Thursday, March 20, 2008

Celebrating Together

Tonight's sunset marks the end of the Baha'i Fast and the celebration of Naw Ruz, the Baha'i New Year. This year, there is a remarkable convergence of religions observing March 21 as a special or holy day. Christians are remembering the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday; Muslims are celebrating Eid Milad-un-Nabi, the birth of the Prophet; Hindus and Sikhs are celebrating Holi, the festival of colors, Jews are celebrating Purim, and Baha'is are celebrating Naw Ruz, the New Year. Of course, it is also the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, the wonderful season of renewal when the Earth re-awakens yet again.

Because a vast portion of humankind is either solemnly commemorating or joyously celebrating a special spiritual event, it is also very fitting that March 21 also happens to be the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination .

In celebration of the new beginning to the year and also to the cycle of seasons, and in acknowledgment of the common world spiritual heritage being remembered right now, and most importantly, in grateful recognition of our close bonds as a human family and joyous celebration of our diversity, I offer the following selections from the writings of Baha'u'llah as drawn from the statement The Vision of Race Unity: America's Most Challenging Issue :

Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory

O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity has been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.

The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Creating A World Without Poverty

When I first posted about the Baha’i International Community’s statement Eradicating Poverty: Moving Forward as One several days ago I was convinced of the need to have a comprehensive vision of a just social order and a unified humanity to guide poverty alleviation efforts. But I wondered what that would look like in practice and how practical steps could be taken to realize these ideals.

Recently I came across the book “Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism” by Muhammad Yunus which to me gives a glimpse of how some of these ideals can be incorporated into real world action. Muhammad Yunus and the community development bank he organized, the Grameen Bank, were winners of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. The Grameen Bank makes small loans to people living in poverty and enables them to build a brighter, more self-sufficient future for themselves. The emphasis is on the inherent dignity of the individuals applying for assistance with the goal of enabling them to become contributors to society. Interestingly, most of the recipients are women, who are most likely to be negatively impacted by poverty and who are sometimes most able to benefit their families.

Yunus writes about an economic system, social business, which is influenced not merely by profit maximizing but also by social goals. He points out that the most famous capitalists such as Andrew Carnegie and the Rockefellers and Bill Gates (and I might now add Warren Buffett) have “ultimately turned away from the game of profit to focus on higher objectives”. Yunus also distinguishes between social business and charity. Although a social business seeks to achieve a social objective and not just the highest level of financial profit, it aims to recover its full costs while achieving its humanitarian goals.

Muhammad Yunus also writes about the inequality of wealth distribution and the need for consumers to restrain wasteful consumption and promote sustainability. He points out the devastating impact of uncontrolled growth to the environment.

Most admirably, in the section “A Better World Starts with Imagination”, Yunus speaks about the need for a vision of the future. He says “This process of imagining a future world of our liking is a major missing element in our education system. We prepare our students for jobs and careers, but we don’t teach them to think as individuals about what kind of world they would like to create.” Then he talks about bringing that dream into reality, starting small if necessary, but taking real world social action.

I have only begun to explore the work of Muhammad Yunus, but I am already excited about the striking similarities between the concepts he is bringing into reality and what the Baha’i Community is asking us to envision. I am looking forward to learning and studying more.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Blessing for Saint Patrick's Day

Uploaded on March 17, 2007by cobalt123 licensed under Creative Commons

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Enjoy this beautiful poem "Beannacht", Gaelic for "Blessing" from John O'Donohue:

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

-John O'Donohue

To hear John read this poem with photographs of inspiring Celtic landscapes look for the narrated slideshow on The Inner Landscape of Beauty. For a special treat, look for the Speaking of Faith playlist on the same link and listen to Irish music of all styles, including some songs in Gaelic. Enjoy a festive Saint Patrick's Day!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Walkin' the Talk

Last night our Baha'i community and friends were treated to the wonderful music of talented musician Bruce Grover. He prepared a beautiful devotional set to music for us and then gave a talk on the meaning and vision of the Baha'i Faith. He explained that to be a Baha'i means to be a follower of the Glory or Light who shows this Faith by action. The vision is to bring about a world centered on the unity of humanity:

The injury of one shall be considered the injury of all; the comfort of each, the comfort of all; the honor of one, the honor of all.

He spoke about the importance of deeds over words as being a central theme of the Baha'i Faith:
Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.
-Baha'u'llah, The Persian Hidden Words

The American version of this saying is "walk your talk". Bruce entertained us with a song of that title. The chorus was a repetitive "I'm gonna walk my talk, I'm gonna walk my talk, I'm gonna serve humanity". He interjected his own characteristic style of humor into the song as we changed "walk my talk" into other phrases such as "educate these children" and lastly "pray for peace and work even harder to make it happen" which we had to fit into the same beat as the shorter phrase. Quite a humorous task for Baha'is who are already tongue tied from Fasting!

Then, mercifully, the sun went down and we broke our Fast. We had a large group with new friends from New York City and Washington DC. We had a wonderful time getting to know each other more and enjoying each other's company.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Few More Reflections During the Baha'i Fast

One of the special favors of the Fast is that I place more care and concern into the foods that I eat in the morning and evening. Breakfast is usually a bowl of oatmeal with raspberries, walnuts, and soymilk, but during the Fast I usually also have some fresh fruit which is normally a treat, such as papaya, pineapple, or mango. Dinner, instead of being a hastily prepared meal thrown into the toaster oven or, worse yet, microwave, is usually homemade: a bowl of black bean chili with chipotle and cilantro, a homemade lasagne, a special casserole.

