Monday, June 16, 2008

a new stage in social evolution

My dear friend Alicia and I went to Green Acre Baha'i School in Eliot Maine to attend the "Vision of Race Unity" program a couple of weekends ago. It was my very first trip to this historic landmark in the Baha'i world.

Negin Toosi and Lev Rickards, a powerful pair, presented a stimulating morning session that not only got us thinking about the oneness of humankind but also the power of harmonizing perspectives from science and sacred scripture.

Negin presented a review of the literature on social psychology of racism and racial bias. We are, one and all, riddled through with bias and, given this fact, one of the most important spiritual tasks in this day and age is becoming aware of this problem within ourselves and then setting to work on eradicating all forms of prejudice from our hearts. There can be no progress if we are not even willing to recognize that we have a problem.

Following the presentation of the scientific evidence by Negin, Lev lead us through a discussion of excerpts from the Baha'i Writings. Here are a couple that I found so fresh...

"In sum, the differences in objects have now been made plain. Thus when the wayfarer gazeth only upon the place of appearance -- that is, when he seeth only the many-colored globes -- he beholdeth yellow and red and white; hence it is that conflict hath prevailed among the creatures, and a darksome dust from limited souls hath hid the world. And some do gaze upon the effulgence of the light; and some have drunk of the wine of oneness and these see nothing but the sun itself."
(Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 20)

"It is always important to remember that with the coming of Baha'u'llah the human race as a whole was summoned to recognition of its oneness, and this has launched it on a wholly new stage in its spiritual and social evolution."
(The Universal House of Justice, 3 June 2007)

I was privileged to receive a personal invitation to the event from one of the blog writers I admire most--Phillipe Copeland of Baha'i Thought fame. I am so glad that I took him up on it! How fun when friendships in virtual reality can facilitate face-to-face friendships and interactions. In the afternoon Phillipe moderated a discussion led by some distinguished panelists including a leader in the New Hampshire NAACP and a provost from the University of New Hampshire. The discussion was heartfelt and painful at times but hopefully also productive of important thought and partiuclarly to the extent that it awakened within us an awareness of the severity of the issues and effects of racism.

This past weekend I was privileged once again with an astonishing opportunity. I attended a meeting/conference with, in my estimation, one of the contemporary world's greatest visionaries, Dr. Farzam Arbab. Dr Arbab is a member of the Universal House of Justice, the governing institution of the Baha'i world community. He has also worked tirelessly for much of his life in the development and design of a program of education that aims to achieve the spiritual empowerment of humanity starting at the grass roots level. Spiritual empowerment of individuals is to translate into action for community empowerment and regeneration. The program is global in scope and thus it aims to eventually bring about global regeneration--and all starting from the transformation of the individuals that inhabit the villages and neighborhoods of the world. The Ruhi materials and method have spread from the villages of Columbia to every corner of the planet and have become the main mode through which the Baha'i world community engages in learning and community development--people coming together to interact with the Sacred Word and with each other, each sharing the deepest wisdoms from her or his heart with others and reflecting on how to translate spiritual principles into daily actions to bring about societal transformation. The vastness and splendor of this project is something I am trying to fully come to terms with. It leaves me in awe really. A grand project for the civilizing of the planet to bring love and justice into our midst.

I bring this up in the context of the work in achieving racial unity because Dr. Arbab placed great emphasis on the task of overcoming prejudice. He lead us in pondering how we go about overcoming our prejudices and according to my understanding discouraged us from spending too much time talking about the problem. What we really need to do is to act. How do we act? We go out and engage with people directly who are outside our common social circle. Baha'is are doing this around the world. They are standing up and going out to meet humanity and have conversations with their fellow humans about the spiritual principles for the age that are brought by Baha'u'llah. They are engaging in prayer and study with people from all faiths and racial backgrounds in purposeful projects that bring about close spiritual bonds between people. As they do this they are "drawn further and further into the life of the society around [them] and will be challenged to exend the process of systematic learning in which [they] are engaged to encompass a growing range of human endeavors." Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2008.

He also stressed the key role of the quality of humility. We are ALL... EVERY member of humanity...learning together about how to go about building a new world civilization. There is no sense in which some of us from "privileged" backgrounds are to imagine we can design programs of development which we can impose upon those who are "underprivileged". We all have indispensable roles to play in the regeneration of each other and of the whole planet. As we walk the path of spiritual transformation together processes of social action emerge organically and are thus intimately connected with local needs and issues.


Blogger WebSage said...

Wow, you had a full week. What an interesting program. I recently attended a Baha'i talk on overcoming racism as institutionalized prejudice. The talk provided a lot of food for thought and I blogged about it.

I do have a question: your post implies that Dr. Arbab was involved in the Ruhi Institute, I assume as more than a participant. I would love to hear more about it.

Best wishes,

4:26 PM, June 18, 2008  

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