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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.
◆ 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)
The following article is adapted from an address given by Dr. Vahid Saberi to a recent conference in Victoria, Australia.
The task of transforming the human race begins with transforming ourselves.
The Four Year Plan, Twelve Month Plan and the last and the current Five Year Plans are nothing more than instruments to achieve this great goal. The power to achieve this rests with us individuals.
Bahá’u’lláh deliberately left the assignment of transforming the human race to countless ordinary, unassuming people like us. Look at the first disciples of Jesus; they were just fishermen, but they took on the world and changed it utterly.
We are now called upon to do the same, but on a far more momentous scale.
He has entrusted us to begin by transforming ourselves.
Consider the plight of the world; never, at any other time in history, have so many people been so materially prosperous, and at the same time, so spiritually lost. Never has there been so much despondency, depression, dysfunction, loss of purpose and fear. Why is this happening?
We know that the “…world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order….revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System.”
Shoghi Effendi has told us that only Bahá’ís “….know full well whence it comes, and what it will ultimately lead to [and that] they clearly recognize its genesis, are aware of its direction, acknowledge its necessity ….” And it is cleansing the world. Gripped in the clutches of this tempest, humanity, even while it is bewildered, continues painfully to move towards peace and unity.
That turmoil will continue because humanity has not yet turned away from Godlessness. That is why Shoghi Effendi told us that “…all humanity is disturbed and suffering and confused; we cannot expect to not be disturbed and not to suffer – but we don’t have to be confused.”
We know that the only panacea of the world’s ills is the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, which is why …. “The believers must rest assured that having the Faith, they have everything”.
That is why we must act. Through taking ownership of our personal suffering and spiritual development, we can learn to be more compassionate and concerned for others, until “confidence and assurance, hope and optimism are our prerogative”.
But how do we measure our efforts?
Shoghi Effendi clearly states that ….. “The successful carrying out of our various Plans is the greatest sign we can give of our faith and inner assurance, and the best way we can help our fellow-men out of their confusion and difficulties.”
Bahá’u’lláh Himself took on humanity’s turmoil when He was imprisoned in the “Siayh-Chal”. In this grim place of utter darkness reserved only for the most degraded of criminals; amidst foul stench, deprived of food and drink, rest and sleep, with a huge chain galling his neck, Bahá’u’lláh experienced a moment of intense illumination which revealed His task to be the Manifestation of this unprecedented Age of Fulfilment. In the Black Pit, God promised Bahá’u’lláh that “Ere Long shall the Lord send forth and reveal the treasures of the earth, men who shall give Thee victory by Thyself and by They name …”
So, how can we be silent? ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’’ reminded us of this responsibility when He wrote: “Why then are ye quenched, why silent, why leaden and dull? Ye must shine forth like the lightning, and rise up a clamouring like unto the great sea. Like a candle must ye shed your light, and even as the soft breezes of God must ye blow across the world … know ye the value of this chance, ere it slip from your hands.”
In reality, the time we give to serve the Faith matters above all else. As many aspects of society continue to break down and the surrounding community begins to disintegrate, Bahá’ís must respond by building a genuinely loving, compassionate and inclusive community.
Gradually, we can learn to purify our motives, live prayerfully, strive to understand and do only what is right, and work together in love and harmony. Our victories over ourselves must be demonstrated through how we work and consult together, both with each other and with those around us.
Above all, we must enthusiastically involve ourselves in the implementation of the Five Year Plan. We must implement the core activities, which are nothing more or less than creative opportunities to teach.
They are about opening the hearts to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s message, They are about listening intently, like ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did. They are about using Bahá’u’lláh’s Words, rather than our own, to teach.
They are about learning to be responsive to the needs of seekers. They are about gaining new skills and personal resources.
Above all, they are about making teaching the dominating passion of our lives.
So, my task and yours are crystal clear; take the next step whatever it is. Those who have completed Book 1can move onto Book 2. Those who have completed Book 7 can become tutors. And once your cluster achieves an “intensive programme of growth”, the heartbeat of each of the core activities begins to quicken.
When starting a fire, you fan a tiny spark. Then, carefully shielding it, you softly blow until it is ready to burst into flame. More time and purposeful effort is needed to bring that flame to a fire and ensure it becomes a blazing inferno. This is how the intensive programme of growth works. It starts slowly and then organically grows and intensifies.
