the old blogging days

So, since we were talking about websites the other day, I thought I’d go back to that subject a little and ramble on about the Internet. Because, you know, nothing is more meta than getting on the Internet to read what people have to say about the Internet. So come, let us sit on the porch in our rocking chairs, and shoot the breeze about the good old days of Doberman Pizza and Bahá’í blogging.

One of my favourite taglines for doberman pizza is “rolled, dressed and cooking since 1994“. That was the year when I first uploaded my homepage to a local Internet Service Provider, complete with wild rainbow colours, insane graphics and even insaner content. One of my first web projects, Find The Beagles, is still online after all these years, and still sports the same look it did way back then. What’s Your Pokéname?, a frivolous name generator that I coded up while in university, has only changed a little since the early days, but miraculously, it still gets over a thousand hits per month.

The “blog” part of the site appeared in June 2000, powered by a handmade Perl script. It wasn’t much more than a makeshift Twitter feed filled with mundane updates like:

whoops, left at 01:57 on 19/12/00: I just erased netscape by mistake! How *^$@# cool am I?

you’re e, left at 14:49 on 26/01/01: this is me at shamdogg’s place doing SECRET SQUIRREL things. peace to you all.

thwomp, left at 09:38 on 19/03/01: do you realize that this website is almost completely purposeless? that’s a rather interesting concept!

But then, there were also some interesting bits of news back in the day, too:

the main event, left at 07:23 on 22/05/01: In case you haven’t heard, the terraces of the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel are being officially opened today. They’re broadcasting it live on the web, in realplayer format. it’s going on today and tomorrow. Check it out!

Eventually, I signed up with Blogger and set up a proper blog page. Soon enough, Bahá’í blogs started appearing here, there, and everywhere: Povo de Bahá, Sliding Thoughts (now A Calm Storm), Life of Leif, Warble, Baha’i Thought, Baha’i Views, Anxiously Concerned, Correlating, and Barnabas Quotidianus, to name a few of my favourites—not to mention Martin’s Quest, Vafa.tk, and Arash City. And then, of course, there was Bahá’í Blog, which looked very different from its current incarnation, but was still pretty darn cool. (I mean, they were regular readers of Doberman Pizza, so of course they were cool.)

Around 2007, things had started to get pretty well organized in the Bahá’í blogosphere, as we called it. I had my own 15 seconds of fame when my blog and I were featured in an article for the Canadian Bahá’í News Service. But soon enough, newfangled Web 2.0 websites started appearing, like Facebook, Twitter, and the like, and blogs started losing a lot of the prominence they once had. For me, I also got pretty busy around this time, and I hopped over to Vietnam, where my life got turned upside-down. As a result, Doberman Pizza took some extended down time, and for a while I wasn’t even sure if it would ever get going again.

That’s why things like this Bahá’í Blogging Challenge are really a stroke of genius. First of all, you have the challenge—go ahead, post something new every day, I dare you. A call like that has to be answered, and the requirement to post each day gets the creative juices flowing out of necessity. Second, you have the added benefit of support from all of the other poor souls who are also toiling through the challenge. In fact, some of the old-school bloggers I mentioned above, such as Sholeh at A Calm Storm and James at Warble are participating, too—check out what they’ve been writing, and get wowed by how far back their archived posts go. All in all, it encourages us to rise above the lethargy imposed upon us by our busy lives and just create—spin our words into something beautiful, just like we did in the old days.

Hmm, speaking of the old days, maybe I should go hang out at Shamdogg’s place. ben to tings. you’re e.

a channel of grace

dr. shapour javanmardi, October 24, 2005

To be a channel of God’s grace on earth, one must be humble. One must be ready to serve all of humanity without a trace of prejudice. One must have unshakeable faith in the power of divine assistance, and a strong, all-embracing love for all those who may cross one’s path.

Dr. Shapour Javanmardi, who “welcomed all… with matchless hospitality, whose devotion to the Cause was a constant inspiration to greater action, and whose ceaseless encouragement… strengthened and uplifted so many [in their] paths of service”, was indeed a channel of God’s grace to those he knew. Upon his passing in October 2005, the hearts of many opened up in warm and loving remembrance of a soul who had travelled the world to spread abroad the fragrance of God’s love:

“Having lived as a Bahá’í pioneer in Tunisia with his wife Mahin, he settled in Québec forty years ago (1966), and there he sustained the growth of the Bahá’í Faith. His efforts greatly contributed to the development of several nascent Bahá’í communities in Québec, including Victoriaville, Warwick, and Drummondville in the Centre-du-Québec region, as well as the community of Montréal.”

