18 August 2017

Vanquishing Racism






"Woe to the vanquished!" Shouted Brennus as he threw his sword on the scales. He had just finished sacking Rome and was weighing out the 1,000 pounds of gold that the defending Romans would pay to ransom the remainder of the city. After a complaint that the scales were rigged, he threw his sword on the weights because, well, he could.

That was 390 BCE. The Romans took that motto to heart. By 51 BCE Julius Caesar was using the same phrase as he conquered and crushed all of Gaul, where the descendants of Brennus lived. Out of an estimated three million Gauls, Romans killed one million of them, and took another million into slavery.

When I was in Spain I saw a Roman triumphal arch that was placed there to celebrate the Romans conquering the land. I was confused as to why people would allow the arch to remain, celebrating someone else's conquest, so I asked about it. My friend said, "We are the Romans." That's how total the vanquishing was. The indigenous never fought for their independence, because they stopped existing.

Compare the annihilation practiced by the Romans against the Greeks and Chinese. Ancient China had warring kingdoms, but they all considered themselves Chinese and had a common language and culture, then Qin Shi Huang conquered them all and united them under one empire. Similarly, the ancient Greek city-states were usually in conflict (unless Persia was invading) until Phillip of Macedonia conquered them all and united them into one powerful nation. These conquests weren't annihilation, they were unification.

The kingdom of China went on to be invaded numerous times, most notably by Mongols and Manchus. Each time, the invaders were absorbed into Chinese culture. In other words, within a few generations the invading culture no longer existed. The advanced civilization of the Chinese, with its technology, wealth, history, arts, and literature was so desirable that everyone who observed it tried to emulate it. In other examples, the Chinese empire spread simply by absorbing willing neighboring states who wanted to be part of the civilized world.

When Phillip's son Alexander took his greek army and conquered the Persian (Achaemenid) Empire it was like the barbarian Mongols invading China. Alexander was an outsider conquering the civilized world. Pretty soon he started dressing and acting like a Persian, and after his death the invading army was absorbed into Persian culture. These examples were conversions.



America

Nowadays, America has the desirable culture and language, and most of the world is absorbing it. The soft power of Hollywood and Silicon Valley make America the most attractive place to be. But internally, the United States is a mess when it comes to dealing with race and the legacy of slavery. We just had a rough weekend where an innocent girl was killed for peacefully protesting against open and ugly racism.

I feel like we're sitting at a proverbial crossroads. Leading up to the 21st century the side of racial unity and equality was winning by conversion. The bulk of America's social power was directed at promoting the virtues of diversity and affirmative action. It is now socially unacceptable to hold openly racist views.


Then a series of things happened that changed the dynamic.
  1. Barack Obama was elected
  2. Social media became a thing
  3. Same-sex marriage was normalized
  4. Donald Trump was elected
These things are all related. Negative racial stereotypes actually went down in America from the 1960s to the 2000s. By 2010 and later, old fashioned racism saw a rise.

Obama being elected brought race into politics in a new way. It polarized, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It took the people who were on a continuum of racial justice and pushed most people, already converted, to the side of unity; while others were pulled to the side of division. It also for the first time since the 1960s gave people a chance to vote on race relations. Consider that Obama's predecessor was a Republican, hotly reviled on the left, who was an outspoken supporter of racial justice. There was nowhere for racist votes to go until Barack Obama came along.

The Internet also polarized. Before the 1990s most people got their news from a few monolithic sources of popular culture. With the Internet, fringe groups could flourish and people gravitated to the news sources that fit their own biases. This was already happening to some extent, but the Internet allowed people to leave the mega-culture that was pushing for racial unity. Social media then allowed people with overtly racist attitudes to connect with each other easily. It only takes about 40 people sharing their views to give them the confidence to put on rallies and take action. Social media is what connected the disparate "patriot" groups who took over the wildlife refuge in Oregon last year. Social media, with its groomed list of friends, creates an echo chamber for outrage.

Throughout this same period, America experienced a new kind of cultural conversion. Around the time a majority of Americans became accepting of same-sex marriage, the US Supreme Court decided that it was a right nationwide. The language and tactics of the affirming side tried to mirror the civil rights movement, and indeed the issue continues to be presented by media as the next inevitable step to clear away oppression, and anyone opposing it would be treated the same as the social outcasts who clung to slavery. This added fuel to conservatives who then felt like they were fighting for their lives and decided to push hard on the rejecting side. This presentation by the media backfired, in my opinion, by causing a large number of marginal or un-opinionated Americans to feel abandoned by the megaculture and seek to undermine it, and in the process align themselves against racial unity along with the whole political agenda of the left, including healthcare and immigration.

This mix of political, racial, and sexual issues aligned with another trend. Political power has swung back and forth between the duopoly for the last hundred years. From the time of Taft until now there were only three times that a party held the White House for more than two terms. Likewise, in the last 20 mid-term elections, the US House of Representatives lost seats to the president's party 90% of the time. So the political winds were already blowing toward the Republicans when Trump took over the nomination, and he picked up votes as a rejection of popular culture, not all of which were about race, but the racist votes that had nowhere to go previously had a direct target. The rest of America felt sick, while Trump supporters cheered his subversion of the far left.

It is of critical importance that America address the issue of racism in America and eradicate it. That is why I'm writing, because the far left is screwing it up. They have given up on converting and they're now shouting, "Woe to the vanquished!" while they annihilate their political opponents.



Extremism

As liberal views become more extreme and militant, they become less effective at converting people to their side. Look no further than the horror story of liberalism run amok at Evergreen State College for an example, or the many cases of government-funded campuses defunding or banning people who criticize liberal ideals. In the name of spreading tolerance, there are frequent calls to shun anyone they perceive as intolerant. While holding signs against hate, they are filled with hate for the haters. While rightfully angry at the displays of intolerance in Charlottesville, people throughout the country are now seeking out confederate monuments to vandalize or destroy, sometimes while mocking the police officers trying to stop the mob. White nationalist marchers have already been identified, lost their jobs, and are getting credible death threats. The lawlessness of it does matter.

