Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Army of White?

Some beautiful Black American Baha'is I recently saw in Atlanta, Georgia


For a while Fort Tabarsi Mix Tape Volume Two was the personal soundtrack of this Baha'i thinker. On one of my favorite tracks, the masterful MC rhymes, "American Baha'is and the stars and stripes/Baha'i Americans in the Army of Light." Most recently I've had the pleasure of listening to the new CD from the Dawnbreaker Collective that also invokes the army of light imagery in its emphasis on Baha'is arising to fulfill the world transforming mission of their Faith. If you haven't heard this CD, go out and get it right now. You can read a Baha'i World News story about it right here. I was listening to my favorite song from this album this morning on my way to work. My car vibrated with the muscular chanting of the young Baha'i artists, "It goes move, step, left, right, Army of Light don't ever lose sight." I found myself thinking about a conversation I had last night with a group of us who are organizing the first ever (in my memory) African American weekend at the Greenacre Baha'i school. A recurring theme in this conversation was the need for Baha'is of African descent to take full ownership of their Faith and their destiny of providing spiritual leadership in the creation of a new civilization. This was also the theme of the remarks made by Mr. and Mrs. Ali and Violette Nakhjavani at the gathering for Black Baha'is in Atlanta that I went to. One of the quotes from the Baha'i Writings that was shared at this memorable evening was the following:

"The qualities of heart so richly possessed by the Negro are much needed in the world today-their great capacity for faith, their loyalty and devotion to their religion when once they believe, their purity of heart. God has richly endowed them, and their great contribution to the Cause is much needed..."
(Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 532)

The question I have to ask myself continually, is whether or not as a Black American Baha'i, I see myself as a soul who is richly endowed by God, with a great contribution to make to building God's kingdom on this earth. If so, do I actually act as if that were true? Do I maintain that "worthy attitude" referred to in the Baha'i Writings?:

"As we neither feel nor acknowledge any distinction between the duties and privileges of a Bahá'í, whoever he may be, it is incumbent upon the negro believers to rise above this great test which the attitude of some of their white brethren may present. They must prove their innate equality not by words but by deeds. They must accept the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh for the sake of the Cause, love it, and cling to it, and teach it, and fight for it as their own Cause, forgetful of the shortcoming of others. Any other attitude is unworthy of their faith. "
(Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 533)

When I do not respond to the challenges inherent in the building of a new civilization with actions that reflect the attitude being described in this passage, I eventually fall prey to those very thoughts, feelings and behaviors that Baha'u'llah has warned will cause the greatest harm to the mission of His Faith:

"Every eye, in this Day, should seek what will best promote the Cause of God. He, Who is the Eternal Truth, beareth Me witness! Nothing whatsoever can, in this Day, inflict a greater harm upon this Cause than dissension and strife, contention, estrangement and apathy, among the loved ones of God. Flee them, through the power of God and His sovereign aid, and strive ye to knit together the hearts of men, in His Name, the Unifier, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 8)

If I continue to have an "unworthy" attitude and don't drift away from the Baha'i community altogether, I regress from being a passionate teacher of the Cause to a passive participant in the Faith assuming the posture of a member of a congregation:

"To mistakenly identify Bahá'í community life with the mode of religious activity that characterizes the general society -- in which the believer is a member of a congregation, leadership comes from an individual or individuals presumed to be qualified for the purpose, and personal participation is fitted into a schedule dominated by concerns of a very different nature -- can only have the effect of marginalizing the Faith and robbing the community of the spiritual vitality available to it. "
(The Universal House of Justice, 2002 Aug 22, Advancement of the Cause an Evolutionary Process, p. 2)

To adopt such a posture is to cede the arena of service and teaching to other members of the Baha'i community, which in the United States tends to be the believers of European or Persian background. Through my lack of ownership of the Cause, the Army of Light turns into an Army of "White". If black people are the pupil of the eye, "the very wellspring of the light", then it is impossible to have an Army of Light without our full participation. However, we must remember that our participation is in no way contingent upon the behavior of others in our Baha'i community, whatever their race. As Baha'u'llah has told us all:

"Suffer not yourselves to be wrapt in the dense veils of your selfish desires, inasmuch as I have perfected in every one of you My creation, so that the excellence of My handiwork may be fully revealed unto men. It follows, therefore, that every man hath been, and will continue to be, able of himself to appreciate the Beauty of God, the Glorified. Had he not been endowed with such a capacity, how could he be called to account for his failure? If, in the Day when all the peoples of the earth will be gathered together, any man should, whilst standing in the presence of God, be asked: "Wherefore hast thou disbelieved in My Beauty and turned away from My Self," and if such a man should reply and say: "Inasmuch as all men have erred, and none hath been found willing to turn his face to the Truth, I, too, following their example, have grievously failed to recognize the Beauty of the Eternal," such a plea will, assuredly, be rejected. For the faith of no man can be conditioned by any one except himself. "
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 142)

Black Baha'is, we are living in the Promised Day of God. Will we honestly cede the field of glory to our white brothers and sisters in the Cause and pass from this world having been content with the mediocrity of a congregational consciousness? Will we spend our days hating our selves and blaming white people for the as yet, unfulfilled destiny given us by Almighty God? Are we "foolish and faint of heart"?

"This is not a Cause which may be made a plaything for your idle fancies, nor is it a field for the foolish and faint of heart. By God, this is the arena of insight and detachment, of vision and upliftment, where none may spur on their chargers save the valiant horsemen of the Merciful, who have severed all attachment to the world of being. These, truly, are they that render God victorious on earth, and are the dawning-places of His sovereign might amidst mankind."
(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 84)

I refuse to believe that we are foolish or faint of heart. I refuse to believe the things that have long been said about us in America and that we too often say about each other. I chose to believe the Word of God and live the Word of God.

"The Word of God hath set the heart of the world afire; how regrettable if ye fail to be enkindled with its flame! Please God, ye will regard this blessed night as the night of unity, will knit your souls together, and resolve to adorn yourselves with the ornament of a goodly and praiseworthy character. Let your principal concern be to rescue the fallen from the slough of impending extinction, and to help him embrace the ancient Faith of God. Your behavior towards your neighbor should be such as to manifest clearly the signs of the one true God, for ye are the first among men to be re-created by His Spirit, the first to adore and bow the knee before Him, the first to circle round His throne of glory. I swear by Him Who hath caused Me to reveal whatever hath pleased Him! Ye are better known to the inmates of the Kingdom on high than ye are known to your own selves. Think ye these words to be vain and empty? Would that ye had the power to perceive the things your Lord, the All-Merciful, doth see -- things that attest the excellence of your rank, that bear witness to the greatness of your worth, that proclaim the sublimity of your station! God grant that your desires and unmortified passions may not hinder you from that which hath been ordained for you."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 316)

Readers, whatever your race, what do you think?