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(US – DC, 2009)

Some interesting points from Ann Boyles’ presentation, “To build in the world of things a safe home for the children of men,” given at the 2009 Conference of the Association for Baha’i Studies (ABS). Read the full notes (PDF-file) here (audio file available here).

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A couple of examples of recent evolution in our discourse… (cultural ways of talking and thinking about things) [in the context of the change in culture that the Baha’i world is presently undergoing:]

◆ who we are and how we talk about ourselves, both within the Bahá’í community and in the wider community; Bahá’ís participating in the framework for action will often describe themselves in terms of service (e.g. a teacher of a class for the spiritual education of children)—expressed in a language of humility while at the same time conveying confidence in the framework for action and safeguarding the majesty of Bahá’u’lláh. We talk about ourselves as part of the community in a neighbourhood, not as outsiders—as people who are also affected by the environment but who have transcended it to some extent.

Discoursing

◆ how we speak about the Bahá’í Faith, emphasizing that this is “the changeless faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future”—focusing on the oneness of religion, which suggests indivisibility, in contrast to the unity of religions, which suggests multiplicity. Avoiding the tendency to see ourselves as just another religion among many

◆ how we speak about the core activities: as a paradigm of empowerment, which belongs to the entire community, in which we can partner in developing skills that will lead to the betterment of the world

◆ how we talk about teaching (avoiding the creation of 2 languages, one for seekers and the other for the community)

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PROMOTING INDIVIDUAL INITIATIVE

An accent on teaching in clusters at a formative stage can consist not only of direct, individual teaching but also of small, collective efforts, which experience shows can propel the process of growth and advance the cluster in an accelerated manner. Granted, the friends may need to be cautioned not to outstrip their human resources, but the development of a culture of teaching, supported by ongoing training, will be the surest path to a successful intensive program of growth. Moreover, when the believers taste the sweetness of the teaching experience, it sustains their enthusiasm. … the friends are often not easily mobilized once they have completed institute courses because there are no demands placed upon them as would be the case if there were an influx of new believers. When there is growth, the believers arise to serve and mobilization is realized.

– Letter from the International Teaching Centre, September 30, 2007. Click here to view.

In their presentation of the message of Bahá’u’lláh and the exposition of its verities, they have taken to heart the words of Shoghi Effendi that they must neither “hesitate” nor “falter”, neither “overstress” nor “whittle down” the truth which they champion. Neither are they “fanatical” nor “excessively liberal”. Through their constancy in teaching, they have increased their ability to determine whether the receptivity of their listener requires them to be “wary” or “bold”, to “act swiftly” or to “mark time”, to be “direct” or “indirect” in the methods they employ. ….

– The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2008 message

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(Photo © Jeff Greenberg/age fotostock/Imagestate, accessed here)

(US – Wilmette, 1996)

From an impassioned, inspirational talk given by then-member of the Universal House of Justice Mr. Glenford Mitchell on 5 October 1996 in Foundation Hall of the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette. (The views he expresses are of course entirely his own and do not represent those of any Bahá’í institution.)

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Now, the teaching of the Cause is of course with the individual primarily, as you know, because Bahá’u’lláh has given that duty to individuals. He has prescribed it for individuals. And He has promised certain support to the individuals, certain blessings. And I don’t have to read all of that to you, you know about it. But the House of Justice went into some detail in explaining why the individual is unique. It says,

“The individual alone can exercise those capacities which include the ability to take initiative, to seize opportunities, to form friendships, to interact personally with others, to build relationships, to win the cooperation of others in common service to the Faith and society, and to convert into action the decisions made by consultative bodies.”

I think perhaps we are forgetting that the Guardian made it very clear to us that the institutions, what? They have authority. The mass of the believers have what? The power to execute them. And that power resides in initiative and ability. Individual initiative and ability. We must understand this clearly. So, when the plan of the National Assembly comes out, or the plan of the Local Assembly, how is it going to be done? Because it’s going to be done this way. I am going to go home and think: “What am I supposed to do with myself now? How am I going to do this or am going to do that?” And I, privately, in the privacy of my own heart and my own mind, will decide exactly what I’m going to do and do it.

shrine_bab_dome_flowers-460

The Shrine of Bab

And remember in The Advent of Divine Justice the Guardian told the friends not to wait to hear from institutions in order to carry out this vital duty of teaching. Why should you wait to hear from anybody at all? You have heard from Bahá’u’lláh. Do it. You don’t have to wait on anybody. I don’t believe that we need any plans to teach. We don’t need it at all. The plans are supposed to help us, to give us a system to our activities, to give us a means of measuring our progress, because we need to be encouraged that we are doing something. That’s what the plans are for. The plans do not take the place of individual initiative and individual action and individual decision on teaching. My God, you want to tell me if the House of Justice didn’t write to us for the next twenty years, the Bahá’ís would stop teaching the Faith? You see? The responsibility is too great. It transcends, it goes beyond the House of Justice. It goes beyond any institution on earth. It has to do with the duty given to us by the Manifestation of God Himself. The consequences of not carrying on as we should are rather grave, I think, you know. Because when you think that now in this day, what Bahá’u’lláh has done to us all, He tells us that in this day every created thing is endowed with all the potentialities it can bear. Now, friends, I put it to you, if this power can be demonstrated in sand, such as what goes into microchips, what do you suppose God has done to us as individuals, as the ‘supreme talisman’? [Do] you think there’s any limit to the powers that you can exert morally and spiritually? There isn’t. This confusion is in our mind, believe me.

