Friday, May 20, 2011


Dear Readers: Blogspot was not up and running last week so we had to wait until this Friday to post this latest Blog post.

SMilnor: I think our country has had a big wake-up call with the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. Now, I know that doesn’t sound like something you would expect me to say, but hear me out.

SMinasian: I’ll hear you out, but let me just say I am with you. I can’t believe we are still talking about this given he has been in office for over two years. You would think we would be over it by now. But go ahead. What’s up?

SMilnor: As someone who grew up in the South during the Civil Rights Movement and was emotionally and to a certain extent more actively involved in it, I believed we had fought our worst demons around race in this country. Don’t get me wrong: I knew there was plenty of discrimination and prejudice left. Some of the reactions to President Obama, though, have caused me to face that we have not come as far as I hoped, any of us. It’s been a painful realization for me.

SMinasian: It’s almost as though it was yesterday when the whole world was crying and celebrating this moment in history. He was not just the first African American president; he was also a qualified person for the job. Be that as it may, our demons have come out of the closet. I think we get in that space where we actually see things happen in our adulthood we never though possible in our youth. BUT reality bites, and we see once again that we have a long way to go.

SMilnor: When that celebration happened in Grant Park on election night, I didn’t expect everyone to be glad a Democratic president had been chosen. I didn’t expect everyone to be glad to have his priorities and policies. But I honestly thought most Americans might feel pride that we had come this far as a nation. I don’t believe that now. I think everything that night symbolized was deeply disturbing and unacceptable to a segment of the American public, and I believe what we have witnessed since then has been a huge backlash that was waiting to happen.

SMinasian: Without a doubt this is true. I know people were hostile and angry about George W. Bush, but I have never seen such hostility and hateful behavior from the people the president is trying to work with. I expect that from people who I would consider uneducated and not willing to change. Growing up in the South I wonder if our racism has always been out there for everybody to see. Now the people who have been hiding it behind the closet North of the Mason Dixon are OUT! Oh my, I sound like I am fighting the War of Northern Aggression all over again.

SMilnor: Uh, Susan, in East Tennessee we learned about the Civil War. . . In any case, the whole “birther” issue has obviously been a major manifestation of what we are talking about, as have the photos which feature the President or First Lady as pimps, whores, apes – I have trouble believing this even as I write it --- but the one that really brought me to tears and hurt deep was Trump’s accusation that Barack Obama didn’t deserve to admission to the schools he attended, wasn’t a good student, benefited where he shouldn’t have. People can roll their eyes and say, “Oh, that’s just The Donald,” but you know, Trump has been treated as a possible candidate for the presidency, and the media have followed every bit of this rhetoric in excruciating detail. Let’s not forget that Trump soared in the polls, at least for a while. Don’t tell me I don’t have to take what that means seriously.

SMinasian: And so Trump the Grump has never, and I do mean never, had to do what President Obama has had to do through his life. I just cannot stand it. The “average Joe” might support Trump, and yet they don’t get how it’s people like him who get all the breaks while the “average Joe” pays for it. AND the other thing that is so disturbing to me in all of this is how the President is in such danger. There is no other president who has gotten the number of death threats as Obama has gotten. Language is powerful. The language of disagreement on policies because of the values one might hold is one thing. To exploit the race of a person for one’s own gain is another. This “gain” is going to unravel whatever we have experienced as progress, and this time nobody is going to be safe.

SMilnor: I worried a lot about President Obama’s safety at first, but I got distracted from that by worrying about his spirit and his family’s. Seriously, Susan, to do everything right in your life: to emerge from a life of few material resources, learn to cope with racism here and abroad and still be a positive person, go off and get quality educations – he was editor of Harvard Law Review, for God’s sake – be elected to the state senate and U.S. Senate, and the Presidency, and THEN have people say you aren’t smart, you aren’t a real American, you didn’t deserve it, on and on, all because they don’t like your color. Tell me what that does to someone’s spirit.

SMinasian: That’s a good question. What does it do to one’s spirit? I think this is where his personality comes in handy. He has always been calm. He has always been thoughtful. While I don’t agree with him on everything…I did work for his candidacy, and I voted for him. I find him to be a refreshing, intelligent and solid human being. I think his spirit probably goes through some gymnastics. Then, he probably tucks in his daughters at night, thinks about his mom sometimes, and then looks at Michelle, and together they say…this is what it means to make history. Making history the way he is making history is tough. I think he knew what he was getting in to. I just think he might be a little surprised at how ignorant government leaders are. But that seems to be the main criteria these days. I just keep praying for him and his family. Every time I get a CNN emergency alert on my BlackBerry I pray that nothing has happened to him. Hate is a scary thing.

SMilnor: Well, I think you are right about making history and how tough it is. And I should know that after the 50’s and 60’s in the South. My agonizing about this comes in part out of my own surprise and the hurt my spirit has felt. I suspect the extremity of the disrespect with which he is treated – in media interviews, for instance – may have caught even Barack Obama by surprise, but he is probably much more profoundly equipped than little ole’ lily white I am just to keep fighting the good fight.

