I tried. Then came the time for us all to recite our morning prayer and reading. I found that Christopher Walkin can recite the words of Baha'u'llah. The kids protested, "Is that not disrespectful?" I thought not, since Walkin is one of the best orators in the English language. Go onto YouTube and listen to his reading of Poe's "The Raven." It is the best rendition of that poem I have ever heard, including the formidable version by James Earl Jones.

Then as I rushed the kids off to school, I found that Christopher Walkin can speak fluent Esperanto as well. In fact, my impression of his voice is actually better in Esperanto than in English, since for the life of me I cannot do a New York accent. I have been trying to correct that with my usual learning method lately, YouTube videos. A youth by the moniker "Sunghero" gives an excellent little seminar on how to do an impersonation of this actor, and impersonations generally. Sunghero also gives some good situations in which to use a Walkin impression, including awkward silences and approaching members of the opposite sex. Since he is Chinese and speaks with an English accent, among others, I think Sunghero should do a music video showcasing his talent done to the tune of "Secret Agent Man," only with the lyrics changed to "Secret Asian Man." The latter is what my kids go around singing whenever we listen to the Tom Jones CD in our car.

Last week, in Dundas, I attended an inspiring deepening on the Arabic Hidden Words given by Ninaz Shadman. I have been telling everyone who will listen that she is great, not since the Hands were still around have I heard a Baha'i speaker put the pedal to the metal like that; she is the equivalent of a Baha'i Bible-thumper. This term puzzles my kids, and I have to explain that it means that she speaks with verve, vim, passion, all the spiritual uplift that the first AHW says that we should have if we want to be able to say that we got anything out of Baha'u'llah's Writings. All others, in comparison, might well say, in Shakespeare's words in Richard III,

"I have not that alacrity of spirit nor cheer of mind that I was wont to have..."

Better still, Ninaz is familiar with the original languages and does not shy away from using the actual words used by the Central Figures. For example, I learned for the first time the difference between Ensaf, personal justice, and Adalat, social justice, or balance. Thus, when Baha'u'llah says, "The essence of all that I have revealed for thee is justice...," the word He is using is Ensaf, the same term as in the second Arabic Hidden Word. I did not know that. My justice, not ours. In English we just say "justice," we seem to have no distinction between personal and social. This is funny and disconcerting. It makes me feel strange, kind of like it does to let some unknown actor inhabit you and take over your mannerisms and quirks of speech.

Let me close with a frank email exchange that I recently had with a rather conventionally-minded believer about the book I am writing. They wrote:

"There is something I saw in this blog and in others you have written which disturbs me somewhat.  You state that the world government proposed by Comenius "is the most insightful and appealing plan for a world government ever devised." Where does it leave the plan for world government which Baha'u'llah gave us now stand in your opinion? It sometimes seems to me that you have supplanted the Baha'i Faith in your book by idolizing Comenius..."

JET: Dear ----,

My book, People without Borders, will be a work of political science, which as you know, the Guardian encouraged young Baha'is to study. I am comparing Comenius's design of a world government with other plans made up by world federalists and political scientists.  I would not compare the Plan of God to what any man has thought up, if only because nobody knows how God's inscrutable Plan will play out.

When Baha'is speak of the Plan we do not refer to any detailed plan for a world government, since we are non-political. The Guardian was emphatic that we not advocate any scheme for a world government, nor are we to put forward a political platform. Nor did Baha'u'llah try to make up any detailed design of a world government, although He did advocate the attempt by kings and leaders, not by Baha'is. He forbids such meddling by His followers in the Kitab-i-Ahd.

Besides, since Comenius's plan is based on Biblical teaching, I'd say that his plan is to a large extent God's plan, and that he would presumably have submitted to Baha'u'llah had he lived a few centuries later. I am intentionally not mentioning Baha'i in this book, for several reasons. I may follow it with a book that does, I certainly have lots of material.

Thank you for reading along, and feel free to mention any further problems that occur to you.

Response: "Dear John, Thanks very much for your clarification. That will certainly help me to understand your future essays."


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