Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Dance of Faith

Sometimes God just puts the right idea in your path at the right time. During those other times, I find that I have to really struggle to get an idea to write about, but today, well, it's the right time.

A few days ago someone sent me a video link, and this was followed a few hours later by an unrelated comment on this blog from a new believer who is the first Baha'i in his city. These two combined somewhere in my brain and really got me thinking about how the Faith grows in a new locality.

The video is a short talk about how leadership seems to work in action, as far as getting followers go. Using a lone dancer, the narrator points out that the leader has to be willing to stand alone, and possibly even look ridiculous. The crucial point is when another person joins the first one, and then calls his friends over. It is still just the two of them, but the invitation to others has been made. What's more is that the original leader treats the follower as an equal. He makes the dance look easy, allowing the other person to join in the first place. He also focuses the follower on the movement, not on himself. From there, more followers join, and they emulate the other followers, not the original dancer. It all blossoms from there.

It seems to me that this is not unlike the Faith, when introduced into a new community, especially when that introduction is from someone who has just enrolled there.

They often stand alone, supported at a distance through the love and prayers of their fellow-believers. To many of their friends, this new faith which they have espoused may seem strange, or perhaps ridiculous, but we can be sure that they are watching this new believer, waiting to see how it changes their life.

At this point, I am reminded of a passage from the Guardian, in which he describes the movement of an individual from never having heard about the Faith to becoming an active believer. He describes this fully committed individual as having "so deep a longing as to impel him to arise independently... and devote his energies to the quickening of other souls, and the upholding of the laws and principles laid down by his newly adopted Faith."

So this is that crucial point, again. After having accepted the Faith, and taken the time to begin their concentrated deepening in the "fundamental verities" of it, the new believer then begins to really change their life to be more in line with the direction of the Faith itself. They will usually continue their studies in the Ruhi curriculum, and probably begin their own devotional gathering. This gathering will be supported by the friends with whom they study a prayer, as described in the practice of Ruhi Book 1.

As the individual moves through the sequence of courses, they will find themselves not only more naturally being able to raise the level of conversation to the spiritual, but be able to do so more effectively. This will further increase people's interest in them, which they will direct towards Baha'u'llah, instead of themselves.

Someone will take the step forward of asking direct questions, and together they will both look in the Writings to find the answers. They will work as equals, finding joy in the search and in each others' company. Eventually, this other person may enrol.

When this happens, the spark of faith has been transferred.

If the focus is maintained, and this sense of love and equality is carried forward, more and more people will naturally be drawn together. "Naturally", by the way, implies that it will occur, but does not carry a sense of time with it. A tree grows "naturally", but sometimes very slowly. Here, in a new community with a single new Baha'i, it can open up in days, weeks, months or sometimes years. The skills taught in the Ruhi curriculum helps us move that time scale to the days and weeks end of it, and away from the months or years.

But the two of them may still be seen as two loonies. It is when the next person joins that things really begin to roll. Three is the proverbial crowd, and a crowd cannot be ignored.

The group now has to ensure that it remains public, outward focused, for people need to see them to also become engaged. As Derek Sivers points out in the video, "Everyone needs to see the followers, because new followers emulate followers - not the leader." The first Baha'i in a community may be seen as a leader, but he may in fact be a nutcase, as far as others are concerned. The other followers, however, are people they can relate to.

As more and more join the study circles, and come to the devotional gatherings, those who were sitting on the fence will now feel more at ease to join. And perhaps they will enrol, too, given enough love and encouragement. They will also discover that this first Baha'i was not, in fact, a leader, but another follower.

And the major lesson here?  Again, as was said so well in the video, "The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow. When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in."

In a new city as a new Baha'i, we need to courageously follow the Faith and show others how to follow, for we are not the first, nor are we the leader. We are actually in the role of that first follower. And the hardest job is to find just one more to come after us. From there on in, if we keep our focus, and maintain the vision of the Five-Year Plan, crowds will come after us.

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