In the days after the 2016 election, Robby Soave wrote,

"...political correctness actually is a problem on college campuses, where the far-left has gained institutional power and used it to punish people for saying or thinking the wrong thing. And ever since Donald Trump became a serious threat to win the GOP presidential primaries... a lot of people, both on campus and off it, were furious about political-correctness-run-amok—so furious that they would give power to any man who stood in opposition to it.
"I have watched this play out on campus after campus. I have watched dissident student groups invite Milo Yiannopoulos to speak—not because they particularly agree with his views, but because he denounces censorship and undermines political correctness. I have watched students cheer his theatrics, his insulting behavior, and his narcissism solely because the enforcers of campus goodthink are outraged by it. It's not about his ideas, or policies. It's not even about him. It's about vengeance for social oppression."
It reminds me of this conversation:
Batman: I'm going to kill you!
Joker: You idiot! You made me, remember? You dropped me into that vat of chemicals...
Batman: You killed my parents... I made you; you made me first.
Not easy to untangle. The left's intolerance is increasing the intolerance on the right. "But the other side is wronger!"

Ideas of racial superiority need to be vanquished and annihilated through just laws and conversion, not by shaming, shunning, and acting lawlessly toward those holding onto the legacy of slavery.


Daryl Davis

This is Daryl.
Daryl converts, he doesn't vanquish.
Be like Daryl.
A wonderful example of this is Daryl Davis, a black man who convinced hundreds of KKK members to disavow their beliefs. Daryl was the son of a Foreign Service Officer and went around the world attending integrated international schools. He was oblivious of the racism in his home country until he came home at the age of 10 and found it very odd that people would hate him because of the color of skin. As an adult, he made it his hobby to seek out and befriend racists. He now has a collection of KKK memorabilia that were abandoned by his friends. He says,
“Give them a platform. You challenge them. But you don’t challenge them rudely or violently. You do it politely and intelligently. And when you do things that way chances are they will reciprocate and give you a platform.”
When I look at how the left are responding to racists, I see them one-upping each other on how mean they can be to anyone with even unconscious prejudice. Just this week, I've heard that you should talk to your family about racism, and if they're not on board with racial justice, shun them. I've heard that white people should shut up and stop talking about racism and let black people lead. I've heard that white people should raise their voices and if you're not outraged on social media, you're passivity is criminal. I've heard that we can't talk about any other cause for social justice unless we're also talking about racial equality in the United States. I've heard that the white nationalist marchers should have been tear gassed. I've heard that society should be intolerant of intolerance, otherwise we end up with Hitler. I've heard that the pinnacle of not being racist are those counter-protesters who violently opposed the marchers. The left are trying to vanquish the opponents, not the ideas.


Remembering the past

There is a nuanced debate about how to handle the memory of slavery and the Civil War. That is a legitimate debate, and listening to people's complaints doesn't mean that we have to honor the defenders of slavery.

A special committee at Princeton University investigated how to handle the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, who was president of the school before becoming president of the country. Princeton has a Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs that includes some great big portraits of him and plaques describing how great he was. But he was also quite racist. He segregated the already desegregated military and mentioned how slavery wasn't so bad because blacks were treated well. Students began demanding that his picture and name be removed from the school. The committee decided to keep the name of the school and honor his contributions, but also acknowledge in plaques and memory that he was a racist shithead.


If the left approaches the issue of legacy with a torch to anything that stinks of slavery, then the whole country will go up in flames. Statues of Thomas Jefferson have become the focal point of eradicating racism in several universities. Indeed, there is a contingent among the social justice crowd that wants to strike at the very legitimacy of America, of which George Washington is the real symbol. Washington owned over 300 slaves at Mt Vernon until the end of his life, although he freed them in his will. I'm not opposed to pressing reset on America, but I'm also not opposed to having a polite, rational debate over how to properly remember both the good and the bad. And I haven't even touched the Native American question yet.


Evangelize

There are a lot of good hearted people out there across America who don't consciously harbor any idea of racial superiority. However, there's an awful lot of unconscious biases that perpetuate injustice, in varying levels across pretty much every American of any color. We all need to work on becoming more enlightened to a positive bias towards black skin, but especially the mass of conservative, rural, and white folks who don't even interact with black people on a daily basis. Those who need it the most are being driven away by the antics on the far left. They are being driven away by the powerful popular culture that lumps racial equity in with a bunch of political ideologies that they don't want. Their way of life is being mocked. They don't want to be told that if they're not out there protesting, then they're part of the problem. That doesn't work. It drives them away to the other side. They are not even watching your social media tirade, if you can believe that.

So get out there and evangelize. First listen, befriend, look for the good, and then convert through enlightened conversation.

I'll end with one personal example. The cleaning guy at my work comes around at the end of every day and usually talks to the people still there. He is not a sympathizer of the torch-wielding racists, but he is somewhere in between them and your aunt who has little figurines of black kids selling watermelons for 5 cents ("It's okay, cause I bought them from a black man in New Orleans."). The cleaning guy is my friend and we talk about aliens and artificial intelligence. He says a lot of crazy things that I mostly let go. One day he casually mentioned that Africans are inferior, "you know, genetically." My mind made three snaps and went, 'Oh no you didn't!' I politely corrected him and by the time I was done he agreed that black people are not inferior, but have been subjected to media bias. I converted him.

14 August 2017

Thoughts on the Far Right

I originally wrote this in September of 2009. At first I didn't share it here to avoid the association it might give the Baha'i Faith to a political ideology. After the white nationalists killing someone in Virginia this weekend, my thoughts went back to this, and now I feel compelled to share:

--------------------------------------------------------------

Today is my last day of 12 weeks working in Redmond, OR, and exactly 8 years after I woke up to the radio telling me that the tower had just fallen in New York. As I sit here waiting for ice to contract my thigh tissue and heal a pulled muscle, my thoughts keep going back to the rise of the right over the last few years.

