Day 40

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. In the 10 short days of re-posting these letters from 2003, at least 106 Iraqis have been killed in violence.
-Daryl (March 16, 2013)

Sakar in her greenhouse

Sakar Hussain in her greenhouse in Dashety Telee village

Human cost of Iraq war:
Iraqi civilian casualties: 122,115
Civilian casualties in 2013: 682
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 16, 2003

Daily Office Readings
Morning
-Psalm 24, 29
-Jeremiah 1:1-10
-I Corinthians 3:11-23
Evening
-Psalm 8, 84
-Mark 3:31-4:9

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

Dear President Bush:

Today’s Daily Office readings speak of dwelling humbly in God’s presence, listening to God’s voice and leaving a legacy worthy of God’s calling.

“O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” David exclaims (Ps. 8:1) “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers . . . what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (8:3-4) “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,” David continues, for God has “founded” and “established” it (Ps. 24:1-2). God’s voice is powerful and “full of majesty.” (Ps. 29:4) It “breaks the cedars” (29:5), “flashes forth flames of fire” (29:7), “shakes the wilderness” (29:8) and “causes the oaks to whirl.” (29:9) Who can dwell in this great God’s presence? “Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.” (24:4) God’s dwelling place is lovely and the psalmist longs to be present with God, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” (84:10)

Iraqi refugee children in Damascus, Syria.  In 2013 the tables have turned; more than 114,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Iraq. (Photo by James Gordon)

Iraqi refugee children in Damascus, Syria. In 2013 the tables have turned; more than 114,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Iraq. (Photo by James Gordon)

The Old Testament reading profiles God’s call of Jeremiah. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations . . . for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.” (Jer. 1:5, 7). The prophet will both warn the nations of destruction and promise a time of rebuilding (v.10).

In the Epistle reading, Paul declares, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” (I Cor. 3:11). Paul says that time will tell the quality of building we have done on this strong foundation. If our work survives, we will receive a reward (v.14).

In the Gospel reading Jesus says: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35) Jesus then tells the parable of a sower who scatters seed on various kinds of soil — each soil depicts a different level of receptivity to and productivity from God’s word (4:1-9).

Fruit and vegetable market in Ankawa, where many of the internally displaced Iraqi Christians have relocated since the 2003 war

Fruit and vegetable market in Ankawa, where many of the internally displaced Iraqi Christians have relocated since the 2003 war

Mr. President, this is 40th day of my fast which I will break later today during the communion service at my church. It many ways, this experience has been like running a marathon — one mile at a time! I know you can appreciate this from your own running experience.

This is also my 40th letter to you during this fast. While the White House has acknowledged receiving them, I have no idea whether you have actually read or even heard about these letters. They have been written in a spirit of longing for you to be guided by God’s wisdom and ways. I can say without question that never before have I prayed for a president as much as I have prayed for you during these last six weeks. The pressures of the presidency must be extraordinary.

Mr. President, on what foundation will you build? And with what materials? The decision you make today or tomorrow about war with Iraq will likely determine the legacy of your presidency – for better or for worse. Sadly, my sense is that you are choosing war. It seems that only an act of God can stop your decision at this point. In spite of the unprecedented grassroots global protests and the strong counsel at the United Nation to give inspections more time, you have felt that the risks of going to war — even with little international support — are less than the risks of waiting.

Student at Kids House flies a homemade kite (Photo by Deb Fine)

Student at Kids House flies a homemade kite (Photo by Deb Fine)

The question is not whether the United States can “prevail” on the battlefield in Iraq. Likely it can. The more important question is what kind of world will there be a year from now and five years from now as a result of war? Will Iraq and the Middle East be more stable? Will U.S. residents feel safer? Will there be a functioning international body to which the United States is accountable?

While I strongly disagree with the view that war will bring a better world, I pray that you have listened attentively to God’s voice and will only act as God clearly calls you to act.

May God have mercy on all of us.

Sincerely,
J. Daryl Byler

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