Building empathy, enabling community

“Stress. It was really stressful having to constantly compare prices and serving sizes. It took a lot longer than when I grocery shop with my mom.”

“I felt like people were watching us and judging us, because we we talking so much about the price of everything and the servings. I didn’t like that.”

In groups of three or four, our youth were assigned a family narrative and then off to Jewel we went where each “family” had to shop for the week on a limited budget, making sure there was enough servings of protein, fruits, veggies and carbs for everyone. The above quotes were more connections being made as we prepare for Sleep Out Saturday this weekend.

SOS has three purposes:

  1. Raise awareness of homelessness in DuPage County.
  2. Raise funds for Bridge Communities so they can continue to provide housing and community for families experiencing homelessness in DuPage.
  3. Creating, for those participating in the event, an experience of solidarity with people experiencing homelessness. That is, building empathy for neighbors in need.

Frankly, we could use your help.

First, we need your prayers. For us, sure, that we have a meaningful experience and reach those three goals. But more importantly, please pray for all who experience homelessness right now. Pray that they find shelter and community. Pray for an end to the causes of homelessness, such as domestic abuse, mental illness, addiction, lack of employment, or severe illness. Pray that unjust systems that keep people poor or undereducated or sick or jobless will end.

Next, be open to what God’s Holy Spirit might have to say to you and to me and to us on Sunday morning when our teenagers share a message to the children born out of SOS. If we look cold and disheveled, well, it’s because we are.

Finally, if you are able, consider making a donation. We’re trying to raise $1000 and could really use some helping getting there.

For super extra bonus points, join us! Come to church and sleep out with us. Or even just on your lawn at home. There’s no age limits on who can participate.

Vote out hunger, how?

The Midterm Elections are now just a few days away (on Tuesday, November 4). Last week, I pledged to vote in a way that seeks to end hunger and encouraged you to do the same. Which you can still do, by the way.

But it occurred to me that it might not be exactly obvious how to go about voting for “candidates who make hunger a national priority.” Fortunately, Bread for the World has a tool to help with that, too. At least for incumbents in the U.S. Congress. (For challengers in the national elections and for state or local candidates, well, you’re pretty much on your own to research voting records…or better yet, to ask them directly.) Because, of course, incumbents cast votes and votes can be – and are – tracked.

Based on how the member of Congress voted for hunger and poverty related bills and amendments, Bread offers one scorecard for the Senate and one for the House of Representatives. Using those links you can read a description of the bills/amendments/resolutions, Bread’s position on them, and your Congress members’ score (i.e. the percent the member voted with Bread’s position). For instance, here in Illinois, Senator Mark Kirk scored 40% and Senator Dick Durbin 90%. Meanwhile, my Representative, Bill Foster, scored 100%. Which makes it very easy for me to vote for him!

However, if you want to see the particulars behind those scores – exactly how your member voted on each item – you have to download the complete voting record in pdf.

I find the scorecard compelling and excellent, though I realize that this is just one way to evaluate how committed a candidate is to voting out hunger and poverty. What other metrics will you use to determine which candidates can be counted on to make ending hunger a priority?

Bread pledge

Connections. It’s all about connections.

There was a lot to like about last weekend’s Confirmation retreat. No, not everything was peachy. You can’t throw 16 people who aren’t used to spending that much time together into a fairly small space for 26 hours and expect nothing but sunshine and roses :-)

We played a lot, and we snacked a lot, and we laughed a lot.

I enjoyed watching teamwork, listening, and cooperation develop and grow as the group navigated the multiple challenges of Reynoldswood Camp’s teams course. There was a noticeable difference in how the group treated each other from the first challenge to the last.

Retreat swinging pic

I appreciated the way the group was willing to share in response to The Game of Things questions such as, “things you dream about” or “things that make you cry.”

Pride welled in me as the youth determined together one thing they wanted to change about our congregation and made a plan to affect that change.

