“Fortress” by MJ Cyr

Video

Last weekend my old friend MJ Cyr came to the Bay Area to perform the amazing songs she has been making based on the writings of the Baha’i Faith.  I shot the above video at her last house concert in the area.  It’s called “Fortress” and it uses words of a following prayer by ‘Abdu’l-Baha:

O compassionate God! Thanks be to Thee for Thou hast awakened and made me conscious. Thou hast given me a seeing eye and favored me with a hearing ear, hast led me to Thy kingdom and guided me to Thy path. Thou hast shown me the right way and caused me to enter the ark of deliverance.

O God! Keep me steadfast and make me firm and staunch. Protect me from violent tests, and preserve and shelter me in the strongly fortified fortress of Thy Covenant and Testament. Thou art the Powerful. Thou art the Seeing. Thou art the Hearing.

O Thou the Compassionate God. Bestow upon me a heart which, like unto glass, may be illumined with the light of Thy love, and confer upon me thoughts which may change this world into a rose garden through the outpourings of heavenly grace.

Thou art the Compassionate, the Merciful. Thou art the Great Beneficent God.

If you haven’t heard her album Canopy yet, you should check it out.  As someone who openly dislikes most Baha’i music he hears, please know that I mean it when I say that Canopy is great.  It’s available to preview, buy and download now on Bandcamp

Here’s my very favorite track from the album.

The Brothers Farr sing for ‘Abdu’l-Baha in Montreal

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Yesterday members of the Baha’i community were invited to join the congregation of St. James United Church in downtown Montreal for special Sunday service.  It was nearly 100 years ago to the day that a 68 year old Persian spiritual leader spoke in the same church on the evolution of religion.

From 239 Days in America:

Perhaps it was unexpected that a voice calling for modern religion came from the East. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá argued that religious truth must change along with the evolving needs of society. Rather than deny the existence of a creator, or the benefits religion had given humanity, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke of the need for a reformation so that modern religion could meet the needs of an increasingly complex world. [Full post]

‘Abdu’l-Baha is a central figure of the Baha’i Faith who’s epic journey to North America is being celebrated by Baha’is across the continent this year.

Yesterday’s service closed with two original songs from my friends Eric and James Farr of the band Honeyman and the Brothers Farr with Jacque Proulx accompanying them on the violin.  These wonderful videos were filmed by their friend Clara Haskell at the church before the event.  Here is the other song they performed yesterday morning, it’s called “Children of His Journey”.

To follow the story of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s trip, I highly recommend checking out 239 Days.  It’s a social media documentary that shares a  fantastically well-written post every day that tells you roughly where ‘Abdu’l-Baha was at in his journey 100 years ago to the day.  I’m subscribed to it by email to be notified as articles are posted.

It’s been great to follow this story every day — especially in the run up to these centenary events in Montreal that I got to attend. Coincidentally I am going to be moving from here in Eastern Canada to San Francisco this Sunday to begin graduate studies at around the same time ‘Abdu’l-Baha visited the same city 100 years ago on 3 October 1912.  I feel like one of those devoted fans who follows their favorite band while they are on tour, only 100 years late.

Finally, here is a short clip of the response of the audience and of the Reverend Arlen John Bonnar to performance.

Performance of ‘Radiant Heart’ by Iain Nabil

Video

Iain Nabil Ferguson is a fellow Canadian who has been serving at the Baha’i House of Worship here in New Delhi for the past few months.  He sings a number of songs based on the writings of the Baha’i Faith in this wonderful style that strikes me as quintessentially Canadian.  This one is based on the following two selections from The Hidden Words by Baha’u’llah:

O SON OF SPIRIT! My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting. (Number 1, from the Arabic)

O SON OF BEING! Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant. (Number 5, from the Arabic)

You can listen to more of Iain’s music and keep track of him online on his Myspace and Facebook pages.  For another such video, check out this one I made with Honeyman and the Brothers Farr.  For more great music based on the Baha’i writings, check out this selection from the band The Hidden Words.

The Baha’i Academy (where I have been for the past two months)

Motiwala Homeopathic Medical College
I have always been fascinated by how Baha’i and Baha’i-inspired organizations tend to evolve so drastically to meet changing conditions and build on experience.  The Baha’i Academy is a perfect example.  It began in 1982  to provide an academic home for some of the many Baha’i scholars who were forced to flee Iran during the Islamic Revolution.  For many years they ran training programs for Baha’is who were coming in from all over the world in venues all over Panchgani like the campus of the New Era Teacher Training Centre and the famous Prospect Hotel.  In 1998 the Academy moved into its current home right next to the Baha’i Bhavan (Baha’i Centre) and an old house that apparently Gandhi had stayed in at some point.

