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Ed Muttart Interview Transcript

Sept. 22
Ed Muttart
Site 8 Box 2 RR1
Sylvan Lake, AB T4S1X6
Email –

Dave Beckwith

You know I guess I just usually start with the question what do you do and why do you do it?

Ed Muttart

Hm. Boy. Not what I have done, but what I am doing now.

Well, both are interesting to me, and whichever you'd like to start with.

Well I guess I started at Carnegie Tech, which is now Carnegie Mellon, and decided I wanted to have a light summer year, so I went to summer school every year after my senior year and at one of the summer schools I was in Wyoming, met my wife from Ohio, who was taking a summer course. So I graduated from Carnegie tech and came back up to Edmonton where my parents were and worked for my dad for a while, and then decided that I wanted to prove myself. So I took off and worked off for American Can Company over in Vancouver, making tin cans. That was an interesting experience. And for the next couple of years I kept vacillating between working for somebody else and my father, quite a battle for me. So I got into dry wall because of my height, of course. I decided I'd had enough of the building industry which was what my dad was in, and, I'd rather build people than houses so I went back to University and got my master's in education in BC, Vancouver, and then went into teaching. And then taught for 12 years, with the objective of getting certified in every province of Canada. So I got certified in BC and then in Alberta, with the odd time off going back to work with my dad and then moved into Sask. This is the era when you could go anywhere and get a job, you know, and went into Saskatchewan, and I didn't do the right people work to get certified there but I did put in the time. And at that point in my life, it was just before that actually in Alberta I encountered the B’ahai faith and that changed a lot of things in my life. In Alberta I taught in the public school system for a number of years and finally had had it. And operated my own Montessori school I founded for a couple years. It was at that point that I encountered the B’ahai faith and I shut the school down. I so wanted to get out of my cultural blocks, see what the other parts of the world were like, and I couldn't, I wasn't free to leave the country, so I went out, I don't know how well you know our geography around here, but, it's between Calgary and Banff and near the Indian reserves and I taught a year out there. My first and last years an employee of blah, blah, blah.

No regrets! You don't miss it.

Boy! Well, it was an experience. Then we moved onto Sask. And I taught there in Fort Qu’apelle, a small town nearby. And then was elected to our national spiritual assembly by the B’ahais of Canada and called to serve down in Toronto, where I served for 28 years and about 5 years back retired from that and I'm now here helping to develop this community. So what do I do? I cut grass, about 30 acres (at the B’ahai Center on Sylvan Lake, near Red Deer, Alberta). I do all of the maintenance work, I used to do much more in terms of coordinating activities and registering and all that stuff but that's now passed on to somebody else's hands, so I'm just primarily maintenance, grounds people at the moment. It's run by a committee and in fact all, almost all of the B’ahai activities are committees. We believe that, when you bring people together, each has their own contribution to make which is unique. And I've been involved in trying to get far more involved in the town itself because there's not much out here. Got involved with what our government is calling healthy community. They had a facilitator and certainly the officials have an idea of how they wanted it to go and what speed they wanted it to go and what direction they wanted it to go and I resigned the chairmanship of that. You want to push it, push it, I don't want to. Then I moved on into the volunteer association, I was invited to be one of the founding members of it. I'm not so sure it'll ever grow up. To backtrack, a thing that interested me, getting involved in town activities is that various government departments and agencies have an idea of a program and simply parachute it in, with no relationship whatsoever to the proper elective authority. That really bothered me, because I, I as a B’ahai believe the town council is responsible for all of its citizens, it’s the number one in there. And all this stuff was coming, So I wasn’t elected the chairman of the healthy communities initiative, I was there at the meeting and someone suggested my name and you know, why not, I was invited in the same fashion to see if I would be a member of the volunteer association. This work used to be handled under the FCSS, I'm not sure if you're familiar with our acronyms, but that's Family and Child Social Services, which is partially funded by a department of our provincial government. And so part of the money it got went to the volunteer work. What I have been doing in working with the association, the director of that is trying to bring together all of these things that are parachuting under some kind of coordinating umbrella. Because I, it's just, well, it's very clear to me everybody's just doing their own thing and there is no coordination. Sometimes that's good, sometimes I don't think it's very good at all. And just within the past week or so I have been invited to serve on the board of Kinder Care, which is a society, formed around kindergartens and daycare. I just attended the first board meeting and offered to serve as treasurer, so now I'm treasurer of Kinder Care. My life long focus, I really feel that in education we should invest financially a little less money into the high schools. Much of the most important work to do with a child is in those foundational years. That has been life long. So I'm happy to be involved with Kinder Care, because it's a continuing activity of my life's focus. So that's what I'm doing.

