My dear friend Joe lives in LA. He’s married to a Jewish woman, has been for more than three decades. He’s Catholic, but feels Jewish and goes to temple. They raised their two beautiful kids in Jewish tradition. He feels Jewish in the same way that I feel non-white. His experience has led him to understand another way of being in the world.
At Rosh Hashanah services this year, one rabbi preached about the Native American story about the two wolves. I’d forgotten about this story until he told it. I can see the well-heeled LA congregation listening to this story, and that comfortable New Year’s temple setting fades to black and there’s a fire circle glowing deep in the woods. It’s a good story to hear before the days of fasting and atonement, a good story which reaches across cultural boundaries, across faiths and races.
One evening, an old Cherokee chief told his grandson about the two wolves. One wolf is vicious and kills everything it sees, picks fights and runs off the weaker or different looking wolves who try to enter the pack for safety and comfort. The other wolf is the wolf that welcomes the stranger, shares the kill to sustain the pack, takes on the pups orphaned by cold or hunger. One night, the two wolves fight. It is a bloody fight, each wolf striving to be the winner. The cold full moon lights the clearing where the wolves fight.
The grandson asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee chief simply replied, “The one you feed.” Because you see the wolves represent what is present in each of us: one part of us is all about territorialism, idolatry and pride, selfishness and greed, the other part of us is compassion, empathy and nurturing, welcoming the stranger. The wolf we feed is the one that wins. Which wolf do you feed ?
Years ago, during my radical Christian days, I attended the Knudsen Conference. There are many people in mainline faiths working for social change, there are people feeding the wolves of social justice and healing in the Church. I like to think that during those years of teaching Sunday school and singing in the choir, I fed the wolf of peace, justice, compassion, empathy and courage. Ultimately I left the church though, because I couldn’t find shalom before communion with people who thought that gay people were an abomination, and the God only meant to bless a certain rather pale and conservative America, and the rest of the word, unbaptised babies included, was going down in flames. I couldn’t welcome them with their different beliefs in my heart, so I felt I couldn’t sit there in the pew and wait for the meal with them either.
Anyway, the Knudsen Conference was a conference celebrating and advocating the full communion of gay and lesbian people in the church. It was founded after Rev. Knudsen, a beloved Lutheran minister who served for decades, committed suicide because he could no longer live in a church that condemned him, a closeted homosexual man. The conference came to Ann Arbor, and my sister and brother-in-law (who wasn’t really my BIL at the time but who was living and loving in what some might call sin with my sister) lived in Ann Arbor. It was an opportunity to experience church like I always thought it should be, so I came on down for the conference and camped on their couch.
A brilliant theologian at the conference spoke of weaving, and how each of us, all people, were a part of the tapestry of god’s creation. She said she really likes this analogy as it applied to gays and lesbians, christians, jews, muslims and atheists, people of all colors, the differently-abled, the poor, the rich. Then one day it occurred to her that Strom Thurmond was a part of the tapestry. It had a profound effect on her thinking: she had to make room on her piece of cloth for someone she loathed, whose beliefs she could not support. In order for her tapestry metaphor to apply she had to admit that he, too, was a part of the rich fabric of life. The next day, a brilliant sermon was preached by a Scandinavian theologian on the topic of light, as in “I am the light of the world.” He extended and made real the idea that light is composed of all colors, and that the full spectrum of light isn’t even visible or distinguishable to the human eye but is necessary for life to continue. My sister and future BIL came with me to the service, and my sister spotted her Latin professor.
Next Wednesday there’s a rally for the Jena 6 in Detroit. I’m taking Ben. Chan Tae from my office is taking her little baby Olivia, and Steven from our office is taking his sons Jordan and Brandon. And our co-worker Ingrid is coming too, because her Buddhist soul requires her to give voice to unity and compassion. We are going because the wolf we feed means something.
On September 20, if you can’t be in Jena with the freedom wolves going down there, you can wear black and white, signifying unity. Feed the wolf of peace and justice. Please, if not for yourself, then for Ben and Olivia and Jordan and Brandon and Ingrid, and for our hurting world.
I honestly don’t yet know how to make room for loving my enemies. I think the wolf probably knows, and I’m hoping that by feeding the right one, she can lead me to the right path.