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Having spent the best years of her youth holed up in the library of her law school, she is now beginning her journey on a career path that is looking suspiciously unrelated to law. She is passionate about children's rights and international development. She asks for your patience and that you oblige her as these interests become evident in her contributions to this blog. It's not so much didacticism as it is her unbridled enthusiasm for the concepts of social action and service to humanity which are enshrined in the Baha'i Faith, so she apologises if she comes across as a bleeding-heart, tree-hugging, kumbaya-singing, fisherman-pants-wearing hippie at times. (She's really not. Ask her friends.)

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A Christmas Wish for Peace

Christmas is probably the time at which the theme of peace and goodwill seems to be most deeply embedded into society’s collective consciousness. For Christians, who celebrate it as a religious holiday, Christmas is a reminder of the biblical promise of peace found in the Old Testament.

For the many others who merely celebrate it as a cultural holiday, the story of the birth of Jesus as found in the gospels and depicted in the ubiquitous Christmas artwork captures the imagination and imbues many with a determination to practice charity and generosity.

The gospels tell the tale of the shepherds who were watching over their flocks out in the countryside, when an angel appeared to them bearing the good news of the birth of the Promised One.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone roundabout them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2: 8-14, The Holy Bible

Beyond this beautiful and enchanting narrative of peace and goodwill, however, comes the stark reality of what we see in our world.

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Mama Papa & Me: An Interview with Danielle Pee

Image by Leila Barbaro

When I first heard about Mama Papa & Me, I was excited for so many reasons. The education of children is a tremendously important duty in the Baha’i Faith. In fact, ‘Abdu’l-Baha calls it “among the most meritorious acts of humankind”.

So when I found out that Mama Papa & Me focuses on education during the early years, which is now widely recognised among educators as being the crucial years in which the foundation for a person’s lifelong learning and wellbeing is formed, I was fascinated and wanted to know more about their Early Years Education Programme.

And then, when I discovered that Mama Papa & Me’s focus was not just on the early years, but also on helping parents and caregivers develop the capabilities they need as the first educators of their children, I definitely wanted to know more!

Serendipitiously, a family wedding brought me to London, which is where Danielle Pee, the  amazingly talented founder of Mama Papa & Me, is currently based. And so I jumped on the opportunity to sit down with her and ask all my questions.

What started as a conversation about education, parenting and the work that Mama Papa & Me is doing ended up becoming a deeper conversation about capacity-building and the Baha’i approach to community development, as well as an illuminating discussion about what it means, in very practical terms, for Baha’is to attempt to contribute towards the advancement of civilization.

I gained so much from my conversation with Danielle, not just in terms of my own professional interest in education and community development, but also personally, as I listened to the story of her own inspiring journey and the many lessons she has learned along the way. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!

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apresnovembre: An Interview with Shahrzad Maydani

Image by Shahrzad Maydani (apresnovembre)

apresnovembre is a blog featuring the fascinating work of Shahrzad Maydani, a Baha’i artist from Toronto. The work on her blog features some of the truly beautiful art that she’s created in response to some of the major tests that have come her way in recent years.

Lemons, which feature quite prominently in her work, as you’ll no doubt notice, are used as a metaphor for life’s tests and difficulties – a clever play on the popular expression “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.

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The Baha’i Faith and Christianity: 5 Steps to Dialogue and Understanding

Image by peasap (Flickr)

As someone who was raised with a strong Christian upbringing, the relationship between the Baha’i Faith and Christianity is something I often think about when I reflect on my own journey to becoming Baha’i.

When I became Baha’i, I found myself the recipient of numerous questions and comments from my Christian friends and family members – some of whom were simply curious and interested in knowing more; and others who genuinely couldn’t understand my decision to become Baha’i, knowing how committed I remained to my Christian beliefs.

Similarly, I’ve had numerous conversations with Baha’i friends about conversations they’ve had with their Christian friends about Christianity and the Baha’i Faith. Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on these conversations and trying to understand how to build a bridge of understanding that will facilitate stronger and more meaningful dialogue between Baha’is and Christians.

While this post cannot possibly do justice to the profundity and beauty of the numerous passages in the Baha’i Writings on Christianity, or the scholastic excellence of the numerous publications out there on the Baha’i Faith and Christianity, it summarises 5 strategies that have helped me to provide more useful and meaningful responses to my Christian friends and family members who have asked me about the Faith.

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Unity: The Promise of Ridvan

Today, Baha’is around the world commemorate the 12th and final day of Ridvan - a period to reflect on the day Baha’u'llah first proclaimed His message of unity to the world.

Ridvan is also the time when Baha’i elections are held. These elections are a time at which Baha’i communities all around the world prayerfully reflect on the spiritual wellbeing of their community. It is also a time to reflect on Baha’u'llah’s vision for unity and for communities to think about the path of service they will tread together over the coming year in their efforts to realise this vision.

What does unity mean, however, in a world in which prejudice and conflict are still widespread? And what role does the Baha’i community have in fostering global unity?

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239 Days in America: A Social Media Documentary

100 years ago, ‘Abdu’l-Baha arrived in America. It was a turbulent time in American history – an election, the struggle for civil rights, American soldiers on foreign soil.

When ‘Abdul-Baha arrived in America, newspapers called him the “Apostle of Peace.”

