Day 34

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)

Kurdish woman at the "truck market" in Zhalay Robitan village

Kurdish woman at the “truck market” in Zhalay Robitan village

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 10, 2003

Daily Office Readings
– Psalm 41, 52
– Deuteronomy 8:11-20
– Hebrews 2:11-18
– Psalm 44
– John 2:1-12

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

Dear President Bush:

Today’s Daily Office readings are about temptation.

God’s people are tempted to trust in their own strength and their own goodness. But the psalmist reminds them that they did not win the land “by their own sword” but by God’s hand (Ps. 44:3). But because God’s people failed to trust God, their enemies have “scattered them among the nations.”(v.11) They have become the taunt of their neighbors (v.13) and “a laughingstock among the peoples.”(v.14) Still, God’s people are blind to their own unfaithfulness, claim their innocence, blame God for their difficulties and plead for God to redeem them (vv.17-26).

Likewise, in the Old Testament reading, Moses warns of the link between arrogance and forgetfulness. When God’s people enter the “promised land,” live in fine houses and have great wealth, they are not to exalt themselves and forget that it was God who delivered, led and provided for them (Deut. 8:14-16). If they forget God and worship other gods, God’s people will perish (v.20).

Kurdish women bake bread in outdoor ovens in

Iraqi Kurdish women bake bread in outdoor ovens in Chama Bismila village

By contrast, David trusts God rather than yielding to the temptation to destroy his enemies. While David’s enemies, and even his close friends, have turned against him, God has upheld him because of his integrity (Ps. 41:12). While David says his enemy is full of mischief (Ps. 52:1), plots destruction and has a sharp tongue (v.2), “loves evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth”(v.3), David declares: “I will trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever”(v.8).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus does his first “sign” by turning six stone jars of water into wine at a wedding in Cana. While many will continue to place their trust in their ability to keep the law (represented by the six water jars traditionally used for the Jewish rites of purification), the wine that Jesus makes represents the grace of God’s new covenant which is necessary for all people.

The Epistle reading describes Jesus’ solidarity with us. Jesus shared our humanity and testing so that he could free us from the fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15), be a merciful and faithful high priest on our behalf (v.17), and help us in our time of testing (v.18).

Kitchen garden in Zhalay Robitan Village

Canadian Foodgrains Bank and MCC supported development of kitchen gardens in many villages in northern Iraq, including Zhalay Robitan (REACH photo by Salwar Ibrahim)

Mr. President, the United States is the world’s undisputed economic and military superpower. In this role, to what temptations might we be especially vulnerable?

• Perhaps the temptation to trust our power rather than God’s power. The biblical prophets constantly warned of the dangers and consequences of succumbing to this temptation. For trusting God is the foundation of our relationship with God. And our overwhelming power is not enough to make our nation secure.

• Perhaps the temptation to act alone instead of building coalitions and consensus. It appears that we may be in the final week before a war begins with Iraq. The newspapers say that your administration will do intense lobbying this week to get other UN Security Council nations to agree to a resolution that authorizes military force if Iraq doesn’t fully comply by March 17. I appeal to you to step back from a model of hardball lobbying, threatening, or even attempting to buy votes, and, instead, to sit down with other nations and build a true consensus.

• Perhaps the temptation to have double standards. With so much power, it is easy to apply one standard for our nation and another for other nations. For example, how easy it is to succumb to thinking such as: “We need nuclear weapons in order to maintain global peace. But other nations dare not have nuclear weapons because that creates a threat to global stability.” It is so much easier to tell others what to do than to lead by example.

Grandmother and granddaughter in Chama Bismila village

Grandmother and granddaughter in Chama Bismila village

My prayer for you today is that you, like David, will steadfastly resist the temptations of great power and will lead in ways that evidence an undivided trust in God.

J. Daryl Byler

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