Paul is a man who has not met a meal he didn’t like in a while. He’s not as round as he is tall, but he’s working on it. His face is well worn with wrinkles, probably because he likes to really enunciate when he talks and probably because he can’t help but smile all the time. And don’t be surprised if he grabs your shoulder or nudges you when he talks. Its those times that he’s trying to impress upon you an important point he’s making.
Paul and his family have been Baha’is for more than 40 years now. In fact, you could say that he was one of the original pillars of his community. In those early years, he might tell you, it was glorious. There were so many teaching opportunities, so many challenges. So much to do. And teach he did. In fact, the vast majority of the Baha’is who later came into their community were either as a result of direct contact with Paul and his family or through teaching projects that he organized.
His family is now quite large. His kids have grown up and have kids of their own. This makes Paul very happy. To have a few generations around him and to see them embrace the Baha’i Faith, that is what really matters to him.
Another thing you will notice when you meet Paul is that he is a very outspoken person. If he’s thinking it, he’ll probably tell you about it. Maybe that’s why he was such a great teacher of the Cause. He loves Baha’u’llah and often carries a book or two to read by Him in those short moments when there’s nothing else to do. And he loves to quote stuff.
A few years ago Paul got into mounting trouble with the Baha’i administration. Why? I guess it was his outspoken nature. When he would see something wrong, he would bring it to the attention of the assembly and suggest they do something about it. He had been a long time member of the institution himself and couldn’t understand why they didn’t see the same things that he plainly saw.
And what did he see that bothered him? That the community was not growing (and in fact shrinking); that the LSA’s authority had been superceded by ABM and other members of the appointed arm; that Ruhi wasn’t really helping the community to grow; that the vitality which was in the community not long ago had evaporated.
As Paul kept bringing these issues up, the LSA and the ABMs became more and more uncomfortable. They just didn’t want to talk about these things. They tried to tell him to just let it go. But Paul loved the Faith too much, he loved Baha’u’llah too much. He couldn’t just let it go after 40 years and after seeing his community bloom and grow from just a few Baha’is (and now decline). Paul couldn’t understand why they were seeing him as a ‘troublemaker’. All he was concerned about was how to help his community and Faith. Just like he had done from the first day he became a Baha’i.
So he didn’t let up.
One day, not long after, he was invited to have a sit down meeting with the ABM of the area. The ABM was a young Persian man (in his late 20s) and he was sitting down in front of Paul. In that meeting the ABM explained to Paul that his pattern of behaviour and speech had been brought to his attention and that he was worried about Paul’s spiritual health. He explained that Paul was walking a very fine line. That if he insisted on continuing this way there was really no other choice than to inform the Counsellors and the ITC, who would not look too kindly on the whole matter. The ABM told Paul that his conduct and speech were a sign that he was covenantally weak. And he recommended that Paul deepen about the covenant and the necessity of Baha’is to obey the institutions.
Paul was asked for the unity of the Faith and his own wellbeing to stop saying those things. To stop criticising Ruhi and questioning why the whole community should be taking the courses. And he should stop burdening the LSA with his other suggestions and ideas. The LSA knew what was best for the community and they, in consultation with the ABM would fulfil their responsabilities.
In this meeting Paul asked to see a copy of the Ruhi books. The ABM declined saying ‘We know that all you want to do is to further criticise and attack the Ruhi courses. That’s why I’ve instructed everyone to not give you or sell you any Ruhi books.’ Needless to say, Paul exited that meeting quite shaken.
When he went home and told his family they had a rough time believing him. The result was that Paul’s loving wife decided to withdraw from the Baha’i community and to not participate in any activities or functions. His children likewise. Only Paul himself and some of his grandchildren still come to Baha’i functions and events.
The news of this meeting quickly made its round in the community. It was all everyone could talk about. On one hand they all knew Paul and who he was, on the other hand, they also heard that the decision of the ABM was very clear. Pretty soon, people began to whisper and talk whenever Paul would raise his hand to make a suggestion at feast.
Looking into Paul’s eyes, you can see the sadness this whole mess has caused him. But remarkably, you also see that he hasn’t lost the twinkle that was there before. He’s still in love with Baha’u’llah and he is still devoted to the Faith. He brushes aside any comments for appeal or seeking justice. He only says, these things are not important.