Archives for posts with tag: faith

What does it mean to be an animator-

  • Be a true friend to those who are younger. Junior youth, or those who are between the ages of 11 and 14, are at an age where they rely on their friends. When they experience friendship that isn’t rooted in superficial interests or appearances, they thrive.
  • Provide an example of positive growth. Since you are just a bit older than the junior youth–not so old that they can’t relate to you, but not quite so young as to be a peer–they will look to you to see what kind of person they could become in just a few years.
  • See potential in all its forms. Society offers us a vision of junior youth that isn’t necessarily accurate. Looking at adolescents and seeing their capacity for kindness, for creativity, and for service to others helps them to see themselves not as a problem to be fixed, but as protagonists and agents of change.
  • Unite youth, families, an communities. A junior youth group doesn’t only affect participants, it draws in everyone around it. Through service, visits, and consultation, the presence of a strong junior youth program can actually transform the surrounding culture.

Interested in becoming a junior youth animator? Learn more about the training institute or contact the Baha’i community nearest you.

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walking the path

A few reflections on walking a path of service, a theme that ran through the 10 day intensive youth training campaign I helped facilitate over the last two weeks.

It’s a path, not a road. It is built by the people who walk it. It is being built by you, now, for as long as you walk it, until you stand still. And even then it is shaped by your stillness, your feet sinking into the mud and leaving the imprint of where you stopped to catch your breath and look forward and behind.

But it’s still a path. It’s not only for you. Hiding the way so that you can show how singularly unique you are does not make you a pioneer, it makes you an egotist. The one less travelled by may very well be the better choice, but it is because of the challenge of the journey and the gorgeous views from the top of the mountain, not simply by virtue of being less walked.

Some walk at different paces. Smile and accommodate them. Step to the side for the quick ones, excuse yourself to the slow ones. Touch hands and walk alongside someone for a while, then separate when your legs beg you to stretch them out and give them a really good run.

It’s not criminal to step off the path, but it will certainly expend more energy and slow you down. Sometimes that’s okay. Sometimes it’s not. How important is the direction you’re headed?

When in doubt, move forward. Quit assembling maps and equipment and go. Leave your shoes if you can’t find them. There is someone else on the path who will help you if you need it. But they’re not waiting for you. Walk out and let your feet find a place they can move as they were meant to, with joy, one in front of the other.

You’re not the first person to set out on a life of service. But your service matters just the same.

photo credit: Skinnyde via photopin cc

I don’t usually talk much about my professional life here, because I have another blog for that. But there are times when certain aspects of my career push me into musings that are a bit too rambling and philosophical for that setting. This is one of them.

There’s a bit of a schism in the massage therapy profession. Really, in the complementary care community as a whole, but what I know best is the massage world. It has different names: materialists vs. spiritualists. Science vs. Woo. Whatever. And I find myself oddly placed in it.

On one hand, I’m solidly on the science side. My massage education emphasized basic science education. Our instructors had PhDs in Anatomy. I do not perform energy work or other techniques for which there is no evidence. I’m not a “healer.” I don’t “detoxify” my clients. My bosses have been physicians and physical therapists, not yoga teachers or New Age gurus.

But I am also a person of deep religious convictions. I pray daily. I believe in God, and an afterlife, and nonphysical reality. So why don’t I incorporate these things into my work? Is it not hypocritical of me to compartmentalize my life and seal off a huge part of me daily experience from my faith? Am I wronging my clients by failing to offer them all of the tools for health and wellbeing at my disposal? Is it dishonesty to offer clients exclusively materialist assistance when I am not myself a materialist by belief?

I don’t believe so.

In fact, I don’t believe that I have removed my faith from my practice. Do I pray for my clients? Of course I do. In private. Just as I pray for all the people I care about. I choose to work in a way that exemplifies the teachings of my faith: with compassion, trustworthiness, and a profound sense of gratitude. Another tenet of my faith is truthfulness, which is why I cannot claim to offer spirit-based healing. I cannot in good conscience claim to understand or control such things. Accepting payment for them would be akin to accepting money for making the weather pleasant, or for a meteor shower. It isn’t right.

Beautiful, isn't it? That'll be $20.

Basic lovely weather package is $50, but only $10 extra gets you blooming flowers too.

It’s easy to get caught up in the sense of control science offers us. If I let the ball go, I can make it fall to the ground! If I angle this glass correctly, I can bend light! If I split an atom, I can create an explosion! Truly, it’s a lot of fun. Babies adore it. So do adults. We’re wired to control things like this in order to survive.

