So, Baha’i Publishing found out I’m a blogger, and sent me a copy of Abdu’l-Baha in America, by Robert Stockman. Of course, I’m not obligated to say nice things about it, but it’s definitely pertinent to what’s going on in the Baha’i community at the moment, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts.

I’m not in a big Baha’i history phase right now. When I was living in Malawi, I went through about a year when I read the biographies of as many of the Hands of the Cause as I could get my hands on, but lately not so much. I’m significantly more likely to pick up a timely analysis of what’s happening in the world now, or activities that I’m engaged in: community development, or the environment, or education, say. But with the centenary of Abdu’l-Baha’s visit on my mind, I sat down to read Abdu’l-Baha in America anyway. I’m glad I did.

I was given The Promulgation of Universal Peace (a collection of Abdu’l-Baha’s public talks in the United States and Canada) as a graduation gift when I was 18, and started reading it straight through. I stopped about halfway through, because I found the themes to be repetitive. Abdu’l-Baha in America gave me the context I needed to appreciate this work. Each talk was given to a specific group of people, with a specific purpose. Where an everyday reader sees similarities between talks, a historian notices the differences between them. I’d never go through the trouble of tracking the development of an idea over a series of months, but Stockman has done it for me. It brings these old talks to life.

And it also connects these talks to my current experience. Abdu’l-Baha is an example of how to manage things I struggle with on a regular basis, like how to balance outreach into the community with the consolidation of those efforts, or building a sense of unity in a diverse neighborhood. Justice and equality for all races, sexes, and classes are emphasized with a degree of love and tact that I can only dream of developing, without shying away from the truth. If Abdu’l-Baha could praise Muhammad in churches and Jesus in synagogues while still maintaining an atmosphere of union and love, I can certainly find a way to share those truths I hold dear in any social space!

As always, Abdu’l-Baha’s life is the embodiment of the Covenent, one of the most unique features of the Baha’i Faith. The lack of sectarian divisions and strife didn’t just magically occur; it took work, endless work on the part of Abdu’l-Baha. It’s amazing to read about his efforts to create this foundation of unity to bring us the community that we have today.

To those readers who are not involved in or familiar with the Baha’i community, this is a book for the history buffs among you. It is a fascinating insight into a brief moment in American history, when religious ideas of all sorts spread and flourished. It looks at this period through a unique lens: the travels of one individual from Persia through the cities of North America. It is not, however, a story book. Those in search of a narrative would best be served by other choices.

In the Baha’i community, I highly recommend it as a complement to the study of Ruhi Book 8, for those who are involved  in planning observances in honor of Abdu’l-Baha’s visit, and to anyone wishing to understand the development of the Baha’i Faith in America. Local Spiritual Assemblies and Auxiliary Board Members and their assistants would also be well-served by the example of unity in our midst.

All in all,Abdu’l-Baha in America was readable, well-referenced, and gave me insights into my own work. I couldn’t have asked for more.

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