In His Will, Baha’u’llah instructed all to turn to His eldest Son, Abdu’l-Baha, not only as the authorized interpreter of the Baha’i Writings but also as the perfect exemplar of the Baha’i Faith’s spirit and teachings. Every year Baha’is celebrate Abdu’l-Baha as the Centre of Baha’u’llah Covenant.
I think the essence of this book, which is the application of the Covenant and how it can be an active part of our lives, is best explained by Billy Roberts in his foreword:
True acts of kindness once completed are seldom mentioned again. But here I choose to make mention and celebrate acts of consequence made quietly over many years by John Kolstoe, which inform his capacity to invite us to draw nearer to the Covenant. Inspired by service, his view of the Covenant allows the topic to take flight from a mere recitation of ideals to a pattern leading to a life filled with joy and purpose. Kolstoe infuses into the language of this book, the spirit of love, fidelity, and longing held within his heart. 1
In honour of the Day of the Covenant, we thought we’d feature John’s book. Here he talks a little about himself, his service to the Cause, his work as a writer and how The Covenant and You came to be.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us! I’m eager to hear about your work and your new book! To begin, please tell us a little bit about yourself and your work as a writer.
In school, I enjoyed, rather than despaired over writing assignments. Raised a Lutheran, early on I objected to the narrow world-view spread before me.
It was the midpoint of the Ten Year Crusade and the middle of Graduate School that the Guardian died. Attending the last of the continental conferences he had called became a must. Being poor graduate students my wife, Beverly, and I could not both go. I went. Then and there I decided that, at that point in history, there was a much greater need for pioneers building the foundation of the New World Order than another research psychologist, so I volunteered to pioneer to Alaska. Besides, the tools had not yet been developed in psychology for the work I wanted to do: research on four cognitive modalities as suggested by Abdu’l-Baha as criteria of truth, and their impact on the psychology of individual differences.
After the conference, Beverly met me at the bus station and I was a bit fearful about breaking the news to her that we were leaving graduate school to pioneer. I talked on and on about the conference, meeting old friends and so on. She finally asked, “Where are we going pioneering?” “Alaska,” I meekly responded. “Oh.” She said, “I was hoping for someplace warm.” It was 27 years before she got her someplace warm when we pioneered to St. Lucia in the Caribbean.
I never look for things to write about. They find me. For instance, Beverly and I pioneered to Fort Yukon, north of the Arctic Circle on the northern most arch of the Yukon River. There were some teaching materials, but none geared toward Indians. Peter Simple, the second Athabascan Indian to enroll there, kept telling me there should be a simplified pamphlet for Indians. So, in 1962 Baha’i Teachings: A Light for All Regions was written. In 1969 the US published the second edition. A few months ago I got a request for some, so it has been republished.
While on the Alaska National Spiritual Assembly, I developed some deepening materials for Spiritual Assemblies. Counsellor Velma Sherrill looked me straight in the eye and said, “John, you must put that into writing.” That started a series of articles on consultation for the “Alaska Baha’i News.” The articles became the nucleus of my first full book, Consultation.
While visiting with Kevin Locke I noticed a portrait of his mother and asked who was writing her biography. He said, “no one.” I thought it should be written, preferably by an Indian. Pauline Tuttle, a Micmac Indian from Canada agreed. I offered to help. Unfortunately, she soon died and I had the most unexpected and delightful experience of working with Kevin and doing research for his mother’s book: Compassionate Woman: The Life of Patricia Locke.
During my first pilgrimage in 1960, I had lunch with Ruhiyyih Khanum and told her about my meeting with Dr. Parris. She said she had never heard of him, then said, “John, you must put that into writing.” I have been lucky enough to meet a lot of people I think of as little giants. I included him in a book of verbal snapshots called Crazy Lovers of Baha’u’llah: Little Giants I’ve Met Along the Way and got rid of the nagging guilt from Ruhiyyih Khanum’s neglected suggested.
I am hoping someone writes a novel on what would have happened had Napoleon III paid more attention to his mail. Baha’u’llah promised he would become king over “all on which the sun doth shine.” That’s a lot of territory. What a different and delightful world that would be and what a springboard for an historical novel! (I do have some beginning notes and early drafts on that if you know anyone foolish enough to take on the challenge.)
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about The Covenant and You? How did the idea to write a book on this subject come about?
In 1975, Hand of the Cause Bill Sears put together a Protection Conference under the auspices of the Universal House of Justice. It was the only time that all 27 members of the three north American National Spiritual Assemblies, all the Counsellors and all the Auxiliary Board Members north of Mexico gathered at the mother Temple for a conference. Following that, I wrote 12 monthly articles for the “Alaska Baha’i News” on the Covenant. When I saw Ali Merchant of India earlier this year, he told me he still has the series. The Canadians, with the brilliant pen of Douglas Martin, put out four marvelous booklets on “The Power of the Covenant” about the same time.
In 1985, we pioneered to St. Lucia in the Caribbean. En route we stopped by Wilmette. While having breakfast at the Khadems, Hand of Cause Zikrullah Khadem showed me a manila envelope in which he kept my articles. This encouraged me, so I sketched an outline for a book.
About the same time, Adib Taherzadeh and Lowell Johnson each came out with books on the Covenant and I thought, “Who needs a third one? There was already writing on the slate.” The work was abandoned, but my computer kept the notes. With rewriting, it was submitted it to George Ronald. It is now in print.
Baha’i Blog: What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Among others, I enjoy making complex or obscure subjects accessible to people. There is one dedicated young Baha’i with eager curiosity, but without great depth of knowledge about the Faith. I ask myself, “How should I explain this to Josie?” And, that’s what gets written – complete with joy and an “Aha!” moment. She no longer lives in the area, but I saw her during the writing process and mentioned that she was helping me write a book. After looking at me with a strange expression, I explained. She said, “Good. Now I might understand what you are saying.”
Baha’i Blog: How has writing this book and studying the Covenant affected you?
Naturally, there has been growth in both the understanding and appreciation of the Covenant. More than affecting me, it’s reflective. That is, it describes or reflects the kind of Baha’i I’d like to become.
Baha’i Blog: What other projects do you have in the works?
Currently I’m working on Baha’i Development in the West Indies: The First One Hundred Years. Guaranteed never to be a best seller. The West Indies were mentioned twice a hundred years ago in the Tablets of the Divine Plan. I’m attempting to trace the Baha’i development both of the region as a whole and individually of the 16 independent administrative units and the four island groups under the jurisdiction of Venezuela. The overall idea is the same as what I did with Alaska Baha’i Community: Its Growth and Development – that is, rather than writing for a broad, current audience, I’m attempting to provide information for future generations curious about their past and future historians with a starting repository from which to look for other information.
There is also a near zero possibility that I’ll attempt to bring Napoleon III back to life.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you, John! I enjoyed hearing about your adventures, both on and off the page!
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.