Community Blog

The Unconventional Convention

November 4, 2014

convention flowers

con-vene – transitive verb – to come together in a body

Now that we know the definition, we know the purpose. The definition tells us something. A body, by definition, is a unified organism, a perfect organism. This is what Baha’u’llah promised us as being the future of the human race, that we would be as one body, not only in our organization, but in our understanding.

As I sit writing this article it is the eve of a national election day here in the United States. Television ads across the country are broadcasting ads, as they have been for months, warning of the dangers of this candidate and that ballot measure. News commentaries everywhere run stories of the number of voters who are disheartened, and of the possibility that the system of governance itself can no longer function in a positive, beneficial manner.

One month ago we too had an election. We elected a delegate to attend our National convention next spring in order to elect a National Spiritual Assembly. The letter we received and read from our NSA on this occasion was about a specific subject, one with which we are all familiar; that is, the disintegration of the old world order, and the rise of new ways of being, of understanding. The purpose of this article then, is twofold. First, to give you, dear reader, a glimmering of what happened at our election last month. Second, to encourage you to encourage. How many of our friends were not in attendance at the election last month? Yet these elections are one of the most basic and important building blocks of Baha’u’llah’s World Order. Talk about this during consultations all through this year, and imagine a National Convention where the delegates do not vote. Such a thing is, of course, impossible. We know from many reports of National Convention that the delegates attending are honored, erudite. Not one of them would dream of not voting. Bring this point up at every consultation throughout the year. Help everyone understand not only the duty, but the privilege of electing our delegate. Besides, our local conventions are fun. They’re huge. They’re one of the best gatherings you can attend.

So what did we do at our unit convention? We had lunch. We gathered together at the Center in Portland, a bunch of people showed up from Gresham, Portland, Fairview and Corbett, and we had lunch together. Children were running to and fro, adults were greeting each other friend to friend, the sun was shining, and there was love and fellowship in the air. Sounds terrible, eh? What a punishment, that we assert ourselves culturally and spiritually. Well of course there was no punishment, though there was pressure. You can’t grow into being a cell or an organ in the body of the new world order without having some growing pains. Our pain on this day started with a report from our local treasurer. He told us we had received notification from the City of Portland that repairs on the sidewalk around the Center must be executed almost immediately. The City was warning that we had a very short amount of time either to secure our own contractor to do the work, or the City would hire one themselves, charging us $24,000. What a way to start consultation! Well it was good. It focused us. It gave us a cold, sober slap in the face and it focused us. As the consultation went on and moved into other subjects there was a feeling of clarity in the room. We did consult on the letter for convention from the NSA. There was mention of a few examples of the accelerated decay of old world systems, though this was not our focus. Rather, we focused on what will be our response as individuals. There was a call for greater clarity among our own selves. Just as we knew, with the sidewalk situation at the Center, that we needed to find both a contractor for the concrete replacement and funds to pay for the services, we each knew that as individuals, we must have focus and clarity in our actions. This was a challenge, and it was met with a response arising during the consultation. One of the best suggestions at this point was that we find increasingly innovative and engaging ways to apply use of the arts in Ruhi study circles. Sounds crazy, huh? But it’s not. It has happened over and over in our Faith. When the early believers in this country first fomented the idea of building a House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, no one among them could have envisioned the building that arose. No one had ever quite built such a building in such a manner. But there was the challenge, and a result came from that challenge. So as we challenge ourselves both as individuals and communities to build better classes, imagine the types of applications of the arts that will arise from this challenge.

We consulted about the mini-youth conferences about to happen in our region, six of them in all. We consulted and heard about the efforts and triumphs of these youth, and realized once again that the Faith is moving forward in ways we could never have imagined even five years ago. We consulted about ways to help people. Much of this portion of the consultation involved an encouragement to understand resources; how to find them; how to use them; how to connect ourselves and others to them. This consultation came to a close with two points; firstly, we must continue to think outside the box, to reach, to strive. Our second point was maybe what convention is all about anyway, that is, that the greatest resource we can immediately access is ourselves, our knowledge, our hearts, and our reliance on Baha’u’llah.

So in closing, as you see an old friend or two throughout the year, invite them to convention, and tell them why. This is our new world, and one of our ways to be part of it.

