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Sad Demise of Parliament Friend Mahendra G. Mehta

Mahendra Mehta, one of the world’s leading humanitarians, Jain, and Parliament of the World’s Religions International Advisory Committee Member, has died on August 23, 2013.

A true friend of the Parliament and a member of the International Advisory Committee, a profound humanitarian, philanthropist, and legendry Mahendrabhai Gafurchand Mehta passed away on Monday August 26, 2013, in Mumbai, India. He is survived by his wife Ashaben Mehta, sons Rajiv and Sanjiv, and their families.

Mahendra Mehta was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1933. He was a diamond and jewelry businessman who inherited the seeds of compassion from his mother who had encouraged him to give his first earnings to the less fortunate.  The majority of his time was devoted to humanitarian work.  Asha Mehta, his wife, a deeply religious person by nature, brought the feeling of warmth and compassion to their humanitarian work. She worked side-by-side with Mahendra Mehta on all welfare projects.

Besides being engaged in several charitable projects, he was very interested in world peace through interfaith programs. The legacy of the First Parliament of 1893 had made a deep impression on him. He appreciated the visionary work of Swami Vivekananda and Virchand Raghvjee Gandhi in bringing the teachings of Hinduism and Jainism to the west for the first time. He also felt that the Parliament is the most important organization to promote the world peace and harmony in this terror stricken world. He felt that India, a home of four major world’s religions should also host a future Parliament. He made several trips to Chicago to make his case.

Mahendra Mehta, (back row left) with the bid teams preparing proposal to host the 2000 Parliament of the World’s Religions event.

Under his leadership, India for the first time took part in the bidding process in May 2006 in collaboration with the World Jain Confederation, Mumbai.  He brought leaders from various religions practiced in India to come together and make the proposal for hosting the 2009 Parliament in New Delhi, India.  However, Melbourne was awarded the Parliament, the third city in the proposals being Singapore.  

Mahendarabhai along with his wife Ashaben made their vision of establishing the art of paintings as a powerful media to enhance the cause of the world peace by showcasing the Jain Sacred Art Exhibit at 2009 Parliament of World’s Religion held in Melbourne Australia.  The exhibition of 38 rare painting from India was personally funded by the Mehta family. It became one of the most visited displays at the six day Parliament.  His exemplary work came to international attention and earned him an important seat on the International Advisory Committee for the furtherance of interreligious harmony around the world.

Jain exhibit of art at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.

Mahendrabhai was so impressed with the Parliament’s work that he wanted to see the Parliament open an office in India for interfaith activities in the eastern hemisphere. He offered office space and the use of his staff until the Parliament office would become self-supportive in India.

Mahendrabhai formed Ratna Niddhi Charitable trust (www.rnct.org) about 25 years ago from his own family funds which helped the drought hit population of rural Gujarat at that time, especially the children with food and blankets to help them survive a severe winter.

He set up an NGO Project ‘Mainstream’ in the 1990s, whose objective was to empower children to use their own potential and take charge of their own lives. It focused mainly on deserted street children. The unique feature of this project was the “night squad” – a duo made up of a social worker and trained street child who would visit the street children “hangouts” where they stay at night under the bridges and on streets. They would meet these children, find their needs and refer them to various government and NGO to fulfill their needs. Till this date, under guidance of Mr. Mehta, the Project Mainstream has touched the lives of over 55,000 children. They have either settled into businesses of their choice or have been meaningfully employed.

Jain art exhibit and the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.

An ongoing food Program set up by Mahendra Mehta in Mumbai feeds over 6000 children daily through networking with other NGOs. Daily free meals to the school-attending children foster education and reduce the drop out rate in their schools

During the disastrous earthquakes in Gujarat he worked with many government agencies and through his Ratna Niddhi Trust provided necessities to the victims within days of the disasters. Under his leadership an orphanage for girls was completed along with a series of 145 primary classrooms in 42 schools spread over 40 villages.

The Mobility projects in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Honduras, Columbia, Afghanistan, Myanmar and several African countries through his Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust have made more than 150,000 physically challenged persons lead a near normal life through fitting of the Jaipur foot artificial limbs for amputees and calipers for the polio affected. They have distributed thousands of tricycles, wheelchairs, crutches and walkers to the handicapped.  They have also conducted audio tests and distributed hearing aids to the needy school children.