So, let us not neglect our task. Let us not lose our chance. If we neglect our role, we have no right to call ourselves Bahá’ís.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá has added: “Soon will our handful of days, our vanishing life, be gone, and we shall pass, empty handed into the hollow that is dug for those who speak no more.” There is no need to be overwhelmed when we can: “Be confident in Bahá’u’lláh’s help. His Spirit will help you, and will feed your soul with that spiritual sustenance whereby you will be able to overcome the obstacles which seem to so hopelessly beset your path”.
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Sharing the Teachings, Cidade de Bahia, Brazil
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The Blessed Perfection, in a clear text, hath promised us in the Book: “Verily I behold you from the Horizon of Abha and will make victorious whomsoever will arise in the service of my cause with the hosts of the Supreme Concourse and the cohorts of the favored angels!” Praise be to God! that this victory and confirmation became visible and manifest and hath shone forth from the horizon of the world like unto the sun. Therefore, O ye friends of God! Show ye forth an earnest endeavor and display ye a resolute effort, so that ye may become assisted in the adoration of the Ancient Beauty and the Manifest Light; to be the cause of spreading the light of the Sun of Truth; to infuse into the dead, antiquated body of the world a new spirit; to cast in the fields of the hearts pure seeds; to arise in the service of the Cause; to speak with eloquent tongues; to become candles of guidance in the assemblage of the world; to become shining stars in the horizon of the existent being; to become merciful birds in the rose-garden of oneness; to sing the melodies of realities and significances; to spend every breath of your lives in the most great Cause; and to devote the period of your existence to the service of this conspicuous Light; so that in the end ye may be freed from loss and failure and attain to the inexhaustible treasury of the Kingdom. For the life on man is wholly subject to danger and impermanency. A person cannot put his assurance even in one moment’s continuity. Notwithstanding this, the nations of the world, deceived by the mirage of superstition, imagine themselves secure in the heavenly way.
Alas! Alas! Former communities in bygone ages entertained the same perishing thoughts; but by one of those periodical fluctuations they were all hidden under the ground and afflicted with deprivation and loss, except those souls who had become pure evanescence and had arisen with great self-abnegation in the path of God. Such souls shine forth as brilliant stars from the Horizon of the Ancient Glory, and the results which emanated from their lives in succeeding ages and cycles are the proofs of this statement. Therefore, do ye not rest, neither day nor night; seek ye not for composure; talk ye of the mystery of servitude, and seek ye the path of thralldom; so that through the promised confirmations ye may become assisted from the Kingdom of Oneness.
– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas, 566-7
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(Article reprinted from “The Australian Bahá’í, March 2008”) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community, view it in the gallery here)
Invitation to prayer, service to community, children as teachers, the effects of prayer, lessons learned
(US, MA, April)
The following is an exciting and discerning report from the first cycle of this”A” stage cluster in the northeast:
Over the last three weekends, 25 friends in the South Middlesex cluster have valiantly and joyfully arisen to share the news of Baha’u’llah throughout the cluster. Through personal teaching, home visits and door to door teaching, these friends have introduced hundreds of people in this cluster to the Faith of Baha’u’llah in the last two weeks. 145 souls have accepted the invitation to investigate the Faith and have asked for teachers to come back and visit with them to share with them more about these Glad Tidings. One eighty-two year “young” luminous soul, who we met this past weekend, became the first during this IPG to accept the message of Baha’u’llah and declare herself as His handmaiden.
* One team went out in their neighborhood in Marlborough. They found a Brazilian lady across the street from their home who invited them inside. Initially, the team invited them to prayers at their home, but finding the friend to be very receptive and interested in learning more, pulled out Anna’s presentation and began offering it. Not blinking at the sight of “a flipchart being pulled out of nowhere”, she listened with an open heart to the presentation. At page 22, her friend arrived–she had apparently been scheduled to leave for another meeting. She repeatedly begged the teaching team to remember where they were in the presentation so they could learn more… The team promised to return the next day.
