The third point I’d like to emphasize is that living the Baha’i life and taking action accordingly is most vibrant when it is thoroughly integrated into other aspects of one’s college life. It’s not just that Baha’is should balance Baha’i aspects of life with supposedly non-Baha’i aspects of life. This would be to wrongly assume that there is an aspect of one’s life that isn’t, or perhaps shouldn’t be, called to account by the Baha’i Revelation. Just as Jesus is Messiah seven days a week and not just on Sunday, so too, the transforming potency of Baha’u’llah’s Word is to be brought to bear in some way on every facet of human life. This, of course, has to do with one’s approach to studying. The central activity of college life is obtaining an education and is highly praised in the Baha’i Faith. And, of course, the pursuit of a degree does not override everything else in life. But beyond one’s studies, this insight greatly affects the way a student builds and develops relationships with others during that time. If it is at cross-purposes with one’s spiritual commitments then efforts to engage with others on a spiritual level will feel all the more contrived and unnatural. Sometimes I think about what it would be like to go back and visit Earlham now that I’ve graduated and been away for so long. Sadly, I wouldn’t know anyone besides the faculty. But it also occurred to me that if I did get into conversations with students I would probably be relatively confident conversing with them about spiritual matters. In fact, I suspect I would be far more confident than I was when I was a student. And the crucial difference is that the way I would relate with those students would be entirely different than the way I related with friends and acquaintances when I was myself a student.
Looking back, I think one of the biggest obstacles to being a more effective teacher was a fear of social stigmatization. I was afraid people might look at me in a less positive light if I were to present the Baha’i Faith with more courage. This is in large part because most of the relationships I developed in college were generally unrelated to my commitments and passions as a Baha’i. This is obviously related to the fact that I was nearly half way through my second year by the time I became a Baha’i. But even if I had, I think the outcome would have been quite similar. The Baha’i Faith had little to do with the way I made and developed friendships, even after I became confirmed in the faith. And once that lifestyle was established I feared that people might feel betrayed if I started broaching spiritual matters more directly. As an aside, it never occurred to me and others that our friends and acquaintances might feel pleasantly surprised rather than betrayed in such a scenario. But however torn I and others felt by this inner conflict, there is another way. And this is to establish relationships upon a spiritual basis. By this is not meant a doctrinal or sectarian basis. Rather it means, perhaps, that interactions are based around activities and topics that uplift the human soul, spread joy, and advance the cause of justice in the world. This is further strengthened, if these relationships are built around studying the Word of God for this age and striving to put it into practice.
As I mentioned earlier, the beginning of a semester is a great time to start anew. Just as this is the case for individuals contacted during an expansion phase, it is all the truer for those confirmed collaborators stepping out to begin those relationships in the first place. This presents an exciting opportunity for incoming Baha’i students. As you probably know, Baha’i youth are increasingly at the forefront of teaching efforts before they reach an age for beginning higher education. And increased focus on the education of children and the spiritual empowerment of early adolescents will only reinforce this trend in the years to come. With growing frequency, Baha’i youth will begin their college career with the will and capacity to engage in intensive teaching efforts. Effective planning and coordination between Baha’i upperclassmen and these incoming students can help draw them to the forefront of teaching as soon as they step on campus. Not only can this greatly augment the capacity and enthusiasm of the broader effort, but it can also be a profound blessing for the incoming student. There are many ways to make new friends and get established when entering college. Some are better than others. But looking back, I can’t think of any better way of beginning college than to seek and find new souls with whom to walk on a spiritual path of service.