Cocktails at the White House and a prayer at your death

Written the morning after Osama Bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces.

Dear Mr. Bin Laden,

Just so you know. I won’t be having cocktails at the White House or marching in the streets to celebrate your passing. When I heard you were gone, I only felt sadness. It is not a sadness that comes from any sort of love or solidarity or even pity. Do not misunderstand me. It is a deep sadness that comes when we glorify and justify violence as a means to destroy what we deem evil. It is something you were especially good at.

So why am I sad? I have sadness that your hatred has poisoned and murdered so many; sadness that fear and revenge is called justice; sadness that we Americans have justified tens of thousands of deaths in Afghanistan, nearly 1 million in the Iraq war, and many other targeted killings in Pakistan that weren’t you. I imagine we will see your death as a “successful campaign” with no American lives lost. The irony will escape us. I wonder if it does you.

We talk about “the enemy” and “evil” when we speak of you. Since that bitter September day in 2001, we have used the word evil as if a human can be evil to their core. You join the ranks of evil-doers like Hitler and Mussolini. My guess is that in some way, you have enjoyed that, although you knew we were wrong. You embraced that sort of extreme ideology that labeled Americans and others who disagreed with you as evil. For you, and for us, the way we try to remove evil is to hunt it down and kill it, saying “praise god” all the way down. We’re not so very different, you and we Americans.

  • We think evil acts (and people) should be taken care of through war and violence
  • We call upon God to justify our violence
  • We use our financial resources to support wars that agree with us across the world
  • We recruit our children to be our front line warriors while we give orders from board room

Mr. Bin Laden, I think that what you stood for and how you worked was evil, but I never thought you were. Even you were not outside the possibility of grace and change. I think of you as wounded and broken, mislead, oppressed and wrong, but not evil.

I suppose that makes me an extremist also. But, if I am going to be an extremist, it will be to say that no human being is evil, not even you. You will be accountable for your actions and although I do not fancy standing beside you “when the roll is called up yonder,” I do not hold those things in my hands. And I believe that love survives and that grace can change and heal us AND those we offend – and that it is not my job to decide what happens to you.

I won’t be the life of anyone’s death party.

So now, partly because I know your body may not receive any burial prayer, I offer a prayer for your death. And it is to our mutual creator.

God of love, Creator of all good and precious human beings. We offer to you our brother, Osama Bin Laden. He came into this world just like we did, born into imperfection and a broken and unjust world; human with potential for so much good. He made choices that took him on a horrible path. He hurt so many of your beautiful children. We know he is accountable to his actions and attitudes. Will you help those innocent ones whose lives he has destroyed to forgive him so that they can move forward into love? Will you open up the eyes of those who have loved and admired him to the possibility of grace and kindness toward even those they fear?  Will you please take all of our feelings and after we have had a season to acknowledge them, and create something hopeful out of them? Please break through the bitterness of fear and revenge and bring healing. We want to give him into your hands, though we do not know if our hearts will let us. We trust that your broken heart can somehow heal us and even him. A-men.

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11 Responses to Cocktails at the White House and a prayer at your death

  1. Annemarie says:

    Shannon, this is lovely. I hope you don’t mind if I pass this site along to a few friends–I think so many of us are looking for ways to process and make sense of this death. I feel the same way about Bin Laden’s death as I do about those who sit on death row and are killed for their killings . . . there is no good justice in it, for me.

    Thank you for putting words to these feelings, and thank you especially for the words to the prayer we all should be saying on Bin Laden’s behalf.


  2. Casey says:

    Shannon, I’ve already shared on Fb and have sent to friends via email. Thank you for this blog and especially your poem. Last night I was discussing the news with my BIL. He too is a poet. I brought up John Dunne’s poem No Man is an Island. Glad to say reflections of that poem have dominated my internal dialogue about this news not my initial Ding Dong the Witch is Dead which was the first silent chorus in my head.


  3. Jessie says:

    I think this is the most beautiful letter I have ever read in my life. We are not judges or executioners. I leave that up to God. I will be judged too on that day. Thank you Shannon!

  4. Catrena says:

    Thank you for articulating what is in my heart but is so difficult for me to find the words for. I shared this with my children (ages 10 and 12) in an attempt to help them understand the scope of what has taken place. Keep writing, I plan to keep reading!

  5. Jane says:

    Thank you, Shannon.

  6. RG Pyper says:

    “I won’t be the life of anyone’s death party.” Yea to that. I agree.

    Found this through my sister Anna. Lovely. Thanks.

  7. Teri Conrad says:

    Shannon, this is lovely. I think that we should also be praying for our president. This decision must weigh heavily on him.

    The next time I am tempted to think of one of our Arizona elected officials as “evil,” I will remember your your wise words.

    • shannonbeck2 says:

      I agree, Teri – we should be praying for him. And for those who carry out these missions. Even though they are trained for this work, they risk their lives to do it.

  8. Lisa Anderson says:

    Dear Shannon,
    Thank you for this. It is beautiful and it made me cry. I, too, believe deeply in grace. I feel no one should judge any one else. There are always opportunity for people to change. I did not rejoice the night that Bin Laden died. Instead, I wondered about the angst his children and wives felt as they found out he had died. He was an imperfect man but he had people who loved him. I pray that there will be peace in their souls. Once again, this was very thoughtful and I thank you. Lisa

  9. Jackie says:

    Thank you, Shannon. Your words are as wise as your song lyrics, and I am grateful for this letter and prayer, which I wish could be published on the front page of our local newspaper. Blessings and peace to you for articulating this so very poignantly and beautifully–I am passing it along.

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