Archives for posts with tag: growth

brazil junior youth group

A group of friends was discussing how a program grows in communities at varying stages of development, and the term “organic growth” came up and needed some clarifying.

In the beginning, growth is often a bit of a mess. Somebody tries something. Somebody else tries something else. Something catches on. Something else doesn’t. Maybe people talk to each other about what they’re doing, and maybe not. Patches of activity sputter to life and die out again. Conversations happen, or they don’t. Peopleusually individuals, but sometimes small groupsdo what they can, in whatever ways seem to open.

There’s not a problem with these initial messy efforts. It’s a beautiful mess, after all, seeing growth where there wasn’t any before. And it makes little sense to compare a community at this stage and feel terrible, comparing with more advanced communities that have all kinds of structures in place: teams focused on specific lines of action, coordinators for educational programs, committees thinking about quarterly cycles of activity, annual calendars, budgets, resources … all these things develop with effort and experience and time.

But sometimes, in an effort to avoid comparisons and feel better about where we are, we say things like “Well, we’re growing organically right now.” And that’s not necessarily accurate.

Organic growth, of course, isn’t the same thing as frenetic growth. It doesn’t mean the same thing as “without structure” or “without a plan.” Anyone who has ever gardened or taken regular walks in the woods has seen organic growth in action. A plant will absolutely adapt to the local environment as it sprouts and grows, taking advantage of light, moisture, space, and support wherever they may be found. But there is still a structure and an order to this growth. Stems grow before buds. Leaves appear at particular intervals in relation to one another regardless of the circumstances. Roots go down, stems up. Every individual is different, and yet they all follow a comprehensive plan. There is a framework for organic growth.

Why does this matter? Because if we conflate organic growth with frenetic growth, the opposite of organic becomes systematic. When it comes time to grow beyond one or two or five little hubs of activity we’re unable to step forward, because the next steps are what we have viewed as the antithesis of our strengths. We cling to freneticism in the name of naturalness, not understanding that growing into structure over time is also natural.

“Systematic,” in turn, doesn’t mean “rigid,” “hierarchical,” “forced,” or even “complex.”

“Systematic” can mean taking notes after your children’s class, so that a substitute can help fill in when you’re sick.

“Systematic” can mean you and a group of friends get together over dinner once a month to talk about what you’ve been doing and reflect on what you’ve learned.

“Systematic” can mean choosing your next steps on purpose, having looked at the needs and resources around you, rather than responding in the moment to real or perceived emergencies, or panicking about growing in all ways at all times regardless of your ability to address each area of growth effectively.

Sometimes, in learning to grow from beautiful mess to systematic growth, we forget the emergent and adaptive quality that is also at the heart of an organic approach.

We appoint someone to coordinate an activity when there is nothing yet to coordinate.

We push a particular line of action without stopping to consider whether there is a foundation that can be built upon.

We cut off an area of strength in order to adhere to an unhelpful conception of “balance.”

We insist on a single approach, rather than providing a framework and seeing what emerges.

If complacence keeps us stuck in the stage of beautiful messes, it’s impatience that drives us to the other extreme. Organic growth requires a calm sense of urgency that’s not particularly encouraged in today’s society. It’s something I struggle with on a personal level myself, often mentally swinging between “everything must happen now, and here is the exact method for achieving it” and “forget this, I’m just going to do what’s pleasant and convenient regardless of the need.” It’s consultation with others that helps keep me a little more focused and level. (Thanks, y’all.)

Organic growth is about creating an environment that challenges and encourages it. We weed, we water, we provide trellises or light or heat … and the plant grows. We know what roses or tomatoes or oak trees need, but the circumstances are always a bit different on the ground. Perhaps the soil here is more acidic, or the drainage is poor. This valley is prone to floods in May, this particular plant is prone to blight.

But the only way we learn these things about our local conditions is to get out there and start a garden. And if we’ve only read books about gardening n the past, it’s probably going to be a mess at first. Mud and tears and fits and starts.

It will be amazing when the whole world has gained so much experience that we can all move smoothly into true organic growth from the start. Until then, we’ll keep working through the stage of beautiful messes and into something appropriate and new, doing our best to help our gardens grow.



One unique thing about the Baha’i Faith is that there have been explicit instructions on the leadership of the community right from the beginning, so there are no denominations in the community. Since we don’t have much in the way of rituals, the way things look can vary from culture to culture, but the plans, the goals, and the structure are all the same.

Baha’u’llah, the Prophet and founder, was first. Then guidance of the community passed to His eldest son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Shoghi Effendi, ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s grandson, then served the Baha’i Faith as its Guardian until his own passing. The plans he set in motion were carried out with exactitude, culminating in the first election of the Universal House of Justice, which is elected by the Baha’is of the world every five years and continues to lead the community to this day.

That’s the short version, anyhow.

The long version, Baha’is learn over time. Through the Writings of the Faith, histories, personal anecdotes, statistics, and more, we learn more about these figures over the course of our entire lives. There is truly no end to this process.