Mahendra Mehta was instrumental in changing the lives of cleft lip children. He set up several camps for surgeries of cleft lips and palettes to help overcome hundreds of children’s miseries. Additionally, a mobile hospital provides facilities to children and persons living in remote areas of India where no regular health facilities are available. He also arranged for several eye camps in African countries to perform over 1,000 surgeries.

Under the Garments project, Mr. Mehta has distributed over 4,000,000 garments and blankets to the most needy children and elders. Mumbai is well known for its heavy downpours and the worst sufferers are poor people who cannot afford several essential items. Nearly 20,000 raincoats were distributed to children during 2003, about 3 weeks prior to the monsoon.

Mahendra Mehta recipient of the John Connor Award from Operation Smile at a 2008 Gala.

Mahendra Mehta has been honored for humanitarian work with several awards including the prestigious Humanitarian Rose Award given by the late Princess Diana’s Trust at the Kensington Palace, London; Cardinal Health Award of World of Children in the USA; Humanitarian Award by the Federation of Jain Associations in North America; Award of Excellence by the International Jain Sangh; John Connor Award for Humanitarian Work by Operation Smile, USA; and an Award for Humanitarian Projects Worldwide by the Rubin Museum of Art, New York.

A community prayer meeting was held on Wednesday, August 28, 2013, at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chowpatty, Mumbai, in his honor.

The sympathy of the Parliament accompanies this tribute from CPWR Board Trustee Kirit Daftary. 


Restoring Indigenous Peoples’ Rights: A Pathway from Australia to Arizona

by Dave Weiman
from Cooking Together

At the January meeting, the UUA Trustees voted to place a responsive resolution to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery on the business agenda for the General Assembly.  What is the Doctrine of Discovery?  Why have our partner organizations in Arizona called for its repudiation?  How are we as Unitarian Universalist people of faith called to respond?  For the next several weeks, Cooking Together bloggers will address these questions.  This post was written by Dave Weiman, who has been working with others to educate UUs about this issue. – Ed.

At 7:30 pm on December 3, 2009, Joy Murphy Wandin, senior woman of the Wurundjeri People, was the first person to greet the 6,000 plus people who had come together for the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, with this traditional ‘Welcome to the Land’:

On behalf of the spiritual ancestors and the traditional owners of Melbourne, I invite you to Melbourne in 2009, for the Parliament of the World’s Religions to share in the traditions, culture and spirit of Australia.

I was impressed that special recognition was given to the Peoples who had nurtured the land for thousands of years.   The welcoming practice not just for the opening, occurred at the beginning of almost every event during the Parliament, large or small.  And in fact, at the start of Sunday Service at the local Unitarian Church, the same basic welcoming statement started the service.  It is important to note that the words in these messages of welcome are of and by the Peoples who are native to the land, not from government officials.

At the final Plenary of the Parliament more than a dozen Indigenous Peoples from around the globe, presented a ‘Statement to the World.’  The Statement explained Indigenous cultures and contributions, the negative outcomes of colonization, and the injustices suffered by Indigenous Peoples.   It concluded with seven ‘appeals’.  Of the seven, two became an important focus of my social justice work when I returned home.  One asked for all nations to implement and support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Declaration), and another asked for the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery (Doctrine).

From the opening moment of the Parliament to its closing, I was being drawn into a social justice cause about which I had known virtually nothing.  Since the Parliament I’ve been learning more, about the Declaration and the Doctrine, and come to understand why these are so important, not only for Indigenous Peoples, but for all of us.

Harmony Among Religions at the United Nations?

by Katherine Marshall
from Huffington Post

The United Nations General Assembly began on February 11 to debate Syria’s prolonged and bitter tragedy of killing, after the Security Council, next door, failed miserably to find enough agreement among the world’s dominant nations to act. United Nations idealists believe that the General Assembly, as a body representing all the world’s nations, has the responsibility and the capacity to protect the vulnerable. Sadly such idealism is generally in scant supply these day and so these General Assembly debates have an aura of symbolism as the tanks mass in Syria.

On February 7 in the same General Assembly Hall a very different group gathered in a very different spirit. It was inspired by what some might call an even more idealistic cause: interfaith harmony. For the first time World Interfaith Harmony Week was celebrated at the United Nations. Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Muslim imams, Christian bishops, Shinto priests, Jewish rabbis, and many others came there to celebrate and reflect on their deep belief that, while religious diversity is part of humanity’s very essence, people can live in peace and harmony. The morning event did change the generally dour tone of the Hall as music echoed, children read inspirational passages, and speaker after speaker spoke to the ideals of common cause and the common good. It concluded with representatives of different religions symbolizing their common, shared care for the earth as each watered a tree.

