Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Study Session

Last night I wrote that article about helping out with an intensive institute campaign. This morning, I am preparing for it. At the meeting in which we were supposed to debrief on the previous session and see what had been learned, and what needs had to be met, as well plan what we could for this next session, I found that I had to leave early (I had to pick up my son from his school bus). And so I didn't actually learn what my part was until just a couple of nights ago. I've been so busy with other things that this is really the first chance I have had to think about how to do my part. And so, dear Reader, I am doing it "out loud", with you as a co-collaborator.

They have asked me to look at paragraph 15 of the 28 December message, as well as 6:3:23 (that's Ruhi Book 6, Unit 3, section 23), but only the first two parts.

Unfortunately, as I am not certain what specific needs were consulted upon, I will have to wing it. But, as I was there for the last session, that shouldn't be too hard. If I'm off-base, please feel free to correct me. Thanks.

Paragraph 15 is fairly straightforward. It helps set the vision for the next 5 years. We have to "increase the level of participation" and "embrace more and more people" within this system. We also need to remember the "remarkable receptivity" we have found. This is all easily done in the group by asking them to relate each point to their experience over the past week or two. (Oh, there is more in this paragraph, but I want to move on.)

The section in the Ruhi Book is the one that has that marvelous quote from the Guardian, found in The Advent of Divine Justice, page 50. They divide it into a few section, looking at each one at a time. Myself, I think I'll outline the whole thing so that they can see the structure of what he is asking us to do, and then go back and focus on the first two parts. The outline will be done ahead of time, and quickly gone over. That should take less than 5 minutes.

With preparation.

Yes. Preparation.

That's why I'm doing this.

Here we go.

Here is the full quote:
Having on his own initiative, and undaunted by any hindrances with which either friend or foe may, unwittingly or deliberately, obstruct his path, resolved to arise and respond to the call of teaching, let him carefully consider every avenue of approach which he might utilize in his personal attempts to capture the attention, maintain the interest, and deepen the faith, of those whom he seeks to bring into the fold of his Faith. Let him survey the possibilities which the particular circumstances in which he lives offer him, evaluate their advantages, and proceed intelligently and systematically to utilize them for the achievement of the object he has in mind. Let him also attempt to devise such methods as association with clubs, exhibitions, and societies, lectures on subjects akin to the teachings and ideals of his Cause such as temperance, morality, social welfare, religious and racial tolerance, economic cooperation, Islam, and Comparative Religion, or participation in social, cultural, humanitarian, charitable, and educational organizations and enterprises which, while safeguarding the integrity of his Faith, will open up to him a multitude of ways and means whereby he can enlist successively the sympathy, the support, and ultimately the allegiance of those with whom he comes in contact. Let him, while such contacts are being made, bear in mind the claims which his Faith is constantly making upon him to preserve its dignity, and station, to safeguard the integrity of its laws and principles, to demonstrate its comprehensiveness and universality, and to defend fearlessly its manifold and vital interests. Let him consider the degree of his hearer's receptivity, and decide for himself the suitability of either the direct or indirect method of teaching, whereby he can impress upon the seeker the vital importance of the Divine Message, and persuade him to throw in his lot with those who have already embraced it. Let him remember the example set by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and His constant admonition to shower such kindness upon the seeker, and exemplify to such a degree the spirit of the teachings he hopes to instill into him, that the recipient will be spontaneously impelled to identify himself with the Cause embodying such teachings. Let him refrain, at the outset, from insisting on such laws and observances as might impose too severe a strain on the seeker's newly awakened faith, and endeavor to nurse him, patiently, tactfully, and yet determinedly, into full maturity, and aid him to proclaim his unqualified acceptance of whatever has been ordained by Bahá'u'lláh. Let him, as soon as that stage has been attained, introduce him to the body of his fellow-believers, and seek, through constant fellowship and active participation in the local activities of his community, to enable him to contribute his share to the enrichment of its life, the furtherance of its tasks, the consolidations of its interests, and the coordination of its activities with those of its sister communities. Let him not be content until he has infused into his spiritual child so deep a longing as to impel him to arise independently, in his turn, and devote his energies to the quickening of other souls, and the upholding of the laws and principles laid down by his newly adopted Faith.

That was step one. Step two is to edit it down to the bare bones, removing the clarifying clauses which they already have in the full quote. Here is step two:

1. resolved to arise
2. carefully consider every... approach
     a. capture the attention
     b. maintain the interest
     c. deepen the faith
3. survey the possibilities (of your life)
     a. evaluate their advantages
     b. proceed intelligently and systematically
4. devise such methods as association
     a. safeguarding the integrity of his Faith
          i. sympathy
          ii. support
          iii. allegiance
     b. preserve its dignity, and station
     c. safeguard the integrity of its laws and principles
     d. demonstrate its comprehensiveness and universality
     e. defend fearlessly its manifold and vital interests
5. consider the degree of his hearer's receptivity
     a. direct or indirect method of teaching
6. impress upon the seeker the vital importance of the Divine Message
7. persuade him to throw in his lot with those who have already embraced it
8. remember the example set by 'Abdu'l-Bahá
     a. shower such kindness upon the seeker
     b. exemplify to such a degree the spirit of the teachings
9. refrain... from insisting on such laws and observances as might impose too severe a strain
10. nurse him... into full maturity
11. introduce him to the body of his fellow-believers
12. enable him to contribute his share to the enrichment of its life
13. impel him to arise independently

Wow. That's still pretty long. Let's try summarizing it.
Steps 1 and 2 are pretty much an introduction and outline. Do it, but think about what you are doing.

