avoiding contention: don’t get trolled

MoonlightingFrom time to time, as we exchange comments with people online on topics related to the Bahá’í Faith and its principles, we may find that we encounter opposition. Sometimes, people will simply disagree, and that’s fine, of course—everyone’s got an opinion, and as long as we show tact, wisdom, forbearance and love for each other, there’s a good chance we can uncover a greater truth from these kinds of exchanges.

But sometimes, the opposition we encounter can be a little more serious. I’m not talking about honest disagreements, but rather, people straight-up attacking the Bahá’í Faith and everything that Bahá’ís believe in. This can include attacks on Bahá’u’lláh, His Covenant, and the other Central Figures of the Bahá’í Faith, such as the Báb, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi; the Universal House of Justice; the actions of individual Bahá’ís or particular Bahá’í institutions or communities; the relation between the Bahá’í Faith and other religions, such as Islam, Judaism, and Christianity; the Bahá’í stance on homosexuality and other highly politicized issues; and so on. Like I said, everyone has their own opinions, and that’s fine, as long as those opinions are well-founded. But when those opinions are based on misunderstandings, ignorance, or worse, when people start engaging in willful, reckless slander and calumny—misrepresenting what Bahá’ís believe and do, and accusing them of monstrosities that are patently false—that’s when there’s a problem.

As we know, Bahá’u’lláh calls upon us “to refute the arguments of those that have attacked the Faith of God”. We may also have also read the advice of the Universal House of Justice about the approach we should take towards correcting the misconceptions brought forth by those who attack the Cause:

“In correcting misrepresentations of the Faith made by those who are hostile to it, our obligation is to set forth Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings cogently and courteously, but firmly, supporting them with rational proofs. Once this has been done, the challenge rests with our hearers, whatever their interests or motivations, to consider our responses in this same spirit of courtesy and objectivity. …

In the same piece of advice, the Universal House of Justice draws our attention to something we must absolutely avoid, which is contention:

“For Bahá’ís to go further than this, by engaging in acrimonious debate, much less by reflecting on the character of others, would be to cross the line that separates legitimate defense of the Faith from contention.

As a follow-up to an earlier post about what Baha’is do when people attack the Faith, I thought I’d share the following quote, from a piece of guidance from the World Centre on the topic of avoiding contention when addressing misconceptions about the Bahá’í Faith.

In emphasizing the importance of harmony in human relationships, Bahá’u’lláh declares that “conflict and contention are categorically forbidden in His Book.” He further exhorts all people to “utter that which is meet and seemly,” to “refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causeth sadness in men,” and to recognize that the “religion of God is for love and unity” and not to be made the “cause of enmity or dissension.”

Clearly, any tendency toward argumentation or confrontation is to be eschewed by Bahá’ís while opportunities to clarify or defend the Faith’s basic precepts and goals should be carried out “in a restrained and unprovocative language.” In some cases, it may be appropriate to directly address topics raised by critics, but in other situations, it may be more constructive to simply present the authoritative Bahá’í perspective on a matter. Confusion or erroneous understandings surrounding Bahá’í belief can best be dispelled through a reasoned focus on issues, and the principles underlying issues, without reference to the motivations or identity of individuals raising the criticisms. Regardless of the approach taken, “in our presentations and relationships we should always try to build bridges so that our beautiful Teachings can be understood and accepted, and the power which they have to establish unity amongst men will be exemplified.” In the end, though, if critics are not receptive to clarifications or explanations offered, it is preferable to respectfully leave them to themselves.

On a practical level, to argue directly or indirectly with those critical of the Faith can be counterproductive. Disputatious interactions can provide opponents with platforms to disseminate their views and agendas, and repel the wider audience observing such interactions. In addition, as the House of Justice notes, “Under most circumstances, it would seem worse than futile for a Bahá’í to attempt to defend the institutions or members of the Faith from the kind of reckless slander that has become an all too common feature of the moral deterioration of contemporary society, and that tends to characterize much of the language of the Faith’s current critics.”