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Memorials For Friends

October 14, 2014

O Son of Man, thou art My dominion and My dominion perisheth not; wherefore fearest thou thy perishing? Thou art My light and My light shall never be extinguished; why dost thou dread extinction? Thou art My glory and My glory fadeth not; thou art My robe and My robe shall never be outworn. Abide then in thy love for Me, that thou mayest find Me in the realm of glory.      Baha’u’llah

The recent passing of two dear friends, both of whom were very well known in the wider Bahá’í communities, has brought to my mind questions about religious belief regarding death and an afterlife. Whether one believes in such a thing or not can slip almost into insignificance for us when it comes to honoring our departed brothers and sisters. One of the basic foundations of our learning and knowledge is life and cognizance. These things are obvious to us. Of course there is a life of the soul because we can see it every day. If there is no afterlife, how can there be a fore life? These are indeed very deep questions, but let me tell you a little of these two friends who passed from this earthly veil within the last two months.

Dr. Nosratollah (Nas) Rassekh was born in Teheran, Iran on Nov, 11, 1924. In 1944, he joined eight other young Iranian boys his age to come to America aboard a US Navy vessel (these boys were considered quite exceptional and got some VIP treatment. One of them went on to become a history professor at Yale University.)

Nas was readily accepted as a student of history and international studies at Stanford University. He went on to win two scholarships and a fellowship from Stanford.

In 1960 he began teaching history and international affairs at Lewis and Clark College here in Portland. He went on to become the Chairman of the department, a post he held for many years. He became a well regarded author on subjects related to the history of religion. He was well traveled, visiting many countries, as well as fielding semesters abroad on three different occasions. He served as the Chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Bahá’ís here in Portland for many years.

Yet even if you knew nothing of his erudite professorship, you would never forget him once you’d met him. His stunning, yet always polite sense of humor won friends instantly. His ability to elucidate points of interest always left a captive audience. Far from a mere intellectual, he was a complete human being; always warm, earning, rather than commanding a sense of respect, always mindful of his audience, yet always spontaneous in his speech. He was dearly loved by many people. He passed from this world on September 7, 2014.

His memorial service, held a week later at Lewis and Clark College, was a true celebration of his life. We told and listened to stories from his life, listened to friends narrate their experiences with him. Many, many friends were gathered at this memorial. We left that event feeling the specialness of life. He is a person I shall never forget.

Diana Tufts was born April 27, 1937. Following her passing on September 22, 2014, her family received letters of condolence from two National Spiritual Assemblies. Mother of five children, she was a guide post and friend to everyone who knew her. She helped open Bahá’í communities in Alaska and Hawaii. She helped spearhead youth groups in Oregon and Washington. You could never forget her laugh, even if you heard it but once. Full of true joy, intelligence and spiritual energy, her laugh could pervade an entire gathering. It pulled you in. It made your heart catch on fire. It seemed to come from an angel of happiness from far away, yet dramatically close. She was one of those people who could see right into your soul without effort. She was one of those people who always gave you a boost, no matter what. Her spirit pervaded her entire family, and still does. And so at her memorial service, held at the Portland Bahá’í Center a week after her passing, over 300 people gathered. Here was a person who will live joyously in eternity, because that’s what she did in this earthly life. She was a mentor to hundreds of young people. Her light influenced my life.

To both Nas and Diana, I can only express my profound gratitude for having known you.

“O My friend, listen with the heart and soul to the songs of the spirit, and treasure them as thine own eyes.” – Baha’u’llah, from The Seven Valleys pg. 37

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A Discussion of Race and Poverty

August 18, 2014

The last week has been one of tragedy, if one counts life in tragedies. Four celebrities died, filling the newspapers and internet posts with a myriad outpourings of sorrow, dedications of tribute.

A young man died last week also, shot to death by a police officer as they wrestled in the street of a mid-West suburb over an apparent jay-walking violation. Yet even before this ridiculously unnecessary death, a talk had been planned, a gathering here in Portland, Oregon. Two members of our Bahá’í community had heard a report and interview on NPR with the author of a long study of racial and economic disparity in the United States. The report can be heard here- http://www.facebook.com/l/BAQFoXdw7/www.npr.org/2014/07/17/332283230/in-climb-up-the-economic-ladder-african-americans-getting-left-behind

In response to hearing this story, these two members of our community organized a gathering. It was a very special thing. They sent out notice and invitations three weeks in advance. You had to RSVP, as lunch was to be served as well. Twenty five people turned up at the Portland Bahá’í Center. Lunch was served at 11:30. Ebonee, one of the presenters, started promptly at 12 PM, thanking everyone for finishing lunch and being ready to roll. Although the talk and discussion (we listened to a recording of the NPR report first) was scheduled to run from 12 to 1 PM, we didn’t really break up until 2:30. We took a break at 1PM, as some people had other obligations, but only three people left. As we moved around the circle, allowing each person to speak, there were many testimonies. There were many heart-felt responses. There was a galvanizing force moving among us, a real one. There was a result to go along with it. We decided a number of things as a group.