Step 3 is how to think about it. Begin with your own life. After all, it's the one that you are living, so you better take it into account.

Step 4 is to see how you can meet new people that have a likelihood of having a similar interest.

Everything up until this point has been looking at your circumstances. You haven't even met anyone yet.

Step 5 finally takes into account the person you are with. You have to know them, and you do this by listening to them, or watching them. You have to really understand them, their interests and their needs.

Steps 6 and 7 address those needs.

Step 8 is your spiritual condition, which is vital to this whole process.

The rest are all about what to do after they have embraced the Faith.

So you see, out of all these steps, the first 5 occur before you have even opened up your mouth. You haven't told them anything about the Faith yet. (I mean you probably have, but only in a cursory way.) These steps are all about preparation.

And so, dear Reader, that is what I will be going over later this afternoon: this preparation.

Thanks for bearing with me while I did this. I really appreciate your help. (Now if you would kindly say a prayer for the success of this campaign.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

An Intensive Institute Campaign (Or Some More Thoughts on 28 December 2010)

I was asked, the other day, to assist in the planning of an intensive Institute Campaign. How, I wondered, does one go about this? Well, obviously "one" doesn't; a group does. But still, I wondered, how does "group" go about this? What is involved? What should it look like? What is the purpose of a campaign such as this?

These were only a few of the questions I asked myself after being told that I was going to be one of the organizers / facilitators.

Filled with such questions, I did what any sensible person in my position would : I asked my wife.

And said wife being sensible, she told me to look in the guidance from the Universal House of Justice. Well, she didn't just tell me that. She pointed me to some specific passages in the recent letters, for which I am very grateful. Most of this article is written from my own perspective, but please understand that it is actually the result of the two of us sharing a few thoughts while Shoghi played in the background.

Looking at the 28 December 2010 message, the Universal House of Justice talks about "extending to other modes of operation the mode of learning" we have been engaged in, as well as employing "with a high degree of coherence the instruments and methods" we have been using. This is our starting point. Everything else falls under these points. We are trying to learn how to learn, and we are trying to learn more about coherency at the same time.

In paragraph 5, they refer to the idea of turning stumbling blocks into "stepping stones for progress". This can be demonstrated in a campaign such as we are designing by listening carefully to everyone as they reflect on what they have learned. It is certain that obstacles will identified, and that there will be some common obstacles, which can be loosely seen as the group's. Once some of these obstacles have been identified, it is fairly straightforward to find a relevant section in the Ruhi curriculum that addresses that issue. Of course, that requires a thorough awareness of the various sections, but chances are that, as a facilitator who has worked with people before, you can probably guess what a few of those obstacles might be. This would enable you to look through your books ahead of time and be prepared in case those obstacles do actually arise. (Oh, if you did that, and people didn't know it, then you'd really look good.) (But you should be humble at the same time. Tough, I know, but true.)

When we get down to paragraph 8, we notice a few things that may seem a bit off topic, but I think they're part of the mindset we need to further develop. They talk about "structures being forged" that "take on the requisite characteristics". To me, this means that things are being done not merely for the sake of doing them, but because they are necessary. In other words, in a campaign such as we are doing, we don't study the guidance merely because we need to study something, but we study it because it is necessary for what we are doing. It is like the idea of a teaching committee. An Assembly doesn't appoint one because a teaching committee is a good thing. They appoint it because the work of the Faith in their area demands it. It is a similar concept here.

In that same paragraph, they also talk about the courses being "conducive... to universal participation and to mutual suport and assistance." I now realize that it is not only amongst the participants who are going through it for the first time, but also amongst the tutors and organizers, who are learning to support each other.

Then they talk about all of our work being "undertaken with a humble attitude of learning", which, to me, helps me understand that, as an organizer, I cannot merely try to presume to tell the participants what to do. No. I feel that my job is to learn from them, try to understand what they are facing in their teaching, which is likely similar to what I am facing, and have their needs help shape where this particular campaign goes. Of course, the overall guidance is coming from the institutions of the Faith, but the particulars will be dependent upon the needs of the participants. It is for this reason that, although we can use the structure of other campaigns, and learn how to better design it, the specific Writings chosen will perhaps be a little different. They will respond to the individuals in the campaign and the particular obstacles they encounter. "In this way will the impulse to over instruct be quieted." Well, at least that's how it seems to me right now. Perhaps I'll have a different understanding as this particular campaign goes on.

In paragraph 10, I noticed that they talk about this learning from other's experience, but that "continued action, reflection and consultation" is the only way "that they will learn to read their own reality, see their own possibilities, make use of their own resources, and respond to the" needs that they encounter. This all re-inforces what seems to go before it.