Three years ago I went from attending the largest university in Oregon, surrounded by hundreds of well-educated people my age that shared common views of the world, to working at a company where the average employee is 56 and lives outside of a big city. The transition took me from discussions about development and sustainability to discussions about how the government wants to take away our guns and tax us more.


Going through the presidential campaign in the company was another eye opener. In Portland I would see Obama signs in every yard for blocks and blocks, and hear people make comments like, "How could anyone not vote for Obama." Then I would hear others at work wonder, "How could anyone vote for Obama?"

After the election, though, there was a change in tone. A coworker couldn't attend something and explained that it was to attend the Tea Party on tax day, and he very seriously told me that, "This could be one of the most important days of my life." I found that incredibly odd, and later driving together he explained in cryptic words about the 9/12 movement. A quick online search revealed the source as Glenn Beck, one of several radio hosts that also have FOX evening programs.

When I started working, I started listening to NPR. I noticed that every once in awhile they had a slightly left/liberal bias in how they report stories, but generally pretty good. Moving out to Redmond, I decided that I should start listening to the station that plays Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh on the radio, since this was what most people listen to east of the Cascades. I was quickly horrified. The level of outright lying and manipulation was staggering. I can hardly listen a minute without catching some kind of distorted contemptible half-truth. I heard Glenn Beck talk about his "movement" of protesters as if it was a growing militia that he was leading to save the country from internal enemies that have "abandoned the rule of law." I heard Rush Limbaugh say that Obama was, "actively working in opposition to the constitution." I heard Laura Ingraham say that ACORN is a "criminal organisation." I heard Sean Hannity tell everyone that the health care bill is "a total lie and deception on the American people", that it's a Nazi policy, and that it will have death panels killing people off to save the government money. They defended the right to torture. They encouraged listeners to rise up in creative ways in opposition to the government. They said that Obama has a "deep seeded hatred for white people."

But the king of them all is Rush Limbaugh. His show is the highest-rated talk radio show in the US, with over 15 million listeners a week, followed by Sean Hannity, followed by Glenn Beck. During the primaries last year, Rush announced "Operation Chaos", and encouraged his listeners to switch to the democratic party and vote for Hillary Clinton in an attempt to increase division in the party by keeping the primaries going all the way to convention. He later announced that he hopes Obama's presidency fails, and played a song on his show called "Barack the Magic Negro" to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon". His show is constantly attacking and distorting anything related to Obama or liberalism, and building them up as something to fear.

You know the old saying, "follow the money"? Another surprise for me was that the commercials for all these shows were gaining from fear. Their primary sponsor was selling gold, and the ads were spouted directly from the hosts themselves, while they talked about the national debt and inflation. Another common ad was for identity theft and credit protection. Another was selling home security systems. Every single ad that I heard was profiting from people being afraid of other people.

Is it such a surprise then that Congressmen meeting with constituents were shouted down and asked, "Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy, as Obama has?"

If you saw Hotel Rwanda, you heard the Interahamwe radio announcer constantly encouraging the killings. While they're not encouraging murders, and probably never will, the way Rush and Sean and Radio Rwanda communicate to listeners are almost identical: they abuse media power to incite hatred, their listeners are generally less educated, and their power comes from having an enemy.

To emphasize the point, the most recent phenomenon was a string of people bringing hand guns and semi-automatic rifles to protests where Obama was speaking. There is a quote from Thomas Jefferson that goes, "From time to time, the tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of tyrants and patriots." A man with a pistol strapped to his hip held a sign that read, "Now is the time to water the tree of liberty." These people were then hailed by the conservatives as patriots exercising their constitutional rights.

I had to search deep to decide whether there was any credence to the revolutionary ideology being encouraged. My conclusion was: absolutely not. Any perception of totalitarianism only came from half-truths or outright lies. Assuming that these radio hosts are mildly intelligent, I've come to the conclusion that they have essentially intentionally manufactured a crisis for three reasons: money, power, and ego.

In pilgrims' notes from visiting Shoghi Effendi, Ramona Brown noted,
"Americans are exposed to great dangers. Today the power of America is in the hands of the masses. There is a terrific power in the press and the people are swayed by it."

Glenn Beck's 9/12 project was supposed to culminate on September 12th, which is tomorrow. He and tens of thousands of listeners are going to converge on Washington DC, the day after the anniversary of the attacks, and protest against taxes, government, socialism, and the perception that Obama is a fascist who wants to take all their guns away and implement an Orwellian government. At least one of my coworkers will be there. They will continue the protest until Monday, because otherwise nobody will be at work to watch them protest.

The situation will only worsen. The US political system is intentionally divisive. It relies fundamentally on competition and cannot heal its rifts within its constitution. The rise of an angry and emboldened right, convinced by daily rants on the evils of government, will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. They want something to fight against.

The issues with the conservative right are only symptoms of more fundamental problems in society. The system of government needs drastic reforms that can't be accomplished from within. America will need shock medicine to purge it of a distaste for cooperation. It is the excesses of liberty and civilization, and institutionalized partisanship that are causing animosity and aggressiveness.

I believe the world will be united and balanced someday. The absence of a world government is the root of many of society's problems today, and just as a storm will continue until the imbalance that created it is corrected, society will continue to suffer and churn until its institutions and morals are corrected and aligned with God's plan for humanity today.

We live in such an interesting world.

31 July 2017

Waiting for my real life to begin.

I've been told I'm not normal. I sleep too little or too much. My light is usually on when all other lights go out, and though I'm perceived as being a public personality, I'm in fact incredibly private in some ways. When people ask me what my dreams are or how I define success for myself I do not trust to hope and avoid fully answering. I think, "Who's business is that anyway?!"   ~_~   I'd be lying though if I said the fever dreams of success and the fear they awaken, doesn't frequently snatch sleep from me so late, that the light creeps over the rolling hills behind my house, and I abandon my bed to watch the sun rise.

