Tuesday, January 3, 2012

12 December 2011 Message

You may have been wondering why I hadn't posted anything on the recent message that came out from the Universal House of Justice on 12 December 2011 (hence the title of this article). Well, dear Reader, there are a few reasons. First, I've been spending time with my family, as well as working on my book. (My chain art has gone by the wayside for a few days.) (I'm going to work on that when Marielle is back at work.)

Second, I just wasn't sure what to say. I mean, it's addressed to National Spiritual Assemblies, and I'm certainly not a member of one of those august institutions.

But our National Assembly sent it out to our local Assembly, and they asked if we could all study it last night. Alas, though, I was not at that meeting and so I did not partake of the benefits of the group's wisdom. (Due to my selfishness, I decided not to share a minor tummy malady with the other members of the community. Can you believe it?)

Yesterday morning, before said tummy malady, I had a couple of hours to kill while waiting for the car to have it's winter tires put on, so I began to study it on my own, thinking that at least then I would have some questions to ask in the evening. And so the first thing I did was look at the outline contained with the various headings:

  • Intro (That's not really there, but I added it) - paragraphs 1 and 2
  • The Path of Service - paragraphs 3 - 6
  • Coordination - paragraphs 7 - 12
  • Classes for Children - paragraphs 8 - 15
  • Educational Materials - paragraphs 16 - 20
  • Out-tro (that's not really there, either) - paragraph 21
Most of this letter, as you have seen, does not really concern the average believer, but it is wonderful to see the letters that are guiding our higher institutions. In the greater community we would refer to this as "transparency", but as we do not suffer from the lack of trust of these institutions, we call it "shared guidance". I truly love this community.

In my own usual manner, and without the wise input of my Assembly, I'm just going to go through this a bit at a time and share some of my own meager thoughts. I'm fairly sure that many more of you will lend me your wisdom later.

On to paragraph 1, and I'm presuming you have access to a copy, so I'm not re-printing it here.

The first thing that caught my attention was the outline for the continuum we move through when we study the recent guidance and deliberate on "the nature and extent of capacity developed". They talk about the efforts of homefront pioneers and the "first stirrings" of the institute process, and how this grows into a "pattern of rigorous activity", presumably based upon this program, and how this leads to "gaining mastery over the dynamics that characterize rapidly expanding, relatively large communities."

Of course, this all begs a few questions:
  1. What is the nature of the capacity we have developed?
  2. What are these dynamics that characterize these rapidly expanding communities?
Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to even begin to speculate on these questions, but I certainly would love to hear what those who are in a position to have a vision about them think about them.

In the second paragraph, I love how they "note the degree of effort being exerted" without mentioning what that degree is. Obviously it differs from community to community, from cluster to cluster. Regardless, they are happy to note the degree of effort, for this presumably helps them get a better understanding of what is happening in the world and are therefore  in a position to feed back to us what they have learned. What is interesting, though, is that they link this effort to the degree of number of people who actively participate in the work required to being into reality a New World Order. The greater our effort, the greater the numbers, and the faster we will bring this New World Order into existence. Of course, the converse is true, too.

They also give a list of the pieces (I'm sure there's a better word, but I can't think of it right now) involved in the institute process:
  • The Institute Board
  • The Coordinators, regardless of level
  • The tutors, animators and children's class teachers
  • The promotion of an environment conducive at once to universal participation and mutual support and assistance
This last one is the most interesting, for it has been mentioned many times in other letters, but is intriguing here in this list. I also, on a personal note, often think that these lists are a crescendo, not a decrescendo. At least I have found this to be true in the Writings of Baha'u'llah, so I often presume it here, too, in the letters from the World Centre.

When reading it yesterday, I had to ask myself how this list, in this order, could be seen as a crescendo. It seems to me that the Board, as a body, has very little direct interaction with the generality of the community. They provide grand overarching guidance, but this is mostly impacting the coordinators, and how they carry out their own work. Even the coordinators don't have much direct interaction with the generality of the community, except as they are acting as tutors, in which case they are serving as tutors, not as coordinators. What they do, for the most part, is offer guidance and direction to the tutors, animators and teachers. And it is these precious souls, this vast army of people motivated by the guidance that they receive from all these levels, from the World Centre on down, who have the direct contact with the individuals. These are the people who have the most direct impact on the affairs of the Faith at the local level. but none of this could happen without that environment spoken of in that last phrase above. It is this environment, conducive to universal participation and mutual support and assistance, that encourages the friends to become more involved and lend their effort to this mighty endeavour. And so now it really does seem to me to be that crescendo that I was looking for. While it may seem like a top down approach, it is, in reality, a grass roots movement that is being analyzed at the various levels and wisely guided into more and more effective lines of action by those with broader and broader perspectives that may not be readily seen at the local grass roots level.

