Friday, April 23, 2010

Ridvan 2010 Message - Take 3

We really love our dichotomies. Oh, and I don't mean Baha'is, specifically, I mean humans, in general. We really seem to thrive in the "A or B" scenario, and panic a little when confronted with the "A and B" reality.

So much of this Ridvan Message seems to talk about that. In fact, so much of the guidance from the Baha'i World Centre seems to be trying to move us away from this mindset, which is, ultimately, very limiting.

When they speak about the activities we do to aid in community building, this is an issue that they address. Many of us seem to feel that if it is an activity that Baha'is have begun, you must be Baha'i to take part and help. Of course, we know this is not true, so the Universal House of Justice addresses it in this message.

I remember going to a community gathering, shortly after my experience in Toronto, and talking about inviting parents in a neighbourhood to help us with the children's classes. "We're doing some gatherings for children, to help them learn how to use spiritual principles to make the world a better place. Would you like to help?"

Of course, the objections in that gathering rose swiftly and loudly. "They're not Baha'i. What if they want to teach something we don't agree with?" On and on those objection went. Naturally this was just a... well, natural response, a reflex, if you will. Once they saw the simplicity of it, and recognized that we Baha'is, by ourselves, will not make much of a dent, then they were fully supportive. Also, by not fighting it there in that meeting, and just bringing a few people who were willing to try it, experience became the best teacher of all.

Bizarre aside for the day: A few years ago I had the bounty of serving as Regional Coordinator for the Baha'i Institute in my region. It was probably one of the most demanding jobs I've ever had, as well as the most rewarding. My hat is off to all those who serve in that capacity today. Anyways, there I was, serving in that capacity and sitting in on an Assembly meeting. When asked what other activities I was doing in my own life, I happened to mention a deepening I was conducting on some text or another. When I mentioned this, one of the members of the Assembly, whom I considered to be the best tutor in the region, looked astonished.

"Deepening," he cried. "Don't you know we don't have deepenings anymore? We have study circles, instead."

I was stunned. There was my old friend, the dichotomy, once again, rearing its ugly head.

A short time after that, just before the World Centre said that if we weren't doing the practices in the institute courses it was as if we hadn't done the courses themselves, it became obvious that the tutors were missing that vital component in their groups. To aid them in implementing those practices (like reading the Writings every morning and evening, or studying a prayer with a friend), I printed them all on a sheet, with a cover letter explaining how important they were. This same tutor came to a tutor's gathering and effectively tossed the sheet aside saying, "Where do these come from?" "From the Ruhi books." And I showed him where they were. He had never notice them.

My internal reaction to that unfortunate experience made me realize the extreme patience that those dear souls in the World Centre have, and how far I have to go.

But back to this Ridvan message and the institute process. Paragraphs 7 - 12 all seem to address this engine of entry by troops.

Our challenge, as stated in paragraph 6, is to find a receptive population (if you're in an area with an intensive program of growth) and work with those souls "to begin a process of collective transformation".

To do this, we need to "strengthen the institute process".

Now this is where the dichotomy sometimes comes in. There are those friends who seem to believe that this is in exclusion of deepening: not the case. "...Local deepening classes, winter and summer schools, and specially arranged gatherings in which individual believers knowledgeable in the writings were able to share with others insights into specific subjects... will... continue to hold a place in the collective life of the community." Two sentences merged to convey the explicit point, but there it is. They are still valid forms of study that have a place in our community. If the Ruhi Books don't quite do it for you, continue with these other methods of study. But don't attack them or put them down, for they work for the majority of the friends. In the same way, if you love the Ruhi Books, don't deride these other forms of study. They are valid and very effective. We can support them all, while taking part in our own preferred one.

There is no dichotomy.

One other point, and an extremely important one at that, is the very next sentence in the message. "But understanding the implications of the Revelation, both in terms of individual growth and social progress, increases manifold when study and service are joined and carried out concurrently." Too often have I heard, or read, about those who say they prefer a schoolroom setting as opposed to this 'around the dinner table' setting, making it appear that they differ somehow. Or I have heard others who say that they prefer a lecture to this discussion stuff. Again, fine.

But let's not forget that when we look at schools and universities, there is usually a practical component. I mean, would you want a doctor who got their degree without ever doing their residency? Would you trust a surgeon who only ever studied through a book, without ever having touched a real body before? Not me.

Here in the study circles, the Universal House of Justice points out a number of various elements that make the learning that much more effective. The tutors are challenged to "provide the environment that is... conducive to the spiritual empowerment of individuals, who will come to see themselves as active agents of their own learning, as protagonists of a constant effort to apply knowledge to effect individual and collective transformation." On another level, "the coordinator must bring both practical experience and dynamism to his or her efforts..."

And the best way to do all this? Accompaniment. We're right back to that powerful word, which makes the evolution in our collective consciousness discernable. (OK, most of that should be in quotes, but I'm not sure where to put them.) The Coordinator accompanies the tutor, who accompanies the participant, who accompanies the one they are teaching.

Through this simple model of demonstration, we can show how there are none of these dichotomies that we so love to try and defend.

1 comment:

  1. i love the way you have explained this dichotomies in our reality as human beings. Thank you