Day 33

From Feb. 5 – Mar. 16, 2003, I engaged in a 40-day fast, urging then President George W. Bush to consider alternatives to war with Iraq. Each day, I sent the President a letter — with copies to Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice — using the Daily Office Readings (from the President’s Episcopal tradition) as a foundation for my reflections. For the next 10 days, I plan to re-post the letters from Days 31 to 40 of the fast, interspersing them with photos of Iraqis. Whether one supported or opposed the war, the costs are indisputably high. -Daryl (March 7, 2013)

A kindergartener at Kids House, run by Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Ankawa, Iraq

A kindergartener at Kids House, run by Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Ankawa, Iraq, for internally displaced children

Human cost of Iraq war:
Iraqi civilian casualties: 121,754
Iraqi security casualties: 10,125
U.S. military casualties: 4,488
Uprooted Iraqis: 5.0 million

Financial cost of Iraq war:
$831.9 billion

 

March 9, 2003

Daily Office Readings
Morning
– Psalm 63, 98
– Deuteronomy 8:1-10
– I Corinthians 1:17-31
Evening
– Psalm 103
– Mark 2:18-22

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Bush:

Today’s Daily Office readings are about wilderness, wineskins and weakness.

When David is in the wilderness he cries out: “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Ps. 63:1) Even in his distress David affirms, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”(v.3) The psalmist exhorts all the earth to make a joyful noise to God for God’s marvelous acts (98:1), God’s victories and vindication in the sight of the nations (v.2), and God’s steadfast love (v.3). In Psalm 103, David blesses God for what God has done and for who God is. God forgives iniquity and heals diseases (v.3), redeems us and crowns us with steadfast love (v.4), satisfies us with good (v.5), works vindication and justice for the oppressed (v.6) and shows compassion (v.13). God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”(v.8)

Former MCC worker John Filson inspects St. Peter's Seminary construction site with then seminary president Bashar Warda, who is now Caldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil (Nov. 2007).

Former MCC worker John Filson inspects St. Peter’s Seminary construction site with then seminary president Bashar Warda, who is now Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil (Nov. 2007).

In the Old Testament reading, as the people are about to enter the “promised land” Moses tells them to remember that God led them for 40 years in the wilderness, “in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.”(Deut. 8:2) “Therefore,” Moses concludes, “keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him.”(v.6)

In the Gospel reading, Jesus teaches that the new wine of his kingdom requires new wineskins. Old wineskins cannot contain his fresh new message and ways (Mark 2:21-22).

The chapel at St. Peter's Seminary.  As many as two-thirds of the Christian community has fled Iraq since the war, bearing the brunt of animosity of what some perceived as a U.S. "crusade" against Iraq. Many Christians who remain in Iraq have moved to the northern part of the country where they are building new institutions like St. Peter's Seminary.

The chapel at St. Peter’s Seminary.  As many as two-thirds of  Iraqi Christians have fled Iraq since the war, bearing the brunt of animosity for what some perceived as a U.S. “crusade” against Iraq.  Many Christians who remain in Iraq have moved to the northern Kurdish area, where they are rebuilding institutions like St. Peter’s (formerly in Baghdad) as well as building new schools and hospitals.

In the Epistle reading, Paul recognizes that the cross of Christ is the power of the gospel, not Paul’s eloquent wisdom (I Cor. 1:17). This message of the cross – a message of apparent weakness – seems foolish to many. But Paul reminds them that “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”(v.25) “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”(vv.27-29)

Mr. President, wilderness, wineskins and weakness seem like relevant themes for us today as well.

This is a wilderness time for the United States. After September 11, many feel vulnerable and are worried about the future. The wilderness is a time of testing. It is a time of testing who we trust and what are the values that we truly hold dear.

Before the war, Daryl presents a peace lamp to the late Chaldean Catholic Patriarch  Raphael I Bidawid, who died in 2003.  Bishop Louis Raphaël I Sako was installed as Chaldean Patriarch, Mar. 6, in Baghdad.  Chaldean Catholics are the largest Christian community in Iraq, and, while being an Eastern church, have full communion with Rome. (MCC photo by Mark Beach - May 2002)

Daryl presents a peace lamp to the late Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid one year before the war. Patriarch Bidawid died in 2003. Bishop Louis Raphaël I Sako was installed as Chaldean Patriarch in Baghdad, Mar. 6, 2013. Chaldean Catholics are the largest Christian community in Iraq.  An Eastern church, they have full communion with Rome. (MCC photo by Mark Beach – May 2002)

There is a need for new wineskins today. The old wineskins seem to be bursting. Other nations seem to be clearly telling us that they do not feel secure with the old wineskins of a U.S.-dominated world. It is time for new wineskins. It is time for fresh ways of relating in the global community — not with overpowering force, not with unilateral actions, not by telling other nations what they must do, but by working cooperatively as one member of the global family to address pressing problems.

But if we have the power to dominate the world, won’t this appear weak and foolish to some? Perhaps. But this is our faith. What could seem weaker and more foolish than a cross for changing the course of history? And yet this is how our God works. We are called to follow in laying down our lives for the well-being of the world.

Since the war, Sister Elham and the Daughters of Mary, a Chaldean Catholic order, have moved St. Ann's Orphanage from Baghdad to the northern village of Al Qosh (Nov. 2007)

Since the war, Sister Elham and the Daughters of Mary, a Chaldean Catholic order, have moved St. Ann’s Orphanage from Baghdad to the northern village of Al Qosh (Nov. 2007)

Mr. President, we seem to be at a critical juncture in the shape of the global order. My prayer for you today is that you will have the courage to embrace the wilderness as a time of testing, the vision to see the new wineskins that are needed for a healthy global order and the strength to appear weak and foolish in the eyes of some.

Sincerely,
J. Daryl Byler

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