In May 2006, the Universal House of Justice wrote to the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada regarding the goals and plans of the Canadian Baha’i community. The latter had set some ambitious goals for the growth and development of the community, promising to firmly establish intensive programs of growth in no less than 46 areas of the country (Ottawa, of course, being one of them). The Universal House of Justice pointed out in its letter that “[s]uch a bold objective cannot be achieved merely by adopting the outer form of the activities of the Five Year Plan [i.e. the ‘core activities’]”, and that “a true change in culture is required”.
So what’s this whole “intensive growth” thing? Is it freaky or evil? Not really. The Baha’i community, just like any religious community, can either stagnate or grow. A healthy community grows; an unhealthy one stagnates (or worse, God forbid—disunity sets in and it dies out). Bahá’ís naturally want their community to grow, to become more united, and to attract receptive souls who are willing to throw their lot in to build a divine civilization. “Intensive growth” is simply what’s needed at this time because of the lamentable, perilous and frightening state of the world. If the world were in better shape, we might be able to just go along at our regular (slow) pace, getting more and more united as the years went by, gradually learning how better to serve humanity and follow the teachings sent by Baha’u’llah; but because the world around us is losing it so quickly, we have to learn quicker—put some Miracle-Gro on our garden—so that if and when things start spinning out of control—which seems to be real soon now—the Bahá’ís will be able to offer your average Jack and Jill somewhere to turn to for a respite from all the confusion.
That “change in culture” has been happening gradually within the Baha’i community over the past year. Taking on a new way of acting and living our lives is challenging, and like any change, it begins with friction and discomfort. Let me give an example…
The CanWest News Service published a story on the “greening” of religion which briefly mentioned the Baha’i Faith, and that got me thinking a bit about the Baha’i take on environmental stewardship. The Baha’i Writings contain lots of insight about ecological principles and environmental stewardship. I prepared a workshop about ecology for the U of Ottawa CABS a while back, and I found lots of good resources in the compilation on the conservation of the earth’s resources and the Universal House of Justice’s response to a believer’s question about James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis. Most relevant to this age of environmental crisis, perhaps, is Bahá’u’lláh’s admonition that “[i]f carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation.”
Ottawa’s Baha’i community is heavily involved in environmental affairs; besides hosting conferences—such as the upcoming International Environment Forum conference in October—and participating in interfaith dialogue on the environment such as that pioneered by Faith and the Common Good—the group cited in the article above—its efforts have extended to the greening of our very own “sacred space”, the Ottawa Baha’i Centre, which was renovated in the summer of 2006 with energy efficiency in mind (compact fluorescents ftw). Waste is reduced by keeping dishes on hand for community functions such as Nineteen-day Feasts and Holy Days and banning the use of disposables. Recycling is a major commitment at the centre, which our local children’s class underlined by creating special decorations for the centre’s many recycling bins.
I can say all this and feel like it’s all good, but the fact is there’s always lots of room to improve when it comes to being “green”. Like the article says, there are so many ways to do a little bit more to be planet-friendly; install rain barrels, for example, or compost bins. Encourage the faithful to use alternative forms of transportation, such as bicycles or public transit (we’re lucky—the bus system is good in Ottawa). Install solar panels, or a grey-water system. One good source of inspiration, FYI, is the Otesha Project—I’ve always wanted to blog more about them. They go around promoting environmental and ecological stewardship through the adoption of healthy, sustainable lifestyles that reduce our dependence on wasteful and/or socially unjust practices. I bought their book at a Baha’i fireside and it’s full of awesome tips.
Musical awesomeness from Fire and Snow (see original on Youtube).
That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith. (Bahá’u’lláh, Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 91)
Do you remember Canadian Baha’i hip-hop artist Tallis Newkirk, aka Tallisman, of Nelstar and Plains of Fascination fame? The one who helped Nelly Furtado get her first experience at professional studio recording when she was 17 years old? Yeah, that one. After living for a while in Regina, Saskatchewan, he’s moved to Canada’s Northwest Territories and is doing just fine—and he’s still rapping. Here’s the proof via Youtube:
Check out Tallisman’s Myspace!
Happy Canada Day! Way back on this day in 1867—140 years ago, and a mere four years after Bahá’u’lláh’s historic Declaration of His mission in the garden of Ridván—the nation of Canada was brought into being. To celebrate, here’s a little flashback for you all.
Where was I on Canada Day…
On a related note, I saw the renowned Abha Voices perform on Friday, and they put on quite the show, performing several numbers from their repertoire, all based on the Baha’i Writings. It was incongruous—yet immensely refreshing!—to hear the following words sung on this otherwise nationalistic occasion: “Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind.”
Update (2007-07-02): the photos from canada day 2007 are gradually going up on flickr; check ’em out and keep your eyes open for more. more photos are available on Facebook, including chronicles of the visit of a group of Baha’i Youth from Montreal’s West Island!
you may have seen this lovely little World Religion Day stamp being forwarded back and forth across the Internet lately, and shouted to yourself, “Forsooth! A Canadian stamp about World Religion Day? A stamp with a quote from the Bahá’í Writings on it? Happy day!” Well, at first I did that too, until I realized I couldn’t actually find any press release or news item that could confirm whether or not said stamp had been released by Canada Post.
So I called up Canada Post trying to confirm the existence of an official World Religion Day stamp, and they said they don’t know of any such design for a commemorative stamp, nor is there such a design in the works. A look at the 2007 Commemorative Stamp Lineup confirms this fact—unfortunately, while the above is a very nice design, it’s not a real stamp. Yet. Maybe, if there’s enough encouragement from philatelists and their ilk, Canada Post could be convinced to eventually issue a stamp along this theme?
At any rate—feel free to oooh and ahhh at this excellent (anonymous?) stamp design for now, and if you’re friends with the local postmaster, perhaps you could slip him or her a little suggestion for next year…
Learn more about Baha’i stamps (also check out the forum).