'Baha'i Academy 002' by Flickr user Neissan Alessandro

In 2000 it began to collaborate with a number of colleges and universities across the state of Maharashtra to offer a program that helps to fill the gap that exists in value education offered to students.  Since then the Academy has gone on to focus more and more on this program and develop curriculum that is used along side curriculum developed by the The Foundation for the Application and Teaching of the Sciences (FUNDAEC) in Columbia.

To support the Academy’s efforts to build institutional capacity I have had the chance to help out things like their three year planning process, website planning, curriculum development and public relations work.  One of the main reasons I decided to set out on from home again this year was to have the chance to work in an environment where I could more directly and explicitly apply the teachings of the Baha’i Faith in the context of a formal organization.  It’s been incredibly stimulating to spend so much time studying material to try to draw from the experience of other Baha’i-inspired organizations all over the world that are part of this collective learning process about how to effectively engage in social action and discourse.

Click here to see a small set of photos from trip I went on to Nashik for the Baha’i Academy.  Click here to see a larger set from the Baha’i Academy, including many of enormous toads.

Frog?Toad
ToadToad

WORST ANNIVERSARY EVER

12 June 2010 demonstration in Berlin

This Saturday 14 May 2011 will mark the completion of a full three years behind bars for six of the seven Iranians who had been serving as ad hoc administrators Baha’i community of Iran, known as the Yaran (Farsi for ‘friends). This milestone comes at the same time as we receive word that the two imprisoned women, Fariba Kamalabadi and Mahvash Sabet have been moved from Gohardasht Prison to Qarchak Prison. Apparently Qarchak Prison is basically a warehouse occupied by about 400 female criminals and political prisoners somewhere outside Tehran.

While Baha’is are encouraged to raise awareness of the oppression of their coreligionists in Iran, we are also asked not to circulate information until it has been confirmed to be completely true.  That said, Facebook messages and emails currently circulating on this recent development are underscoring the fears of friends and loved ones around the world for the health and safety of Mrs. Kamalabadi and Mrs. Sabet now that they are in Qarchak Prison.

Fariba Kamalabadi and Mahvash Sabet before their imprisonment

What type of people are we talking about here?  American journalist Roxana Saberi shared a cell with Mrs. Kamalabadi and Mrs. Sabet in Evin Prison for a few weeks in 2009 and shared this account in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post:

…my cellmates’ spirits would not be broken, and they boosted mine. They taught me to, as they put it, turn challenges into opportunities — to make the most of difficult situations and to grow from adversity. We kept a daily routine, reading the books we were eventually allowed and discussing them; exercising in our small cell; and praying — they in their way, I in mine. They asked me to teach them English and were eager to learn vocabulary for shopping, cooking and traveling. They would use the new words one day, they told me, when they journeyed abroad. But the two women also said they never wanted to live overseas. They felt it their duty to serve not only Bahais but all Iranians.

Later, when I went on a hunger strike, Mahvash and Fariba washed my clothes by hand after I lost my energy and told me stories to keep my mind off my stomach. Their kindness and love gave me sustenance.

…I know that despite what they have been through and what lies ahead, these women feel no hatred in their hearts. When I struggled not to despise my interrogators and the judge, Mahvash and Fariba told me they do not hate anyone, not even their captors.

We believe in love and compassion for humanity, they said, even for those who wrong us.

What can reasonable, concerned people do about this?  We are talking about the actions of a government that seems to be totally ambivalent to international pressure, content to live in its own version of reality.  Do they care what we think?  I have no idea what will prove effective in the long run, but it behooves us to do whatever we can, right?  Here are some ideas:

Learn more

Stay informed

Do something

  • Events are coming up in India, the US and Netherlands.  Click here for details.
  • Send an email to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad here.
  • Americans!  Contact your Senators and representatives to order them to support some particular pieces of legislation.
  • Tweet, share on Facebook, email or blog any of the above or other resources that you think your contacts will find useful.
  • Pray.  Yes, prayer counts as doing something.

Other ideas?  Please comment!

To vote or to not not vote

Inukshuk hindustani

Inukshuk in small town India?! Canadian was here?