He “will surely unite the East and West,” the president of Stanford University remarked, “for he treads the mystic way with practical feet.” “There is no doubt, among thinking people,” a famous columnist wrote, “that this man represents, in great degree, the growing and evolving spirit of our times.” “Let him visit any bank, factory, office building, church, and everything is laid aside, and eyes bulge and ears listen until he takes his departure.” 239 Days in America

Now, thanks to a fantastic social media documentary called 239 Days in America, you can feel like you were right there during this fascinating period of history and witnessing it with your own eyes and ears!

239 Days in America follows ’Abdu’l-Baha’s 1912 journey across North America in real time (but exactly 100 years later), essentially reconstructing this little-known period in history hour-by-hour, for the entire 239 days of ‘Abdu’l Baha’s travels in America. It describes how ‘Abdu’l-Baha reached across political, religious, racial, class and gender divisions within American society with a bold vision of unity. Continue reading

Easter and Passover: The Religions of Abraham

The Lord's TableOver the past week, Christians have been commemorating Easter (which fell on 8 April this year) and Jews have been commemorating Passover (which goes from 6 to 14 April this year). Just as Easter is of great theological significance to Christians, Passover is of deep spiritual and historical significance to Jews. Passover commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery. For Christians, Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus three days after his crucifixion.

The repeated overlap of Easter and Passover, however, has historically been a source of tension among some Christians and Jews. Interfaith Family calls this the “Passover Predicament”:

For Jews, Easter crystallizes the religious differences between them and Christians. The week leading up to Easter is filled with important historical events from Jesus’ life. From the commemoration of the Last Supper on Thursday, through observance of the crucifixion on Good Friday, to celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday, Christians reflect on the foundation of their beliefs — beliefs that separate them from Jews. Moreover, the legacy of anti-Semitism, rooted in beliefs of some Christians that Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death, can make Easter a particularly difficult holiday for Jews.

While people very often do prefer to focus on the beliefs that distinguish them from followers of other religions, the truth is that these religions have an incredible amount in common – more than most people realise!

Additionally, a careful study of the various traditions and commemorations which seemingly serve to highlight differences in beliefs – such as in the case of Passover and Easter – can actually, in my opinion, be a starting point to reflect on the shared heritage that all religions share.

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Naw Ruz: Spiritual Springtime

Image by Bert Kaufmann (Flickr)

Every year, on March 21st, Baha’is from all over the world and of all cultural backgrounds celebrate Naw Ruz.

Naw Ruz has its origins as a Zoroastrian observance in ancient Iran and, to this day, is celebrated as a cultural festival by Iranians of all religious backgrounds. In addition to being celebrated by Iranians and members of the Iranian diaspora, the observance of Naw Ruz has also spread to many other parts of the world, and is celebrated a a cultural holiday in India, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Naw-Ruz, which means “New Day”, is celebrated at the vernal equinox, on the first day of spring. It is a time of joy and celebration, with the darkness of winter coming to an end and the reappearance of light, warmth and the beauty of spring’s flowers. It is a day of new beginnings – of change and hope.

However, for Baha’is, Naw Ruz also has deep spiritual significance. Naw Ruz marks the end of the 19-day Baha’i Fast, which is a period of reflection and profound spiritual reinvigoration for Baha’is. Naw-Ruz was ordained by Baha’u'llah as a celebration of humanity’s “spiritual springtime”: the Baha’i dispensation.

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Faith, Tradition and Rituals

welcome new light

Image by AlicePopkorn (Flickr)

Attending church with my family as a child was for me, as a kid with the attention span of a fly, a weekly three-hour long ordeal. I remember sitting in the pews observing the same elaborate ceremonies every week and not understanding why we were doing any of it. I was not alone either. My friends, just as bored and disgruntled, would complain about the length and repetition of the rituals, challenging our parents to show us where in the bible Jesus makes mention of any these rituals.

Our parents would smile patiently and urge us to see the beauty in our traditions. It’s the way things have always been done, was the common refrain. Not at all a satisfactory answer for a child. Tradition for tradition’s sake! I would exclaim impatiently.

As an adult, however, I am finally able to look back at those very practices and see the beauty in each of those practices. As a child, I considered the solemn chants in Latin to be a earsore, but now, hearing those same chants help me feel more reverent. As a child, I used to make a point of coughing obnoxiously to make my distaste for incense known, but know I understand that incense represents an offering to God borne out of love and devotion.  As a child, sitting through those long services each week were a test of my very will to live, but it is only now that I understand the theological significance behind the order of service.

I remember being intrigued, when I first became a Baha’i, by what then seemed like a complete lack of ritual in the Baha’i Faith. Our post last month, ”What Christmas means to Baha’is” generated a lot of comments which have got me thinking about the Baha’i approach to rituals and tradition.

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Junior Youth Matter: 4 Principles for Social Transformation

Junior youth can change the world. There is an ever-increasing recognition of this in today’s world.

Internationally, there is more attention being paid to the education and well-being of children and adolescents. Slowly, but surely, governments have started to realise that an investment in the youngest members of their countries is the best investment that they can make.

The other day, I was talking to a friend (we both work in fields related to children and community development) about a program for junior youth that we are both working on together. We sat together, sharing our ideas for the program, but as time passed, the conversation became more philosophical in nature, and we began talking about the nature of children and youth, the kind of educational and developmental experiences that they need, and the role of programs for children and youth in the broader efforts for social transformation.

Generally, I am – by far – the quieter of us two, but as I shared my views on the nature of children and youth, I found our usual roles to be reversed. There I was talking rapidly and gesticulating wildly while my friend sat quietly, listening intently and reflecting on what I was saying.

Finally, she spoke.

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