Individuals and groups

Individuals and groups whose story doesn't fit into any other category.

Rainn Wilson: funnyman, spiritualist, 'crazy sea mammal'

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If you ever watched "The Office" and thought Dwight Schrute reminded you of a gawky security guard you once encountered at the Baha'i Temple in Wilmette, there may be a reason.

Rainn Wilson, whose starring role in the new movie "The Rocker" should expand his already-sizable "Office" following, used to work at the North Shore temple when he was a New Trier High Schooler preparing for New York University.

"There's nothing more intimidating than Rainn Wilson at age 18 in a polyester uniform chasing down skateboarders at the Baha'i Temple," Wilson recalled wryly on a recent visit to his one-time hometown.

{josquote}So for me as a Bahai artist and actor, I knew that acting was a form of worship and a form of praise of the divine—even if I do stuff as ridiculous as showing my butt crack and drumming naked.{/josquote}

Revisiting old haunts, however, wasn't on the agenda of the busy 42-year-old actor. On Monday he was scheduled to sign photos and Dwight Schrute bobble-head figurines for HON furniture at the NeoCon trade show, that night he was conducting a Q&A at a "Rocker" screening, and Tuesday's agenda included pizza with yours truly and a trip to the Chicago Cultural Center to see local artist Tony Fitzpatrick's exhibition.

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Ian Semple: There'll Be More Baha'is Than Christians and Muslims

Ian Semple: Bahájov bude viac ako kresťanov a moslimov

Veda vylučuje existenciu Boha, hoci na to nemá žiadny dôkaz, tvrdí bývalý vysoký člen bahájskej hierarchie - Svetového domu spravodlivosti v izraelskej Haife - Ian Chalmers Semple.

Ako sa človek stáva bahájom?

Na to sa nedá odpovedať, každý má vlastný spôsob. Niektorí sa nimi stanú pomerne rýchlo, pretože ich čosi inšpiruje, iní sa k tomu dopracúvajú roky. Ja som mal šťastie - o bahájskej viere som sa dozvedel, keď som šiel na univerzitu. Predtým som bol pomerne neortodoxným kresťanom, zároveň som mal obrovských strach, pretože som videl, v akom stave sa nachádza svet - šlo o rok 1949, teda povojnové obdobie.

Čo sa vám prestalo pozdávať na kresťanstve?

[translations into English are welcomed]

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Balchik, on Bulgaria's Black Sea, where Romanian Queen Marie Left Her Heart. In a Jar

It was in 1940. In a glass jar in a chapel in Balchik on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast rested the heart of Queen Marie of Romania. It was her last wish before she died. She had loved Balchik.

The coastal resort was Romanian territory at that time. But in 1940 Bulgaria regained its possession with the help of Nazi Germany. The Bulgarians promised the Romanians “that the Queen’s heart, if you choose to leave it there instead of transporting it to a suitable place inside Romania, will be surrounded by all attributes of attention and respect.”

The Romanians didn’t trust their neighbours. So a day after the pact that reinstated Balchik to Bulgaria went into effect General Eugenio Svilenik, a personal aide, spirited the sarcophagus with the queen’s heart back to Romania.

The fruit of her love for Balchik remained behind though: the mesmerizing garden complex that she created to symbolised the unity of all the world religions, while at the same time being in harmony with nature.

{josquote}Marie was the first Royal to declare herself to the Baha’i Faith.{/josquote}

The palace and its lush exotic gardens are an aesthetic accumulation of the symbols of different civilizations. They are an age-old dream come true: cultures and religions harmoniously existing together. The minaret of the small mosque rises close to a Roman-Arab bathhouse, Bulgarian-style chardaks, or verandas, and a Moorish courtyard. The huge earthenware pots were shipped from Morocco and the Hellenistic marble throne from Florence. The sea can be seen from everywhere.

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Zhang Xin and Pan Shiyi: Beijing's It-couple

Zhang Xin and Pan Shiyi

Zhang Xin and Pan Shiyi are the It-couple of Beijing: property tycoons who made a fortune at dizzying speed – and whose futuristic designs are reshaping their city

It’s Sunday night in Beijing, and a private lift sweeps me up to the 32nd-floor penthouse of Jianwai Soho tower: the family apartment of Zhang Xin and Pan Shiyi, China’s most visible and flamboyant property tycoons. When the door opens, I am led into a huge living room, with floor to ceiling windows and amazing Chinese art on white walls. I have met them before, in London, and they greet me warmly, Zhang, attractive and charismatic, dressed informally in black trousers and leather gilet, and Pan, who looks like a clever faun, with dark eyes that miss nothing behind black-rimmed spectacles.

{josquote}She became a Baha’i two years ago; Pan is a Taoist who is “still exploring”, Zhang says.{/josquote}

They have invited me and a couple of friends for an informal dinner, and we sit down to delicious Chinese fare, while the conversation is peppered with financial jargon. No wonder. Jianwai is just one of several large-scale developments they have built in Beijing’s central business district (CBD), making them the largest developers of residential and commercial buildings in the city. Married since 1994, they started their company, SOHO China, in 1995, and took it public last year, raising US $1.9 billion (£950 million) on the Hong Kong stock exchange – a high point in a dizzying career which has seen them build a fortune in 12 years through fusing brilliant land deals, marketing genius and innovative architecture in a city where until recently everything was grey.

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Earlier, related, story: Developer works on a future for Beijing's high-end housing market

A different way of life

G Shoghitas, wife Rijisha, son Shyamthejas and daughter Nandana Das

TO all appearances, G Shoghitas, wife Rijisha, and children would pass off as an ordinary Malayali family. There is nothing unusual in their way of dressing or speaking.

But step into the house and you can find a room with just a carpet on the floor. A set of prayer books are in the corner. Shoghitas and family are not Hindu, Christian, Muslim or any other common religion but Baha’i. July 9 was one of the nine holy days of the Baha’i calender, the day in which Ba’b, the manifestation of God for the Bahai’s, was martyred.

The members of the 350-odd community in Kochi gathered at Shoghitas’ house at Pallimukku, which is also the Bahai centre of Kochi, for a prayer meeting recently.

Being Baha’i has never posed a problem for him, according to Shoghitas. But his decision to convert was initially met with violent opposition from his family. They relented at the end, and now his mother is a Bahá’í.

Shoghitas’s wife was Hindu but familiar with the Bahá’í religion. Their marriage was conducted in the community hall- a simple ceremony involving a prayer and a declaration.

The difference between Bahá’í and other newly found religions is that Bahá’í has been recognised by the government, and can be entered under ‘religion’ in one’s SSLC book and other identification documents.

{josquote}The Lotus Temple at Delhi, is the only monument we visit on a pilgrimage.{/josquote}

“We don’t try to convert people or hold campaigns for spreading the religion. Probably that’s why not many people are familiar with it,” says Shoghitas. “But even today, people are getting converted out of their own wish, mostly on hearing about it through friends and relatives.”

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