Monday, June 24, 2013

Ridvan Message 2013, part 3

What a beautiful day. I woke up early (disgustingly early, as far as I'm concerned) and bounced out of bed bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Then I looked outside to see what the day held in store, only to discover that my neighbour's house was gone. I couldn't see it at all. In fact, it was as if the entire neighbourhood had vanished overnight.

Ah, the joys of fog.

There is something about the fog that I truly love. The mystery, the impenetrable brightness, and the drops that form on the face when walking through it.

Then, as I got ready to come into work today, it was pouring. The fog had melted away and the whole area was being scrubbed clean by the seemingly boundless rains.

Now it's sunny again.

This is a day of unexpected change and those of us who live here have to adapt. We all dress in layers, and everyone here either has a raincoat or umbrella that they are carrying, or a frown.

And all of this reminds me of the Baha'i community today.

Change is happening, faster, in most cases, than we can imagine. And we need to be ready to adapt. Survival, as Darwin pointed out, is not confined to the strongest, or the brightest, or the swiftest, but to those most capable of adapting to change.

Today, I want to continue to look at paragraph 3 of the Ridvan message, and see what other gems are contained within.

"In such places, the means for enabling an ever-rising number of individuals to strengthen their capacity for service are well understood." In what sort of places? In those places where they are consciously, and not randomly, advancing their frontiers of learning. In other words, when we consciously invite people to work with us, for example, in transforming society, or generally making the world a better place, we learn things. We learn what works. We learn what turns people off. We learn what helps motivate others to help serve their community. And as we learn, as we become better at inviting people to work shoulder to shoulder with us, we discover that some coordination is needed.

To go back to that construction analogy, we discover that we need a foreman. Without some sort of coordination, we will assign people who are great at painting the task of drilling, or other silly things like that. And we will readily discover many people who want to help become frustrated at not being able to serve effectively or efficiently.

How, we may ask, do we discover what skills people have? And, sometimes more importantly, how do we train people to have skills that are needed? "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."

We already know what skills we need to help build a new world, and the institute courses are like the training manual. People are being trained, and we need to get them to use those skills.

But how do we find those who want to help? Simple. "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."

We meet people, talk to them, discover their interests, and show them what we are doing, all the while asking for their assistance. As they catch the vision, a number naturally arise to help. One of the best ways to help is to be trained in the needed skills and to help train others. The training, of course, comes with a practicum, the practices in the various books, as well as the services that the group decides to offer their community.

As we work on this, we also discover that different age groups have different needs, and different skills. We discover that certain things need certain amounts of time to happen, kind of like allowing the cement to cure before placing anything on top of it, or letting the paint dry, or putting together the frame before installing the dry-wall. Although there are many ways of doing things, there are some that require other things to be done first.

"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."

And we also discover, as we work at bettering our community, our selves and helping each other do the same, that we are getting help from above. We soon discover that the ample use of prayer makes a difference. We discover that there are some blueprints hidden within the Writings. And we discover that we can learn about our effectiveness not only by reflecting on what we are doing, but also by recording what we are doing and studying the numbers. "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."

All of this to say that we are learning a lot about how to more effectively advance in our work, that we require people with diverse skills, and that the harmony of science and religion includes something as mundane as statistics in our teaching work.

And for those who do not see the need for the quantitative data, that's ok. They don't need to use it. But please, don't stop recording it for those who can learn something from it.

Oh! In regard to those numbers, I had an interesting realization the other day. I noticed, while poring over the National Assembly's annual report, that there were some odd anomalies. In British Columbia, there are twice as many people per capita in core activities than anywhere else in Canada. Of all the people in core activities in Canada, twice as many percentage-wise in the North are not Baha'i. It's like nearly 2/3 are from the Greater Community in the North, compared to 1/3 elsewhere in Canada. And out of all the people who are not Baha'i who are involved in core activities in Canada, twice as many are enrolling in the Faith on the prairies as anywhere else in Canada.


I have no idea.

And that's very important to realize. Whenever I have mentioned these statistical facts, people I've mentioned them to always seem to jump to some possibly right conclusion. But upon investigation, their guess does not hold up. If, for example, the culture on the prairies encourages those involved in core activities to enrol, then it would have been true in the past, but it wasn`t.

The basic fact is that we don`t know.

What we do know is that somehow the friends in BC have learned something about inviting people to core activities. In the North, the friends have learned something about engaging friends from the greater community in core activities. On the prairies, the friends have learned something about inviting people in core activities to join the BahaƬ community.`And you know what? We need to take the time to learn from them all. We need to figure out just what it is they have learned, and then share that learning.

These statistics don't necessarily give us the answers. They merely tell us where to ask the questions.


  1. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts about Ridvan message. Thanks! Your illustration with a construction site is so right! I wonder why most people don’t see it the same way and always try to make a painter to drill something?
    On a separate note. I thought that NSA of Canada doesn’t issue annual reports. Is it a new practice or I just misunderstood something? Can you send me a copy of the report at, please?

    1. Thanks, Archivarius. I find your comment very encouraging. As for the Annual Report, I received a hard copy as a delegate this year. I'll have to look into finding an electronic one, and seeing if I can send it to you.

      And as far as I know, all NSAs issue annual reports to their community. It's part of the reporting of their activities. I'm not sure if they are released beyond the scope of the community, but I'd have a hard time imagining a national community functioning without them.


    2. Dear Mr. Mead Simon,
      Thank you for your assistance with getting the annual report!
      I have to admit that receiving it was quite a surprise. I’m a Russian Baha’i in good standing but I couldn’t get annual report from Russian NSA for past three years. It is for delegates only here. So even Russian Baha’is cannot receive it, not to mention anybody from other countries.
      And receiving Canadian annual report and not through personal contacts but from the National Spiritual Assembly itself was quite unexpected.
      Thank you very much for your help!

  2. Hi Mead,

    I always love reading your blog, and I'm sorry to call you out on a small detail, but I think that you've got Darwin completely wrong. The message of his famous theory isn't as sunny as you'd like it to be. The whole point of evolution by natural selection is that individuals don't adapt and change: either they're able to survive or they aren't, in which case they die and make room for someone who can. This is very different from earlier theories, like that of Lamarck, which really did assert that adaptation of the sort you seem to be talking about could take place. Darwin's theory is much more cruel, in that while the species adapts, the individual can't. As Darwin explains it, life is an incredibly brutal winnowing process in which as many as 99.9% of a given creature's offspring don't make it to maturity. The human race itself came into being very slowly, by means of millions and millions of transitional half-men who lived through their short, painful lives with just enough intelligence to be terrified by the world around them and not enough to explain or understand it. Most of them didn't even live beyond the first year of their life, and even fewer of them lived long enough to develop any moral or spiritual capacities they might have possessed. If you believe that God is behind this process, you must accept it as part of His divine order. But you certainly can't say that the best modern science endorses the more benign vision you mention here.

    Thanks as always for a good read. Sorry again to nitpick with my Darwinian obsessions.


    1. Thanks for the clarification, Brendan. I appreciate it.

      I was mainly looking at the quote of his, which I now understand is actually a misquote. Anyways, it was the idea that it is not the strongest who survive, but those best able to adapt.

      Either way, thanks for the correction.