Iraq’s Future: Blood or Hope?

War in Iraq: Seven Years of U.S. Sacrifice, Image Courtesy: Nicholas P. Maurstad

Last One Out, Please Close the Gate

Last night, local time in the Middle East at a border crossing between Iraq and Kuwait, the last Stryker Brigade of American Combat troops rolled through the gates ending seven years of United States military operations.  The combat role is finished and has been turned over to the Iraqi military.  Although the Stryker Brigade is being processed for their first day in Kuwait, a substantial force of non-combat military personnel remain, some 50,000 we are told.

Is the war over?  Did we win?

Iraqi Women Grieving Killed Relatives, Photo: AFP/Getty Images

The hope is that the combat part of the war is over.  The so-called advisors will have many roles, from training to consultation, to building ongoing relations with the Iraqis as their very fragile government tries to survive just one day at a time.  What strategy will the insurgents play?  Only time will tell.

Did we win?  Now that’s an interesting question.  Can you win a war that was begun under false pretenses?  Can you win a war that was started by a president of the United States who chose to either believe pure fantasy about a huge cache of weapons that never existed to begin with, or knowing they didn’t exist, fabricated a horrible lie, colluding with the officers of his administration do give the appearance that we were in state of a clear and present danger?

Since the evidence points to the president’s lying to the nation, an act of duplicity for which he will never have to face justice and neither will the officers who assisted him in constructing this completely false rationale for going to war, how, then, can we say that we won the war?

Started on False Pretenses, Ended on…?

What we did was topple a regime. We sought out an admittedly tyrannical dictator who oppressed his people, and let his sons run amok terrorizing any one they wished, simply on a whim.  The fact that all three of them are dead was a gift to the Iraqi people.  But the fact the war we brought to them cost the lives, according to the organization, Iraq Body Count,  of between 97,267 and 106,146 civilians as well as the deaths of over 4400 military Americans.  Many of these troops were killed trying to dodge the bullets and  IEDs of a no-holds-barred civil war between rival tribal and religious sects of the same religion. This circumstance lasting years does not leave one with a sense that our goals lined up with theirs.  And on both accounts, those numbers do not include the number of those wounded, maimed, left without spouses, or orphaned.

Graph of Iraqi Casualties. Image: Iraq Body Count

The truth remains that despite the last Stryker Brigade rumbling across the border into Kuwait, the war is not over.  50,000 U.S. troops will continue on for years to come.  One Iraqi official stated: “If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the U.S. army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020,” said the Iraqi military’s most senior officer Lt. Gen. Babakir Zebari last week.

Operation New Dawn is not the end of the war.  It is a new phase.  More Iraqis will die.  More Americans will die.  The jury of historical success or failure must remain silent for years to come.  But some facts are already self-evident, and

IED Explosion in Iraq. Photo: Wikipedia/PD

both the United States and the Iraqis have paid a terrible price for the decision of one man who out of spite, a twisted sense of revenge, incompetence, delusion, or unmitigated stupidity, started the war and conned a nation into going along with it.  While the two men and their henchmen remain free who we should have focused on like a laser beam to bring the down, to put a halt to the horrible

Bin Laden & al Zawahiri. Photo: Source Unkn

carnage they continue to spread around the world, a thousand opportunities were squandered by that administration to end the reign of terror those men and to pay for their murderous crime against the American people.  For that, George Bush, 43rd president of the United States, should be forever judged most harshly.

But What of Hope?

The old saying goes, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”  But sometimes through dogged determination, one can take the worst possible situation, and through hard work and creative thinking and planning bring some degree of good out of the bad.

This will be the paradox of the Iraqi war.  For all the wrong reasons we invaded Iraq.  The people our leaders believed would welcome us instead hated us even more.  The people freed from the masochism of Saddam Hussein instantly split from the suppressed religious and tribal fractures that Saddam had used constant brutality to hold together to control his regime.  We unleashed a monster of internecine savagery, an unintended consequence for which our leaders were totally unprepared or had any contingency to deal with.  For years we, the great liberators, were literally trapped by the rage going on around us, trying to bring order in a nation so spiritually shattered that they wanted to kill us so that they could kill each other more quickly.

Despite all that…despite all that, the soldiers of a handful of countries that came to stand beside us, and our American troops, figured out ways to bring hope to the Iraqis.  A million mistakes were undoubtedly made, but we are a people, or should I say a coalition, that don’t give up that easily.  Yes, the other countries withdrew their forces, including the British, who had been the second largest contingent, before the fighting was truly over.  But to their defense, many of their leaders saw the obvious and clear turning of events in Afghanistan, and moved their resources to that troubled land, where now they continue to fight alongside of our forces as they attempt to save Afghanistan from another Taliban regime, capable of a brutality that exceeds anything Saddam could have dreamed of many times over.

