Today's Stamp: The Oneness of Humanity, at the Baha'i House of Worship, Wilmette, IL USA
As I go live with ‘Today’s Stamp’ from Chicago, Illinois USA it is just after of ‘Holy Week’ (Easter) for Christians and the middle of passover for Jews. It is also two days after the Easter Sunday terrorist attack on churches in Sri Lanka with killed and wounded many people as they were gathered to celebrate the holiday*. For many, religion is a ‘hot topic’, one to be avoided. For many, religion is in itself something to be avoided, and for many religion is at the center of their very being. Is there a place where people of all faiths including the agnostic and atheist can come together with one unified goal of peace?
NOTE: As previously stated in earlier posts: none of my posts are lessons in history. I will include some references to articles pertaining to subject matter mentioned here, though I welcome you to do your own research, dig deeper learn more. These posts are an account of experiences, both mine and of those whom I meet. I encourage you You, the reader, to contribute to your own experience/s. I also invite you to contribute your experience/s and opinions in the comments section below each post. Some of your comments may vary widely and opinions differ greatly. Many of the experiences and opinions expressed in these accounts are quite personal, and do not claim to be the same opinions or experiences of ALL. The commentary here is about observation and aimed at igniting conversation, not closing it. I am not here to tell anyone how to feel, or how to react to one's own experience.
The continental United States is most often considered divisible by four regions: NorthEast, South, MidWest and West*. Most often the most populated cities in the States sit alongside a large body of water. Sitting in the Midwest region of the United States and Canada is the largest freshwater system in the world, The Great Lakes, and the rivers connecting them*. Along this massive water system lie many big cities including though not limited to Montreal (St Lawrence seaway), Ottawa (Ottawa River), Toronto (Lake Ontario), Buffalo/Niagara, Cleveland Toledo & Detroit (Lake Erie), Milwaukee and Chicago on Lake Michigan.
I used to ride my bike along Lake Michigan in the city of Chicago, easily forgetting I’m not overlooking an ocean*. The greenish hue in summer often reminded me of Miami Bay or the Gulf of Mexico. Moving north of downtown Chicago along the Lake you pass through many great beaches and neighborhoods to arrive in its northern suburbs, Wilmette and Winnetka. In Chicago’s northern suburbs sits a place so gorgeous and peaceful you might feel as though you are on vacation even if you live nearby. There are only eight of these ‘Mother Temples’ in the world, the Baha’i House of Worship.
In western culture, we are taught that it’s best not to engage in topics of religion or politics when it comes to polite conversation. Considering these can be the most divisive of all topics this rule makes sense. Yet, at the same time without engaging in honest dialog about topics that really matter to a person, what’s left to discuss? “how’s the weather?…how was your vacation?.. How was your breakfast..? These are all very valid questions that lead to pleasant exchanges, yet if we rarely talk about subjects we feel passionate about, what are we really sharing? How do we learn from one another if we are too scared to show who we are? What society are we building if we shut the door on our emotions about topics very dear to our hearts?
The acceptance of the oneness of humanity demands that prejudice of any kind weather racial religious or gender related must be eliminated
It is nice to come to work and not have to start off in an argument with your boss because you are a conservative religious person (insert any faith) and are perhaps your boss is condemning your belief in whichever God, gods or otherwise (or the situation vice versa). Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just come together in a place where none of these differences created conflict? Is there a place where people of different religions can come together just for the oneness of humanity? There just might be this place within the walls of the Baha’i house of worship.
The Baha’i faith came to be known as such in the 19th century, though it’s not credited as being a new faith as it’s instead the culmination of all religions*. A place where people who practice varying religions can come together and have faith in the oneness of humanity which demands that prejudice of any kind weather racial, religious or gender related must be eliminated. I was introduced to this place of wonder year ago not long after I moved from Chicago back to the East Coast*. Though I grew up officially Catholic, I danced in an out of a few denominations of Christianity and later came to embrace spirituality without claiming any specific religion. I visit many different houses of worship including Mosques, Hindu & Taoist temples, Jewish Synagogues. I’ve been present for different Indigenous ceremonies and will continue to experience more as I find expressions of spirituality around the globe. It’s here with the Baha’i it seems all of those religions come together as one.
There is only ONE ‘mother temple’ of the Baha’i in North America, and I can see why Chicago was chosen as it’s location. Chicago is a gateway city, the largest city on the great lakes. A City where goods were transported via the St Lawrence seaway and great Lakes water system then dispersed by an intricate railroad system to areas inaccessible by boat. Though the official ‘gateway’ to the west is the Arch in St Louis, Chicago is a major hub of connecting the eastern United states to the west. In 1900, the Chicago ship canal connected the Mississippi river by way of the Chicago river to the Great lakes water system. Chicago is a connector in more ways than one. It served as one of the main cities for the great migration of blacks moving from the Jim Crow South to the North in search of a better life*.
It’s a beautiful unseasonably warm-ish* day for Chicago in January, as I drive from the loop* to Wilmette. I pass through the many Chicago Bears fans gearing up for the big game with the Philadelphia Eagles, then make my way up beautiful LakeShore drive along Lake Michigan, then Sheraton road and wind around back to that gorgeous view of the Lake just as I arrive at the Baha’i House of worship.
