Saturday, December 25, 2010

Future Trials

A little over a year ago, I wrote an article on the Planet Baha'i web site (as opposed to this blog) titled "Another Disaster Tries to Loom". It dealt with predictions of not one but two predicted "end of the world" events: a claim that Jesus will return in March, 2011 and the December 2012 hoopla connected with certain claims about the Mayan calendar.

A few days ago, I received an email commenting on that article. The author, a fellow named David from Wisconsin wanted to share his comments, so I'll post them here:
Excellent article!

One point I must add is the fact that Baha'u'llah, 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi all have written about events in the near future which would be very difficult for humanity to take and which would shake mankind to its depths, impelling us into the new age. There is a great deal of evidence that two factors are coalescing: the degradation and depletion of our basic resources and the mounting array of harmful substances that pervade our life due to industry playing such an unfettered roll in our development.

There are many groups who are looking deeply into these conditions and pointing out that we are running out of options. So much topsoil flows out to sea from the Mississippi river that a years worth would fill a train that could wrap around the world seven times. The middle east was once a lush and verdant system of rivers, forests and prairies but is now largely desert for the same reasons that we are facing decreasing production all over the world now.

I would recommend to all Baha'is that the most fertile soil for teaching is among the many sustainability groups forming around the world. In particular are three: The Natural Step, Permaculture and The Transition Town Initiative. I seriously urge you to seek them out and look into their efforts and provide them with the spiritual underpinning that is still the missing element in what they are trying to achieve.

They are all aware of a concept called Peak Oil, which points out that we are on target to experience a decline in the cheep oil that has been underpinning our "growth economy" and all our material endeavors. This will be causing numerous difficulties all over the world - the implications are truly enormous since so little preparation has been made. The oil industry has denied this up till one month ago (Nov 2010) when the International Energy Agency announce in its yearly report that "by the way" conventional crude oil peaked in 2006.

In other words, that was the highest rate of production of normal, easily accessible crude oil, that will ever be achieved! We will be going downhill from now on, using more and more expensive, hard to find and process oil. It just barely preceded the bursting of the housing bubble and the resulting economic commotion that continues to spread.
Thanks for your comments, David!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Teaching and Reaching Online

One of the goals I've always had for Planet Baha'i (the web site, the forum, and this blog) is that it be a way of reaching out beyond the Baha'i community to teach others about our religion and invite them to look at their own religion in a new light. Conversion is not really my main concern (although of course I'm always happy when I hear that someone has decided to become a Baha'i). There are, to my way of thinking, many reasons why people should have a chance to learn about the Baha'i Faith. Way back in 2001 (kind of scary that 2001 qualifies as "way back"!) I wrote an article listing ten such reasons: Why Learn About the Baha'i Faith? If you read it, you'll see that only the last two reference conversion at all, and one of them is simply along the lines of, "If you're actively looking for a religion, you ought to look here while you're at it."

But after 10+ years of experience, online discussion forums seem to me to be a somewhat clumsy way of going about it. Their strength is that they offer human interaction. Questions can be asked and answered, relationships (to a degree, at any rate) can be forged, and people can get at least a bit of a sense of what the Baha'i community is actually like. Their weakness is that they offer human interaction in a rather limited way. Much of human communication is nonverbal, but online all we get is the verbal, and sometimes people aren't incredibly good at expressing themselves in a way that conveys their real intent. It's so easy to get the wrong impression. Moreover, none of us posts in a vaccuum. If we're having a bad day (or a bad week, or a bad life), our posts are easily colored by our our anger, frustration, despondency, etc., over other things.

For awhile today I found myself sucked into a series of searches to find mentions of the Planet Baha'i forum elsewhere on the web. I ran across an interesting variety of references and links, ranging from our presence in link lists to positive recommendations (usually links to specific posts that might answer questions being asked) to complaints and sharp criticisms (one person was "raising an alarm" about a thread they felt was based on outrageous misinformation). In the course of this, I was been led back in time to threads that played themselves out seven or eight years ago and which read almost exactly like threads recently active. It's almost as though we've been stuck in a time loop, except some of the characters have changed.

