24 October 2012

Paid Service

The first Local Spiritual Assembly of Bekune, Cameroon (1960)
I previously wrote about the changing role of Baha'i Centers and how they are no longer central to the model of Baha'i community growth. Changing how we meet our space needs could (on paper) reduce costs by around $25k/year. That amount of money is just enough to hire someone full-time.

I also previously wrote about the problem of incumbency in Baha'i elections and how current membership status should not be considered when casting votes.

These offer a backdrop to a related topic that has the potential for significant positive change in Baha'i communities. There is a stumbling block lying ahead for communities as they grow, but the bump is avoidable.

Oregon currently has three large Baha'i communities: Eugene, Beaverton, and Portland. These have at least 100 active participants, a Baha'i Center, and a history of many decades. Each city has for the last 15+ years had a dedicated Assembly secretary who acted as a workhorse, providing upwards of 15 hours every week of their free time (aka, retirement) serving the local assembly. Within a few years of each other, all three left their posts due to retirement or other work. Filling in behind them was a cadre of working parents and others who looked on the appointment with a kind of horror realizing the magnitude and criticality of the work.


Here is roughly what happened in Portland. The new secretary looks in the Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies to see what to do. Can't resign from Assembly, but can resign from being an Officer. Ok. But Shoghi Effendi really really doesn't like that. Ok. Guidelines outline duties of Secretary. Yep, the duties are well articulated and extensive. Aha! There it is!

08 October 2012

Baha'i Centers & Growth

In November, 2007, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States wrote a letter to all local assemblies addressing the role of Baha'i Centers as physical assets of communities. The letter announced the formation of a Baha'i Center Assistance organization, with a manual of strategies for Baha'i Centers. I highly recommend reading the letter from the NSA (only 1.5 pages), but I'll share some of the highlights.

It is time to take a fresh look at the role of buildings in building Baha'i communities. Our most precious asset is the vibrancy and love reflected among Baha'is, and our intense focus is currently on large-scale growth. Physical assets and funds must be aligned in support of these goals, and Local Spiritual Assemblies are responsible for maintaining focus.

Assemblies should also maintain a realistic appraisal of the cost, time, efforts involved in purchasing, renovating, and maintaining a Baha'i Center. Building ownership is not an investment, since the day-to-day operating costs will easily swamp any perceived long-term savings. Fundraising, renovations, and "prolonged debates about location, design, and usage," can be detrimental and distract from core activities and growth.

Baha'i community life is moving away from the model of a large area commuting to a central location. Instead, Baha'is are increasingly promoting decentralized activities at the grass roots that serve a much larger population. Considering this shift, Assemblies interested in purchasing or renovating should "give careful consideration to the question of whether such action would support or detract" from the goals of the current Plan of the Universal House of Justice. In most situations, Assemblies should use personal homes and daily rentals for their needs. If a more permanent fixture is desired, a long-term lease of a facility would be appropriate.

05 July 2012

Carmel Baha'i School

Last week I spent 7 days working alongside 30 other staff to facilitate a Baha'i camp for over 70 youth. There is much to share. I attended the first Carmel session ever in 1995 as an awkward 13 year old and I've only missed two or three years since, transitioning along the way from a camper to a counselor to an organizer. It was this camp, plus a few other annual events, that brought me out of my spiritual lethargy. They inspired me to actually sit down and read a Baha'i book just before my 17th birthday and get involved throughout the year with other Baha'i youth.

For those who don't know, the Baha'i camps in Oregon have always been pretty advanced compared to the rest of the country. Just a few years ago, there were four in the state (now three) plus another two on the Washington side not far from Portland. Most states have only one or two, if any. Going back even further, there was an old camp called "Lobstock" in Lobster Valley (you can tell some hippies were involved in naming that one!) that galvanized dozens of youth into direct travel teaching projects around the state. There were also other smaller intermittent youth gatherings. Back in the 1980s when only a small section of the public knew of the Faith, these periodic gatherings provided a dose of medicine to isolated believers who were starved for the fellowship of other Baha'is. Annual gatherings became the focal point for growth over a large area, providing a Baha'i education and facilitating social connections between hundreds of people.

But that was the eighties. Around the year 2000 things started to change in the worldwide Baha'i community. In the United States, public recognition of the Faith grew dramatically, so Baha'is were no longer worried about people thinking they're in a weird cult. The Baha'i community grew dramatically, maybe even doubling in some towns and cities. The Universal House of Justice announced the new administrative structures of the Regional Council and the Cluster, providing groupings of states or counties with corresponding institutions to manage growth. They also announced as far back as the early nineties the formation of Training Institutes that would provide systematic growth instead of the haphazard stumbling along that is characterized by spontaneous bursts of energy.