Uploaded on September 15, 2007by hetan_hunt13 licensed under Creative Commons

But this is only a side benefit, an extra bonus. The real bounty of the Fast is an increased attention to reflection and one's inner spiritual life.
"It is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul."
-Shoghi Effendi

Each evening, dinner is a celebration, re-learning the simple pleasure of a meal prepared with care for those eating it, and, sometimes, the extra joy of conversation with a treasured friend or friends. Tonight, our Baha'i community is gathering once again for a talk and potluck dinner (I have some gnocchi with tomato sauce and mushrooms baking in the oven).

On the entertainment front, last night I rented "Dan in Real Life" starring Steve Carell. It was a typical lighthearted yet touching and meaningful Steve Carell comedy. One line stood out like a shining star for me "Love isn't a feeling, it's an ability". This reminds me of a similar concept in Tal Ben-Shahar's "Happier", "... the most important and challenging component of a happy relationship is not finding the one right person... but rather cultivating the one chosen relationship".
I think that might be enough reflection for this afternoon. It smells like the gnocchi is ready, and I have a party to get ready for!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Eradicating Poverty: Moving Forward as One

Over the past couple of weeks I've been thinking about a published statement of the Baha'i International Community, Eradicating Poverty: Moving Forward as One. In it they present the Baha'i vision of the steps necessary to not only "remove the ills of poverty" but "to engage the masses of humanity in the construction of a just global order".

Poverty eradication is largely spoken about in material terms. They suggest the deeper crisis is "rooted in the values and attitudes that shape relationships at all levels of society". To give one of the more salient examples, gender equality as a social value has a tremendous effect on development. Where women are educated and empowered and have access to employment and ownership, there is a dramatic increase in the standard of living. This requires a transformation of attitude and fundamental beliefs about the role of men and women.

Some additional areas where individual and society transformation are needed include justice and human rights and the goal of allowing the individual to regain dignity and self-worth, governmental responsibility, individual responsibility to strive to achieve excellence, economic theories rooted not just in profit motives but in the "human and relational dimension of all economic activity", alleviation of extremes of wealth, a concern for the natural environment and sustainable development, attention given to agriculture, and provision of meaningful work as a means of developing one's craft and contributing to the progress of society.

Education is the foundation of the advancement of society, which begins with the first step of increased enrollment in schools, but we also need to create "a society in which the production, diffusion, and application of knowledge infuses all facets of human activity". Child-rearing practices should foster questioning and there should be equal opportunities for boys and girls. The Baha'i International Community states "In order to be free to innovate, to devise solutions to complex problems, the human mind must be free to know".

Alleviation of poverty includes not only material concerns but also the spiritual dimension, the "vision of the full measure of human prosperity" . Religion has the power to "compel the fundamental changes in human character and belief needed to overcome the destructive behaviors which have led to present day conditions", and also to "galvanize and sustain the human will to persevere, to strive for excellence, to humbly serve, to create, to seek knowledge, to cultivate beauty and to seek the well being of all humankind". The task before us "to generate the knowledge and commitment needed to overcome poverty" is essentially a spiritual task as well as a material task. The statement presents to us the vision of a bright future if we are up to the challenge and use our entire intellectual and spiritual potential: "as the fullness of our humanity is engaged, it will regenerate the fabric of civilization".

I encourage you to read the statement in its entirety: Eradicating Poverty: Moving Forward as One. I have only captured bits and pieces of it here, but I hope I have been able to at least give a glimpse of the intent of the message and its inspiration to action and personal transformation.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Morning Reflections

I have been inspired by Amy and Leila's blog, Nineteen Days, in which they post photographs every morning and evening of the Nineteen Day Baha'i Fast, in which Baha'is abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset from March 2 to 20. Although I won't be as consistent as Amy and Leila, I will endeavor from time to time to post some photos and Writings.

O SON OF MAN! Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.
-Baha'u'llah, The Arabic Hidden Words

I have wakened in Thy shelter, O my God, and it becometh him that seeketh that shelter to abide within the Sanctuary of Thy protection and the Stronghold of Thy defense. Illumine my inner being, O my Lord, with the splendors of the Dayspring of Thy Revelation, even as Thou didst illumine my outer being with the morning light of Thy favor.
- Bahá'u'lláh

Last night we had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Kambeze Etemad speak on the cosmological teachings in the Baha'i Faith. He discussed the nature of the spiritual and physical worlds and the progressive and evolutionary nature of religion. During questions and answers, we talked about the role of doubt and faith and reason and investigation. Dr. Etemad emphasized the importance of our own independent investigation of truth and the use of our reason and logic to determine what we ourselves understand to be true, and not rely only on tradition or predominant culture. After our spiritual nourishment from Dr. Etemad's talk, we broke our Fast with a wonderful potluck dinner and fellowship and conversation.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Namesake and Spring Flowers

This weekend I rented a beautiful movie, The Namesake, about love, family, tradition, culture, devotion, change, and most of all, identity. Some say it captures the immigrant experience in
America, honoring and cherishing the contributions of the past while moving forward into a new identity and a new way of life. The movie also had many gorgeous photographs of India and some beautiful Indian music.

Inspired by this, I had dinner at a new Indian restaurant that just moved into my neighborhood. Crispy samosas, tender and fragrant eggplant curry, and basmati rice were my selections. Later, for dessert, mango bubble tea, a new experience!!!

This weekend we had snow flurries and windy weather, but Sunday was warm enough for a walk on the Ironton Rail Trail. Spring is right around the corner! Here are some colorful Spring flowers in anticipation of the coming season.

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