….so why am I bothering to post this? Well, ‘cos I’m working like crazy to get ready for India (see my India page for deets) and also cos I’ve not been blogging much at all lately and I wanna share it with y’all.
I was asked to speak last February at the Nashville Baha’i Center about Justice. Ordinarily I am asked to sing, not talk. I *was* also singing as a part of the program, but I did prepare a talk. Here it is, and I’d love to read your feedback on it (even if the feedback is, “Don’t post any more of your talks!”).
When Tracy and Karen sent me an email and asked me if I would speak about justice today – my immediate reaction was a great big NO. After all, I was already doing the singing with Adrienne and like most folks I’ve got a lot on my plate. Plus it’s Black History Month and I’m white so who wants to listen to me? I mean isn’t there anyone else….? Aren’t I already doing enough?
After thinking on it a bit, I realized those reasons are exactly why I needed to say yes and talk to you today about justice. So here are my thoughts.
On Christmas day, 1938, the great-grandson of Baha’u’llah, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, wrote a lengthy letter to the Baha’is of North America. It is called “The Advent of Divine Justice.” If you have not read it, just going by the title you might think that it is all about how God is going to smite the unjust and right the wrongs of the world – to bring about that divine justice by swings of His mighty sword. But this book length letter is not about that. Rather it is a specific outline of how we, as individuals, as members of a community, members of institutions, are to behave in every situation – every day with as he says, “undeviating justice.” This book is a fervent exhortation to us to grasp and use every possible opportunity and situation to become instruments of God’s divine justice and as such to teach the Cause of God. It is no mistake that the book is titled “The Advent of Divine Justice” I encourage you to read it.
I must say that I was tempted to read long passages to you straight from the book, but won’t do that. Suffice it to say, Shoghi Effendi spends no fewer ten pages discussing exactly how we must act at all times toward each other, most specifically, and supremely importantly, about how to eliminate our racial prejudice, which he defines as the most vital and challenging issue facing North America today. It would seem that justice and the elimination of prejudice are linked. For those of you in the room who are not Baha’is, let me tell you that in my experience, generally when Baha’is hear that phrase “the most vital & challenging issue”, our eyes start to glaze ….we’ve heard it so many times, so I’d like to come at this from perhaps a little different direction.
Baha’u’llah has written many things about justice. There are two passages that I’ve been focused on for a while. In The Hidden Words, It’s so important – it’s the second one in the book. He says, with the Voice of God; “The best beloved of all things in My sight is justice.”
“turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.
The second is in the Tablets of Baha’u’llah page 67,. “The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity amongst men.
Let me be clear here: my understanding is that when He says “the appearance of unity”, He does not mean a sham unity – a unity in appearance only, but rather He means that unity will show up in our world like the sun does at dawn.
“The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity amongst men.”
Justice, that best beloved thing in God’s eyes, its purpose has to do with unity. That unity is not possible without it. It is a pre-requisite for unity.
I’ve noticed that we in the American Baha’i community , if we have any concept of unity at all we tend to think of unity as a kind of happy plateau that we achieve and sustain – sort of like a big folk music concert where everyone is holding hands and smiling, maybe singing Kumbaya, everybody “getting along”, everybody making nice and not making waves.
I suggest to you that as nice as that is, it is false. Consider this, Baha’u’llah says,
When I read that, it makes me think that unity describes a state of dynamic tension – an active, living, breathing thing where problems are solved, grievances are addressed, wrongs are righted, and truth is spoken. It is in this kind of unity that justice’s purpose is served and our role as people of Faith, as instruments of justice is pointed out.
Often in our community we are led to believe that we should not say our truth to “preserve unity.” I say that unity can not ever be attained without everyone’s truth out there on the table. Those who have been wronged or hurt too frequently become inactive in community life instead of being encouraged to share their truth and engage in finding solutions. That’s not just a lost opportunity for growth for all parties involved, it is a hindrance to the appearance of unity and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. When we do this, we are refusing God’s gift of justice to us.
When He says,” Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be.” It is no joke. For myself, reading the Advent of Divine Justice several times over the years and pondering, various things about me and my situation have suggested themselves. I’m sharing these, not because I’m such a great example, but to empower you. That you might be encouraged to look for your own opportunities
- It is an injustice to raise my white children to think that there is no white culture, but yet to speak of black culture, Hispanic culture, Persian culture, etc.
- It is an injustice for me to believe the history that I was taught at school without examination– that it was white people that founded this country and also did most everything of importance for the last few thousand years. Justice demands I must seek of my own knowledge .
- It is an injustice that I look at my circle of friends and where I work and where I shop and where my kids go to school I see so many who look the way I do, who have the comforts I have and so on and be satisfied that I am doing enough.
- It is an injustice that my friends and family of color, in fact all people of color, must deal with racial prejudice every day of their lives, whereas I have the choice of dealing with race, or not, simply because of an accident of my birth as a white person.
- It is an injustice for me to assume that the way I was brought up to worship God is the ‘right way’, even as I was brought up as a Baha’i.
- It is an injustice to humanity for me to think that since I have accepted Baha’u’llah and believe with all my heart and soul that mankind is one, that we are one soul in many bodies, that all are my brothers and sisters, that the stain of racism has been removed from my character and that my work is done.
In the process of becoming a more just person by becoming aware of these and other things about myself, my culture, and my history and doing what I can to change them, I have been rewarded with the blessings and gifts of justice. I have reclaimed an authentic humanity within myself and participated in a richness of experience, love and friendship that has done nothing but uplift me, healed my own wounds and brought me closer to God in ways I’d have never dreamed possible. And God has helped me at all times on this path. One of the most wonderful things about this justice is that God WILL help us…if we ask Him to. He is with us every step of the way.
Many times, we all look at the enormity of the problems facing humanity and feel helpless. But I suggest to you that there is something [many things] that we can do, that we can all do, and we can all do it everyday. As busy as we are, with all the things that we have to do, even if we are already doing ‘enough.’ We must have that divine justice to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth and we are the tools that God uses. I believe justice must be something that people of faith consider our own job, our own personal mandate. It cannot be left until later, “when there’s more time.” It cannot be left to someone else, to some magic wand of popular imagination.
Justice is not a high minded concept, it is work, a daily work that few people will receive awards for or even be given a pat on the back for. But it is the best beloved of all things in the sight of God and it must be carried out by all of us for unity to appear. I can strive to be just, I can accept the gift of justice to be closer to God.
Yes, justice is a whole lot of work. But it’s good work if you can get it