youth and “the western way of life”

Thanks to /u/Rinky-Dink on Reddit for sharing a recent, and still relatively unknown, letter from the Universal House of Justice about the challenges faced by Bahá’í youth in upholding a Bahá’í standard and way of life in the context of Western culture and sexual mores. There is a lot of meditate on in this meaty, hard-hitting letter, which touches on God’s purpose for humanity, the forces shaping human society, the role of religion in promoting human well-being, and our own capacity as individuals to rise above our faults and shortcomings to become champions of a new, spiritual civilization. The entire letter, which you can find online at bahai-library.com, deserves a thorough reading and plenty of thoughtful study. I’ve excerpted one paragraph below that especially jumped out at me on my first reading. Read it, and feel free to contribute your own insights in the comments below!

Throughout the world, in diverse cultures, Bahá’ís encounter values and practices that stand in sharp contrast to the teachings of the Faith. Some are embedded in social structures, for instance, racial prejudice and gender discrimination, economic exploitation and political corruption. Others pertain to personal conduct, especially with respect to the use of alcohol and drugs, to sexual behaviour, and to self-indulgence in general. If Bahá’ís simply surrender to the mores of society, how will conditions change? How will the people of the world distinguish today’s moribund order from the civilization to which Bahá’u’lláh is summoning humanity? “Humanity”, the Riḍván 2012 message of the House of Justice explained, “is weary for want of a pattern of life to which to aspire.” “A single soul can uphold a standard far above the low threshold by which the world measures itself,” the message noted. Young Bahá’ís especially need to take care, lest they imagine they can live according to the norms of contemporary society while adhering to Bahá’í ideals at some minimum level to assuage their conscience or to satisfy the community, for they will soon find themselves consumed in a struggle to obey even the most basic of the Faith’s moral teachings and powerless to take up the challenges of their generation. “Wings that are besmirched with mire can never soar,” Bahá’u’lláh warns. The inner joy that every individual seeks, unlike a passing emotion, is not contingent on outside influences; it is a condition, born of certitude and conscious knowledge, fostered by a pure heart, which is able to distinguish between that which has permanence and that which is superficial. “Wert thou to speed through the immensity of space and traverse the expanse of heaven,” are Bahá’u’lláh’s words, “yet thou wouldst find no rest save in submission to Our command and humbleness before Our Face.”

6 qualities of the empowered

studying the guidanceYou know how you can read something one day, get something out of it, and then read it again next week and get a fresh new insight? That’s often what happens to me when I read the Bahá’í Writings. Most recently, I’ve been working hard to finish reading all of the recent messages of the Universal House of Justice—the 8 February 2013 and 1 May 2013 messages announcing the convocation of the worldwide youth conferences, for example, and the 1 July 2013 message to all the conferences; the 2013 Ridván message; and Insights from the Frontiers of Learning, the long but fascinating companion document to the wonderful new film Frontiers of Learning.

Anyway, a friend of mine shared the last sentence of the 8 February 2013 message the other day, and I took the opportunity to read it again with fresh eyes. In it, the Universal House of Justice writes of its hope for the youth of the world, giving an overview of the kinds of qualities that characterize the “new race of men” anticipated by Bahá’u’lláh—a race not defined by nationality or ethnicity, nor by superhero-style mutations or magical powers(!), nor indeed by any material considerations, but by the strength and maturity of their character, by their spiritual qualities. To give a little context, the Bahá’í International Community gave some very useful commentary on this term in its Statement on Bahá’u’lláh:

The distinguishing feature of humanity’s coming of age is that, for the first time in its history, the entire human race is consciously involved, however dimly, in the awareness of its own oneness and of the earth as a single homeland. This awakening opens the way to a new relationship between God and humankind. As the peoples of the world embrace the spiritual authority inherent in the guidance of the Revelation of God for this age, Bahá’u’lláh said, they will find in themselves a moral empowerment which human effort alone has proven incapable of generating. “A new race of men” will emerge as the result of this relationship, and the work of building a global civilization will begin.

