Category Archives: Daily Office Readings

An open letter to my children on the eve of war

027bThe biblical story of David and Bathsheba begins, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle…” (II Sam. 11:1).  How little changes across the centuries! 

March 15 marked two years since the beginning of the Syrian revolution.  I wrote this piece for PBS “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” about the impact of Syria’s civil war on its neighbors. 

March 16 marked 25 years since Saddam Hussein’s poison gas attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja, killing 5,000.  

March 19 marks 10 years since the U.S.-led Iraq war.  Below is an open letter I wrote to my children on the eve of that war. – Daryl

 

March 18, 2003

Dear Jessica, Holden and Jeremy:

Our nation is again on the eve of war. During the first Gulf War back in 1991, you were eight, seven and almost two-years-old. Can it be true that you are now in college, Jessica and Holden, and you are almost ready to start high school, Jeremy?

Jessica is a social worker for the City of Denver, where she lives with her beloved dog Kojack

Jessica is a social worker for the City of Denver, where she lives with her beloved dog Kojack

That war started just weeks after the death of my father and your grandfather. It was a dark and despairing time. Each night our family lit a candle of hope and, after supper, placed it in a gallon jar on our front porch. Most of our neighbors fastened yellow ribbons on trees or doorposts – wishing for the safe return of U.S. troops from the war. We shared that hope, but decided instead to craft a bow using all the colors of the Olympic flag — a wish that the troops from all nations would return home safely.

And now, barring an act of God, there will be war again very soon. Under the “best case” scenario, the war will be quick, there will be minimal loss of life, Iraqi people will welcome positive changes in their lives, the Middle East will grow more stable, and the nations of the world will forgive the United States for rushing to war without their blessing.

Holden works in the IT department at Eastern Mennonite University. Pictured here with spouse, Heidi (a third grade teacher) and daughter Sydney

Holden works in the IT department at Eastern Mennonite University. Pictured here with spouse, Heidi (a third grade teacher) and daughter Sydney

But rarely, if ever, does war produce “best case” scenarios. The more sobering possibilities are that: this war will kill or injure tens of thousands of children, civilians and troops; millions of Iraqis will be left homeless; the Middle East will become even more unstable; anti-U.S. feelings around the world will grow stronger; and terror attacks on U.S. soil will increase. Under worst case scenarios, this war could involve the use of weapons of mass destruction by both Iraq and the United States.

Human cost of Iraq war:
Iraqi civilian casualties: 122,195
Iraqi security casualties: 10,125
Iraqi deaths so far in 2013: 788
U.S. military casualties: 4,488
Uprooted Iraqis: 5.0 million

Financial cost of Iraq war:
$832.3 billion

Thank you for being a wonderful source of encouragement during my recent 40-day fast for peace. As you know, I undertook this fast because it feels like so very much is at stake. I do not wish for you or your children to live in a world trapped by an endless cycle of terror and military retaliation. That is my greatest fear of what this war will bring.

Jeremy on graduation day at Bucknell University. He is now a civil and environmental engineer for a firm in Hershey, Pennsylvania

Jeremy on graduation day at Bucknell University. He is now a civil and environmental engineer for a firm in Hershey, Pennsylvania

During my time of fasting, I sent letters to President Bush each day based on the Episcopal Daily Office lectionary. While I did finally get a meeting with the Iraq specialist at the White House, it is clear to me that nothing I wrote or did during the fast changed the president’s mind about war. But the fast did change me and taught or reinforced for me some lessons that I would like to share with you:

1. Focus on one day at a time. Forty days seemed like a long time at the beginning of my fast. But it became easier as I focused on God’s strength and my charge for the day at hand, without also trying to manage the future as I am so prone to do. Fasting had a powerfully focusing and calming effect.

"Auntie" Jessica with Sydney

“Auntie” Jessica with Sydney

2. Allow others to be community with and for you. In my task-oriented style, I too often feel disconnected from the people around me. This fast connected me in ways that I never imagined. I was overwhelmed by the prayers and notes of encouragement from around the world. In my time of “weakness” people I barely knew chose to fast days or even weeks in solidarity with me and for the cause of peace. I cannot remember a time in my life where I have felt so connected or supported.

