Proof that god does not want Republicans to meet…

by Karen Topakian

cause if she did she wouldn’t schedule hurricanes in the middle of their quadrennial parties.

As you may remember, Hurricane Gustav* delayed the start of the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minnesota.

They suspended party politicking on the first day, Sept 1. Even though the RNC were miles and states away from the storm’s course. Replacing it with a call for action to help hurricane victims.

Hurricane Gustav required the largest evacuation in US history. More than 3 million people fled the oncoming hurricane and caused $6.6 billion dollars in damages.

Fast forward, 4 years to the 2012 Republican Convention in Tampa. Where Hurricane Isaac** once again delayed their party by one day. Forcing evacuations of thousands from Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

What other reasonable conclusion could one draw?

*In Scandinavian languages, Gustav means staff of the gods
**In Hebrew, Isaac means he laughs, will laugh

A Lenten Observance from My Past

by Karen Topakian

As millions of Christians around the world observe Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, I am reminded of a Lent I observed 36 years ago. When I chose to give up meat for 40 days.

In 1976, I had recently graduated from college and lived at home with my parents. Though I never ever considered myself a religious person, I had given up food items for lent in the past. Candy and soda dominated the list of my childhood sacrifices.

But this time I felt different. Something had changed within me.

I had recently read Diet for a Small Planet and began to develop an interest in the environment or at the time we called it, ecology.

This book opened my eyes to the cost to our planet and to ourselves of raising and eating beef cows. The high use of grain and water to feed an animal that would die solely for our consumption. The taking of a life to sustain me seemed wrong. Especially since that same grain and water could feed us directly with less damage to the environment.

As typical Armenians my family ate a fair amount of chicken and lamb. Beef appeared regularly and pork on rare occasion. I had liked them all as a child and ate them willingly. Except for the evil beef stew and the dreaded pot roast. I even liked my beef on the rare side.

When I announced to my family that I would give up meat for lent, they couldn’t understand my choice.

Questions arose. What would I eat? How could I get along without our much beloved chicken and pilaf – a staple of every Armenian’s diet? How would I survive? Would I get sick? Why give up so much at once? Try it in moderation!

I would hear none of it.

When I told Nana, my maternal grandmother, that I wouldn’t eat meat during lent, I thought that would please her. I thought she would see this as a sign that Christianity hadn’t eluded me. (It had.) That maybe I would willingly attend Armenian Church. (I wouldn’t.) But she didn’t.

When she asked me why I chose to not eat meat, I decided to appeal to her strong religious beliefs by telling her that, “The bible says, Thou shall not kill.” She responded, “They didn’t mean animals.” I asked her how she knew that. She returned with, “If you thought every time you bought meat that it used to be an animal, then, of course, you wouldn’t eat it, but you can’t think that way.”

Hard to argue with that illogic.

For 40 days, I abstained from eating meat. My choice vexed my family. I became a problem at mealtime. What would Karen eat? At home, I, of course, just ate around the meat items. When we ate at other family members’ homes, I had to state why I would abstain from eating meat. Once again, I needed to repeat my arguments and listen to their arguments against my decision.

Then on Easter Sunday, when my grandmother served the traditional Easter meal, I had to choose whether I would start eating meat again. I chose not to. And haven’t since that day, 36 years ago.

God Bless the ACLU

by Karen Topakian

My hometown school committee, voted 4 to 3 to keep a prayer posted on the wall of the auditorium intact, despite its violation of the First Amendment.

The prayer, Our Heavenly Father, written by a student in the class of 1963 was a gift to the succeeding classes. I must have sat in that auditorium hundreds of times. But I have no memory of it.

According to an article in the Providence Journal, 4,000 people signed a petition to keep the prayer intact.

The ACLU received a complaint last July and gave the school committee eight months to resolve it. The Committee resolved it by deciding against removing it. Now the ACLU will file a lawsuit to have it removed.

I hate to say it but the handwriting was literally on the wall.

A Cross to Bear

by Karen Topakian

They say that the Lord works in mysterious ways. And she surely must when she told 33-year-old Joshua Sarhan to carry a 40-pound cross across America. The ex-Marine totes it on his shoulder while telling people the good news about the Gospel.

Starting on Feb 17 in Arkansas, he has already crossed eight state lines with many more to go as he heads up the East Coast.

Of course he has a FaceBook page. Take Up His Cross, with more than 1,700 followers.

Joshua is not alone, however.

Keith Wheeler has been carrying his cross around the world for the last 25 years visiting more than 185 countries on all seven continents. 

Arthur Blessit spent 40 years carrying his cross more than 38,000 miles. 

Evangelist Joel Crompton carries a 10 ft cross as part of his street ministries.

Tom Alexander has carried his 10 ft cross through more than 100 cities in California though his sports a wheel from a movable fence. 

All of these people said that God told them to do this. That their lives changed for the better as a result. Giving up addictions and party boy behaviors. Turning away from a life of crime.

The cross helped them become better people, they say. It encouraged them to pray for and help others.

Not being a religious person on any level, I find this behavior to be quite curious. 

It surely raises a few questions.

If the Romans had more sophisticated means of capital punishment, like lethal injections, would these devout men be carrying needles around with them instead? Would it have the same impact?

Not meaning any disrespect but what possesses people do such things? And how do they know that it’s god talking to them?

Anybody have any insight into this behavior?  I am truly curious.

Taking The Good With The Bad

by Karen Topakian

Today marks the birthday of my very very very good friend Harvey Solomon. Happy Birthday Harvey!!!

A friend through thick and thin. From my college days in the 70’s.

I know he’ll be celebrating this milestone today. With a little knot in his stomach. And a catch in the back of his throat.

Because today also marks the anniversary of the death of his beloved mother Gertrude. 

Harv and his lovely mother were close. Very close.

He celebrated all of the good times with her.  And was also by her side for the hard times. During her cancer treatments and other serious health problems. Never failing to provide her with what she needed.

I’ve known Gertrude almost as long as I’ve known Harvey.

Living in the same small state I enjoyed many a family meal and event with the Solomons. Not only did she treat me as family. But my partner Peg as well.

Visiting her provided great pleasure. Her smile. Her excellent conversational skills made you want to make a stop on Mawney Street in E.G. Though she didn’t know my family well, she never failed to ask about them and their health. Remembering what they did. And who they were.

She enjoyed a good laugh and a tough New York Times crossword puzzle. None ever defeated her.

Gertrude never uttered a mean or spiteful word about anyone. She didn’t trade in gossip but knew about all of the accomplishments and successes of her extended family. And would share them with you, if asked.

When you looked into her eyes, you could see Gertrude’s love for her family. Even when walking and moving about exhausted her, she never stopped wanting to be around them. Finding joy in their activities and in their company. Happy for them despite her weaknesses.

One of the last times I saw Gertrude was a few months before she passed away. When Harvey brought her to my father’s wake. Unwell herself she came. 

Shortly before she died, with Harvey at her side she called me on the phone from the nursing home. In her clear but weakened voice she left me message. Telling me that she was thinking of me. I left that message on the machine for days just to hear her voice again. After she had passed away.

So happy birthday Harvey. Celebrate in good health. And Gertrude you remain in my thoughts.

Speaker needed for Pentagon Prayer Day!


Franklin Graham


by Karen Topakian

I’m sure that I am not the only one outraged at the Pentagon’s decision to rescind their invitation to Franklin Graham to speak on the National Day of Prayer.

What did the revered evangelist Billy Graham’s oldest son do to offend the US military? Not much really. He just said in 2001 that Islam is evil and wicked and he criticized its treatment of women. He then went on to remind Muslims that Jesus Christ died for their sins.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation objected to his appearance because of these remarks.

Since Mr. Graham was a co-honorary chair and expected to serve as the lead speaker at the May 6 event, the National Day of Prayer Task Force will need to fill the slot with someone more acceptable. Any one have any suggestions for suitable replacements for this Colorado-based organization in their hour of need?

The Miracles of Pope John Paul II

by Karen Topakian

Pope John Paul II even in his death seems to be moving at a fast pace. The Providence Journal declared that he’s on the fast track. To sainthood.

Pope Benedict appears determined to grant him a seat at the large table of more than 10,000 saints.

