Monday, January 7, 2013

Effective Service

As you may have noticed, the number of postings I have done in recent months has been much lower than in the past. The reason is quite simple: it hasn't been the highest priority for me. That doesn't mean it's not important to me, just that there were other things that were more important. After all, I'm making a living as an artist again, and that means the Christmas season is very busy for me.

There have also been other avenues of service to humanity and the Faith that have taken up my time, and that leads me to my question, or thought, for today.

To start, the Guardian once said that no one person can do everything, and not all people can do the same thing. (Obviously that's not a direct quote, but it sure is close. Find it yourself, if you're interested.)

What does that mean? To me, and remember this is only my own opinion and nothing official, it means that we have to find our own area of service.

But how are we to do this?

Now there's the question.

It means I need to know myself. I need to know my strengths, my weaknesses, my likes and my dislikes. I also need to know the needs of my community, both the Baha'i community and the greater community.

In a strange sense it reminds me of shopping for food. When I go grocery shopping, there are a few things I consider: nutrition, price and taste. It may seem obvious, but many people I talk with don't actually realize that this is what they are doing. Earlier this evening, when I went to the store, I said to myself, "Self, we need more fruits and vegetables, along with some protein source for lunch for Shoghi this week." I looked at the fruits and chose some that were organic and high in nutritional content. I then did the same for the veggies.

When I looked at the protein sources for lunch, I actually chose a cheese that had less nutritional value, was more expensive, but tasted far more wonderful than the others. I knew Shoghi would like it, and decided the extra flavour was worth the cost as a special treat to him. This was only possible because it was still within our budget.

Some people who have less disposable income than I do may put price as their first priority. But if they do so without looking at the nutritional content, they will probably end up spending more money in the long run, either because they need more food, or have to pay more on doctor bills because they are unhealthy. Wonder Bread versus whole wheat bread is a great example. It may cost half the price, but you have to eat about 6 times as many slices to feel as satisfied. (Actually, I usually think it's a wonder they call that stuff bread at all.) So even though it costs more initially, the whole wheat bread is less expensive in the long run.

For service, I look at how much time it takes me,the impact it has on the community, and how much joy I get out of it. Some areas of service can take more energy out of you than they are worth, while some you may enjoy have very little impact on the world.

One example that comes to mind is writing. This is something that needs to be done, either as letters for an Assembly, or in my case, a blog to share some ideas from the Faith that others may find useful. I find writing easy and enjoyable, and I can usually do it fairly quickly. Someone else may find it an onerous chore that takes tons of time and stresses them to no end. To me, it only makes sense to ask someone like me to do that job, and let the other person do something that they can do more easily.

Some people have complained about the core activities, claiming that they don't like teaching children's classes. Fine, I say. Don't. There are still three other core activities to choose from. And if none of those suit your fancy, and there are others to do them in your area, choose an area of service that you do love.

My wife is a trained teacher, with her degree in education. She used to be a music teacher. Putting on a children's class is almost second nature to her. Of course, it still takes preparation and effort, but far less effort than I would need. After all, I don't have the training she does. However, if there is nobody else to do it, then I will, for there is little that is more important than the education of children.

So although my preference is tutoring study circles, in my neighbourhood we need help with children's classes. While it takes me far more effort for me than her, and is more draining on my personal energy reserves, I assist where I can, like those times when she's out of town.

But why am I writing about this now?


I recently reviewed my areas of service, and looked at the needs of the community again. While I had been writing blogs for the local newspaper over the past couple of years, a task that I found both easy and enjoyable, I discovered that the expectations had changed without my knowledge. The new tasks involved were far more challenging for me and took up a lot more of my time, while draining my energy from other more important areas of service. In the end I concluded that it was no longer worth it. That blog was not a core activity, nor did I feel it was as effective in helping others move closer to their Creator as, say, the children's class or study circle I am tutoring. Oh, and it's not that it was a bad forum or anything. Quite the contrary. I believe it was wonderful, and I look forward to seeing other Baha'is write for it. But it began to take up too much of my energy, and was no longer a high priority for me.

It's like giving up a food I love to eat, but which costs more and is not as nutritional. If my money is limited, or health concerns mean I shouldn't eat it, then I need to make my choice based on those other factors.

Now, if you think that is a good place to end this article, feel free to do something else. I won't be offended. But, if it's all the same to you, I'm going to continue with just a bit more.

I was reading a quote the other night with Marielle and it got us thinking about service, too. In Gleanings, on page 170, Baha'u'llah says:
The people of Baha, who are the inmates of the Ark of God, are, one and all, well aware of one another's state and condition, and are united in the bonds of intimacy and fellowship. Such a state, however, must depend upon their faith and their conduct. They that are of the same grade and station are fully aware of one another's capacity, character, accomplishments and merits. They that are of a lower grade, however, are incapable of comprehending adequately the station, or of estimating the merits, of those that rank above them. Each shall receive his share from thy Lord. Blessed is the man that hath turned his face towards God, and walked steadfastly in His love, until his soul hath winged its flight unto God, the Sovereign Lord of all, the Most Powerful, the Ever-Forgiving, the All-Merciful.

He begins by reminding us that the "people of Baha" are "the inmates of the Ark of God". He talks about how aware we are of each other, knowing, among other things, each other's state. But, and here's the kicker,  this state is dependent upon our faith and our conduct. Our presumably spiritual state is dependent upon our internal faith and our actions.

Then He divides us up according to our grade and station. There are some who are above others. They are the ones who have demonstrated a spirituality far beyond the rest of us. I think, for example, of the members of the Universal House of Justice. Obviously I am below them in grade and station. I am not aware of their capacity, or probably their character. While I can read about their accomplishments, I certainly am not fully aware of their merits. They, however, are fully aware of the capacity of the entire Baha'i community. They know our global character. They continually mirror to us our accomplishments and merits. It is through their wisdom, and ability to be aware of others in the way described here, that they are able to appoint the Counsellors, which is yet another "grade and station".

The Counsellors, in their turn, are fully aware of the capacity of the entire Baha'i community under their guidance, meaning the continent for which they serve. And the Auxiliary Board members under them also have this understanding in their area of service.

On the other side of the Administrative Order, the Spiritual Assemblies, too, have this awareness of their respective communities. We continually see it in their decisions, their guidance and their love. Are they infallible? Of course not. But they do the best that they can, and if, by some chance, they underestimate the full capacity of their community, their vision is raised by those higher institutions.

There are many times when I do not feel myself capable of serving in a particular area, but an Assembly has asked me to do so. It is precisely at those times that I have to trust in their awareness of my capacity.

And when I do? When I trust their awareness of my capacity over my own understanding of myself? Well, Baha'u'llah says, "Each shall receive his share from thy Lord. Blessed is the man that hath turned his face towards God, and walked steadfastly in His love..."

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