First, we knew that we had touched the surface of something very deep. Everyone in the room agreed that they wanted to meet together again soon, and to invite others. Second, everyone in the room wanted to help be a mentor. Some of the people in the room are that already. The unanimous agreement among us all was to be more so. Thirdly, we knew from our conversation that one of the primary failures of entrenched institutions, both in our culture and abroad, is an inability to instill love. How do we show young people struggling and losing against inequality that we love them?

We had many answers. We must be willing to be vulnerable and uncomfortable. We must create a plan of action and a contract with ourselves if we are to create change. We must come together voluntarily and consistently. We must see youths as assets.

I am waiting, somewhat impatiently, for the scheduling of our next meeting. Perhaps it was a week of tragedy, but it’s been a week of awakening power as well.

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How To Celebrate the 9th Day Of Ridván

June 5, 2014

9th Day Ridván

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And on the 9th Day……….

There are very few traditions in the Bahá’í’ Faith, at least of those traditions that can be traced to purely human invention. Those that do exist are not followed as some sort of rule, seem to arise spontaneously, and are never considered in the same league as principles we follow. Nonetheless, Portland community seems to have developed a habit regarding the 9th Day of Ridván, that is that it’s become one of the biggest turn-outs with the number of people that show up at a centralized location to join in the festivities. It also seems to be one of the two Holy Days with the largest number of children participating. This year was no exception. On a balmy spring evening, the Center filled with people of many different ages and backgrounds. The observance was short and simple, yet loaded with beautiful prayers and a brief history lesson. It seems that back in the day, 1863, when Bahá’u’lláh established the first Ridván Festival, there was some high water. After reaching the island garden on the Tigres river, the water level rose dramatically. Bahá’u’lláh’s family remained in Bagdad to prepare for the long exile. Few boatmen would traverse the river as the water was rife with dangerous currents. But by the 9th day the waters had receded, leaving the river once again safe for passage. Bahá’u’lláh’s family joined Him then on the island, as did the extended family of many of His followers. Because of this the 9th Day of the Ridván Festival has increasingly come to be thought of as a family day, a reunion day. Such was the setting then at the Portland Bahá’í’ Center. Many small children are dressed in finery, little sport coats and ties on the boys, lace frocks, ribbons and shiny shoes on the girls. As prayers were said, and as some brief histories narrated, I found myself looking around at all the people gathered, all the families and friends of families, and I realized that this reunion is a very real thing. It is beautiful, almost overwhelming.

The formal readings end. Bountiful tables of refreshments and tea await all. But right before we break, an inspired parent stands up and asks if there are any children who would like to offer a prayer. It doesn’t take much coaxing, and a precocious child is given a wireless microphone with which to recite. She does so to perfection. A second child steps up and completes the task with glee. Suddenly there is a small, controlled scramble among the children to be next, and clearly heard among the crowd is a little boy politely stating “It’s my turn now!” The adults can barely contain their joy as child after child, in orderly fashion, recites a prayer they have learned.

Even more magic awaits as we calmly move to the foyer to partake of snacks. I take a while to get there myself, stopping to admire a new baby and talk to a few friends. I begin to notice a few people holding small, colorful cookies and talking about how amazing these cookies are. Winding my way to the refreshment tables, there among a plethora of fresh sliced fruit, chips and dips and the like, are two distinct plates laden with the cookies in question, Persian macaroons. They are small, round, delicately made by hand, and in three different flavors. Even looking at them, they seem to radiate a light that says “Someone made me with love!” They are the best macaroons I’ve ever tasted. Each variety, pistachio, almond, and rose, seems to have a gift of its own. Asking around a bit, I find out that they were made by a young doctor of Persian and American background.

This is the type of community we have. As I leave the Bahá’í’ Center that evening I feel refreshed, renewed, and maybe even a little reborn.

 

 

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How To Celebrate The 1st Day of Ridván

May 15, 2014

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It was the day just after a gentle light had shown upon us. The evening before, in this same gallery-like room, we had elected a Local Spiritual Assembly. The afternoon before, we had placed many fragrant plants and flowers in the room, installed as a temporary reminder, centered around a camping tent disguised as a gathering place for pilgrims and well wishers. The symbolic meaning of the tent we have discussed already in a previous entry (How To Elect A Local Spiritual Assembly.) Today we are here for an observance, for a celebration. It is the First Day of Ridván, the cycle of 12 days in which we truly begin to see the rise of Bahá’u’lláh. From this point on in history, His true fame and reputation begin to grow. Resistance to His cause increases from this point as well, although over the next 50 years both the Ottoman Empire and the Qajar Dynsasty would be powerless to stop the steady stream of pioneers, pilgrims, followers, curiosity seekers and scholars who would travel, sometimes for months, just to see Him. As described by the Cambridge scholar Edward Granville Browne, who met Bahá’u’lláh in 1890,

“The face of Him on Whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow.… No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain.”

