Jody Cooper | UK Baha’i Histories

Jody Cooper

My life as a Bahá’í began early – I grew up in a Bahá’í family and so I don’t remember a time when it was not a part of my life.  However, this doesn’t mean that my life has been easy; on the contrary, my faith has been tested many times and it has taken me a long time to really appreciate and understand what being a Bahá’í really means (and I’m still learning!).  People I meet who didn’t grow up in the Faith tell me how lucky I must have been and now, with hindsight, I am able to see what they mean.  But as a child I wasn’t able to know the difference between being labelled as a ‘Baha’i’ and actually identifying myself as a Bahá’í.  We are all on our own voyages of self-discovery after all and, for some, it takes a while for the penny to drop… 

As children, my brother and I were the only Bahá’ís in our school.  Growing up in the rural area of North-East Scotland where already being English marked us out as ‘different’, you could say trying to fit in was a challenge.  Luckily, my thick skin and happy-go-lucky attitude enabled me to eventually make good friends despite me belonging to some ‘strange’ religion.  Back in those days there were no children’s classes or junior youth groups, only the annual summer “Bahá’íland Gathering” in Aberdeen, so we really didn’t know much about what being a Bahá’í meant.  Both my parents, Bridie and Chas Edwards, were first generation Bahá’ís so, looking back on it now, I realise they were also trying to figure that part out. When I turned 15 (that special ‘age of maturity’), like many people at that age I still didn’t know who I was and spent the next few years investigating reality.  I was, however, blessed with several epiphanies that occurred during my youth that, eventually, led me back to my real identity as a Bahá’í:

At the age of 16 I was in a constant state of confusion – I had no idea what career direction my life should take and, for some reason, this filled me with immense worry.  I had always been attracted to music (even more so than the Faith) but I had never considered it as a possible career.  I prayed to God for guidance. Then, one morning I awoke suddenly and sat bolt upright.  My sleep had been disturbed by a voice from within me saying “you will be a musician!”  It was more than just a suggestion, it was a clear signpost showing me what direction my life should take.  From then on I pursued life and my calling with a new resolve and sense of determination that has never left me.  I guess, sometimes, if you want something badly enough and it is right for you, God sends you a sign!

The following year I had the fortune to be able to go on my first trip abroad: a Bahá’í teaching trip with a group of Irish youth to Poland.  While there I got to attend their summer school and experience for the first time what teaching the Faith means.  As a child I had been sheltered from this activity for the most part and it was then that I realised that I didn’t really know how to talk about my Faith.  What with the added challenge of not speaking Polish, it certainly made outreach one big learning curve!  While I wouldn’t have called the trip a huge success in terms of teaching, it did help to cement my Bahá’í identity and prepare me for what followed. 

The real ‘awakening’ though occurred when I was about 19.  I had been studying music in Perth, Scotland and had fallen into some, shall we say, bad habits.  One morning, after a particularly wild night out partying with some old school friends in Aberdeen, I felt really rough.  It was not something I had really experienced before and it led to the worst bout of flu that I have ever had in my life. During the following weeks of convalescing, I came to a realisation that had been gnawing away at me for some time: that, however I might try to convince myself otherwise, I had been and still was a Bahá’í in my heart; and I knew what that meant. I reached out to the local Bahá’í community and declared there and then. I’ve heard Christians talk of being ‘born again’ – well, that is exactly how I felt! 

One thing I’ve learnt in my life is that, if you make the decision to become a Bahá’í, God will occasionally test you to see if you are sincere. Well, it took another decade of ‘tests’ for that message to really sink in!  If, like me, you are one of those Bahá’ís who have lived in a rural area, you will know how hard it is to cling on to your Bahá’í identity when everything else around you runs contrary to that identity.  But, eventually, at the age of 30, I found my life again at a crossroads.  I decided to finally leave rural Aberdeenshire to study a music degree in the birthplace of my childhood idols: The Beatles.  I had visited Liverpool as a teenager during one of the many Bahá’í youth projects there in the 80s / early 90s and it had made a distinct impression on me – not the least the Bahá’í centre and its stalwart caretakers Isaac and Pauline Decruz.  I got to know the couple well in the following years, thanks to their offering me a room to rent above the centre after my studies finished.  While there I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the many Bahá’í books in the centre’s library, as well as take part in the numerous Ruhi courses that were running at the time – both at the centre and nationally.  With no more studies to do and a whole lot of free time, I decided to embark on an intense summer of Ruhi books that took me through the entire sequence in a matter of months. Not only that, I threw myself into doing a series of summer door-to-door campaigns that really tested my courage and my ability to stand up for what I believe in. As always, God sent little tests during this time to see how sincere I was!

After throwing myself into the crucible of these experiences, I came out a more learned – but conversely more humble – Bahá’í.  And it was a direct result of this intensity that I was open to new ideas and decided, in 2008, to go to the Bahá’í Arts Academy for the first time – something I’d heard about many years ago but never got round to attending.  It was such a wonderful experience working with so many other Bahá’ís, and learning what it means to use the arts in a spirit of service helped to reframe my perspective as an artist in the Bahá’í community.  There are many references in the Writings to teaching the Faith attracting divine blessings, and it was at this very event – only weeks after my aforementioned Liverpool experiences – that I met my future wife Olinga.  At that point in my life I had resigned myself to being an eternal bachelor – talk about Divine intervention!  In 2010 we married and it was then that I got to learn how beautiful and simple a Bahá’í wedding can be.  My parents had had a Bahá’í wedding. I was too young to remember, but it had been a big enough deal back then to make it into the local papers.

In 2013 my wife and I decided to embark on a new adventure: Germany!  At first we thought that maybe we’d go there as pioneers but, as my wife is German, this was not entirely accurate.  Since then I have been learning the cultural differences, and of course language, of what makes German Bahá’ís unique.  But, no matter where you go, the Faith is something, like music, that unites us in our differences – and this is no truer than in Germany. The country I discovered, has a love for music and especially live performance that I had not anticipated. One of the reasons I decided to leave the UK was a feeling that I had been unsuccessfully trying to shake off for years: the value of music has declined considerably in the UK. I wanted to go somewhere where I would be appreciated. Ever since that life-changing decision my career has been moving in a positive direction. After ten years living here I can finally say for the first time in my life that I no longer have to worry so much about how I’m going to pay my bills – and for a full-time musician who has spent his entire working life answering the surprised query “is that your only job?”, that is an incredible achievement.  

These days I divide my career between writing, recording, releasing and performing my own music (four albums and counting), and taking on the role of Freddie Mercury in a German Queen tribute band called MerQury – not an easy task!  With this band I get to have the best of both worlds: sing my heart out on large stages all over Germany as well as internationally, while at the same time having the financial freedom that the band gives me to do what I ultimately want to do – to be an original artist. Trying to find a balance between my artistic and spiritual pursuits isn’t always easy (the creative part of me is sometimes too strong). However, I have initiated several Bahá’í-inspired projects: the albums “Free Thyself” (2012) and the crowdfunded “Serenades and Odes to a Cracked World (Part 1)” (2017) – the former based on the Bahá’í Writings and the latter on Shoghi Effendi’s concepts of integration and disintegration – and the international Bahá’í collaboration project “19” (2019).

In 2018 our first child Amelia was born and it is through life-changing experiences like these that you learn how strong your Bahá’í identity really is.  You want to instil Bahá’í values into your child while at the same time trying to avoid being a hypocrite.  Do you practise what you preach?  Are you setting a good Bahá’í example for your child?  These are not easy questions to answer. It takes incredible self-discipline to avoid the pitfalls of parenting and most of us only learn and get better through experience. Now, as my child gets older, I – just as my parents before me – am learning that being a Bahá’í and walking the Bahá’í path are not necessarily the same thing; and it is my job as a parent to help her tell the difference. All I can hope is that my life experiences will help our daughter to be a better Bahá’í than I am. Let’s hope her voyage of self-discovery is less bumpy than mine!


Jody Cooper

Leipzig, Germany

February 2023 

Olinga, Amelia and Jody

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