All posts by Dave Buerstetta

About Dave Buerstetta

I'm a husband, father, Koinonia Pastor, justice seeker, abolitionist, baseball & hockey fan, a follower of God in the way of Jesus.

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.”


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,


A true must-read

Given that:

1. As followers of God in the Way of Jesus, my congregation (Woodridge United Methodist Church) strives to love God and love our neighbors. Which, as Jesus put it, means everybody.

2. A vital piece of loving our neighbors – and of UMC membership vows – is striving to fight evil, injustice, and oppression.

3. Race relations in our country, especially between blacks and whites, have far, far too often and for far, far too long been filled with exactly that which we are supposed to oppose: evil, injustice and oppression.

4. Woodridge UMC is predominately – though certainly not entirely – caucasian.

5. The Reverend Danita Anderson, WUMC’s incoming Senior Pastor, is African-American (and thus her appointment here is considered a cross-cultural one by the Northern IL Conference).

…I propose that the best use of your reading time today (tomorrow, this holiday weekend, as long as it takes) is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ terrific, disturbing, in-depth article, “The Case for Reparations”, just released in The Atlantic.

250 years of slavery. 90 years of Jim Crow. 60 years of separate but equal. 35 years of state-sanctioned redlining. Until we reckon with the compounding moral debts of our ancestors, America will never be whole.

Oh, and the photos are fantastic, too.

I’m not saying you have to agree with his conclusions in order to be a good Christian. But I am saying you need to read this and see what it evokes in you. And I am saying that to be a good Christian we must wrestle with the root causes of injustice and oppression and seek to transform them.

As Coates is a prolific blogger, he also offers this excellent side piece on how his thinking transformed. “Four years ago, I opposed reparations. Here’s the story of how my thinking has evolved since then.”

I cannot recommend this essay highly enough. Seriously, stop reading my drivel and get thee over the The Atlantic site (or, if you prefer a hard copy, wherever magazines are sold) now!

American prosperity was built on two and a half centuries of slavery, a deep wound that has never been healed or fully atoned for – and that has been deepened by years of discrimination, segregation, and racist housing policies that persist to this day. Until America reckons with the moral debit it has accrued – and the practical damage it has done – to generations of black Americans, it will fail to live up to its own ideals.

Then, after you’ve digested it all, I hope you’ll come back here and tell me what you thought of it by leaving a comment.








Human trafficking. Dehumanization and abuse of women and girls. Intertwined roots in execrable theology.

That, dear reader, is a hat trick of blog post subjects for me if ever there was one. I determined I would write a post on the 270 kidnapped Nigerian school girls and the global response, hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. I had the lede written in my head by the time I finished walking our kids to school. A concluding call to action was simply a given.

But before I could actually write it, a few links about this story came across my feeds. I clicked on one. That link led to other links. Instead of writing, I read.

Finally something occurred to me. Something as important as it is obvious.

I don’t know a damn thing about Nigeria.

To paraphrase Col. Nathan R. Jessup, I’m an educated man, but I don’t know the first thing about the socio-economic, religious or political realities of Nigeria. I have no business suggesting a course of action.

Instead, how about we let Nigerians speak for themselves? How about we listen to those who are actually there? Some of these stories are a little longer than the typical internet post. They may take some investment on your part to get through them. They are difficult reads about horrific – though all too real – actions. Yet, we live in the world that is even as we strive to let God’s Holy Spirit work in and through us to create the world as God intends. Let us not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear – or an ignorant tongue – to the suffering of our Nigerian sisters and brothers.

Here then, are a few articles I’ve happened upon. Please share others in the comments.

From where were the girls taken?

#bringbackourgirls map


A survivor’s story.

I thought it was the end of my life,” Deborah Sanya told me by phone on Monday from Chibok, a tiny town of farmers in northeastern Nigeria. “There were many, many of them.” Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group, kidnapped Sanya and at least two hundred of her classmates from a girls’ secondary school in Chibok more than two weeks ago.


Nigerian-American author, Teju Cole on #BringBackOurGirls.

Much as we might wish this to be a singular issue with a clear solution, it isn’t and cannot be. It never was.


This kidnapping isn’t the first act of terror by Boko Haram. Or the Nigerian government.

An increase in attacks by Boko Haram and uncontrolled reprisals by Nigeria’s security forces has seen the death toll in North East Nigeria rise to at least 1,500 people, more than half of whom are civilians, in the first three months of 2014.


The kidnapping wasn’t the last act of terror by Boko Haram.

Dozens of militants wearing fatigues and wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers descended on the town of Gamboru Ngala, chanting “Allahu akbar,” firing indiscriminately and torching houses. When it was over, at least 336 people had been killed and hundreds of houses and cars had been set on fire, said Waziri Hassan, who lives there.


Nigeria is an incredibly complex place.

This is twisted but true: attention itself can be the reward Boko Haram seeks, as it too often the case with groups like that which terrorize their own region. Rewarding their thirst for attention can lead them to repeat the same act that worked so well before. Kidnap girls, which perhaps unexpectedly generates global outrage this time, but now the Great Satan is involved: rinse, repeat.


The latest: Nigerian officials know the attack was coming and couldn’t stop it.

After independently verifying information based on multiple interviews with credible sources, the organization today revealed that the Nigerian security forces had more than four hours of advance warning about the attack but did not do enough to stop it.

So what can we do? Read, learn, listen, speak, pray.