Understanding dawned as the Confirmands saw, some for the first time, the thread that runs from Genesis 12, through Micah 6 and Isaiah 58, and into Matthew 25 and Luke 10. The thread that, for us, informs what it means to be followers of God in the Way of Jesus.

It was in the midst of that biblical exploration that my favorite moment from the weekend occurred. One of our young people had an epiphany. I mean, you could practically see the light bulb (eco-friendly CFL, of course) jump to life over this youth’s head! “Wait…it’s all connected! Everything we’ve talked about, everything we’ve watched, everything we’ve read…even some of the games…it’s all connected!”

Yup. It’s a tangled web we weave. ;-)

It’s often difficult to see the big picture when you’re 12 or 13 years old. (Or 22 or 33 or 42 or 83 for that matter.) So when that kind of connection happens, when someone – regardless of age – sees, even for a moment, how the story of their life connects with the biblical story and the Methodist story and the story of the Woodridge United Methodist Church – when in that moment they see, however fleetingly, purpose…well, that makes my heart sing and my soul dance.

Find the thread. See the connections. Act with purpose.

Which brings me back to our Offering of Letters. I’m committed to make it more than a one time event. Speaking out with and for hungry people – helping them get food – simply is God’s way in the world.

So here’s a thread to follow:

  • Like it or not, our government plays a vital role in feeding hungry people locally, nationally, and globally. Our government determines how much money goes to programs that feed hungry people.
  • Elections determine our government.
  • We are less than two weeks away from the next election.

I can’t and won’t tell you who to vote for. But I can, and do, encourage you to make ending hunger a priority as you decide how to vote.

We can elect to end hunger.

With Bread for the World, I’ve pledged to do just that:

As a Christian, I want to live in a world where hunger is rare and temporary, not the shared experience of millions. I plan to let our nation’s decision makers know that this is a priority for my family, my community, and my church.

Will you join me? (You can even get a free car magnet, if you want one.)

Bread pledge

Find the thread. See the connections. Act with purpose.

It’s not all bad

This has been a tough week:

  • Ongoing war and atrocities in Iraq and Gaza.
  • Robin Williams’ suicide
  • Shooting death of Mike Brown and all that followed (and continues to follow) in Ferguson, MO.

Death, racism, oppression, violence, pain and despair are not hard to find. I’m going to talk about all of that as honestly as I can in my sermon on Sunday.

But ours is a God of hope and love and grace and life. Those things may be harder to find – especially in a week like this one – but they are just as real. At the risk of self-indulgence, I offer this Post by Woodridge United Methodist Church (some of which can be seen below) as one example of the life of God at work in the world (H/T Patti Cash). The Northern Illinois Food Bank does terrific work and we’re proud to play a small part in making their work happen this week.

How about you…where have you found hope and life this week?

Woodridge UMC youth and leaders served at the Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva, IL today. Together they packed 2100 pounds of potatoes and 789.6 pounds of “Meals In The Bag”. Today their “MITB” job was minestrone soup, packing each bag with 9 cans, I box pasta, 1 bag dried beans, and instructions. 4 bags goes into each box and they packed up 21 boxes. In total, this group packed up 2,408 meals for hungry people in Northern Illinois! #itsallrighthere #youth #helpie

New parables?

My task this week is to tackle some of those most mysterious teachings of Jesus that we usually call parables. In particular, parables about what the author of Matthew’s gospel calls the Kingdom of God Heaven.

Why ‘Heaven’ instead of ‘God’? Most likely the author was Jewish or was writing for a Jewish audience or was otherwise strongly influenced by Jewish mores which preclude naming God. What’s more interesting (at least to me) are the implications of that language choice on us contemporary hearers…that’s some of what we’ll get into on Sunday with a sermon I call “Word Search.”

