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.”

part of a whole

Many of you have probably read, listened to, or heard of a recent talk by former member of the Universal House of Justice Mr. Ali Nakhjavani, in which he emphatically expressed how important it is for Bahá’í communities to maintain teaching activities alongside core activities such as study circles, children’s classes, junior youth groups and devotional meetings. You may also have read a (previously unpublished?) letter on this same topic, written by the Universal House of Justice on October 31, 2002, that’s also been circulating. I read through these myself recently, and they brought me to reflect on the evolution in my own understanding of the institute process, and in my own actions. I shared some of these reflections on Reddit recently, and thought I’d repost them here.

Several years back there was definitely an increase in focus on the institute process in our local community as we studied the messages of the Universal House of Justice which described training institutes and their centrality to the process of community growth. At the time, I was just coming out of university, and it was really the first time I had ever been strongly involved in Bahá’í community activities, despite having grown up in a Bahá’í family. Being involved in study circles was pretty transformative for me—studying Ruhi Book 1 was the first time I ever really thought about the life of the soul—and I was inspired thereafter to do some homefront pioneering, which involved getting further trained up to Ruhi Book 7. At the time, training institutes were new and I think we were still thinking of it in terms of yet another deepening program, and we often skipped the practical service aspects of the Ruhi curriculum which help collaborators arise to serve. I feel like, as a result, I didn’t really “get” the interconnectedness of it all, and just thought something like, “OK, these study circles are the key to transformation, so I have to put all my efforts into study circles”. Occasionally, that meant that I declined invitations to participate in other initiatives, such as music nights, social get-togethers, and so on, that would have been great teaching opportunities, because I was too busy with my study circle stuff. I know I must have disappointed a lot of well-intentioned and inspired friends because of that, but thank God many of them went ahead anyway and carried forward those initiatives, which are a feature of our local community life now.

I certainly did have an “either this one or that one, but not both” mentality when it came to community activities. Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles I had to overcome was my fear of failure and my lack of confidence in my ability to teach—indeed, to create and maintain relationships with people in general. Somehow I was too comfortable with acting as a tutor within the safe, limited environment of an inward-looking community, and not comfortable at all creating genuine, profound relationships with others. I struggled with this for a while, especially as we spoke more and more about how the Bahá’í community had to open outwards, moving from the mindset of a congregation to that of a sort of commonwealth of mankind, blurring the lines between “Bahá’í” and “otherwise”. I think it was this internal struggle—and my continued willingness to adopt a posture of learning and participate in programs of growth in whatever ways I could despite my fear—that helped me see how many of these pieces fit together. The idea of coherence was particularly useful to me, in that I began to see how, for example, a study circle, devotional meeting, children’s class, and junior youth group could develop in sync and feed off each other, and be fed by things that we don’t call “core activities” but are no less crucial: firesides, home visits, and even just hanging out with friends and elevating conversation. In time, the sense of dichotomy disappeared, and now I find myself involved as much in establishing friendships with people in non-“core” ways as I do in teaching children’s classes or walking with friends through Ruhi Book 1.

I should also mention that one of the things that helped me gain confidence was being part of a team, in this case with Quynh. After we were married a few years ago, we found that we could support one another in our service, and do things together that we never dreamed that we could do alone. We are still learning about what seems “right” for us, what our strengths and weaknesses are, and where we can spend our energy most effectively. As a team, we balance and complement each other. If I can’t do something, then she picks up the slack; if neither of us can do it, we just focus our efforts on what we can do. And, most importantly, we are united, and we support each other no matter what. As long as we have that unity, we know that we will be confirmed.

blog action day: ecology and moderation

autumn shockThere’s nothing like catching a cold to make you think about moderation. I was feeling great up til about Friday, when I started feeling a little more tired and strung out than usual. Saturday was a long and exhausting day, and Sunday I woke up with this awful taste in my mouth, a scratchy throat and a runny nose. Oh well. I never used to get colds, but now that I’m out of my invincible phase (which lasts from about 18 to 25; at least, that’s what my insurance company told me) I seem to catch a lot more random bugs and malaises. This little (?) body seems a lot more vulnerable than it used to. Anyway, for the time being, I’m hanging around at home eating soup and drinking grapefruit juice instead of milk and cookies.

Anyway, my sick mind managed to draw a parallel between being sick and all this talk about climate change that’s been happening, especially with the IEF conference over the weekend. Bear with me here. I’ve been catching up with the (facinating) video presentations, hearing all sorts of evidence of the effects of human activity upon the world we live in. Briefly, ever since the industrial revolution, Western society has been embracing unbridled and unqualified technological advancement and progress. The more singlemindedly we pursued an ideal of ultimate comfort and ease for ourselves, the quicker these effects accumulated. It’s only in the past few decades that we’ve begun to notice that the choices we’ve made have had, and are having, palpable consequences. Just like it takes a few days to catch a cold before you notice the symptoms, we sailed along merrily pumping more and more greenhouse gases into our Earth’s atmosphere, polluting its rivers and oceans, venting exhaust into its previously clean air. Now comes the big sneeze—or perhaps we could call it the Big Sweat.

If 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.

Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 342

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desire

Quote

For desire is a flame that has reduced to ashes uncounted lifetime harvests of the learned, a devouring fire that even the vast sea of their accumulated knowledge could never quench. How often has it happened that an individual who was graced with every attribute of humanity and wore the jewel of true understanding, nevertheless followed after his passions until his excellent qualities passed beyond moderation and he was forced into excess. His pure intentions changed to evil ones, his attributes were no longer put to uses worthy of them, and the power of his desires turned him aside from righteousness and its rewards into ways that were dangerous and dark. A good character is in the sight of God and His chosen ones and the possessors of insight, the most excellent and praiseworthy of all things, but always on condition that its center of emanation should be reason and knowledge and its base should be true moderation.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 59

network trouble

gah! my router’s acting funny. such are computer networks – always getting messed up. all it takes is for something to happen out of sequence, and suddenly your router thinks it’s 1970. I’m running a wireless network, too – first time I’ve tried that. It’s quite convenient. We borrowed a laptop from mom and dad, and we can use it in any room of the house and still have a connection to the internet. of course we’ve had some problems getting the wireless adapter to work, and the network connection is sketchy at best. So there are advantages and disadvantages. I suppose it’s better than the alternative.

Recently, I was appointed to the Baha’i Community’s Sector Management Team for Ottawa’s Sector 9 (Vanier – Overbrook – Cyrville – Beacon Hill). We had a meeting tonight; it was similar to my experiences serving as members of Spiritual Assemblies. It’s basically a mini-Assembly (except that it has a mandate restricted mostly to logistical questions). It was a nice experience; plus, two good friends of mine are also on the team so it’s cool that I get to hang around with them. I’m not sure of much right now (since it’s my first time) but I know that if I want to keep this up I’ll have to re-evaluate some of the things I do. I was comfortable with just a children’s class every two weeks, weekly meetings, some social events, and some work during the week. but this isn’t just one new meeting to go to; it’s all the homework that you take back home. I’m wondering whether I’m able to handle all of that homework right now, and where my limits are. I know that at the beginning of this year I had taken on too much, and I suffered greatly because I was trying to live and work beyond my capacity. So I ended up getting very depressed, up til the point I realized I had to fall back and make a change. So… what I’m hoping now is that I can avoid that last part and just make wise decisions as to how many commitments I take on. Good luck so far, good luck so far. i’ll have to make more time for meditation in my life. I get the feeling I’ll need it.

I’m a month away from being 25. I think it shows… I sound old. 😉