May the God of the universe, who yearns for peace with justice for all humanity be served by me, by you, by the people of Nigeria, by governments near and far, by all.






Death, where is thy sting? Here.

Note: I wrote this for my church blog, but thought it might resonate outside of those circles as well.

Mom. Dad. Grandma. Poppa. Sister. Brother. Wife. Husband. Aunt. Uncle. Daughter. Son. Friend.

These are some of the names given those who died recently. It has been a difficult week in the life of our church and I find that my heart is heavy. Yes, of course, people die all the time everywhere. There is nothing unique about our week. That doesn’t make this week any less rough.

Further, I know – know – we grieve in light of the resurrection; that death does not have the final word. And yet…

Loss hurts. Grief is real. Pain lingers.

So we turn again to the words that our ancestors in the faith have used for millennia to voice their lament. Today, I’m especially drawn to Psalm 88. The incomparable scholar and author Walter Brueggemann writes regarding this Psalm, “It is an embarrassment to conventional faith… There are situations in which easy, cheap talk of resolution must be avoided…when words must be honest and not claim too much.”

Here is a taste of those honest words, taken from the version of the bible called The Voice:

My soul is deeply troubled, and my heart can’t bear the weight of this sorrow. I feel so close to death. I’m like the poor and helpless who die alone, left for dead, as good as the unknowable sea of souls lying under our feet.

Will your great love be proclaimed in the grave or your faithfulness be remembered in whispers like mists throughout the place of ruin? Are your wonders known in the dominion of darkness, or is your righteousness recognized in a land where all is forgotten?

But I am calling out to you, Eternal One. My prayers rise before you with every new sun!

You have taken from me the one I love and my friend; even the light of my acquaintances are darkness.

I know we grieve in the light of the resurrection. Death does not have the final word. “Nothing – not even death – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” I know this. But I still find comfort in the honest of the psalter. During weeks like this we need to cry out to God like the author of this psalm did. Brueggemann again: [Psalm 88] is painful, unresolved speech. But it is still speech. Faith faces life as it is, not just the good parts.”

I say thank God for that.

I offer one more prayer; this one adapted from Worship Feast: 100 Readings, Rituals, Prayers, and Guided Meditations.

‘We don’t really understand, Lord.’ That is what we are feeling right now. You don’t seem to be giving any answers. Sometimes we can wait. But our friend, who lost a loved one, cannot. We pray that healing, comfort and peace will be experienced even when in the midst of tragedy.

Let us together keep faithfully facing life as it is, continually praying and working with God’s Holy Spirit to bring about life as God intends it.


Prayers for #EarthDay

Yes, I know Earth Day was a couple days ago. If it helps, think of these as prayers for Earth Week instead. However, given that the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is already at 400 parts per million – and given that the maximum safe level of carbon dioxide parts per million is just 350 – it seems to me that every day is Earth Day. Every day is a good day for prayers for the earth.

I like to say (even though I know it is annoyingly alliterative), Jesus shows me how to properly relate to creation, creatures, and the Creator. Or, as Sojourner’s Jim Wallis wrote much more eloquently this week:

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening, humans are primarily responsible, and it will keep getting worse if nothing is done. The impact of carbon pollution mars not only the beauty of God’s earth, but affects the flourishing of God’s people. Many of the poorest among us are suffering from food scarcity, droughts, flooding and increased diseases caused by climate change. And — to use an image from creation itself — our politics on this issue are stuck in the mire of cynicism and inaction, wasting time that we simply don’t have.

Which is why for Christians, caring for God’s creation should be a priority. It is not just a matter of science or politics, but an indication of our worship and praise of the Creator. As the whole of creation acts as a witness to God’s glory and prays for its redemption, so must we. And with Earth Week following on the heels of Holy Week, it’s an opportunity to both reflect on and act in ways that will help renew creation.

Here then are a couple ways to reflect and act.

Diana Butler Bass tweeted this beautiful video companion to the incredible Celtic prayer from the Iona Community, “Deep Peace.”

Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the gentle night to you
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you
Deep peace of Christ, The light of the world to you
Deep peace of Christ to you. 
Deep peace of Christ, The light of the world to you

If still pictures are more your style, Huffington Post Religion offered this post full of truly awesome images.

Finally, this prayer from one of my favorite resources, Bruce Sanguin’s If Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mysticsis part confession, part praise, part call to action.

I’d love to hear what you think of these and/or how you are celebrating Earth Day.

“Living Earth’s Wisdom”

We tune our ears to the wisdom of Earth. It is deep prayer, this listening to her cries, as Spirit’s sighs, too deep for words.

Unborn generations call to us from the future: what did you do when the planet could no longer bear your foolishness and began to break?

The growl of the grizzly – caught in the crosshairs of trophy hunters and policy makers, who seem to prize extinction – is a plea for the rights of all the disappearing ones.

Hear the bawl of the caribou asking us for room enough to roam and arsenic-free water to drink.

The cardinal’s whistle, once joy’s message, is now a haunting  lament for the dwindling chorus of songbirds.

The topsoil – living organism and not lowly dirt – clears its thinning, chemical-burned voice, and speaks out for the biotic kingdom teeming within this dark body.

Mother Ocean beckons us to return to Her womb, that we might be born anew and know our salty tears to be Her own.

The willow drops her loving arms around our shoulders and brushes us with grace, whispering that it’s not too late. It falls to us, Wisdom’s pupils, to turn this dirge into a dance of the cosmos.

Let those with ears to hear, rise up.