20140725-123730-45450975.jpg

I also hope to get into what we might (perhaps arrogantly?) call new parables of this Kingdom of God Heaven thing. Various verses from Matthew 13, our text for this week, offer five different examples Jesus used to describe this Kingdom. I want to add a few more. But sermons are fluid (at least as I prepare and present them), influenced by, to name a few, news, events, timing, congregational responses (or lack thereof), and – hopefully – the movement of God’s Holy Spirit. I might not end up saying what I think I will say. Or I might screw up and forget something. Or I might only tell part of a story. Or I might tell it badly. Or…??

In hopes that this will enhance your experience of, and participation in, Sunday’s message, I offer these stories for your perusal. Stories I intend to reference on Sunday as ways God’s Spirit of Life is at work in, with, and among us. Stories that might inspire you to find out about even more. Stories that might inspire you to notice the Spirit at work. Stories that might encourage you to tell your own story…and maybe even to tell it this week.

Remember a couple of months ago we became aware of Dr. Meriam Ibrahim’s story? We added our voices to those speaking out for her release from a death sentence. This week Pope Francis hosted her and her family at the Vatican.

A Tumblr blog using “collective life experience to be a safe haven for kids who need it?” Yep, it’s a real thing. And it is just so, so important.

Finally, a city chooses love and justice over short-sighted selfishness. Love Wins, indeed.

Click, read, repeat. Then comment here with reactions, or better yet, your own stories of the Life of God in the world.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers’

Today is Nelson Mandela Day; it could hardly occur at a better time. What the world needs now is a whole lot of people praying for – and working for – peace. Those of us who claim the name of Jesus better be leading those efforts, if we want to live up to that name.

Israel orders ground offensive in Gaza; heavy shelling on border.”

Ukraine accuses Russia of shooting down passenger plane.

We pray for peace among neighbors.

Tens of thousands of migrant children enter U.S. unaccompanied.

“The United Methodist Council of Bishops Executive Committee, meeting in Chicago, July 16, 2014, calls on all United Methodists to pray, reflect on God’s Word, and engage in acts of compassion concerning the humanitarian crisis of thousands of unaccompanied children on the southern border of the United States.  There are also refugees and migrant people throughout the world for whom God and we have concern.

Jesus invited the children to come to him.  He called us to welcome strangers and love our neighbors as ourselves.  Let us be guided by Christ’s example.”

We pray for peace: shelter from violence and for violence to cease.

More than 50% of Woodridge’s school district 68 live under the federal poverty level.

We pray for peace from the violence of poverty.

As Pastor Danita said in her inaugural sermon at WUMC, we still have work to do.

Let us pray without ceasing for peace. Let us work without ceasing for justice.

Giving thanks that we serve the God of resurrection, one who is making all things new – including us and our too-often broken world.