3. The core themes in Scripture are hard to miss. As I reflected on each day’s lectionary texts, I was amazed how the same themes kept repeating in all slices of Scripture — our human frailty and God’s steadfast love and mercy; God’s call for us to walk humbly, act justly, and love mercy; and the importance of trusting God alone to provide for all of our needs and to deal with our enemies.

Jeremy and Lyndsay Adams Byler on their wedding day (June 9, 2012)

Jeremy and Lyndsay Adams Byler on their wedding day (June 9, 2012)

4. Changing the world begins with being changed. I began this time of fasting feeling angry – perhaps in part “righteous” anger, but not altogether so! As my children, you have unfortunately too often seen this anger over the years — the frustration of many “great causes” on which I have worked. As the fast progressed I found my anger giving way to a profound sense of sadness about the direction our country seems to be headed and my own complicity in that hurtful path. If peace and justice work is to have integrity, it must begin with being transformed.

5. Peacemakers will never be fully understood. While some lawmakers in Washington appreciated my fast for peace, others totally ignored it. Sometimes it felt as if the call for peaceful alternatives was viewed as irrelevant or impractical. Still, I found strength in Paul’s words: “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God”    (I Corinthians 1:18). It is no wonder that the world does not accept a message about loving enemies and laying down our lives for others. We have enough trouble embracing this message as Christians!

Holden with Sydney, at Jeremy and Lyndsay's wedding reception

Holden with Sydney, at Jeremy and Lyndsay’s wedding reception

6. We will reap what we sow. As I have watched the international debate about Iraq unfolding, I have felt distraught that our nation’s leaders seemed so ready to forcefully impose their will on others in spite of the strong opposition of other nations. As the world’s only superpower, the United States seems ready to act alone simply because it can. Years ago Thomas Jefferson wrote of slavery: “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; (and) that his justice cannot sleep for ever. . .” I tremble for my country today as well.

Cindy with Sydney

Cindy with Sydney

7. God holds the earth’s pillars. We cannot know for sure what the next days and weeks hold for the people of Iraq or even for ourselves. There could well be days ahead that remind us again of September 11. The world seems filled with turmoil. As we continue to do all we can to work for peace, I find these words of God quoted by the psalmist to be especially reassuring: “When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants, it is I who keep its pillars steady” (Psalm 75:3). God is still sovereign!

Today I bought another large candle. God’s light will always be stronger than darkness.

Love,
Dad

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

Day 39

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)

Mother and daughter at Qalawa Camp for internally displaced Iraqis

Mother and daughter at Qalawa Camp for internally displaced Iraqis

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 15, 2003

Daily Office Readings
Morning
-Psalm 55
-Deuteronomy11:18-28
-Hebrews 5:1-10
Evening
-Psalm 138,139
-John 4:1-26

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

Dear President Bush:

Today’s Daily Office readings are about choices and being chosen.

The psalmist is distraught because of his enemies. But he chooses to trust God rather than himself. “Fear and trembling come upon me and horror overwhelms me,” the psalmist confesses . . . But I call upon God, and the Lord will save me.” (Ps. 55:5, 16) David sees that God makes choices as well. “Though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.” (Ps. 138:6) “I praise you,” David exclaims, “for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Ps. 139:14) Because God has made him and is intimately acquainted with all his ways, David asks: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” (v.7)

greenhouse

Sakar Hussain, 25, holds cucumbers grown in her greenhouse in the Dashety Telee village, northern Iraq. This enterprise helps Sakar combine her training in business and a passion for agriculture. (REACH Photo by Salwar Ibrahim)

In the Old Testament reading God’s people are given a choice. “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God . . . and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn . . . to follow other gods that you have not known.” (Deut. 11:26-28) If God’s people choose to obey God, no one will be able to stand against them (v.25).