In the last paragraph of the 8 February 2013 message, the Universal House of Justice enumerates some of the qualities that youth will need in order to make a difference in the world—qualities related to moral and spiritual empowerment. Let’s examine them here, point by point. “In our prayers at the Sacred Threshold,” the message reads, “we entreat the Ancient Beauty that, from out a distracted and bewildered humanity, He may distil…”: Continue reading

step forward

A while ago, in october, I posted here about a problem I have with bottling up my feelings. I’ve been thinking about that again and I feel like sharing some stuff here, just to get it out. When I had the accident with my car just before the new year, the only injury I had — apart from a cut lip — was to my pride. I was sitting high and mighty on my accident-free driving record for a long time, and all of a sudden, I got knocked off. And it wasn’t just my pride, either. To be blunt, I was disappointed because all of a sudden, I wasn’t perfect. Somehow I have this thing inside me that says, “Be perfect, or else you’re not worth anything.” I know that nobody can be perfect. Ask anyone and they’ll admit that no one can ever hope to be perfect. So how logical is it to be disappointed in oneself for not being perfect? And likewise, how logical is it to criticize someone else for not being perfect? I think the two go together, because I see both behaviours within me. I often have judgemental feelings about others (thankfully, I mostly avoid expressing them), and about myself. I judge everybody and hang them too. Even now, I’m judging myself. See how pervasive it is? Wow.

How do I accept my imperfections? How can it be okay to be any less than what you’re expected to be? And who’s expecting me to be anything anyway? I only have to report to God. And God loves me, no matter how imperfect I am. God loves addicts, robbers, traitors and killers, why not me? It doesn’t matter how far I’ve fallen short of His standard. He created me because He loves me and He will always love me. God loves all of humanity unconditionally. Why do I say this? Because that’s what He told me.

“O SON OF MAN! I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life.” (Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Words)

Even the paragraph I just wrote is an incomplete argument. But God loves me anyway. 😉 If you really want to know more, send me feedback and let’s talk.

This is the blessing that’s bestowed upon pioneers. As soon as one test is on the wane, a new one comes to take its place. In fact, the proof that God loves me is that He sends me so many tests. If He were to spare me all of the tests and tribulations, how would I ever get off my butt and become a better person?

But back to imperfections. I often do things that I feel ashamed of — ashamed because I know I could do better, but I’m afraid to take that step, I don’t want to step outside of what’s comfortable for me. I’m surrounded by people who have problems, who hurt, who need love, friendship, fellowship, and encouragement. And how many times have I taken the step outside my own “safety bubble”, held out my hand, introduced myself, and shown that sort of love and fellowship? Not many. I can’t think of one off the top of my head. I feel bad about that, because I know I could and should do better. I so desperately want to be that kind of person, and I get frustrated because I’m scared to take that step, I’m scared of being rejected, I’m scared of looking like a fool. That fear burns me like a deathless fire, and I know the only way out of it is to ask God for assistance and jump in. I get so frustrated, because I’m afraid. I can’t accept that fear. I hate it.

Sometimes I do insensitive things, too. Sometimes, whether I’m wrapped up in my own thoughts, nervous, pressed for time, distracted, or trying to handle too many things at one time, I do rude things, like show up late for a meeting or an appointment, forget to do things I said I would do, say something harsh or inappropriate, or whatever. And that’s not the worst of it. I feel like I’ve broken people’s trust lately. That bothers me, again, because I know I could do better. I know if I put my mind to it I could make the effort to be sensitive and respectful. I get frustrated because it seems that I only think of myself sometimes, that I’m self-centred. That hurts, to realize how self-centred you are. Sure, there are times when I’m not so self-centred. Still, when I am, it discourages me. I feel like I should be doing so much better, like this other person here or that person there. There are so many people, Bahá’ís or not, who are such shining examples of selflessness… so inspiring, and yet frustrating, because they’re at point A, I’m at point B, and I deeply want to be where they are.

sigh. I guess it’s like trying to get 250 HP out of a 108 HP engine. I’m not a fatalist, I’m an optimist. So I do believe that eventually, with effort, faith, reflection and prayer I can get there. There must be some way to accept myself as I am and still work towards something better. We must always keep in mind two things: We should never be satisfied with our present spiritual condition, and God has created us noble and worthy of His favour. It’s hard to explain. Even though we should never be satisfied with ourselves, we should remember that God has endowed us with nobility, and He loves us no matter where we’re at. And even though we need to accept and love ourselves, we should realize that there is always a higher station, a higher level of purity and awareness, to which we can climb.

more later, probably. I hope all of you are having a good week. Oh, and while you’re at it, why not check out the photo album I uploaded to care2? There’s photos of the Bahá’í winter school, my visit to Ottawa, and pictures of my newborn niece Zea 🙂 go see!