World Interfaith Harmony week, for those who gathered to celebrate, marked a hard won achievement. In October 2010 the General Assembly passed, unanimously, a Resolution declaring the first week in February each year as World Interfaith Harmony Week. In proposing it, King Abdullah of Jordon harked back to the initiative of Muslim leaders who reached out to Christians in a 2007 letter entitled “A Common Word”. The King urged that: “It is .. essential to resist forces of division that spread misunderstanding and mistrust, especially among peoples of different religions…Humanity everywhere is bound together, not only by mutual interests, but by shared commandments to love God and neighbor; to love the good and neighbor.” The aim is thus to work through interfaith dialogue and common action to counter the idea and reality of a clash of civilizations.

Artists from Three Different Faiths Promote Respect for All

by Brenda Suderman
from Winnipeg Free Press

For 11-year-old Camryn Kangas, compassion is as simple as being friendly to her classmates, and as involved as caring about people who are completely different from her.

“It’s a really big part of life, and you really need compassion in the world for people to be equal and get along with each other,” explains the Grade 6 student at St. John Brebeuf School.

In addition to that eloquent explanation, Camryn and her classmates at the Roman Catholic elementary school in River Heights are dancing, singing, chanting and even rapping their feelings and thoughts about compassion.

With the help of their teachers, the dozen grade 5 and 6 girls created a five-minute mini-musical about compassion, based on a poem by Winnipeg artist Manju Lodha.

“It reaches the soul of the listener,” Lodha says of the mini-musical, which includes a rap about human rights.

“I only put the words to it, and the students invoked the life in my words through their talents and the directions of their teachers.”

Lodha and fellow Winnipeg artists Isam Aboud and Ray Dirks spent the last two months leading workshops on compassion in eight Winnipeg public and independent schools for a project sponsored by the Manitoba Multifaith Council.

Called the Art of Compassion, the project culminates with a week-long student art exhibit, which opens 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 1 at Canadian Mennonite University, 500 Shaftesbury Blvd., and features the St. John Brebeuf students and Hindu dancers.

Since 2007, the three artists, representing three different faith traditions — Hinduism, Islam and Christianity — have led workshops for schoolchildren and adults on topics such as multiculturalism, respect and more recently, compassion.

Click here to read the full article

Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power

by Harvey H. Guthrie
from Episcopal News, Los Angeles

This is a book by women, addressed to women. This male reviewer is related to it as a visitor is to the House of Representatives: as one not on the floor but in the gallery. I did not, nevertheless, feel at all an unwanted voyeur. The spirit of what is going on makes transparency and openness natural and necessary. It is a hundred and eighty degrees opposite the old boy, insider vs. outsider, secretive, male arena in which my early formation took place. The spirit of what is there is also a hundred and eighty degrees opposite the traditional masculine hierarchical models of leadership and process (to lift a line from page 4).

The editors, all from the United States, came together at the 2009 Parliament of World Religions in Australia, each having been impressed by how that gathering was “bursting with feminine energy,” about how “People everywhere were talking about Earth-based spirituality, the Sacred Feminine, feminine principles, the full inclusion of women, women’s leadership, and the critical global issues facing women and their children.” (Page 3) The book originated in the large “we” of a global gathering, in the global feminine “we” so present in that gathering, and then in the fourfold “we” of the editors, who are a consultant to women’s organizations not currently affiliated with any religion, a pioneer in the interfaith movement and founder of the Listening Center, a Lutheran lay teacher, and an ordained Mahayanna Chan Buddhist nun.

As they reflected on where to go from there in the United States, they saw an opportunity to build a larger field of collaboration and action with bridges of understanding between the many and diverse feminist networks and women’s leadership initiatives including bridges between secular and religious/spiritual initiatives, and to enable a leadership style embodying the deepest feminine wisdom and catalyzing social change through sharing and listening. This led to the founding of Women of Spirit and Faith in 2010, and to a gathering in 2011, the theme of which was The Alchemy of Our Spiritual Leadership: Women Redefining Power. The book points to “a sense of mystery wrapped around the word alchemy, an invitation to surrender to the unknown together and be changed.” (Page 5) The book is an exploration of that mystery, of where it might lead, and of aids to surrendering to it – all based on the concrete experience of women and on the redefining power of the Sacred Feminine.

