people at the Ottawa Baha’i Centre, sharing stories about teaching the Baha’i Faith during the Varqa Teaching Project. One had an hour-and-a-half-long conversation with an eighty-year-old woman who, while seeming hostile at first, warmed up immediately once she realized what the Baha’is were there to discuss—they continued on to share a good part of Anna’s presentation; another couple visited a middle-aged woman and stayed for two hours building friendship with her. fifty people participated in the project, young and old, men and women.
As blogged here earlier, the 11th Conference of the International Environment Forum (IEF) took place in Ottawa this weekend, and many of my friends within the Baha’i community showed up there. I’ll probably blog a little more about it later, but for now, you might want to check out the conference yourself: presentations and notes of the plenary and workshop sessions are available in PDF, DOC and MP3 formats, along with the conference schedule and official photo gallery; as well, videos of most of the presentations are available on Youtube! Here’s a list of links—share them with whoever may be interested!
- Faith-based NGOs and the Common Good
Ted Reeve – 2 3
- Governance of Energy from the Local to the Global – A Necessity for Climate Change Mitigation
Sylvia Karlsson – 2
- The Bahá’í International Community at the United Nations: Global Focus on Climate Change and Sustainable Development
Tahirih Naylor – 2 3
- PANEL—Reflections on Value-based Approaches to Environmental Action: Lessons Learned and Challenges Ahead
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…
what began as an Ottawa in-joke is growing into an international meme thanks to the power of the Internet. imagine my surprise at the uproar caused by an innocent photo of me and Hooman posted to flickr following a local celebration of the ninth day of Ridván (the same one where Eric Farr performed). Not only have people around the world discovered the hilarity of heyvooning, they’re doing it themselves—and posting the photos to flickr, where a new heyvoon group collects the fallout. Check it out, and be sure to contribute samples of your own neighbourhood heyvoonery.
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.
aha! after a while of messing around and banging my head against a wall of PHP, I’ve given my photos page a much-needed overhaul. now, instead of linking you directly to flickr, photos will appear directly within the comfortable doberman pizza interface you’re used to. to celebrate, I’ve posted photos from the recent reflection meeting, the refresher session on Anna’s presentation last Monday, the devotional meeting at Julie & Fanfan’s place last weekend, and the latest edition of our children’s class—all nicely arranged into photosets (i.e. albums) for your browsing pleasure. And don’t worry, if you want to see higher-res versions they’re still around on flickr. let me know what you think!