I smell the cool morning air, listen to the birds chirp and remember my younger self. She would romanticize a moment such as this. The so called struggle of the artist. For she has seen it in the books and movies she pours over. This would be the moment in which a character would usually find themselves reflecting and coming to some great epiphany about their lives. Some supporting character might be there helping them solve some problem and inevitably the solution would come like a storm in spring. They would figure everything out and the book, series, or movie would leave them at the high point of their journey and understood positive upswing. I've come to understand more and more that those single scenes in stories really represent for most, years and years of internal struggle and difficulty. But real life stories aren't fast and sexy like book and film.

Its easy to think that that is how life works when you see only fragments of people's lives. The confident and sure veneers. The ones that say, "Look at me! I'm normal and put together, well liked and generally useful to the world." It's easy to be seduced by this simple idea that life goals are meant to be easily won and that mental challenges and basic struggles with motivation, time, and skill sets are personal failings that are entirely due to you just inherently sucking where everyone else succeeds. I think that's why this idea of "Normal" is so popular and so disempowering. Its just a mirage; a hierarchy that the herd subconsciously decides upon and then agrees to based off of what appears to be lowest risk, highest reward, or at least what is predictable.

We humans love our hierarchies...

And so the meandering thoughts tantrum until listening to the birds awaken and taking in the glowing greens of the leaves kissed by new light somehow silences them all and I find a still peace.

I listen to "Waiting for my real life to begin" by Colin Hay and cry tears of relief, hearing my life in his song and for those 5 minutes and 40 seconds, feeling a little less alone in my experience of the world.

I don't wish to be stuck here. But maybe I just have to be patient and persevere. I can't help but thinking I'm at the part of the movie right before the tensions are released, I just have to keep pushing forward. and stop waiting for my "real" life to begin, like everyone else seems to be. I'm living it. And it is as unique and beautiful and as common and basic as the bird songs, the leaves, and the morning light.


18 July 2017

The Decline of Christianity








There is a clear trend in America: religion is on the decline. Go visit just about any church in the United States, and you'll see a lot more retired people than you do college students. This trend shows no signs of reversing. The "unaffiliated" saw a 6.7 point increase from 2007-2014. If you narrow it down to those born in the 1980s, the increase was 9 points in just 7 years. The Catholic church is losing about half of all people who grew up in it.

As a Baha'i, this creates an interesting dynamic. The social forces pushing down Christianity are pushing down religion as a whole, and replacing it with materialism. Baha'is are affected by the same trend, struggling to train youth against powerful social forces that pull them away from religion. So what may at first look like an opportunity to teach, is actually a sad slide into irreligion. It also calls to mind some warnings in Baha'i scripture about what will happen when the light of religion is extinguished:
"The weakening of the pillars of religion hath strengthened the hands of the ignorant and made them bold and arrogant. Verily I say, whatsoever hath lowered the lofty station of religion hath increased the waywardness of the wicked, and the result cannot be but anarchy."
Baha'u'llah. Tablets of Baha'u'llah
“Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness, of justice, of tranquillity and peace cease to shine.”
Baha'u'llah. Tablets of Baha'ullah

13 July 2017

Churches and Chicken

My city is segregated by affluence and poverty. 

Drive west in Nashville and you'll find old money, the bourgeoisie, and white coeds sipping $5 tea. Drive north and you'll find Fisk University, mostly poor black and some white people, and the roads always need repair. Drive east and you'll find where black people used to live, but now it's full of white hipsters who like the area for its "history" (it feels like Portland, OR). 

And then there's the southern part of town, my part of town. Full of hookah bars, taco shops, and people of color from all around the world trying to make a living in a place where upward mobility for most is a pipe dream. You can have your car worked on by Essy, the most universally trusted local mechanic. Walk down the street and get baklava or a pupusa while you wait. 

07 July 2017

Framily

Friends do things together
In 2012 I left Oregon, where I went through middle school and high school, and I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. I moved to serve the Baha'i Faith in a metro area where the junior youth program was just beginning. I found a place in Nashville through a Baha'i friend who was already there, and since I'm a musician it kind of made sense.

I knew that moving to Nashville would be difficult because the cultures are so drastically different between the west coast and the southeast. But I had no idea what kind of culture shock I would experience. The two friends I already knew when I walked into town, I never ended up seeing more than twice a year in my five year stint living there. My closest family member was an 8 hour drive away. The Baha'i community felt foreign to me. They were so excited to have a youth (I was 18) with experience in the junior youth spiritual empowerment program, a relatively new Baha'i core activity. I was immediately thrust with no cultural context or real friendships into leadership rolls. As I got to know more and more people I realized that the isolation and difficulty making friends was not unique to myself. There were people in the general population who grew up together or lived together and didn't know basic facts about each others' lives, such as the existence of siblings, a death in the family, what people did for work, or basic likes. The first question asked by anyone, anywhere, was, "Where do you worship? Where do you go to church?"

Most Baha'is my age didn't want much to do with me, and so I was there for almost two years with little to no meaningful connections. Until, a Baha'i lady was moved by my singing voice and came up to me after a devotional gathering and said, "You need to come to my house!" in a soulful plea. So I did. We hung out, and she became my first real connection and lasting bond in the Baha'i community. She's a mother of two sons, she's a black woman in an interracial relationship, and she's a writer, a thinker, and a rebel. Her best friend is a flaming red haired MENSA member Italian Jewish Baha'i. These two became my best friends for the last four years.

We liked to go out and "mess" with people who didn't understand why we would be friends. It's not common in most parts of the country to see strong multi-generational, multi-cultural, and multi-ethnic relationships, let alone to see three people outwardly so different laughing to the brink of peeing themselves in an Applebee's restaurant on a late Friday night, because that's the only place open and Mama be hungry.

