Wish I was in DC next week…

because the International Environment Forum is integrating its annual event into the annual conference of the Association for Bahá’í Studies – North America, and is co-organizing several plenary and breakout sessions. The International Environment Forum is a Bahá’í-inspired professional Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) whose members from the Bahá’í Faith and the wider community promote the application of spiritual and ethical principles to the challenges of the environment and sustainable development.

The teachings of the Bahá’í Faith shed light on the dialectical relationship between the human soul and its environment. As Shoghi Effendi explained, “We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.”1 The nature, quality, and condition of the environments we inhabit therefore have profound implications for human well-being. In this context, how can science and religion, as complementary systems of knowledge and practice, be applied more effectively to the preservation, refinement, and improvement of the myriad environments – natural, cultural, and built – within which we live and grow?

1 Cited in Conservation of the Earth’s Resources: A Compilation of Extracts from the Bahá’í Writings, prepared by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1990.

I also wish I could be in Orlando in December for this: the 2009 Bahá’í Conference on Social and Economic Development (SED) in Orlando, Florida, which begins Saturday evening, December 19 and ends at noon on Tuesday, December 22. The theme for this year’s Conference is “Bahá’í-inspired Development and the Growth Process: Partners in Transforming Society”.

Meanwhile I just get stuck into grassroots work with ‘Sustainable Allendale’, a small group of people looking at what we’d like this village/valley to be like in 2030. Now, I like this kind of forward planning – reminds me of the Plans of our Universal House of Justice. And it’s amazing how easy it is to use Baha’i principles while consulting about sustainability issues. Can’t remember how often I’ve used the ‘we need unity of thought first before we can have unity of action’, but I think it’s starting to sink in with others 🙂

Ah, life is good, and sustainable development is such an inspiring topic!

Tynedale UNA

UNA stands for United Nations Association and today I met the secretary of the Tynedale branch. Interesting chat about their activities and I’ll go to their next committee meeting in August. I’ve offered to talk about my experiences at the UN’s Commission on Sustainable Development in 2008 and 2009, so I’ll see if they take me up on my offer.

Back home I did a quick search on Ocean for references to the UN and its predecessor the League of Nations. Plenty of references of course, including:

For example, the question of Universal Peace, about which His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh says that the Supreme Tribunal must be established; although the League of Nations has been brought into existence, yet it is incapable of establishing Universal Peace. But the Supreme Tribunal which His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh has described will fulfill this sacred task with the utmost might and power. And his plan is this: that the national assemblies of each country and nation — that is to say, their parliaments — should elect two or three persons who are the choicest men of that nation, and are well informed concerning international laws and the relations between governments and aware of the essential needs of the world of humanity in this day. The number of these representatives should be in proportion to the number of inhabitants of that country. The election of these souls who are chosen by the national assembly — that is, the parliament — must be confirmed by the upper house, the congress and the cabinet and also by the president or monarch so that these persons may be the elected  33  ones of all the nation and the government. From among these people the members of the Supreme Tribunal will be elected, and all mankind will thus have a share therein, for every one of these delegates is fully representative of his nation. When the Supreme Tribunal gives a ruling on any international question, either unanimously or by majority rule, there will no longer be any pretext for the plaintiff or ground of objection for the defendant. In case any of the governments or nations, in the execution of the irrefutable decision of the Supreme Tribunal, be negligent or dilatory, the rest of the nations will rise up against it, because all the governments and nations of the world are the supporters of this Supreme Tribunal. Consider what a firm foundation this is! But by a limited and restricted League the purpose will not be realized as it ought and should. This is the truth about the situation which has been stated…

(Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 32)

And from a document by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the USA :
“Since the inception of the League of Nations in 1920 and later of the United Nations in 1945, the Bahá’í community has consistently supported initiatives that create international instruments indispensable for the ultimate emergence of a new world order. Before supporting any initiative of the United Nations, the National Spiritual Assembly receives the guidance and permission of the Universal House of Justice.

During the last decade, the National Assembly has supported the ratification of various human rights treaties, including the U.N. convention against genocide, the U.N. convention against torture, the international covenant on civil and political rights, the U.N. convention on the elimination of race discrimination; and will continue to support the U.N. convention on the rights of women and the U.N. convention on the rights of the child. The National Spiritual Assembly is under no illusion as to the present-day effectiveness of the United Nations system but knows that it is a welcome step in the direction of world unity.

The organizations of civil society have had a tremendous impact in the international arena in recent years, especially through the several recent United Nations global conferences. In fact, non-governmental organizations are frequently the agents of change in government policy and action. The Bahá’ís will continue to collaborate with other groups interested in issues of concern to Bahá’í institutions such as human rights, the status of women and global prosperity.”

Ah, how much I look forward to working again with the Baha’i International Community in the future.

Pianos!

“Play me I’m yours” fun with many thanks to Luke Jerram!

'Play me I'm yours' at Pebbles in Allendale.

'Play me I'm yours' at Pebbles in Allendale.

31 pianos : 30 in London & 1 in Allendale

“Play Me I’m Yours” – street pianos

Touring the globe since March 2008, Luke Jerram’s artwork ‘Play Me I’m Yours’ is a public art installation where pianos are located in public spaces, squares, train stations, bus stops, even on ferries, and pianos are set to be placed all around London for anyone to play or decorate.

