Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ridvan 2009

Eric Stetson, former Baha'i and frequent commentator on things Baha'i has written a commentary on the Ridvan 2009 message of the Universal House of Justice on his blog-- which I have responded in a short message, herewith shared with the readers of this blog:

"We had a short correspondence some months ago, and I did not respond to your last email, which proposed that Bahá’ís work alongside others who believe in the same ideals to effect positive change in the world. Inasmuch as you were proposing at the time that another "organization" be formed of these interfaith collaborators, and I had misgivings about that, I waited to see if I would come to a constructive engagement with your proposal.
Your commentary on the Ridvan 2009 message of the Universal House of Justice brings me back to your earlier proposal and invites comment.

"As you will no doubt recall from your membership in the Bahá’í community, not all enrolled Bahá’ís (that is, formal members of the community) are involved in the Plans that are issued periodically by the Universal House of Justice and elaborated by the National Spiritual Assemblies, the Regional Bahá’í Councils and Local Spiritual Assemblies. The Bahá’í institutions are well aware of this fact, and one of their aims has been to increase what they call the active core of the community, and it is for this purpose that the study circles, the training institutes, and in particular the Ruhi process have been established globally and with such focused determination. Shoghi Effendi articulated this objective as the carrying out of the Lesser Plan of God, which is the unique responsibility (and privilege) of enrolled Bahá’ís, while the execution of the Greater Plan of God is open to everyone on the planet. Every religious community has an inner as well as an outer dimension…it is not possible for any community to exist without investing in its own development. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a considerable growth in numbers of Bahá’ís throughout the world, and especially in the developing countries and among indigenous peoples. This was deliberate, hoped for and intended, because the early efforts at mass teaching in Africa and elsewhere under the direction of the Hands of the Cause and with the approval of the Guardian had achieved particular success amongst this population.

"This surge in growth was followed by the Iranian Revolution and a tremendously intensified attack on the Faith in the land of its conception. Iranian Bahá’ís fled their homes in considerable numbers, and settled all over the planet. Many of them were shell-shocked, profoundly wounded by this experience. At the same time, we found ourselves unable to consolidate the large numbers of newly enrolled believers. The mood of the societies in which we lived had changed from the fermentation of the “counterculture” and we turned inward, and were less sure of ourselves, of our goals and our methods than previously. For thirty years or more Bahá’ís have been articulating a profound and enduring dissatisfaction with the status quo in the Bahá’í teachings, the Bahá’í community and the Bahá’í institutions. While Bahá’í intellectuals have been particularly vocal in expressing their concerns, if you have talked with those who do not identify themselves as intellectuals you will have heard many of the same issues brought up and wrestled with.

"The Universal House of Justice, aware of all of these trends, responded to them by calling for Bahá’ís to engage in social and economic development projects, in interfaith dialogue, and when there was little response from the Bahá’í community to either of those projects, it called for the change of Bahá’í culture, from a congregational model to a perpetual learning model. Integral to the implementation of that model was to motivate large numbers of Bahá’ís worldwide to experience collective learning, in a manner that would transform the way they actually lived. The process that was ultimately chosen effect the adoption of this new model is the Ruhi sequence of trainings, to which were appended and with which were integrated the core activities including classes for children, junior youth and youth, and devotional gatherings. As the Universal House of Justice has frequently reiterated, the purpose of cultivating this new culture of learning was to prepare Bahá’ís for the challenges of the present hour, not just as individuals, but as a community. This cultural shift was meant to bring about a renaissance in the vitality and growth of the Faith, not in one area of the world or among one population (such as the indigenous in Latin America or in India), but throughout the planet; not led by North Americans and Persians (as had been the case in previous waves of growth) but by each community in consultation amongst its own members.

"It is much too early to judge the effectiveness of this bold and determined initiative. But I would expect that you, as a former Bahá’í and a well-wisher of the Bahá’í community would want to encourage Bahá’ís to avail themselves of this process of change and would give it your support.While the active core of the Bahá’í community has been growing and has been undergoing this change of culture, there are many enrolled Bahá’ís who have continued to act out their convictions in other ways, whether as unique individuals or in groups of varying sizes and configurations. Some of them are intensively engaged in the Greater Plan of God, that is, in translating the Bahá’í teachings into action, as educators, as healers, as thinkers, as organizers, as artists, as scientists. Many are doing so as friends, as parents, as neighbors, as workmates and schoolmates. And some people manage to juggle service to both the Lesser and Greater Plans of God, and maintain their health, equanimity and good will. Not surprisingly, there is no clearing house for information about the vast range of attempts by individual Bahá’ís to live according to their convictions. We usually can track down what we need to know, because birds of a feather flock together.

"If you are frustrated with the pace of change, or some of the particular attributes of the Lesser Plan all I can say is “join the club”. Bahá’u’lláh was displeased with the lack of response of humanity to His teachings, and that was over a century ago. Jesus expressed the same displeasure over two millennia ago. We human beings are a piece of work. There are a lot of Bahá’ís who share your frustration…and hopefully most of us are learning to change that frustration into action, to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of our fellows and move forward."