Along with people who suffered the slings and arrows of torture. Who healed the sick and comforted the dying. Who served as exemplary models and extraordinary teachers.

Pope John Paul II’s three miracles, requirements for sainthood, include curing the sick with a recovery that is sudden, complete permanent and inexplicable by doctors.

But I think the biggest miracle he performed was not seeing or addressing the child sexual abuse by priests and its cover-up. Taking place right before his very eyes.

Brit disses Buddhism


photo taken by Karen Topakian at Angkor Wat


by Karen Topakian

Brit Hume, Fox News’ Senior Political Analyst, recently offered some religious advice to Tiger Woods.

“He’s said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith,” Hume said. “So my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'”

If Tiger Woods is guilty of adultery, I really don’t care if he is or not, is Christianity the only way to recover? Couldn’t his own religious beliefs serve him as well?

According to Rev. Lisa Hoffman, Zen priest, “The Dalai Lama says that, “My religion is kindness.” Buddhism is about doing all good, and not doing harm. It’s about living for the benefit of all beings, being of service, knowing deeply that we are all connected. So while the Buddha did not talk specifically about forgiveness and redemption, our practice involves not harming and when we do to correct the harm as soon as we recognize it.”

If Tiger is a practicing Buddhist, his religious/spiritual beliefs can certainly accommodate his alleged acts.

Since Buddhism doesn’t speak to the Christian concept of redemption, which calls for absolution for past sins and deliverance/protection from damnation, the notion of needing redemption seems to be immaterial.

I couldn’t help but wonder if Mr. Hume offered this same advice to Senator John Ensign, a resident of the C Street Christian Fellowship, who had an extra-marital affair with a staffer who was married to an employee in his office. Or to Governor Mark Sanford, an Episcopalian?

one million strong

by Karen Topakian

Far be it from me to criticize someone who calls for civil disobedience.  But when Chuck Colson, former Watergate felon, suggests it. I need to take a second look.

As a co-drafter of the Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, Mr. Colson seeks 1,000,000 signers to this manifesto.  This 4,700-word document expounds on the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife and the freedom of conscience and religion. And it urges civil disobedience, if necessary, to fight for these principles.

While reading the online tome, authored by Christian, Catholic and Orthodox leaders, I looked in vain for an argument against capital punishment or war. But found none.

What I did find while searching for information about Mr. Colson was a reference to a letter that he and other religious leaders sent in 2002, to then President Bush outlining their theological support for a just war pre-emptive invasion of Iraq.

I also searched in the Declaration for a nod to the persecution of non-Christians. Again I came up empty handed.

To date, 200,000 people have signed on including, theologians, Catholic bishops and arch bishops, reverends, ministers and a few notables: Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; and the Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola Primate, Anglican Church of Nigeria (Abika, Nigeria) who opposed the consecration of Gene Robinson, the first openly homosexual bishop in the Anglican Communion.

When I think of religious leaders committing acts of civil disobedience, I think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dedication to racial justice and Philip Berrigan and his brother Daniel’s commitment to nuclear disarmament.

Imagine one million religious leaders performing acts of civil disobedience in opposition to sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan or against any state sponsored execution.

I guess I’m just a little jealous.


images-1  by Karen Topakian

A few weeks ago, when I was in Armenian Church, the priest presented the parishioners with a quiz that he said five year olds had answered accurately but that graduates of Princeton couldn’t. Here’s the quiz:

What is greater than god? More evil than the devil. Rich people want it. Poor people have it. And if you eat it you will die?

He gave us a few minutes to think about it.

The Sunday school children in attendance wrote their answers on pieces of paper and handed them in.

I hoped I was smarter than a five year old and a Princeton grad but I just couldn’t come up with the answer. Being a non-believer in god and the devil put me at a distinct disadvantage. I kept thinking nature or the natural world, in answer to the first part but the other questions didn’t fit. And I also believe that poor people can be rich in ways other than monetarily.

The women sitting in front of me, turned around and whispered the answer before the priest divulged it from the pulpit.


I never would have come up with the answer. My eco-agnostic-economic views prevented me from seeing the world as simply as a child would. I’m not sure who has the better vantage point.

P.S. This will be my last posting for a few weeks, off to travel.