Being a Spiritual Revolutionary:
A talk given at the 1988 International Youth Conference
In the letter of January 3, 1984 the Universal House of Justice wrote, “May you all persevere in your individual efforts to teach the Faith, but with added zest. To study the Writings, but with greater earnestness. May you pursue your education and training for future service to mankind, offering as much of your free time as possible to activities on behalf of the Cause. May those of you already bent on your lives work and who have already founded families strive towards becoming the living embodiment of Bahá'í ideals both in the spiritual nurturing of your families and in your active involvement in the efforts of homefront or abroad in the pioneering fields. May you all respond to the current demands upon the Faith by displaying a fresh measure of dedication to the tasks at hand.”
(Emcee introducing Dr. Henderson)
A dear friend, a very warm and caring youth at heart, a true friend and a father to us all. Beloved friends, I would to take this blessed opportunity to ask you to help me in welcoming our very own member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States, Robert Henderson. (Loud Applause). “Being a Spiritual Revolutionary” Robert Henderson (Loud Applause).
(Robert C. Henderson speaking)
Good Morning everybody! I couldn't help but think as I was watching the skits and dances how my heart leapt with joy the first time I saw the Louis Gregory Bahá'í Unity Choir. (Loud Applause). And you know it was everybody, we were singing in the deep gospel tradition. It's black, it's white it's young, it's old, it's babies! And its our grandfathers and grandmothers. They were singing with a joy that springs internally from our soul about the new way, Bahá'u'lláh's way. I remember being in Kingstreet, South Carolina when the L.A. Bahá'í youth workshop came through, and they were teaching all day and invite people to the local Kingstreet High school auditorium. And I mean it was hot! If it was 105F outside, it was 125F inside! But everybody taught. And we did the same kinds of things. You know they did a race about race unity, they did a dance about the equality of men and women, they did a dance about saying no to drugs, they did a dance about the spiritual nature of man and women. Then we gave a fireside and invited everybody who didn't know about the Bahá'í Faith, and then invited them to join our family, and 57 did! (Loud Applause).
But why is this? Its because of the joy, and the certainty and hope and the spirit that they see in our hearts, and our eyes, and our smiles. Because we are welcoming to all people. You see when we present these dances and these workshops we give voice to the concerns that are on the lips, in the minds and way heavy on the hearts of all our brothers and sisters. Because they don't know what the answer is to keeping together their families, they don't know how to reconcile the anguish and the pain of divorce. They don't understand how they will put an end to the bitter pill of racist division and bigotry. And our dancers and our dramatic payers five voice to these hopes, they articulate aspects of the vision of Bahá'u'lláh so that everyone can know that God has not left us. That he has returned again with His messenger Bahá'u'lláh, and that we carry His message of hope, joy and healing to every member of our family. That is the significance of the workshops, be they dramatic, or dance oriented or have some other way of expressing this message.
As I have gone through the last few days of this conference. I have been so inspired by what I have seen and heard. It seems that everyday someone has said again what is most in my heart and I most want to say. Everyone has read those passages of the Writings which fill my soul with joy and hope, but you know what's made me most happy and most confident. The new voices we are hearing! Youth form all over, from California to New York, from South Carolina to Chicago, to Texas to Alabama. The new voices and they're young and they're strong! I know precisely who I'm going to pass the torch to. (Loud Applause).
When I saw people I know and I won't call their names cause I don't want to embarrass them. Some short folks could barely stand up over the microphone, but sharing wisdom with all of us, and we are better for it. We see the leadership. We see what people can do. You know how this conference was planned? This conference wasn't planned by professional organizers, it wasn't planned by adults locked in some room somewhere making decisions for what should happen at the youth conference. It was planned by youth. (Loud Applause). And the spirit that is alive in this conference is the result of their unyielding efforts.
It says right here in the May 1985 letter of the House of Justice to the Youth of the World, the House of Justice says, "That it calls on the youth to persevere in their unyielding efforts to acquire spiritual qualities and useful qualifications, for if they do so the influence of their high-minded motivations will exert itself upon world developments conducive to a productive, progressive and peaceful future." We have the power given to us by Bahá'u'lláh Himself to move the world to a productive, progressive and peaceful future. No one else has that power, but we want everyone to have that power. This conference is a manifestation of that power. Who do you think the organizers of this conference relied on? What source did they call on as well organized plans fell through and they had to put new plans together quickly? Who do you think traveled on buses, in cars, on trains, and on airplanes to bring their talents and their energies to make this conference what it has become? A gathering for a spiritual family. All of this was the result of the sacrifices of these youth, it was the result of the Fire Tablets they said everyday, it was a result of the long healing prayers they recited with the greatest fervor in their hearts, it was the result of the Tablet of Ahmad they said in order that we might be touched by the spirit of their sacrifice. So they haven't slept. All they have done is work. One man told me yesterday, I said "Phil how you doing?", he said, "Bob, I got to get back to work so can get some rest." Because he's not sleeping. He's working. He's using up his vacation time so that we can know what time it is! (Loud Applause).