Anyway, clearly we are getting noticed, at least from time to time. And if we are noticed, then we are teaching, even if only in subtle ways. But what are we teaching?

Without a doubt, sometimes we teach Baha'u'llah's Message. We use quotations extensively, and in the main I feel we do a pretty good job of exemplifying His teachings in terms of how we relate to each other and our guests. But also without a doubt, sometimes we don't. I have no delusions about this being avoidable. I'm not always happy with how I have conducted my own self, and I'm sure most of the rest of us have had moments when we wish we hadn't posted as we did. These things, unfortunately, happen. And I'm sure this extends to people of other faiths as well. If you happen to be a Christian reading this, for example, I'm sure you want to be a good ambassador for Jesus Christ. And I'm sure that often you are, but also that sometimes you feel you have not been.

So the question (and I open this up to everyone regardless of religion affiliation), is what if anything can be done to make a forum such as this a good and successful vehicle for teaching about a religion? Are we already as good as it gets, or can it get better, and if so how? If not, why not? And does it matter?

You can post comments on this blog if you like, but in the interests of having a conversation, I've also created a thread in our forum to ask the same question. I invite you to visit it and post your comments there.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

E-Books and Baha'is

Since we're working towards the launch of One Voice Press, I've been giving a fair bit of thought to e-books and how they might be transforming the publishing world. I happened across this post at a blog called Mobile Opportunity comparing the previous hype over e-books ten years ago with that of today. Author Michael Mace offers some thought-provoking observations here.

One thing that I keep wondering, however, is to what degree people really want to read books on a small blinking box. As Mace notes,

Paper books simply aren't broken, from the perspective of most users. S. David Mash had a good quote on this: "The reading device for the paperback is widely available for free (sunlight). This device can be used for other tasks as well."
There are undoubtedly some materials for which electronic readers make sense. I can see it for reference material, periodicals, textbooks, and materials that you might regularly want to be able to search quickly. But personally, I can't see curling up on the sofa with a cup of tea and a good e-book. (For one thing, being a klutz I'd probably spill the tea and that would be the end of the reading device!) I've talked to a number of other people who share this view, not all of whom are quite as old as I am. (So I have to believe it's not simply an age thing.)

Where Baha'i publishing is concerned, I can certainly see a prominent place for electronic versions of the Holy Writings, other authoritative materials (a lot of which is used for reference and regularly searched; I myself have used Ocean for that very purpose for about a decade), and for periodicals. There would be a lot of value in having teaching materials available in electronic form, too. But would people choose to read a biography that way, or an inspirational work, or a Baha'i-inspired work of fiction?

I'm not entirely sure. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts, however. Will the bound book still have a place in an electronic world?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Oh Yeah, the Name Is . . .

One Voice Press. That's the name of the Baha'i press Kathy and I are working on starting. We got the trade name registration letter from the state yesterday, so that part is official, at least.

We have a friend working up a logo for us based on an idea I had and that my daughter Jocelyn elaborated into a great prototype.

If you want to write for us, we would love to hear from you. See the previous post for details...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A New Venture and Whatnot

Okay, so I'm now down to one post per year. That might be a record of some sort.

Anyway, those of you who follow PB regularly know that Kathy and I stopped putting new material on the Planet Baha'i web site at the end of 2009. The discussion forum is still in full swing, but we have been slowly working towards a new venture: a small Baha'i publishing company. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are now looking for manuscripts and book proposals.

So here's the deal . We're accepting submissions of nonscholarly, non-introductory book length manuscripts and book proposals with a Baha'i theme. We are particularly interested in inspirational materials, fiction, memoirs, and general works showing faith in action. We'll be happy to provide submission guidelines. Just drop us an email.

Feel free to spread the word. Further news will be posted as it becomes available...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Oddly Enough, Almost a Pilgrim

Bad blogger, Dale. One post a month or less?? Well . . . in my defense, all I can say is I have too many irons in the fire, and I keep finding new things to do on top of it all.