It is apparent that some opponents seek to draw Bahá’ís into exchanges with the intent of demonstrating that Bahá’ís are either naïve, dogmatic, or intolerant. In particular, adherence to the provisions of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh is sometimes cast in these terms, while for believers such adherence expresses faith in a power “which quickeneth and promoteth the development of all created things on earth.” Bahá’u’lláh affirms that it is indeed possible to both tread the path of religious faith and to be tolerant: “…observe tolerance and righteousness, which are two lights amidst the darkness of the world and two educators for the edification of mankind.”

TrollfaceIf you’ve spent a decent of time on the Internet, then “trolls” and “trolling” are part of your vocabulary. I’ve seen my share of trolls online, and in the case of trolls who attack the Bahá’í Faith, picking them out is pretty easy. Most of the time their arguments don’t make much sense, and even people who don’t know much about Bahá’í can tell that what they’re saying isn’t legit.

In some cases, ignoring trolls is enough. But sometimes it is necessary to speak up; for instance, when they respond to people who have a genuine interest in the Bahá’í Faith. I mean, imagine asking a question about a really neat new message from God that seems to be the answer to the ills of mankind, and in response, getting nothing but a bunch of nonsense telling you how Bahá’ís are The Devil 666™ and in league with every evil group under the sun. That’s why it is necessary for us to speak up and say hey, if you want a legit answer, here it is, feel free to investigate further. Of course, haters are gonna hate and trolls are gonna troll, so it’s inevitable that we’ll get flak for speaking up. That’s why we need to know how to establish the truth without feeding the trolls nor engaging in contention. And in my opinion, the guidance above is a great way to describe this balancing act.

It’s all about getting attention. Trolls thrive on attention, and they try to get it by provoking conflict, drawing people into arguments. That’s exactly why, when seeking to correct misinformation that’s shared about the Faith online, it’s important to practice moderation, detachment, wisdom and restraint. “For Bahá’ís to go further than this, by engaging in acrimonious debate, much less by reflecting on the character of others, would be to cross the line that separates legitimate defense of the Faith from contention.”

Photos: Moonlighting by dawolf-, and Trollface by Paul VanDerWerf.

5 steps towards serving humanity

5 things to do while you’re waiting for the 95 youth conferences, March 4, 2013

So, let’s say you’re pretty new to all of this Bahá’í stuff—maybe you heard about Bahá’í from a friend, you looked into it, and you were impressed by what you saw: People of all backgrounds, whether ethnic, racial, religious, or national, all working together to build communities based on unity, tolerance, kindness, love and justice. And you want to know how you can help.

Young man and woman drawing a map on a large sheet of paperOr let’s say that you’ve been a Bahá’í, but you’ve been busy for a while—too busy to join in with all the excitement that’s been happening in neighbourhoods around your city or region. Maybe you heard about teaching projects and institute campaigns taking place, and it seemed like there was amazing stuff going on, but it just wasn’t for you back then. But now, things have changed. Maybe it was the outpouring of creative activity that marked the recent bicentenary celebrations, or an inspiration brought by a recent message from the Universal House of Justice—regardless, you want to learn how you can be part of the process.

No matter who you are or what your situation is, it’s not too hard to get involved. Here are five little tips—call them humble suggestions—that can help you get up to speed on what Bahá’ís are doing to try and make their neighbourhoods better, and help you make your own mark in your community.

  1. Brush up on the latest guidance. Before stepping bravely into the field of service, it might be a good idea to know where the Baha’i community has been since the dawn of the 21st century, and where things stand right now. If the “Five Year Plan” just makes you shake your head in confusion, take a few minutes to learn about the series of Five Year Plans that started in 2001, and how those plans—and the framework they presented—have evolved over time. You may have read all or part of the 29 December 2015 message already; why not take a half-hour out of your morning to study it a little more? In my humble opinion, this message is a work of art—one that gives us a sense of what the current Five Year Plan is all about, and what the Universal House of Justice is calling on us to do. The 2017 Ridván message is another good piece of guidance to study, as is the October 2017 message “To all who celebrate the Glory of God”, which marked the Bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh.
  2. Get trained up, and put your new insights into practice. Having brushed up on the latest guidance, you’ll probably see a trend emerge: the institute process is where it’s at, and it’s a huge part of the Plan. If you’re new to it, get some friends together, study the first of the sequence of training courses—Ruhi Book 1—and put the insights into practice. Book 1, which examines the nature of prayer and the life of the soul, is a stepping stone towards starting a devotional gathering, a space where people can gather to remember God, study sacred Writings, and learn what it means for people of all backgrounds to worship together. Later courses focus on other, increasingly complex kinds of discourse and social action, such as making short presentations during home visits, teaching classes for the moral and spiritual education of children, telling the stories of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, animating groups for the spiritual empowerment of junior youth, and more. You may not end up devoting your life to each of these activities, but each will become a valuable part of a toolkit that increases your overall capacity to serve humanity.
  3. Pick a path of service. The call of the Universal House of Justice is pretty clear: we are standing at a pivotal moment in history. “For the present generation,” they wrote in their 8 February 2013 letter, “the moment has come to reflect, to commit, to steel themselves for a life of service from which blessing will flow in abundance.” Naturally, we might wonder: Can I really do a “life of service”? What should I be doing to serve? Well as they say, every journey starts with a single step, and the first step into service is just to pick something and start doing it. Maybe you’ve studied Ruhi Book 5 and found it awesome, so you might decide to dedicate yourself to empowering and inspiring junior youth. Or maybe you’ve found that you’re best at teaching younger children, or studying the Word of God with youth or adults, or sharing prayers with others, or visiting those who are isolated or ill, and so on. Wherever it is that your talents lie, you can focus on using them to serve mankind. And if you’re not sure where your path lies, then it doesn’t hurt just to try something out to gain some experience.
  4. Get to know your neighbourhood. Go back ten or fifteen years and ask any youth where they planned to go and offer a year of service, and you’d get a list of destinations scattered across the planet. Nowadays, though, don’t be surprised if you hear young people telling you they’ll be staying right where they are. The focus for service is shifting closer and closer to home—from your own city to your neighbourhood. Whether or not you have concrete plans to serve, a great way to prepare is to just look at your neighbourhood. Are there a lot of young families, elderly couples, single mothers? Do they have young children or junior youth? What are their pastimes, their concerns, and their hopes for the future? The more you learn about your neighbours, the better you can build close, loving connections that will not only enable you to serve better, but uplift the whole community.
  5. Pray, meditate, and conquer yourself. This might just be one of the most important things you can do to prepare. When Shoghi Effendi learned that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had appointed him as the Guardian, he retreated for a long time to Switzerland in order to pray and meditate, until he conquered himself—at which point he returned to the Holy Land to become the Guardian. Prayer gives us strength to meet life’s challenges. In fact, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá assures us that if we pray for strength, it will be given to us, “no matter how difficult the conditions”—no matter how reluctant, inadequate and powerless we may feel. And through meditation and reflection, He explains, one “receives the breath of the Holy Spirit”; meditation “frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God.” The challenge laid before us by the Universal House of Justice will require us to reflect, to commit, and to steel ourselves, calling on a strength that is beyond ourselves, and relying on an abundant flow of blessings—and to accomplish this, deepening our spiritual life through prayer, meditation and reflection will be essential.

The original post, 5 things to do while you’re waiting for the 95 youth conferences, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Second photo courtesy of the Bahá’í Community of Vietnam.

a new baha’i generation

growing up baha’i, April 17, 2007

Not long ago, a Baha’i friend of mine had the idea to start a “virtues playgroup” aimed at very young children, say between 0 to 3 years of age. Our son was about that old, so we often brought him there to give him a chance to spend time with other kids in a positive, enriching environment. There was maybe fifteen minutes’ worth of circle time, during which they moved about, sang songs, played simple games, and listened to stories, each one having something to do with a virtue of the week: Love, patience, courtesy, truthfulness, helpfulness, joyfulness, and so on. After the circle time, there was time for crafts, snacks, and free play. The playgroup started to become a little less regular after about a year and a half, but it came at just the right time for our boy: Some of the other kids from that group are now his best friends, and the language of virtues and spiritual qualities is now a part of his everyday life.

We didn’t have a virtues playgroup when I was a kid, but I remember attending children’s classes. Don’t ask me what I learned, because I don’t remember a lot of specifics. I do remember the surroundings being pretty, and I remember a few of my Bahá’í friends from that era. (Although when I entered university, a bunch of the Bahá’ís in my year started saying they hadn’t seen me since we were in children’s classes, at which point I stared at them blankly.) I also vaguely remember a few things, like artistic activities and stories that were related to the history of the Faith. Learning about Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb in children’s classes may not stand out in my memory now that I’m older, but it definitely laid the foundation for me to accept the message of Bahá’u’lláh and formally declare my faith in Him later on in life.

I remember a lot more about attending 19-day Feasts. We were part of a small community that was a mixed bag of Persian and Canadian families, and there were plenty of kids. Even though there was never a formal program for us at Feasts, it generally seemed to be enough to be able to hang out with other Bahá’í kids, and it was always a highlight of the gatherings for me when I was younger. Apart from the social aspect, the atmosphere at Feast was always so welcoming and special, and that’s always stuck with me:

Pleasant, restful music playing as the friends entered, prayer books in small piles on a coffee table, candles lit and softly flickering throughout… High-topped dressers filled with books like God Passes By and Lights of Guidance, with curios and mementoes, and here and there you’d see an engraving with the ringstone symbol on it, or, up on the highest shelf, you’d see a beautifully framed reproduction of the Greatest Name of God. You’d see art from many cultures along the walls, and you’d smell perfume in the air—perhaps rose or jasmine. And then, when it was time to eat, you’d get up and walk (don’t run!) to the table at the back where the hosts would lay out platters of persian rice with tahdig (or “tahdeeg” or whatever), kookoo sabziadas polobaghali polo, chicken drumsticks, and so on.

Quỳnh’s experience was different from mine, but similar in some ways. One big difference was that she grew up in post-war Vietnam, at a time when many families struggled in poverty, including hers. On top of that, the Bahá’í Faith had been officially proscribed by the communist government after the war, meaning that large, organized gatherings—such as city-wide Feasts or children’s classes—were generally impossible. Still, the Bahá’ís managed to visit each other, and sometimes they would be able to observe the 19-day Feast in small groups, perhaps one or two families at a time. Like in my case, there was never a formal children’s program, and just having other Bahá’í kids to play with was enough. The food was a big draw, too—in her case, because having anything more than a simple meal was unusual enough. I’m imagining big bowls of Mi Quảng noodles for everyone, but she’ll probably correct me on that. In either case—hers or mine—there was enough there in our childhood to give us the beginnings of a Bahá’í identity. Perhaps that was enough for us; in any case, it was what we had.

But time has flown by since our earliest days; a new generation is rising, and our children are beginning to benefit from the progress our Bahá’í communities have made from one generation to the next: Playgroups based on practicing virtues and spiritual qualities. A field-tested, ever-evolving set of lessons for children’s classes used worldwide, and an ever-strengthening training institute process to ensure that teachers are always available. A simple, yet profound program for the spiritual empowerment of junior youth, to help young people at this unique stage in their lives to develop their powers of expression, their spiritual perception and their capacity to serve humanity. When I first saw the junior youth spiritual empowerment program in action, I thought to myself what a shame it was that there wasn’t something like this for me when I was that age. Oh well. It’s here for my children, that’s what’s important.

“E is for earth. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens…”

I sit in my office, typing words into my blog, listening to Quỳnh read the kids a Baha’i alphabet book, A Feast of ABCs. “F is for fund. Franco has saved money to give to the Baha’i fund… G is for God. Saying prayers and reading from the holy books helps Golda feel close to God…” Through the speakers at my computer, I hear Red Grammer singing to me about teaching peace all the world around, in every city and every town. And in the next song in the shuffle, I hear Ali Youssefi asking God to unite and bind together the hearts, to join in accord all the souls. When his book is done, our eldest asks to watch his Bobo & Kipi DVD—”the one where Bobo shows his perseverance”. Next week, he’ll be joining his friends from the virtues playgroup at a birthday party—and there’s a children’s devotional gathering coming up the following weekend. And I think Quỳnh and I have never been happier, or more hopeful for the future.

