20 December 2010

Taking Ownership: Questions for Reflection

What does it mean to take ownership of one's own spiritual education and community?

We bandy the phrase about a lot, but does taking ownership just mean participating in consultation, feeling a part of community, and being involved in the practices?

If I feel that a community or a process is my own, and if I truly value it, how do I show this?

Or another question, not unrelated:

What would it look like if every study circle participant, every devotional gathering participant, every animator, teacher, junior youth, and child involved in any of the core activities in a cluster, whether Baha'i or not, participated in intensive campaigns to extend these activities to others?

Why does our outward-looking orientation stop at the cluster reflection door?

Let's think about what kind of community we're raising up.  One that can catch the people who fall into it?  Or one that has learned to grow all on its own?

13 December 2010

The Search for a Modern Theology

A while back I wrote "A Baha'i's Interpretation of Original Sin", which sought to challenge the dominant Christian understanding of "original sin" using passages from the bible paired with illumination from the Baha'i writings. Andrew Sprung also challenges "original sin", not by trying to reinterpret biblical scripture, but philosophically, based on modern knowledge of the human condition. He regards it "as a really pernicious myth that fundamentally miscasts the human condition". He starts by describing an internal dialogue he has with C.S. Lewis:

12 December 2010

Blogging, Discourse, and Ruhi Book 2

I love blogs.  I love the democratic explosion of writing on the internet. It has introduced me to so many great thinkers and writers and ideas that have enriched my life.  Clearly, I've got a penchant for Baha'i blogs as well.  There are a few I follow religiously (ha!), several more that I drop in on occasionally, and others that I only know from links to specific articles that have been passed on to me by friends. I enjoy contributing to Baha'i Coherence, and feel comfortable here despite the fact that my background is considerably less academic than those of many of my co-creators. I feel like this blog is a wonderful forum for sharing our early experiments in contributing to the discourses of society.

07 December 2010

the Site of Thinking

This short opinion piece in the New York Times outlines a compelling approach for practicing philosophy in our time. In it, the author describes what he refers to as field philosophy;

“Getting out into the field” means leaving the book-lined study to work with scientists, engineers and decision makers on specific social challenges. Rather than going into the public square in order to collect data for understanding traditional philosophic problems like the old chestnut of “free will,” as experimental philosophers do, field philosophers start out in the world. Rather than seeking to identify general philosophic principles, they begin with the problems of non-philosophers, drawing out specific, underappreciated, philosophic dimensions of societal problems...Field philosophy, then, moves in a different direction than either traditional applied philosophy or the new experimental philosophy. Whereas these approaches are top-down in orientation, beginning in theory and hoping to apply a theoretical construct to a problem, field philosophy is bottom-up, beginning with the needs of stakeholders and drawing out philosophical insights after the work is completed.

I think this helps highlight where the Bahá’í world has been moving in recent years. Gone are the days when Bahá’í "scholars" could content themselves with having an encyclopedic knowledge of Bahá’í teachings and history without extensive engagement with the wider society. And those serving actively in the field are discouraged from limiting themselves to simplistic activities, such as handing out pamphlets or walking in a parade. Service now requires a great deal more thought and effort. And intellectual pursuits inspired by the Baha'i faith are becoming more and more mobile and “embedded” in patterns of community action.

The junior youth spiritual empowerment program is perhaps the best example of this. A successful junior youth group is one that stimulates on-going dialogue among early adolescents around topics such as justice, beauty, love, education, prosperity, and others— and then engages them in service and artistic projects aimed at transforming society. Between the junior youth program and field philosophy we see two complementary movements. One is of philosophy extending its efforts to embrace the community. The other is of service extending its efforts to embrace philosophy.

Taken together, and each acting from its own pole, we see an enactment in practice of what philosophers have been talking about since at least Nietzsche—the systematic de-emphasis of a whole series of false dichotomies: mind/body, thinking/acting, theoretical/practical and others.

04 December 2010

Statistics and Spirit

Earlier in the Five Year Plan, I was obsessed with statistics.  Cluster Growth Reports?  I devoured them like candy.  They fed my desire to know exactly what was happening so that I could determine next steps.

Then something shifted.  My teaching team's efforts started to bear fruit.  We grew in numbers, but more than that, we grew in spirit.  And ironically enough, now that our statistics show the beginnings of real growth in this neighborhood, I find I need them less.  I'm happier to know how one junior youth is feeling safe enough to express interest in new subjects, or that a parent attended children's classes for the first time.  I'm focused on the confidence our new teachers have begun to show, and the spiritually-based friendships now developing between former strangers.

We're expanding the number of our classes, home visits, and study circles, but what we're witnessing is a steady process of transformation.  I'm still recording the numbers, but it's the stories that have captured my heart.

03 December 2010

How Many Does It Take?

How many people does it take to raise up a junior youth group?

One who is good at recruiting young people.
One who is good at explaining the program to adults.
One who is good at coming up with creative activities.
One who is good at facilitating discussion.
One who is good at playing sports.
One who is good at engaging the majority of the group.
One who is good at engaging the one who doesn't want to participate.
One who builds strong friendships with the youth.
One who builds strong friendships with parents and guardians.
One who lives in the neighborhood.
One who knows community resources well.
One who can offer rides.
One who can offer materials.
One who can offer prayers.
One who can document the learning and growth that takes place.
One who regularly visits the homes of the participants.
One who reaches out to visit the homes of the participants' neighbors.
One who teaches a class for the littler brothers and sisters.
One who facilitates a study circle for older family members.
One who can fill in during illness or travel.
One who can train more animators to take over one day.

These might be embodied in one or two individuals, or an entire cluster newly on the rise. But before all these, you need one who has the vision of something transformative and beautiful. At the very least, let that one be you.

01 December 2010

Civil Society, Technology, and Development

Shanta Devarajan, the World Bank chief economist for Africa, has written a short summary on the post-WW2 history of development thinking/activity. He goes through the first attempt to correct market failures through government services and intervention ("the big push"), and then the second attempt to correct for government failures, which include rent seeking, lack of accountability, and the accumulation of massive debt, resulting in the much derided "structural adjustments" imposed by the IMF and others ("The Washington Consensus"). He advocates a progression to "Development 3.0", which emphasizes the role that civil society* and information technologies can play in empowering people to hold their government accountable. Accountable how? He outlines two areas where the government has been deficient: