Tag Archives: President George W. Bush

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 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 31

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)

Internally displaced Iraqi children at Kids House in Ankawa, Iraq

Internally displaced Iraqi children at Kids House in Ankawa, 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 7, 2003

Daily Office Readings
Morning
– Psalm 31
– Deuteronomy 7:12-16
– Titus 2:1-15
Evening
– Psalm 35
– John 1:35-42

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

Dear President Bush:

Today’s Daily Office readings speak of our strong defense, surrendering to God, and self-control.

In a time of distress, grief, sorrow and misery (Psalm 31:9-10), David describes God as his “rock of refuge”(v.2b) and “strong fortress”(v.2c). “I trust you,” David declares, “I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.” (vv.14-16) In Psalm 35, David also implores God to rescue him from the ravages of his enemies. “Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defense, for my cause, my God and my Lord!”(v.23)

The Old Testament and Gospel readings describe aspects of surrendering our lives to God. Moses cites the benefits for those who observe God’s commandments (Deut. 7:12-16): God will maintain covenant loyalty with them (v.12); God will love, bless, multiply and prosper them (vv.13-14); and keep them healthy (v.15). And when John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God, John’s own disciples begin to follow Jesus instead, announcing, “We have found the Messiah”(John 1:41).

62 internally displaced families from Baghdad were living in Qalawa IDP camp when we visited in Feb 2009

62 internally displaced families from Baghdad were living in Qalawa IDP camp when we visited in Feb 2009

In the Epistle reading, Paul offers Titus words to give to various groups in the church, and calls for all to “live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly”(Titus 2:12).

Mr. President, today the chief UN weapons inspector will make another report to the UN Security Council. Mr. Blix is expected to present evidence of increasing Iraqi cooperation with the inspectors as well as significant progress in destroying the Al Samoud missiles. Could have the Iraqis cooperated even more? Likely so. Could have even more missile been destroyed? No doubt. But the key point is that the global community is working together to disarm Iraq.

Last night in your press conference, you spoke of your concern for the security of the American people. You said that you hoped the crisis with Iraq could be resolved peacefully. But you also expressed willingness to go to war with or without the endorsement of the UN Security Council.

This Iraqi woman's son was killed in Baghdad, prompting her to move to the Qalawa Camp (Feb. 2009)

This Iraqi woman’s son was killed in Baghdad, prompting her to move to Qalawa Camp (Feb. 2009)

Because God is ultimately our defense, there is no need to rush to war. Because God is our defense, there is space to work with the global community in disarming Iraq. Does the United States have the military power to act alone? Certainly. But this is a time to exercise self-control. As Sen. Chuck Hagel* said recently in a speech at Kansas State University, “the success of our actions will be determined not by the extent of our power, but by an appreciation of its limits . . . We must avoid the traps of hubris and imperial temptation that comes with great power.”

What if, instead of insisting that other nations back the U.S.-U.K. resolution supporting force against Iraq, your administration took one small step back for the sake of global unity? What if the United States proposed a sort of “addendum” to resolution 1441? This addendum could include clear and fair benchmarks and timetables for Iraqi disarmament — something that was missing from resolution 1441. And to increase the likelihood of greater Iraqi cooperation, this new resolution should also forswear military action as reasonable benchmarks are met, and offer the promise of full and immediate lifting of sanctions when disarmament is complete.

Father and daughter in their tent at Qalawa Camp (Feb. 2009)

Father and daughter in their tent at Qalawa Camp near Sulimaniyah (Feb. 2009)

Finally, I invite you to reconsider one of your statements from last evening. You said: “I want to remind you that it’s his (Saddam Hussein’s) choice to make whether or not we go to war. . . He’s the person that can make the choice of war and peace.” Doesn’t this give Mr. Hussein too much power? It would seem to me that it is our choice – we must take responsibility for whether we choose the way of war or the path of peace.

Giving more time to preserve global unity and to prevent war does require us to trust God. It requires us to exercise self-control. And it requires us to surrender to the way of Jesus who calls us to be peacemakers. None of these things are easy to do.

My prayer for you today is that you will find the strength to do hard things as you fully place your trust in God.

Sincerely,
J. Daryl Byler

*NOTE: Former Senator Chuck Hagel was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Defense, Feb. 26, 2013. Click here to see the full text of the speech he gave at Kansas State University, Feb. 20, 2003.