Thornton Chase (22 February 1847 – 30 September 1912). Photo courtesy of the US Baha'i Archives.
A strong-willed leader and organizer, and a seeker forever pursuing the mysteries of divine love; an insurance salesman and an artist of page and stage who composed poetry and prose, sang and acted; a man who wrestled with a wariness of women and a unifier of contending personalities: this was Thornton Chase. The man we know as the first U.S. Baha’i was fraught with apparent contradictions, the contradictions of a spiritual being striving to operate in this material realm. Of course, it was only through his struggles that Chase could earn from Abdu’l-Baha the title of “Thabit” (in Persian, “Sabet,” and in English, “the steadfast”). And God did not stint when it came to testing Chase, starting in his infancy and continuing for six decades until his death. Continue reading
As the Baha’i world prepares to commemorate the centenary of Abdu’l-Baha’s ascension and anticipates the construction of His shrine and final resting place, the time is ripe to review His talks and writings (which you can find online here at the Baha’i Reference Library). One of His most important writings is the Will and Testament, in which He appoints a successor and provides instructions on the administration of the global Baha’i community. To aid in the study of this crucial document, this article discusses its significance, its historical context, and its main themes. Continue reading
A few years ago, I was having a conversation with a renowned professor of communication arts. He posed this question to me: “Why do the English translations of Baha’i Writings use such elevated language? Does it pose an obstacle to understanding for some people?” Continue reading
In The Advent of Divine Justice, Shoghi Effendi laid out a path for the U.S. and Canadian Baha’i communities to contribute to the transformation of their societies, as summarized in introduction to the Advent of Divine Justice. Addressing the United States in particular, he identified “racial prejudice” as “the most vital and challenging issue confronting the Baha’i community,” for this issue permeated the entire nation, which he called “a prey to one of the most virulent and long-standing forms of racial prejudice.”
Though this message was penned in 1938, I believe it remains highly relevant today because the “cancerous growth of racial prejudice” continues to eat into the body politic. “Black Lives Matter”: this basic assertion of human value, proclaimed by the protestors who are filling the streets of U.S. cities, responds to the routine, systematic treatment of People of Color* as disposable. Racism remains “the most vital and challenging issue.” I wish to share with you Shoghi Effendi’s guidance on deconstructing it, along with my reflections as a white person living in the United States. Continue reading
Baha’u’llah proclaimed to humanity that “these great oppressions that have befallen the world are preparing it for the advent of the Most Great Justice.” His teachings lay out a blueprint for establishing a just world civilization founded on international cooperation, and the paramount task of His successors has been to give people around the world access to this blueprint.
To that end, Shoghi Effendi worked tirelessly to build the capacity of Baha’is around the world to share Baha’u’llah’s message. The crucial channel for his guidance was letters to individuals and national bodies alike. The Advent of Divine Justice is one such letter—a particularly powerful one in its rallying cry for Baha’is to engage in a double crusade of improving the self and improving society. Though addressed to the Baha’is in the United States and Canada and written in 1938, its guidance applies to the life of every Baha’i and maintains its relevance today. This article seeks to aid your study of this significant message by commenting on its significance, reviewing its history, and summarizing some of its major themes. Continue reading
Hand of the Cause of God Martha Root sitting front and center, with a group of women in Melbourne, Australia, c. 1924. Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community
A century ago, on July 22, 1919, Martha Root embarked on a 20-year journey to destinations in Europe, Australia, Asia, the Americas, and Africa. These travels were motivated by a desire to share Baha’u’llah’s teachings with diverse audiences through public speaking and writing. Before setting out, she had honed her rhetorical skills during her career as a journalist, performer, and teacher. You can learn more about Root’s purpose-driven life from this earlier Baha’i Blog article.
Root is a role model for participating in the discourses of society; she wrote countless articles and speeches applying Baha’i teachings to a host of issues, including new media (radio), intercultural communication, women’s rights, international relations, and economic inequality. For a research project, I studied 25 of her speeches. I was particularly struck by “Culture and World Peace” (also titled “What Is Culture?”), which she delivered during her final trip around the world. Between 1938 and 1939, Root gave this talk to audiences including college students in India and women’s organizations in Australia. When you read the speech (below), you will observe that she appealed to these audiences by discussing women’s role in society and higher education, among other themes. Continue reading
Many Baha’is have a copy of The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Baha’i Revelation on their bookshelf. What is this book, and what is its purpose? Why is it important to Baha’is? Who was Nabil? When did he write his narrative, and when was it translated into English? This article provides basic answers to these questions, drawing primarily from Shoghi Effendi’s introduction to the English translation. Continue reading
Hand of the Cause of God William Sears (1911-1992). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.
When setting out to write this article, I felt overwhelmed: William Sears accomplished so much in his 80 years. How to distill decades of service, achievements, and adventures into a short article? Here I’ve only captured the outlines of a man who seized every opportunity to serve—who once said, “I need only to remember one thing: nothing must come between me and my responsibilities to God and to my fellow man. Glory is not his who loves his country, his family, or himself alone. Glory is his who loves his kind. This, I believe, has helped me to look upon each dawn as a new adventure.”
A spiritual light burned in Sears practically from his birth on March 28, 1911. Starting in 1912, at 18 months old, he had dreams about a Holy Man—dreams which, he later discovered, began when that Holy Man, Abdu’l-Baha, visited Minnesota, where Sears grew up. Raised in the Catholic Church, Sears was full of questions about religion, and was supported in his investigations by his grandfather. His father, however, was bewildered as the boy voraciously studied the Bible and proclaimed, “Someday I’m going to go all over the world and tell people about God.” Continue reading
“Each sees in the other the Beauty of God reflected in the soul, and finding this point of similarity, they are attracted to one another in love. This love will make all men the waves of one sea, this love will make them all the stars of one heaven and the fruits of one tree. This love will bring the realization of true accord, the foundation of real unity.” -Abdu’l-Baha
In 1904, Florence Breed and Ali-Kuli Khan married in Boston. Breed was American and Khan was Iranian; their union symbolized East and West uniting in the Baha’i Faith. When Abdu’l-Baha visited the US in 1912, the Khans hosted a luncheon for Him in Washington, D.C. There, Abdu’l-Baha defied social convention by giving Louis Gregory, an African-American Baha’i, the seat of honor. Continue reading
Laura Dreyfus-Barney (30 November, 1879 - 18 August, 1974). This portrait of Laura was done by her mother, Alice, and is courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
May 16, 1909, New York City: a group has gathered to hear Laura Clifford Barney speak. Her name is familiar to the audience from Some Answered Questions, which was published last year. This book brought Abdu’l-Baha’s commentary on subjects ranging from the New Testament to criminal justice to the newborn Baha’i community in the United States. Barney, the book’s compiler and translator, has spent most of the past decade far from this, her homeland, living in Paris and Akka. But now she has returned to visit—and to share what she has learned from her sojourns with Baha’is in the Middle East. One audience member has a pen poised above a stack of lined paper, ready to transcribe Barney’s words. Thanks to this anonymous scribe, we have a record of Barney’s comments that day, divided into two talks: the first, on her journey to Persia, and the second, on her observations of Abdu’l-Baha.
Barney had a long, productive life, which you can learn about in this Baha’i Blog article on her relationship with Hippolyte Dreyfus, whom she married in 1911. I’ll focus on her efforts as a young woman to build a bridge between continents. Continue reading