Now, about individuals. Look at how `Abdu’l-Bahá puts it. I was in St. Peter’s Basilica, that’s why this comes into my mind recently. He talks about Peter, who was the first apostle of Jesus Christ. Listen to what `Abdu’l-Bahá says. He says, “Peter, according to the history of the Church, was also incapable of keeping count of the days of the week. Whenever he decided to go fishing he would tie up his weekly food into seven parcels. And everyday he would eat one of them. And when he had reach the seventh, he would know that the Sabbath had arrived. And thereupon would observe it.” That’s what the Master says. Then Shoghi Effendi comments. He says, “If the Son of Man,” you know who the Son of Man is, Jesus;

“If the Son of Man was capable of infusing into apparently so crude and helpless an instrument with such potency as to cause in the words of Bahá’u’lláh the mysteries of wisdom and of utterance to flow out of his mouth, and to exalt him above the rest of His disciples and render him fit to become His successor and the founder of His Church, how much more can the Father, who is Bahá’u’lláh, empower the most puny and insignificant among His followers to achieve for the execution of His purpose such wonders as would dwarf the mightiest achievements of even the first apostle of Jesus Christ.”

Listen to this, friends, this is serious. He’s telling us that you, individually, He’s talking to you, can achieve more than this Peter, who was a great man, who was a tremendous character. But he wasn’t all that bright. But the Manifestation of God was able to infuse such power in him that he did the things that Bahá’u’lláh said. And if you go to Rome you’ll see the tremendous basilica they built up for him, the memorial. An incredible building. Friends, you have nothing to worry about but your own fear and doubt. And, so far as I’m concerned, fears and doubts are luxuries we cannot afford. These are luxuries, really luxuries. When you think of what’s happening to the children in Birundi [referring to the genocidal war at the time], to the children in, what’s this country in Europe that is gone crazy? Bosnia. What’s happening all over the world? What’s happened to the children in our cities? Come on, what are we afraid of? We have the thing in hand. We have powers we can call on. We have forces behind us. We have a powerful history behind us of success. Great development. Can you imagine that we are putting up on Mount Carmel, in the heart of that mountain, these enormous structures? How is it possible that such a thing could happen? That even now the people are recognizing that the Shrine of the Báb is actually at the exact point that it should be in the city, it’s the actual point of the whole city. Architects are praising this and wondering what happened that Bahá’u’lláh, they give talks, non-Bahá’ís, about what Bahá’u’lláh has done on that mountain. Imagine when the Tablet of Carmel was revealed, that mountain was an empty, scruffy place. You go there now and they’re talking about what? “The most important green lung in Israel”? Why? Because we have faith. Because we did the impossible.

Look at this building that we are in. Imagine that our Bahá’í brothers and sisters before us who were far fewer in number and who also were led by women, decided to do this thing and to put up this building, and had the blessing of `Abdu’l-Bahá to do it. They didn’t know how they would go about it. They didn’t have the technology in place to put this building up when it was designed. But aren’t you sitting in it now? And the Bahá’ís had the temerity to start this building in the Depression. Can you imagine what that means? I remember as a kid in Jamaica that the Bahá’ís had little cans that they had tin smiths to make that the people would put pennies in to send to the Temple in Wilmette, to build this Temple. What do you suppose did this? It was the power of God Almighty. It had nothing to do with economics. It had nothing to do with the theories flowing down from Marx and Hegel and all these characters. You see? We can do it, friends. We are so many now. You know? `Abdu’l-Bahá says one of us is good for a thousand. Well, come on, let’s behave as if we are a thousand people…

Read the whole talk here.

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Ceiling of the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, U.S.A.

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The heroic steadfastness of the Bahá’ís in the Cradle of the Faith has released mighty spiritual forces into the world. It has, too, evoked the highest admiration of the believers across the globe, whose yearning to alleviate the tribulations of their Bahá’í sisters and brothers in Irán is deeply felt and lovingly acknowledged by the House of Justice. What all must realize is that this longing may best be expressed through single-minded dedication to the prosecution of the Five Year Plan.

May every follower of the Blessed Beauty seize the opportunities that present themselves for the advancement of the Cause, confident that the victories won will bring abiding joy to the members of the long-suffering, renowned community in His native land.

– Letter from the Secretariat of the Universal House of Justice of 6 March 2009 to all National Spiritual Assemblies (read it here)

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(Images reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community, view here and here)

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