So by now, you’ve probably gotten a copy of the long-awaited letter from the Universal House of Justice, dated 29 December 2015, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, which spells out the framework for the upcoming Five Year Plan. (If not, it’s available online, from the official Bahá’í Reference Library website!)
First things first: It’s a really awesome letter. A friend and I read through it the day it came out, and we felt that it was one of the most complete letters we’ve read—in terms of describing the entire process of growth from the initial stages, through the establishment of a program of growth, past the intensification of growth and into the far reaches of activity where Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation starts to permeate into the fabric of society. We were also able to see quite clearly the stages at which our clusters were located in the process, and the next steps awaiting us as we progressed from one milestone of growth to the next.
Those “milestones”, though—what are those? In the interest of cutting through some of the jargon, here’s my attempt at a brief explanation/recap of “milestones” in the context of the Five Year Plan. Continue reading
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…
life is intense right now. For the past week I’ve been leaving home at 8 AM and getting in between 10 PM and midnight every night; my cat is super angry at me and has been staging regular protests. I guess it started with the reflection meeting; things have been super goofy since then. not long after that, I joined up with Marty and a bunch of friends in one of the two outreach/teaching teams active in Ottawa. Both of them basically hang around in different neighbourhoods, experimenting with the viability of offering the four core activities in each area. my current job on the team is offering children’s classes to kids from two neighbouring apartment complexes. It’s a big change from doing our usual weekly children’s class: this one is a daily class, and the classes are taken word-for-word from Book 3 of the Ruhi curriculum, with songs, games, stories, colouring, and memorization of prayers and passages from the Baha’i Writings. I’ll be posting more about these classes on my children’s classes blog once the 2-week pilot period is over. basically, we’re going totally nutbar for about two weeks, offering all the core activities at the same time in order to gauge the receptivity of the community, and if it works out, we’ll start offering them regularly over a longer period, perhaps weekly throughout the year. There’s been lots of intense consultation, reflection and tons of action. There are tons of photos ready to be posted—and I swear, as soon as I get a moment I’ll be posting them you-know-where.
well it’s been an intense week for sure. the Ottawa Baha’i community held another reflection meeting last Saturday, launching the eighth cycle of its intensive program of growth.
JARGON WATCH: basically what this means is that a bunch of people got together to reflect on and discuss the growth, vitality and vision of the Baha’i community, to share their best practices and to set goals. An “intensive program of growth”, which is composed of many “cycles” marked by these “reflection meetings”, is basically a way for Baha’is (and those who throw their lot in with them) to manage the growth of the Baha’i community and channel their efforts to bring the Message of Bahá’u’lláh to those who are out there waiting for it.
it was a blast, as usual; there were lots of young people there, junior youth (12-14 yrs) and youth (15+ yrs) alike. That was awesome and really encouraging. we put someone on a table and lifted them up with only our fingers. apart from that, of course, we had time to knock heads together and make plans for the next few months: how we would help the core activities grow and evolve, etc.
MORE JARGON WATCH: there are four generally recognized “core activities” of Baha’i community life, all of which are, in essence, open to all people no matter what their faith: (1) “devotional meetings”, which consist of shared prayer and readings that bring a group closer to God / a Higher Power; (2) “study circles”, in which groups use the study of principles found in the Baha’i Writings to understand how they apply in real-world situations of service; (3) “children’s classes”, which are classes for the moral and spiritual education of children; (4) “junior youth groups”, in which 12- to 14-year-old youth use spiritual principles to understand the world around them and to bridge the gap between childhood and adolescence.
I spent a bit of time sharing the plan for our children’s class… it’s a complicated animal. So far it looks like we will be moving towards splitting the class into two groups: one for older children (say, 9-11) and one for younger children (~5-8). We’ve also discussed holding a devotional meeting open to parents, family and friends – we’re looking for ways that parents and family can naturally become more involved in the children’s spiritual education, and sharing prayer time with them in the format of a devotional meeting may just be the thing. also on the map are home visits with parents and family to follow up on the parents’ meeting we had last October – they haven’t had much regular communication from us and it’d be about time to bring them each up to speed no?
hasta la pasta