Friday, December 31, 2010

28 December 2010 - Take 3


Last night, at the Feast, a study group was set up to look at this letter. At last. I won't be looking at this on my own (or at least, I'll be seeing it with more than just one or two others). So, starting on Wednesday, I am sure that my understanding of this will actually be a bit more on target. Until then, however, I still want to keep looking at it, just to see what else I can try to understand.

Oh, and as I'm sure you know, no look at this letter can be all that useful outside of the realm of experience. Even though I am reading this now, I am still trying to implement some of what it says. As I gain more experience, no matter how meager my experience may be, I'll be reflecting on it in light of this document.

All that said, let's take a look at the next section: paragraphs 4 and 5.

(And thanks for your indulgence so far.)

Oh, and before I go there, I just want to share one other thing that came up. The first few words of this message, "Fifteen years have elapsed since... we gave... the first intimation of the course the Baha'i community would have to take..." Back in the mid-80s, the Universal House of Justice was talking about the "process of entry by troops", and then, in 1993, they released the compilation "Promoting Entry By Troops". Shortly after that, or fifteen years ago, the message to Counsellors' conference came out, and our entire attention was focussed on advancing this process. Perhaps it is timely to go back and re-read this complation, in light of the experience gained since then.

In paragraphs 2 and 3, they also emphasize the importance of looking back at the Ridvan message in order to gain an appreciation of the methods and dynamics at work here. It seems they really want us all to have a firm foundation upon which to begin reading this letter. For example, we should all know by now, and I'm sure you do, dear Reader, that "the system thus created to develop its human resources", mentioned at the beginning of paragraph 3, is none other than our dearly loved training institute.

Now, in paragraph 4, they continue to unfold before our eyes the "organic nature" of the process at work in a cluster.

As they say, it all begins with the individual. The individual's personal circumstances, what they do in their daily life and who the interact with, will determine the starting point. For example, I am not a student at university, nor do I have a job in an office. The way I get to meet people in my daily life is substantially different from most others. I have to find my own most effective way of meeting people. For me, that generally entails doing my writing in public. My preferred choice? A coffee shop. It's cheap, relaxing, people often go there with the intention of talking to others, and I can sip a nice cup of tea or coffee while I'm there. Besides, I can even tell stories to the other patrons about Baha'u'llah's teaching in coffee shops in Baghdad. How cool is that?

"What happens next follows no predetermined course."

Well, thank God for that. I'm not sure what I would do if there really was a set of rules I had to follow, or a map that I had to stick to. I'm already so far out of the norm, I can't imagine trying to get back to some pre-set series of conditions.

No. In my experience, with the people I'm meeting, it seems that there are a few courses that are more likely to occur. As I'm meeting people who want to talk, they often have questions or concerns they want to talk about. This very naturally leads to either firesides or study circles, depending upon their interests. If the questions are clearly addressed in Book 1, and they show a strong inclination towards service to humanity, then I naturally offer them a study circle. If not, then I try to address their questions in more of a fireside setting. Either way, it is the friendship that comes first. I listen to them and try to get to know them.

On the other hand, in my home life, interacting with my neighbours, children's classes are far more prominent. There are many children in my neighbourhood, so this is just a natural, too. Especially since my wife and I have an almost-6 year old son.

With both of these, I try to bring the people I meet together when they have something in common. I try to encourage the spiritual conversations, the focus on prayers, and the coherence of community life. I do whatever I can to encourage stronger relationships between the people I am meeting, which, in turn, helps encourage people to see service to humanity as an important thing. Which, in turn, helps others see the importance of learning more about how to serve effectively. Some want to help teach the children, while others want to do volunteer service in some arena or another, and most understand that they need help learning how to do this, which leads to them wanting to take the courses of the training institute. This leads to a greater awareness of the need for devotions in our life, and so on and so forth.

You see how it all builds?

Regardless of how we get to this step, we need to have a clear vision of what it is we are heading towards. We are not looking at beginning another children's class, even though that is a good thing. We are not looking at having another devotional gathering or two, even though these will naturally arise. We are not trying to get more people into the courses of education, whether they are for children, junior youth or adults, even though more people will do this.

No. What I believe we are trying to do is help transform our vision of community and encourage people to come to a better understanding of what a healthy community looks like. As we do this, all of these numbers will naturally rise. It is a question of putting the people first, not the numbers.

It's simliar to the concept of firesides. If we choose a topic and research it, and then try to find people to attend, then we are putting the topic at the centre. If, however, we find a good friend and listen to hear what their heartfelt concerns are, then we can try to design a fireside talk around that concern. Once we have that, then we can invite any other people who may be interested in that topic. This puts the person at the centre, instead of the topic.

Quite often it is through talking about our activities, and our contacts, with others that we can get a better perspective of what it is we are doing.  My wife and I often do this. I tell her about the people I have met, and she sees the next steps far more clearly than I do. She, in turn, tells me about the people she has met at her work, and I can see some other things she can do to help further advance them on their path towards their Creator.

Regardless of which way it goes, we rejoice in each others' successes. And that is not just because we are married. When we consult with others, too, we feel the same joy when they share their triumphs.

There is one dear friend (hi Janna) (everybody wave to Janna), who has also called to consult with Marielle and I. She tells us about what is happening in her area and we are so excited every time she does. But when she does call, we do not just talk about the theory of teaching. We immediately relate her experience to our own. We often, although not always, find parallels in our own experience and share what we learned, either good or bad. "When that happened, I tried this, and fell flat on my face." Or perhaps, "Wow, I saw something similar and tried this. I couldn't believe what happened. It was great!"

After we do this, share our own personal experience, she then figures out how it applies to her situation and goes off and tries it. And then a few days later the phone rings, or she sends us an e-mail. (Or, as just happened the other day, she pops over with her family and a friend, which is odd, since she lives hours away and has to take a ferry to get here.)

Now, does all this mean that Marielle and I know what we are doing? Of course not. We are just as lost as anyone else. (Of course, we have the letters from the Universal House of Justice, so how lost can we be?) This realization helps rid us of that nasty yuckiness called "paternalism". Blech. The love Janna and her family have for us and our love for them, as well as all the other friends who work with us, is genuine (and quite wonderful, I might add).

But does all this mean that we don't get discouraged at times? Of course not. We do. We stumble, just like everyone else. But our friends' "Calm determination... to demonstrate how stumbling blocks can be made stepping stones for progress" helps us move past that. And their "readiness to listen, with heightened spiritual perception" is "invaluable".


  1. And thank-you, dear friends, for providing a totally non-judgmental and supportive space for us It's a blessing to learn with you.


  2. Thanks for the reflections. The Promoting Entry by Troops compilation is available here: