I’m still sick, and I still need sleep. So today, Flickr is joining forces with Instagram to bring you some of the more interesting photos of Bahá’í temples, i.e., Houses of Worship, that I’ve come across in the past few months. And if you’d like to see more of these—and more awesome Bahá’í-themed photos from people around the world, check out /r/bahaipics on Reddit!
I’ve been sick for the past few days, and I need to sleep rather than spend more time writing. So today, I’m going to let Instagram do the talking for me. One of my favourite activities with children and junior youth is to have them draw on walls or sidewalks with sidewalk chalk or sidewalk paint, so I love it whenever I see someone incorporating this into a children’s class or a junior youth group. So, here are a few pictures of wall art, sidewalk art and street art from junior youth groups around the world—with city permission, of course.
When I was in high school, I used to tell people that “Bahá’ís don’t date”. That was a gross oversimplification, of course. It’s not that Bahá’ís can’t do things with potential partners in order to get to know them better, it’s more like they don’t buy into the culture of dating that currently prevails in Western society. Yeah, Netflix and chill is out. But beyond that, I was probably having my own trouble figuring out how to get to know a potential life partner as a Bahá’í. How exactly do you learn how to relate to potential partners when most of your peers just want to talk about baseball? And just how are you supposed to get to know someone without playing that game?
A little while ago, there was a thread on Reddit’s Baha’i group in which a new Baha’i—for whom sex in romantic relationships had previously become an important part of life— asked: “How do Baha’is date without sex?” I thought I’d share a little about what was said in this thread. Several users made some great comments, so I’ve collected them here together.
From /u/t0lk: “Good sex is not the purpose of a marriage and therefore not the focus of the dating life for Baha’is. Marriage is about strengthening the family and therefore the core unit of society. It is also about providing stability in which children can be raised in safety and security. You can think of dating as the process of determining who would best allow you to do that. The more attached we become to someone through sex or intimacy the more difficult it can become to judge based on that criteria. Ideally a Baha’i enters a relationship once he or she has become acquainted with the character of the other person, has had a chance to serve together with that person and already has a strong friendship with them. As you can imagine, any intimacy detracts from this purpose and will make the process more difficult.”
From /u/papercranium: “It helps to keep in mind that the point of dating isn’t to be dating. It’s to further investigate whether someone could be a marriage partner. It’s not meant to be a long, ongoing process. It’s not something you can do with someone you find attractive at a bar somewhere. You obviously know this person from somewhere, or you wouldn’t be considering them as a potential spouse. So what did you do with them before? Go hiking? Play Scrabble? Teach children’s classes? Do more of that. My husband and I were friends since the age of 15. We started dating 11 years later. Within a year we were married. There just wasn’t a lot more getting-to-know-you that needed to happen at that point.”
And my own answer: “My wife and I met through service, as I was taking several months off to serve internationally and she was a member of the institutions at my post. We didn’t know each other as long as you guys did before we started considering a serious relationship, so from the get-go we tried to go into our relationship deliberately and with eyes fully open. Serving together was probably the best thing we could have done to get to know each other, as it allowed us to see how each of us dealt with a variety of challenges and difficult situations. We planned out other activities to allow us to get to know each other better, too. Some of these were one-on-one: hanging out in coffeeshops and having conversations, or long walks by the lake, for instance. Some of them were with friends and family, like sightseeing, trips, family dinners, and so on. And of course, we would attend Feasts and holy days together. We travelled a lot, and we were able to observe each other in a variety of different contexts. Eventually, we decided we were willing to take things to the next step, got consent, and voilà.”
It’s important to be clear: The Bahá’í Faith isn’t against sex. To quote the Universal House of Justice: “Bahá’ís do not believe that the sex impulse should be suppressed but that it should be regulated and controlled. Chastity in no way implies withdrawal from human relationships. It liberates people from the tyranny of the ubiquity of sex. A person who is in control of his sexual impulses is enabled to have profound and enduring friendships with many people, both men and women, without ever sullying that unique and priceless bond that should unite man and wife.” In other words, the law of chastity revealed by Bahá’u’lláh is basically a way for us to remain in control of our sexual impulses, which enables us to develop true, profound and lasting friendships and relationships with members of both sexes, freed from the constraints of an excessive focus on sexuality.
So, does chastity mean that Bahá’ís have to be like monks and completely abstain from sex? Well, only until they get married: The law of Bahá’í marriage was revealed to give sexual impulses their highest and most constructive expression. But then, one might ask, how can we expect young people to “regulate” and “control” their sexual feelings until they’re ready to get married—especially when more and more young people are choosing to postpone marriage, sometimes into their thirties? Simple: Create a culture of Bahá’í marriage.
In the article Creating a New Bahá’í Marriage Culture, Raelee Peirce, a Bahá’í who works as a Parent Coach in North Carolina, explores how parents can help give their children a positive view of marriage and relationships. A short excerpt follows to give you a taste of it:
We need to share with our preschoolers the idea of marriage and we need to discuss the concept of finding a husband or wife when our children are in grade school rather than entertaining the idea of boyfriends and girlfriends. We need to create a family culture that does not include our children or youth engaging in frivolous boy-girl relationships. For example, when a six-year-old talks about “liking” another of the opposite sex, one should not consider it cute and exclaim to others that Jamal has a little girlfriend. As a Bahá’í parent we need to say, “Jamal, it’s wonderful that you like Emma; it’s great to have lots of friends. One day when you are much older you will find a girl to be your wife and have a beautiful Bahá’í family!”…
When we consistently refer to boy-girl relationships as a marriage relationship through the young years and the expectation of our family standard is that boyfriends and girlfriends aren’t relevant, then it isn’t a part of our child’s context even when it is part of their world at school. Potential husbands and wives are the more acceptable concept. In this context, a young boy or girl is not likely to start seeking a marriage partner!
One interesting point I’ve gleaned from this article is that perhaps, as Bahá’ís get their children started thinking about marriage in this way, marriage will become a goal for an earlier stage in life. In other words, it’s okay for children to know that one of the main purposes of Bahá’í marriage is to give expression to their sexual impulses, and it’s okay for them to plan ahead for it with that in mind. Instead of waiting until their thirties to get married, they can plan to marry young—let’s say, between 18–25—so that they can enjoy their youth with their partner.
So, with all of this said, what does Bahá’í dating look like? Well, the main difference that sets it apart from any other kind of dating is its intention. It’s not just a game, and it’s not a way for young Bahá’ís to indulge their sexual impulses. It’s a gateway to the institution of marriage, which, for Bahá’ís, is an institution that provides for the kind of strength and stability in which those impulses can be most constructively expressed, and in which children can be raised in safety and security. Imagine being an architect, and wanting to build a strong and beautiful building that will be able to withstand any conditions, from the strongest storms to the weathering of the ages. And imagine that the job is too big for you to take on alone: You need a partner, another architect with whom you will work on this lifelong project. Bahá’í dating essentially means looking for this architect—someone with the skills, the virtues and the character to help you build a fortress for well-being.
From 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.
In emphasizing the importance of harmony in human relationships, Baha?’u’lla?h 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 Baha?’i?s 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 Baha?’i? perspective on a matter. Confusion or erroneous understandings surrounding Baha?’i? 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 Baha?’i? 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 Baha?’i?s into exchanges with the intent of demonstrating that Baha?’i?s are either nai?ve, dogmatic, or intolerant. In particular, adherence to the provisions of the Covenant of Baha?’u’lla?h 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.” Baha?’u’lla?h 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.”
If 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.”
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.
Or 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.