25 April 2013

Facing Genocide Awareness and Thinking Beyond Armenian-ness

Today is April 25.  It's the day after April 24 - our Armenian Genocide Day of Remembrance.  The flags on the cars are off now.  The Armenian political parties have all settled down.  The April 24 programs are over and done with in our schools, and we're back to life as we know it.

It feels like once a year, everyone comes out of the woodwork to show their Armenian-ness.  The Facebook profile pictures change for April 24.   Red, Blue and Orange; eternal flames, and messages of "Never Again" started popping up a few days before the 24th.  Don't get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with remembering our past.  The atrocities committed by the Turks against our people were horrific, barbaric, inhuman, and there is no justification for it.  We should never forget, but, we should also not wallow in our past.

Both of my grandmothers were genocide survivors.  They both lost their families in front of their eyes. Both came to the U.S. with nothing and made something of their lives.  I remember growing up in their shadow.  They - who had experienced the unimaginable - didn't dwell on their past.  Instead, they brought us up to love God, get an education, remember to vote, love this country and be kind to others because truly, others had shown kindness to them.    In other words, they focused on their lives in the present.  The past was there, and yes, when we asked, they would share with us with tears.  But they embraced this new country  - the U.S. - and taught us that you can bloom where you're planted.

On my way into work yesterday, I read a text from my sister Susan in response to the day.  It said, "Remembering and resurrecting are not annual occurrences, but embraced tragedy transformed to living love."  We are a strong people with a proud heritage.  It does us no good to say, "Armenians were the first nation to accept Christianity  if we don't accept the Christian response - to love one and care for one another.

We can't honestly say, "Never Again" when there is a genocide going on today - TODAY - in Darfur and we turn our backs on it because the victims are not "our people".  We can't look at the photos of our starving people and then turn our backs on those that are hungry and homeless in our community and globally.

The time is here for resurrection!  The best way for our people to acknowledge the genocide is to show that we are victorious over the systematic annihilation of our people that was the dream of the Ottoman Turks.  I am proud to be involved in our outreach organization, In His Shoes.  This organization was started as a direct response to our Armenian genocide.  We as Armenians have "been there and done that!"  We have been hungry, hurt, homeless, poor, lonely, starving, and yet we are still here!  Now it's time to give it back.  Thank God for our resurrection by walking In the Shoes of others who are suffering.

So this April 22, we partnered with Ascencia, Glendale's homeless shelter and our crew prepared dinner for the residents there in memory of our past.  This is in addition to our monthly homeless outreaches to downtown's Skid Row where we have fed and clothed the people there for close to 5 years now.

We are fasting weekly for Darfur in Stop Genocide Now's 100-Day-Fast and donating our food money to the Little Ripples program - which will give young displaced Darfuri children a chance at education.  And just yesterday, a small group walked - not with flags and banners, but with their hearts full of love and compassion - 17.5 kilometers from Pasadena to the Armenian Genocide Monument -- remembering one genocide, by working toward stopping another one.  We have the power.

There is a beautiful remembrance banner I saw on Facebook yesterday.  It says, "Cut my branches, burn my leaves, but you'll never touch my roots".  Let's remember where our roots lie - with Faith in God, Hope for a brighter future,  and Love for one another.  Armenian or not.

You can hear the audio version of this blog post on this week's episode of "The Next Step with Fr. Vazken" on epostle.net  or available for download at your itunes store.

To get involved or donate to In His Shoes, please visit www.inhisshoes.org

18 April 2013

Remember the Helpers

I can't help but get tearful when I see the beautiful face of Richard Martin, the little 8-year-old who lost his life in Boston a couple days ago....a victim of the senseless bombing.  I can't make sense of it. Who could possibly do something like this?  My heart hurts for these families that lost their loved ones and those that are injured. And of course, just like 9-11, it makes you realize our temporary nature, our frailty and how life as we know it can change in an instant.

As of today, we still don't know who did it.  No one has taken responsibility for it.  There were photos the FBI posted today of two suspects, people are on edge, security is tightened.  But there's something else I've noticed too that is heartbreaking.  As soon as we heard of the bombings, the posts on Facebook and the internet started.  Vicious comments about Muslims, terrorists, nuking other countries, retaliation....I even read about it being a government plot by our president to take the focus off North Korea!!!  Seriously?  It's all there..and it's incredibly ugly and sad.

I understand.  We are hurting.  We're in pain.  We have lost lives...and freedoms.  I understand about terrorism and extremists.  It is unjustifiable!  It is frightening and painful.  But filling our hearts with hatred?  That is even more frightening and painful.  We will then be no better than our perpetrators.

I don't really have an answer.  But I do know hatred is not the answer.  So what can we do?  How about being kind to one another. Hugging our children, loving our families, spending more time together and not playing into the hatred.  Don't be a party to negative comments/speech especially when it deals with stereotyping. Remember there are more good people in the world than bad.  And pray. Pray for peace, patience, and for love to permeate our lives.  Pray for lives lost and lives changed because of this tragedy. And pray for an end to this violence.

Finally, I wanted to share this.  It's something I read from one of my favorite childhood TV personalities, Mr. Rogers.

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping."  To this day, especially in times of 'disaster', I remember my mother's words and I'm always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world."  ~ Mr. Rogers
Such a beautiful sentiment that was carried through childhood into adulthood.  We need to all look for the helpers....and better yet, become the helpers.

