Monday, August 8, 2011

The Core, and Other Parts, of the Apple

I had a very interesting conversation the other night that was, unfortunately, cut short. My friend had another phone call coming in, and I had to leave for a meeting. But it was a very thought-provoking call, and I truly hope that she is able to put some of her ideas down here.

While there were many interesting aspects to the conversation, I want to share just a bit of it with you, and get your feedback.

First of all, let me just say that she is a Baha'i and does not want to be seen as criticizing the Faith in any way whatsoever. Personally, from her, I take this as a given, and even though I am not sharing who she was, I still wanted to make that caveat very clear. She was exploring some ideas with me in the hopes of finding a higher degree of understanding. I think that is admirable. And that is, in the end, what I'm trying to do here, too.

She was wondering if we, as a community, were perhaps focused a bit too much on the core activities and forgetting about some of the principles of the Faith. We explored this question with the hopes of ensuring that there is a healthy balance in all that we do within and for this Faith of ours. Oh, and this over-focus (I'm not sure what else to call it) is from us individuals, and not from the institutions.

Before I continue, let me give a bit of a context. It seems that in the past, at least here in North America, many of us have taken something of a pendulum approach to the Faith. Those amazing people in the World Centre tell us to focus a bit more on firesides, for example, and we drop everything that we are doing and put all we got into that "most effective method of teaching the Faith... the fireside meeting in the home". They tell us to consider devoting a bit more time to summer or winter schools, and bam, everything else is put on hold while devote all our attention to those centres of learning. In other words, we have tended to look for a panacea, that one key to effective teaching, without realizing that we need to do a bit of everything as a community, responding to the various needs and requests that we see around us. Of course, this doesn't speak of everyone individually, nor of the institutions who have guided us aright over the years, but this tendency amongst some individuals has been noticed.

So, let's look at the core activities, and what that term implies. I won't bother going into what those activities are, for you probably know by now that they can be summed up as children's classes, junior youth groups, study circles and devotional gatherings. I don't need to repeat that here. (Wasn't that clever, the way I just did that? No? Oh well. I tried.)

But these are not all the activities of the community, they are only the core.

When I think of the word "core", I tend to first think of an apple. The core, as you know, is the very centre, the heart, the part of the apple that holds the seeds from which the future trees grow. It is also the part that does not get eaten, as my friend pointed out. It is not the part of the apple that feeds us. And the core is not the entire apple, either.

This led my friend and I to discuss what makes up the rest of the apple. If the core activities are just that, the core, then what are those activities or things that make up the rest of the apple?

She put forth an interesting thought, and made an observation that I think makes a lot of sense.

Aside from the obvious, such as the firesides I mentioned, or deepenings, she also said that perhaps some of the basic principles of the Faith constitute the rest of the apple.

What does that mean?

Well, let's look at it. Take the basic principle of race unity, or the oneness of humanity. This is a principle that has given many people a sense of refreshment, even a type of spiritual nourishment, if you will. We Baha'is have been very active over many years promoting this principle, so much so that even the National Spiritual Assembly here in Canada has made this the theme for this year's celebration of the Master's visit. They have asked us to focus on how He would deliver this message to all, regardless of the colour of their skin or their station in life. It was this principle that attracted many thousands to further investigate the reality of Baha'u'llah's teachings.

It is a very basic principle within the Baha'i Faith.

But in recent years a few communities have stopped their work in this field in order to concentrate more on the core activities. I'm not saying they're wrong, for I'm sure that they've consulted a lot on the issues, but I do have to wonder if it the wisest course, in retrospect. It seems that there is a lot of historical inertia that may be getting lost.

I'm aware of the statement from the World Centre that we don't want to be distracted from our activities, and this is very wise. But isn't it a fantastic opportunity to use these historically successful events to help move people into the core activities? If we have had a major presence in a women's rights conference for decades, wouldn't this be an excellent place to invite people to a women's prayer gathering? Or, as in the above case, invite people to a study circle centred around the theme of race unity?

When I'm tutoring Book 6, and get to those sections about our own personal opportunities for teaching, I always try to remind the friends to work with their own historical reality, and not try to come up with radically new things. Well, unless they really need to, of course.

I'm an artist, for example. I do a lot of work with different art groups. I meet many artists, and have a history with them. It only makes sense that when I'm making my plans, I would work around that, not in spite of it.

I also love to work with immigrant groups and interfaith organizations. Same again: I have a history with them, and am known by them. It only makes sense that I would extend most of my invitations to things to these people. They are, after all, my friends and colleagues.

And so, once again, this leads back to my phone conversation the other evening. Are we, in a sense, forgetting our roots and seeing how to integrate these roots into our current activities? I'm not sure, but I am curious to explore this.

One final thought in this article filled with questions: If the edible part of the apple is not connected to the core, then rot sets in fairly quickly, nor does it aid in the growth of the next tree.

I'm just saying, you know?

1 comment:

  1. I'm afraid that human nature is such that there will always be herds of sheeple following some shepherd or another; Society at large is rife with swinging pendulums, some with sharp, pointy edges, some merely padded weights.

    The pendulums are, of course, only an analogy, as is your apple. The problem with reasoning by way of analogy is being sure you're using the right model. It occurs to me that in 'feeding' you, that part of the apple which you 'eat' may indeed promote future growth, even though it is not the 'core' and has no 'seeds'. Likewise, the 'core' and 'seeds' of your faith may sustain, or 'feed' you, as well as the fleshy part. Perhaps the quandary lies in perceiving and enacting your faith as an apple, with a hierarchical structure, rather than as another model, say a hot bubbling chili, which is composed of different parts intermingled more or less homogeneously, in constant motion. The chili is flowing and shifting, bits of meat and beans and peppers rising and falling with convection, yet it always looks the same when you look in the pot. (As an added bonus, the heat keeps it from spoiling, and it tastes better after simmering for a while! :D )