It is by putting the experience of the friends in the group at the forefront, listening to their triumphs and challenges, the learning and the questions, and contextualizing it all within the Plan that we will be "methodical but not rigid, creative but not haphazard, decisive but not hasty, careful but not controlling". This is a marvelous observation that they offer us, and at the same it is a caution.

We have to have a schedule, and a goal. But within that schedule, we need to have flexibility. Within the goal, we need to be open to seizing new opportunities that arise, without allowing ourselves to be distracted.

With the schedule, one way that we have found to do this is to schedule everything with a timetable, but allowing about 10 minutes of every hour open. For example, we tell the facilitators that they have 30 minutes to do something, even though it says 40 on the schedule. If all goes according to plan (and it never does), then we can stretch out a few items and finish on time. If not, we generally have about 45 minutes to an hour of time to address the needs that come up that were not anticipated. We stick to our schedule, which is very important to some people, and yet we still have flex time to do what needs to be done at the moment.

Being "creative but not haphazard" implies, to me, that everything has a purpose. We can be creative in that we try new things, but every new thing we try should still have a purpose that we can state. If we want to go into the study of the Writings after our devotions, that is great, but the Writings should be relevant to what follows. If we choose to hear the experience of the friends since the last session, that is fine, too. It recognizes that the action component of the "action, reflection and consultation" occurred out of the session, and allows the consultation to be based on the reflection of that action. Both are good, and each have their purpose. If we choose another framework for the schedule, there is nothing wrong with that, but it should still have purpose.

Most important, though, is unity. The unity of the organizers. The unity of the group. And the unity of the project. Of course, unity does not mean that we are all doing the same thing, for that would be uniformity. It means that we all support each other in our different endeavours, encourage each other in our activities, are aware of what everyone else is doing, and help each other out when and where we can. Sometimes it can be that all-important phone call checking to see how someone's coffee date went, or other times it can be joining the other person as they do that home visit for the purpose of presenting some aspect of the Faith.

Whatever it is we are doing, we are doing it with the love and support of each other, sometimes while they are physically present, and other times when they are not.

And whatever it is we are doing, it is not on our own. We are all contributing to the growth and development of the Faith in our cluster. Those two people I met the other day who want to take Book 1 will most likely join those people you met who also want to take a more active role in raising up a new civilization. And they all will go on to begin transforming the devotional character of their own lives, and neighbourhood.


Sounds good to me.

I guess I'll find out how close I am to the mark over the next few weeks.


Marielle and I were talking about her teaching work, and she said something very interesting. You see, we've been studying the 28 December 2010 message, as well as Ruhi Book 6, and she's been putting all of what we've been learning into action. Her primary concern is the heart of the individual with whom she is talking, and she has developed this knack, or perhaps opened herself up to the possibility, of seeing what that person's most cherished desire is.

Anyways, she has said that on a few occasions now, she was talking with someone, trying to figure out how to overcome some obstacle in the conversation. Beforehand, she had said prayers about this, and then, during the conversation, she found herself inspired with what to say. Every time this happened, the individual really opened up and things went quite well.

In our conversation, we explored what happened, and tried to learn from it.

First of all, the reliance on prayer was crucial. She has truly come to recognize the importance of this reliance and she is fearful that she may begin to think that these successes are her own, for she understands that the ego is the one sure thing to block the inspiration coming from the Concourse on High.

And so, the second thing that stood out was the need to cultivate humility. It is humility that is being talked about so much in these recent letters from the World Centre as a key for all that we do.


Well, I like to think of the flow of divine inspiration as water. I mean really, how many other things can you think of that flow? Lava? Not quite the right metaphor. (I'm not even going to mention my nose during hay fever season. Nope. Won't go there.)

So let's look at water, and the Ocean of His Revelation. Why is the ocean so mighty? Because it places itself beneath all other bodies of water and allows them to flow down into it. If the ocean held itself above the others, the waters would flow away from it.

Similarly, when we are truly humble, placing ourselves beneath others, then we actually allow those divine forces to flow towards us. When we hold ourselves in high esteem, then those waters flow away from us and we are left high and dry. (Hey, I never noticed that turn of phrase was so appropriate before.)

This sense of humility being a source of strength has come up before: in the Siyyah-Chal. I wrote about this concept before, in a different way, but would like to introduce it again here. After all, repetition is a good tool.

Aside - There is a story of Hand of the Cause, William Sears, who was giving a talk somewhere. In his presentation, he evidently said the same thing a number of times. He would say it once, and then again. A few minutes later he returned to the same point. According to one person, he repeated himself at least a dozen times in the space of thirty minutes. The listener was actually beginning to get concerned that the Hand was going senile, or something. Afterwards, one of the friends went up to him and commented on it.

"Don't you think", he said, "you may have repeated yourself a few too many times there?"

Mr Sears looked at him and asked, "What did I repeat so often?"

The other man was a bit surprised and then realized that he didn't know. "I'm not sure."

And Mr Sears looked at him, sadly, and said, "I knew I should've said it again."

Oh, and to this day, I still don't know what it was that he repeated so often. End of aside.

One of the unique things about this Dispensation is that we actually have, in Baha'u'llah's own words, a record of how the Holy Spirit descended upon a Messenger of God. In this wonderful description, He said, "...I felt as if something flowed from the crown of My head over My breast, even as a mighty torrent that precipitateth itself upon the earth from the summit of a lofty mountain."

There He was, in the depths of the dungeon. It was practically impossible for Him to be any lower, even though He didn't refer to it as the Most Great Prison, a designation He saved for Akka. And what did He do? Did He complain because He was "too high" for such treatment, used to the silk brocades and good foods offered Him as a nobleman? No. He comforted those around Him, taught them to sing the verses of God in such circumstances, and accepted whatever came His way. He was the very essence of humility in circumstances that were meant to humiliate.

Oh, it is worth noting that humility comes from within, while humiliation is imposed from outside. They are not the same at all. We can place ourselves in a position of humility, while humiliation comes from others trying to impose it upon us.

And it was while He was in that prison, humble before all creation, that those powers flowed from the crown of His head over His breast. It was while He was in that position, in that circumstance, that all power flowed to Him.

This is where I believe we are created in His image.

If we recognize our own position in life, lowly before God, then the chance that these same forces will aid us is good. But if we brag about what little we have done, boast before the world our meager accomplishments, then those same powers will flow away from us.

I believe that Marielle is correct. We need to prepare ourselves, study and work hard to accomplish what we do, whether it is in the teaching realm or in our daily lives. But if we think that it all comes from us, if we let our insistent ego get out of control, then those mysterious forces that give us the inspiration we require will flee from our very presence.

Yeah, this is definitely an area I need to study more: the relationship between the ego and humility. Thanks Marielle.

Oh, and you, too, mysterious forces on high. Thanks.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tests and Tribulations

Last night, my wife and I were getting ready to head off to sleep when I noticed that she seemed a bit out of sorts. Now I knew that there had been some problems she'd been facing recently, so I asked her if she needed some extra prayers. Of course, the answer was "yes", and so I grabbed my prayer book and flipped open to the section called "Tests and Difficulties".

She closed her eyes and listened intently while I read a prayer from Baha'u'llah, and I then I noticed something at the end of it. I made a comment, and she looked a bit puzzled. She leaned over and read the passage in question and we spent the next twenty minutes talking about it. It was a fascinating discussion, and I feel I came away so much the richer for it.

This was the prayer:
Glory be Thee, O my God! But for the tribulations which are sustained in Thy path, how could Thy true lovers be recognized; and were it not for the trials which are borne for love of Thee, how could the station of such as yearn for Thee be revealed? Thy might beareth me witness! The companions of all who adore Thee are the tears they shed, and the comforters of such as seek Thee are the groans they utter, and the food of them who haste to meet Thee is the fragments of their broken hearts.

How sweet to my taste is the bitterness of death suffered in Thy path, and how precious in my estimation are the shafts of Thine enemies when encountered for the sake of the exaltation of Thy word! Let me quaff in Thy Cause, O my God, whatsoever Thou didst desire, and send down upon me in Thy love all Thou didst ordain. By Thy glory! I wish only what Thou wishest, and cherish what Thou cherishest. In Thee have I, at all times, placed my whole trust and confidence.

Raise up, I implore Thee, O my God, as helpers to this Revelation such as shall be counted worthy of Thy name and of Thy sovereignty, that they may remember me among Thy creatures, and hoist the ensigns of Thy victory in Thy land.

Potent art Thou to do what pleaseth Thee. No God is there but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.
It is a beautiful prayer, and that second to last paragraph jumped out at me.


Well, let's take a quick look at the beginning of it first, and then I'll point out my question, as well as some of our thoughts that came up from discussion. Of course, I'm sure you've already found far more in this prayer than I have, but I'm only sharing what little I have found. I hope you'll share your insights, too.

As you can see, it begins a lot like the Fire Tablet, contrasting a difficulty with a bounty. The tribulations allow the lovers to be recognized. The trials reveal their station.

Then comes an interesting triad: those who adore, those who seek, and those who haste to meet. It seems that He is speaking to those who adore Him. Out of those people, there are some who will seek Him out. Of course, there are those who seek Him for curiosity's sake, but Baha'u'llah responded to that with "If thine aim be to cherish thy life, approach not our court; but if sacrifice be thy heart's desire, come and let others come with thee. For such is the way of Faith, if in thy heart thou seekest reunion with Baha; shouldst thou refuse to tread this path, why trouble us? Begone!" Finally, out of those who are seeking Him, only a small few will actually hasten to meet Him.

The trials associated with each step get harder and harder. It is one thing to weep tears, but it is much more painful for the test to actually elicit groans. Then, as if that wasn't hard enough, the next step will actually break your heart. And not just break it, but smash it into fragments. What imagery he is conveying.

In that second paragraph, He shows how everything is seen in a new light when done in the path of God. Death, when suffered for His sake goes from being bitter to sweet. The shafts of the enemies become the most precious thing when encountered in the promotion of His Word.

This whole paragraph is all about renunciation and detachment. It is about being content with the Will of God. It is not about going out and seeking this persecution, but, instead, about recognizing the bounty of facing it when it happens.

None of this is new. It abounds in the Writings. And not just in the Baha'i Writings, but the Writings of many Faiths.

But then in that third paragraph, I noticed something I had never seen before. It says, "Raise up... as helpers... that they may remember me among Thy creatures, and hoist the ensigns of Thy victory in Thy land." I only edit it to make it easier to see what I am referring to. I had never noticed that the "me" is not capitalized. I had always presumed that this was referring to Baha'u'llah, but if that were the case, then the "me" would be capitalized, and it isn't.

Then when I re-read the entire prayer, I realized that the whole prayer is in the first person. It is me who is speaking (and maybe you, too, dear Reader). Baha'u'llah, through His grace, has given me the words I so dearly wish to say. My soul rejoices at being able to speak its desire.

And here, near the very end, He knows what is going on in my very heart. I know that I am not worthy of this trust. I know that I am not worthy of representing His Name to those who are seeking His truth. With all my flaws and problems, it is not possible that God could want me to do this. And yet He does. He wants me to go out and teach, even though I know how flawed I am.

My ardent prayer is that others who are far more worthy will arise to do this. As it says in the recent message from the Universal House of Justice, I am gratified with "the certain knowledge that victories will be won" by those who are currently "wholly unaware of Baha'u'llah's coming".

Finally, it finishes with a reminder of some of the attributes of God, and in particular those same attributes that conclude the short Obligatory Prayer. Perhaps that is a reminder of the importance of that prayer, and how it can help raise us to make us closer to being worthy of this great bounty.

Yeah, Marielle really helped me see a little bit more in this prayer, and I am so grateful for that.

Another Thought About Marriage

You may have noticed that today is Valentine's Day, a day in which many people celebrate their love for the partner of their soul. Now I should clarify that. It is not actually Valentine's Day. It is Saint Valentine's Day.

In other words, it used to be a Feast Day for a Catholic Saint; a Christian holiday. Well, not a holiday as such, for if that were the case, then every day would be a holiday. But it is a feast day.

And why do I say "used to be"? I'm glad you asked, dear Reader. Back in 1969 the Roman Catholic Church redid the calendar of Saints, and it was decided to remove the Sainted Valentine from the roster of days. And this had nothing to do with Hallmark or American Greetings. Instead it had to do with the fact that "apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14."

Everything else is myth.

So why is today associated with love and romance? Good question. There are many possible reasons, but the most likely is a quote from Geoffrey Chaucer, o ye of Canterbury Tales fame. Way back in 1362, he wrote:
"For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make."
I love the olde Englishe. It reads like so much fun.

Now if I was the one reading this, I would presume that this would be a great day to make cheese, but it is not. What he actually said was that this was the day "when every bird came there to choose his mate". So romantic. (The cheese came later. And some of those Valentine's Day cards are really cheesy.)

As much fun as all this was, what does it have to do with me living my life as a Baha'i? You know, you're really on top of things today, dear Reader. Thanks for asking, again.

Here in Canada, the National Spiritual Assembly, in coordination with the national custom of celebrating Saint Valentine's Day as a day of romance, has asked all communities to have a deepening on the institution of marriage during this chilly month. (Hey, that may give some additional insight as to why this time of year was chosen for celebrating love.)

While I have written a few articles on marriage, love, selecting a partner, and so on (including one of my favorite articles about our life path), there are many other Baha'is who are far more specific in their work with the Faith. One friend, for example, seems to have dedicated her life to this particular aspect of the Teachings. She has a wonderful web-site filled with resources for Baha'is regarding marriage. (This is where I insert my world famous click here link.)

For now, I have to get my wife and drive her to work. This is one of my lover-ly duties today, and I will do it with great joy. But I just wanted to make sure to wish you a happy day this morning, and say I hope your day is filled with love and joy, as I am sure my own will be.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Baha'u'llah Article

Once again, dear Reader, I have to apologize for not posting here as often as I would like. One of the editors of the local newspaper, The Times-Colonist, asked me to write a few articles directly about the Faith itself. The first one, as you may have already seen from the previous post, was about how the Faith is an independent world religion. This new article is about Who Baha'u'llah is.

I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Direct Article

Dearly loved Readers,

Here is another article I just wrote for the local newspaper, at the request of the editor. I hope you like it, or find it useful.

With love and prayers,


Sunday, February 6, 2011


I was checking out different things on the net the other day, when I ran across something on the Urban Dictionary that caught my attention. Now, to be honest, I'm not a big fan of the site. It's one of those sites where anybody can go in and change whatever they want, kind of like a less scrupulous wikipedia. But every now and then something of interest does come across the radar.

That day it was the term "Baha'i-jacking". Now I have to admit, there is some twisted little place inside of me that actually admires the creation of the term. It's clever.

And it also points to a growing problem that I have seen amongst some of the friends.