In the Epistle reading, God chose high priests from among the people so that they would be aware of their own human weakness and would “deal gently with the ignorant and wayward.” (Heb. 5:2) So, too, in becoming human Christ chose to identify with our weakness and to learn obedience through suffering (vv.5-8). Because of his “reverent submission,” God made Christ “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (vv.7,9)

In the Gospel reading, Jesus chooses to cross cultural boundaries to interact with a Samaritan woman. At a well in the Samaritan city of Sychar, he offers her the choice of “living water” — water that will become “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:10-15)

Barsmaq beekeeping

Beekeeping is a popular income generation project in northern Iraqi villages like Barsmaq

Mr. President, thankfully, the deadline for war keeps being postponed. Still, it seems that imminently you will be making critical choices. War is one choice. If you choose war, it is your choice; no one else has forced your hand, because there continue to be other choices. Today I appeal to you:

• Choose the path of dialogue. I am grateful that you are arranging a mini-summit this weekend in the Azores. But please don’t just invite the leaders of those nations who already agree with your position. Why not have the presidents of Russia, France and China there as well? Choose to engage those who have different perspectives than your own. You have strong relationship-building gifts. A face-to-face meeting with all key players could help restore trust and lead to creative breakthroughs.

• Choose the path of patience. A highly skilled team of UN weapons inspectors is in Iraq. Their leader says they need only several more months to complete their job. Choose to give them time and to stay the course with a process that has unanimous UN backing.

• Choose to offer incentives for Iraqi cooperation. This part of the process has been noticeably missing all along. The Iraqis believe that, no matter what they do, the United States will declare war. Convince them otherwise. Make clear that sanctions will be lifted immediately and there will be no war if full cooperation is forthcoming.

• Choose life – for God has chosen life for us.

School children

Students in a town near Sulimaniyah, where MCC provided school kits.

My prayer for you and for me today is the beautiful prayer of David: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps. 139:23-24)

Sincerely,
J. Daryl Byler

Day 38

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)

An elderly Iraqi woman from Dashety Telee village, where MCC supported a food security project (REACH photo by Salwar Ibrahim)

An elderly Iraqi woman from Dashety Telee village, where MCC supported a food security project (REACH photo by Salwar Ibrahim)

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 14, 2003

Daily Office Readings
Morning
-Psalm 40, 54
-Deut.10:12-22
-Hebrews 4:11-16
Evening
-Psalm 51
-John 3:22-36

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)

Ramayr Khallaf, 4, drinks from a tap that brings water directly to his home in the village of Zhalay Darband. "Water is life," said Dana Hassan, director of REACH. "Water helps keep farmers on their land and increases production capacity of future years." (MCC photo by Silas Crews)

Ramayr Khallaf, 4, drinks from a tap that brings water directly to his home in the village of Zhalay Darband. “Water is life,” said Dana Hassan, former director of REACH. “Water helps keep farmers on their land and increases production capacity of future years.” (MCC photo by Silas Crews)

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)

Fatima Majeed Hamarash, 85,  is the mother of Monsour Nasir Khallaf, a member of a Community Based Organization that worked with the REACH staff to develop a project in the village of Zhalay Darband. “It has changed our life,” said Hamarash. She and other villagers now have easier access to an abundant supply of clean water through a central water system.  Wastewater is used to irrigate gardens. (MCC photo by Silas Crews)

Fatima Majeed Hamarash, 85, is the mother of Monsour Nasir Khallaf, a member of a Community Based Organization that worked with the REACH staff to develop a project in the village of Zhalay Darband. “It has changed our life,” said Hamarash. She and other villagers now have easier access to an abundant supply of clean water through a central water system. Wastewater is used to irrigate gardens. (MCC photo by Silas Crews)

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.

