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?
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.
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.
Financial cost of Iraq war:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.