Day 36

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)

School girls on the streets of Erbil (Jan. 2010)

School girls on the streets of Erbil (Jan. 2010)

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 12, 2003

Daily Office Readings
Morning
-Psalm 119:49-72
-Deuteronomy 9:13-21
-Hebrews 3:12-19
Evening
-Psalm 49
-John 2:23-3:15

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

Dear President Bush:

Today’s Daily Office readings speak of humble hearts and hardened hearts.

“Before I was humbled,” the psalmist admits, “I went astray, but now I keep your word.” (Ps. 119:67) God’s word gives the psalmist life (v.50), comfort (v.52), blessing (v.56), good judgment and knowledge (v.66). “Mortals cannot abide in their pomp,” contends the psalmist, “they are like the animals that perish.” (Ps. 49:12, 20)

In the Old Testament reading, Moses tells the dramatic story of how he interceded on behalf of the people who hardened their hearts by making and worshiping a golden calf while Moses was on the mountain receiving God’s commandments. “Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before,” Moses recounts, “forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin you had committed, provoking the Lord by doing what was evil in his sight.” (Deut. 9:18)

St. Peters Seminary student Hans Shamoaay reads a bible passage in English during a morning church service at the seminary. The young seminarians are eager to learn the English language so that they can read and study a wider selection of books, establish relationships with people from other countries and share the history and experiences of Iraqi Christians with people in other countries. (MCC photo by Silas Crews)

Former St. Peters Seminary student Hans Shamoaay reads a Bible passage in English during a morning church service at the seminary. St. Peter’s was relocated from Baghdad to the northern Iraqi town of Ankawa after the 2003 war.  The young seminarians are eager to learn the English language so that they can read and study a wider selection of books, establish relationships with people from other countries and share the history and experiences of Iraqi Christians with people in other countries. (MCC photo by Silas Crews)

The Gospel reading describes Jesus’ encounter with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who is fascinated by the signs that Jesus performs. But Jesus seems less concerned about signs and more concerned about transformed lives, which begin by humbly trusting God for new birth. “Very truly, I tell you,” Jesus says, “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:3)

In the Epistle reading we are challenged not to have “an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” (Heb. 3:12) Nor are we to harden our hearts as did God’s people in the wilderness. Because of their disobedience, they were not able to enter God’s rest (vv.15-19). Rather, we are to exhort one another daily not to “be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (v.13) “For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.” (v.14)

Amar Cesar, 5, talks with Kid's House principal Sister Azhar.  Violence against Christians and other minority groups in some parts of Iraq has forced many families to seek refuge in northern Iraq. Amar’s family is from the Yazidi religious group and fled to Erbil from Mosul.  Through Kids’ House, Amar now has many friends, self-confidence and dreams of being a pilot when he grows up. (MCC photo by Silas Crews)

Amar Cesar, 5, talks with Kid’s House principal Sister Azhar. Violence against Christians and other minority groups in some parts of Iraq has forced many families to seek refuge in northern Iraq. Amar’s family is from the Yazidi religious group and fled to Erbil from Mosul. Through Kids’ House, Amar now has many friends, self-confidence and dreams of being a pilot when he grows up. (MCC photo by Silas Crews)

Mr. President, our nation is on the brink of war. I appeal to you to humbly take a step back from the edge of this precipice. Nations are in an uproar and global stock markets are plummeting at a time of great uncertainty. This war has become about much more than Iraq. It now seems to be about a new global order in which the United States will act with little regard for the international will.

Today, I invite you to try something new. Instead of pressing for nine votes at the UN Security Council, I urge you to change the discussion. Why not invite the presidents of all 15 Security Council members for a face-to-face summit meeting at your ranch in Texas? And why not set a positive tone for the summit by beginning with an acknowledgment that the United States may have been too quick to tell the Council what to do, and too slow to listen and seek consensus? Then work to build on the significant points of agreement among the Council member states.

Kids’ House teacher Miss Ashwoq reads to her students in a classroom tent in Ankawa, a Christian suburb in Erbil, northern Iraq.  Kids’ House is a kindergarten started in 1994 by the Chaldean Church’s Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  MCC’s Global Family education sponsorships make it possible for the Sisters to accept students who cannot afford to pay tuition fees.

Kids’ House teacher Miss Ashwoq reads to her students in a classroom tent in Ankawa, a Christian suburb in Erbil, northern Iraq. Kids’ House is a kindergarten started in 1994 by the Chaldean Church’s Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. MCC’s Global Family education sponsorships make it possible for the Sisters to accept students who cannot afford to pay tuition fees. Many of the classrooms are tents like the one pictured above. (MCC photo by Silas Crews)

Would such a course of action be hard? Without a doubt. Exercising great leadership by acting humbly is always hard — until one considers the consequences of the alternative. Possibly “winning” a war in Iraq, while losing the world community, is no victory. It will not create security or stability for Iraq, the Middle East, the United States or the world.

My prayer for you today is from Hebrews: “Today if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart as in the rebellion” (3:8). By acting humbly before God, may you find God’s rest.

Sincerely,
J. Daryl Byler

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