As I've said I have had so many things I've wanted to share with you. It was very difficult for me to choose to focus, how it is possible to do justice to this Might Revelation in 2-or 30 minutes. But I will tell you what is uppermost in my heart and what I most want to share with you and that is the wisdom and guidance, the confidence and the strength, that is available to all of us to guide everyday of our lives from our Supreme Institution, the Universal House of Justice. Because we know Bahá'u'lláh, and you know the wonderful thing about the Bahá'í Faith is that Bahá'u'lláh knew to whom He was giving His Revelation. He said that there was only one person on the planet that was deserving of hearing that Revelation. Who was that? 'Abdu'l-Bahá. But He knew that Revelation would be transforming of the likes of you and me and that he would be able to arise and carry it forward and change all of reality. Make the earth a new earth. Make the people a new race of people. So the challenge for us is not to believe what we see in the mirror when we get up in the morning, because our principle conflict is the doubt we fear that we are capable of bringing about this great change that Bahá'u'lláh had given us the responsibility to make happen. We believe in Bahá'u'lláh. Our challenge is to believe in ourselves as agents of His purposes. What does He say in the Hidden Words? It says, "Thou art My stronghold," He says, "Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee." He says, "With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee." So our challenge is to ignore what we see in the mirror when we get up in the morning. Our challenge is to understand that Bahá'u'lláh knows us better that we know ourselves. That He will lift us up, that He will move us through our dark times to the light, and He will transform us from material to spiritual beings. That is how we are able without professional organizers, without people who really know how to do these things to put on such wonderful conferences, because the spirit of unity and fellowship, the spirit of youth in action and the reliance on Bahá'u'lláh is so great that it lifts us up and we become capable of great things that only last week we could not do and now it has happened. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bridge, to bring you all together and we hope that at some point in this spiritual conference hearts are touched and were brought closer together and we can move like an army with unity of purpose, and it would be so powerful it would transform all of human creation, all of society.
I want to talk a little about the Universal House of Justice, because I think that as we go into this next stage of the development of the Bahá'í community, there are some things we need to know, there is a vision we must have and the Universal House of Justice provides us with that vision. This is the vision we must turn to when our minds fail us and the solutions at our disposal are not enough, because it is our confidence that Bahá'u'lláh is in charge and we can rely on Him. We are not doing this for ourselves. It is not enough to be a Bahá'í simply for your own spiritual salvation, we are Bahá'ís for the transformation and salvation of the whole human race and for our children and for ourselves, but not just for ourselves, there is a much greater goal for us to pursue. So lets talk for a little bit about this vision of the Universal House of Justice. I mentioned at the outset of the conference that in May 1985 when the House of Justice wrote the youth of the world during the international year of youth, it stated that “the dark horizon faced by a world which has failed to recognize the Promised One, the source of its salvation, acutely affects the outlook of the younger generations. There distressing lack of hope, and their indulgence in desperate and even dangerous solutions make a direct claim on the remedial attention of Bahá'í youth.” What is the House of Justice saying? During this dark time when we have lost our sense of spiritual purpose, when we are in the midst of the greatest catastrophe in human history. Do you know what that catastrophe is? It is a fundamental breakdown of human relations. It is not that we don't have the resources to solve problems, it's that we don't have the trust to solve problems, we don't the unity to solve problems. (Loud Applause). We have the money, we have the technology, we have the expertise. What we need is the sense of spiritual family. What we need is the unity! (Loud Applause).