Do you see yourself as a change agent, as an investor in the field of social justice?

Yah I like to, whether or not. I don't know. Yes, in the course of, the guidelines that direct my movements and my actions are those that are put down by the founders of the B’ahai faith, I mean, I don't know how familiar you are with the B’ahai faith,

Slightly. It would be interesting to know what, how that informs your activism.

Yah. He says the best beloved in my sight is justice. Thou shalt know through thine own eyes, not through the eyes of thy neighbor. But then, I've been focusing in town here primarily on administration, I believe that if you're structure is, and I think the structure here is... But it's a reflection of the way that provincial government, federal government they've got so many organizations with money and people with programs and what not, that there seems to be very little coming together. But in the B’ahai administrative order there is a very interesting structure, very clearly designed, and we're trying our best to follow. Essentially it's a three level structure. There are local spiritual assemblies everywhere there's more than 9 B’ahais in any single group. There’s a national assembly, and then there’s this supreme body, the universal House of Delegates. So it's a three-tiered administrative structure. To serve on any of these bodies or processions can be so different. Our local spiritual assembly, every B’ahai in standing over the age of 21, there's no nominations there's no running there's no campaigning, there's prayerful consideration of those whose tests reflect the answers of a well trained mind and concern for everybody on the planet, that kind of thing. And so you vote and 9 get elected and those (make up the assembly leadership).

Do many B’ahais get involved with social change or social service work?

(I’ll answer with a story from a meeting where the subject came up.) Well one kindly female soul stood up and told them the story… In the B’ahai faith, Baha’u’llah was seen as the founder and believers are called B’ahais, after Baha’u’llah, and he is called to be somebody who should make every attempt to want... just a side comment here that really intrigued me, because when I was studying theology during my masters in education I remember talking to a minister who was saying how we should all become Christ like. And my response to him was but that's not fair. Why should you expect me to become Christ like, Christ had a direct line with God, he had foresight and hindsight, which I am not capable of that, why do you lay that on me? So, in the B’ahai faith, interestingly enough, we're not called upon to be like Baha’u’llah, but like his followers, which is even stretching it, because as far as I'm concerned we're teaching to have spirit. So she's telling this story of a B’ahai and his daughter, going down to the river which is in flood. She sees people floating by, and she reaches out these branches trying to pull the people in because the current was strong and she can't do it. Goes back up to her father at his workshop and says, "Father you must come down and help me, I'm not strong enough to pull these people in from the water." He said, NO, no my daughter, I have no time. And she continued on, the daughter went down again and again, failed, came back and asked the B’ahai, You must come and help me! No, no, no, my daughter, I have no time. She goes down the third time, unsuccessful, comes back, very adamant this time, You MUST come and help me. Now the B’ahai looks at her and smiles and says, no, no my daughter I have no time, I am building a dam to stop all floods. That made sense to me. So often I think in our world we've got a lot of good-hearted people trying to save the victims and we're not building a dam, to make all that unnecessary. Now this is a dream world, it's an idealistic world; it's a world where Baha’u’llah lost out eventually and then becomes spiritualized. He would rather slit his throat than tell a lie. Now that's pretty hard for you and I to imagine. But, he talks about first of all the development of human society at the end of this century has finally achieved the pinnacle. I don't know how many of us can actually see that, but my eyesight isn't the same as his. And then he says, he talks about the centuries as we become more and more spiritually attuned and come to understand the wonders of humanity and God and religion and so forth and we will achieve the gold. So that's centuries ahead. The B’ahais see themselves now, in this era, as laying the foundation on which our future civilization will build. So this, this golden civilization in our writings that no man, no man can possibly fathom, any more than you and I could, just imagine what kind of world we've got now, well give it 2,3,4,500 years and man, it's mind boggling, beyond our capacity to imagine. But it's exciting to have that perspective because you see, my schooling, although I did study history, we all have to, it's pretty well focused on my life time, my 50 years or 70 years span, whereas Baha’u’llah came along and starts you thinking, 200 years, 500 years, and, something that I cannot do in 500,000 years. It's like a billion dollars, somewhat. But the process is there that he's outlined. I would encourage; I'll give you a little bit of history here. Baha’u’llah went first to all the rulers in the world at the time Baha’u’llah lived. Napoleon found Baha’u’llah and the czar in Russia, did I say Napoleon? The king of Spain. At that stage of history, if your leader became Christian, you became Christian; there's no question that’s the state religion. And so when Baha’u’llah arose the world was in that kind of condition and he says, God has sent me, I am speaking with the voice of the authority of God. And these are the things that you are to do and if you do not do them, you will lose your kingdom. Now, if you know you're 19th century history, you know, Napoleon fell, the Tsar fell, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. The only one that didn't was Queen Victoria. And she was the only one when she got this message from Baha’u’llah, unlike the other two casting it over their shoulders, she read it, and said, if this be of God it will endure. Baha’u’llah says that mankind at that point had the possibility of immediately commencing the golden age. And he said, because you did not respond to my call, you will now have to go the longer harder arduous painful, route to get there. Which seems to be our perverse nature. But he does lay it out. He says, we're going to progress. I'm sure we're going to be heading into some big trouble, in the near years ahead. But all of these Baha’u’llah points out are intended to get mankind's attention and to bring him closer to God.