When I was a teenager first learning about the Faith, I loved Baha’u’llah, but it was sort of abstract. It’s like loving the sun. You love the light and the warmth and all that it gives, but you can’t know it, not really.

‘Abdu’l-Baha, though, was so concrete. Not the Manifestation of God, but something closer to the rest of humanity. The exemplar of kindness, of humility, of compassion. It was easy to love ‘Abdu’l-Baha, like a saintly grandfather. His talks were so simple and illustrative, even in translation.

And then there was Shoghi Effendi.

And I understood that he was important, but here I was, 15 and longing for spiritual truth, and this man was writing procedures for the election of local assemblies. Which I wasn’t even old enough to vote for. With Baha’u’llah I felt awe and with ‘Abdu’l-Baha I felt devotion, but with this Guardian … I felt primarily respect. There just didn’t seem to be a real heart-to-heart connection.

That was 20 years ago.

Both my life and my feelings are very different now.

Part of this is that I grew to better understand what Shoghi Effendi accomplished. To take a nascent community, one that would soon be bereft (although it was unaware at the time) of hereditary guidance, and establish it, not as a social movement or vague spiritual revival, but as a world faith, was a massive undertaking. There were so many moving parts to this. Legal recognition in nations around the world. Constructing fitting resting places for the Founders of the Faith. Translating the Writings from Persian and Arabic into dozens of languages and disseminating them to communities desperate for access to their own Sacred Texts. Guarding against those political and religious leaders who had made it their aim to eradicate the Faith from the earth, or at least the corners of it over which they maintained influence and control. And above all that, the Baha’is themselves. Who had loved ‘Abdu’l-Baha, who were dedicated to the Faith, but who had little to no idea what that entailed. What does it mean to be a Baha’i in this day? There was hope, perhaps, but a unified vision, knowledge, and skill are also necessary.  It is one thing to pray for a better world. It is quite another to build it with your own hands.

And it’s this process of building that taught me to love Shoghi Effendi with an intimacy that I never expected.

When I sit with my spreadsheets, extracting data from dozens of conversations, I remember Shoghi Effendi.

When I make maps showing where activity is taking place, I remember Shoghi Effendi.

When I craft an email that I know will be sent out to hundreds of people, I remember Shoghi Effendi.

When I write step-by-step instructions for a process that is structured, but no less spiritual for it, I remember Shoghi Effendi.

I feel so close to the Guardian in this service, perhaps one of the sweetest unexpected gifts that the role has brought me.

true brother Shoghi

Your true brother, Shoghi.

I’m currently re-reading The Priceless Pearl, the biography of Shoghi Effendi written by his widow Ruhiyyih Khanum, and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking and breathtaking all at once. You can download it as an ebook for free here

This past Monday was amazing.

I put together my lesson plan in the morning. The virtue of the week was patience.

Emma, Janet, and I arrive at 2:00 instead of our usual 5:00. Janet, who’s been attending trainings in Lakewood to become a junior youth animator, needs to catch up on some material. Since all three of us had flexible schedules, we made an afternoon of it.

I cannot explain how much I adore the animator training.

[This turned into a really long tangent about how inspiring it is for me to train animators, so I’ve cut it out and saved it for another post. This was just supposed to be about Monday!]

At 5:00, other people start to arrive. Seth and his two daughters. Danna and her two daughters are already there. Then Jim. Then Anne Marie comes with her daughter and two grandkids. Then Dee comes with her two daughters, and a friend’s son, too!

When we all gather for prayers, we barely fit in Danna’s living room. It reminds me of Feasts back in Malawi, with all the kids and half the adventurous adults squeezed together on the floor while the rest sit on every available sofa and chair.

My children’s class has doubled from four kids to eight kids overnight. Ages 3-10.

And we have SO MUCH FUN.

Our virtue of the week is patience. And we rock it.

The older kids help the younger ones. Everyone listens to the story. The game (really a drama warm-up activity, but who needs labels?) is a smash hit, and the art project takes different amounts of time for each kid, so it’s perfect timing for getting dinner started, two children at a time.

It looks like this is going to be our regular Monday night crew from now on. Only Celia also comes every other week, and Amanda will be back from pilgrimage soon.

Only a few years ago, there was no group like this in Lorain county. Bit by bit, it grew.

It’s not glamorous work. There’s no big budget, no widespread public recognition, no quick expansion that shows everyone, “See? We’re making a difference.”

There are certainly faster ways of giving large numbers of people a feeling of community for a while. Conferences, festivals, intensive programs.

But the virtue of the week is patience.

And did I mention this group rocks at that?

Sitting on the floor, surrounded by mostly-cleaned-up art supplies and trying not to spill green bean casserole on my knee, I’m completely happy with the work we’re doing. Soon there will be more teachers. Next year, with lots of encouragement, we could start a new class in Norwalk, or Lorain, or maybe just down the street.

There’s a lot you can accomplish with a little bit of patience.

Good thing we reviewed it this week. With that under our belts, who knows where we’ll be next year?