You see, many of us have taken Ruhi Book 2, and we all know about the sections on elevating conversations. But I remember my early days of taking the book. When I first went through it, we seemed to think it was a series of deepenings. We would spend hours deepening on the subject of the Feast, or unity, or any of the other topics in the second and third units. The book took months to go through. In short, it was awful.

Then we learned a bit more about it. That second unit was not meant for deepening to great lengths on those subjects. It is meant to help us learn how to explain those topics to others, preferably in less than a few hours.

And that third unit? That's my favorite one. Why? Because it asks the wonderful question, in every section, about whether or not a given spiritual topic would be appropriate for a particular conversation. It always asks if you "could introduce the above ideas in a natural way", or "with ease", or if they are "suitable" for introduction. In other words, "Don't force it."

Now, what does this have to do with "Baha'i-jacking"? I'm glad you asked, dear Reader.

It seems, based on this entry, that some of us may have missed the point about "natural" or "suitable". And, in fact, we may have also possibly misunderstood what is meant by "elevating conversations". The idea, from what I understand (and this is, of course, only my own opinion), is to introduce a spiritual element into the conversation. It is not to be necessarily talking about world-shaking issues in every conversation.

And this leads us to the word in question.

It seems that there are some who have taken this third unit of Book 2 to mean twisting every conversation so that it is forced to become a direct teaching opportunity.

I remember the times I began tutoring Book 2, after learning from another tutor about this approach to the book, and we would get to those questions in the third unit I mentioned above, and the friends would all go to great lengths to explain how they would connect the topics mentioned in the question with the subject at hand. And let me tell you, some of those connections were very amusing, and quite a stretch.

Fortunately I think most of us have learned better by now.

And this also leads to one other minor point: When we are told that direct teaching is the element missing when our enrolments have stalled (in those clusters with an intensive program of growth), this does not mean that we should only use the direct method. It means that we haven't been using it enough. But there are still many times when the indirect method is more appropriate.

Ok. That's all for now.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend (or week, depending on when you read this).

Friday, February 4, 2011

Where There's a Will...

So there I am, sitting down, getting ready to write an article for this blog when I suddenly realize that I have no clue what to write about. Nada. Zip. Nothing.

"But I have to write something", I tell myself. "I can't just not write and let another day go without saying something about the Faith." In fact, I feel that I've been slacking here for a bit, dear Reader. I try to publish at least 3 or 4 articles a week, and so far I have only 19 articles this year. That's just over 1 every other day. Not acceptable, in my opinion.

But what can I do? I don't want to write tripe just for the sake of writing. No. I want to write something that feels important to me, or at least interesting. I want to make my time well spent, do something worth doing.

And so I went to the bookshelf and grabbed a copy of "The Kitab-i-Aqdas". I mean, what better book is there to turn to when you need some inspiration. And what do I find? Well, I could just tell you, but I want to carry you through the thought process that led me here.

I started at the beginning, which usually seems like a good place to begin. (Except in the movie Memento, where you actually end there. Great movie, if you haven't seen it. Well, it's a great movie even if you have seen it.)

You may have heard me talk about giving the first five paragraphs of this Most Holy Book to a number of ministers and how they all agreed that this is exactly what they'd been trying to say for years. Recognition, obedience, the importance of the commandments of God, and so on. It's wonderful stuff. I really can't say too much about it.

Then in paragraph 6, He talks about the obligatory prayer. Then in paragraph 7, He reminds us that everything comes from God, and that the Laws are like the sun. In other words, pray, and be content with God's will.

Then follows a number of other paragraphs about prayer and fasting, with the occasional reminder of the importance of following the Laws, as well as some of the benefits that can be accrued from them. Lots of stuff about prayer and fasting.

Then comes paragraph 19, one of my favorites because of the sheer oddness of what it contains. No murder, adultery, backbiting or calumny. I wrote about this paragraph here, so I won't repeat myself now.

Finally, I found myself at paragraph 20, which begins 9 paragraphs about having a will.

This is when I realized that my own will is quite out of date. (By the way, the next paragraph, 29, says "These, verily, are the Laws of God; transgress them not at the prompting of your base and selfish desires. Observe ye the injunctions laid upon you by Him Who is the Dawning-place of Utterance." So I guess I better get it updated fast.)

And so, dear Reader, all of this to say that today I want to look at what Baha'u'llah says about having a will. From what I understand, and this is, of course, only my own understanding, we can make our will any way we want, leaving whatever we want to whomever we want. But here, in the Most Holy Book, Baha'u'llah gives us a lot of guidance, and I, for one, want to be a bit more familiar with it than I currently am.

The first thing to be aware of is at the very end of this section: "Division of the estate should take place only after the Huququ'lláh hath been paid, any debts have been settled, the expenses of the funeral and burial defrayed, and such provision made that the deceased may be carried to his resting-place with dignity and honour." Well, that's relatively easy. Keep some records of your payment to the Right of God, and set up the rest ahead of time. No problem.

The next thing for me to look at is the money involved. When I read the first paragraph about this, it seems like I should divide my estate into 2430 parts. It may seem like a weird number, but as this is divisible by so many numbers, it actually make a lot of sense, from a mathematical standpoint.

