Monday, March 9, 2009

Boo! --- I’m B’ack.

I’m not exactly sure in what capacity I’m back, but hold on and we’ll find out. I hope to resume posting sporadic essays, and I hereby give myself permission to post tid-bits of interest as I find them. No more tyrannizing myself with the idea that only long, crisp prose is worthy of this venue.

In general the response to Baha’i the Way has been lovely, and I have been seriously impressed by the willingness of a number of my Baha’i friends to risk the read. These can be troubling waters, and, bless them, they have waded right in. One Baha’i friend recently challenged me, though, on the wisdom of Baha’i the Way, and the unintended consequence has been to revive my interest in it. There is a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which, as I recall, Calvin is making his face contort wildly for the amusement of Hobbes. His mother scolds, “Keep that up and your face will stay like that.” Calvin looks up hopefully. “Really?”

So...I’ve been told this blog could influence people. Opinions will vary, positive and negative, on the nature of that influence. Sway isn’t something I’m particularly expecting, but, on reflection, I realized this blog represents much of what I believe so I’m not displeased with the thought. I believe in showing up for life with your whole person—body, mind, and heart. I try to do that here. If this blog were to have any influence on others I would hope that it would strengthen that in readers which seeks a more examined, creative, honest, deeply felt, open life —of faith or of no-faith.

I think it would be helpful, though, going forward (and possibly at intervals hereafter), if I explained myself a bit more:

I am not a Baha’i. But I am also agnostic about what the Baha’i Faith can be. I take it as a given that Baha’is, like all other human beings are creative, free individuals, making choices within the constraints of their lives. I also take it as given that the Baha’i Faith could develop in many different ways. I see religion as a collaborative endeavor arising from the individual and communal experience of the divine.

When I challenge something in the Baha’i Faith, I do not mean to be challenging the essence of the Baha’i Faith, because I don’t know what the essence of the Baha’i Faith is. I look at what is or has been. I look at what kinds of choices people are making about what they believe and do—theologically, psychologically, relationally, communally. I am interested in what choices we make and what the implications of those choices are.

So, for example, in my essay “Positive? Negative?”, I wrote about the idea of the sin-covering eye and how the idea functions in Baha’i rhetoric and community. I tried to make it clear I was not claiming that this idea, or this form of this idea, was essential to the Baha’i Faith. I don’t know whether it’s essential or not. I actually think it is largely based on slight and in some cases dubious sources. Nevertheless the idea is deployed in the Baha’i community and Baha’i contexts as if it were essential, and that’s what interests me. What happens if you take that idea as essential? Well, I see problems. And that’s what I write about. I’m not saying that Baha’is have to take it as essential to the Faith or be Baha’is no more. I’m not saying “Believers, your faith demands you adopt crazy ideas, so abandon it or be crazy.” Not at all.

I am saying, “This is what I see and hear; I think it’s worth looking more carefully. Choices are being made and it may be possible and desirable to make different ones.” Only I try to say it more vividly. And I am not a Baha’i. So there is a certain kind of envisioning the possible that I rarely do here because I really can’t. That is up to people who feel a compelling, deep connection to Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i revelation. But I am definitely not out to define the limits of what the Baha’i Faith can be. I’m eager to see Baha’is develop a living faith that is worthy. Go for it.

Of course, this is my own theology speaking, and I don’t know if it is compatible with the Baha’i Faith or not. I take an essentially creative view of faith. In the essay “Unapologetic Visibility,” poet Artur Grabowski put it this way “Art is not a rival of the creator, but rather a helper of the revealer. Creation took place as a value in itself, but revelation and incarnation took place for man, with the expectation of a response from our side.” I don’t think Mr. Grabowski will much mind if I expand the conception of art here to include all our living, worshiping, thinking, and doing.

I’ve been repeating a phrase in my head lately, inspired by a poem by Garret Keizer. The phrase is in the voice of Christ responding to the interminable search for the historical Jesus. In my imagination he says, “Find your own historical ass.”

Tilt your head one way and he sounds rather resentful. Tilt your head the other way, and you may hear a joyful challenge.

7 comments:

Sonja van Kerkhoff said...

welcome back!

Amanda said...

I'm so glad you're back!

Giant said...

Welcome back!

helenkosings said...

Just found yer blog today. I enjoy yer writing and am glad you are back.

Amanda said...