As the combat troops left last night, the question very much remains whether Iraq, is truly ready to embrace the new dawn our military has so optimistically chosen to call the next phase of the mission.  The answer may be that it ends in collapse and civil war, where millions might die this time.  It is my prayer that will not be the result, but I cannot predict the future.  It appears though that the sheer hatred the Iraqis demonstrated against the U.S. at the time of the invasion has tempered.  Though the rivers of mistrust of Americans and that the majority are Christians, runs deep, as the years have passed and the combat operations and firefights have subsided, our soldiers have had the chance to show the humanity that exists beneath the uniform.

Iraqi Child Kissing U.S. Soldier. Photo: AP/John Moore

Perhaps the chance to be human, to show kindness and even respect, after so many years of fighting has turned out to be irresistible to both the Americans and the Iraqis.

If that is true, then there is hope.

Light of the World–Easter Sunday

He is risen!

He is risen, indeed!

Light of the World

On the night of His birth a chorus of angels sang praises to God for this new life

Thirty-three years later He was reviled by angry crowds calling for His death

On the night of His birth He was hailed as the Prince of Peace, the heir to David’s royal throne

Thirty-three years later He was condemned as a false king and an enemy of the state

On the night of His birth shepherds came to visit Him and rejoiced that they had beheld the Lamb of God

Thirty-three years later He became the sacrificial lamb whose blood was poured out for the forgiveness of sins

On the night of His birth He was wrapped in swaddling cloths and gently held by His mother

Thirty-three years later He was stripped of his clothing and scourged by Roman soldiers

On the night of His birth He was placed in a wooden manger

Thirty-three years later He was executed on a wooden cross

On the night of His birth He was born in a stable, most likely a cave, open to the cold night air, attended by gentle farm animals

Thirty-three years later He was buried in a tomb, most likely a cave, covered by a massive stone, attended by armed guards

On the night of His birth a new star appeared in the heavens, splitting the darkness, and the heavenly host rejoiced that Emmanuel, “God With Us” had come into the world

Thirty-three years and three days later, He arose, a New Light, and appeared to the world, banishing the darkness of sin and all humanity rejoiced that Jesus, the “Light of the World” is the Risen Lord whose light shines forevermore.

December 22, 2002

Table of Forgiveness–Holy Saturday

[Each day of Holy Week, I am going to publish a communion meditation that I wrote and delivered, while serving as an Elder, over the past seven years where I worship at Northwood Christian Church, in Springfield, Oregon.]

Table of Forgiveness–Written for the First Anniversary of 9/11 2001

This week we will commemorate the terrible events of September 11th one year ago.  I would like to offer a perspective on what it means to be a Christian and to come to this table as we remember those who perished, those who were left behind, and those who gave so much to rescue and protect the survivors.

My illustration comes not from Ground Zero in New York, but from a newscast in the Palestinian city of Jenin after the Israeli troops occupying it earlier this summer had left.  The reporter was interviewing a group of Palestinians standing on the rubble of what was once their homes.  What caught my attention, however, was the hand-lettered banner tacked onto a wall, written in English, undoubtedly for the benefit of the American and British TV cameras.

The banner read,

“We will never forget.

We will never forgive.”

The words stunned me.  It is one thing to never forget.  Our brains are designed to remember things, after all (finding the TV remote notwithstanding).  To choose not to forgive, however, is another thing altogether.  To make that choice is a decision that will only lead to vengeance and violence, to accept whatever Evil places before you, to justify any act with any means.  There is no justice, only the burning for revenge.

And that is exactly the opposite-the opposite-of what coming to this table stands for.  We come not because we deserve to be here; we come because, above all, we are the forgiven, invited to join our host, the One who gave His life for our sins.  Each week as we gather to take communion, we gather around this table of forgiveness.

Jesus said, “This, do in remembrance of me.”  That is our banner so we will never forget his sacrifice.  But also, as our Lord forgave those who executed him upon a Roman cross, we are also to always remember His example to forgive those who persecute us.  When we make the decision to forgive, we open our lives to God’s justice, to defend and protect those who are oppressed and downtrodden.  In this, our hearts burn not for revenge but for peace.

This is the table of remembrance and forgiveness.  It has been given to us to remember that first, we are the forgiven.

sept_11_bkgrnd

Photo Credit: Ask.com, 9/11 2006

September 8, 2002

Echoes from the Future–Good Friday

[Each day of Holy Week, I am going to publish a communion meditation that I wrote and delivered, while serving as an Elder, over the past seven years where I worship at Northwood Christian Church, in Springfield, Oregon.]

Echoes from the Future

We all enjoy standing on the edge of a canyon or the balcony of a building and calling out loudly to make our voice echo.  It’s fun to hear the sound bouncing around like we were standing in several spots at once.  And we use the term echo as an analogy for remembering events that have happened in the distant past.

But when God speaks, the echoes can come from the future.  Consider these words of the prophet Isaiah, written over five hundred years before the birth of Jesus:  “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:4-6, NIV).

