Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ridvan 2010 Message - Take 8

My friend, Samuel, and I have been studying this rich message for most of three days a week, a few hours at a time, since Ridvan, and we just got through it this afternoon. As some of you may know, we normally use this time to study the Kitab-i-Iqan, or The Book of Certitude. Some of what we have learned, and a few of our various thoughts on this Book, is recorded in our blog together.

This afternoon we read the last four paragraphs of the Ridvan Message, and I was so moved by what we discovered within it that I just had to record it here.

Just to give you a bit of a picture, Samuel looks a bit like Theoden from Lord of the Rings, and I look a bit like Weird Al. We generally sit in a coffee shop that is frequented by people who are nearly twice our age, at least at the time of day we go there. To say the least, we stand out from the crowd. The young ladies who serve us our coffee (or tea) have become regular readers of this blog (wave to them everyone) and are always asking many fascinating and insightful questions of us. Although we had thought their questions mere courtesy at first, we were quickly corrected of this notion.

So here we are, amidst the geriatric coffee klutch, reading this message, out loud to each other. As we do this, Samuel's back is to the people in the shop, so I have the pleasure of watching their reactions as they overhear what we read. On more than a few occassions I have also overheard some of them change their conversations as they react to what we have said. There have even been a few times where I have engaged them in conversation after Samuel has left. Rare, but it has happened. For some reason, it is very awkward to acknowledge that either party has overheard what the other has said, and so it doesn't occur as often as I would hope.

All that aside, what I really want to share with you, dear Reader, are the few insights that Samuel and I have had on this letter. I'm sure you are already aware of the details of this letter as you have read it many times by now, and have probably already seen what we did, but hey, I'm still excited by it, so bear with me.

Throughout the letter we had noticed many references to the idea that it doesn't really matter if one is a member of the Baha'i communityy or not, they can still aid us in our work, or draw inspiration from the Writings. While this is really nothing new, it is so refreshing to see it stated so explicitly. We, incidentally, have taken the liberty of highlighting those phrases that allude to this so that they really stand out.

Having taken our time reading this letter, and seeing how it impacts our daily lives, as well as our teaching efforts, we were a bit relieved to finally come to the very end and all the stuff about social action and public discourse.

We had already posted some of the quotes from paragraph 29 on Facebook, and received a lot of positive comments about them. Pieces that really stood out for us were lines like, "Access to knowledge is the right of every human being..." and "...while social action may involve the provision of goods and services in some form, its primary concern must be to build capacity within a given population to participate in creating a better world."

The whole concept of this social action and the participation in public discourse arising out of the teaching work was a bit difficult for us to understand, at first, but then we applied the ideas to a concrete situation in our own home town.

In recent days (not weeks, mind you, but days), there has been a rash of violence in a part of town right between where the two of us live. Children were sexually assaulted in parks. Teens were shot and killed on their doorsteps in broad daylight. Young girls were shot through the windows in their homes. Stuff like that.

It has not been pretty, and many people are very concerned.

This is when we looked at paragraphs 29 through 32. We asked ourselves what this would look like in a neighbourhood like I've just described.

What effect, we wondered, would we have if we went to the neighbourhood meetings to discuss the situation and presented some of the ideas we have learned from the Baha'i teachings. The answer, quite simply, was "not much". We didn't know anyone there, nor were known. In fact, despite a general love of humanity and a concern for the well-being of our fellow people, we didn't have a deep set love for anyone in that neighbourhood, but only because we didn't know them.

We could go in and try to engage in this social action, or take part in this public talk about what is happening, but the truth is that we really aren't "there" yet. It would be premature, and fairly ineffective.

But what if it occurred in my own neighbourhood? There really is not much of a difference between where I live, and where these shootings occurred. If it were here, near my home, then it would be a different story. Everyone knows me, as well as my whole family, and the chances are that whoever was shot would be a very dear friend, someone I love very much. Here, these people have watched us for years, and we are a part of their lives. They have come to appreciate the perspective we have and would be willing to listen to us, as we have earned their respect and trust. Here, in our neighbourhood, we would have an effect.

But how has this happened? Samuel and I analyzed it, and came to some conclusions that we feel are fairly accurate.

In my neighbourhood, we have prayed with people. We have talked about serious spiritual issues with our neighbours and, insome cases, studied the Sacred Writings with them. This has drawn us nearer together. It has built up the love we feel for each other. We have, in effect, become more unified.

"Further involvement in the life of society should not be sought prematurely. It will proceed naturally as the friends in every cluster persevere in applying the provisions of the Plan through a process of action, reflection, consultation and study, and learn as a result."

By doing what we have been guided to do, from taking part in the expansion phases of a cycle of growth, as well as the consolidation that must follow those up, and helping people move into the core activities, as well as visiting the friends in their homes for the purpose of engaging in a spiritual conversation, we have come to love our neighbours even more than we ever have before. Our lives are intertwined, and practically inseperable. Just last night one of my neighbours saw my light on at 10 pm, so he knocked on the door just to say "hi". He knew he was welcome, and, despite my mild annoyance at the hour, my face lit up when I saw him standing there.

What if it were his daughter who were shot? How could I not be "drawn further and further into the life of society"?

"Involvement in the life of society will flourish as the capacity of the community to promote its own growth and to maintain its vitality is gradually raised."

All of a sudden, the way that this happens in a practical setting suddenly became clear.

But there is one last thing that really drew our attention, and that is in paragraph 31. The Universal House of Justice has felt "compelled to raise a warning". Doesn't that just draw your attention? "...the value of engaging in social action and public discourse is not to be judged by the ability to bring enrolments."

I try and imagine the above scenario, where my dear friends are shot in the street, and I go to the public meeting about it while judging the success of my actions on how many people want to enrol. I just can't do it. I cannot even imagine how anyone could even think of enrolments at a time like that. Our first concern would quite naturally be the safety and well-being of our dear friends. What else could it be? "Sincerity" is the word they use to describe it here.

Then I try and imagine going into a meeting like this and really pushing the fact that I'm a Baha'i and how the Faith has answers to problems like this. Again, I can't imagine doing that. I mean, really, how offensive would that be? No. I would present a few thoughts or ideas, or possibly a perspective, that I have gleaned from the Writings and share how I believe it would change the situation for the better. I would offer information, but let the friends present decide what to do with it. "The watchword in all cases is humility."

This all made sense, and was fairly obvious, now that I read it.

Then we came to the last sentence in that paragraph: "While conveying enthusiasm about their beliefs, the friends should guard against projecting an air of triumphalism, hardly appropriate among themselves, much less in other circumstances."


And they felt "compelled" to put that in there.

Whenever the Universal House of Justice adds in a clause like, "hardly appropriate among themselves", I always have to ask myself why. Have we been projecting this air of triumphalism? Or even worse, have we been doing it in private, thus adding hypocrisy into the mix? Whatever the reason, we must be consistent.

Three virtues: sincerity, humility and consistency. Any social work we do must contain those virtues, or else all of our work will be undermined.

But then, when the love is there, how could you not act with those virtues?

Yes, I`m glad I had the opportunity to study this message to some degree with my friend, and found that looking at real-life situations made it so much more comprehensible.

But then, isn`t the Faith always like that?

I wonder if I'll be able to find anyone else to study with when I'm out in BC? And will they look like someone from Lord of the Rings? Maybe Eowin? With my luck, I'll probably get stuck with an orc.

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