I just found your blog today, and I'm so, so happy to read it. I, too, have left the Faith in some capacity. I came to know the Baha'i faith when I was 18, and - to date - it is really still what I believe. I believe in Baha'u'llah and the progressive revelation. I definitely found, though, after 6 or 7 years, that the inner-workings of the community and the seeming intolerant attitude toward free-thought really got to me. I never fit the bill, really. I constantly found myself questioning so many social aspects of community life in the Faith. I never could understand how such passive aggression was supposed to foster a safe, loving spiritual environment.

So I "left." Well, sort of. I guess you could say i'm "not practicing." but I still pray often and I still believe in the message of Unity and humility that Baha'u'llah taught and I even believe that it was imparted to him and others by God, but I can't get down with the B.S. from so many of the people that surrounded me when i was active in the Baha'i community. So, I've gone back to the way I was before i knew about the faith...at least spiritually. I prefer to keep my spirituality to myself. I keep my relationship with God/Whoever between me and God/Whoever.

Like you, I lost a lot of friends. It wasn't that they flat-out dumped me, but many of them just slipped out of my life - as much because of my trepidation over their opinion as their actual opinion. I still have a handful of Baha'i friends. They're such wonderful people, and probably the reasons I was active in the Baha'i community in the first place. I'm really grateful to know who my real friends are now.

This is pretty long-winded, but I'll wrap up by saying how much I appreciate reading your perspective. So many people who have left the faith are represented on the internet by bizarre Christian groups and very angry testimonials. It's so nice to hear an intelligent, insightful account of separating from the Faith. thanks! :)

Mrs.Love said...

I like and agree with Amanda's comment. I am incredibly pleased to find your intelligent blog. I keep wishing I could have a few lunch dates with you and just talk.

What I wonder most about you is what makes you a non-Bahai. I haven't seen (yet perhaps) in your blogs about that issue in particular. I am feeling inspired spiritually (Bahai wise) and that hasn't happened for a very long time. "Influence" your friend mentioned... bad influence? What? I see you as revolutionary... but not a "non-Bahai" per se... not in my definition. What is it that makes you non-Bahai to you? The fact that you are unsure, can't say 100% or flat out think Baha'u'llah was well intended crazy man? Just curious... As I am totally disenfranchised from the Faith but still can't quite see myself as a "non-Bahai" - I don't quite know what I am anymore. I do love your blog though. I haven't gotten a stinkin' thing done in my house since I found it. LOL.

I am presently reading a book called "Reading Lolita in Tehran". In this book the female author (and literary professor) embarks on a tale interweaving the revolution and the following oppression of everyone (esp women) in their society and how certain novels relate to their oppression and the regimes they live under and their study of them. I have Bahai friends who tell me of escaping the revolution and Tehran as children, 7 people per 3 wheeler over the desert with guns blaring at them... risking their lives to be able to practice their faith. These are the people I learned to be a Bahai from. It's hard to forget that.

What brings this to mind is how important I think your questioning is. Tehran's regime is an example of what happens when independent thought is denied. The Faith is young... I don't see it's wrong right now any more than a teenager is wrong in their investigation of the basics of truth that they hold. I don't mean to sound like I see the Faith as juvenile but just in a natural course of growth for which I take no offense at.

I accept the youth of this Faith - even though I don't see myself being able to participate in it fully as I once did - I still hold the utmost respect for it and it's institutions. A work in progress. Your questioning is perhaps, ahead of it's time but valuable. In fact, it reminds me of an ethics class where everything is questioned and how this is encouraged in the ethical practitioner. (I am a Social Worker). Please keep it up. I think your words may one day (after you're dead and gone more likely as in all great thinkers, eh?) be more widely heard - if in the echo of other's ways of thinking.

Priscilla said...

Dear Mrs Love,

Thanks for all your great comments. What a charge, to see my blog getting thoroughly ransacked all of a sudden! If you would like to read an essay about how I came to leave the Faith, the story is told -- in part, anyway -- in a piece published in the journal “Image” last year. I realize the back-issue price is a lot for one essay, but it’s a lovely publication, and if you’re hungry for good, thoughtful religious writing, this is a journal you should know.

This is the link to the ordering page for the issue with my piece in it:

http://imagejournal.org/page/journal/back-issues/issue-68

You can also get much more of me on my other blog, http://www.heaveninmyfoot.com/ .

I apologize for not responding to all your comments, but I am quite ill and can’t type for myself. (My husband is taking this down as dictation right now.) Please know that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your responses, and in fact they arrived at a time when I was feeling a bit morose and unproductively self-critical. So, thank you for giving me a boost.

Best, Priscilla