To enhance that sense of power I referred to at the outset, it is interesting to know that your attitudes, your inner convictions to guide your behavior from day to day, the decisions you make in life will be sufficient to shape the world and the future of world developments to make it productive, progressive, and peaceful. Now in the Ridván Message of the Universal House of Justice it greets us in a startling new way, and we have to attend to this Message. We have to study it very carefully, because in it are the secrets of the creation of the New World, first they greet us in a spirit of renewed hope that the dark horizon faced by a world which has failed to recognize the Promised One that spirit of foreboding. In the Ridván letter of 1988 the House of Justice says “At this resplendent festive season, the festival of Ridván, we greet you all in a spirit of renewed hope,” and they say there are two principle reasons. They state “that a silver lining to the dark picture which has overshadowed most of this century, now brightens the horizon for two reasons. First is the discernable new tendencies impelling the social processes at work throughout the world in the evidences of an accelerated trend towards peace.” An accelerated trend towards peace. One of the challenges we have as Bahá'ís is to accept fully and completely the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, the Guidance of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, the Interpretation of the Guardian, the Direction of the Universal House of Justice, because it is unerring, it comes through the Institution, the Supreme Institution for your guidance so that we will not be confused, but our challenge is to open up and accept that Guidance. They go on to say that the two developments which have inspired this sense of renewed hope are the accelerated trend towards peace and the growing strength of the Order of Bahá'u'lláh, as its banner raises to more stately heights. They say that the developments have caused new opportunities for the growth and consolidation of the world community of Bahá'ís. We see that at the International Convention. We saw the gathering of 1200 members of over 130 National Spiritual Assemblies from around the world, and the amazing thing was that is was the Indigenous peoples of those lands that came and represented their Spiritual Assemblies. Think about this. This is the first time in human history (Loud Applause) that a group has gone to set out to conquer lands all over the world to empower the people in those lands, not to hold power for themselves, but to teach them the Word of God and then give them control so they can direct the development of their own communities. And they gathered, and there was the man from Papua New Guinea, who had a bone in his nose and a crown of feathers on his head, and a loin cloth bound with twigs around his waist. His face was painted black and red and yellow, and he had a small pouch hanging on his shoulder. He walked very slowly to the ballot box and he pulled out of the pouch his ballot for the Members of the Universal House of Justice. (Loud Applause). This is the transformation of human society. This is the new earth. There are people in Papua New Guinea who can't be reached without weeks of dangerous and treacherous travel. And you know how they select delegates to their National Convention? They kind of gather the tribes and they say, “You went last year, why don't you go this year? And you go and meet all the friends, and you go and tell them we love them. And you come back and tell us all the stories about the growth of the Faith everywhere.” It's not a perfect process, it's not what it will be at some future point, but its loving and unified, and it brings everybody into the Bahá'í family.
We have to take advantage of what the House of Justice has called this new paradigm, because the House of Justice warns us that this is a window in time. It is open now, but it may be shut very soon. We have to remember how this window was opened. The House of Justice reminds us that the spark that had opened this window was the shedding of the sacred blood the Martyrs in Iran. (Loud Applause). It gives us some understanding of the spiritual process of the transformation of the world. Now this I think is very important, because it will help us understand how we work as the agents of Bahá'u'lláh's purpose. You see when we look in the mirror and we see incapacity, and you say to yourself, and you look around the Bahá'í community and you look at yourself and say, “My God! How are we going to change anything? We have so many problems, and we have difficulty coming together, and the Feast is not what we want it to be, and sometimes we just can't seem to get it right.” And we are correct! In fact, it is difficult if we are solely and alone responsible for making those changes, but we are not. We are working with Bahá'u'lláh, and in the example of the martyrdom we see how this mysterious relationship has a great affect on the world. Shoghi Effendi writes and the House of Justice quotes, “That it is the shedding of the sacred blood of the Martyrs in Persia which in this shining era, this resplendent gem studded Bahá'í age shall change the face of the earth into high heaven as revealed in the Tablets, raise up the Tabernacle of the oneness of mankind in the very heart of the world, reveal to men's eyes the reality of the human race, establish the Most Great Peace, make of this lower realm a mirror of the Abhá Paradise, and establish beyond any doubt before all of the peoples of the whole world the truth of the verse ‘the day when the earth shall be changed into another earth.'” This is the ransom that the shedding of the sacred blood of the Martyrs in Iran purchased. We don't know how much has been changed by their willingness to sacrifice their lives, but Shoghi Effendi says in that same letter every paragraph of which begins with the phrase, “It is the shedding of the sacred blood of the Martyrs in Iran.” He tells us that the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States was established because of the shedding of the sacred blood of the Martyrs in Iran in Persia. He says that the Faith was recognized by the Government of the United States officially because of the shedding of the sacred blood of the Martyrs in Persia. (Loud Applause). He tells us that the Holiest House of Worship, the Mashriqu'l-Adkhar of the West, was built because of the shedding of the sacred blood of the Martyrs in Persia. All these blessings have proceeded from the willingness of these Blessed souls to lay down their lives for Bahá'u'lláh. And then he points to the American believers and he says, “Not by your death, but by living sacrifice must we make our contribution.” And we are faced with a challenge that we must resolve, and that is what is the equivalent living sacrifice to the shedding of the sacred blood of the Martyrs in Persia? What is enough for us to give? How much should we sacrifice? What level of sacrifice is sufficient? And we begin to see that if their contribution was to lay down their lives, and our contribution is to live in living sacrifice. We have a lot to do! WE HAVE A LOT TO DO!