SMinasian: I don’t think it is just an intellectual thing for either one of us. I don’t think it is just an emotional one either. We both come from people who have experienced hate. You have Native American ancestors, and I have Armenian ancestors. They both know all too well how hate leads to violence. It’s not just about hurt feelings. I also think that our experiences growing up in the South make us even more attuned to what we are seeing and hearing. It is familiar. It is dangerous. So we must keep the good fight going. It is just that. And we will.

SMilnor. Amen.

Friday, May 6, 2011


SMinasian: OK my friend. I am having a hard time. As I watch the people celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden there is something in me that wonders if we are all so broken that we can't find any place in us that seeks peace.

I have some friends on Facebook who have a page they like that says thank you to George W. Bush. I decided to click on it and the posts were so mean and hostile against President Obama. I also know that there are Obama supporters who are just as mean and hostile about George W. Bush. I am probably perceived as one of them. And then I catch myself. And I wonder...what is it in us that pushes that button? What happens that causes my head and my heart to have a head on collision. The answer I come up with is that we do not know what to do when we are "caught"!

Smilnor: I know what you mean though in a slightly different way. I have felt like a person divided against herself in the past couple of days. In one part of my mind I see the image of those people diving out of the Twin Tower on that fateful day. My heart breaks, and I think, "No one should get away with that. No egomaniac should be able to put that into motion and be hidden and protected." Then I see people cheering and waving flags and hear of some woman sucked into Bin Laden's life and into the line of fire, and I wonder exactly what we have to celebrate. We should be mourning -- not the death of a mad man, but the death of reason and personal independence; we should be lamenting the human need to turn to extreme ideas and people to save us.

SMinasian: I am weeping inside because I confess my own anger toward Bin Laden. I am weeping inside because I am glad he was killed. I am weeping inside because as a person of faith and as a Christian specifically I want and believe in a justice that is without violence. But I confess constantly because I know that my pain and wounds like (on some level) the retribution. If I prayed more, if I was really a holy woman...could I...would I feel this way?

Smilnor: That I can answer, Susan. Yes you would. Yes you are. Because no human being is holy without also being profane. No one reaches moments of insight and compassion without also slugging through temptation and need. My theological tradition says that the holy is found in the common, and God knows the common can be both beautiful and ugly, joyous and sad, measured and passionate. We can only expect of ourselves to ask the questions and try to answer them with the greatest awareness and integrity we can manage. We are weeping, and our tears are the waters that cleanse us.

SMinasian: I look to scripture. I see all the scripture verses folks are posting on Facebook and I end up at the shortest: John 11:35..."Jesus wept."

You know Easter Sunday fell on Armenian Martyrs Day this year. I sat through the whole service filled with the joy of resurrection and transformation. Our daughter was confirmed into the church. Our family made the trip from Richmond, Virginia. A woman who has been like a grandmother to Anna was also with us.

Before I went into the sanctuary I stopped at the prayer request sheet. There is a sheet at each entrance to the sanctuary. There are some pre-printed items and then it is left there so that people can add prayer requests before the service begins. That list is then used for prayer on Wednesday mornings at an early morning prayer service.

Anyway…I thought...should I do it? Nobody else will. So I wrote: We pray for all the people who mourn the loss of family in the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian Genocide was not on the pre-printed list. I didn't expect it to be.

With all of the pain that experience (the Genocide) has brought to my people and to my family, I do not want revenge. But when I run into people and especially friends who don't even talk about it or mention it, I get upset. I know they want me to shut up and stop talking about wanting justice. What I'm saying is: I know what it is like to want people to pay for what they did. While the Turkish government continues to deny the Genocide and oppress Armenians, Osama Bin Laden admitted what he did. He took "credit" for it...which sounds sick on one level. But he didn't deny it. These are two wrongs. I want restorative justice. Not vengeance.

SMilnor: Of course you want restorative justice for your people. And to give us the benefit of the doubt, I believe that's what Americans around this country have felt for ten years. I don't know whether we always get what we seek, though. What is restorative? That's the question. And I don't really know the answer. But I know that on some level, people's sense of justice is restored if they can believe that the wealthy and powerful and privileged are accountable for their decisions and, yes, for their humanity or lack of it just as the rest of us are. It is interesting to think where Dante would place Bin Laden in his INFERNO.

SMinasian: Bin Laden was a sick man. He did evil things. AND I think God puts a mirror in front of me and reminds me I am no different. If sin is sin, and there is no hierarchy in sin, then, well...we are all fallen. I believe in a God of transformation. So it is my hope, and it is my prayer, that if there is a "maker" whom we come face to face with upon our death, then in seeing that holy one...maybe...just maybe the love Osama will experience will be transforming and the Osama we knew will be dead indeed.

Smilnor: It's a good prayer, Susan. Here I am, a Universalist talking about the inferno. Perhaps I should be focused instead on purgatory or even paradise, where all hatred and, if you will, sin, falls away.