Click here to read the full article

Jimmy Carter: the Role of Faith in Peace Talks, Politics, and Private Devotions

by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush
from Huffington Post

Jimmy Carter is the 39th president of the United States, founder of the Carter Center and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He has authored many books, the most recent being “Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President.” In this wide-ranging interview, HuffPost’s Senior Religion Editor spoke to President Carter by phone about the role faith played in the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, the time of his greatest alienation from God, faith in the White House and his personal daily devotional practice.

In addition to being a Governor of Georgia and President of the United States, you are known as a Sunday School teacher. Are you comfortable with that identity?

I started teaching Sunday school when I was 18 at the Navel Academy Chapel. I led services when we were out at sea while I was in the navy; taught Sunday school 14 times when I was U.S. President at First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. I just finished my 650th lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church, so you might say I have been a Sunday school teacher all my life.

Who were some of your most influential religious teachers?

Well, my father was the main one. He was a Baptist deacon and Sunday school teacher, and I started going to Sunday school when I was 3. He shaped my early knowledge of Jesus, and I was baptized as a Christian when I was 11 years old.

Later, Billy Graham was probably the closest one to me. I believed what my father taught me about the separation of church and state, so when I was President I never invited Billy Graham to have services in the White House because I didn’t think that was appropriate. He was injured a little bit, until I explained it to him.

Among the theologians, I think Paul Tillich is probably the one I have read the most because he shaped my thoughts about the relation between religion and politics and the fact that religious faith was not incompatible with political service. I tried to apply my religious beliefs when I was governor and later president without being ostentatious about it.

But I don’t claim to be knowledgeable about theology. Most of my knowledge comes out of my experience and the lessons in the Bible. Every Sunday I’m home I teach 45 minutes and we boiled them down to one page for the new book, “Through the Year with Jimmy Carter.”

Click here to read the full article

Women of Spirit and Faith

by Kathleen Hurty, PhD

One of the many creative fruits of the 2009 Parliament of World Religions held in Melbourne, Australia, is a newly minted nonprofit network called Women of Spirit and Faith.  The birth of this group is a fast-paced, wondrous story of connection and collaboration growing out of chance meetings in Melbourne and at follow-up events!

Four of us from the U.S. west coast—Kathe Schaaf, Kay Lindahl, Reverend Guo Cheen and myself—were drawn by the spirit of the Divine Feminine, so alive at the Parliament and especially stimulated by Sr. Joan Chittister, to come together and explore what it means to be women leaders in today’s chaotic world from a spiritual and/or faith-centered perspective.  Women’s leadership is a popular topic, but often missing is any conversation about the importance of spiritual grounding to anchor, deepen and empower women’s authentic leadership.

We started with many questions—in fact, questions are at the heart of our work.  What does it mean to be empowered women of spirit and faith?  What is the divine feminine calling us to do/be?

In the course of 2010 we four met in person, connected on numerous conference calls, started a group on PeaceNext.org, held a retreat, became a 501(c)3 organization, developed a website, and began work on a major interactive networking conference titled The Alchemy of our Spiritual Leadership: Women Re-defining Power, which was held in April of 2011 with 150 women in attendance.

That event led to yet another connection—an invitation to edit a book on the event’s theme!  In early 2011, we “gave birth” to the collaborative venture—a book entitled Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power. We are deeply grateful for the 26 authors who chose to participate, to the talented team at SkyLight Paths Publishing Company, and to all who have purchased books to make us a No. 1 best seller in our category on Amazon!

Our approach is circular. We have fostered a group of young leaders to expand the effectiveness of our core circle, we encourage the development of local self-organizing circles, and we hold book events in which we model the circle approach to the discussion of key questions.  We are looking forward to sharing what we have learned at the 2014 Parliament of World Religions in Brussels.  The impact of that chance meeting at the last Parliament will continue—for me, for my colleague co-founders of Women of Spirit and Faith, and for all who participate in the amazing, challenging and richly rewarding work of transformative leadership—where grace meets power and makes a profound difference.

Eyeopener: ‘Journey of the Universe’ on PBS

by Celia Wren
from Commonweal Magazine

Painted stars splay across the ceiling of an old Greek church. A flower blooms in slow motion. Tree roots twine serenely round the rocks of an ancient ruin. The images in the nonfiction film Journey of the Universe are luminously beautiful—and so well meshed that their flow feels almost effortless. But a great deal of effort has gone into this hour-long work, which aims to knit modern scientific knowledge and religious and humanistic perspectives into a seamless, eye-opening chronicle of cosmic and earthly evolution.