Shortage of water made it impossible for Sherzad Aziz Rasel, a farmer and beekeeper in the Barsmaq-Mawat district, to plant crops the past seven years.  He was part of a local committee that assisted REACH with developing a MCC-supported water storage tank. The tank is now filled with water from a natural spring and enables him and about 20 other landowners in his village to irrigate their land. (MCC photo by Silas Crews)

Shortage of water made it impossible for Sherzad Aziz Rasel, a farmer and beekeeper in the Barsmaq-Mawat district, to plant crops the past seven years. He was part of a local committee that assisted REACH with developing a MCC-supported water storage tank. The tank is now filled with water from a natural spring and enables him and about 20 other landowners in his village to irrigate their land. (MCC photo by Silas Crews)

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).

Sincerely,
J. Daryl Byler

Day 37

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)

Rana was injured in a bomb blast outside her university in Baghdad. After recovering she began work with an Iraqi NGO

In the aftermath of the war, Rana was injured in a bomb blast outside her university in Baghdad. After recovering she began work with an Iraqi NGO

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 13, 2003

Daily Office Readings
Morning
-Psalm 50
-Deut. 9:23-10:5
-Hebrews 4:1-10
Evening
-Psalm 19, 46
-John 3:16-21

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

Dear President Bush:

Today’s Daily Office readings are about God’s judgment and salvation. The Bible is clear that God alone is fit to judge, but is not eager to do so. God’s desire is for all to be saved. The movement of salvation is from places of distress and insecurity — perhaps because of the threat of an enemy or the grip of sin — to places of well-being, wholeness and security. Only God is able to save and deliver.

The psalmist says that, while the earth changes, mountains shake, nations are in an uproar and kingdoms totter, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (46:1) Therefore, we are to, “Be still, and know that I am God!” (v.10).

Northeastern Iraqi Kurdistan, looking East toward the mountains which divide Iraq and Iran

Northeastern Iraqi Kurdistan, looking East toward the mountains which divide Iraq and Iran

Psalm 50 pictures God gathering the heavens and earth for judgment (vv. 4-6). God does not want or need meaningless sacrifices. Rather, the way to please God is to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving (50:14,23), to keep our vows to God (v.14), to call on God in our day of trouble (v.15) and to “go the right way.” (v.23) To persons who do these things God says, “I will show the salvation of God.” (v.23) With this understanding, David prays: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps. 19:14).

In the Old Testament reading, Moses summarizes his 40-day intercession on behalf of the people who neither trusted nor obeyed God: “Lord God, do not destroy the people who are your very own possession, whom you redeemed in your greatness, whom you brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” (Deut. 9:26) God listens to Moses’ appeal and gives the people another chance by providing a new copy of the Ten Commandments to guide them (10:1-5).

The Gospel reading speaks of God’s love and desire to save rather than judge the entire world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The Epistle reading urges us to experience God’s salvation — to enter God’s Sabbath rest — by believing (Heb. 4:3) and obeying (v.6) God.

Dana Muhammad Hassan, former director of MCC partner REACH with Evanna Hess, former director of MCC East Coast material resources center (March 2009).  After attending classes at Eastern Mennonite University, Dana incorporated a peacebuilding component in each project designed by REACH

Dana Muhammad Hassan, former director of MCC partner REACH, with Evanna Hess, former director of MCC East Coast material resources center. After attending classes at Eastern Mennonite University, Dana incorporated a peacebuilding component in each project designed by REACH (Feb. 2009)

Mr. President, the biblical understanding of judgment and salvation seems especially relevant for our own time. But the human impulse throughout history has been to pronounce and mete out judgment on others in our desperate but futile attempts to save ourselves. Today’s texts stand as poignant reminders that we should not repeat the mistakes of history. In the midst of the current turmoil, may we be still and know and trust that God will both appropriately judge and deliver.

I close with the prayer of a tribal leader of the Sault Ste. Marie (Michigan) Tribe of Chippewa Indians:

We pray to you, Spirit of God.
Complete the work you have begun in us,
Prevent the evil we are capable of doing,
And inspire us toward what is good;
To faithfulness and patience,
To compassion and gentleness,
To unity and peace.
Waken in us friendship for every living being.
Fill our minds with Truth.
Fill our hearts with love.
Fill our days with joy and loving service.
Praise and honor to you Father.
By your risen Son in unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God forever and ever. Amen.

