Lately I have been thinking about religion. Or perhaps I've somehow managed to bundle up religion with faith? Yeah. I think that's it. In truth, I've been thinking about faith. From what I understand, which admittedly isn't much, religion is more about the study and scripture. Faith is something a little extra, I guess, something a little more like inspiration... and not largely dictated by scripture. No. The heart is what guides one's faith. I think. It feels right and more correct, more precise to say that, anyway.

Most of my life I haven't been much of an active participant in my religion, the Baha'i Faith. I was raised as a Baha'i, learned some Baha'i prayers, learned some of its history, familiarized myself with the central figures of the Faith... but it all ended up seeming too much like homework and studying, the faith bit just sorta evaporated in the mix over the years. The name Baha'i, which literally means "follower of God's glory", somehow came to overshadow what it means to really follow God's glory.

There are horror stories, news reports and documented evidence of Baha'is being tortured and terribly mistreated in Iran and other parts of the Middle East since the religion's beginnings. Hangings, firing squads, exiles, foreclosure of homes and businesses, denial of education to the Baha'i youth, murder and general antagonism. As an American Baha'i, I suffered none of these things. The measure of my faith was not put up against such tests. For the most part I've endured relative isolation from the rest of the religious community, neglect, confusion and disinterest having taken the place of hatred, fear or scorn. Most of the time, I end up having to explain what the Baha'i Faith is to people that I meet, when they ask what religion I subscribe to. The funny thing, I think, is that Abdu'l Baha, the grandson of the Faith's founder and Master, told the American Baha'is to expect precisely those things- the overall neglect.

And that's what has inspired this recent spate of religious introspection, I guess. I was on a date-kinda-thing the other night and the young woman I was sharing my time with asked me to describe the Baha'i Faith, once she heard that I am a Baha'i. Yes, she'd heard of it, but only in the remotest sense, and her source, she felt, was suspect: her fundamentalist Baptist uncle who shared scorn for anything that wasn't Baptist. He called it a cult.

Of course I had no problem telling her the facts about the Faith, some of its history, the hard-to-swallow-pill that Baha'is believe Christ's return has already come and gone- just as He said it would, "like a thief in the night"- I parroted all the truth about the Baha'i Faith to her, the Cliff Notes version, if you will.

But all the information I can share with a person about the Faith doesn't really tell them anything, does it? It doesn't explain why I choose to remain a Baha'i, even though I'm not an active participant in the Baha'i community. It doesn't convey the truth of what I've seen with my own two eyes, through years of experience and self-knowledge. It doesn't really even scratch the surface of what it means to me to be a Baha'i. All the words in the world mean diddley squat.

For me, being a Baha'i is to be generally peaceful to other human beings, to respect the thoughts, beliefs, dreams and stations of others, to serve Humanity in whatever small or great ways that I am able, to appreciate and make use of the gifts in life that are available to me, to turn my heart to God, to stand brave and courageous in the face of doubt or questions (and to ask questions, and not be afraid to ask them!), to be responsible for my own spiritual growth... and to explain, over and over and over again, what the Baha'i Faith is to people who've either never heard of it or have heard of it but don't know much more than anyone else does. With the exception of that last item, I could be talking about almost any religion, couldn't I?

Since my childhood I have watched the Baha'i Faith flourish, slowly oh-so-slowly, in the United States. I have seen a large number of very passionate and motivated people embrace the Faith. I've seen other children, like me, who were born into the Faith, do some very incredible things, inspiring things. And, by the same token, I have watched people who were raised with piss-poor spiritual habits take a shining to the Faith, learn a thimble-full of it, and then go out into the world to prosteletise it (which is counter to Baha'i doctrine/law) under the guise of evangelicism.

I am finding it more and more difficult to willingly teach the Faith, or even to admit that I'm a Baha'i at all. Not because I don't believe in it- I most assuredly do!- but simply because it seems so pointless to try, so... empty and impotent. I'd rather just continue being who I am and just let my actions, my behavior, speak for my Faith. The good Lord knows only too well that I'm certainly no cleric- which is as it should be, for the Baha'i Faith doesn't allow for clergy. Funny, that.

Is that faith?