Luke’s project –  backed by Boris Johnson (mayor of London) and by the National Lottery – 30 pianos are to be plonked around the capital to encourage people to gather for a singsong with strangers. And yes, that 1 other piano is located in my village in Northumberland!

Inspired by Luke’s lively work the Pebbles team phoned Boris Johnsons office and Luke to ask if Allendale could take part, connecting communities, and they agreed it would make a wonderful project. The Pebbles team have placed a ‘Play Me I’m Yours’ Piano outside Pebbles Gallery in Allendale’s main street and from the 4th July you are invited to play whenever you like, while a number of free summer events take place. Artists are invited to help decorate the piano and sign it so after the event is over the piano will be kindly auctioned by the Allendale Lions to raise funds for the new Allendale Art & Media Centre that the community are developing.

Isn’t this a great village to live in?! It’s utterly amazing what Pebbles brings to this community. I’m very blessed to live in such an active & artistic village.

And as the Baha’i Writings (p. 410, Lights of Guidance) say:

“…The art of music is divine and effective. It is the food of the soul and spirit. Through the power of music the spirit of man is uplifted. We have made music a ladder by which souls may ascend to the realm on high.”

Service – dienstbaarheid

We had a lot of snow (20-25 cm) on Sunday night. Thinking I was smart, I’d left my car at a friend’s house in the village. I’d driven home slowly from a cluster reflection meeting due to a very dodgy exhaust which had already required AA assistance that day. I just didn’t want to risk the potholed road home, so my friend gave me a lift. And then it snowed…….

snow-feb-2009-003

I stayed home yesterday, but couldn’t do that today. I really needed to get this exhaust sorted, go to a meeting at 9 am and stock up on some supplies. So, an early morning lift from my neighbour meant I started digging my car out at 7.30 am. It wasn’t parked that far on the drive, but still…..it took me 1.5 hours to clear it.  By that time there was no point going to the meeting which was an hour away (assuming clear roads and good weather). So, I decided to go to the garage, do some shopping, and popped back to my friend afterwards to clear more snow from her drive.

My friend S. is great, but she is 70 years old, and clearing a sloping drive of 20 cm of snow is heavy duty. She had done the area where her car was parked, but was about to give up when I came. So, 2 hours later the drive was clear and she could park her car at the bottom.

She mentioned that no one has ever helped her do this since her husband died 6 years ago. And that as a child, her parents made her go round the neighbours to see if anyone needed any help. Now, I don’t get this. She is a lovely warm woman, has neighbours (left, right, and opposite – all younger than her), and has been living here for 14 years.

Loss of community feeling? Or is everybody already fed up after clearing their own drive and doesn’t think of helping others? I really don’t get it – maybe I’m too Dutch.

True, I wasn’t planning on spending most of my day shoveling snow, but I couldn’t leave my friend, knowing that she wasn’t mobile with her car stuck in the snow.

I suppose for me it was just doing what felt right and being aware of the Baha’i Writings which tell us that  ‘Service is prayer’.

So, achy shoulders aside, I had a very prayerful day I suppose. But if anyone can enlighten me on why neighbours can ignore the physical need of an elderly neighbour, I’d be grateful. Meanwhile, I’ll just hope for not too much snow…..

Service as a First Responder

I’m just back from my monthly training session of the Allen Valleys First Responders group. It’s just a bunch of local volunteers willing to serve their community. I know, a lot of people serve their communities in many different ways. And yes on the surface it is ‘just’ being of  service to our local community.

Ah yes, in case you don’t know. First Responders are trained and equipped to deal with life-threatening situations before the arrival of an ambulance. Basically if you’d call for an ambulance in this part of Northumberland, we’d get sent as well since we’re more likely to arrive within the government guideline (6 minutes, now if you’ve ever been in beautiful remote parts of this county, you know 6 minutes is almost impossible). Anyway, we got trained extremely well by Northeast Ambulance Service, but our group had to buy our own equipment. We are insured when we go out on call, but pay our own petrol. Nothing very new then, I’m sure many other organisations and volunteers are in similar situations.

And still, I think it is special, being of service as a First Responder. I mean, how many people do you know that offer their service knowing that every time it will be an emergency situation, probably affecting people they know personally. Well, that is what being a First Responder in a rural area is all about. And in a way, I’m ‘lucky’. I haven’t lived here that long, so I don’t know everybody, every family, but some of my fellow volunteers do….

If you’d ask my fellow First Responders why they volunteer, you’re most likely to hear something along the lines of: “Well, it takes the ambulance a long time to get here and it’s good to be able to do something ourselves.” Or “If you’ve managed to keep someone alive after a heart attack and get them to hospital, at least you’ve been able to give the family time to say goodbye”.

We’re just a bunch of locals, different ages, backgrounds and lives, and most would probably not consider themselves religious or spiritual. But to me every single one of them is special because I’m reminded of the following section from Paris Talks by Abdu’l-Baha:

“Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer.”

(Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 176)

I wonder what my fellow Responders would think if I told them about Service as Prayer…..