Is that something that's true pretty much across the board with B’ahai folks, they are active in prevention and community change?

I think they're more involved in trying to build things for prevention than anybody else on this planet does.

I think that the best example is the administration You know, by and large, the people who lead, it is the only place that I know where you find Christians, Muslims, and Jews, Zoroastrians, in one religious. I'm sure the nations will see the B’ahai laws and so, it's bringing people together spiritually. And you can see right away that as soon you do that, you will give up on the most terrible divisions of all religions. They all see that these are God's teaching to us human beings, there’s a progressiveness. You don't regret your grade 5 teacher, or your grade 2 teacher, they all had a hand in moving you along. Every one of these great prophets should be seen in that light, they're all part of the package deal with God. When, and kind of coincidentally, but it does happen, you immediately start to eliminate evidence of race.

Has the profile of B’ahai in Canada changed since you first had a relationship with them?

Yah. I mean Saddam Hussein had a lot to do with that.


Yah. A lot of B’ahais fled Iran and became refugees here in Canada and..... But they endured big. I had never really rubbed shoulders with natives, aboriginal people here in Canada, ever. And yet here they were coming into my house.


Oh, yah. And I've never had trouble with blacks. I'll tell you a little story when I first encountered the B’ahai faith I was starting my own private school, and had not heard of the B’ahai faith and I was up in Banff, at the Banff school of fine arts, attending a teachers conference. At the same time the B’ahai, there were about 200 B’ahai teachers and some B’ahai put a sign on the dining room that we all had to go to and it said, B’ahai world faith, and I nipped through the door and saw it, what's that? Never heard of that before. And I started to ask my colleagues what it was all about and not one of them knew. Anyway, so I had to ask B’ahais eventually, I waited until most of them were gone and then went over and sat down beside 3 of them, three little ladies that I thought I could handle. They told me a little bit about it. Now this time in my life, Dave, I was already into world federalism, I was studying Esperanto, I could see the need to come together, anyway, and I’ll cut out this story because it's short. I went to their meeting that night and I was quite impressed. But after that meeting they invited me to go downtown to have coffee, which I never, I can't stand that coffee, well, I've got nothing better to do, most of my other colleagues are going out drinking tonight. We were walking down the main street in Banff and two black American tourist ladies came from the opposite there, and these B’ahais went right up to them without any hesitation, and said, hi, we're going to get a drink of coffee would you like to join us? That just blew my mind. I’d done a lot of traveling along the eastern seaboard and seen a lot of things that really didn't agree with me. I remember when I got to Florida I was so thirsty, walked into one of these stops we call stores, like Wal-Mart, went to the fountain, it had a sign on it, it said, "colored." And I thought well that's kind of funny, why would colored water come out? You know, so naďve, turned that handle and there was sparkling water, and I drank from it, and I became the laughing stock of all the people there. Anyway, that I think is probably the best dam building that the B’ahais are involved in. We're building a community where that unity is central. I just wrote an article that got published in the local newspaper based here in Red Deer about accountability and responsibility.

