Episode 2: Fleeing Mischief
Hi, I’m Caleb Gilleland and welcome to the bahai.tools Focused podcast — a place where we sit back, soak in the Writings of the Baha’i Faith together, and then move back out into the world, charged up and ready to make a difference in the life of humanity. In this episode, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on staying detached from current events.
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I don’t know about you, but I find myself in a state of constant confusion these days when i’m trying to understand the world. I get on Facebook, and I see some of my friends from high school or a while back, and its pretty obvious to me they’re feeling so exasperated by what’s going on, whether it’s just politically, economically, socially -some of them are kind of pissed off about how slow the social justice is happening and others are terrified that things are changing so fast that our culture and our entire systems of value and meaning, will all be swept away. And I get it. I’m from a largely conservative area, and I live now in a more left-wing big city. But what scares me, is that I see people willing to sacrifice everything -their values, their morals- for victory. Because they’re so terrified the “other side” will win.
But what scares me even more, is that I often see Baha’i’s taking sides in this arena.
Perhaps we’re all a little bit political on the inside I know I can be.
But the writings of the faith are pretty clear. The system itself isn’t perfect, and we have to be detached from that. And that’s not always fun, and that’s not always comfortable -but it really is of the essence of what waiting for a new world order is and trying to build that step-by-step. It’s not getting attached to the one that exists now. Whether the pros, the cons of it, it’s not staying attached.
One reason i’m bringing this up to you, is a few weeks ago, in a devotional we have here in Jersey City, we were going through a section of Gleanings (it’s section 43) and a paragraph that really stood out to me, was the last paragraph in the entire section.
We’ll go ahead and read that, and then we’ll break it down sentence by sentence like we always do.
“Time and again have We admonished Our beloved ones to avoid, nay to flee from, anything whatsoever from which the odor of mischief can be detected. The world is in great turmoil, and the minds of its people are in a state of utter confusion. We entreat the Almighty that He may graciously illuminate them with the glory of His Justice, and enable them to discover that which will be profitable unto them at all times and under all conditions. He, verily is the All-Possessing, the Most High.”
Let’s go through these one at a time:
“Time and again have We admonished Our beloved ones to avoid, nay to flee from, anything whatsoever from which the odor of mischief can be detected.”
I think it’s fair to say that there’s a lot that stands out to me there, but the first question I have is, what does ‘mischief’ mean?
I looked it up and there are two definitions. The first one is what I think what we all think of when we hear the word ‘mischief”. It says “petty annoyance”. So it’s something that’s relatively harmless, but it kind of gets under your skin. Given the context of what Bahá’u’lláh is saying here, I don’t think it’s that.
The second one is “archaic usage”. That kind of fits right in with the kind of language that’s used in the Baha’i writings- the modern english. That definition means “harm or injury”.
I think for me, it’s pretty obvious that Bahá’u’lláh is talking about that second one.
I asked myself, “What does it mean to avoid the odor of mischief? What is the odor of mischief?”
I think that’s when you’re in a position and you’re kind of checking it out…”should I get involved with this? – Is this something that’s going to benefit humanity?” And you start looking at, not just the things they say, but what they do, and what their end goals are. You kind of sniff around, and if you even get a hint that it may be divisive in a bad way, there’s a difference in standing up for what’s right and then trying to wreck everything in the process, and that can be a fine line sometimes; and sometimes the people involved don’t necessarily know where they’re going, you have to be careful.
So if you have a situation, and you smell just a little bit of that odor that’s going to harm or injure people or society, I think for me that’s when you have to flee from, avoid, anything whatsoever.
I think that’s interesting that he said anything whatsoever. He’s being pretty vague about that, but it’s a strong statement. To avoid anything…whatsoever. I also think it’s quite interesting that the entire quote starts out with, “Time and again have We admonished Our beloved ones to avoid these things”. Time and again.
To me, Bahá’u’lláh is saying something about us, he knows us rather well, and so he knows we are prone to try and get involved in things that make us feel good about ourselves, maybe for a good reason. Maybe we’re trying to do something good for the world.
We often put ourselves in compromising positions, to where our real values our core values as Baha’i’s will be compromised.
