Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Baha'i on Life

Tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen
Grab myself a handful of chicken
And eat and groan and try to come to life.

Slap on some make-up so I don't look scary
Pull up some tights cause my legs are quite hairy
Hop into the car and drive to the Baha'i's.

I knew (almost) nothing about the Baha'i faith. I didn't google it or check out the Wikipedia. Their beliefs and customs were unknown to me. Rebecca stated they were against drug and alcohol consumption and weren't fond of the gays. That's it. That's all I knew. So when Sunday morning rolled around and I found myself taking a seat in a windowless room at the Baha'i Information Center in Webster Groves I had no idea what I was in for.
But I should have known, like always, I was in for an adventure.
Greetings come in various forms and over the past ten months I've experienced them all. There is the basic "hello". You've got the quiet nod of acknowledgement. The faint smile and humble hello is a personal favorite for meeting new people. A handshake and "hello" is standard - men really flock to this one. There's the handshake, "hello" and introduction - a very professional greeting. The upper arm/shoulder pat drives me insane and makes me hate you instantly. Side hugs and hellos are also ridiculously uncomfortable. Full on hug introductions are acceptable from strangers in the following categories - gay men, pagans and women over eighty. Cheek kiss greetings are reserved for Europeans and people I find attractive. Full on mouth kisses are solely limited to family members (who for some reason love this form of greeting. i know, it's weird for me too), lovers and drunk people in the streets of St. Louis after the Cardinals win the World Series.  
"The Greeting" is an exciting part of visiting a new church. Like violins and candlelight, it sets the mood. The mood at the Baha'i Info Center? Ridiculously warm and welcoming. Rebecca and I were quickly approached by nearly all of the forty attendees to the Super Soul Sunday service held the first Sunday of every month. Rebecca was a hit with her hot pink hair. She was welcomed with smiles and "you go girl!" remarks as well as little girls who desperately wanted to speak with her and touch her exotic pink tresses. People said "hi" to me too, just not with as much exuberance. Going places with Rebecca is a lot like being the unfamous date of celebrity. We were showered with handshakes and hellos (luckily no hugs or kisses) and information about the service as well as questions about our lives and why we were attending service. This was a talkative friendly group.