06 June 2012

The Future of Power

Having worked in the power industry for six years after completing a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, I have noticed a few common misconceptions about power generation. I also live in one of the more progressive and environmentally conscious cities in America, and see a lot of misdirected energies when it comes to saving the world. Here, I'll try to describe how to fix some of the long-term problems facing the planet.

First let's talk about "the grid". My company is the grid. We control the vast majority of high voltage transmssion lines and substations across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and western Montana. Power flows dynamically, so energy goes in at many different points on the grid, and energy comes out at many different points. At any given point, you can measure the flow of energy, but all the electrons are mixed together. I think a good comparison is a lake. You have one person dumping a galon of water into the lake and getting paid by someone pulling a gallon out. Technically they didn't pay for the exact same water that went in.

This is important because I frequently see utilities advertising a "green" option where you can pay an extra $6/month and your electricity will come from renewable energy. That is almost a lie. What's really happening is you are making a donation of $6 that is then earmarked for the purchase, construction or maintenance of renewable energy. The electricity you get is exactly the same as you did before.

24 May 2012

Homosexuality again, thanks to Obama

I don't want to look like all I blog about is homosexuality, or that it is the most important thing to discuss. But, Obama making comments on gay marriage has generated a media storm and a corresponding social discourse, so I have some thoughts.

Over the years, wading through all the talk about homosexuality, I've come up with an analogous trait for comparison on issues. Because society is so polarized on gay marriage, it's hard to avoid being labeled as backwards if you do anything short of promoting homosexuality. So when issues come up I compare homosexuality with obesity. That's right, I said it. You see, being overweight isn't a politicized issue, so it allows for reasonable thoughts and conclusions. It is similar in several respects: both can appear from a predisposition, both are influenced by social conditioning, both are socially stigmatized, and both are undesirable. If you're offended by the comparison, you'll have to wait until the end, but for now just bear with me and assume that homosexuality is an undesirable trait of comparable value. I'll show you how this works by comparing all the major controversial issues going on.

02 May 2012

Forgotten People in Debates over Homosexuality

I'm copying below a post from Jim that he asked to share here. ~Bryan

Jim Habegger

Here are some concerns I might share with some people, on both sides of the homosexuality debates.
1. Concerns about people who are struggling with homosexuality being misused by others, with harmful consequences to them, turning them away from their own hearts, or turning them away from God.
2. Concerns about the teachings of the Faith being compromised and/or misrepresented to others, about God and his laws, or about fellowship and diversity.
3. Concerns about prejudice against gays in the Baha'i Community, and its consequences.

Those are all anxious concerns of mine, which I have been actively addressing for more than ten years, and I would love to exchange ideas and experiences with anyone who is trying to do anything about them besides debating about them.

However, my most pressing concern now, in relation to homosexuality, is possible harmful effects of debates about homosexuality, on Baha'is who see themselves as homosexual or possibly homosexual, and who take very seriously everything that Shoghi Effendi and the House of Justice have said about homosexuality. I think it might mean a lot to them, to see more Baha'is on line who do not depreciate same-sex love, or the House of Justice, either one; and who are not maligning or scolding anyone. I'm hoping that there are a lot more of those people out there than I have ever seen or heard of.

I can see very good reasons for them not to come out on line. They might have much better things to do off line. They might not see any potential on line to do anyone any good. They might be afraid of failing to resist temptations to engage in acrimonious debate, or to reflect on the character of others. They might be afraid of the arrows that will come flying from all directions. They might, in humility or uncertainty, hesitate to put themselves on display.

I think that being seen as people who do not depreciate same-sex love, who do not depreciate the House of Justice, and who are not maligning or scolding anyone, does not require any certainty or arrogance about our own views, or even to debate about them at all. It might not even require discussing our own views. It might not require a lot of time on line, either. Just a post here and there, that allows people to see that we don't depreciate same-sex love, that we don't depreciate the House of Justice, and that if ever we malign or scold anyone, we recognize it as wrong and take immediate and decisive steps to rectify it and keep it from happening again.

I don't know what to say about the possible futility of such efforts, or the arrows flying at us from all directions, other than to weigh those against the possibility of offering some hope and cheer to someone who thinks that God despises her, possibly without ever knowing that you have done so.

31 March 2012


Truly monumental leaps in technology have dotted the pages of history. On 24 May 1844, Samuel Morse sent the words, "What hath God wrought" in electrical pulses over 61 kilometers of copper wire. On 10 Mar 1876, Alexander Graham Bell carried his own voice over the first telephone and said to his assistant, "Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you." And he did. On 13 May 1897, Guglielmo Marconi transmitted electromagnetic pulses across the Bristol Channel to send the message, "Are you ready?" By 1970, a series of technology breakthroughs allowed Corning Glass Works to run high-speed data over a glass fiber. The optical transport allowed rates tens of thousands of times faster than any electrical wire, thus allowing the dramatic rise in data communications that accompanied the age of the internet.