Perhaps it was in part a jealousy toward the personage of Bahá’u’lláh that led two empires on a protracted yet ultimately fruitless quest to crush both Him and the growing number of His followers.

And so here we are. The observance takes place on a placid, sunny Monday afternoon. We are encouraged as followers of this Faith to suspend work on a number of our Holy Days. The First, Ninth and Twelfth days of Ridván count among these, and some of us have indeed been able to take the day off. Faint smells of lavender and rose water cling to the air. The room is full of light. A few people have set up tables, flowers and refreshments in the lobby area, to be enjoyed by guests after the observance. The observance itself leaves me in such a placid state that I’m almost embarrassed. There is some simple music, a scattering of short, calming prayers, and a few readings from moments in the history of our Faith. Instead of the rushing emotion I sometimes feel when I think about the start of this Faith and how it has grown, what I feel today is a tranquility, a contentment. It’s so overwhelming that I must admit, I nearly fell asleep during the observance. It is much to my relief while enjoying cookies and tea later that Bryan confesses to me the same effect, that he, too, was quite nearly lulled to sleep, so peaceful was the ceremony.

So perhaps it is then that on the first Ridván in 1863, the dawn of an era began not with a cathartic jolt, but with a surrounding glow of peace. Such is my imagining, and such is my hope for a contemporary human society gripped in meltdown and destruction. A joy comes to me, and I wish it to come to everyone, everywhere.

 

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5th Annual Young, Gifted and Black Photo Gallery Event

May 3, 2014

Come celebrate the achievements of PPS Black students at our Fifth Annual Young, Gifted and Black Photo Gallery event.

Wednesday, May 14th from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m. at the Blanchard Education Service Center, 501 North Dixon Street.

The ceremony will include a full program with keynote speaker, music, presentation of certificates, photo gallery, beverages and hors d’oeuvres.

This year we are proud to announce that we will be honoring Kumasi Luckett.

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How To Elect A Local Spiritual Assembly

May 2, 2014

The twelve day Festival of Ridván, celebrated April 21 to May 2, is considered the holiest for members of the Bahá’í Faith. During those dates in 1863, Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, left Baghdad and entered gardens now known as the Garden of Ridván, (paradise.)

I’ve found this brief description, and many similar ones, on many sites on the internet. It is true that Bahá’u’lláh called these twelve days the King of Festivals, as this time in His life marked the real beginning of His numerous proclamations and addresses to world leaders, as well as the most fertile time of His Writings. But it is also true that Bahá’í’s consider every day holy in a way, as we are always given the opportunity to see the signs of God in our most everyday activities.

Bahá’í’s always elect their Local Spiritual Assemblies, either on the first day of Ridván or the evening before. So on this evening of April 20th we had a great opportunity. First, we had to get ready. The Portland Bahá’í’ Center needed to be decorated and prepared for this 12-day festival.

I arrived at 3:30 in the company of one of the Holy Days organizers. We set to work. We had to move and arrange many chairs, we had to move the huge rug, we had to make way for and set up the tent. A tent, you ask? Some Bahá’í’ communities will indeed set up a tent of some kind to help mark the festival of Ridván. This is because the first Ridván, held on an island garden just outside Baghdad, was arranged largely by Bahá’u’lláh Himself. He had a tent set up for Himself and used it as a base of operations at the time. Tents were set up for Bahá’u’lláh’s family as well, and many of His followers and friends followed suit.

We’ve done this year after year, setting up a tent of some kind, draping it with Persian fabrics to make it look more “authentic” (we don’t know what the original one looked like) and setting up comfy simulations of artifacts inside- an oil lamp, ornate rugs, hard Persian-style cushions covered with small tapestries, prayer pillows, what have you.