“He was the most loving, warm, and self-sacrificing man I’ve known. He was the grandfather of some very close friends of mine, but he was so kind to all that I often thought of him as my own grandfather.”

“Every time he welcomed me with his warm embrace, I returned home feeling that this was friendship, this was love, this was what it meant to be a Bahá’í.”

“His warmth, his all-embracing love, his passion and courage, and his capacity to encourage, inspire and rally the troops of the All-Beloved were unique and irreplaceable.”

“…we deeply lament the passing of a dear, long-time friend…”

“He was truly a fine man. Anyone who had met him should feel blessed.”

In remembrance of Dr. Javanmardi, I’ll share a story here that I’ve told and retold, about him and his wife, and how great was their faith in the power of God’s assistance.

The Javanmardis settled in the Montréal area in the 1960s, at a time when the Bahá’í community around the world was growing by leaps and bounds. It seemed as though everyone was curious to hear about this new message from God, a message based on unity, love, kindness, justice, and peace. In the interest of sharing this message with as many people as possible, Bahá’ís would often travel to new places, seeking out receptive souls who were waiting to hear.

Shapour Javanmardi and his wife Mahin were no exception. Whenever they had a moment to spare from helping to build and strengthen the Bahá’í community in their hometown, they buckled up for a drive into Québec’s heartland. They criss-crossed the countryside, rolling through villages and towns, stopping to speak with locals in the hopes of striking up a conversation. On one of these occasions, they had been driving around in this way for hours without much success. Tired, they began to consider turning back and heading home. But before heading back, they thought, they should at least stop somewhere and offer prayers. Maybe the prayers would attract divine confirmations and lead some pure soul towards them, towards the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh.

glorious afternoon in victoSo they rounded the next curve and drove over the next hill, and spotted a good place to stop, in a small driveway in front of a farmhouse, surrounded by fields. There they stopped, pulled out prayer books and began to pray: For God’s guidance, for His assistance, and for the triumph of His Cause. Big prayers. Beautiful prayers. The kind that reach down into the core of your being and say, “This is it.” And finally, after a few more moments of reflection, they rolled back out of the driveway and turned back towards home.

Somehow, when humble and pure souls offer prayers to their Lord, He ends up answering those prayers in astonishing ways. And wouldn’t you know it, that driveway they pulled into belonged to a farmer and his wife who, many years later, became the first people in the region to declare their faith in Bahá’u’lláh, in the tiny village of Warwick. More of their family members became Bahá’ís, and soon enough, in the neighbouring town of Victoriaville, a Local Spiritual Assembly was formed, the first in the region. Although his wife had passed away by that time, Dr. Javanmardi, now a member of the Regional Bahá’í Council of Québec, came to visit the members of the Assembly, treating us to lunch and telling us all about this story, the story of how those prayers were finally answered. Fifteen years later, that same Spiritual Assembly still stands, and the community has grown in size and in maturity.

What is this, if not the evidence of Divine grace? Dr. Javanmardi, we miss your warmth and your presence among us, but we honour you and what you were enabled to achieve. May you always be richly blessed, in all the worlds of God.

The original post, dr. shapour javanmardi, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Quotes from doberman pizza, Jeunesse Bahá’íe, and service in zambia. Photo: La Presse, 26 october, 2005.

websites = life

The life of a web developer is basically just websites. Unless, you know, you like to go outside or something. But going outside’s beside the point of this post. This post is all about websites. Pretty little websites, all in a row. Big ones, small ones, wikis, social networks, coffee pot webcams, and more.

So, yeah, I spend a lot of my time on websites. Some of them you’ve probably heard of, and some you probably haven’t. Take, for instance, Wikipedia. You haven’t heard of that one, right? It’s a homework help free content farm online encyclopedia that has lots of cool stuff on it about small villages in England and bizarrely named dog breeds and stuff. I’ve been editing Wikipedia since about 2006, and, oddly enough, I feel like it’s actually helped me improve my writing skills. I’ve worked on a bunch of articles about Vietnam, and a few Bahá’í-related articles too.