I really wanted to find out more about mischief and what that meant. First of all, it’s kind of a fun word, but I think it’s really important when you’re thinking about the things that are going on in the world, and what the Baha’i faith has to say about those. So I went digging in for more quotes that had ‘mischief’, and so I came up with this one from the selections of writings of Abdu’l- Baha, section 233.
“O ye beloved of the Lord! On one side the standard of the One True God is unfurled and the Voice of the Kingdom raised. The Cause of God is spreading, and manifest in splendour are the wonders from on high. The east is illumined and the west perfumed; fragrant with ambergris is the north, and musk-scented the south.”
That sounds like something we should be aiming for.
“On the other side the faithless wax in hate and rancour, ceaselessly stirring up grievous sedition and mischief. No day goeth by but someone raiseth the standard of revolt and spurreth his charger into the arena of discord. No hour passeth but the vile adder bareth its fangs and scattereth its deadly venom.”
That sounds pretty rough…so there’s the hate and rancour and the sedition (which is another word for rebellion and mischief) so they’re harming these things. This is what we’re not supposed to do?
“No day goeth by but someone raiseth the standard of revolt and spurreth his charger” So his horse or knight, but maybe in this case not a well intentioned one. “Into the area of discord.” — things that divide people. “No hour passeth but the vile adder…” — so it’s a poisonous snake. That’s quite powerful imagery about what’s going on, and when you think about “what is poison?”, you can have a gigantic tub of water, and you put one drop of poison in there, it may still look clean, but it’s deadly to drink. I think we have to be very careful when we’re looking at organizations or we’re trying to advance our values, that we don’t have it poisoned by something that is deadly to what we stand for as Baha’i’s.
So the last little paragraph from this section by Abdu’l- Baha:
“The beloved of the Lord are wrapped in utter sincerity and devotion, unmindful of this rancour and malice. (I think that’s important, that needs to be on orientation.) Smooth and insidious are these snakes, these whisperers of evil, artful in their craft and guile. Be ye on your guard and ever wakeful! Quick-witted and keen of intellect are the faithful, and firm and steadfast are the assured. Act ye with all circumspection!”
So it seems like God’s telling us here that there are a lot of people that say very nice things to get us involved with them and we have to be very, very careful.
Going back to the original quote from Gleanings, it’s the second sentence, and I think it really ties into that…. “The world is in great turmoil, and the minds of its people are in a state of utter confusion.” In what ways is the world in great turmoil in the minds of its people in utter confusion? I guess it’s all of the obvious things; the world is in a state of war in quite a few countries, there’s famine, there’s dictatorships, (in the west anyways) there’s political upheaval, and people are really, really divided and in some ways I think the situation can only go in one direction, and not the pleasant one. And so we as Baha’i’s need to kind of stay on the sideline of things, because this isn’t our fight. Talking about a state of utter confusion: what are some examples of that? What’s confusion? I think that a lot of morals and values that were pretty clear, a generation or two ago ten…fifteen years ago- are very different now. They’re up for grabs. Like are women and men equal? As Baha’i’s were the first in line to say ‘yeah’. But are women and men the same? And that’s a little bit of a different question and i’m not sure what i think about that question. But people are willing to “figuratively” die on their hill defending that,
and hopefully that doesn’t turn into literal.
Next question: Can the gender of the people identify with change? Does society have to accept change? Should people have to use different pronouns other than “he’’ or “she” to refer to people? Should the law compel that?
Next question: It’s kind of vicious, but it’s worth thinking about – Is it better to have a pet, like a dog or something, or is it better to have a baby? In a western country you walk into a supermarket- you’re looking through the aisles and you see the pet food aisle is really long and it’s got a lot of stuff, and you look at the baby aisle and it’s really short, there’s not so much there. What are the reasons for that?
In the west, we don’t have a value for children in the same way anymore. Now granted, we don’t need them to work on our farms like we used to, but at the same time, we don’t value human life in the most fundamental way, we’re all about what makes us comfortable and happy, and kids don’t always make us comfortable and happy.
Next question: Is stealing wrong? You know fifteen years ago people would have said its wrong under all conditions. But now, it’s not so clear, if you have different groups that are oppressing different groups, and we’re all in a hierarchy of power, and that’s the only thing that really matters. Well if one groups oppressed, and they’ve been stolen from by other people, is it okay for them to steal back? I have opinion on that, but it’s just something to think about.