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is once again applying to renew his contract with the people of Canada, but there are a handful of other guys that think that they can do the job better.  Over here in India I feel connected with all my fellow Canadians as we reflect once again on our electoral process, wondering how it got so ugly.  A recent article from the Canadian Baha’i News Service contrasting the partisan political system to the Baha’i electoral model put it very well when it says:

… Although the Canadian political system reflects well fundamental democratic reforms that have served to advance humanity’s ability to govern itself, it is not without its challenges. Cynicism and apathy about the Canadian electoral system seem to have reached a new high, especially among younger voters. Some political scientists have attributed this apathy to a general decline in interest in institutional democracy.

They correlate it to a disconnect between what politicians are saying and doing and the way people, and especially youth, would like to see democracy operate. Ethical scandals, attack ads and the heightened acrimony between parties sour the public’s attitude toward politicians and government.

Such practices are perhaps inevitable characteristics of political systems founded on a competitive, partisan approach. These systems often tend to work in the interest of those with the influence and money required to mount and finance electoral campaigns. The ethic of partisan politics fosters divisiveness and immoderate rhetoric which reinforces the voter’s sense of disillusionment.

That said, I personally don’t think that opting out of the system is going to fix it, but I might be wrong about that.  This election I have realized that voting in civic elections is definitely one of the shakiest elements in my conceptual framework for social action.  Even if there is a leader on the ballot who doesn’t give you the creeps, how can an free-thinking person approve of all of the positions that leader’s party has preselected, seemingly at random?

As broken as the system is, my inner citizen has never failed to cycle over to the community centre to throw my vote away.  No way am I going to miss out this time just because I live on the other side of the planet.  At first I thought it would involve an epic, democracy-themed road trip to the nearest Canadian consulate in Mumbai to cast my vote.  It turns out that with just enough paperwork I could vote from up here in the remote hill station of Panchgani where I now reside.

If my ballot could talk, it would have quite the travelogue to share.  First I needed to download, fill in and fax a form from the Elections Canada website with some ID to Ottawa.  They then spent untold taxpayer’s dollars to send me a ballot via international courier company TNT.  When I received an email from Elections Canada to that effect, I went to TNT’s main page to find a photo the dude I like to think was the actual guy with the actual facial expression that carried my ballot all the way India.

What they brought was the ballot for me to fill out and place inside a series of envelopes like a Russian doll.

My ballotRather than to mail my ballot directly to Ottawa, I decided to send it to the Canadian Consulate in Mumbai who would then send it to the Canadian High Commission in Delhi who would send it to Ottawa.  Once it was ready to go one my colleagues was on his way to town and I asked him to drop my sealed ballot off at the post office.  “The Canadian democracy is in your hands, my friend.  My whole country is counting on you to safely deliver this ballot.  Do not fail us.”

“Relax, yarr! I will drop your letter and your democracy will be fine, okay?”  He said as he threw up his hands and turned around to climb up the hill towards town.

Three beautiful songs from the Hidden Words

Image by Neal Rockwell
The Hidden Words is a new Montreal Baha’i indie supergroup fronted by Alden Penner (of the Unicorns and the Clues) with Jamie Thompson (of the Unicorns and Islands), Eric and James Farr (brothers of Honeyman and the Brothers Farr), Marie-Claire Saindon and Neah Bahji Kelly.  Their name is from the unique spiritual text revealed by Baha’u’llah and described by Himself in this way:

This is that which hath descended from the realm of glory, uttered by the tongue of power and might, and revealed unto the Prophets of old. We have taken the inner essence thereof and clothed it in the garment of brevity, as a token of grace unto the righteous, that they may stand faithful unto the Covenant of God, may fulfill in their lives His trust, and in the realm of spirit obtain the gem of Divine virtue.

The band came out of a group of young people in Montreal informally getting together regularly to experiment with the challenge of putting some of the sacred verses of the Baha’i Faith to music.  They went on to perform a few shows in Montreal and Ottawa until Alden up and went on an epic trip across the world.  Now that he’s back the possibility of more shows and a proper recording is looking much better.  This is good news for those of us who think that spiritual music should more than a text delivery mechanism.

Here are three of my three favorite tracks of theirs by way of YouTube videos from one show they gave a few months ago at a coffee shop in Ottawa.

UPDATE:  Their album has been recorded and I love it.  It’s called ‘Free Thyself From The Fetters Of This World’ and it is available to listen to and download.

