One of the things we believe at WhyUnite is that our global community is a defining element of the Baha’i faith. We believe that this can be our most compelling and magnetic force for drawing humanity towards the Cause for this Age.
I can tell you from personal experience that the people in my neighborhoods are not looking for just another religion, or just another community organizing group, or just another group of well-meaning people who get together and talk about their high ideals.
A lot of people talk about thinking globally and acting locally. But few organizations give their people a real chance to think and act globally, to become part of a new kind of society that is beyond borders and nationalities.
The fact is, Baha’u’llah has gone through a LOT of trouble to create a global community unlike anything the world has seen. A few years back I went out and interviewed scores of Baha’is from the Pacific Northwest for a video project. I was lucky enough to talk with people in a wide spectrum of age, religious and ethnic backgrounds.
I heard stories from Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and people who grew up with no religion at all. I heard stories of people who grew up in the Baha’i Faith (like me) who were going through their own journey of understanding the Faith as well. What I found was that nobody joins this faith lightly. Each of us takes a conscious path into this workshop. Every single soul is here for a reason. And everyone has talents, capacities, experiences, and perspectives that we must find a way to contribute to this Cause. There are no accidents here. It’s our responsibility to help everyone find their place and contribute their capacity.
Many of us who have grown up in the Faith, who have traveled to far corners of the globe in service to the Cause have experienced this profound reality. I can tell you that in my youth, when I traveled to Eastern Europe, Central America, and served at the Baha’i World Center I created connections unlike any other I have in any other context of my life. These experiences, more than anything else in my life, defined what it is to be a world citizen, and an active and engaged member of this new Faith.
Think about the 1992 World Congress. Anyone who was there could not but help to have been impressed with the reality that these people were all connected by something bigger than themselves, all building stronger connections, learning from each other, and building something new together to benefit all of humanity.
Today I have young teenagers who are entering their own exploration of the Baha’i Faith.
I try to inspire them with the potential of a wider Baha’i world to excite them. I go through extra efforts to tell them about the World Center, the pioneers, the heroes and heroines I’ve met over the years. We listen to talks and podcasts by interesting and amazing Baha’is. I do my best to share that the Baha’i world is so much bigger than their neighborhood youth groups.
I think that if we could find a way to communicate that the Baha’i World can be really something different, something more inclusive, something more global than anything that has ever been seen before, that this would make convincing people to investigate and explore this new faith a lot more compelling.
To me, that means we (as a global community) have to do the hard work of fusing ourselves together into something truly transnational, something truly engaging and empowering, and something truly unlike anything they have seen in any other institution, group, or NGO.
The good news is that I think this is all very possible. Many of us, in our modern professional lives, have experienced the kinds of tools that can make this type of activity not only possible, but easy and often delightful. All we have to do is start using them with the right intention. And when we start more fully using these amazing technologies and innovations to put into action the spiritual guidance provided to us in the Writings, it will be as Abdu’l-Baha said, “Light upon Light.”
What might this look like? Well, at WhyUnite we like to talk about the 3 pillars of building an engaging community, which are Connection, Learning, and Co-Creation.
If we can foster new ways to connect with each other, to build relationships across borders, to get to know each other on a deeper level, to care about the lives of one another, maybe to go visit another family, or attend a summer school in another country, maybe have our children share prayers over a video call or provide some kind of service. If we can get really good at this process, we will have something uplifting and heart-expanding to offer the world.
More than just building those connections, we can also help our community to learn on a global level. If we can share our stories across borders, help each other solve problems, develop and implement new solutions, and deepen our understandings of each other’s lives and conditions around the world, we will have something profound and mind-expanding to offer the world.
Along with building connections and fostering more learning across borders, if we can find ways to work together, side-by-side (virtually if we have to), we will provide a new way to activate people on every level. If we can build cross-functional cross-border teams focused on using the talents, capacities, and skillsets of every member to create something new in the world and to support each other in our efforts, we will offer something truly engaging and spirit-harnessing to offer the world.
I can almost guarantee you that if we build this kind of global community, where signing up meant you were instantly connected to this healthy, vibrant, learning community across all manmade borders and boundaries – we couldn’t keep people out!
And the great news is that we have the tools to do this. They are sitting right there, ready for us to take them up and start practicing this craft. We just need to have the courage to try them, to test them out, and to find those patterns that can make it happen for our community.
Some people might be concerned that this sounds like it is at odds with the current plan which is focused on neighborhoods. But I don’t think there is a dichotomy. I think if we were to have such a compelling path of engagement and service, we will have something real and tangible to offer.
To me, WhyUnite is a prototype for this process. The reality is that creating this type of community is not something that can be done as an individual initiative. It requires people to work together to figure out how to do this. That’s why all our volunteer roles have a huge component of discovery and exploration. We expect to make mistakes. We expect to fail a lot. But we think the work is important. We believe in the vision. And I think that what we learn here, if it works, is something we can share with our local, national, and international institutions to hopefully inform their plans going forward.
One thing that really inspires me about this project is the response when I describe where we want to go to my teenager. When I tell her that in the future, when people join the Baha’i Faith, they will be instantly connected to the entire Baha’i World. They will have friends to connect with, learn from, and collaborate with in every corner of the globe. Their talents will be harnessed, their skills will be utilized, and their energy will be tapped to help change the world across all manmade borders and boundaries. I can tell that this vision captures her imagination. This is the kind of religion she wants to be a part of.
I often think about Baha’u’llah, who when at his lowest point, suffering for His faith in the dungeons of Iran was visited by the angel who promised Him eventual victory over the world. What cheered Him up? What inspired Him at that moment? What lifted the spirits of the Manifestation of God for this age?
It was the People of Baha. The reality that in the future, people from every corner of the globe would hear His message and accept it. Together, this group of people will raise up a whole new world civilization unlike anything seen before.
I can only imagine that once we learn how to harness this global community, to offer it as something that can offer a different path to more connection, more learning, and more co-creation to every heart on this planet, that we will have figured out how to reach the masses who are longing for it in their hearts. They just haven’t seen it yet.