Today these remain the primary mediums for communicating information. A network of fiber optics and radio links overlays the entire earth, distributing instant voice and data to billions of people. This month a new type of communication was successfully tested, and it has the potential to be as transformative as anything seen in the last 175 years.

17 March 2012

The Future of Alcohol

Alcohol is almost universally acceptable in Western culture, so people investigating the Baha'i Faith are often turned off by the prohibition of alcohol for Baha'is. It also becomes a challenge that young Baha'is have to struggle with as almost all their friends begin social drinking (usually by age 15).

There is a gap in the perceived morality of alcohol, with society believing that moderate drinking is acceptable, healthy, and part of normal life. It should be simple to address the issue of alcohol and determine whether Baha'i teachings are correct to prohibit it. Having a standard that is at variance with society does not discourage Baha'is, because the purpose of religion is to prescribe remedies to the problems that are eating away at society, and the teachings of religion are always at variance with the desires of society (at the time of revelation). If it were otherwise, what good would religion be? It would simply confirm what is commonly understood and not provide any improvement.

If the Baha'i approach is moral, meaning that alcohol is bad for the individual and society, then given enough time there will be a shift away from general acceptance and toward general intolerance. I have an idea about how this will work, and what people can do to move the process forward without being fanatical about it.

First, it is important to review why alcohol is bad (I'll come back to the good).

23 February 2012

Demand a UN-Supervised Referendum in Syria

Dear Friends of the effort to build Earth Community,

Please, let us start today to send a message of care and support to the people of Syria.  Let us work through our government, our elected officials, our religious organizations, and through civic groups such as Citizens for Global Solutions, http://www.globalsolutions.org, and the United Nations Association USA, http://www.una-usa.org, to call for a UN-supervised referendum  in Syria so that the people of Syria can determine their own future democratically and non-violently, as is their universal human right. 
What’s at Stake? 
The relative failure up to now of the International Community, through the UN system or otherwise, to come to the effective aid and rescue of the Syrian people in their struggle for democratic methods of self-government is a travesty and a tragedy.  By some estimates, over 7000 pro-democracy protesters have been killed by Syrian governments forces.  At stake is the future of Syria and, more broadly, of the Arab human rights revolution.

16 January 2012

Individualism, Ego, and Breaking the Ice

I'm currently training two groups of animators in my cluster. It's an inspiring process, as always. Ruhi Book 5 continually encourages me to look at my surroundings with greater wisdom, compassion, and discernment. Recently I have been reflecting a great deal on society's emphasis on self-esteem, and how it affects me as an animator, teacher, and tutor.

The influence begins on the first day: "Go around the circle and say your name, your age, and your ... favorite vegetable."

This is an icebreaker. It's supposed to help us get to know one another. But is this really a message worth sending? "I want to know about your personality, your individuality, your uniqueness. I want everyone here to know how special you are, and see where they stand in relation to you."

How much can we learn about a creation of God from its career ambitions or favorite school subject? How does this knowledge help the group to serve?
"Today the confirmations of the Kingdom of Abha are with those who renounce themselves, forget their own opinions, cast aside personalities and are thinking of the welfare of others.... Whosoever is occupied with himself is wandering in the desert of heedlessness and regret. The 'Master Key' to self-mastery is self- forgetting. The road to the palace of life is through the path of renunciation."

('Abdu'l-Bahá: star of the West, Vol. XVII, p. 348)

Why not lay this habitual focus on the self aside? Why not:

  • What motivates you to walk this path of service?
  • What does it mean to be noble in the world today?
  • Who is a hero of yours? What are three qualities in this person that you most admire? How can these qualities be used in your path of service?
  • If you could transform this into a perfect neighborhood, what would it be like?

I've used these with high school students who are training to be animators. They were difficult questions, even for me. But they provided an atmosphere of spiritual connection, of mutual respect, and critical thought. They gave us insight into one another's values, communication styles, and life experiences, without emphasizing the self. They also alluded to the habit of reflection that must become a regular habit of any path of service.

For children:

  • What is something kind you've seen someone else do this week?
  • What does it feel like when you pray?
  • What is one way the world would be different if everyone were loving?

It takes more time to talk like this. More time to plan, more time to reflect silently, more time to speak, and more time to respond. But like many spiritual processes, it's an investment that could certainly bear fruit.