But if you believe in the Divine, you can’t approach it with a microscope or telescope. Revelation in one form or another might give you guidelines for how all this spiritual stuff works, but the thing about being the creation is that you don’t get to order the Creator around. Making up rules about what God must or must not do based on your personal desires is ridiculous. It’s effing the ineffable. And it makes you look foolish not only to people of science, but people of faith.

I’m not saying there are no services that faith can offer to others. I would be an awful hypocrite if I thought that. Absolutely pray for people. Lay your hands on them if that’s your thing. Anoint them with oils or chant or draw symbols on their skin or just hold them in your heart and love them. There’s nothing wrong with seeking spiritual aid on a suffering person’s behalf. But don’t take money for it. That’s like being baptized in a church and then next week receiving a water bill. 

Do I think people have things to gain spiritually from massage therapy? Sure. Being cared for with respect and compassion by another human being touches far more than skin and muscle. But it’s not my place to tell my clients that, and it’s not my job to try and make it happen. The ineffable doesn’t need my chatter to do its work. I wouldn’t believe in it otherwise.

photo credit: code poet via photopin cc

This is a bit older. I wrote it in 2008 while living in Malawi (and clearly reading too much Rumi), but the feeling is as fresh now as it ever was then. Maybe more.

The Second Way

There is a way
to look at the crisis,
and not cry. To see injustice,
famine, the virus of the blood, and yet stand
straight enough to speak
is difficult, but not impossible: forget your glasses.
Bring instead your weak
myopia, your astigmatic haze,
dulling the vistas of hopelessness until
there is only your nose and one pot of maize,
one school fee, one welcome song, one child
wailing in your arms. This way,
survive, and serve again.

There is only one way
to look at the crisis,
and not cry.

But if you would cry, get up!
Walk out of that body, prostrated
and voiceless in its shame. Baptize
yourself in its tears and turn your back.
When you see the fires of impossible hope,
jump in! Blaze. Immolate fear in the coals
of your joy. This is the second way.
Then watch: these sparks,
they are heating a nation,
they are lighting the world.

letter h

My father tells his students that “hope is a four-letter word.” He means this in the sense that when hope replaces action, it’s useless. “Hoping” that your grades, your job, your relationships, or your skills will improve doesn’t accomplish much of anything.

On the other hand, hope is a necessary prerequisite for action. Why work hard to improve when the situation is hopeless? You can always use a different motivator in place of hope, but as people who work in dead-end jobs with only a paycheck to motivate them show, there’s a difference in quality.

If you believe that no child is incorrigible, then there’s hope.

If you believe that the state of the world reflects a distortion of the human spirit and not its essential nature, then there’s hope.

If you believe in … anything, at all. People. Nature. God. Change. Any brand of goodness, really, take your pick. If you believe that there is or can be a force for good, from whatever source, then there’s hope.

Just be sure to take the next step. Action, practice, movement, service: none of these are four letter words, so don’t hesitate to make them your own.

photo credit: chrisinplymouth via photopin cc

letter f

Every one of us has a family, whether we like it or not.

Engaging families can be a difficult task for an animator of junior youth groups. On the one hand are the overcommitted, overscheduled families. They can be so busy with softball games and viola lessons and the PTA that the idea of taking an interest in even one more of their child’s activities can seem exhausting. They’ll often show up when a group first begins to make sure it’s legit, but then be happy for a couple of hours of solitude each week, during which they can leave their child with you and run a few errands, or sit down with a book for a change.

At the other extreme are disengaged parents. Due to stress or a heavy workload or simply disinterest, they don’t take any particular interest in their children’s extracurricular activities. Unless you go out of your way to get to know these families, you might never meet them at all.

Of course, there are other reasons why family engagement can be tricky, like language barriers or lack of mobility. But these seem to be much more easily overcome.

Two things I’ve learned about family engagement:

  1. Every parent loves to hear good things about their child. Of course, it’s important that the praise be true. That’s why it’s so important to take notes and keep track of the progress you see. 
  2. Degree of engagement is less important than consistency of engagement. The parent that can commit to having one conversation over dinner about the group’s topic every week ends up doing more good for the group than the parent that organizes an entire service project once.

Just like their children, most parents are happy to be listened to. Start there. Work forward. And don’t give up.

photo credit: chrisinplymouth via photopin cc

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Image from Make Peace, Build Community

Sometimes, it’s hard to reach out. You feel like you have no good excuse to ask someone to join you for tea or service or prayers.

But if you ever needed an excuse to ask, you’ve got it now.

  • Pray for healing after the hurricane.
  • Pray for love and unity to prevail during (and following) the election season.
  • Pray for peace in an unstable world.
  • Pray for students who are preparing for midterm exams.
  • Pray for the souls of those who’ve left us this year.
  • Pray in thanksgiving for all that we have.

It’s not a gimmick. It’s not a “theme.” (God, I can’t stand gathering with themes.) It’s a need.

Prayer engenders clarity, compassion, and a spirit of sacrifice. And from these things a path of service emerges from the fog.

So if you’re a person who prays, find an excuse to pray with others this week or this month. Then take those prayers, walk out your door, and work to make them come true.

“Therefore strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers. Turn towards God, and seek always to do that which is right and noble. Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute!”

So, Baha’i Publishing found out I’m a blogger, and sent me a copy of Abdu’l-Baha in America, by Robert Stockman. Of course, I’m not obligated to say nice things about it, but it’s definitely pertinent to what’s going on in the Baha’i community at the moment, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts.

I’m not in a big Baha’i history phase right now. When I was living in Malawi, I went through about a year when I read the biographies of as many of the Hands of the Cause as I could get my hands on, but lately not so much. I’m significantly more likely to pick up a timely analysis of what’s happening in the world now, or activities that I’m engaged in: community development, or the environment, or education, say. But with the centenary of Abdu’l-Baha’s visit on my mind, I sat down to read Abdu’l-Baha in America anyway. I’m glad I did.

I was given The Promulgation of Universal Peace (a collection of Abdu’l-Baha’s public talks in the United States and Canada) as a graduation gift when I was 18, and started reading it straight through. I stopped about halfway through, because I found the themes to be repetitive. Abdu’l-Baha in America gave me the context I needed to appreciate this work. Each talk was given to a specific group of people, with a specific purpose. Where an everyday reader sees similarities between talks, a historian notices the differences between them. I’d never go through the trouble of tracking the development of an idea over a series of months, but Stockman has done it for me. It brings these old talks to life.

And it also connects these talks to my current experience. Abdu’l-Baha is an example of how to manage things I struggle with on a regular basis, like how to balance outreach into the community with the consolidation of those efforts, or building a sense of unity in a diverse neighborhood. Justice and equality for all races, sexes, and classes are emphasized with a degree of love and tact that I can only dream of developing, without shying away from the truth. If Abdu’l-Baha could praise Muhammad in churches and Jesus in synagogues while still maintaining an atmosphere of union and love, I can certainly find a way to share those truths I hold dear in any social space!

As always, Abdu’l-Baha’s life is the embodiment of the Covenent, one of the most unique features of the Baha’i Faith. The lack of sectarian divisions and strife didn’t just magically occur; it took work, endless work on the part of Abdu’l-Baha. It’s amazing to read about his efforts to create this foundation of unity to bring us the community that we have today.

To those readers who are not involved in or familiar with the Baha’i community, this is a book for the history buffs among you. It is a fascinating insight into a brief moment in American history, when religious ideas of all sorts spread and flourished. It looks at this period through a unique lens: the travels of one individual from Persia through the cities of North America. It is not, however, a story book. Those in search of a narrative would best be served by other choices.

In the Baha’i community, I highly recommend it as a complement to the study of Ruhi Book 8, for those who are involved  in planning observances in honor of Abdu’l-Baha’s visit, and to anyone wishing to understand the development of the Baha’i Faith in America. Local Spiritual Assemblies and Auxiliary Board Members and their assistants would also be well-served by the example of unity in our midst.

All in all,Abdu’l-Baha in America was readable, well-referenced, and gave me insights into my own work. I couldn’t have asked for more.

This Friday, youth, children, and adults gathered to practice their choreography for Parade the Circle, an arts-based event in Cleveland. The group’s theme is “Unity of Religion,” and they’ve put together some magnificent large-scale props, inspired by many quotations like this one:

The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Day Star of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.

The religious symbols embedded in each branch of their tree were made to have a stained glass effect. The idea is to show the beauty in the variety of colors and designs, while the source of the light is the same.

I can’t wait until next week, when we’ll get to see the group take their message to the world.