 "Didn't I leave you in Honduras?" said the giant man in a bright blue windbreaker striding across the room with his eyes fixed on Rebecca. "Uh?" she smiled as he remarked how similar her appearance was to a girl he knew in his previous home. He shook Rebecca's hand and introduced himself. Then turned to me and as I offered my hand said, "Don't I already know you?" Of course he didn't. I would remember this guy. He snuggled into the chair next to me and butt cheek to butt cheek he asked me about my spiritual journey, because he said he could tell I was on one and had been for some time. He also knew I could sing - explaining that I was omitting singing talent vibrations.
 Time for service to start...
Baha'i services aren't run by clergy. There isn't a pastor or minister or designated leader - all members share the responsibility of gaining and sharing knowledge. This particular Sunday a curly haired man in Harry Potter glasses named David was leading the service. The children were asked to come to the front of the room. A girl in mismatched socks and sparkle shoes read a passage from a children's prayer book and struggled with every third word. A dark headed waif of a child in a baby pink shawl read a scripture verse. A charming little boy with an overbite belted out a quick song. The eldest girl in the group played a song on the piano. Every child, all eleven of them, either spoke, sang, prayed or played. 
Two of the adult ladies led the group in song. There was no hymnal or song sheet. There were no giant television screens or praise bands. We used our hands to make rhythms and our voices to make harmonies. I tried my best to follow along, because I indeed LOVE to sing. Most of the words were simple and repetitive. That is until we sang in other languages. Then I just made crap up and mumbled. We have come to sing praises to our Lord. We have come to sing praises to our Lord. Lollipop? Shu-mu-my lollipop? Yes, we have come to sing praises to our Looooooorrrrd.
No one seemed to notice.
The children were dismissed to another room for the children's program and the adults remained in the windowless room. We moved our chairs from against the wall to form a circle. It was agreed  we would do introductions so the new people (me and Rebecca) would know every one's name. Each person was to state his or her name and then say a "gift" they brought to the group. There were various gifts in the room - teaching, hope, laughter, love, kindness, curiosity. Rebecca said she brought the gift of color and indeed she did. I brought the gift of an open-mind. I remember many of the gifts brought to service that day, but not one single name (other than David whose name was repeated throughout).
Now begins the discussion/study part of the service. Baha'i's are a unique faith in that they believe in the validity of all other religions...well....kinda. They believe in oneness. Oneness of God, Oneness of Religion and Oneness of Mankind. As far as I can tell from the various pamphlets I was given during the service, Baha'i's believe that Jesus and Krishna and Buddha, etc were all Messengers of the One God, but their messages were thousands of years ago. Baha'u'llah, whom Baha'i teachings are based on, is the Divine Messenger of today. Baha'u'llah is the latest Messenger of God.
The adult discussion focused on how to talk to people about their faith. Practicing different communication styles we role played out scenarios - from talking with people about their workday to discussing Jesus and eternal life.  Their tactic is always to agree, because they believe in the Oneness of Religion and God and Mankind. Throughout the discussion interesting facts about the Baha'i faith came to light. They believe in racial equality and the equality of the sexes. They do not support discrimination of any kind. They work to raise their children without prejudices. Universal education and the unity of science and religion are other focuses of the faith. We are One Family according to the Baha'i faith.
BOOM! That's right! I got my world citizen card courtesy of the Baha'i's.
Role playing was actually quite fun. People were loud and silly and full of energy. Rebecca and I laughed along with a group of diverse, interesting, engaging, lively and entertaining individuals. Amidst all my laughing I found myself thinking - I really like this. This is so much fun. These people are great. Maybe I'll come back here. We have so many of the same beliefs. I like this whole many paths to God thing. That's what I've always thought. It's kinda like having lots of "best friends" sure Jesus is my best friend and so is Buddha, but that doesn't necessarily mean I follow every single thing they say. Maybe the Baha'i faith is the religious smorgasbord I've always searched for. Plus I'm a huge believer in racial and social equality as well as the equality of men and women. Hmmm....
Every time I pass through a church door I try to clear my mind - like a sherbet cleanse. I think of the pagan woman who asked me "Do you enter with an open-mind an open-heart and an open-body?" and I try to remain open to the experience I'm about to have. No judgement - just experience. But sooner or later at every church I've visited something has happened that turns me off. With the Quakers it was the need for plain clothing. Ha! As I type in my red cowl neck dress and mustard yellow "old man" cardigan - please - plain clothes ain't ever gonna happen. With the Buddhists it was giving up all worldly possessions and relationships and awkward chanting. Not for me. With the Catholics it was all the guilt and hell damning. Screw that. With the Christians it was....well, lots of things. Some visits it happened early on. Other visits it happened smack in the middle. Either way, it always happens - the moment when I no longer like the service/religion and want to leave.