In one of the Hidden Words Bahá'u'lláh writes, “O Son of Man.” He puts this relation into perspective, this relationship of living sacrifice and He contrasts it with the sacrifice of your life. He says, “Write all that We have revealed unto thee with the Ink of light upon the tablet of thy spirit, should this not be in thy then make thine ink of the essence of thy heart, if this thou canst not do then write with the crimson that hath been shed in My path. Sweeter indeed is this to Me than all else. That its may endure forever.” Our challenge is to transform our lives into living sacrifices, and the House of Justice tells us first we must be confident that the storms and tests we will encounter as we grow, we'll meet and overcome. That is easy to talk about it, but difficult to do. When Shoghi Effendi wrote this letter to the Iranian Bahá'í Community in 1932, it was during very dark times when the friends were dispirited and their community seemed to suffer blow after blow, defeat after defeat. Around that same time Shoghi Effendi wrote, “That these catastrophic developments in the Cause are really blessings in disguise.” And he told us how to think about them, he says, “Outwardly they may seem to paralyze the progress of the Faith for a time, they may seem to hurt our unity, they may seem to cripple our community, but in reality viewed in their proper perspective, they are blessings in disguise.” He says, “That through these catastrophic events that we receive a fresh outpouring of celestial blessings.” He says, “That they are a protection from some imminent and still greater danger, it is an agency for the purification and revitalization of the life of the community.” Often at the height of the crisis, more often when the crisis has passed the wisdom of what had happened would be visible to both friend and foe.
So as we go forward and encounter obstacles, and our challenges, as we have difficulties in our lives, as our community moves into action and runs into resistance, we have to know that it is our willingness to persevere, that it is our necessary to find the blessings that will cause the influence of the Faith to spread, that will revitalize our community. It is interesting to note that it was at the time of the downfall by the Islamic Republics that we built the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, that we raised the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar of Samoa, that we raised the Mash ril Adhkar in India, that we started Bahá'í universities and literacy centers and schools all over the world, up to 3000 now. And they weren't started by a result of some coordinated funded effort, it was because of Bahá'í pioneers many of them youth, became examples of living sacrifice. One youth who became an Auxiliary Board Member in a country worked with the pygmies, who had at that point become dependent on a drug they chewed, which grew on a local leaf And they had stopped caring for themselves, stopped building huts, stopped cleaning themselves, they were laying around and dying. Do you know what project he established there? A literacy center. Do you know what they were reading? They are reading the Bahá'í prayers and they are building huts. (Loud Applause) They are starting to show signs of life and spiritual revitalization. These are the kinds of sacrifices that we will make on every continent to bring about this great change.
Let me move along cause I don't want to use to much time, but I have a couple of other things to say. The House of Justice tells us “that the present challenge, that is what we must do now, calls for teaching on a scale and of a quality, a variety and intensity outstripping all current efforts” and it tells us why. He said, “ that there is an overarching reason, that is the pitiful plight of the masses suffering in turmoil, hungering after righteousness for something to believe in for reassurance that the world has not gone mad, that God has not left us alone.” The House of Justice says, “bereft of discernment to see God with their own eyes or hear His melody with their own ears. They must be fed. Vision must be restored where hope is lost. Confidence built where doubt and confusion are writhe.” This the task that we must arise to, and particularly for the American Bahá'í Community because as Shoghi Effendi pointed out it is the likes of you and me the members of the American Bahá'í Community which will raise civilization which will be the fairest fruit. He says specifically, “That we will give rise to an order which will be the Harbinger of a Civilization which posterity will regard as the fairest fruit of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh.” That's you and me. That's what we are doing in our firesides, in our dance workshops, in our proclamations, in our prayers, in the shaping of our attitudes, in the making of our decisions. Every time we take a step towards unity we are putting up a plank in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. Every time we make a decision that conquers our passions we are putting up a plank in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. Every time we open our prayer book, every time we decide we will move towards harmony, we will resist the anger we feel, and we will move toward love, we are putting up a plank in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. And now the Universal House of Justice tells us that it is more important than ever because we have an opportunity to bring about that steady stream of fresh recruits which Shoghi Effendi said will lead to Entry by Troops and will turn then into mass conversion. But it will take the combined efforts of all of us. Lets talk just for a minute about what that means. You know that the National Spiritual Assembly has chosen four sites for large-scale teaching.
