Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Direct Method and Invitations

It is that time of year. No, not that one, THAT one. Ridvan is coming up faster than I can imagine and my thoughts are fixed steadfastly on the upcoming celebrations and the forthcoming Ridvan message.

This is something I look forward to every year and am doubly excited about this one. It looks to be transforming. Once again.

You may remember, way back in 1996, the Universal House of Justice set us on a course of Plans destined to carry us to the year 2021. That was a transforming message, with its clarification of the roles of the individual, the institutions and the community. The next few messages tweaked or adjusted the path until the end of that 4 year plan.

Then came the Ridvan 2000 message. This was another transforming message, with its epic look at the role of children within the community, and the observation of the attitudes which adults must take towards them. It is also the message that really pulled out the junior youth from that overarching label of children.

After that was the Ridvan 2001 message, following up on the letter to the Counsellors dated 9 January 2001.  This was when we saw the clustering of the world.

I could go on and talk about when the three core activities were brought to our attention, and later expanded to four, but you know all this.

One thing that really stands out in my mind over the past few years, as we've continued to develop the process of entry by troops, is the concept of direct teaching. It seems like we've come a long way in our understanding of what it is, what it means, and how to do it.

Before going on, it is probably best if we look at the Guardian's definition of the direct method of teaching. He calls it "an open and bold assertion of the fundamental verities of the Cause", as opposed to a method that is more cautious. In short, it is being forthright as we teach.

I remember one study circle in which, as the tutor, I was asked how I invite people to join the Faith. Naturally, I turned this back on the participants and asked them how they did it. The general consensus was that they didn't. "I'm too nervous," was the average response.

It seemed that they felt it was imposing and possibly offensive. With the gears in my brain turning, powered by the prayers we had said earlier, I silently offered up my favorite prayer for that sort of circumstance. Confident in my ability to memorize such powerful words, I repeated them out to the cosmos, without a sound, so as not to shake the confidence of the group. "Oh God, HELP!"

I looked down at my coffee cup, back up at the group, at the cup again, and once more to the group.

The names in the following have been changed to protect the innocent. Besides, I have no clue which study circle it was, nor who said what.

"John," I asked, "how would you feel about inviting me for coffee?"

He looked at me with a puzzled glance and said, "What, now?"

"Yes, just pretend you're inviting me. What would you say?"

"Uhm, Mead? Would you like to go for coffee?" It was a pretty weak invitation. Hesitant and unsure. I didn't feel that he really wanted me to go with him. And I said so.

"Maria?" I turned my attention to another in the group. "Can you invite me? I mean, come on. I really want someone to invite me out for coffee."

"Well, sure Mead. I'd love to go for coffee with you. Will you join me?"

Now I felt loved. I truly felt as if she wanted to go for coffee with me, and the group felt it, too. We practiced inviting each other for coffee for a while, and then moved on to dinner. I don't think I have ever heard so many dinner invitations in so short a time, except maybe at a Baha'i conference.

"So, Peter," I said, randomly turning to another, "would you like to become a member of the Baha'i community?"

And everything stopped cold.

Except for Peter. He just smiled and said, "Sure. I'd love to."

As the recipient of that invitation, he said, and only because I asked him, that he felt no pressure in that question. He felt no offense.

"Can you imagine," I asked the group, "anyone feeling offended if you invite them for coffee? Or dinner? Why do you think they might feel offended if you ask them if they wish to join you in the Baha'i community? As you long as you are loving, inviting, and putting no pressure or judgement in your invitation, there is no reason at all for them to take offense. Remember, this person is a friend who knows you and trusts you. Be confident in that."

I'm not sure, but I think that was probably the first time in my life that I really gave thought to the idea of actually inviting someone to become a part of the Baha'i community.

Oops, here's an unexpected aside. It was just a few days later that I was sitting in an Assembly meeting (I was given the bounty of being able to serve on an Assembly for a short time) when this institution was meeting with a new Baha'i who had just moved into our community. Out of love and courtesy, they also invited her husband, who was not a Baha'i.

Amidst the conversation, in which we got to know all about her, the Chair turned to her husband, and asked him a bit about himself.

After telling us that he was a schoolteacher, and where he grew up, he then added in, "And I've taken Ruhi Books 1 and 2, but haven't had a chance yet to enrol."

The Chair then asked him about his teaching work, and if he had a job yet at a local school.

"Wait a minute," I blurted out. "Did you just say that you hadn't had a chance yet to enrol?"

The Assembly members, including myself, were shocked that I had interupted so rudely. But this good man just calmly said, "Yeah."

"Would you like to become a member of the Baha'i community?" I just had to ask. I had no choice in the matter. My heart would not let it be unasked.

"Yes," was his reply.

And so I got out a declaration card from my prayer book and handed it to him. The Assembly then had the bounty of meeting with another new Baha'i in our community that evening.

Oh, and there's another aside. Wow, this article is just going from one to another faster than I can imagine.

I was visiting this town with a friend of mine, and a former-Counsellor-from-the-World-Centre was there giving a fireside. At the beginning of the fireside, he asked who there was not Baha'i. He asked this in such a simple manner that none were felt imposed upon by it. He said that he was curious so that he would better know who his audience was.

Two people raised their hands. They were the only ones who were not Baha'i. The speaker then casually asked the first guy why he wasn't a Baha'i. The question was not judgemental in any way, and it was fully evident that no offense was taken. The question was answered with an evasive response, and it was clear that this man didn't know why he wasn't Baha'i.

That was when the questions got a bit more intense.

"Do you think Baha'u'llah is a Messenger from God?" That was the final question.

"Yes, I do," was the surprising response.

From there the speaker got serious. He said that this was the only time that he got concerned for others: when they recognize but do not openly declare. He said that in the Writings, the heart is likened to an eye, and that when it sees the light, it either opens up to receive as much light as it can, or else it closes against it.

He spoke with such conviction, and such love, and then asked the man to really consider if he truly believed Baha'u'llah was a Messenger of God, why not declare his faith.

The long and short of it is that the man did enrol, but then it was discovered that there were no enrolment cards in the house. That was when I got out my prayer book and gave him one. I always have at least one in my prayer book.

After that wonderful experience, he then turned to the second person who raised their hand and asked her why she wasn't a Baha'i. Even though it would have been so easy for her to feel undue pressure, especially after someone else had just enrolled, he made sure that she felt none.

"Because," she said, "I don't know enough about Baha'u'llah to decide."

"Wonderful!" he exclaimed. "That is the perfect reason for not enrolling. Keep studying, ask your heartfelt questions, and when you feel that He is Who He says He is, then declare your faith without any hesitation."

I want to write more right now, especially about a teaching project I joined in Toronto, but for now I'll leave it here. Perhaps tomorrow I'll be able to write more.

So, for now, I'm really looking forward to the Ridvan message this year. I suspect there will be quite a bit to write about. And I'm sure, dear Reader, that you will be able to correct my understanding of what we are being guided to do this year.

Until then, have a happy Ridvan.

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