Paradise of the Placeless

Yeah, that’s Jamie Thompson rocking the suitcase.  No big deal.  I love the joy that oozes from Eric and James in this video as they clap their gangly little hearts out to Alden’s composition.  This one is based on the following Hidden Word:

O OFFSPRING OF DUST! Be not content with the ease of a passing day, and deprive not thyself of everlasting rest. Barter not the garden of eternal delight for the dust-heap of a mortal world. Up from thy prison ascend unto the glorious meads above, and from thy mortal cage wing thy flight unto the paradise of the Placeless. (n. 30)

No man shall attain

Despite their name, they have not confined themselves exclusively to one text.  This track is based on the opening words of the Kitáb-i-Íqán, the book described by Shoghi Effendi as “Bahá’u’lláh’s masterly exposition of the one unifying truth underlying all the Revelations of the past” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah p. 61):

No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth. Sanctify your souls, O ye peoples of the world, that haply ye may attain that station which God hath destined for you and enter thus the tabernacle which, according to the dispensations of Providence, hath been raised in the firmament of the Bayán. (p. 1)

Temple

The sacred writings of the Baha’i Faith were originally revealed in Arabic and Farsi but have been translated into hundreds of languages so that everyone can read and study them for themselves.  And really, the Hidden Words wouldn’t be a hip Montreal band worth it’s salt if it didn’t have at least one song in French.  This one is based on a tablet revealed by the Báb, the Prophet who launched a movement across Persia to to prepare people for the coming of Baha’u’llah.

Je suis le Temple mystique édifié par la main de la toute-puissance. Je suis la Lampe que le doigt de Dieu a allumée dans sa niche et a fait briller d’une splendeur éternelle. Je suis la Flamme de cette céleste lumière qui scintilla sur le Sinaï à l’endroit bienheureux, et qui demeura cachée au milieu du Buisson ardent. (Sélections des Écrits du Báb, p. 67)

In English:

I am the Mystic Fane which the Hand of Omnipotence hath reared. I am the Lamp which the Finger of God hath lit within its niche and caused to shine with deathless splendour. I am the Flame of that supernal Light that glowed upon Sinai in the gladsome Spot, and lay concealed in the midst of the Burning Bush.  (Selections from the Writings of the Bab p. 74)

No, they don’t yet have an album or even a proper website yet, so now is a good time to click over to their Facebook page and become a fan to find out future shows, videos and recordings.  Alden has also just released an EP entitled Odes to the House that is similarly inspired by teachings of the Baha’i Faith.  Here is a super-hip video of him playing the song ‘Last shelter':

A Magic Show by Parmesh

Video

Every 19 days Baha’i communities all over the globe get together for an event called the Nineteen Day Feast.  The Feast generally consists of collective worship, consultation and socializing – but each of those elements can take any of a number of forms depending on the culture and style of the community. Continue reading

This year’s World Religion Day celebration in Ottawa is going to dig deeper

Over the past few weeks I have been working with a committee of the Baha’i Community of Ottawa to organize Ottawa’s World Religion Day celebration.  World Religion Day is in Ottawa is normally themed around one of today’s major global challenges such as peace, the rights of the child and education.  In the past the event has rarely dug very deep into these issues as it adheres to a strictly family-friendly format.  This year we want dig a bit deeper while still being friendly to the families.

Our special guest speaker will be David Chernoshenko, the new City Councillor for Ottawa’s Capital Ward.  He is well known for his involvement in the environmental field as a filmmaker and the former deputy leader of the Green Party of Canada.  In case you haven’t seen it, here’s his inspired ad for his successful bid for a seat in council:

The title of the event is “Faith and the Environment: Celebrating Common Ground” and it can be seen as part of an important discourse about the interaction between science, religion and the environment.

I’m tempted to call it a new discourse, but in reality religion has been talking about science and the environment for as long as there has been science and religion.  It’s just that it can feel like a new discourse because it’s moving really fast right now as more and more religious people, scientists and environmentalists are taking each other more and more seriously at the same time as everyone is getting a little freaked out about the future.  What do our religions say about how we should be interacting with with the planet and all the other people who live on it?

There’s a statement of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s (one of the central figures of the Baha’i Faith) from a lecture he gave in 1912 that I don’t think can possibly be quoted enough where he claims that

…Religion and science are the two wings upon which man’s intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone! Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism. (Paris Talks, p. 143)

Ottawa’s World Religion Day celebration will be happening from 2pm to 4pm on Sunday, January 16th at City Hall (110 Laurier Avenue West).  If you can’t come (or even if you can) check out Worldwatch Institute Senior Researcher Gary Gardner’s 2006 book Inspiring Progress: Religion’s Contributions to Sustainable Development.  It’s the resource that came to mind as I tried to think of the first best place to dive into the subject.  I’ll write more about this discourse into the future as I plan telling the internet more about the things I am up to in this area.