From ressentiment to rapprochement
I know this will sound trite, but I had a dream - I really did have a dream. It came on the night after the anniversary of my expulsion. I was expelled on March 27 2000, and so this dream, coming in the year 2008, came as I was entering my ninth year of being unenrolled. To me, the ninth year is significant because Baha'u'llah spent nine years in Akka before he allowed others to persuade him to leave. Baha'u'llah was kind enough to send me a dream warning me about my expulsion, so it's likely he'll kindly send me signs of what's going to happen after it. I know that my expulsion was considered to be the 'end of an unpleasant matter', but there are no ends in creation that do not result in birth.
I don't want to share the details of the dream, but I do want to share the vision that resulted from it. I felt the grace of Baha'u'llah stretched over the entire Baha'i world. He waits silently in anticipation that we will look and see him in his supreme majesty overshadowing us with his attentive gaze and all-encompassing love. But whether we see it or not, this is the reality of his presence upon us all the time. When I looked at the Baha'i world from this vantage point, I realised that all was not hopeless after all. I realised that, for years, I had assumed that it was inevitable the Baha'is would continue to curse and revile each other and that the Cause would be forever crippled by this. But this vision gave me hope that this tragic scenario was not inevitable at all. With the grace of Baha'u'llah, the slowly unfolding tragedy could be turned around. It was possible that people's hearts could be softened toward each other and those who were estranged could associate with each other in a civil manner.
How could such a thing be possible, you might ask. Well, for starters, we need only look at history and the numerous situations where the hope of a few seemed fantastic in the face of the odds. It must have seemed like all hope was gone when Christ was crucified on the cross, Muhammad took his flight to Medina and Baha'u'llah languished in the Siyah Chal. But we know from the benefit of hindsight (and from what Baha'u'llah teaches us) that these dark days are just the beginning of a miraculous plan God has yet to unfold. We know God sets up these situations to see who'll believe despite the odds. When Martin Luther King said he had a dream, he dreamed it in the face of huge opposition to his vision of universal love for all people despite their colour.
The key thing is that one's vision is in keeping with the divine plan. And what, I ask, is not in keeping with Baha'i principles about the dream that Baha'is should stop cursing and reviling each other and reach out to each other in a spirit of tolerance? Here is the principle that we are exhorted to live by:
"'Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.' Whatsoever hath led the children of men to shun one another, and hath caused dissensions and divisions amongst them, hath, through the revelation of these words, been nullified and abolished." (Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p87)
In this passage, Baha'u'llah is not telling us all to agree with each other. He is telling us how to treat those who have different religious views. We should associate with them in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. We should not shun them, much less revile and attack them. The principle applies equally within the Baha'i world as it does between religious communities. Individual Baha'is have different views on things. They all proclaim their belief in Baha'u'llah, but they still disagree over the details. Again, we should associate with believers who have different views in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.
It is easy to see how the principle works when we apply it to others. We look at the religious strife around the world and say to ourselves: it just doesn't need to be that way. Why don't they just get along? Why does it matter to one that another holds a different view? Why do the differences matter so much that they must lead to such tragic consequences? Why don't they just live and let live? Why indeed. And the same questions apply to the Baha'is today. Why do they attack each other for holding different views? We can see when we look at warring factions that when they point out each other's faults, they do not thereby make themselves righteous or win. You want to tell them that the only path to peace is forgiveness and letting go. If we want the Cause to spread throughout the world, this is what we must do. We must forgive, let go and live in peace with each other. If we cannot move ahead together in peace, then we offer the world only what it has already and we fail to offer Baha'u'llah's healing remedy. That remedy must be an inner reality in our hearts if we're to have an effect.
And so, today, this Ridvan, I make an unconditional declaration of peace to the Baha'i world. I unconditionally forgive anyone who, to my mind, has wronged me and I hold in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship all Baha'is who have different views to me: the House of Justice, the NZ NSA, the Baha'is in my local community and all Baha'is on the Internet that I have had dealings with. If I have hurt any of you in any way, I unreservedly apologise. And I unconditionally forgive any grievance I may once have felt you had caused me. If you imagine that I hold a grievance against you, please this minute know that it is extinguished. If you wish to check that out with me, please email me privately.
And I challenge enrolled Baha'is and unenrolled Baha'is to see their common ground, let go the past and begin associating with one another in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. Think about the dream that Martin Luther King had. He saw a time when black people would associate freely with whites, even though at that time, the idea of associating with blacks was anathema to many whites. I know that unenrolled Baha'is are anathema to many enrolled Baha'is, but my purpose here is to bring about a change there. I want to start a movement that will lead to peace between us. And I begin by making my declaration of peace. I lay all my cards on the table. I am not your enemy; in fact, the opposite. As Sen McGlinn has pointed out, the unenrolled Baha'is worldwide are surely the most fruitful target for declarations. These people already say they believe. I recall, when I was a member of the community, there used to be people who would come to Baha'i events but who were not enrolled members of the community. We used to call them Baha'is because, for all intents and purposes, they were. We called them 'friends of the community'. We cherished their fellowship. Why should things be different today? Why can we not open our hearts to each other, worship together and work together? Would the Cause suffer by this or would it blossom? I believe, it would blossom to such an extent that we would all be astonished. The believers often point to the power of unity; well, here's our chance to harness it. Let's take up this precious opportunity offered us. Let's overlook our differences and work together to revolutionise the fortunes of the Faith.