With the Baha'i's it happened when we started to talk about the gays....
*Sidebar - I'm tired of talking about gay issues at church. My life is like a gay pride parade - it's constantly raining glitter and fabulous. Gay is all around me and it's wonderful. I wouldn't want it any other way. My life is amazing. It's just...I know people are still working through this whole "Is it okay to be gay?" thing and trying to figure out where God fits in with the issue. But I'm really losing my patience and I'm starting to get angry. GOD LOVES EVERYONE NOW SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!! Can we please talk about something other than gayness? Please? PLEASE!!??!!! Anything. Syria. Gun violence. The afterlife. Mysteries of the universe. Tacos. A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G. *
Gayness follows me. I cannot escape it. Long ago I accepted that I indeed have magical gay powers and everything I touch turns to gay. So, I should have known the Baha'i service would eventually start heading down a gay road...and it did.
Out of nowhere the conversation turned to David's son, who recently realized he was gay. David was very supportive of his gay son - standing up for his desire to wear skirts and make-up at school. David's son felt for some time that he was transgender - living life as a woman in a man's body - and started expressing himself as such. David beautifully described how God didn't see gender or biological sex. God only sees our soul and our souls are without gender or biological sex. It's not your human body that matters - it's your soul. Up until this point I appreciated everything David had to say about gender and homosexuality.
Then things got sticky...someone brought up the issue of having sex.
Baha'i's are to refrain from sexual activity until they enter into a religious marriage - and the only marriages recognized are marriages guessed man and one women. The Baha'i faith doesn't exactly condemn gay love. They are big believers in legal marriage equality and protecting gay rights.  And you can totally hold hands and talk and snuggle and share your deepest darkest secrets with your same-sex partner, but you can't have sex with him or her. EVER. Not even oral. Nope. Not okay. If you are gay and you follow the Baha'i faith you are expected to practice life long chastity.  
WHAT?!?!?!!!!! Does God hate gay people? Cause that seems like lifelong punishment for being gay...the way God made them to be. What kind of God does that? Here ya go, here are all these desires and feelings and instincts but DON'T YOU DARE DO ANYTHING WITH THEM OR I WON'T LIKE IT! Also, if God doesn't see the physical body and only cares about the soul then why does God care about gay sex or sex at all for that matter?
No really, why does God care if we have sex? WHY?  See, I don't think God cares. Not even a little bit. I think God could give two shits about where you poke your pickle or who's dusting your closet. I think sex is a good thing - not a curse, or a punishment or a test of will-power. It's a great stress reliever - like all natural Xanax. It's a sleep-aid. It helps you deal with body issues. It can give you energy. It makes you happy. Maybe God created us with these "feel good places" because God wants us to...I don't know...feel good?
There was a woman at the service, a gay woman, who talked about how hard it was to be chaste but  she knew this life was only but a blip and that her devotion would be rewarded in the next life.
This just does not make sense to me. AT ALL. This Earthly life is but a test for the next one? Baha'i's don't believe in a literal hell or heaven, but instead gauge heaven and hell by your closeness with God. So, apparently God is King Candy and having gay sex is like drawing that horrible gum drop guy when you are half way through with Candyland (the children's game) and are now even further away from a heavenly ice- cream palace finish. It helps me if you can explain things in preschool terms. Candyland exhausts me and I really think God can do better.
After the service the nice man sitting next to me talked about how having standards is so important. I questioned which standards you are supposed to follow because lately I've found everyone is claiming different standards as "God's". He was very understanding and explained that the great thing about Baha'u'llah is that he was truly a messenger of God and spoke the truth.
Uh huh. Right. Thanks. Gotta run. I need a drink - which you do not believe in.
This sex loving booze drinking spiritual enthusiast left church and headed straight to Cherokee street for some authentic Mexican cuisine and a delicious homemade margarita. I said a quiet prayer for all the gay people around the world who have been led to believe they shouldn't live a happy and full and SEXUAL life because of their orientation. I wish you all many wonderful orgasms and lots and lots of post-coital snuggles.
I'm so glad I finally made it back to church.