I've heard from almost everybody so far, an interesting variety of motivations, guiding forces, but very interesting sets of spirituality, distinctive different strains. But I think of the 6 or 7 people I've talked to, it isn't just one, in their working backwards, in their own motivation and history, found a place where there was a very powerful spiritual drive. That's interesting to me.

There is in the political, of course, handicaps,

And I'm using it in a really broad, sense, I'm not speaking of a particular party that we're talking about, but engagement,

Yah, many are fearful of it.


Yah. Fearful of it because their frame of reference is what is. See the B’ahais don't have that frame of reference, they see nationalism and power and struggle and control and all of that, where as the B’ahais don't they don't have that at all. I can understand therefore why some people fear a world government, because they see it being … they know it's not true,

They know it's not.

And you know, bringing practical action together with the spiritual base, all I can say is that there are B’ahais in all kinds of social services, trying to serve their fellow man. Not only social services but in their work. Interestingly enough, Baha’u’llah says that work that is done with a spirit of service is accepted by God as worship. Now that takes it out of the every Sunday paradigm, and whenever one does anything in B’ahai, hopefully you can have that attitude, I will do my best in order to serve my fellow man and THAT is one way to worship, that's one way. Really nothing else comes to mind. You know, the B’ahais are building schools all over the world now. One of our tenets of our faith says that if you have to make a choice between giving a girl child an education and a boy child an education the girl gets it. Now this is pretty radical too, and runs counter to a lot of cultures. And I find that Baha’u’llah points out that the mother is the first trainer of the child and if you're a mother is that will be passed on to the child. So there's I think an all girls school over in Africa and we have one here in Vancouver island called Maxwell International B’ahai school, it's co-educational, draws kids from all around the world. That's really the nature of social activism of B’ahais here in Canada. But we sponsor race unity events, happy to participate in that kind of thing. But I cannot and will not become involved in organizations or activities that our congress of the B’ahai faith wouldn't condone. For instance Baha’u’llah says, leave liquor alone, and you see that's a social service which only a B’ahai could see. I don't know what your own drinking propensities are but anyone who likes the liquor and drinks the liquor, that's good, but B’ahais abstaining from, we see that as an act of service. You would probably would not know what he identifies as the most great sin, what's you're background anyway, Christian?


So what would you as a Christian identify as the most great sin?

Oh, anything that would sadden the heart of God the most, and I think that carries itself into reality in a thousand ways, it's not just this single worst act – I think it's selfishness.

Okay, well, as a Christian I used to think of murder. And I was quite surprised to hear the answer. When you back bite, he says, it will affect your soul as well as the soul of the person you're backbiting, but it will cause tension, you will lose trust, and that cuts at the very core of what the community is about. And that is really the most terrible sickness that any B’ahai community can experience, that if any of the assemblies become aware that it is going on in the community they act decisively. So that's another social service. I find myself from time to time in groups where people are constantly gossiping. I go off and though they are afraid of silence, I don't participate in it, I'm getting a little braver now, sometimes I try to change the subject or, just keep my own counsel. There's so much in our universities I understand, they are....

Somebody once wrote university that politics are so vicious because there's so little at stake.

[Laughing]. I don't know what kind of perspective I'm giving you, but I'm hoping to, you can understand that any efforts I make concerning my fellow man in the community of Sylvan Lake at this time is oriented on the basis of, I couldn't understand what Baha’u’llah wants, that's the foundation that I've found, that's what motivates me and what guides me.

And I'm interested also in what encourages you?