The original post, growing up baha’i, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Second photo courtesy of the Bahá’í Community of Vietnam.

international baha’i convention: spiritual democracy in action

international baha’i convention: a global community reflects, May 6, 2013

Every five years, Bahá’ís throughout the world gather together at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel, to attend the Bahá’í International Convention, which has been called the world’s “only worldwide election”. The primary purpose of the convention is to elect the Universal House of Justice, the institution which serves as the head of the Bahá’í Faith, in a reverent, joyful process one friend of mine described as “spiritual democracy”.

The global process that results in the election of the Universal House of Justice begins with Baha’is in more than 100,000 cities and villages around the world, from Canada to Vietnam and everywhere in between, who gather at unit conventions to elect delegates from among their localities. These delegates subsequently gather together at national conventions to elect national administrative bodies known as Spiritual Assemblies. Once every five years, members of these National Spiritual Assemblies are then tasked with electing the Universal House of Justice at the international convention.

This last part of the process, which involved more than 1,000 delegates from 157 countries at the last International Convention in 2013, is a truly stunning, beautiful and powerful experience that is worlds apart from the elections that dominate global news cycles. The Bahá’í World News Service expanded on this in an article profiling the Eleventh International Convention:

In a unique electoral process, all forms of campaigning, electioneering and nominations are strictly avoided. Rather, after prayerful reflection, the assembled delegates silently and privately wrote down the names of nine individuals who they felt would be best able to serve on the institution.

For more than three hours, the representatives then filed across the stage to deposit their votes in a simple wooden box. The following day, the result was announced, and the new membership of the Universal House of Justice received a warm and reverent welcome from the gathering.

Photojournalist Shannon Higgins shared a beautiful portrayal of the spiritual atmosphere that reigned at the international convention, a far cry from “regular” elections:

Baha’i elections don’t look like anything else — they have no bells and whistles, no campaigns or electioneering or nominations or candidates. Nine delegates from each nation, themselves elected to serve on the national governing body from the believers of their respective nations, silently pray and meditate and simply write down nine names. They elect those they feel will best serve the international governing body of the Baha’i Faith. […]

Absolutely nobody talks about how they think the votes will go. No one mentions whom he or she voted for — no speculation, no “preliminary reports”, no “buzz”, no “spin-room”… period. For the Baha’is, this election represents a sacred spiritual endeavor, not a popularity contest or a political exercise.

Because the worldwide Bahá’í community has been growing year over year—not just in numbers, but in its maturity and in its capacity for concerted, systematic action—there are always exciting things to talk about. Contributing to the delegates’ consultation during the last convention were the 2013 Ridván Message and the 1 May 2013 message from the Universal House of Justice, as well as a documentary film entitled Frontiers of Learning, which showcased the community development process underway in four different Bahá’í communities in different parts of the world: Norte de Bolivar, Colombia; Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Toronto, Canada; and Bihar Sharif, India.

Male and female delegates standing in a rowFor the long-suffering Bahá’ís of Vietnam, the Eleventh International Convention also marked the first time delegates were able to attend this momentous gathering, as the Baha’i community was only fully recognized by the government in July 2008. The Vietnamese delegates wrote an account of the convention, which was published on a popular Vietnamese interfaith portal. It gives a good overview of the activities that took place at the Convention, and the joy and love with which the Vietnamese friends were welcomed by their fellow delegates: “For the first time,” they recounted, “Vietnam was fully integrated with the international Bahá’í community.”

The Twelfth International Bahá’í Convention will take place next year (2018), and there will be plenty of things to talk about there, too. Since the convention will fall between the two Bicentenary years—the Bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh in 2017 and that of the Báb in 2019—delegates will surely be occupied with reflections on the effects of Bicentenary celebrations on both the Bahá’í community and the wider community throughout the world, along with plans for the following year’s celebrations. The celebrations already seem to have tapped into a wellspring of creativity within the Bahá’í community—who knows what 2019 will bring?

