Category Archives: Justice

‘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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#BringBackOurGirls

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Honest talk about guns

This may come as a shock to many of you, but sometimes I don’t know what to say.

(Then again considering how infrequently I’ve posted here, perhaps that isn’t so shocking.)

Saturday is the one year anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and I don’t know what to say.  I can say that I’m appalled, sad, furious when thinking about December 14, 2012. Yet even those words seem to barely scratch the surface of my emotions.

photo by UMNS
photo by UMNS

I didn’t grow up with guns. No one in my close family hunts (or at least not that I know of). None of my childhood friends ever went hunting or talked about it. Other than a bb gun at scout camp, I’ve never fired any kind of gun. And I’m not interested in changing that. I don’t understand “gun culture.” And I’m not really interested in changing that, either.

However, I also know that I am a big ol’ walking, talking, writing, breathing contradiction (which comes as no shock whatsoever). I can say that I deplore guns, the destruction they bring, and the culture that promotes them. But an honest look at pretty much every TV show, book, movie, comic book, and video game that I enjoy has some form of violence as part of its story; often involving guns. So I don’t really know what to say.

As cliché and fake as it sounds, today I do have friends that own guns, friends that hunt. I don’t – and wouldn’t – ask them or want them to change that about themselves. It is part of who they are. In addition, I’m convicted by that great exchange from season two, episode four of The West Wing: Ainsley Hayes scolds Sam Seaborn that his gun control position is not about public safety or personal freedom, but it’s about “you don’t like people who do like guns. You don’t like the people. Think about that.” I see that possibility in myself, but I know I must push back against that tendency. Having a good, close friend who owns guns and hunts helps me with that.

Saturday is the one year anniversary of the massacre in Newtown. Sunday in worship (for sure at the Evening service, possibly at the morning services) we will remember those victims. But honestly, I don’t know what to say.

I’m convinced that gun deaths are not part of God’s dream for the world. I’m convinced that as a follower of God in the Way of Jesus, I’m called to work to bring God’s dreams for the world to life. I’m convinced that is true of our congregation as well. I know that the UMC’s Resolution on Gun Violence states, “we call upon the church to affirm its faith through vigorous efforts to curb and eliminate gun violence.”

Honestly though, I don’t know what to say those “vigorous efforts” should be. But I’m tired of doing nothing. So here is what I propose:

  1. Read the whole Resolution on Gun violence.
  2. Read the Board of Church & Society post about remembering Newtown.
  3. Read about 24 other school shootings that have happened since Sandy Hook. Another one happened today in Colorado.
  4. Attend Sunday Evening Worship this week at 5:00pm. Bring your knowledge, your experience, your limitations, your passion and join with others doing the same as we consider together how Woodridge UMC will work vigorously to curb gun violence in 2014.
  5. Begin the conversation by leaving a comment. Just remember to keep it respectful.

Of course we won’t all agree. But looking at scripture, tradition, experience, and reason together is the way forward; the way to more healing, more hope, more life in this, God’s world.

Together we will find the words. Together we will find the way.

 

Mourning, and yet…

It has been rough week. It’s been a week of mourning. It has been a week of mourning with Miriam, all the Cabanas family and friends, and our congregation over Ernie’s sudden death. Just a few days ago Miriam and Ernie hugged me on their way out of church after our worship service, all smiles and energy. They are one of the sweetest, most affectionate couples I’ve ever known. I can’t help but be lifted up and encouraged by the love they share and the manner in which they share it. I will greatly miss Ernie’s hopeful smile and jubilant approach toward life. It has been a week of mourning with the nation over yet another mass shooting, this time at the Washington Navy Yard in D.C. Mourning our society’s lack of good understanding of – and care for – those who suffer from mental illness. Mourning our inability – as a nation, as a congregation, even as individuals – to even so much as have a conversation about the role guns play in our society and in these deaths that keep mounting up. It has been a week of mourning with the region over yet another shooting in a Chicago park. No deaths reported, but 13 people were injured, including a 3 year old boy shot in the jaw who is in critical condition. Enough! How will we as individuals, as families, as a congregation respond to this scourge in our streets? When will enough people, enough children, be shot to make us stand up and say, Enough! Our fascination with guns is literally killing us! It has been a week of mourning for the continued and continuing assassination of the character of those in our midst who need help. Who, despite all their efforts, can’t feed their children or themselves. They are not “lazy” or “greedy” or “desiring dependency”. They are people. People like me. People like you. They just happen to be people who need a little help putting food on their table. The honest truth is we all need help sometimes and we all need each other. We’re all dependent upon the work, the blood, the sweat of others. Yet we demonize hungry and poor people for being hungry and poor. Even more baffling, yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives, voted 217-210 to cut SNAP by $39 billion over the next ten years, thereby declaring they want even more people – nearly 4 million more people – to be hungry and they want 210,000 children to be without school lunches. As Rev. David Beckmann says, picking on the poorest among us is unacceptable, especially for a country that prides itself on a strong moral grounding. It has been a rough week. It has been a week of mourning. I am angry and I am sad. And yet… And yet, I love and strive to serve the God who declares that spite and hate and violence and despair and even death do not have the last word in the world. Rather that last word belongs to God as revealed in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, and that word is grace. That word is love. That word is life. And it is offered to all. And yet, I serve a congregation at which this past Sunday our Lead Pastor, the Rev. Dr. James Galbreath, declared from the pulpit as the sermon that Woodridge UMC’s altar is for all. All three of our congregation’s clergy are united in this: Pastor Jim, Deacon Beth, and me. All three of us have signed the Altar for All statement “committing to fulfill our vow to ministry by marrying or blessing couples regardless of their sexual orientation or gender expression.” And this gives me hope in the midst of my sadness and anger. Further, we presented our position in what I believe was an honest and faithful way – from a pastoral standpoint rather than a dogmatic one and acknowledging that not every member of our church agrees with us. We are open for conversation.  And that gives me hope in the midst of sadness and anger. You can sign the Altar for All statement too. There is provision for clergy and laity. Or you can continue to be in conversation with us about this.  And this gives me hope in the midst of sadness and anger. I am convinced that God as revealed in Jesus is the God of “and yet…” So that’s where I want to be too; in the midst of the “and yet…”