We have sent out mailgrams and letters, but you be the first to know. That these areas petitioned the National Spiritual Assembly, begged the National Spiritual Assembly, in fact one even put a person on an airplane and he crashed a meeting of the National Spiritual Assembly. (Laughter) He brought a petition signed by every Spiritual Assembly in the State asking that a certain area in the State be named for large-scale teaching, and what he didn't know at the time was that we had already made the decision, and it had been named. (Loud Applause). And so in the areas of Boston, Massachusetts and Chicago, Illinois and Atlanta, Georgia and San Jose, California we are going to bring thousands into this Faith. (Loud Applause)
Now everybody here, has got to rally to their aid, and we've got to travel teach to those areas, and we've got to raise new Bahá'ís, but there's something else we got to do. You see because we want everybody, the way we are going to bring about this great change, everybody is going to participate. But do you know what you have to do? Wherever you live in Wichita, in Des Moines, in Burbank, what you have to do is bring one believer a month into the Bahá'í community. Can we pray enough and proclaim enough and have enough unity to bring one believer a month? (Loud Applause) It just seems that we can do that. I'm not talking about one believer. We haven't worked up yet to each one teach one. We are going to start where we are, but if our community can start by praying and proclaiming and gathering together, and you make your unity type, you increase the joy of your Bahá'í community and you take that personal responsibility, you bring the joy to the Feast, you bring the joy to the community, and let us make it so strong that every month one new believer will join your Bahá'í community. And you know what will happen when that happens? We have so many Bahá'í communities, that if 1000 Local Assemblies bring one believer per month that's 12,000 believers a year. What happens if we bring two, just two, that's 24,000 new believers. You see how quickly it begins to develop. Now that's the steady stream of fresh recruits, which will lead to entry by troops. (Loud Applause)
So simultaneously we will have two processes going on. One will be these four beacons of light in the Atlanta area, Chicago area, Boston area, and San Jose area. Those areas will be the beacons where the large-scale teaching will occur. Whether your community is two people or two hundred people, your task is to try to bring in one Bahá'í a month. That's whats you got to go back and do! The way you've got to do it is through unity and prayer and through direct action. The House of Justice says, "Teaching on a scale and of a quality, a variety and intensity outstripping all current efforts." WE CAN DO THIS! WE CAN DO THIS! WE CAN TEACH ENOUGH! (Loud Applause)
Let me say two more things. It's been said may times, but I cannot resist it to say it again. The House of Justice calls on every individual believer, every man, woman, youth, and child is summoned to this field of action. You have no idea how important that is. Shoghi Effendi has stated, "that the individual must arise, that all of the plans made by the National Spiritual Assembly, all of the wisdom of the Counsellors and Hands of the Cause, all of the efforts of the Local Spiritual Assemblies are foredoomed to failure if the individual doesn't arise." "The World Centre itself" Shoghi Effendi states, "is paralyzed if the individual does not arise, the Author of the Divine Plan, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, His intervention and Guidance is stymied if the individual does not arise. The Blessings of Bahá'u'lláh Himself are held back, if the individual does not arise." Who are the individuals here? Everyone of you. And if no one else does it, it will be enough. It will be enough. Africa is now a flower garden of National Spiritual Assemblies. They sent Indigenous members of those National Spiritual Assemblies in lion skins and silk suits to the International Convention. Africa was set ablaze by a handful of dedicated believers. So I don't care what anyone does. If we do this it will be enough. This what we must do. (Loud Applause) It won't take something we're not capable of. We can make this happen!
Let me close with what Shoghi Effendi called "the prayer I never cease to utter in my ceaseless supplications to Bahá'u'lláh." He was calling to the American Bahá'ís, because of our great destiny and because of the great change we can bring in America and the world. "The prizes within the reach of this community are truly inestimable. Much will depend on the reaction of the rank and file of the believers to the plea now addressed to them with all the fervor of my soul to act, and act promptly and decisively, is the need of the present hour and their inescapable duty. That the American Bahá'í community may in this one remaining field, the teaching field, where so much is at stake, and where the needs of the Faith are so acute cover itself with a glory that will outshine the splendor of its past exploits in the far-flung territories of the globe is a prayer which I never cease to utter in my continual supplication to Bahá'u'lláh."