Thursday, February 24, 2011

An emergent community spirit

The term community has been used for many different groupings of people. For most of the history the vast majority of the people of the world lived in villages. With limitations on both transportation and communication there were no other possibilities. Villages then were the only community in which individuals could take part. Even today much of the people of the world still live in villages. But as population grew and people from rural areas increasingly migrated to urban areas cities grew. Most cities however are too large to be considered as a community, since no one individual has ever met a significant portion of the people in a city. What we have then are neighborhoods.

Some of these neighborhoods are ridden with crime and violence, and yet others, particularly those in the suburbia in western countries are utterly sterile, cold, and non-interacting. For many people then the community to which they could belong and within which they could grow and become fulfilled has disintegrated. The fundamental cause of such a disintegration is a steady decline of spirituality and a gradual adoption of a materialistic view of reality.

Baha'u'llah wrote "Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness, of justice, of tranquillity and peace cease to shine." [The first Ishraq, Tablets of Baha'u'llah Revealed After the Kitab-i-Aqdas, page 128]

Many people living in urban areas then adopt other groupings as our community.  Examples of these are scientific community, religious community, community of those interested in a particular sport or hobby. FaceBook is a technology tool for creating a community of friends and interacting with them using electronic tools. But even the most avid user has to admit that none of these groupings are an adequate substitute for having a community that is physically located in a compact physical and social space, such as a neighborhood, a locality, or at most a cluster.

In the letter of the Universal House of Justice dated 28 December 2010, paragraph 6, speaks about an emergent community spirit. Perhaps initially there are only a small group of people who are engaged in systematically building a new civilization. But as their numbers increase, as the core activities multiply in a neighborhood, as a greater number of people participate in these gatherings aimed at increasing the love and unity within a few streets, then gradually a community is created. The members of this community are bound together by their shared understanding about the true nature of reality, and their desire to take ownership of their own destiny. This is the nucleus of life, and the basis of a process of integration, that is growing within the welter of a society that has lost its bearing.

The following 4 questions are suggested by the study of this paragraph:

1.     Where a band of believers are engaged in implementing the provisions of the Plan according to the framework for action, their love and support for one another increases. In your own service how have you felt this “emergent community spirit”? 

2.     The geography in each cluster can be divided into two spaces: one or more neighborhoods where receptive populations live, and the rest of the cluster. How can we build a stronger “sense of common purpose” among the friends whose work is “scattered across the cluster” and those whose work is  “concentrated in a neighbourhood”? 

3.     What is the “organizational structure” for the “systematic multiplication of core activities”?

4.     What determines when a cluster should have a coordinator dedicated to the multiplication of junior youth groups?

Writing of religion as a social force, Bahá’u’lláh said: “Religion is the greatest of all means for the establishment of order in the world and for the peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein.”  And again: "When the Day-Star of Wisdom rose above the horizon of God’s Holy Dispensation it voiced this all-glorious utterance: They that are possessed of wealth and invested with authority and power must show the profoundest regard for religion. In truth, religion is a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold for the protection and welfare of the peoples of the world, for the fear of God impelleth man to hold fast to that which is good, and shun all evil."

When we are able to read the above words with a new eye, see religion as a positive social force that builds harmony and move away from interpreting religion as a set of rigid dogmas intent on competing for membership, then the discourse on religion becomes the same as a discourse on community building. 

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