Out of these, the breakdown is fairly simple:

Children - 450
Wife - 480
Father - 420
Mother - 360
Brothers - 300
Sisters - 240
Teachers - 180

At this point I could talk about the "injustice" of the women getting less than the men, but this is actually compensated for later by the responsibilities laid upon the men, and what they are bound to do in relation to the family. I also have to keep in mind that this is for the entire planet, and not just those of us in the West, or in those other parts of the world where gender equality is a closer reality. Finally, I have to remember that this is only a guideline in the case of there being no will, so I'm actually free to change the proportions, if I wish. Either way, when I look at the totality of this Book, as well as the rest of His Writings, and not just this one section, I see that there is actually a balance in it.

But what happens to those portions that are not divided due to there being nobody in a particular category?

Well, if there are no children, that 450 goes to the House of Justice for orphans and widows, and things that will benefit the generality of the people

If there are children, but nobody in any of the other categories, then 1620, or two-thirds, to the children.

If none of the above exist, then we look to nephews and nieces, which shall get the 1620 shares, regardless of whether they are on the brother or sister's side.

If there are no nephews or nieces, then we turn to the uncles and aunts, who shall receive the 1620 shares.

If there are no uncles or aunts, then we look to their children, or the first cousins, both male and female.

In all of the last cases, the House of Justice shall receive the remaining third, or 810 shares.

Failing all of this, if there are no surviving relatives closer than first cousins, then the whole estate reverts to the House of Justice.

It seems like He has it covered, for the most part.

But what about other scenarios? Baha'u'llah has many of these covered as well.

If a man passes away, and his son is pre-deceased but with children of his own, then the son's shares go on to the grandchildren. Presumably this also works for the daughters, as they both fall under the category of children.

Also, if any of these children are under the age of maturity, then the money is to be held in a reliable trust until they come of age. Not much different from what we see today, including the fact that the trustee is to be given a reasonable wage for his services.

Finally, there is one last point, in paragraph 25: "We have assigned the residence and personal clothing of the deceased to the male, not female, offspring, nor to the other heirs."

I won't profess to understand that one, but will say that in the case of there being no will, this makes it pretty easy and prevents any fighting about it. Now, I'm sure there is a greater wisdom in it, but I have no clue what it is. I never claimed to understand everything within the Faith, only that I believe Baha'u'llah's perspective is greater than my own limited one.

Also, this does encourage me to get my own will in order, just so that I can distribute my stuff a bit more to my own liking.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

28 December 2010, Take 9

I have the incredible bounty of studying this letter with a number of members of my local Spiritual Assembly. This is such a wonderful opportunity that I am at a loss to describe it. One thing it has done is allowed me to look at this letter from their perspective, especially as so much of it seems to relate to their work, and not my own as an individual. As such, they have shared with me many things that I would not have found just reading it on my own.

Paragraphs 20 and 21 proved very interesting in this light.

They tried to imagine the scenario described in these paragraphs, and asked themselves how their work would have been different if the growth of the Faith in our locale developed as such. How would it have affected their agenda, for example.

They imagined a town where no one had ever heard of the Faith. One lone Baha'i, or a single family, moves in and begins a little bit of teaching. Through the core activities, a couple of people embrace the Faith and are immediately starting Reflections on the Life of the Spirit. They do the practices, reading the Writings every morning and evening, and they visit a friend to study a prayer. As their Baha'i life begins to take shape, they are already turning to the Writings for regular guidance, and are beginning to see the need for further developing their spiritual life. They begin a devotional gathering, to which some of their friends come. Their tutor is helping them develop a life of service, and they are always consulting with each other on how to be of more effective service to those around them.

As this all develops, a few more people embrace the Faith, and eventually an Assembly forms.

Now, at this point, they have very little idea of what an Assembly is, so they turn to the Writings. There they find that same quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha in paragraph 22: "...discussions must be confined to spiritual matters that pertain to the training of souls, the instruction of children, the relief of the poor, the help of the feeble throughout all classes in the world, kindness to all peoples, the diffusion of the fragrances of God and the exaltation of His Holy Word." Of course, they notice the imperative implied in the word "must", and base their agenda on this guidance.

They already know about the training of the souls, for they have been going through the courses of the training institute, so they naturally consult on how to further develop the institute in their community. As part of this, they recognize the importance of the devotional gatherings and are very concerned about their friends. They begin to ask how they can have a greater impact on the devotional character of their community. Oh, and they don't for a moment think about the Baha'i community in this respect, but the greater community is the object of their focus. Don't forget, they have only been members of this community for a very short time. This vision is naturally looking outward.

The topics in paragraph 21, such as "how the devotional character of the village is being enhanced through the efforts of individuals who have completed the first institute course", are their primary concerns, for there is nothing else that would have really crossed their path yet.

It is through this focus that they come to naturally see their role as an Assembly, and how they fit into the cluster. Their service with the Training Institute is the result of practical necessity.

When the members of my own Spiritual Assembly read this, they had this expression of "Aha!" on their faces that made the whole room just light up.