  1. Ha ha ... you needed to tuck a pedant under your arm, who could prompt you to ask sweetly, "could you show me in the Bahai writings exactly where it says that marriage is only between a man and a woman...?"
    - and watch all that certainty deflate.

    Never mind what some Bahais think, pick up the actual words of Baha'u'llah: taste it. Baha'u'llah would approve of that. He wrote -

    "Be thou of the people of hell-fire,
    but be not a hypocrite.

    Be thou an unbeliever,
    but be not a plotter.

    Make thy home in taverns,
    but tread not the path
    of the mischief-maker.

    Fear thou God,
    but not the priest.

    Give to the executioner thy head,
    but not thy heart.

    Let thine abode be under the stone,
    but seek not the shelter of the cleric.

    Thus doth the Holy Reed intone its melodies,
    and the Nightingale of Paradise warble its song...

    1. Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to share some scripture with me. Sometimes I forget that the "churches" I visit are but one perspective from the religion in question. Maybe I won't close the door on the Baha'i faith just yet...

  2. Thanks! I hope other Bahais read this and start to question how come gays get put into an equal-but-not-equal box. I have blog which touches on things dear to me as a Bahai and so, naturally gay rights is a topic that keeps coming up. In case you missed Sen's point, Bahais say marriage can only be between a man and woman but no where in Bahai scripture is marriage defined in such a narrow way. But you are correct, life is too short and no gay should mix with a community that treats any committed relationship as any lesser than any other.
    Here's my blog:

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your blog. I found the discussion on restricting gay sexual relations very confusing and upsetting as well as mismatched with Baha'i beliefs about equality and I am delighted to know there are varying schools of thought on the issue and the discussion is not yet closed.

  3. Oh man, this is hilarious and amazing and I'm pretty sure exactly how I would feel if I discovered the Baha'i Faith today. As is I was raised in the faith, came out as queer and left the faith, but my parents are both still Baha'is, as are many family friends. And I have to say, you really hit the nail on the head with all of this. I'm an atheist so my issues with their beliefs are many, but I too couldn't understand how any god could make me this way, give me this infinite capacity to love, and even introduce me to the most amazing woman in the world, but expect me not to ever express that love physically. No god I would want to believe in, that's for sure. I think this is such a great adventure that you're on, and there is a part of me who has considered doing this just out of curiosity. Anyway, just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated this. I might have to share this with my parents and some other Baha'is from my old community who I recently spoke to about maybe evolving their perspective on the gays. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Willis! Glad you enjoyed it and feel free to share. It's been a fascinating journey and I've loved (almost) every minute of it. Though, I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. I still have nearly 3 months left and I am freaking exhausted. BUT I have a lot of new ideas and thoughts and insights I didn't have when I started, so all this exhaustion is worth it I suppose. Thanks for reading along. Hope you have a super magical day!

  4. Hi Sarah,

    Unfortunately, the discussion of these issues is effectively closed in the Baha'i Faith. And that's because anyone who speaks up on this or any other matter gets kicked out -- ask Sen McGlinn, who shared this wonderful quote, about his current religious status. I was raised a Baha'i but refused formal membership because I said their should be room for dialogue on a whole range of issues, including but not limited to equal marriage for LGBTQ people. The real problem is that the Baha'is teach that their leaders are infallible. The nine men -- despite the talk of equality they can't be women -- who serve on the highest body of the Faith claim that they can never be wrong on ANY issue, including this one. To suggest that they could ever be mistaken is basically considered blasphemous. Like you, I love the idea of studying different religious teachers and taking what seems best from all of them. Unfortunately this is frowned on in the current condition of the Baha'i Faith -- they expect you to believe everything, which means accepting among other things that in the future world state a woman's father will pay a dowry of gold and arsonists will get the death penalty. Best wishes on your spiritual journey! I love the blog!

    Brendan Cook

    1. Wow. I didn't think there was formal leadership in the Baha'i faith. Good to know. Thank you for sharing Brendan. I'm glad to have more info about the Baha'i faith. This whole "we must follow whatever a group of men decide" concept is one of the reasons I rejected organized religion years ago. I follow my heart, the heart God gave me, and my heart is in full support of gays having as much sex as they damn well please. I hope the Baha'i faith can grow to see LGBTQ people as truly equal. Thanks for sharing and thank you for reading along.

    2. First I would like to say that I have been a Baha'i for over 40 years and I am a transgender woman. I have a spiritual right to be a Baha'i and I will never give it up. God's spiritual laws are what they are and I have to find a way to live with that fact. I can not justify the fact that most of my life is not incompliance with God's law nor will I condemn myself, I will just struggle spiritually with the knowledge that my life is about the struggle and my spiritual growth. All unmarried Baha'is struggle with the Baha'i Laws about sex, about not drinking or doing drugs with in a drug filled society, about being kind to others who are spiteful to them, struggle with not discriminating against others who are different in any way when others around them are being intolerant, and much more. I am no different.