We talked about knowing Who you answer to. Not putting other people or things in the God seat, if you will. I spent many a night those first few years on their couches processing through the latest struggle or disappointment in my ongoing attempts to make friends. We've decided that the most important family you have is family you choose, and we are that for each other. We bonded over BTS (Korean Pop). We talked about sex. I don't know many women in their fifties cool with talking about sex and marriage. They say that after a certain point they found the confidence and self-worth to keep their relationship with God clear and not give a damn about the opinions or idle chatter of others. We all need strong women, intelligent, powerful women in our lives. They are teaching me how to be one. 

26 June 2017

Battle of Armageddon


Baha'u'llah is not just the Prophet of the Baha'i Faith. He taught that religion is periodically and progressively revealed from age to age to advance material and spiritual civilization to new heights. All the great religions of the world teach of a Promised One, coming during a time of great world cataclysms and ushering in a new era of righteousness. In the American psyche, this is most pronounced in Christian prophecies of the seven years of tribulation, the anti-Christ, and the battle of Armageddon.

Baha'u'llah's revelation fulfills the expectations of a second coming of Christ, but not as commonly interpreted. In an almost perfect repeat of the first coming, Christian clergy are expecting their prophecies to be fulfilled literally, and according to their fanciful interpretations that leave them as rulers of the earth. Jesus experienced a similar attitude. The Jewish priests thought the Messiah would come as a political ruler who would burn his enemies like chaff. Instead of promoting them to power, Jesus said His kingdom is "not of this world" and "inside you" and "among you". He called the priests hypocrites and vipers, so they killed him. 

Just as the Jewish priests were blinded by their own scripture from recognizing the Manifestation of God, now Christians shut their ears when they hear the claim of Jesus returned because they are told by their priests that they should not investigate any claim of divinity. They are sitting around waiting for the end times, and to them it will be so obvious that they don't have to watch. I've lost track of how many Christians have told me that they have no need to investigate Baha'u'llah's claims because when Jesus returns it will be "obvious", despite some strongly worded scripture saying the opposite. 

So with this background, occasionally Christians want to look deeper and ask some questions about prophecies.

09 June 2017

How Many Baha'is Are in the World?

I found some!
How many Baha'is are in the world? The correct answer is: nobody knows. But there is a deep primordial need for Baha'is and non-Baha'is alike to somehow gauge the relative success and strength of the world religions. This need is most easily met with the simplest of statistics, how many believers are there?

To Baha'is who expect their religion to gradually permeate the majority of the world's population over the next few centuries, they will be excited to see its growth. In fact, they will most likely overstate its actual growth because growth begets growth. When an idea spreads in a population, it can quickly move from 10 to 50% of the population, but the growth from 0 to 10% can be painfully slow and difficult.

There are also those who want to see the Baha'i Faith fail. They will be excited for low estimates of the Baha'i population worldwide, because lower numbers are discouraging. It takes extra moral strength to carry beliefs that are different from the majority of society.

From 1991 until present, the Baha'i World Centre has said that there are "more than five million Baha'is." Outside observers have actually given a higher number, listing the community as "more than seven million", ranging from 7.2 to 7.8 million.

Internally, the Baha'i number is most likely from worldwide membership rolls, and the external observer sources are a variety of censuses and surveys. I'd like to explore some ideas about both of these sources, and if this is boring I totally understand if you want to go do something else.

15 March 2017

Health Care Reform

I wrote this originally in September, 2009, as death panels were being debated.
-------------------------------------------
This week I listened to three members of the Oregon Health Authority talk about past and present reforms to Oregon's health system, and I also listened to the chair of Family Medicine at OHSU. Over the past few years I've been increasingly engrossed in the issues of health care reform, and here, tonight, live on the Internet, I'm going to lay out how to fix health care in the United States. That's right, the whole thing.

03 March 2017

The Eradication of Racism in America

In response to "the critical nature" and "historic opportunity" presented by this "pivotal juncture in our nation's history", the National Spiritual Assembly wrote to the American Baha'i community on February 25, 2017 to reinforce the principle of the oneness of mankind, the chief and distinguishing feature of the Faith Baha'u'llah. In the letter, the National Assembly wrote that "in the decades ahead, Baha'is will contribute in an ever more effective way to the eventual eradication of racism in our country."

We live in an exciting time. At first glance things are going poorly. America is stratifying by race and class, a xenophobic militarism just swept into power, and the government is gearing up to dissolve consumer protections and unleash thousands of police to round up minorities. Mosques, synagogues, black churches, and their followers are being targeted, harassed, or killed. 

If this were not the case, those attitudes would still be laying dormant in 40% of America, just stewing. Does this wave of injustice represent the beginning of a long reign of terror, or the last throws of a white nationalism that must be eradicated to move the nation forward? Can you honestly believe that open and ugly racism is going to be the new norm? Absolutely not! And why? Because it is not the truth! 

26 February 2017

Black History and Affirmative Action

One of these things is not like the others.
"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."
 -Shoghi Effendi. Advent of Divine Justice
It's black history month, so I'm going to talk about black history. The uncomfortable history. I want to talk about the America that just pulled a big wad of white supremacy out of its pocket and slammed it on the table for all to see.

When would you say the playing field was leveled for all races in America? When did we achieve the ideal of equality of opportunity?

01 February 2017

Black People

I'm a fairly rich white guy living in a poor, mostly black neighborhood. I moved in almost four years ago to join ongoing efforts to grow and sustain Baha'i core activities, which have been moving along successfully. But this is not about children's classes, this is about some observations on race.

I'm not only a fairly rich white guy, but I'm in the whitest big city in the country. Portland had two neighborhoods where black people were funneled into during the 1950s, and where they had to stay. Both areas turned into high poverty/crime neighborhoods in the 1980s and 90s. One of these was gentrified and people migrated to poorer parts of Portland. The other was renovated with a federal grant and turned into mixed income housing, and that is where I live. Here are some of the antics that have gone on since I got here.