Remembering Grandma Ruth

To paraphrase Winston Zeddemore, when someone asks you to officiate a wedding in Hawaii, you say YES! And you bring your spouse and kids. Especially when it is for friends. So I was on a working vacation with my family last week when word came that Grandma Ruth died. The funeral service would be before we returned and I would miss it. I wasn’t actually related to Ruth Gray, but she was a long time family friend and was very important to me. I share with you what I sent to have read on my behalf as a way to continue the celebration of her life. ——————————————————————————————————– 20140627-234629-85589590.jpg I’m very sorry I cannot be with all of you today as we mourn Ruth’s death and celebrate her life. I’m grateful you’ll indulge me in offering a few thoughts…especially since you know how dangerous it is to give a preacher a microphone – even from over 3000 miles away! Grandma Ruth was an amazing woman who always made an incredible first impression. In fact, here’s everything I remember from the first time I met her: [silence] You see, I was only 9 months old when Ruth Gray became my caregiver, so I don’t have a memory of that. But I know it didn’t take long for ‘Ruth Gray, caregiver’ to become ‘Grandma Ruth’ to me. I mean really, Jenny & Tracy called her Grandma, so why shouldn’t I? No two words better capture the Ruth Gray I knew than ‘caregiver’ and ‘Grandma’. I was lucky to have Grandma Ruth in my life, but I certainly wasn’t the only one. That’s why ‘caregiver’ is one of my words for her today. There’s the obvious sense of that word for her: she provided care for many children over the years. But even beyond that, Ruth was kind to all she met. She genuinely cared about the well being of other people. Even strangers. Now don’t get me wrong, she didn’t suffer fools lightly: a lesson this fool learned early and often! As trite as it may sound, I really did know – eventually, at least – that any time she reprimanded me, it was to teach me something. That was also part of how she expressed her care. I don’t recall ever having a direct conversation with Ruth about what it means to be a person of faith. I think now that we didn’t need to. She made loving God and loving others her way of life. Being a caregiver wasn’t just what she did, it was who she was. The prolific author and teacher, Father Richard Rohr writes: as faith deepens, “God becomes more a verb than a noun, more a process than a conclusion, more an experience than a dogma, more a personal relationship than an idea. There is Someone dancing with you, and you are not afraid of making mistakes.” That’s the kind of faith Ruth taught me because that’s the kind of faith she lived. As for that other word, while it may have been simple mimicry that got me started calling Ruth ‘Grandma’, it very quickly became a fact. Her home became a second home for me: a place I ate and napped and played. A place I read and learned. A place I was welcome and safe and cared for. It was a place I was loved. I may not have been able to explain this at the time, but I now know that I called her Grandma Ruth because she loved me like I was her own – and I loved her the same way. I’ll miss you, Grandma Ruth. The world is a better place because you were in it. I am a better person because I knew you. May God’s peace be with us all.

Advocacy at work

Well, that happened fast. I guess sometimes it all comes together.

Lately I’ve used this space, as I often do, to write about the Christian duty to engage in justice advocacy to alleviate hunger, poverty and oppression.

Then Bread for the World picked up a little of what I wrote and asked if they could interview me for their blog. I’ll admit it is pretty fun to see my congregation lifted into a national spotlight! (Ok, and me too. Does that make me a bad guy??)

From the Bread Blog: “Rev. Dave Buerstetta of Woodridge United Methodist Church in Chicago, Ill., recently added his name to a letter asking his senator to protect food aid. We asked him why he thought it was important for the faith community to be part of the conversation on food aid with Congress. Here is what he said:

Loving God with our whole selves and loving our neighbors as ourselves requires seeking justice. Seeking justice requires trying to change the cultural systems that make, and keep, people poor or hungry or oppressed. So seeking justice – transforming systems to better emulate the Reign of God on earth, for which we pray every single week – requires advocacy.

We have some neighbors who are hungry. We have other neighbors who are members of Congress with the power to keep 2 million more neighbors from becoming hungry. Of course we should talk with members of Congress about this! We cannot let ourselves be scared off from the vital work of justice advocacy simply because doing so means engaging in the political process. That’s how systems are changed.

In other words, in addition to being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, we must also seek to be the voice of Jesus in the world, speaking with and for the poor, the hungry, the oppressed. That is why I added my name to the letter; that is why I hope you will too.

(Read the rest.)

Next, on Wednesday of this week, Bread announced an immediate need for calls to Representatives to support the Royce amendment to the Agricultural Appropriations bill. Why? The Royce amendment “provides funding for the USDA Local and Regional Purchase (LRP) program. This would help more people receive U.S. food aid at no additional cost. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.-39), who has been a champion in the House for food-aid reform, led the bipartisan amendment.”

While it is easy – and too often right – to decry politicians and our political process, they and it aren’t all bad. As Bread reminds us, “This vote is the latest in a series showing bipartisan support for food-aid reforms. Late last month, Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), offered an amendment to the Senate version of agricultural appropriations that passed out of committee with an additional $35 million for food-aid reform efforts.” (Read the rest.)

Many people responded and the amendment passed! My Representative, Bill Foster, voted for it, so I tweeted him a thank you. Check and see how your Rep. voted, then offer them a thank you or tell them you’re disappointed.