These words are not echoes of the past, not when Isaiah wrote them, and neither for us, for they are the present word from God to all future generations of humankind.  The words tell us what happens and why it has to happen, so at that moment in time, in reality, in history that Jesus sits at the table with his disciples, a new present and a new future is opened.

We come to this communion table each week not merely to remember Jesus’ death on the cross, but to celebrate His presence with us.  The bread representing his body broken for us and the juice representing his blood shed for us binds us to the past, present and future of God’s eternal love and salvation.  Again to quote one of Isaiah’s echoes from the future:

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.  For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (53:12, NIV).

And most of all, because He bore my sin.

March 7, 2004

A Room for All Time–Maundy Thursday

[Each day of Holy Week, I am going to publish a communion meditation that I wrote and delivered, while serving as an Elder, over the past seven years where I worship at Northwood Christian Church, in Springfield, Oregon.]

A Room for All Time

Jesus knew what he wanted.  It was time to prepare for the Passover.  Jesus knew it would be his last Passover and his last meal.  And so he wanted a room that would hold all of his closest disciples, the Twelve, and probably those few other men and women whom Jesus loved most.  He sent Peter and John to arrange the room and the meal.  The owner of the house is not named, but undoubtedly he was one of Jesus’ followers.  The room was large and on the second story of the house.  The room was perfect–perfect for the One who would make this a room for all time.

For over a thousand years the Jews had celebrated the Passover in rooms like this one.  But Jesus was standing history on its head, and now this room would witness an act of God’s grace.  For in that room Jesus spoke the words, “This is my body, which is given for you” and “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”  As Jesus spoke those words, God’s presence was no longer hidden away in the Temple in the Holy of Holies.  For the rest of all time, God would be present in any room, or place, in which the words were spoken and the meal partaken.

Yes, Jesus knew what he wanted that night.  The Upper Room was the place where Jesus declared himself to be God’s greatest gift to creation, where through his death on the cross, all humans would find salvation.

As you eat the bread and drink the cup today, let us all give thanks to God for His presence in this room at this very moment.

August 15, 2004

Final Meal of Grace–Day 4 of Passion Week

[Each day of Holy Week, I am going to publish a communion meditation that I wrote and delivered, while serving as an Elder, over the past seven years where I worship at Northwood Christian Church, in Springfield, Oregon.]

Final Meal of Grace

Author Lauren Winner, in her book, Mudhouse Sabbath, writes this sentence, “Humanity’s first sin was disobedience manifested in a choice about eating.”  In the book of Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve they may eat the fruit of every tree except that of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  When they choose to disobey God and eat its fruit, at that meal humanity falls from grace.

When Moses leads the people of Israel out of Egypt, God institutes a new meal of remembrance, the Passover meal.  This food, eaten once a year, was to remind the people of Israel of God’s mercy and their liberation from enslavement.  When they ate this food, they were thanking God for the Law, which gave them their identity as God’s chosen people and set the stage for the Messiah.

How appropriate, how beautiful it is, then, on the night when God’s grace is to be returned to humanity, God gives to us the final meal.  When we choose to eat this food, we are accepting God’s offer to forgive our sins.  It is the Messiah, Jesus, who transforms the Passover meal into not just a remembrance of His sacrifice on the cross, but into an act of God’s covenant of grace, present through the Holy Spirit.

Listen to the words:

And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”  And He took a cup and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is to be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:26-28, NAS).

January 30, 2005

An Exercise in Futility–Day 3 of Passion Week

[Each day of Holy Week, I am going to publish a communion meditation that I wrote and delivered, while serving as an Elder, over the past seven years where I worship at Northwood Christian Church, in Springfield, Oregon.]

An Exercise in Futility

As Jesus moved into the third year of his ministry he talked more about his being put to death and rising again.  We can forgive the people of Judea if they were more than a bit skeptical about this claim.  They were intimately acquainted with death.  The average lifespan at that time was less than fifty years.  Dr Jon Berquist, a biblical scholar in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has stated that half the women giving birth died during delivery.  The infant mortality rate in some years exceeded 50%.  Add disease, war and malnutrition and you can see that death was a constant presence and threat.  And as for Jesus’ claim to rise and live after dying?  It was almost laughable, after all dead was dead was dead.  Everybody knew that.

Yet.  Yet, that is what Jesus kept saying would happen to him.  As you read the accounts in all four of the Gospels, even the skeptics begin to wonder.  There was something about Jesus, in the way he taught, in the way he seemed to have this unfathomable connection to God.  When they executed Jesus on the cross, the skeptics had become so unnerved by his claim to rise on the third day that they posted guards at his tomb.

It was an exercise in futility.  Half a generation later, the Apostle Paul would write to the church at Corinth: “So also is the resurrection of the dead.  It is shown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body…it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body”(I Cor 15:42, 44).  That is our hope, our belief, and what brings us to this table today.  Here we celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection, his body broken for us, his blood shed for us.

June 26, 2005