copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
It was 11:22 Ante Meridian, on January 21, 2009. I did as I rarely do. I stood silently and watched television. As one who listens to what is aired, and does so from another room, this was an unusual occurrence. However, the Cherokee wisdom of wolves, an illustration that represents the internal strife within every human being beckoned me.
Then, at the very same hour on the very next day, again I was compelled to do what is odd for me. I did not say a word as I glared at humanitarian actions took place on the screen. President Barack Obama proclaimed, by Executive Order, the United States would not torture. Nor would we, as a nation, detain presumed “combatants” without a just trial. On each occasion, I was in awe as I gazed upon what I had not imagined would come to pass. Upon reflection, the two events seem to be related.
On Wednesday, the voice of the speaker was unfamiliar to me. The narrative, she share was extremely familiar. Perchance that is why I was drawn into the calm drama as it unfolded before me. Reverend Doctor Sharon E. Watkins, in her candid manner, in the Inaugural Prayer, brought the Chief Executive of the United States to task. With knowledge of The Obama Administration’s agenda, a plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan, Doctor Reverend Sharon E. Watkins shared a allegory and directly addressed the analogy. The President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) spoke to the President of the United States with intent. Her prayer was meant to be more than a homily, easily left in the home of the Lord. The passionate cleric conceded, the circumstances that exist today are dire.
What you are entering now, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, will tend to draw you away from your ethical center. But we, the nation that you serve, need you to hold the ground of your deepest values, of our deepest values.
Beyond this moment of high hopes, we need you to stay focused on our shared hopes, so that
we can continue to hope, too.
We will follow your lead.
There is a story attributed to Cherokee wisdom:
One evening a grandfather was teaching his young grandson about the internal battle that each person faces.
“There are two wolves struggling inside each of us,” the old man said.
“One wolf is vengefulness, anger, resentment, self?pity, fear . . .
“The other wolf is compassion, faithfulness, hope, truth, love . . .”
The grandson sat, thinking, then asked: “Which wolf wins, Grandfather?”
His grandfather replied, “The one you feed.”
The congregation was spellbound. The camera showed a meditative Barack Obama. The President, with his head in his hand, seemed to consider the parable. He looked as if he might ponder the parallel. Minister Watkins continued.
The frank Theologian furthered the thought when she said, “There are crises banging on the door right now, pawing at us, trying to draw us off our ethical center – crises that tempt us to feed the wolf of vengefulness and fear.”
President Obama, from his facial expressions, understood. He knew the weight placed on his shoulders. As he oft expressed, the decision to serve the public was his, and he would do so to the best of abilities. Yet, Barack Obama often proclaimed, he could not do the nation’s work alone. Indeed, he would need help from the public. The Reverend was ready to lend a hand to the Commander-In-Chief. In service to her country, and perchance, more significantly to the Almighty and the people, planet-wide Sharon E. Watkins submitted.
We need you, Mr. President, to hold your ground. We need you, leaders of this nation, to stay centered on the values that have guided us in the past; values that empowered to move us through the perils of earlier times and can guide us now into a future of renewed promise.
We need you to feed the good wolf within you, to listen to the better angels of your nature, and by your example encourage us to do the same.
In the hours before the erudite religious leader spoke, much laid in the balance. Doctor Watkins likely heard the whispers; President Obama might not close Guantanamo Bay Prison as quickly as he had promised. When asked of the possible release of detainees Barack Obama was hesitant. He discussed what logistically would be difficult.
Doctor Sharon E. Watkins seemed to inquire as an ABC News interviewer had not. Mister President; which path will you choose? How will ethical principles shape your policies President Obama?
She too may have marveled at the statement a pious man offered just prior to the inauguration. On “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos, Barack Obama stated, homeland security is his top priority. The “need” to fight back when terrorists threaten would be prominent features in an Obama Administration. “We are going to have to stay vigilant, and that’s something that doesn’t change from administration to administration,” the then President Elect said.
Hence, in her homily Sharon E. Watkins invited the newly installed President Obama to obey the sacred principles he had oft professed to believe.
On Thursday, perhaps he did honor the ethical traditions. As I again, listened to the television from afar, the baritone sounds that echoed in the next room were recognizable. Barack Obama addressed a small audience of onlookers, each anxious to see him sign three Executive Orders. Indeed, Commander-In-Chief Obama decreed that this country act on the “some” of the ethical standards the Minister spoke of only twenty-four hours earlier.
