Rewind and Fast Forward

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I am grateful to God for the strength to finish this time of fasting. It has truly been a one-day-at-a-time journey.

A big thank you to the many who have journeyed with me during these 40 days.

A few deserve special recognition.  My spouse Cindy offered daily prayers and a patient and supportive presence throughout. My colleague Johonna Turner quietly fasted with me the first half of this journey and my sister Judy Kiel and many other friends joined in for a day at a time.  Many others provided regular encouragement and feedback.  And to those blog readers who offered alternative points of view, I learned from your perspectives.

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With grandson, Jesse Martin Byler

Some provided wonderful gifts of juice – thank you Bill, Lisa, Sarah, Jeremy, Lyndsay, Eva and Judy. And Gerry and Rose Baer invited Cindy and me to their home in Elizabethtown for a delightful juice lunch!

Of special note as well are my son Holden who helped to fashion the blog site; Mohammad Rasoulipour, who created the logo for the site; Ryan Roderick Beiler and Howard Zehr who generously shared photos that I used with blog entries; and Lauren Jefferson and Mia Kivlighan from EMU’s communications and marketing department, who provided wise counsel.

According to WordPress analytics, blog visitors came from 66 countries.

Probably the question I received most often was, “Have you heard anything from the White House?” The answer is “no — at least not yet.”  That has not been my expectation.

What did this fast accomplish? It changed me, reminding me of just how deeply held and dissimilar the views of those on the left and right are about President Trump. But wrestling with the Daily Lectionary readings each day also made me more hopeful about God’s readiness to transform and redeem even the most hopeless seeming of situations – if we are willing partners.

What is next? If the aftermath of a similar fast 14 years ago is a teacher, I will spend many years unpacking this experience. As a starter, I hope to develop more and deeper conversations with persons who have very different political views than my own. The well-being of our country and world depends on all of us reaching across these divisions and seeing our common humanity.

With gratitude –

J. Daryl Byler

Day 40 – Crossroads, Damascus Road

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Dear President Trump:

Today’s Daily Lectionary readings are about crossroads – those junctions in our lives where we must choose which road to travel.

Photo by Howard Zehr

In the Old Testament reading, the prophet tells of a king who comes “humble and riding on a donkey” — in sharp contrast to kings who typically rode proudly on powerful war horses. Ironically, this humble king “shall command peace to the nations” and “his dominion shall be from sea to sea.” (Zechariah 9:9-12) In the Gospel reading, the blind and the lame flock to Jesus for healing, but the religious leaders reject him even though they see the amazing things Jesus does. (Matthew 21:12-17)

Today is the 40th and last day of the healing justice fast that I began on Ash Wednesday. I have no way of knowing whether you read any of the letters I tweeted to you and your advisors each morning.

Mr. President, in reading your book, Trump: The Art of the Deal, you remind me in so many ways of a man who lived 2,000 years ago — Saul of Tarsus. Big ideas, brash, passionate and doggedly persistent in pursuit of his vision.

When I would wake at night during this fast, my prayer for you has been that you would have a Damascus Road encounter like the one Saul experienced. Saul’s dynamic energies were misfocused until he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. It changed his life. And his considerable gifts became channeled in ways that changed the world for the better. Poignantly, your life this week also has had a growing connection with Damascus.

There are two roads that one in your influential position must choose between.

The first is a road of domination, strong-arming and power politics.   In the volatile global environment we now inhabit, this road will most likely lead to a nuclear showdown or World War III. And the domestic political context will be so acidic that it will be impossible to effectively govern this diverse nation. Almost certainly, the road of domination will not make America great.

The second road is one of collaboration, consensus building, humility and service. This road offers a chance to bring healing justice to our nation and inspiration to the world.  This is the road that Jesus said will certainly make individuals and nations great.

Mr. President, which road will you choose?

Sincerely,
J. Daryl Byler

Day 39 – New Day Coming

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Dear President Trump:

Today’s Daily Lectionary readings describe a future that is very different from the present.

In the Old Testament reading, God says that, after a time of exile, “The days are surely coming (when) I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” God will watch over the people “to build and to plant (them);” will “make a new covenant with (them);” and will “forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:27-34)

In the Gospel reading, Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, gets sick. The sisters send word to Jesus to come and heal Lazarus. But Jesus delays. And Lazarus dies. When Jesus finally arrives, Mary and Martha are understandably upset that Jesus didn’t come earlier. All seems hopeless. Jesus weeps with the grieving sisters. But he does more. He goes to Lazarus’ tomb and shouts in a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus rises from the dead. (John 11:28-44) It is a new day for Lazarus, for Mary and Martha, and all who watched the miracle.

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Old City Jerusalem, near start of the Via Dolorosa — the path Jesus walked, reminding us that suffering precedes the new day of resurrection

Mr. President, a new day is coming.  Can you feel it?

A new day is coming for politics in this land. Americans are fed up with partisan bickering. The late American poet, Maya Angelou, astutely challenged: “Politicians must set their aims for the high ground and according to our various leanings, Democratic, Republican, Independent, we will follow. Politicians must be told if they continue to sink into the mud of obscenity, they will proceed alone.”

A new day is coming for international affairs.  The biblical prophet speaks of the day when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” (Micah 4:3-4)

A new day is coming for the economic order. Jesus spoke frequently of the day when “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)

A new day is coming for creation care. According to a First Nations Cree prophecy:

        When the earth is sick and dying,
        There will come a tribe of people
        From all races…
        Who will put their faith in deeds,
        Not words, and make the planet
        Green again…

Mr. President, a new day is coming. We cannot stop it. The only question for world leaders, the only question for each one of us, is whether we will embrace this new day or resist it.

Sincerely,
J. Daryl Byler

Day 38 – Restorative Justice

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Dear President Trump:

Today’s Daily Lectionary readings are about restorative justice.

In the Old Testament reading, God’s people are sent into exile in Babylon.  But God’s purpose is not punitive. It is restorative. After 70 years – during which time they are to seek the welfare of the city where they have been sent – God will restore them to the land. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

In the Epistle reading, Paul uses an image of olive trees. Because of their unbelief, God’s people are like a branch that is broken off a well-established olive tree. In its place, another branch – representing “outsiders” — is grafted in. But, says Paul, there is still opportunity for the original branches to be grafted back in if they once again trust God. (Romans 11:13-24)

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Ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane

Mr. President, last evening you ordered U.S. cruise missile attacks against a Syrian air base in retaliation for horrific chemical attacks against innocent Syrian civilians. The impulse to swiftly punish war crimes is understandable. But introducing more violence inevitably leads to greater harms.  More innocent civilians end up as “collateral damage.” And these strikes will likely further destabilize the region, increase the probability of attacks against U.S. personnel, and further deteriorate fragile U.S. relationships with Russia and Iran.  The International Criminal Court has been established to deal with war crimes in a way that doesn’t escalate the violence.

God’s justice is healing justice — restorative justice. Restorative justice insists on accountability for harms committed, while promoting healing to the extent possible. According to Dr. Howard Zehr, restorative justice asks questions such as:

  • Who has been harmed and what are the causes of the harm?
  • What are the needs of the person or group that has been harmed?
  • Whose obligation are these? Who is accountable?
  • Who has a stake in the situation?
  • What is the appropriate process to involve stakeholders to address causes and put things right?

This slow process involves truth-telling, careful analysis, accountability, creativity, persistence and action. The end goal is not retribution but to promote healing to the full extent possible.

Restorative justice — increasingly being used in schools and the criminal justice system — also offers a hopeful path forward in our international relationships and in dealing with historical harms in our own nation — such as the displacement of indigenous peoples and the legacy of slavery.

Wishing for you great courage to act wisely in promoting justice that restores.

Sincerely,

J. Daryl Byler

Day 37 – Missing Grace

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Dear President Trump:

Today’s Daily Lectionary readings are tragic stories of missing grace.

In the Old Testament reading, the prophet Jeremiah tells the people that God will bring disaster upon their land if they do not turn from their evil ways. The temple will be destroyed and Jerusalem will “be desolate, without inhabitants.”  But if the people turn from their harmful ways, God will give them a second chance.  Instead of heeding Jeremiah’s words, the people attack the messenger and threaten to kill him. (Jeremiah 26:1-24)

In the Gospel reading, the people take offense at Jesus for healing the sick and for claiming to be one with God.  Many say, “He has a demon and is out of his mind.” Others pick up stones and try to kill him. (John 10:19-42)

Albany "Bulb" - former garbage dump - Oakland

Albany “Bulb” – former garbage dump, Oakland, CA – Photo by Howard Zehr

Attacking the messenger is a natural response when someone speaks truth that we don’t want to hear. By defaming the messenger, we seek to discredit the message. But we also miss an opportunity for grace – an opening for a second chance.

It is a gift to have people who speak truth into our lives. It offers an occasion to change and to chart a more life-giving path.

The late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once quipped: “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

Mr. President, not every criticism is fair or accurate. But don’t reject those which are filled with truth. Don’t miss out on grace.

Sincerely,

J. Daryl Byler