Speaking of Bahá’í-related Wikipedia articles, Bahaikipedia is a thing too. It was created around the same time as I started writing on Wikipedia; I even blogged about it way back when I first started contributing there. It’s quietly but steadily grown over the years, to the point where there are now over 4,000 articles. Take a look through it when you get the chance, and if wikis are your thing (or even if they’re not), why not create an account and start contributing yourself?

Speaking of places where you should create an account and contribute, did you know that there’s a Baha’i Reddit group (aka “subreddit”)? It’s an interesting place to have conversations on all kinds of topics related to the Bahá’í Faith, and it’s pretty legit—well, at least legit enough to be featured on Bahá’í Blog, in an article marking its 9th anniversary. There are also related subreddits about Bahá’í history, photography, web/software projects, newsquotes, so there’s something for everyone. Over the past month there’ve been some pretty good threads on a variety of topics, including Light to the World, the new documentary on the life of Bahá’u’lláh; how one goes about becoming a Bahá’í; backbiting; the purpose of life; favourite recipes for 19-day Feasts; and more. Conversations can get challenging sometimes because it’s a forum that’s open to everyone, but the group is (ahem) pretty well moderated and, as a result, the cream tends to rise to the top.

Speaking of Reddit and having conversations, some Reddit users got together and created a Baha’i chat server on a platform ironically called “Discord”, which is popular with gamers and offers text, audio and video chat. It’s a fairly new server, but there are usually a few people online to chat with, for those who’d like the chance to talk to Bahá’ís and their friends in real time. They’ve created a new front page for the server with the amazing domain name bahai.fyi (don’t you just wish you had registered that one).

Speaking of amazing domain names… uh… well, I have one. Right? (That’s all for now, but don’t worry, there’ll be more talk about nerdy Internet stuff later on. For now, just go click on some links and have a great time.)

peace starts with us

to a thought of hatred, thoughts of love, July 23, 2013

Cricket PassionWhatever happens in life, we always have a choice of how to respond. These choices we make determine whether we create hatred or love, war or peace, despair or hope. When we create love, peace and hope in our families and in our neighbourhoods, it grows and trickles upwards through our cities, our regions, our nations and our world—that’s why we say world peace starts with us, inside of us. It makes our lives—and the lives of those around us—lighter, brighter, more livable.

Recently, one of my blogging friends shared a particularly touching story, and I thought it would be nice to share it in connection with this theme. It’s the story of a Hindu man who gave blood to save the life of a Muslim woman—and, in doing so, ended their town’s history of sectarian violence. Originally published in the Toronto Star in 2011, this story is a timeless example of how thoughts of love, expressed through action, can overcome even the longest history of hatred.

Before 2004 life in the village of Basti Mahran in Pakistan was extremely difficult for everyone, but especially for the Hindu minority. Hindu girls were routinely raped by Muslim men. Cattle that belonged to the Hindu villagers were slaughtered and attacks on all Hindus were widespread.

And then a very ill young Muslim mother arrived at the local clinic. She had lost a lot of blood in childbirth and needed a transfusion, but the doctors couldn’t find anyone with the same O-negative blood type. Bachu Rama, a local Hindu man with the same blood-type offered to give his blood.

Before long a group of Muslims charged the clinic to find and kill Ram. The group was led by Mahar Abdul Latif.

Latif hated Hindus and in the 1990s had been part of an extremist group who patrolled the mountains in Kashmir killing all Hindus who crossed their path. As Latif and his gang approached the clinic, they were stopped by a doctor who told them that Ram was this young woman’s only chance.

“I don’t know what came over me,” Latif says. “I remember thinking that here we were refusing to even shake hands with the Hindus, and he was willing to give us his blood. It was a marvelous thing he did. It was the turning point of my life.”

Next morning, Latif visited Ram’s home to thank him. This was the first time in living memory that a Muslim visited a Hindu home in Basti Mahran. Soon everyone heard of Ram’s generosity and Latif’s change of heart, and things in the village began to change.

The women began to talk to each other. The rapes and attacks stopped. Now Hindus and Muslims not only liked each other, they also actively supported each other – even in their religious practice.

This spirit of reciprocity and cooperation spread to every area of life in the village. Women from both communities joined forces in their cotton selling businesses and began to earn four times more that they had earned when selling separately. The villagers successfully lobbied the government to build power lines, roads and a proper water supply.

