A meeting between old friends

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Yesterday (Saturday, 18 November) I had the great pleasure of participating in the annual World Goodwill seminar held by the Lucis Trust‘s London branch. [30.11.2017: The whole seminar can be watched by clicking here; my presentation here; the panel discussion with Dr. Andreas de Bruin and Deborah Ravetz here. | 22.11.2017: I have uploaded a PDF copy of my PowerPoint presentation here.] For those from yesterday’s audience who may be stopping by this space to read some of my previous work, especially on the issue of spirituality and journalism, two notes for you:

The first note is that, alas, I have not been able to keep this space properly updated in recent years, and perhaps to the chagrin of some of you my most recent post was on something quite worldly: an online video game! (My first Master’s degree was in history, and I have gotten involved in FreeCiv Web, an online massively multiplayer role-playing game that involves historical simulation. So it goes!)

Nonetheless, the second note is that this space does contain some of the initial reflections that ultimately led me down the path of researching “philosophy of journalism”. My thoughts on the matter have evolved quite a lot since these, but if you want to read them, click here. If you might be interested in the broader assortment of ruminations and whatnot herein, click here to go to the “Virgil” section of this space, which has more information about what you can find.

World Goodwill

For those among my readers who are unfamiliar with the Lucis Trust, it is the fiduciary trust for publishing the works of Alica Bailey. Within the broader modern-day esoteric/occultist movement, Lucis Trust historically originates in Theosophy, and alongside the Theosophical Society it serves as something of the intellectual core of the New Age, hence it is one of the old guards of an important contemporary spiritual movement. The invitation to participate came out of the blue, and considering the Lucis Trust’s status, perhaps not within the mainstream but certainly within many other walks of life, it was quite an honor.

I was one of three presenters, the others being Dr. Andreas de Bruin who researches mindfulness and meditation within the institutional context of higher education, and Deborah Ravetz, who in academic terms can be understood as an artist engaging in forms of art-based existential therapy or logotherapy. Andreas is doing interesting and rigorous academic work down in Munich and the results of his studies will soon be available via the Mind and Life Institute. Deborah is remarkably eloquent and if I had to sum up her presentation, it would be with the Baha’i Writings: each of us really needs to see things with our own eyes, hear things with our own ears.

My presentation, entitled, “Mirror of the World: The Spiritual Quest of the Journalist”, is derived from my ongoing doctoral research into the phenomenology of news-writing. The gist of my presentation is that the notion of the “Impartial Spectator”, or Objectivity generally-speaking, operates for journalists a lot like the divine does for religious believers, and indeed one can even compare the journalist’s quest as a mystical imitation of the divine. I need to do some tweaking to the PowerPoint, but I will soon make it publicly available here and on the Lucis Trust website.

In all honesty, I found the World Goodwill seminar, including the discussions with the audience, substantive not to mention uplifting, far more so than, well, two major international academic conferences I participated in this past academic year. I also felt there was more of an exchange, not only between the three of us presenting, but with the audience as well as the staff of the Lucis Trust. On the one hand, the seminar was comparable to the recent academic conferences in terms of audience size but much smaller in terms of presenters. On the other hand, I feel that there was not only a lot more sincerity and, yes, good will in the event than what one may find in academic conferences in general, but also much more intellectual rigor.

A meeting long overdue…?

I just want to close this post with this observation: for us Baha’is, the Theosophical Society actually occupies a special place in our history, as Abdu’l-Baha during his momentous travels across the West from 1910 to 1913 gave some of his most important speeches to Theosophists, the most well-known of which were to those in Paris and here in London. Both their movement and ours have evolved immensely in the century since these original encounters, but it really felt like a meeting between old friends who were out of touch for far too long.

Considering the fact that, like Abdu’l-Baha, I had come to the event from the East (He from Acre, myself from Bishkek), the archetypal nature of this meeting between old friends is… well, it’s interesting, to say the least. I am not trying to elevate myself to the level of Abdu’l-Baha of course; rather, it feels as though I had been, what? — chosen? permitted? — to engage in some kind of deep pattern, and for this I am truly grateful.

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The future civilization has already arisen; we are its agents here in the past

bishkek

Things are moving quickly in Bishkek. In a single day, I already have several potential living spaces, including one for a measly approximately $37 per month (a fantastic place; the only problem is it’s practically in the foothills of the Ala-Too, far from the downtown where most of my daily work will be). The long-term visa is a situation that still needs some ironing out. Yet, although some anxiety simmers down in the depths, for the most part the foundations are calm. Something inside of me is saying, This should work, and even if it doesn’t, results per se were never the real point.