This all leads to yet another observation: If I am concerned about the level of activity in my own neighbourhood or community, or if I am concerned about the growth of the Faith in my region, then it seems to me that the Universal House of Justice has directly tied this to my personal "degree of effort" in adding to the vitality of the institute process.

Now we move on to part 2 of this letter, "The path of service", which begins with a bit of a history, which I will not go into here, for you can read it yourself. Instead I will focus on what seems to be new: their observations on pedagogy. They point out that the organizing principle of the Ruhi Institute is "developing capacity to serve the Cause and humanity in a process that is likened to walking a path of service."

From here, in paragraph 4, they look at the metaphor involved, and the implications of walking this path of service. I just love it.

Looking at the implications of the concept of a path, they note the following:
  • Invites participation
  • Beckons to new horizons
  • Demands effort and movement
  • Accommodates different paces and strides
  • Is structured and defined
  • Can be experienced and known by scores upon scores
  • It belongs to the community
To walk this path, they say, is equally expressive.
  • It requires volition and choice
  • Calls for a set of skills and abilities but also elicits certain qualities and attitudes
  • Necessitates logical progression but admits, when needed, related lines of exploration
  • May seem easy at the outset but becomes more challenging further along
  • "And crucially, one walks the path in the company of others."
From here on out, the majority of the letter is primarily concerned with things that are not within the purview of the individual, and I won't go into much discussion here about them, for they don't really impact my life at this time. (And remember, this is all about how I apply the teachings to my own life.)

But what does interest me is paragraph 19.

In this paragraph they talk about the importance of the arts and the generation of a global culture that allows for and encourages the development of culture at the local level. "Propelled by forces generated both within and outside the Baha'i community, the peoples of the earth can be seen to be moving from divergent directions, closer and closer to one another, towards what will be a world civilization so stupendous in character that it would be futile for us to attempt to imagine it today." They also remind us that as this occurs, there are some parts of our own culture that will fall away, being deemed as either useless or detrimental. "By the same token, new elements of culture will evolve over time as people hailing from every human group, inspired by the Revelation of Baha'u'llah, give expression to patterns of thought and action engendered by Hi teachings, in part through artistic and literary works." And so this new culture will be partly, though not exclusively, seen through the various arts. Culture is, after all, far more than just the artistic expression that is generated. The way of doing something, the patterns of thought and action, as they say, are part of culture, too. Anyone who has ever traveled across the globe and seen the workings of another culture are well aware of this.

But then there is the caution: "such an efflorescence of creative thought will fail to materialize, should the friends fall, however inadvertently, into patterns prevalent in the world that give licence to those with financial resources to impose their cultural perspective on other, inundating them with materials and products aggressively promoted." Now I have a better understanding of why it bothers me when people ask me if I know "THE" song for a quote in Ruhi Book 1, or whatever. There is no "THE". The Writings are what they are, and we can superimpose them on any piece or style of music that we desire. There are many tens, or even hundreds, of versions of songs for all the quotes in Ruhi Book 1, not to mention the other books, or even the children's classes. And hearing the same words sung in so many different ways is joyous and uplifting. It also helps me realize just how universal this Faith is.

This is also not to deny the importance of sharing these songs, for all those songs that were shared back in the 70s, 60s, 50s or even back in the 20s, have now become universal and are enjoyed by Baha'is all the world over. We can go into most any community throughout the planet and sing "Allah huma" or that version of "Blessed is the Spot" that I know, but can't specifically reference. And there are also those songs that are from India, Congo, the Philippines, and so on, that are also known around the world. It's so wonderful.

So even though a vast part of this letter is not exactly relevant to me at this time, I am so glad to have been able to read it. Just in case no one else says it, "Thank you, Universal House of Justice, for this rich guidance that you are providing. Thank you."

1 comment:

  1. I've been combing the letter to find the responsibilities of the individual, institutions and communities, and am finding ideas in each paragraph! It's amazing to me how the 3 work together and often one can't do the job if the other 2 aren't working together!