20 January 2017

President Trump

In the summer of 2013 the Universal House of Justice initiated youth conferences around the world. My wife was just below the age cutoff at the time, and I was bringing several youth from my neighborhood, so we went to Tacoma, Washington and stayed several nights. It was really a special time, discussing high ideals about shaping the future of the world. On one of those nights I had a dream that seemed significant, so I wrote it down.

The dream had a nefarious character that seized power, and at the time I perceived it as a potentially prophetic dream about a real person whose identity might become clear in the future. Two and a half years later I was on a late night flight and while walking down the aisle of the plane I saw an ominously similar vision on the plane as I saw in the dream. On the plane I was walking down a dark aisle with people on both sides sitting staring at phones and computers, and in the dream I was walking down a dark aisle with people on both sides sitting on bunks staring at phones and computers.

Less than a week later I was driving and listening to a story about Donald Trump, and in a flood everything became clear. Keep in mind that this was January 2016 and the primaries were far from over, but I realized that Trump was the prisoner in my dream, and I realized with great certainty that he was going to be the next President. It all made sense, why he was going to win, what he would do, and what would come of it. As the vote grew closer I was confused by all the projections showing him definitively losing but I knew an upset was coming. In fact I have had absolutely no anxiety from that day until now, inauguration day.

07 December 2016

New Book on Evolution

Darwin's Original Title
Six years ago I started writing a post for this blog to address the topic of evolution from the Baha'i Writings, a sticky topic for sure.

It didn't take long for my blog post to turn into 14 pages, and I realized I had a problem. When it hit 100 pages and I realized how awesome it was, I considered sending it to a publisher. This week I signed a contract with George Ronald to publish in 2017!

One reason it expanded was that I wanted to review all the other authors who have written on the topic, and that alone is a substantial task. `Abdu'l-Baha made comments that seem to indicate a kind of parallel evolution for humans, in a way that they evolved over millions of years from a primitive form, but in a way that they were distinctly human and not animal throughout their evolution. This interpretation clearly presents a conflict with standard science, but it is far, far removed from modern creationists.

The majority of Baha'i authors have addressed the issue by taking the modern scientific consensus as factual, and reinterpreting the context and language of `Abdu'l-Baha to suggest that the parallel growth interpretation is an unfortunate semantic mistake.

Originally, my only concern was to suggest that Baha'is not totally abandon the idea that new understandings in science could still validate the apparent meaning. After all, it is still naturalistic and does not involve a special creation by the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I hypothesized some potential discoveries that could validate and affirm the apparent meaning of `Abdu'l-Baha's comments. Then I was surprised that pretty much all of my hypotheses had already been discovered, and I found that numerous leading evolutionary biologists were advocating for a paradigm shift in our understanding of evolution, so I began documenting.

I expect most people will scoff at the idea of someone writing about a change in science to support a religious doctrine. Anyone remotely familiar with the absolute dominance of neo-Darwinian theory should assume that my conclusions are wrong, but I can guarantee it'll surprise you. I encourage skeptics to read it and see if it doesn't leave you convinced that the model of independent descent is highly plausible.

I'll share more when the book becomes available, but I wanted to give you a heads up, and yes, it will be available as a Kindle eBook as well as print.

10 November 2016

6 Reforms to Save American Democracy

The majority of voters in this year's US presidential election said that they were inspired to vote against the opponent, rather than for their candidate. On the sidelines sits the most dysfunctional Congress that any living person has ever known (Americans are four times more likely to approve of the Internal Revenue Service). This, at a time when several slow-moving issues could eat out the soft innards of America's economy and leave memories of a once-great power. If there was ever a time to talk about major reforms to the political order, it is now. 

Here, I'll lay out some of the ideas that I've come across over the years of contemplating power and democracy. Minor tweaks in the election process create vastly different outcomes. The United States has the longest running constitution in the world, and it is a testimony to the foresight of the founders that it has worked so well, for so long. But it is a big ship letting in water, slowly sinking while the people who should be fixing it are fighting with each other over who gets to be captain. There is a pessimist inside me saying that it will sink no matter what, but the optimist wrote this article.

I listed these in order of feasibility. Tweaking how primaries work is a no-brainer and easy to implement at different levels. A constitutional amendment, however, requires a proposal from two thirds of Congress (or two third of states), then ratification by three fourths of states. The chance of Congress proposing an amendment that reduces their own power is unlikely, but this is not a thought experiment in what is likely, it's a brainstorm session on a better democracy. 

30 June 2016

Predictions for Britain and the European Union

Less than a week ago the United Kingdom voted by a narrow margin to leave the European Union. This was the most significant change in the EU's status since its expansion into eastern Europe in 2004. As one of the three big economies in the EU, Britain's leaving will have serious repercussions, and I have some predictions on how things will shake out.

24 February 2016

Rural America and Federal Land

Oregon. The southeast counties right to left are Malheur, Harney, Lake.
I have had a good life. I was born in a small university town in Oregon to well off parents. Turning fourteen I got to live in Mexico for half a year and experience a new culture, but I also learned a lot about my own country by leaving and observing it from afar. It was while living in Mexico that I realized the United States is the preeminent and most affluent country in the world. This was a rather shocking revelation to a teenager who never really thought about the freakishly lucky conditions of his birth.

My life continued to get better and I continued to appreciate traveling and exploring the world's mix of peoples. I spent a summer in Spain, then joined the US Air Force, which took me to Texas and Mississippi for almost a year. The military sent me to Qatar for half a year where I baked in the sun with camels and worked alongside people from the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Palestine. I went to college as an electronics engineer then lived in China for a year before starting a wonderful job for a power utility in Portland, Oregon. I've also seen Nicaragua, Ecuador, Greece, and Israel thanks to my access to wealth and a US passport.