The original post, international baha’i convention: a global community reflects, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Photos courtesy of the Bahá’í International Community and the Bahá’í Community of Vietnam.

say something

your turn at the mikeI meant to say a few more words about blogging, so let’s have at it a bit. This whole Baha’i Blogging Challenge has been exhausting, to be honest, but it’s also been enriching. Not only has it given me the chance to read and share a whole bunch of great content from a diverse collection of baha’i bloggers out there, but it’s also given me a reason to write, write, and write some more. Some days I don’t especially feel like writing. Some days, I’ve been too exhausted to write. But still, I’ve managed to write something, whether it be random reflections on life, taking second looks at things I’ve blogged about in the past, or, well, whatever.

It made me think a little about one of my favourite prayers, which is a prayer for teaching which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá revealed for the Bahá’ís of Canada. It’s not a long prayer; it consists of three paragraphs in its English translation. I’ll quote it here in its entirety:

Praise be to Thee, O my God! These are Thy servants who are attracted by the fragrances of Thy mercifulness, are enkindled by the fire burning in the tree of Thy singleness, and whose eyes are brightened by beholding the splendors of the light shining in the Sinai of Thy oneness.

O Lord! Loose their tongues to make mention of Thee amongst Thy people, suffer them to speak forth Thy praise through Thy grace and loving-kindness, assist them with the cohorts of Thine angels, strengthen their loins in Thy service, and make them the signs of Thy guidance amongst Thy creatures.

Verily, Thou art the All-Powerful, the Most Exalted, the Ever-Forgiving, the All-Merciful.

“Loose their tongues!” How often have you felt that you had something to say, but didn’t say it? And what if that thing that you held on to, that could have proceeded from your mouth in ringing tones, would have been just the right thing to say to someone, the exact thing they needed to hear at that moment in their life? There’s no knowing, of course, and it’s no use what-iffing oneself to death. But that image—loose your tongue!—has always stuck with me. I feel like it’s also somewhat fitting, given the stereotype of polite Canadians who don’t want to bother anyone. And, in the end, I think it’s helped to motivate me to keep writing in this blog. What if I end up saying something that makes sense one of these days? Keep writing, darn it! You might be able to help someone rather than simply confuse them!

Of course, there’s a big difference between loosing one’s tongue to make mention of God and loosing one’s tongue to, let’s say, slander someone or otherwise talk smack about them. That’s why I feel like it pays to read what Bahá’u’lláh says about the effects of speech and utterance, and the spiritual qualities one must show before trying to engage oneself in any kind of discourse. For example:

Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement, which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets.

In other words, loose your tongue, but check it, too. Don’t go off saying just anything without thinking about it and researching it; seeing whether it’s appropriate, timely, and wise, and whether your intentions in saying it are pure; using language that’s dignified, moderate, sincere, truthful and refined… Turns out, there’s a lot of work that goes into loosing one’s tongue. You can’t let that stop you, but what you do have to do is learn these skills of speech and utterance, show forth all of these heavenly qualities, and, above all, practice, practice, practice. And that brings us back to blogging, because how are you going to get practice making mention of God if you don’t say something? Sure, you might start out saying some things that sound dumb. I sure did. But don’t let that stop you. Keep reaching out, keep writing, and keep praying for confirmations. You’ll eventually say something that makes sense.

the rising, shining generations

“be not dismayed…”, June 27, 2013

Be not dismayed if your endeavours are dismissed as utopian by the voices that would oppose any suggestion of fundamental change. Trust in the capacity of this generation to disentangle itself from the embroilments of a divided society.

The Universal House of Justice

‘Abdu’l-Bahá assures us that, in this Day, humanity is reaching its long-awaited stage of maturity, and that its capacity is the greatest it has ever been. “There are periods and stages in the collective life of humanity,” He notes: “At one time it was passing through its stage of childhood, at another its period of youth, but now it has entered its long-predicted phase of maturity, the evidences of which are everywhere apparent…”

The chief struggle of modernity, He explains, is for humanity to leave behind those outdated ways of thinking and acting that no longer satisfy the demands of this phase of maturity, and adopt new ways of thinking and acting that match humanity’s increased capacities: “That which was applicable to human needs during the early history of the race can neither meet nor satisfy the demands of this day, this period of newness and consummation. Humanity has emerged from its former state of limitation and preliminary training. Man must now become imbued with new virtues and powers, new moral standards, new capacities.”