Indeed, the genesis of Journey—airing on PBS stations beginning December 3 (check local listings)—stretches back more than three decades, to the publication in 1978 of an article titled “The New Story,” by Thomas Berry, the influential thinker who taught at Fordham University and directed the Riverdale Center of Religious Research. “The New Story” argued that humans were positioned between important narratives—namely, the scientific narrative about the unfolding of the universe and the creation stories offered by religious traditions. Might a new narrative be possible—one that integrates these worldviews?

Mary Evelyn Tucker and Brian Thomas Swimme, scholars who worked closely with Berry (he died in 2009), have responded to the challenge. The two have coauthored both the film Journey of the Universe and the companion book, published by Yale University Press. Tucker, who codirects the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, has also done yeoman’s work on Journey’s educational DVD, hosting twenty half-hour conversations with scientists, educators, and environmentalists, including Sr. Marya Grathwohl, OSF, of Earth Hope in Wyoming, and Sr. Paula Gonzalez, SC, of EarthConnection in Cincinnati.

It’s the affable Swimme—professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies—who hosts the film, speaking with enthusiasm about matters like the Big Bang (he prefers the term “The Great Flaring Forth”); the arrangement of the solar system (he illustrates it with vegetables, using a cabbage for the sun); the significance of plate tectonics; the advent of life on earth; the nature of photosynthesis; and the development of art and language among humans. The film even addresses the phenomenon of compassion, suggesting that it is a natural, if rather marvelous, part of human evolution—perhaps an extension of the maternal instinct (a shot of a koala and her baby helps illustrate this theory).

Click here to read the full article.

 

Webinar: Ending Poverty: Practical Steps for Those Inspired by Their Faith

Katherine Marshall

Katherine Marshall

Register Now Wednesday, December 14, 2011
10:00am U.S. Central Time

This webinar will address spiritual and practical imperatives that emerge from the intersections of religion and development. We now approach the culmination of the Millennium Development Goal challenge set in the year 2000. What are the successes, flops, and challenges we must face to create greater equity in our communities and around the world?

Katherine Marshall is a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and Visiting Professor in the School of Foreign Service. She leads the Berkley Center’s work on faith-inspired institutions working in development, that has involved both a regional “mapping” and explorations of priority development topics, around the basic questions: what can we learn from faith inspired work and why is it important for global development efforts? She is Executive Director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue.

Title: Ending Poverty: Practical Steps for Those Inspired by Their Faith
Date: Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Time: 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM CDT
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees:
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

Macintosh®-based attendees:
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/919887174

Religious and Spiritual Leaders Reflect on 9/11

Beyond 9/11 to a Broader View of the World by Sister Joan Chittister, OSB

Healing, Hope and Humanity: A Sikh Reflection by Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia

It Is Time to Invoke Historys Other 9/11 of Nonviolence and Global Interfaith Dialogue by Anju Bhargava

9/11: Ten Years On by Eboo Patel

From Memory to Hope by Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson

Lessons from the Kaddish a Decade Later by Chancellor Arnold M. Eisen

WATCH: The Future Of Christian-Muslim Relations In The West

For A More Unified, Understanding New York by Georgette Bennett, Ph.D.

Did 9/11 Make Us Morally Better? by Miroslav Volf

Hate and Hope by Serene Jones

Reaching for Hope After 9/11 — Together by The Interfaith Amigos

WATCH: Finding Hope And Healing At Ground Zero

The Sukkah and the World Trade Center by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

An Opportunity For Reflection by Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori

Our post-9/11 failures by Desmond Tutu

Unite through compassion by Karen Armstrong

Remaking the world after 9/11 by Tony Blair

Radical Islam on its way out by Feisal Abdul Rauf

9/11 demands intellectual honesty by Sam Harris

Rebuilding our souls by Thomas Monson

Spirituality after the attack by T.D. Jakes

Peace begins internally by Donald Wuerl

Live the memorial by Katharine Jefferts Schori

Death and the hope of resurrection by Mark Driscoll

Divided world, divided hearts by Deepak Chopra

We grasped our brokenness anew by David Wolpe

Americans still dont know Islam by Yasir Qadhi

A prayer for America by Sally Quinn

From Ground Zero to the State Dept by Suzan Cook

10 Years Later, We Must Do Better by Rabbi Michael M. Cohen