In all my travels and studies, I've only increasingly appreciated the peace, stability, fairness, and economic opportunities in the United States. Even if China surpasses the US in GDP, it will be decades before it can become a more desirable place to live.

Visiting America

Then I visited a new culture that presented an interesting challenge. My wonderful job took me to field offices all over the northwestern United States in small remote towns that most people would never pass through. I did not have any trouble associating with people of different backgrounds. But I had just come out of a decade of international travel and university study, where people talk about technology, sustainability, and how to fix the world's problems. What I ran into in rural towns were discussions about what to do when the government comes to take away all your guns and serious opinions about Obama being born in Kenya. It was a culture shock.

21 January 2016

The End of Nuclear Weapons and a New World Order

"There is in existence a stupendous force, as yet, happily undiscovered by man. Let us supplicate God, the Beloved, that this force be not discovered by science until spiritual civilization shall dominate the human mind. In the hands of men of lower nature, this power would be able to destroy the whole earth." 
Abdu'l-Baha to a Japanese Ambassador, 1912 

The World
North Korea just detonated their fourth nuclear weapon and Iran is in a standoff over its nuclear program. The US policy toward nuclear weapons needs a major overhaul to avoid slipping to the point of no return. The United States is in a strong position to unilaterally renounce the use of nuclear weapons, then systematically destroy its nuclear arsenal.

I expect the typical American will think that disarming would be suicidal and ludicrous. The typical American is wrong. Nuclear disarmament is in the best interests of the people and government of the United States, not to mention the whole world. The world order that has been in place since the end of World War II is fraying at the edges. To secure the future, the US needs to help mould a new order before the old one unravels completely.

10 January 2016

15 Great Group Games

My first junior youth group, 2003
Over about 12 years of facilitating junior youth groups in various forms, I made a growing list of the best group games I've encountered. I'll provide details below on how to facilitate the games, and what worked well in different situations.

The spiritual empowerment program for junior youth is intended to provide a rough balance between study, service, and recreation. To be successful, the group should not focus on one of those exclusively, or ignore one entirely. With that in mind, the recreational piece can be defined pretty broadly, and incorporate anything from crafts to sports, hiking, or trips to the zoo. Many of these games have the advantage of being short and easy to organize, so they could be added to every gathering. 

Junior youth groups are meant for ages 11-15, during a time of growing social awareness. Especially in the first few meetings after a group forms, it's important to establish an attraction and desire to participate. While the facilitators should be careful not to make it a group who's only purpose is to play, recreational activities are great for establishing friendships and leave people with a good feeling about the group.

Please leave comments if you have more to add.

Concentration 

The tricky part of this game is that you need to create a repetitive beat that everyone participates in. For example, slap your legs, clap, snap, pause. Repeat. 

Once everyone gets the pattern, pick a category, such as animals. As the facilitator, you'll start, and on the "pause" beat you'll say the name of an animal. On the next beat the person to your left will have to say the name of an animal that hasn't been said already, then the person to their left, and so on. If someone hesitates or repeats on their turn, they get eliminated and the next person in order continues.

Eventually you'll have two people going back and forth one after the other until one fails. The game goes fast, so don't be afraid to eliminate people and start a new category. If people are having a hard time, practice first with the alphabet as the solution set, or say that the game has to go around the circle once before anyone can be eliminated.

Try another round with the category plants, or states, or countries, or names of people you know.

05 January 2016

5 Tips for Raising Toddlers

A combination of professional advice and my personal experience.

And one more coming!

There are not many things as challenging or rewarding as raising a child. Soon my oldest girl will turn 5, my second girl will turn 2, and my son will be born, all in February. And while raising these cute little monsters, I've compiled my own list of parenting advice.

Before you roll your eyes and say that all children are different, I know. While there is a plethora of emotionally charged parenting advice that amounts to personal ranting, there is also a well studied and researched discipline on early childhood development. These recommendations are standard fare for the experts and have serious consequences on development.

1. Enough Sleep

As every parent knows, sleep is precious. Children sleeping not only allows you time to do the laundry without "help", but it is also the greatest tool to keep your child from having meltdowns. A tired four year old can crumble into a sobbing pile of tears when they can't find their favorite shoes, but with enough sleep they will be adorable little angels.

They're so peaceful when they sleep
A newborn baby will sleep for two thirds of the day! The trick comes later when they SHOULD be sleeping half of the day, including naps, up to the age of 6. But getting in that 12 hours requires the parents to really be on top of things, especially at nap time. This is one of the most frustrating things for parents to deal with, because you have to make your child want to sleep. And this at an age and time of day where they are irrational and emotional.

I recommend reading through lots of detailed advice on getting children to sleep, like this article from WebMD. This is an area where authors vary significantly. You'll get a lot of recommendations, and then you have to see what works with your particular child. Here are a few tips that have worked for myself and some friends.
  • Use a routine. Once you get into the habit of letting children put themselves to sleep, you'll have to reset that expectation when you change the routine. My almost five year old still takes naps for up to two hours during the day. I tell her she needs to lay in bed and rest for one hour, and if she gets up and runs around, then the timer starts over. Almost every time she falls asleep while laying there, but it took months of setting expectations and being consistent for it to work.
  • They need more sleep. If we get our kids to bed an hour earlier than normal, they go to sleep without noticing the difference and wake up at the same time. They just get more sleep. The problem is usually the parents, who are slow to get the bedtime process started, or who keep their kids out late at a party.
  • Make a dark, quiet room. We have always covered venetian blinds with an extra set of blackout curtains in the kids' rooms. When you pull the shades and the room goes dark it knocks them right out. The curtains also prevent them from waking up super early in the summer. Danger: you may find it hard to get them to sleep in other spaces, like visiting relatives.

18 September 2015

Two Could Have Defeated Thousands

Back in 2003 my friend's father, Amir Badiei, compiled Stories Told by `Abdu'l-Baha, but it wasn't until this year that I got a copy and started reading. I have been impressed from the start with its witty, funny, and insightful stories, not about `Abdu'l-Baha, but told by him to illustrate a point.

