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)
Financial cost of Iraq war:
March 14, 2003
Daily Office Readings
-Psalm 40, 54
President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Bush:
Today’s Daily Office readings portray a mighty God and our human need for mercy.
The psalms reflect David’s cries for God’s mercy. “Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever,” David appeals (40:11). “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions,” David pleads (51:1). “Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might.” (54:1)
In the Old Testament reading, Moses describes God and what God wants from us. “The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.” (Deut. 10:17-18). Because of who God is and what God has done, we are to fear, love and serve God, and walk in God’s ways (vv. 12-13). And God’s people are to show love and mercy to strangers, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (v.19)
The Epistle reading speaks of God’s mighty word and God’s abundant mercy. God’s word “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 3:12) Before God, “no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account (v.13). But since Jesus is able to sympathize with our weakness, we can “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (v.16)
In the Gospel reading, John the Baptist is joyful, not jealous, when the crowds flock to Jesus instead of himself. “He must increase, but I must decrease,” John affirms (John 3:30). “The one who comes from heaven is above all . . . He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” (vv.32, 34)
Mr. President, because God is mighty, we need not concern ourselves with being mighty. But because God shows mercy to us, we are to show mercy to others. Show mercy, Mr. President, show mercy.
Yesterday, the New York Times reported that as war with Iraq draws close, “relief organizations in the region say they have neither sufficient supplies nor enough money to cope with the millions of injured, displaced and starving people that could result.” And Oxfam America recently released a sobering fact sheet on the implications of a military action in Iraq. Even before a war:
• The UN estimates that 5 million Iraqis do not have access to safe water and sanitation.
• 7 out of 10 infant deaths result from diarrhea or acute respiratory infection inked to polluted water or malnutrition.
• UNICEF reports that one child in every eight in Iraq dies before the age of five and that under-five mortality has more than doubled in the past decade.
In the event of war, Oxfam says, “Bombing may destroy the water and sanitation systems, sewage treatment and electricity supply leaving 50% of the Iraqi population without access to potable water and causing sewage to back up into the streets, which could lead to cholera and dysentery epidemics.”
Given these grave circumstances, it is hard to imagine that a God “who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18) would in any way wish to see a war inflicted on the Iraqi people. Show mercy, Mr. President.
My prayer for you today is from the Book of Common Prayer:
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies:
Lead them and us from prejudice to truth;
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge;
and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (p.816).
J. Daryl Byler