So we get the tent set up, and there we are standing in a gallery-like room, watched over by arched windows, surrounded by stackable plastic and metal-framed chairs. We could be on a movie set. As if on cue more helpers start arriving. A lot of people like being involved with this festival. The Iranians in our community, having come from families with the tradition of observing Ridván, making it truly a time of devotion and the dawning point of their Faith, have been instrumental in helping us “newbie” Americans make it a festival as well. They arrive in several numbers to ‘make sure we do it right.’ Ha ha, it’s a joke about our culture here, and about the antiquated idea of “only one way to do it right.” About 15 people arrive, kind of an even sample of our diverse backgrounds. Everyone is chipping in to help. I adopt a spur of the moment job, that is, keeping an active 5-year old busy while the crew fusses endlessly with rugs, benches, and everything else associated with the tent and its surroundings. It’s like seeing a beautiful calm swarm of bees create something out of nothing, or something out of bits of flower petals and leaves that they each has carefully chosen. Trays of flowers are being shifted about, potted plants and vases and a seemingly art nouveau bench do a dance of juxtapositions and structure, looking for the ideal placement. And within a period of 45 minutes, what looked like a factory mall outlet camping tent has been transformed into a living memorial to serve during these 12 days. It’s very cool. It’s ours.

Everyone scatters for dinner. It’s about 5:45. I myself scoot down the street a few blocks, admiring this tiny stretch of 2-story old brick storefront that lines Lombard here in the St Johns neighborhood.

Everyone mingles back. By 7:00 a lot of people have shown up, yet the building is hushed with a kind of happy, low key buzz of knowledge and reverence. We’re about to elect a Local Spiritual Assembly. It’s different than any election you could imagine, as there’s never discussion of who you will vote for among any of the Bahá’í’s anywhere. Some people do send in absentee ballots if they can’t make it, but a lot of people like participating first hand in the process. It’s very quiet. People talk in whispers as printed lists of all eligible adults are posted around the room. Some flock around the lists. Some sit quietly and think, or meditate, or pray, or reflect. A few tellers stand quietly by, ready to pick up your ballot when you raise your hand with a sealed envelope. The tellers disappear to the top floor when all the votes are in. We mill about sipping tea and having soft conversations. Politics is a thing that has never existed here.

After about an hour the tellers descend the staircase to make the announcement. The lead teller calls out the names of nine community members who have been chosen to serve for this year as our administrative arm. A glow seems to fill the room, like the announcement of the arrival of a new and healthy child. This is how we begin the festival of the announcement of Bahá’u’lláh.

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Baha’i Youth Member of Jefferson Dancers

April 22, 2014

Layli Baghdadi, a Baha’i youth from Portland, will be performing with the worldly reknowned Jefferson Dancers from April 30 through May 3 at the Newmark Theater.

If you’d like to support this talented Baha’i youth in her final performances before her graduation. Tickets are at the Big Five box office formally known as PCPA.

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Feast of Jamal

April 21, 2014

You are warmly invited to celebrate the upcoming Neighborhood Feast of Jamál (Beauty) on April 27-28th at the following times and locations:

Sunday, April 27th: 7:00pm at the Portland Baha’i Center (8720 N Ivanhoe St. Portland, OR 97203) hosted by the North Area Feast Committee. A children’s program will also be included.

Monday, April 28th: 12:30pm at the Portland Baha’i Center (8720 N Ivanhoe St., Portland, OR 97203).

Monday, April 28th: 7:00pm at the Matisse Apartments Community Room (677 Lowell Street, Portland, OR 97239) hosted by Selma Anderson. Phone: (541) 678-8274

Monday, April 28th: 7:00pm at the home of Larry Hill and Naghmeh Moshtael (8709 SE Morrison St. Portland, OR 97216). Phone: (503) 282-0783

We look forward to fellowship with you.

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Marriage Workshop

April 7, 2014

The Equality of Men and Women:  The Dance of Divine Duality

Sunday, April 6, 2014
1:00-4:00 PM
Portland Baha’i Center
8720 N. Ivanhoe Street, Portland, OR
 

  In this workshop, we will have the opportunity to unveil liberating change in our relationships.  We will examine outdated perspectives and practices that continue to govern the relationship of men and women throughout the world.  As members of a new civilization, we will explore the writings of the Bahá’i Faith regarding the spiritual equality of men and women and begin to identify new ways to interact in our daily lives.

Equality is the hallmark of this age.  We are excited to gather together in this most vital consultation.  Please join us on Sunday, April 6th.

 “In this century, which is the century of light and the revelation of mysteries… it is well established that mankind and womankind as parts of composite humanity are coequal and that no difference in estimate is allowable, for all are human.” 

 “In proclaiming the oneness of mankind He (Bahá’u’llah) taught that men and women are equal in the sight of God and that there is no distinction to be made between them…. When all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women be realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed.” 

 “Divine Justice demands that the rights of both sexes should be equally respected since neither is superior to the other in the eyes of Heaven. Dignity before God depends… on purity and luminosity of heart.   Human virtues belong equally to all!” 

“The new age… will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.”                                        –‘Abdu’l-Bahá

 *The workshop is a free public service of the Office of Marriage and Family of the Baha’is of Portland.

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