May this be your prayer and mine for this day.

Sincerely,
J. Daryl Byler

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

Day 35

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)

Mustafa Raouf, resident of Dalluja village in northern Iraq

Mustafa Raouf, resident of Dalluja village in northern Iraq

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 11, 2003

Daily Office Readings
Morning
-Psalm 45
-Deuteronomy 9:4-12
-Hebrews 3:1-11
Evening
-Psalm 47, 48
-John 2:13-22

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

Dear President Bush:

Today’s Daily Office readings call us to humble self-reflection because of God’s greatness and our own tendency toward stubbornness and rebellion.

Psalm 47 describes God as the great king “over all the earth”(vv.2, 7) and “over all the nations.”(v.8) Other kings are “astounded” by God’s holy mountain and mighty city (Ps. 48:1-5). Psalm 45 is a love song about the rare king who rides “victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right.”(v.4) This king loves righteousness and hates evil.”(v.7)

Dalluja Village, northern Iraq. In the 1980's Saddam Hussein developed a systematic campaign to empty out some 4,500 Kurdish villages in the north of Iraq.  Some 200,000 Kurds died in Saddam's "Anfal" campaign and hundreds of thousands more were displaced.

In the 1980’s Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein developed a systematic campaign to empty out some 4,500 Kurdish villages, like the tiny village of Dalluja pictured here.  As many as 200,000 Kurds died in Hussein’s “Anfal” campaign; hundreds of thousands more were displaced. The residents of Dalluja fled to Sulaymaniyah

In the Old Testament reading, Moses warns the people not to think that God is giving them the “Promised Land” because of their goodness. For God’s people have been stubborn (Deut. 9:6), provoked God to wrath (vv.7a, 8), “been rebellious against the Lord since the day (they) came out of Egypt”(v.7b) and acted corruptly (v.12). Rather, God chose to bless them because of God’s promise to Abraham and the even greater wickedness of the surrounding nations (vv.4-5).

In the Gospel reading, the merchants and moneychangers have turned worship of God into a profitable enterprise, taking advantage of the poor who come to bring a sacrifice to God. Jesus drives their sheep and cattle out of the temple, overturns the moneychangers’ tables and demands: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”(John 2:16)

Teacher and principal at two-room school in Dalluja village

Teacher and principal at two-room school in Dalluja village in northern Iraq

The Epistle reading admonishes the church to hold firm to its calling and hope and not to be like its ancestors who “hardened their hearts as in the rebellion”(Heb. 3:8) and put God to the test even though they had seen God’s works for forty years (v.9-10).

Mr. President, this sobering moment in global affairs seems to be a critical time for self-reflection. It is easy to see the sins of the Iraqi leadership which need to be addressed – a history of human rights violations, acting aggressively against their neighbors, and the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

The two-room school in the Kurdish village of Dallujah.

The school in Dalluja, rebuilt after residents returned from Sulimaniyah

It is far more difficult, but perhaps more profitable, to reflect on our own shortcomings as a nation. For example, how did we get to the place where the world seems more concerned with resisting U.S. war plans than with disarming Iraq?

In your recent press conference, you said, “I hope we don’t have to go to war,” and “I pray for peace.” Several days later you said, “We are doing everything we can to avoid war with Iraq.” Sadly, I’m not sure that it is self-evident what your administration is publicly doing to avoid war. The massive U.S. troop buildup continues in the Middle East. The United States has seemed to disparage the inspections process almost from the beginning. And the U.S. “diplomatic” efforts seem focused on gaining votes to authorize war.

Muhamed Mustafa and John Filson with bomb casing

Muhamed Mustafa and John Filson inspect Saddam Hussein-era bomb casing

I would be helped, and I suspect that scores of other countries would be helped, if you shared more publicly what you are doing to avoid war with Iraq. For example, what incentives are you offering to Iraq if it fully cooperates with inspections? What initiatives have you taken to hear and incorporate the voices of other UN Security Council members in deciding what next steps to take? What proposals have you made to meet face-to-face with Iraqi officials? It may be that these things are happening and the press simply hasn’t reported them. Would you consider a major speech to outline your efforts to avoid war?