One of the stories that I had never heard before was about a time when thousands of people came to kill Baha'u'llah in Baghdad, providing a close parallel to the gangs of armed men who followed Muhammad to Medina to exterminate the early Muslims. This was, of course, before Baha'u'llah declared publicly and renounced holy war.

Two Could Have Defeated Thousands
[Edited for clarity]

When the Islamic clergy and Nasiri'd-Din Shah sent `Abdu'l-Husayn to Iraq, he began agitating against Baha'u'llah. He gathered many clergy at Kazimayn, near Baghdad, and began talk of waging a holy war. Soon a large number of Persians and Shi`ih Arabs congregated there.

Those gathered in Kazimayn then arranged to come two days later and attack us. We were only forty-six in all and our strong man was Aqa Asadu'llah, whose dagger would dangle and touch the ground.

There was a certain Siyyid Hasan from Shiraz. He was not a believer, but he was a very good man. One morning, when Baha'u'llah had been up and about, this Siyyid Hasan came knocking at our door. Much agitated, he asked, 'Where is the Aqa [Baha'u'llah]?' I said, 'He has gone to the riverside.' 'What is it that you say?' he responded. I offered him tea and said, 'He will come back.' He replied, 'Aqa! The world has been turned upside down... It has become turbulent... Do you know that last night they held a council... How is it that Baha'u'llah has gone to the riverside? They have decided to start their attack tomorrow.'

Whilst he was telling me what had happened, Baha'u'llah came in. Siyyid Hasan wanted immediately to express his anxiety. But Baha'u'llah said, 'Let us talk of other matters', and went on speaking. Later, Siyyid Hasan insisted on unburdening himself. However,  Baha'u'llah told him, 'It is of no consequence.' So Siyyid Hasan stayed for lunch and then went home.

Later in the afternoon the friends gathered around Baha'u'llah. Amongst them were two who were double-faced. He turned to the Friends and said, 'Have you heard the news? The [clergy] and the Consul have come together and gathered ten to twenty thousand people round them to wage jihad against Us.'

Then He addressed the two double-faced men, 'Go and tell them, by the One God, the Lord of all, I will send two men to drive them away, all the way to Kazimayn. If they are capable of accepting a challenge, let them come.'

The two hurried away and repeated what they had heard. And do you know, they dispersed!

31 August 2015

Update on Bryan

As the majority of a year has passed since the last post, I want to send a quick update to let people know that there are live bodies still thinking about the blog.

For the last 4 years most of my life has been taken up with children and my wife's medical residency. Now that we are transitioning into a somewhat normal life, I anticipate more time to blog, and I have a sizable list of blog topic ideas that get me excited when I look at them. Our third (and maybe last) child is due in February, so my goal is to get out all my ideas before then.

I've been pondering whether I should start a new blog for my posts, or continue with the Baha'i Coherence format. I like the idea of several writers contributing content together, but this forum hasn't been used in a few years now.

Another reason for my lack of time is that one of my posts (that was never shared) from 4 years ago grew and took on a life of its own. I submitted 110 pages to George Ronald for publication and I'll hear back by the end of September whether they'll publish it. I wrote on the Baha'i perspective on evolution, and much of that time I was waiting for the new translation of Some Answered Questions, which came out last March. Most of my writing time has gone into that project, but I still have a passion for sharing other topics of reasonable length.

Below are a few topics that I want to address. Any thoughts?
  • Group games for junior youth groups
  • Gun rights in America
  • Jesus' parable of wineskins
  • The end of nuclear weapons
  • UN Security Council reform

03 October 2014

There is no clean intellectual coherence...

The frustration we feel when trying to explain or justify God, whether to ourselves or to others, is a symptom of knowledge untethered from innocence, of words in which no silence lives, of belief occurring wholly on a human plane. Innocence returns us to the first call of God, to any moment in our lives when we were rendered mute with awe, fear, wonder. Absent this, there is no sense in arguing for God in order to convince others, for we ourselves are not convinced...

There is no clean intellectual coherence, no abstract ultimate meaning to be found, and if this is not recognized, then the compulsion to find such certainty becomes its own punishment. This realization is not the end of theology, but the beginning of it: trust no theory, no religious history or creed, in which the author's personal faith is not actively at risk.

Christian Wiman - My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer




...And Wiman quoting Rainer Maria Rilke

The comprehensible slips away, is transformed; instead of possession one learns relationship, and there arises a namelessness that must begin once more in our relations with God if we are to be complete and without evasion. The experience of feeling him recedes behind an infinite delight in everything that can be felt; all attributes are taken away from God, who is no longer sayable, and fall back into creation, into love and death.


...And Further Wiman


16 September 2014

10 Meditation Techniques that I Have Found Helpful

In the past year I have gotten into meditation and have experimented with a number of techniques. While there is great value in going deep with one method, I have also found value in becoming comfortable with many, having many tools in the toolbox, so to speak. Over time it becomes natural to switch among them, to mix and match, even in the course of a single sit. Here is the list of boiled down techniques and tips that I wish I would have had from the beginning.


14 August 2014

What Would an Agnostic Spirituality Look Like?

Sam Harris, an outspoken atheist, is coming out with a book titled "Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion". I will be interested to read because, while I consider myself more of an agnostic, I relate to his interest in meditation and higher states of consciousness while at the same time being skeptical of the metaphysical implications that can be drawn from the phenomenology of it. He has come out with a precursor article that I highly recommend. His discussion of the various philosophies/methods of awakening to the realization of "no-self" (for Baha'i's, read "the death of the self"), particularly Theravada Vipasssana compared to Advaita Vedanta and Dzogchen direct inquiry, squarely hit home what I have been pondering lately. I was also surprised to hear that he doesn't believe consciousness is limited to the 5 senses, which makes him kind of an outlier among atheists.