      Being a 67 year old transgendered Baha'i woman who is in a relationship outside of marriage puts means that it is hard for me to be judgemental of others in like situations. Knowing that my life style could cost me my voting rights as a Baha'i, for me at my present place in life not to exercise these rights. But I am still a Baha'i and I respect Baha'i Laws and Baha'i Institutions. For me not to do this puts me in the position of assuming authority I don't have. God created me to know and worship Him. My life is a "spiritual walk about" and it does me no good to just parrot the Laws and pay lip service to them, without my soul truly understanding the Laws within my heart and what they mean to my life.

      My mind has always been separated from my heart and my belief have been primarily intellectual. This is not enough. We are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and a whole host of other things. We can be offended and walk away from the struggle or we can jump head first into the struggle with dignity and self respect realizing that in the end we are ever evolving spiritually and none of are who we will become. Being heterosexual or gay, or transgender or lesbian or bisexual or a whole list of other things may be the least important in all of the eternity of our lives to who we really are spiritually.

    3. First having been a Baha'i for forty years, I know that individuals who break the laws are not kicked out, they loose their voting rights and can't go to meetings that involve community administration. The only people who get kick out are those individuals that assume the authority within the Faith of the Baha'i Institutions. You can not teach or preach your own personal point of view as official Baha'i Beliefs.

      The writings of Baha'u'llah, The Bab, and Abdu'Baha are considered scripture and the word of God. No individual living today is considered infallible within the Baha'i Faith. The Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel as an institution is considered infallible when its nine members assemble to consult on an issue, taking into account all of the Baha'i Holy writings, and decisions of past Universal Houses of Justice. The institution of the Universal House of Justice is infallible and not its individual members. Baha'is are encouraged to follow the directives of the assemblies for only then will it be determined if the decision was correct or not. The Universal House of Justice and all other Baha'i Assemblies can revisit their decisions.

      The Universal House of Justice an alter only the decisions of past Houses of Justice. The only Baha'i institution that women cannot participate on is the Universal House of Justice. The House of Justice cannot change what Abdu'l-Bahá' and Baha'u'llah have written about homosexuality.

      Individual Baha'is are left to struggle with and work out in their lives directives given to them by the Universal House of Justice and other Baha'i Assemblies which are usually worked out with their own Local Spiritual Assembly. If you absolutely refuse to deal with your spiritual issues you can loose your voting rights. If you refuse to recognize the authority of the Universal House of Justice and the Assemblies and set yourself up as an authority for yourself and others than you can get kicked out of the Faith. This doesn't happen very often.

      The above is my understanding of the issue discussed above and is not an official position of the Baha'i Faith. Each individual is encouraged to investigate the truth themselves getting the information themselves from the National Spiritual Assembly of their country or the local Baha'i community. If you request these documents you will be able to get access to them or directed to where you can get them.

      I am just an individual Baha'i and not a member of any Baha'i Institution.

  5. "The only people who get kick out are those individuals that assume the authority within the Faith of the Baha'i Institutions. You can not teach or preach your own personal point of view as official Baha'i Beliefs."

    Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for offering your perspective. As far as your personal story, I'm not one to criticize -- it's sounds like you're doing your best to be true to yourself both as a transgender woman and as a Baha'i. But your above statement is still factually inaccurate. I wasn't ever denied an enrollment because I tried say that my beliefs were official Baha'i beliefs. I don't remember doing any such thing, and no one suggested that I did. I was denied membership because I wrote things that sounded very critical from a very personal point of view. I said that denying people voting rights for practicing their sexuality seemed like a bad idea to me, but I never said it was anything more than my perspective. I don't think Allison Marshall ever tried to usurp the role of the administration, and she was booted too. So while I respect your experiences, I think that you also have to respect the experience of those who HAVE lost membership, or had it denied, for voicing what they always insisted were nothing more or less than personal opinions. I wish you all the best.