And last: Is chastity an immoral and out-of-date concept? Is marriage an out-of-date and immoral concept? I think as Baha’i’s we know that we’re supposed to be chased and marriage is a goal for our lives, for almost all of us. But society, especially in the west, would hard disagree with that, and maybe even seem a little hateful and bigoted for having those value, or at best a little strange and outdated.
I thought the reference to ‘utter confusion’ was interesting, so I found another quote from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, and it’s quoted from Shoghi Effendi in “The Promised Day Is Come”.
“The way of God and the religion of God have ceased to be of any worth in the eyes of men.” “The vitality of men’s belief in God,” He also has written, “is dying out in every land…. The corrosion of ungodliness is eating into the vitals of human society.” “Religion,” He affirms, “is verily the chief instrument for the establishment of order in the world, and of tranquility amongst its peoples…. The greater the decline of religion, the more grievous the waywardness of the ungodly. This cannot but lead in the end to chaos and confusion.”
So you definitely see here some echoes of that same message, except here, it kind of points out why that is the case, it seems to be the decline of religion. Values that used to hold our society together and societies around the world. Maybe they weren’t Christianity, a lot of the east is Islam, and Buddhism, and Hinduism…these gave morals and value structure to society, and when those things stopped being believed in, for a while it’s fine, because people still had good values, you don’t need God to be good. But the truth is, when God, or the idea of God, defines what is good, and you stop believing in God, where those values came from, eventually you start asking “Why do I believe in those values? Are they just made up? Are they just a cultural construct?” And if true…do you need to believe in them anymore, do you need to practice those values? And I feel like the west in general, is having a collective realization of ‘that is the case’.
So the second to last quote of the original section in Gleanings is:
“We entreat the Almighty that He may graciously illuminate them with the glory of His Justice, and enable them to discover that which will be profitable unto them at all times and under all conditions.”
So my question is: What does it mean to be illuminated with the glory of His justice? When I look at ‘justice’, I’ve seen it defined before as if you take all of the other virtues and you combine them together, then you get justice. I think that’s kind of a cool idea. And the ‘glory of justice’ so (glory is when something is when something is outwardly evident and beautiful at the same time.) So to be illuminated, God wants to illuminate us with the glory of His justice. My take on that is that He wants to make it very evident and clear to us about the values that are important.
Why did God have to help us to discover what would be profitable to us? Isn’t that interesting? Why don’t we just know? I think it’s because we have two sides to our nature, we have that lower side of our nature that is interested in very base things, food, shelter, sex, and then we have the higher nature that tries to orient us towards the divine things that God wants for us, the kind of life that God wants us to live to fulfill our potential as humans.
But in a world where values are relative, that kind of idea becomes widespread amongst everyone. How do you actually know what’s really profitable towards you anymore? In this it seems like God has to help us see that.
And lastly, the quote ends with:
“He, verily is the All-Possessing, the Most High.”
What does it mean, in this context, that God is the All-Possessing?
I think there’s a lot of ways to look at that. But for me, the All-Possessing, it makes me think of that God has the answers, He’s possessing of the answers, He’s possessing of wisdom. And we need to orient our lives towards that direction.
And what does it mean that He’s the Most High?
He’s our highest aim, our highest desire. He’s the thing that we should be shooting at.
So as we wrap this all up, what should be our take away from this?
For me, it’s to look at everything we do in life, very carefully, to make sure it aligns with the spirit of the faith. That it’s aligned with building a new world order, and not just tearing the old one down. Maybe there are parts of the old world order that need to be torn down, but let’s let other people do that. Let’s spend our energy, our time, and our resources on trying to make the world a better place, and try to prepare the way by building these new institutions, whatever it is, whether it’s core activities, having people over for conversations about spirituality, or whether it’s giving our time to serving people directly. But let’s make sure that we’re not mixing any poison in the water that God’s given us.
*My challenge for you this week is to stay detached from all the discord, strife and division in your life. And when you see something like that going on, when you see a place of hurt that people are coming from, to kind of step back, and really think to yourself, perhaps pray about what’s really going on here. What difference can you make to make the situation better and not to inflame it more.
Well that’s all we have time for today. Thank you so much for taking the time to explore the Baha’i writings along with me, and I really hope that this impacts your week in a positive way.
Until next time, Alláh-u-Abhá.