Oh, and then we got to paragraph 23, in which we find that committees are only appointed as a result of need. A teaching committee, for instance, does not increase the effectiveness or degree of the teaching work. I mean, in a community where there is very little teaching going on, a committee will not magically get people to begin teaching. Instead, the committee arises due to the need for a bit more coordination amongst all the teachers in the community, and they then help it become a bit more effective.

Also, the members of the Assembly, as well as all the other members of the institutions in the area, are fully engaged in the teaching work. None of what they are discussing is theoretical. it is all based on practical experience. Those other people who are teaching in the field are their dear friends and co-workers. And so there is a high degree of trust and confidence naturally in place.

Then, as if that weren't enough yet, the friends are becoming "drawn further into the life of society", and are becoming more concerned with the problems that they encounter. They don't just volunteer, for example, at a food bank because it is a good thing to do. They help out because it is their friends who need the help. We are not just helping "the poor", who have no name, but helping Charlie and Susan, Otto and Jane. These are real people, dear friends whom we have come to love, and they need assistance. How can we not help them?

And all of this leads us into paragraphs 24 and 25.

But I just checked the time. I have to go, dear Reader. My neighbours are waiting for me to talk to them about the Faith. I love these open invitations, especially when I don't expect them.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

28 December 2010, Take 8

Ok, I know. It's been a while since I've written about this message, but really, dear Reader, I've been studying it. Some friends and I get together every Wednesday and study it as a group, and there has been so much I want to write about it, but time just hasn't been there.

Besides, I'm sure you are finding many more gems within this message than I am.

Although in my last posting on this message I only got up to paragraph 4 or so, today I want to look at paragraph 14 for a moment. In that paragraph, the Universal House of Justice says, "A small community, whose members are united by their shared beliefs, characterized by their high ideals, proficient in managing their affairs and tending to their needs, and perhaps engaged in several humanitarian projects - a community such as this, prospering but at a comfortable distance from the reality experienced by the masses of humanity, can never hope to serve as a pattern for restructuring the whole of society."

My friends and I read this and all agreed that this did, indeed, describe our community. But then we found ourselves wondering, what do they mean by "at a comfortable distance from the reality experienced by the masses of humanity"? Well, while we are not sure, we felt that this could allude to such things as depression, poverty, starvation, and so on. Most people, we felt, really were caught in the depths of various addictions, but this should come as no surprise. After all, in paragraph 33, they do go on to say, "isolation and despair... are products of an environment ruled by an all-pervasive materialism." And this is one of those realities experienced by the mass of people.

While reading this, I recalled volunteering at a food bank the other day and feeling kind of bad about it. I mean, don't get me wrong, I enjoyed being there, but I didn't feel like I was serving anyone. I was in the back stocking the shelves, which I know was a useful and important thing to do, but I felt as if I were "at a comfortable distance" from the people who needed the help, and this just rankled.

It also reminded me of a quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha, in Some Answered Questions, where He says, "The good deeds of the righteous are the sins of the Near Ones." Now, I'm not a "Near One", but I think I have a vague idea of what He may be talking about. Whereas serving in the way I was at the food bank was a good deed, it wasn't enough. I had no contact with the people involved, those that I really wanted to serve. In fact, I wasn't serving them, for I never knew them. I was serving the organizers who were serving them. And that isn't enough for me. Thinking that what I was doing was serving these people who were impoverished just felt wrong to me. It almost felt as if I were lying to myself.

No. What I really need to do is get to know these people, know their families, know their concerns. I need to visit them and help them learn how to cook with the foods that they are being given. I need to become a part of their lives, and hope that they will become a part of mine.

I need to open up my heart to them, and hope that they will allow me to connect to theirs.

I remember a number of years ago I met some people back in Winnipeg who were quite poor. They had an apartment through social assistance, but they were quite poor and often relied on food programs for their meals. One day, after talking to them on the street, they invited me over for lunch. They served a box of macaroni and cheese which they had carefully prepared for all three of us.

I cannot tell you how touched I was by this gesture.

After that, we made it a weekly date. Every week for a few years I would go over to their place for lunch, but after that first experience, I often brought something and prepared it over there. This allowed me the opportunity to clean their dishes, as well as show them how to prepare something more nutritious from simple ingredients.

These two dear souls are amongst the many people that I miss in my life.

And when I think of going out and teaching the Faith, it is this type of service that I feel is essential.

Did these two friends ever become Baha'i? No. But it didn't matter to me. They found a hearing ear when most people walked past them as if they didn't exist. We enjoyed each other's company for a nice meal every week. And they shared with me their love of music. When they learned that I love music, they began giving me a cassette tape every week with new recordings that they thought I might not have heard yet. And most of the time they were right. They introduced me to many bands that I would not have otherwise encountered.

Yes, they touched my life at least as much as I may have touched theirs.
But was it easy? Of course not. They were suffering from many troubles, and every pain they felt was a pain in my own heart, and that was just not comfortable.

Yeah, I think we all need to move beyond this comfort zone, and really experience that "reality experienced by the masses of humanity".