So what are these virtues and powers, these standards and capacities, with which we must be imbued? Well, for one thing, these are spiritual powers that we’re talking about. But that doesn’t mean sci-fi stuff like telekinesis or reading minds and stuff, either. It means being able to show forth certain spiritual qualities, virtues, or elements of character. For instance, the ability to overcome thoughts of hatred with thoughts of love—whether through small acts of kindness like leaving a kind note for a neighbour, or bigger, more dramatic acts like giving blood to save someone’s life.

In recent years, the Universal House of Justice has encouraged Bahá’ís everywhere to exert every effort to engage the rising generations—children, junior youth, and youth—in a lifelong process of moral education and spiritual empowerment. Far from being a kind of narrow catechism, this process aims to build the capacity of young people to show forth praiseworthy virtues and character qualities, and to enable and empower them to arise to serve humanity by working for the betterment of their families, their communities, and their society. According to Bahá’u’lláh, this work, offered in the spirit of service, is equal to worship.

The Universal House of Justice has written a number of letters to youth, especially in the context of regional youth conferences, to expand on the special opportunities afforded to them. In a letter to one such conference in Paraguay in 1998, they highlighted crucial qualities youth would have to show forth in the path of service to humanity. “You will have to show forth courage,” they affirmed, “the courage of those who cling to standards of rectitude, whose lives are characterised by purity of thought and action, and whose purpose is directed by love and indomitable faith.”

More recently, in announcing the series of 95 youth conferences held around the world in 2013, the Universal House of Justice expanded further upon those qualities that youth will need in order to make a difference in the world—qualities related to moral and spiritual empowerment.

In our prayers at the Sacred Threshold, we entreat the Ancient Beauty that, from out a distracted and bewildered humanity, He may distil pure souls endowed with clear sight: youth whose integrity and uprightness are not undermined by dwelling on the faults of others and who are not immobilized by any shortcomings of their own; youth who will look to the Master and ‘bring those who have been excluded into the circle of intimate friends’; youth whose consciousness of the failings of society impels them to work for its transformation, not to distance themselves from it; youth who, whatever the cost, will refuse to pass by inequity in its many incarnations and will labour, instead, that ‘the light of justice may shed its radiance upon the whole world.’

As I wrote shortly after having a thorough read of this passage, these are not airy-fairy words expressing a pious hope that things might get better. They are, in essence, a very practical game plan for the youth of the world who wish to shed the lethargy imposed on them by, and disentangle themselves from the embroilments of, a divided society; youth who wish to dedicate themselves to healing the wounds with which their peoples have been afflicted—becoming, in effect, heroes, invincible champions of justice. It’s all about showing forth spiritual qualities, developing moral capacities, learning concrete skills that will allow them—and everyone, in fact—to make a positive difference in the lives of those people around them.

Capital amongst all these qualities, I feel, is that quality of hope, of trust in God and in the capacity of humankind to figure things out. Yes, we’ll hear people around us express deep despair and cynicism about the way things are, and even the desire to withdraw and escape from society rather than try to make things better. But “be not dismayed,” as the Universal House of Justice wrote. Rather, “have hope,” and ask for God’s unfailing confirmations as we strive to serve Him and to make our communities better places to live.

No, humanity is not messed up beyond hope of salvation. Yes, it is messed up, or rather, it is passing through a phase much like that of adolescence, during which it struggles to leave behind outdated ways of thinking and acting that no longer satisfy the demands of its mature, adult life, and adopt new ways of thinking and acting that match its increased capacities. We must acknowledge humanity’s failings—our own failings—while also trusting in its capacity—and in our capacity—to do better. And with the power of Divine assistance and confirmations, we can do better: We can shine out like beacons of light against the gloom. We are seeing spiritual transformation happen little by little throughout the world, and we know where it will lead. So take hold of the latest guidance, step into the field of service, attract the confirmations of the Holy Spirit, and trust that God will take care of the rest.

The original post,“be not dismayed…”, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Photos © Bahá’í International Community.