 

Record-breaking OL not done yet

Last Sunday, my congregation, Woodridge United Methodist Church, partnered with Bread for the World in taking an Offering of Letters. Rosie’s story (see above video) was a key component of our presentation and perhaps part of the reason the OL produced 110 names on the petition to the President and 120 letters to our Senators. The 120 letters is a WUMC record! (It was the first year that an OL included a petition to the President.)

I am, naturally, thrilled by this response and very proud of our people for their advocacy for and with hungry and poor people in America and around the world. It seems to me, such advocacy is an important expression of our faith in Jesus.

But this Offering of Letters isn’t done yet. First of all, if you weren’t able to participate in the OL last week, it’s not too late. You can sign the Petition to the President online. The sample letter to Senators is below. Use that as a guide in writing to your Senators. Or, if you’re in the area, paper copies of the petition and the letters will be available in WUMC’s Narthex (a fancy churchy word for lobby) on Sunday.

The final action item (if you’ll forgive the corporate-speak) of this OL happens May 15. That video above of Rosie’s story is an excerpt from A Place at the Table, an excellent documentary on hunger in America. The film is currently available on iTunes and On Demand. But on the 15th it is showing at AMC Showplace 16 in Naperville at 7:30pm. In addition to watching the movie, we’ll also present our petitions and letters to local Bread for the World organizers.

The petition and the letters were an unqualified success. I hope you’ll join us for film as well. Tickets are only available in advance online

Here’s the sample letter to Senators regarding food aid reform:

Dear Senator ______,

I urge you to publicly support the U.S. food aid reforms that President Obama proposed in his budget request. With these common-sense reforms, our food aid program will work harder for U.S. taxpayers, and two to four million more people in need will receive life-saving help at no additional cost.

In recent years, a number of trusted sources have shown that despite the best of intentions, current laws governing U.S. food aid make it slow to reach people in need and wasteful of taxpayer dollars. The President’s proposal would provide the U.S. with the greater flexibility to respond to hunger needs around the world.

As a person of faith, I want to see hungry people fed, and I also want to see our nation’s resources utilized as effectively and efficiently as possible. Please support—in every way possible—the President’s proposed food aid reforms.

Sincerely,

Your Name

Your Address

 

‘Behind all those big words are human beings’

How about a bevy of links for your weekend? These are all what I deem “Well said!”

-I probably say this a lot, but this is why we fight…for justice that is. The title for this post comes from this inspiring video.

How are we doing on the current Millenium Development Goals?

-Are you the parent of a tween? The aunt of one? Or an uncle/cousin/relative/friend/teacher/pastor/acquaintance  of a tween? Basically if you are alive and know anyone else who is currently a child, you totally need to read this:

People will actually vote for who they think is the least attractive in the comments, and whichever girl’s name is written the most will be awarded a big fat X drawn across her face.

Do you want me to repeat that last part?

Of course you don’t, but I’m going to anyway.

Whichever girl’s name is written the most will be awarded with a big fat X drawn across her face. [read the rest] (H/T Todd Query)

-Worlds collide when my friends Adam Ericksen (a UMC’er) and Tripp Hudgins (an American Baptist) have a fantastic 8 part blogalogue regarding Rob Bell’s new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. The fun begins here.

-United Methodist uber-blogger, Morgan Guyton, is back at it after a Lenten break. He’s whip smart and engages with a wide range of topics.

-Our friends at CAASE and End Demand IL just launched a new campaign: The Ugly Truth.

“The Ugly Truth” is a multi-media communications campaign that was created by The Voices and Faces Project, an End Demand Illinois partner, to challenge myths about prostitution and remind the public of the harm endured by those in the sex trade. We’ve created our campaign to reach millions of Illinois citizens, calling them to better understand – and work to end – sexual exploitation.

Check it and add your voice to their campaign. 

Your turn! What are you reading and writing and doing for justice?

Remembering that ‘shot rang out in the Memphis sky’

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this, but it was 45 years ago today (April 4) that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Yesterday, Fred Clark posted a long excerpt from Dr. King’s April 3rd speech, often called the “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech. It’s fabulous oratory. Fred rightly pointed out that the crux of that speech – and of King’s work and the gospel of Jesus – is to stop asking how we’ll be affected by advocating for justice and instead ask how others will be affected if we aren’t advocates. “What will happen to them if I don’t stop to help?”

Upworthy also has great MLK content today, videos, audio and stills.

It’s no secret that U2 is my favorite band. So naturally I thought about posting their tribute to Dr. King, “Pride (in the name of love).” Then I came across this cover by John Legend. It is a much different take on the song, but it is hauntingly beautiful.

Watch this and then let’s redouble our efforts to bring justice, equality and goodness into the world. You and me. Together we can and should and must do that.

John Legend performs PRIDE (In The Name of Love) by ElectricArtists