Advocacy matters because advocacy works. Advocacy helps transform systems; helps make our systems more just, makes them more closely resemble the world God intends for us.

Let’s keep raising our voices!

 

Wanna feed 2 million people – or even 9 million – in less than 10 minutes?

If so, all you have to do is read a little and add your name to a letter. Sometimes advocacy is just that simple.

Illinois residents (along with those of Alaska, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia) have an opportunity – I would even say a duty – to influence legislation currently being considered in the Senate Commerce Committee that, if passed as is, takes away food from 2 million hungry people. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is on that committee. Senator Durbin needs to hear that we, his constituents, want Section 318 out of the final version of The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014. Why? From Bread for the World:

Section 318 increases shipping restrictions for U.S. food aid, and makes our food aid less efficient, increasing shipping costs by more than $75 million per year. The additional cost would be taken directly out of our nation’s food aid programs—literally out of the mouths of 2 million men, women and children. Both U.S. taxpayers and hungry people would lose from this unjust provision.

Additionally, a bipartisan bill, The Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014, was introduced this week. If passed it could feed up to nine million hungry people by making U.S. food aid more efficient. The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society joined several other organizations supporting this bill, asking for it to be passed quickly.

With help from our friends at Bread for the World, each of us can raise our voice with and for hungry neighbors just by adding our name to a single letter which will be delivered to our Senators and Representatives on June 10. (Full text of the letter is also below.)

Will you join me in signing this letter and thereby work to change food aid systems so they feed more people?

Check out the video below for a great song to accompany some justice advocacy. (H/T to Patti Cash for bringing this song to my attention.)

 


June 2014

Dear Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Mark Kirk, and our respective U.S. representatives:

As religious leaders across Illinois, we answer the call to help our neighbors in need. Our faith communities are globally engaged, and we know U.S. policy plays a critical role in addressing human needs and fostering global development. Our faith compels us to support policy reforms to our nation’s international food aid that would enable us to:

* feed millions more hungry people,
* deliver life-saving food more quickly,
* support vulnerable communities in becoming self-sufficient, and
* better utilize taxpayer dollars.

Reforming U.S. food aid is the right thing to do from both a moral and a fiscal standpoint. It is also in America’s self-interest, as it would do more to foster peace, stability and goodwill toward our nation and would support the development of new trade partners and consumers for U.S. products.

As you debate legislation and cast votes in Congress, we ask you to keep poor and hungry people at the forefront of your heart and mind, and we ask you to support the following reforms to our international food aid:

1. Improve flexibility and efficiency, so we can more effectively respond to hunger.
2. Enhance nutritional quality, so vulnerable populations (such as very young children) receive what they need to thrive.
3. Protect food aid funding, so policy improvements lead to more lives saved.

We specifically ask you to cosponsor the “Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014,” from Sens. Bob Corker and Chris Coons. This bill will make our food aid more efficient, freeing up as much as $440 million annually and thereby allowing us to reach seven to nine million more people, in a substantially shorter amount of time. At a time when our budget is strained and 842 million people in the world are hungry, we must maximize taxpayer dollars by making our food aid as efficient as possible. Supporting the “Food for Peace Reform Act” is the prudent decision—both morally and fiscally—and we ask you to cosponsor this important legislation.

We also ask you to ensure “Section 318” of H.R. 4005, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014, is not included in the final bill. Section 318, which increases shipping restrictions for U.S. food aid, would make our food aid less efficient, increasing shipping costs by more than $75 million per year. This provision would make our food aid less efficient, increasing shipping costs by more than $75 million per year. The additional cost would be taken directly out of our nation’s food aid programs—literally out of the mouths of 2 million men, women and children. Both U.S. taxpayers and hungry people would lose from this unjust provision, and it must be removed.

We look forward to staying in communication as you consider U.S. food aid, and we are praying for you as you make these and other critical decisions in the months ahead.

With hope,