I mean, I get it people tend to flock to what they often deem as ‘their own’, or what’s familiar to them, it seems part of human nature, and perhaps it’s too idealistic of me to think we would have more neighborhoods with equal representation of every color, language and creed
I’m greeted by the wonderful staff at the front desk as I ask questions about the faith and introduce myself and Brown Passport asking to get a couple of interviews. They introduce me to welcome Center coordinator Lurenza L. McGhee, and music director of the Baha’i House of Worship, Van Gilmer. I proceeded to interview both Lurenza and Van both about the house of worship and in Van’s case, about his experience with regards to racial dynamics in Chicago as well as his history advocating for civil rights. My interview with Van specifically about his involvement in the civil rights movement at the sit ins in Greensboro NC is shared in my Black History Month 2019 story here *.
I mentioned in my Black History Month 2019 story a bit about the segregation I experienced when living in Chicago and what still remains of that today. I went a bit in depth about the aftermath of the great migration and how many black families still dominate the population of the South Side. Expanding upon this just a bit I should mention that Oak Park, Hide Park and Evanston seemed to be more racially mixed especially by Chicago standards. Honestly, whenever I ventured in these areas it seemed to be a bright shining sign of hope to see people truly come together as one.
There are many different races, cultures and groups of immigrants living in Chicagoland *. This city if full of cultures, faiths and races from all over the world, and yet we can still say (as we can in many cities) ‘this is the Polish area’…’this is the Indian neighborhood’…’this is a Mexican neighborhood’ and so on. I mean, I get it people tend to flock to what they often deem as ‘their own’, or what’s familiar to them, it seems part of human nature, and perhaps it’s too idealistic of me to think we would have more neighborhoods with equal representation of every color, language and creed.
One grounds of the Baha’i house of worship in this Northern Chicago suburb, I could hear several different languages being spoken, see many people of different races walking side by side, bare witness to informative conversations about Islam and Judaism all in the span of an hour. It was truly fascinating and honestly felt I had found the Utopia people had long hoped the USA to be. In speaking with Lurenza this is not by mistake, but by design as one of the main mottos of the Baha’i faith is the oneness of humanity. Lurenza shared with me that one of the principles of the faith is that acceptance of the primarily principle ‘the oneness of humanity’ demands that prejudice of every kind weather racial, religious, or gender related must be eliminated. See what both Lurenza and Van have to share about the Baha’i faith, watch the video here:
As I state in the beginning of each of my Brown Passport Stories, I am not here to push people to tell people what to think nor how to be, so I am not here to push this faith on anyone, and actually neither is the Baha’i faith itself. In my experience of many churches, temples and other houses of worship, it is welcoming more than most might think, and yet I do need to acknowledge each of these institutions does have their own restrictions or customs that visitors need to respect, and some institutions are more extreme may not be open to all. Even with the Baha’i there are some rules posted such as when in prayer or meditation not to show in ways specific to any given religion* (no praying on rosary beads, nor bowing on prayer mats etc). sects of As proclaimed by some more extreme belief systems that theirs is the one and only true path, the Baha’i appears to be very inclusive in that one may continue to be a practicing Catholic, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist and still be a Baha’i. It seems to be a place where no matter what your inner belief system or even lack thereof, all are truly welcome.
*https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/22/world/asia/sri-lanka-bombing-explosion.html *https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/04/22/christianity-under-attack-sri-lanka-church-bombings-stoke-far-right-anger-west/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d6508d520109 *https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/22/asia/sri-lanka-investigation-easter-attacks/index.html *https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/sri-lanka-minister-local-group-linked-deadly-attacks-190422090142634.html
*the four big regions of the continental United States: https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Midwestern_United_States
*The Great Lakes: https://www.history.com/news/are-the-great-lakes-connected
*I lived in chicago for 3.5 years
*the Baha’i Faith is all over the world, though considered by some to be a new religion is more of a coming together of all faiths to worship together. https://www.bahai.org/beliefs/
*Currently there is talk of severing the manmade connection between the Mississippi basin and the Great lakes system due to invasive species traveling in both directions. invasive species have been found traveling from Lake Michigan into the Mississippi basin and also the other way around. It is though that perhaps it was mistake to connect the two major water systems in the first place. https://will.illinois.edu/environmentalalmanac/program/time-to-sever-artificial-connection-between-great-lakes-mississippi-basin
*blacks: African Americans
*the Great migration: “In the decade between 1910 and 1920, the black population of major Northern cities grew by large percentages, including New York (66 percent), Chicago (148 percent), Philadelphia (500 percent) and Detroit (611 percent).” https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/great-migration
*unseasonably warm-ish day for Chicago: it was early January 2019, sunny and peaked out at 45º Fahrenheit (7º Celcius), so not really ‘warm’ but warm for Chicago and ‘warm-ish’ (I still needed a coat) for me.
*the Loop: and are of downtown Chicago surround by the Chicago river https://www.britannica.com/place/the-Loop
*When you step inside the Baha’i House of worship (it’s referred as opposed to being called temple) they request one does not pray specific to any religion. It’s asked of each person for example not to bend down on one knee and give the sign of the cross (Catholic), bow on a prayer mat and recite prayers out loud (Muslim), Recite out loud ‘Baruch atah Adonai’ (Judaism), nor chant out loud ‘Nam-myoho-renge-kyo’ (nichiren buddhism) etc.