You can hear an audio version of this blog post on this week's episode of The Next Step with Father Vazken on epostle.net

11 April 2013

Thoughts On Fasting

Empty lunchbag:  Fasting on Tuesday
It's a typical Tuesday.  I got up, got ready for work, watered the garden, fed the kitties, went into the kitchen, rinsed my sprouts, and and then I grabbed my lunchbag and started packing food for the day: something for breakfast at my desk, something for lunch, some carrots for a snack....and then I remembered....Oh yeah, it's Tuesday.  I'm fasting today.

I am fasting today, and every Tuesday until July 14 in solidarity and remembrance of our brothers and sisters in Darfur.  It's been ten years since the violence has escalated there.  It's hard to believe for me that so much time has gone by, but it must feel like an eternity for those in the IDP camps.  As a granddaughter of genocide survivors, I heard similar stories of horror and displacement from my grandmothers.  While there is nothing I can do about our 98-year-old Armenian genocide, I can work toward stopping one that's going on today in Darfur.  And so I have joined this 100 day, tag-team fast.

Fasting makes me realize how much I take food for granted. We have food in the fridge.  Even when I open it and don't see anything I want, there's still food there. I am spoiled.  There's food in the cupboard too.  When I get to work, there's food there, in the kitchen. Not only food, but water, and 4 kinds of coffee, and hot cocoa and tea too.   There is food in our work area.  We are able to eat when we're hungry.  And we're able to eat when we're not hungry.  Fasting helps me understand that life is not fair.  Not everyone has what I have.  And as a practicing Christian, it is commanded of me to do something about it.  Not to look down and say, "I'm fortunate that I'm not like them," but to ask, "Why don't they have it?  And how can I share what I have with them?  How can I feel their pain?  How can I help?"

In the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life", it's said that an angel gets its wings every time you hear a bell ring.  Well, I have a different version of that.  When I'm fasting, every time my stomach growls, it's a reminder that tens of thousands of people are without food.  They don't have the choice that I do...to end the fast.  The growling is their reality.  Fasting is a very powerful tool.

Fasting helps me to move myself into a more spiritual realm of faith and power by putting aside my physical desire for food. We put our faith first above our physical needs.  And with fasting comes prayer.  A prayer for healing and focus.  That God heal our hearts to understand the needs of others before ourselves.  That we have the strength to push for justice; keep our focus strong and our hearts compassionate to their needs, and also for a realization that we all belong to one another.  I also pray for the courage to tell the story, get the word out, and remain vigilant in the cause.  Join me and many others.  Let's be the change we want to see in the world.

If you would like to join the fast, please click on this link for more information, to sign up, or to donate:
100 Day Fast for Darfur

To hear an audio version of this post, please tune into the April 11 episode of "The Next Step with Father Vazken" at www.epostle.net


04 April 2013

Staying Awake with Christ

I hope you all had a very blessed Easter.  It seems like lent went by so quickly, and before you knew it,  it was Palm Sunday, and then were were living through Holy Week. I had a different perspective this year.

I wanted to share with you something I experienced on Holy Thursday.  During the Order of Darkness service we have after the Washing of the Feet, the gospel readings take us through Christ's betrayal, trial, suffering and finally his crucifixion.  It's very emotional as the 12 candles are extinguished two by two, and then the entire church is left lit by the single candle, Christ's light...and then finally we are left in complete darkness.

I've always wondered about the Garden of Gethsemane story.  How Jesus asks His disciples to stay awake with Him and pray, and returns to find that they had fallen asleep.  Didn't they care about Him?  Didn't they know what He was going through?  How could they not stay awake after He had asked them?  Well, I won't be making that judgement on them again, let me tell you.  Because I got to walk in their shoes this Holy Thursday.

So there we were, in the dark, praying on our knees, keeping vigil with Christ.  It's a long service after an doubly long day at work.  Much like the fishermen that were disciples,  my day starts early at 5:00 a.m.  I went to service that night with an open heart, with a love for our Lord, and hurting because of the suffering He endured for us.  I attended the prayer service because I wanted to be there for Him.  I wanted to stay awake.  And then slowly, as the service went on, in the darkness, the fatigue of the day set in.  My eyes were already closed in prayer...it was dark, and I could feel myself, more than once slipping away from prayer.  I'd catch myself and wake myself up, and continue....until it would overtake me again.  Eventually, I did make it through, but it wasn't easy for me.

I thought about the disciples.  Sure, I was kneeling in church with others like me.  But Christ's disciples were in a garden.  During this service in church we know what we are there for...we know the service will be long. And we also have our priest and deacons there doing the readings.  I was imagining how it would be had I been left alone, in a dark, warm garden, asked to stay awake after a long day of work (and not desk job work, but real physical work.)

What I learned from this beautiful service is that the disciples fell asleep not because they didn't love Him, and not because they were just tired, but more so because they were human.  I imagine that Christ knew this.  And as disappointed as He would be, I'm pretty sure that He understood.  Finally, I think that being human shouldn't be the cop out to not being able to follow through on what we are commanded.  We need to be "fully awake" to Christ's teachings, giving it our best shot.  And should a little dozing happen to take over, give ourselves a little nudge to wake up, refocus ourselves, and continue on, fully awake, in the light.

You can hear this post read on this week's episode of "The Next Step with Fr. Vazken"