The city is even more energetic than what I remember from when I was last here, two years ago. A vortex of car traffic punctuated by pedestrian kamikazes; cracked pavement, or just no pavement at all, surging with plant life and petulant stone; orange and brown dust kicked up in the air; violet and turquoise neon lights bedecking chaikhana after chaikhana; sleek grey social-realist buildings, slowly crumbling or freshly renovated; the ubiquitous scent of burning metal, mountain, and chai — I feel as though I’ve found myself a character in what should prove to be a very interesting, and hopefully meaningful, science fiction film.

And speaking of science fiction, a strange time traveler-like feeling began to creep up on me in recent months about my and my friends’ various vocations as Bahá’ís, journalists, human rights activists, teachers, hacktivists, rogues, and the like. Somehow, being in this young, boisterous Asian republic, surrounded by all the hyper-ideological Soviet-era architecture — the living ruins of one of the great, failed grand discourses — have given me the words to describe it.

How often have we felt that we are fighting, even resisting, as though we were some lunatic minority bestriding the fringe of history, struggling to make a better world? How often have we felt that the horizon is dim, and our lot is merely to be stoic the face of human self-defeat? In fact, it’s totally the wrong way of viewing things.

Continue reading “The future civilization has already arisen; we are its agents here in the past”

Blogging as an act of worship

This is going to be a mad summer for me, full of grant applications for neweurasia, doctorate discussions with professors here at Leuven, writing articles for academic journals, and beginning next week, starting a temporary job scrubbing toilets and mowing lawns from the break of morning into the afternoon. Yes, the man who just appeared on al-Jazeera last night will be a full-time groundskeeper and janitor for a month to help pay his bills.

Does it bother me? At the level of ego, of course it does: survival may dictate that I do this, but yes, it feels very much like abasement. At the level of the spirit, however, it doesn’t: because perhaps in some way I need to do be brought to my knees at this moment — quite literally, considering the number of toilets I’ll be scrubbing.

In practical terms, however, it may very well mean that this blog is going to be somewhat silent for the next month. Short though the job may be, it shall be time consuming. Although the previous times I’ve made such a prediction I always ended up blogging more, nevertheless, circumstances have put me in a reflective mood about this blog, and blogging in general. Why am I doing this?

Immediately, one answer comes to mind: therapy. Fellow Baha’i blogger Ben Schewel wrote a post a few weeks ago discussing the varieties of philosophical actions, but which can also be used as a taxonomy of philosophical motivations. An addition he could could make is Wittgenstein’s use of philosophy as therapy. Wittgenstein is famous for his Philosophical Investigations, which were essentially a journal, but not in the traditional, entirely private sense; rather, they were dually intended for personal exorcism and public reflection and conversation. In other words, it was a blog.

Yet, there is another aspect, something closely related to therapy but deeper. Strangely, when I think over my question, what comes to mind isn’t this blog at all, but Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, and the Baha’i House of Worship that was built there in the early twentieth century. That remarkable building, the first of its kind and a legend among the Baha’is alive today, and the Baha’is who struggled to raise it as the center of the first community ever to be organized according to the Teachings of the Faith, only to witness their work destroyed by earthquakes ideological and geological, somehow feels connected to my writings here and my work on neweurasia.

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Ocean of faith

A year ago today I joined the Baha’i Faith.  To commemorate the occasion, what follows is an account of the night when I made the big decision; some of you may recognize the story from an e-mail I wrote the next day.  I’ll write about the journey leading up to this fateful night, and where I am a year later, in a (near-)future post.

On 23 February, 2009, I was visiting Princeton University to discuss my Master’s thesis from the summer and, more generally, my future, with Professor Michael Cook.  I had a few hours before our meeting, during which I spent time in the famed Firestone Library.

By then I had already been investigating the Baha’i Faith for several months, having completed The Hidden Words, the Kitab-i-Aqdas, and now nearing the end of the Kitab-i-Iqan.  So, my curiosity was piqued when I encountered a book entitled, Revisioning the Sacred: New Perspectives on Baha’i Theology. One entry in particular moved me, “The Possibilities of Existential Theism on a Baha’i Theology” by Jack McLean.  Something about McLean’s essay snared me.

Continue reading “Ocean of faith”