Well one thing that I am still very encouraged about is the program called the Virtues program in this community. It was put together by Mr. and Mrs. Popov, in Vancouver, and it's going world wide. When I first encountered the program I was so excited about it, I undertook to travel all across Canada, all the way across the pacific coast, making friends everywhere I went I felt there was an enormous amount of activity. At the time I was serving on our national spiritual assembly and was told it was not appropriate to be doing this as a national spiritual assembly member. But the creators of this program.... I mean, it's all around the world now, they put on training sessions and so on, it's a very simple program, simple. It's focused on the fact that you and I are, have been born into God's virtues, that word. Very simple, to become trustworthy, honest, personable, compassionate, just, fair, kind, courteous, all of those, those are virtues, and they've come up with a, the book has 52 virtues. A virtue a week, and it has 4 sections, what is it, how do you recognize it, how do you practice it, how do you know you're getting it? Pretty simple. And the idea is hopefully that a, well when I was going around trying to promote the program my approach was if you just do it as a family, you'll get benefits. If you can do it with conjunction with other families in the school, you'll get much more benefit out of it. If in fact you can get the family, the school, and the whole community behind it, you will be astonished what kind of communities you will be in. That's quite a challenge. The only place I encountered that came close was in northern Manitoba, where for a period of time, the parents, the schools, and the local community, through the newspaper was involved. The family was backing the school, the school was getting the kids to write stories about a particular virtue or drawing something about a particular virtue and the newspaper was putting it on the front page. It didn't last, they say that they're using it in companies now. They go around and train companies, and it just, it changes the whole human orientation of life, because what it is doing is it's getting them to work on their spiritual lives. I wrote a book, I'll give you a copy of it if you're interested. I say wrote a book, there isn't really much to it, but, it's focused on propagating the ideas of universal auxiliary language, if we're going to come together we've got to talk with each other and we need that tool. I don't think Esperanto is it, who knows? The way I wrote it, the book could go English is becoming our language, and I don't think English is the best idea to be the one language. It works. It's highly adaptable language. I’ve been toying with the idea of going on a tour cause it's a, it's a potent tool. It's simple, I mean, kids travel around the world, talk to other kids, don't understand what they're saying,

They figure it out.

Well they can, except you can only do that at a certain level of abstraction. You can't go very high on the abstraction ladder. So they need a common language. So that was my present, my contribution that was intended to inspire parents to hold a child on their lap and look at the pictures and read it with them so that the parents at the same time as the child can get the ideas of perplexity in a world with every language.

Who did the illustrations?

Oh, a gal in Calgary. So um, that's one of my services to mankind, which needs a little promotion!

I'm about at the end of my questions. As I said at the beginning of this, I'm trying to create a conversation among activists and organizers, I think in your own way you are clearly an activist and an organizer, you are trying to create a world that's different from the world that we walk in and out of. As this reaches out to other people, do you have questions for them? Do you have quandaries or observations to pose?

Well, it's that one, which so brave hearted partners have posed about Baha’u’llah. Just decide for yourself whether or not Baha’u’llah told the truth when he said God has sent me, he sent me with a message, here it is. And, you can either accept it or reject it; it's very obvious. But once you accept it, then that removes from your mind, any doubts, that this is from God, it is extreme, and it will be, all right? So, I think sometimes I may scare people by speaking with such certainty and position, but it's not mine, it's not my conviction, it's not my direction, it's not my idea that I'm trying to propagate, this is what God wants. And I think that puts it all into quite a different perspective than most people who are trying to make the world a better place because I hear them stand up and say well I think if we did this, I think if we did this Well I try as a B’ahai not to do that, I try to say well Baha’u’llah has said that this is what you need to do. I serve as a member of the Muttart Foundation, and like all foundations it's got money to spend on hopefully good work, and I suppose they take their turn, they're doing things like prevention, but I don't keep up. I elect the board and the board spends the money. I help to elect the board.

And what have you learned from that experience?

That no matter how much money you spend doing good works, in my mind it becomes froth. I look at what happens in the world. You think you're doing something great for eternity and that something is, I mean right now the people are in a deep quandary as to how do you address violence? And they say hey, God is going to hold us accountable for this. Glad I had the opportunity to talk to you, wish you well on your journey.