President Obama signed directives that authorize a Review and Disposition of Individuals Detained at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and Closure of Detention Facilities. A Review of Detention Policy Options, and he approved an order that would Ensure Lawful Interrogations.
However, what the President has yet to act on the poignant matters that affect every American, in truth all human beings every day. War. As I situated myself before the screen to watch the invocation, I saw a pensive man. Barack Obama, unlike most in the National Cathedral congregation seemed to study Reverend Doctor Sharon E. Watkins’ every word.
The Commander-In-Chief appeared to recognize the depth of the sermon Reverend Watkins delivered. Indeed, that is what captured my attention. While Doctor Watkins had command of her language, she commanded the person who is perhaps, the most powerful human being in the world. This articulate Minister stood before the President, and eloquently presented parables and scriptures that spoke to the less than honorable and moral issue of vengeance.
This uncommon; yet commoner, cleric addressed a reverent Barack Obama. She welcomed reflections on stark realities in a manner that few might. Doctor Reverend Sharon E. Watkins essentially confronted the new Commander and asked him to evaluate his ethics.
Solemnly she said, “In international hard times, our instinct is to fight – to pick up the sword, to seek out enemies, to build walls against the other and why not? They just might be out to get us. We’ve got plenty of evidence to that effect. Someone has to keep watch and be ready to defend, and Mr. President – Tag! You’re it!”
The congregation laughed. The air for them was light. However, for Doctor Sharon E. Watkins, there was no humor in her words.
G-d’s representative spoke of the change she, and I could, believe in.
While most Americans delighted in the news of today’s Executive Orders, I wonder if Reverend Doctor Watkins worried as I do. Later, on Thursday afternoon, at 3:10 Post Meridian, when once again, I stood frozen in front of the “tube.” I felt the futility of fight would be America’s fate.
The baritone, Barack Obama boomed, as if defiant of the deities. “The world needs to understand that America will be unyielding in its protection of its security and relentless in its pursuit of those who would carry out terrorism or threaten the United States.”
I wondered. Had Reverend Doctor Watkins heard the statement? Does she now know as I do, which wolf Barack Obama will feed.
Update . . .
Two U.S. missile strikes kill 17 in Pakistan, sources say,
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) — Seventeen people were killed Friday evening in two U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region, said one government and two military officials.
They are the first such strikes since President Obama took office Tuesday.
Both hits were near the Afghan border, said local political official Nasim Dawar. The Pakistani military sources asked not to be named because they are not authorized to release such information.
The first strike, which killed 10 people, occurred about 5:15 p.m. (7:15 a.m. ET) in a village near Mir Ali in North Waziristan, the officials said. Seven people died in the second hit at 7:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. ET) near Wana, the major town in South Waziristan, 17 miles (27 kilometers) from Afghanistan, they said.
References for realities, real, and those imagined by vengeful, fearful, humans . . .
- Harmonies of Liberty, Isaiah 58:6-12, Mt 22:6-40. Reverend Doctor Sharon E. Watkins. National Prayer Service. January 21, 2009
- Obama Orders Secret Prisons and Detention Camps Closed, By Scott Shane. The New York Times. January 23, 2009
- Obama Promises New Destiny, Work Begins Today, By Joe Klein. Time. January 21, 2009
- Executive Orders. WhiteHouse.gov.
- Review and Disposition of Individuals Detained at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and Closure of Detention Facilities. WhiteHouse.gov. January 22, 2009
- Review of Detention Policy. WhiteHouse.gov. January 22, 2009
- Ensuring Lawful Interrogations. WhiteHouse.gov. January 22, 2009
- Reverend Doctor Sharon E. Watkins. Disciples World. November 9, 2009
- Obama to Explore New Approach in Afghanistan War, By Karen DeYoung. Washington Post. Tuesday, November 11, 2008; A01
- Obama: Guantanamo center might not close within first 100 days, By Jill Zuckman. Baltimore Sun. January 2009
- ‘This Week’ Transcript: Barack Obama, George Stephanopoulos’ Exclusive Interview with President-Elect Barack Obama. ABC News. January 11, 2009
- Obama Pool Report Thursday, January 22, 2009. Time. January 22, 2009