Thursday, August 4, 2005

Bahá’ís keep the faith in S.P.

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Aug 4, 2005): In his late 20s, Glenn Nerbak, raised Catholic, found his true religion: Bahá’í.

Nerbak, now a South Portland resident and one of 10 Bahá’ís in the city, had attended Catholic schools in his youth but had given up practicing religion during college because he felt there were too many questions he couldn’t find answers to. In his late 20s, he started searching again, to find a faith that fit.

Then, in his late 20s, he was playing basketball with a friend in Portsmouth, N.H., and happened to mention he needed a place to live. The friend’s parents had a place in Eliot, Maine, and the friend suggested he consider staying there.

The family were Bahá’ís, and near their place, which Nerbak rented and shared with his friend, was a Bahá’í center called Green Acres, where Nerbak began to learn about the faith.

Bahá’í is a monotheistic faith, believing in one God, and having aspects similar to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It teaches “progressive revelation,” in which God sends many messengers into the world over time, bringing universal teachings that never change, and rules and guidelines specific to the time the messengers arrive.

“It’s the most recent of the independent religions,” beginning in 1863. It has about 75 followers in Portland and a total of about 300 statewide. Nationally, there are 120,000 to 130,000, and five million to six million in more than 200 countries around the world.

Based on the oneness of humankind and the Golden Rule, and incorporating the teachings of Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Zoroaster and Muhammad, the Bahá’í faith teaches that the most recent messenger from God is Bahá’u’llah, born in 1817 in Persia – now Iran – into a Muslim family. As a young man, he followed another teacher, now considered a herald of Bahá’í, who was feared by the mainstream clerics, and was eventually executed, as were about 20,000 of his followers.

Bahá’u’llah was not executed, but went to prison, where, in a Tehran dungeon in 1853, he felt called by God, Nerbak said. The calling would result in the Bahá’í faith, but would also mean powerful clerics would keep him in prison or in exile for most of his life.

Even though Bahá’u’llah was born a Muslim, the Bahá’í faith is an independent religion, just as Jesus was born a Jew but founded Christianity, Nerbak said.

As he learned about Bahá’í, “I felt this is the religion for me.” A teacher himself, the idea of progressive revelation was appealing.

“It builds on previous knowledge,” the same way he teaches students lessons based on what they learned the previous year from another teacher, he said.

Bahá’u’llah wrote over 100 books throughout his life, some of which have not yet been translated into English. It is to those books that Bahá’ís look for wisdom and guidance.

“We’re a quiet religion. We don’t proselytize. We don’t have clergy,” Nerbak said.

One of Bahá’u’llah’s teachings about equality was the lack of a need for clergy to interpret his lessons. Instead, people were now educated well throughout the world, and could interpret the teachings for themselves.

Nerbak felt this was what he had been praying to find, and discounts the idea of the meeting with his friends’ parents being just an accident.

“Coincidence is like God’s way of remaining anonymous,” Nerbak said.

In the early 1980s, Nerbak went on a pilgrimage to the world headquarters of the Bahá’í faith, on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, a place Bahá’u’llah visited and pointed out to his followers as a place that should be a holy spot for them.

“It’s a wonderful place to be,” said Nerbak.

While there, he met a woman in whom he became interested, and she in him. But he reminded himself that he was on a pilgrimage: “I didn’t come here to meet someone,” he said.

Even as he prayed about what to do, a series of coincidences showed him that he was not just intoxicated by the beautiful surroundings and the holiness of the place. Among the events that revealed to him that she was the match of his life was when she pulled off a huge surprise party for his birthday.

They have been married for 20 years, and both are active in South Portland’s Bahá’í community. The group meets on the first day of every month of the Bahá’í calendar to talk about religion, as well as meet socially.

In 1990, they were invited to serve in Haifa, where they spent five years working in the administrative offices of the faith. He had to quit his job at Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland, but managed to get rehired when he returned.

The experience, and his practice of his faith, have brought him together with other people who are also working toward world unity.

“We’re united in a lot of realms,” including information and economic areas, but not in the political and religious areas, Nerbak said. But Bahá’ís recognize it will not happen overnight.

“The world has to be ready for it,” Nerbak said.