It seems that the window of opportunity to avoid war is closing quickly. My prayer for you today is that you will help create the “political space” for the world to pull back from the brink of war. What a wonderful legacy this would be.

Sincerely,
J. Daryl Byler

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
Morning
– Psalm 41, 52
– Deuteronomy 8:11-20
– Hebrews 2:11-18
Evening
– 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.

Sincerely,
J. Daryl Byler

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

Day 32

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 Kurdish Iraqi man living in a village outside Erbil

A Kurdish man from Smaqshirini Bchuk village outside Erbil

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 8, 2003

Daily Office Readings
Morning
– Psalm 30, 32
– Deuteronomy 7:17-26
– Titus 3:1-15
Evening
– Psalm 42, 43
– John 1:43-51

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

Dear President Bush:

Today’s Daily Office readings are about God mighty works and our calling to be devoted to good works.

David praises God because God defended him against his foes (Psalm 30:1), healed him (v.2), restored his life (v.3) and turned his mourning into dancing (v.11). “You are a hiding place for me;” David declares, “you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.”(Psalm 32:32) In a time of trouble and taunting by his enemies, the psalmist asks repeatedly: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?”(Psalm 42:5a, 11a; 43:5a) In these words, the psalmist finds comfort: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”(42:5b, 11b; 43:5b)

Kurdish boys near Erbil

Kurdish boys  from Smaqshirini Bchuk Village

In the Old Testament reading, Moses challenges the people not to fear their enemies but to trust God’s mighty power to deliver, “for the Lord your God, who is present with you, is a great and awesome God”(Deut. 7:21).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus encounters Nathaniel who announces, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”(John 1:49) Jesus declares that God will do mighty works through him (v.51).

In the Epistle reading, Paul urges those who believe in God “to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone”(Titus 3:1,2). Furthermore, they are to “devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs” (v.15), for “these things are excellent and profitable to everyone”(v.8).

A grant from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank allowed this village to bring fresh water from an artisan well to replace this dirty water source

A grant from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank allowed Smaqshirini Bchuk village to bring a fresh water from an Artesian well to replace this  muddy water source

Mr. President, in your press conference on Thursday evening, you frequently spoke of the threat that you believe Iraqi President Saddam Hussein poses to his own people, to his “neighborhood” and to the American people. In your words and voice, I sensed that you feel a heavy responsibility for the security of the American people. Both David and Moses must have had similar feelings in their leadership roles. Still, David and Moses trusted God’s mighty power to deliver them. Today’s texts clearly suggest that it is not our responsibility or our right to take matters into our own hands when we feel threatened. It is not our human task to be concerned with ultimate matters of security and deliverance.

Rather, we are to focus on doing good works — to speak no evil, to be gentle, to show courtesy. These are the things that God uses in powerful ways.

Fresh water from an Artesian well supplied to each home

Fresh water from an Artesian well supplied to each home

Be devoted to good works, Mr. President. You mentioned that, if there is a war, everything will be done to protect innocent civilian life in Iraq. But I have also heard Pentagon planners say that, within the first 48 hours of a war, the United States will rain some 3,000 bombs and missiles on Iraq. How could this possibly protect or show concern for innocent life? We know for a fact that bombs and missiles miss their targets.

Be devoted to good works, Mr. President. Work to restore trust at the United Nations. Work to eliminate global HIV/AIDS. Work to lift sanctions against the Iraqi people. Work to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Work to rid the world of land mines. Work for nuclear disarmament. Work to provide health care and living wage jobs for all Americans. Work to rid our nation of racism. These are the things that — by God’s grace — are ours to do. Doing these things — indeed any one of them — will do far more to build a secure world than would going to war against Iraq.

My prayer for you today is that you will not be afraid in the face of global threats, but that these threats will lead you to devote yourself to good works to meet urgent needs.

Sincerely,
J. Daryl Byler