* A third team went to the home of a seeker whose children are in children’s classes in Lexington. This family took them throughout the neighborhood and introduced them to all of their neighbors. The Bahá’í “Peacemaker kids-group” decided to return to the neighborhood to help some of the older residents and one disabled woman with their yards as a service. The spirit of love and community that was created was unimaginable–and people naturally began to ask more about the Faith. Three teachers returned to share Anna’s presentation with the original seekers and were met with an incredible receptivity…
* We had a children’s cluster meeting at the same time as our adult cluster meeting and the children created their own personal teaching plans for who they would like to teach. A five year old decided that he was going to share the Faith with his babysitter. Well, the next week his father learned that their nanny was in fact interested in learning more and decided to invite her to a fireside in Lexington the following weekend. She came and was incredibly attracted to the Faith. She has decided to investigate the Faith further and is coming to her first study circle tonight!
* the power of prayer – this has turned out to be the most important teaching tool we have. There are countless stories of teams that were struggling about where to go, prayed, and then immediately found the receptive soul. This is first and foremost a spiritual process. One team was not meeting success and decided to pray in the stairwell. As they were finishing, a young man approached the mailboxes in front of them wearing a big “19” on their shirt. His name was Israel and after listening to Anna’s presentation, he has become one of the seekers who is interested in learning more.
* we cannot find receptive souls if we do not prepare ourselves for the possibility and arise to teach them. The number of people we have taught in the last two weeks is far greater than the number we have taught in probably the last several years combined. During these teaching days, more and more people have arisen in this path. The unity and love they have created in their relationships is truly palpable. By the end of this expansion phase, one in six people in this cluster had taken part in this process, most people multiple times.
* we have learned that in certain neighborhoods, door to door teaching is a very effective way to share the Faith in our cluster. In Framingham, we learned that one-in-four to one-in-six people who answered their doors, depending on the neighborhood, were interested in hearing more about the Faith and readily gave their contact information–and the rest were in general incredibly polite, and often wished us well. In neighborhoods where the friends had formed some bonds of friendship already, the reception was of course far friendlier.
* we learned the great value of starting with Anna’s presentation and sticking to it, whether it is during home visits or in the door to door setting. We have built enormous capacity in this cluster to do this and have learned in the field that this is one of the most effective ways to quickly develop a truly spiritual conversation and to share the fundamental verities of the Faith. We are finding that we have a much better sense very quickly whether someone is truly interested in learning more.
* we learned the importance of inviting people to accept the Faith. Our task is to offer the Faith as if it were a “jewel to a king.” This means we have to offer it completely (and not just say, “I’ll bring the jewel back for you to see next time!”). This past weekend, we found a Catholic woman, Rose, and her mother, Viola, who received Anna’s presentation with great interest. The mother kept nodding and reading the sacred word with great wonder. At the end of the presentation, they prayed and were invited to consider in their hearts whether this was the Spirit of Truth and whether they would like to join the Baha’i Faith. Rose immediately said she would need to investigate further, but Viola, after looking at her askance a couple of times, said well, I would like to fill out one of those cards and become a Baha’i.” She then turned to her daughter and said, “Are you sure you don’t want to take one of these cards and at least hold on to it?” We assured her that it was OK for her daughter to take her time to investigate and that we would return to share more about the Faith with both of them. They both gladly accepted this invitation.
It is between each soul and Baha’u’llah when they will accept the Faith. Our job is merely to offer the invitation to the Divine Garden.
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The Baha’i House of Worship in Sydney, Australia.
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O My beloved friends! You are the bearers of the name of God in this Day…. You are the lowly, of whom God has thus spoken in His Book: “And We desire to show favour to those who were brought low in the land, and to make them spiritual leaders among men, and to make them Our heirs.” You have been called to this station; you will attain to it, only if you arise to trample beneath your feet every earthly desire, and endeavour to become those “honoured servants of His who speak not till He hath spoken, and who do His bidding”.… Heed not your weaknesses and frailty; fix your gaze upon the invincible power of the Lord, your God, the Almighty…. Arise in His name, put your trust wholly in Him, and be assured of ultimate victory.
The Báb, quoted in Century of Light, p. 53
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(Report from the the expansion phase of So. Middlesex County (MA) cluster, taken from a report from expansion phases in the northeast distributed by the Regional Baha’i Council of the Northeastern States by e-mail 19 May 2008 ) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)