When I shared this story with other friends recently, someone commented: “I want to believe it… but it just seems to good to be true.” But these kinds of gestures of love, kindness and fellowship happen everywhere, in neighbourhoods and towns in every country around the world. Sometimes these gestures are small, like the kids in our neighbourhood who left a kind note for their neighbour. Sometimes they’re bigger and more dramatic, like Bachu Rama’s gift of blood that welded a town’s Muslim and Hindu communities together.

And the kind of spiritual transformation that resulted isn’t specific to Basti Mehran, either. Look at the transformation of Norte de Bolivar in Colombia, where crime became “unheard of” after many years of effort teaching and empowering the village’s children and junior youth. Look at the transformation of Bihar Sharif in India, where the lines of caste, age and gender began to blur and fade away after years of expanding community-building activities to welcome a greater and greater diversity of people. Look at the transformation of Tanna in Vanuatu, where a community energized by a spirit of service weathered the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam and began efforts to rebuild their communities long before aid agencies set foot on their island. It’s not too good to be true; it’s just true. People everywhere are able to make choices that lead to the transformation of their communities.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who Bahá’ís take as an example of right conduct, left behind a wealth of Writings that interpret and explain the teachings of His Father, Bahá’u’lláh. Among these are pieces of very practical advice on how to create peaceful, loving communities. My favourite among these goes: “When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.” In other words, action follows thought: When we focus on thoughts of war and hatred, warlike and hateful actions will be the result. And when we focus on thoughts of peace and love, peaceful and loving actions will be the result—in our personal lives, our families, our neighbourhoods, our cities, our regions, our nations and our world.

That’s why we say world peace starts with us, inside of us. It makes our lives—and the lives of those around us—lighter, brighter, more livable.

The original post, to a thought of hatred, thoughts of love, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Special thanks to Trisha at creating reciprocity for bringing the story of Bachu Rama and Mahar Abdul Latif to my attention. Photo: Cricket Passion by Umair.

celebrating the bicentenary

So, this year is a special year. It’s the 200th anniversary, or bicentenary, of the year Bahá’u’lláh was born (1817). People around the world have been taking the opportunity to celebrate in big and beautiful ways. And many, many people are still celebrating, in smaller, but no less beautiful ways.

roseTake us, for instance. We’ve all been really busy, but owing to the unique nature of the occasion, we knew we had to commit to doing something to make the bicentenary stand out. So we decided to go around on the big weekend of the Festival of the Twin Birthdays, and deliver roses to our neighbours. Why roses? Well, because Bahá’u’lláh loved roses, of course. Every year at Ridván, we tell the story of Bahá’u’lláh giving out roses to those who came to see Him in the Ridván garden, so it makes a lot of sense. Anyway, smiles appeared all around as we went around sharing rosy moments of kindness, and it gave us an excuse to talk to our neighbours—some for the first time.

While we were at it, we decided to also collect food for a local food bank that has been stretched thin and was in need of donations. We were hoping to collect 200 items, and by my count we probably have about 40 right now. We’re aiming to do some extra shopping, which might bring us up to about 80 items. That’s still not too bad, and it should help the food bank quite a bit. And, as if you had to ask, why the food bank? Well, because Bahá’u’lláh was always concerned with looking after those who were less fortunate than He was, making sure they were clothed and fed—which earned Him the name “Father of the Poor”. The last time we collected food for the food bank was at Ayyám-i-Há, and there were smiles aplenty when we brought it all in—and even a grand tour of the operation. We’re not expecting a grand tour this time around, but hopefully there will be just as many smiles.

Finally, because every birthday deserves a party, we held a family birthday party for Bahá’u’lláh, complete with a lovely cake, prayers, and stories about Bahá’u’lláh’s life. So there you have it—not a major public gathering, but several little, meaningful things that we shared with family, friends, and neighbours, that helped us to open our hearts a little more to everyone around us, just like a rose lets its petals open to the morning sun.

sharing a common faith

world religion day in vietnam, January 21, 2013

One of the fundamental principles revealed by Bahá’u’lláh is that of the oneness of religion: The idea that all the world’s great religions are, in fact, one religion that has been revealed progressively over time by different Manifestations of one and the same God. The fact that the messages they taught seem to differ is not because they came from different Gods, but because they were revealed at different times to peoples with different experiences and capacities.

That said, other differences have appeared between the great religions we see today: Differences that arise from the additions—and even alterations—that human beings have made to the essential spiritual messages they were given. Re-interpretations of Scripture made by religious scholars and clergy, blind imitation of the past, superstitions arising from ignorance and misunderstanding… all of these have compounded the differences that now exist between the world’s religions.

