Rice for Iraq

Monday 10 February 2003

This is from an email message that is going around:

There is a grassroots campaign underway to stand for peace with Iraq in a simple, but potentially powerful way: Place 1/2 cup uncooked rice in a small plastic bag (a snack-size bag or sandwich bag work fine). Squeeze out excess air and seal the bag. Wrap it in a piece of paper on which you have written:

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them. Romans 12:20.
Please send this rice to the people of Iraq - do not attack them.”

Place the paper and bag of rice in a small jiffy bag, close well with tape and address to: PM John Howard Parliament House Canberra ACT.

Drop this in the mail ASAP. It is important to act NOW so that PM gets the letters ASAP Each one of these packets is effective, and hundreds of thousands of such rice deliveries to Parliament House ACT will make hopefully make an enormous stand. We can do this if you each forward this message to your friends and family.

There is a positive history of this protest! In the 1950s, Fellowship of Reconciliation began a similar protest, which is credited with influencing President Eisenhower against attacking China. Read on:

“In the mid-1950s, the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation, learning of famine in the Chinese mainland, launched a ‘Feed Thine Enemy’ campaign. Members and friends mailed thousands of little bags of rice to the White House with a tag quoting the Bible, “If thine enemy hunger, feed him.” As far as anyone knew for more than ten years, the campaign was an abject failure. The President did not acknowledge receipt of the bags publicly; certainly, no rice was ever sent to China.

“What nonviolent activists only learned a decade later was that the campaign played a significant, perhaps even determining role in preventing nuclear war. Twice while the campaign was pending, President Eisenhower met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to consider U.S. options in the conflict with China over two islands, Quemoy and Matsu.

The generals twice recommended the use of nuclear weapons. President Eisenhower each time turned to his aide and asked how many little bags of rice had come in. When told they numbered in the tens of thousands, Eisenhower told the generals that as long as so many Americans were expressing active interest in having the U.S. feed the Chinese, he certainly wasn’t going to consider using nuclear weapons against them.”

Rice for Iraq

OK, I’ll do it, to express my view to John Howard: I don’t want Iraqi people attacked in my name. But I have decided not to quote St Paul to the Prime Minister — I find the passage, in its biblical context, puzzling.

In his Epistle to the Romans St Paul was quoting from the Old Testament. Here is the original, and the verse that follows it, from the King James version:

[21] If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: [22] For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee. [Proverbs 25]

I looked for help in understanding what this might mean. I read what John Wesley wrote about the passage in Romans, and was no less puzzled:

Feed him — With your own hand: if it be needful, even put bread into his mouth. Heap coals of fire upon his head — That part which is most sensible.

“So artists melt the sullen ore of lead, By heaping coals of fire upon its head; In the kind warmth the metal learns to glow, And pure from dross the silver runs below.”

Can someone explain that bit about heaping coals of fire upon an enemy’s head?

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