Monday, June 17, 2013

Ridvan Message 2013, part 2

I know, I know. It's been a while. Sorry about that. I really have been meaning to get back to this message, but I've not really been sure what to write. I've been looking at it, studying it, and trying to wrap my mind around it. But more importantly, I've been working on trying to apply it, as much as I can in my own life.

I've already looked a bit at the first paragraph, so we might as well go straight to the second:
Beloved co-workers: This stirring pronouncement comes to mind unbidden when we see your consecrated efforts around the world in answer to the call of Baha'u'llah. The splendid response to His summons can be witnessed on every side. To those who pause to reflect on the unfoldment of the Divine Plan, it becomes impossible to ignore how the power possessed by the Word of God is ascendant in the hearts of women and men, children and youth, in country after country, in cluster after cluster.

To start, we are being referred to as "co-workers". This is a long and often used phrase, reminding us that we are all working shoulder to shoulder in our service to the Faith.

But then they say, "This stirring pronouncement". Which stirring pronouncement? The one quoted in the first paragraph. Those three quotes, in case I didn't mention it (which I didn't because I didn't notice it until just now), all come from Gleanings number 92. And you know what? It is worth reading that passage again. While the Universal House of Justice extracted a few key sentences, drawing our attention to particular aspects of that quote, the entire section (and it's quite short) reminds us of some important issues. Yes, the Book of God is wide open, but only a few have recognized it. Yes, the core activities of the Baha'i community are open for all, both as participants and as organizers, and they stir the spirit of all involved, but they have the greatest effect upon those who recognize Baha'u'llah as a Messenger of God. It's not that those participating have to become members of the community, but just that when we overcome those barriers in our own hearts that prevent us from embracing the Faith, the effect of the Writings is even greater.

It is worth noting that this letter is, after all, addressed to the Baha'is of the World, and yet in the extracts that the Universal House of Justice used in the opening paragraph they demonstrate their care in not alienating anyone. This is something that we can surely learn from.

Perhaps this is a hint as to why they call the response they have seen to our efforts "splendid". And when we "pause to reflect", we will better understand that it is this response to the Word of God by the general population, not necessarily the mere number of enrollments, that will have the great impact on the world. This effect that it is having on many thousands upon thousands in cluster after cluster is truly "impossible to ignore".

It is not until paragraph 3 that I feel we really get into the meat and potatoes of the message:
A worldwide community is refining its ability to read its immediate reality, analyse its possibilities, and apply judiciously the methods and instruments of the Five Year Plan. As anticipated, experience is most rapidly accumulating in clusters where the frontiers of learning are being consciously advanced. In such places, the means for enabling an ever-rising number of individuals to strengthen their capacity for service are well understood. A vibrant training institute functions as the mainstay of the community's efforts to advance the Plan and, as early as possible, skills and abilities developed through participation in institute courses are deployed in the field. Some, through their everyday social interactions, encounter souls who are open to the exploration of spiritual matters carried out in a variety of settings; some are in a position to respond to receptivity in a village or neighbourhood, perhaps by having relocated to the area. Growing numbers arise to shoulder responsibility, swelling the ranks of those who serve as tutors, animators, and teachers of children; who administer and coordinate; or who otherwise labour in support of the work. The friends' commitment to learning finds expression through constancy in their own endeavours and a willingness to accompany others in theirs. Further, they are able to keep two complementary perspectives on the pattern of action developing in the cluster firmly in view: one, the three- month cycles of activity--the rhythmic pulse of the programme of growth--and the other, the distinct stages of a process of education for children, for junior youth, and for youth and adults. While understanding clearly the relationship that connects these three stages, the friends are aware that each has its own dynamics, its own requirements, and its own inherent merit. Above all, they are conscious of the operation of powerful spiritual forces, whose workings can be discerned as much in the quantitative data that reflect the community's progress as in the array of accounts that narrate its accomplishments.

While it is very easy to read this paragraph as a summary of what we have done in the past year, it can also serve as a refocusing of our work.

To start, let's explore only that first sentence. (I'm sure that'll take up the rest of my time in the office today, so I'll try to get further tomorrow. Fair warning.) We are not learning to read our immediate reality. This is something we already know how to do. but let's be fair: we can do it better. And so they say that we are "refining" our ability to do this. but then we are not just refining our ability to read our reality, we are also refining our ability to analyse the possibilities found within that reality. We are not merely looking at what another community is doing and trying to recreate their activities. We are seeing what is happening in our own community, our own neighbourhoods, and better seeing the possibilities that lie within it. And then, if that wasn't enough (because, really, it isn't), we are refining our ability to "apply judiciously the methods and instruments of the Five year Plan".

So what does all that mean?

Obviously, more than I can go into here. But I'll try. (Why not?)

For years, many of us (myself being a prime example) looked at what others had learned in their teaching efforts and tried to do what they did. A musical fireside? Let's give it a try. Clean a park? Sure, why not? The list goes on. And all these activities were good, but they may not have had the same impact where we were living. Why not? Because the reality of the area was different. Perhaps the place we lived did not have as many hippy-type people, and so the musical fireside may not have had the same appeal. Perhaps the park near our home was not a hub of activity for the neighbourhood kids, and so it didn't impact their lives as much.

Now we are learning to better understand our community, our neighbourhood. Rather than looking at what it is that we want to do, we are seeing what others are interested in. We are better listening to their concerns, and this is helping us see what the Faith offers that directly addresses their concern. I mean, many of us have done that before, but we, as a community, are now doing it more effectively.

And we are seeing which of the tools we have at our disposal is best suited to addressing that concern.

They say that if all you have is a hammer, then everything begins to look like a nail.

Well, for a while, many Baha'is felt that a fireside was some sort of panacea. It was, after all, the most effective tool we had at the time the Guardian said that. he even qualified it in that manner. "Someone is interested in the Faith", we would say, "well, bring them to a fireside."

Then recently we felt that a study circle would address every problem we saw in our community, only to learn that we needed to include the practices, and so on and so forth. Now there are some who feel that we should drop everything and put all our attention on junior youth groups, no matter what we call them. Well, those few are now a minority. Most the friends in the community are looking at their friends and neighbours, their co-workers and even strangers, and beginning to ascertain what their interests really are. Instead of presuming that others want to do what we are interested in, or learn about the Faith in the same way that attracted us, we are being more discerning.

And while there are few surprises, for we know that everyone is concerned about the welfare of children, we see that there are nuances.

We no longer have only a hammer. We now have a screwdriver, and sandpaper, and a paintbrush, and pliers, and a piano, and all sorts of other implements of construction, and we can see what is needed and select the best tool for the job.

But as with any good construction project, we are not selecting our tools at random. (Can you just imagine the worker who says "Quick give me a tool! I have some nails that need to go into a board." No. He asks specifically for that hammer, and would probably stare in disbelief if his co-worker handed him the pliers.) We are consciously selecting them. (Perhaps the worker tries a wrench to drive in those nails, and discovers that the bigger wrenches work better. Trial and error. With time, and guidance, he will surely begin to use that hammer.)

Oh, and look: We made it to the second sentence. And just in time, too. I have to pack up my computer and get ready to go. (Maybe I should try a hammer to pack it up.)

I'll try to get to the rest of this paragraph later this week.

And if I fail, perhaps that hammer will come in useful for reminding me.

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