For the nation of Vietnam, the differences between Buddhists and Catholics deepened a chasm that the Cold War had opened. And who ended up being there to try and bridge the divide? The Bahá’ís. From its earliest days, the Vietnamese Bahá’í community championed the cause of inter-religious harmony. World Religion Day, spearheaded by the Bahá’ís and observed in Vietnam every year between 1962 and 1975, gathered representatives of many different religions to deliberate on weighty themes: “Mankind must, and are able to achieve religious unity”; “Religion must be the cause for unity of mankind”; “The purpose of religion is to establish unity and harmony”; and so on.

In 1963, the Buddhist Crisis broke out, the result of the prejudicial policies of the South Vietnamese President Ngô Đình Diệm, a Catholic, against the country’s Buddhist majority. The crisis ended six months later in a military coup and Diệm’s assassination. At no time in the country’s history was inter-religious cooperation more needed. Only months following the climax of the Buddhist Crisis, the Bahá’ís called for the creation of a “Permanent Council of Inter-Religious Harmony” to be comprised of two representatives from each religion, “to signify a sincere and genuine effort on the part of the two major Religions of their often proclaimed belief that they desire only equality and harmony among the faiths.” This sentiment was echoed by major interfaith groups, as well; a prominent interfaith youth group in Saigon urged the formation of a council to bring together Buddhists and Roman Catholics, and asked that “a leader of the Bahai World Faith be invited” as well, “since even in the past the Baha’is have been urging the establishment of such a Council for Inter-Religious harmony and have also by their efforts demonstrated their belief in both the Buddha and Christ and shown their essential Divine Unity.”

In September 1964, the newly elected Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Vietnam formally issued a bold, yet practical four-point appeal for national religious unity which developed the ideas advanced during the previous year:

  1. Religious leaders should establish “a Permanent Council of Inter-Religious Harmony consisting of two representatives from each Faith dedicated towards establishing complete unification between the religions and which should be delegated with the power to be the final arbitrator of any misunderstanding or strife that may arise between the various religions”;
  2. Government should officially recognize this Council as “the supreme body for arbitrating on problems concerning religious persecution and religious strifes”;
  3. Leaders and followers of every religion, “without the slightest discrimination and with complete respect and love”, should “visit the holy places of worship of every religion and publicly proclaim their acceptance of the various Divine Teachers as absolutely equal in every way”;
  4. Government should “foster Religious Harmony by encouraging the peoples and religious leaders and proclaim one day of the year World Religion Day and declare it a public holiday dedicated to the goal of Religious Unity on which day the followers of every faith may visit each others pagodas, churches, temples to pray to the Divinity of all the Prophets”.

This audacious appeal, which struck at the core of religious prejudice, must have been dismissed by many as being too fanciful or unrealistic—after all, it called on “the Venerable leaders of Buddhism in Viet Nam” to “publicly proclaim that they Believe that Lord Christ is endowed with the same Divinity and Spirituality as Lord Buddha and identical with Him”, and on Christian leaders to “proclaim likewise that the Lord Buddha is in every way equal and identical to the Lord Christ in His Spiritual and Divine Glory”. What kind of self-respecting clergyman would agree to eat humble pie in such a dramatic fashion?

But to the Bahá’ís, these acts were necessary to achieve true unity and prevent nationwide calamity: “Only then can we make the Buddhists and Christians of our sad nation rush into each others’ arms and eliminate any maneuvers to direct them instead at each others’ throats.” Moreover, the Bahá’í appeal was consistent with the belief that all religions are, in fact, reflections of the same message from one and the same God, revealed progressively throughout the evolution of mankind—that all human beings, whether or not they realize it, are in fact following many different representations of one common faith, which is “the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future“.

History repeats itself, and mankind rejects and ridicules God’s Messengers as They reveal themselves, denying the life-giving messages They bear. As a result of their rejection and ridicule, civilizations are reduced to rubble, destroyed by their own corruption, their blind imitation of the past, their clinging to ways of thinking, acting and governing that no longer meet the requirements of an ever-evolving humanity. “Unfortunately,” as a Vietnamese Bahá’í representative wrote of the difficulties inherent in their interfaith work, “it seems that human beings act only in response to terrible crisis… and hence have to endure great suffering.”

The original post, world religion day in vietnam, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. With files from Mr. Jamshed Fozdar and Wikipedia. Photos courtesy of Mr. Le Loc.