But that's not what I'm writing about today. (Not intentionally, anyway.) Last week while I was minding my own business at work, Kathy called me up and asked for my Baha'i ID number. For those of you who don't know what a Baha'i ID number is, it's just a number that Baha'is are given by their National Spiritual Assembly when they enroll as members of the Baha'i Faith. It's like an account number. The reason for having a Baha'i ID number is, basically, that computers like account numbers. Makes it easier to keep track of things like mailing lists.

So anyway, Kathy calls me at work and asks what mine is. I tell her. I don't ask why. I just tell her. She's my wife. I trust her. After a pause and sounds of typing on a computer keyboard, she says, "You're probably wondering why I asked."

No, actually I'm not. But I suggest that she may want to use it to log on to National's administrative web site to look up some information. She says no, but doesn't give an actual answer for a moment or two, then she announces, "There. We're signed up for pilgrimage!"

Cool.

If you've been paying attention here, you'll notice there was absolutely no consultation involved. She just decided it was a good time to sign up, so she did it. So sometime in the next two to three years or thereabouts, assuming our finances work out (which they never do exactly, but that's never stopped us before), we'll be headed for Haifa, Israel and the Baha'i World Center.

Okay, now pertaining to all this, there is this thing called Ning which is used to build social networking sites. Baha'is seem to have fallen in love with it over the past couple of years. There are all kinds of Baha'i sites based on Ning. Many of them are (as I understand it) invitation-only affairs, and some are used for administrative purposes. There is one created for Baha'is who have been on pilgrimage, are on the list to go on pilgrimage, or maybe are just thinking about going on pilgrimage. About the same time as Kathy signed us up for pilgrimage, a Planet Baha'i member named Cathy sent me an invitation to join the pilgrimage Ning site.

Two things about this. (1) Cathy didn't know we hadn't yet been on pilgrimage. She just thought the site would interest me. (2) Cathy has the same name as Kathy, only spelled differently.

What's up with that? Is there some otherworldly connection between women whose names are variants of Cathy/Kathy?

I dunno. All I know is, it is late and I am tired. ;-)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Trials, Questions, Reboots, and a Fast Fast

I have to admit that I still haven't gotten the hang of this blogging stuff yet. Still, I guess it's time for a few more updates from Crooked Mile. (That's what Kathy and I have taken to calling our house.)

Those of you who are also members of the Planet Baha'i Forum will know that I spent a few weeks out of work from mid-January to early February. Fortunately that didn't last too long, but since I also spent a couple of months out of work at the end of 2007, our resources have been stretched pretty thin these days. Add to that a computer crash and various other tests and trials, and by now it's a miracle I know my own name.

Oh, well. At least the science and religion survey I mentioned in my last post is going well. Thus far I've had over 270 responses. I'd like a lot more, though, and I'd like to get considerably more participation from people who are not Baha'is, so I have a good basis for comparison. If you haven't taken the survey, please do, and please spread the word to friends, family, total strangers, etc. Please consider posting a link in your blog if you have one. There are 40 questions on the survey and you should be able to complete it in about 15 mintues, I hope. Thanks!

The new Planet Baha'i is behaving well so far (we haven't received any real complaints anyway), and we have restarted our regular publication schedule. We'll be putting new content online and emailing newsletters biweekly instead of weekly, but we hope that will be sufficient to keep everyone happy and keep us from going insane. If you haven't seen it yet, please check out Kathy's new article, "Fashion Unconsciousness" and my new book review on Legacy of Courage: The Life of Ola Pawlowska.

Also, make sure you are a Planet Baha'i member. (If you get the newsletter, you are, but you may not remember your user ID and password. If you aren't sure, you can either email me for help or just set up a new account.) The Member Center not only lets you subscribe to our newsletter, it also has a number of special features for you. For one thing, there is an email course titled "Introduction to the Baha'i Faith" which we think will be of interest to anyone not terribly familiar with the religion.

With all the foregoing excitement, it seems to me that the Fast has been going awfully . . . well, fast this year. Only four and a half days left as I write this.

Or maybe it's just that I'm getting older. ;-)