Category Archives: Politics

Making US food aid more Methodist?

nepal-photo-by-laura-pohl

When we collected an Offering o f Letters (OL) at Woodridge United Methodist Church on April 28th, I shared that writing to support food aid reform put us on the cutting edge; that we were helping Bread for the World try out a new focus for OLs.  Food aid reforms in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget proposal help 2 to 4 million more hungry people get the food they need at no additional cost simply by tweaking the rules governing US food aid, making them more efficient. The reforms also have the long-term benefit of making local farmers and markets more sustainable by allowing aid providers to purchase locally grown food.

Our people responded with 120 letters to our Senators – a record for our congregation!

This week the Chicago Tribune stepped up next to us out on that leading edge.

Two editorials in Thursday’s edition – one, a combined effort by John Kerry (secretary of the Department of State), Tom Vilsack (secretary of the Department of Agriculture), and Rajiv Shah (administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development), the other from the Trib editorial board – support the arguments we made that April morning and provide further information and examples .

How cool is that?

I really hope you’ll take a few minutes to read both articles in full, but here’s a taste from each.

Kerry et al. provide examples of the increased efficiency:

The current program limits our ability to use the appropriate tool for each humanitarian situation — tools we know will help people faster and at a lower cost. This year, 155,000 fewer children in Somalia will receive support because we do not have enough flexibility to use cash to address the ongoing emergency in areas where our food aid cannot go. In eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, we will not be able to reach 34,000 vulnerable children. Each one of these children is three to four times more likely to die than a well-nourished child.

Buying food locally can speed the arrival of aid by as many as 14 weeks — precious time when every day can mean the difference between life and death. It can also cost much less — as much as 50 percent for grains. [read the rest]

The Trib board points out the political realities:

In the Obama proposal, more than half of U.S. food aid still would be earmarked for the purchase and transport of U.S. commodities, and shippers would receive a government subsidy. There is no sound financial reason for either subsidy, except as a concession to politics. The farm lobby is powerful. A who’s who of farm and food organizations already have petitioned the president to keep the status quo for the sake of “stimulating” farm and transportation industries at home.

So here’s a test for Congress, particularly for farm-state Republicans and Democrats. The federal government, thanks to sequestration, is finally seeing some serious belt-tightening. Aid programs such as Food for Peace aren’t immune from the pressure on spending. They, like all government programs, have to prove they can be done with maximum efficiency.

So, members, take your pick: This reform can feed millions more people at the same cost to taxpayers, feed the same number of people at significantly lower cost, or find some comfortable mix of both goals. But members of Congress who block this reform will expose themselves as wasteful spenders (emphasis mine).

To sum up:

Food aid can help to lift developing nations out of poverty, promote political stability and economic growth. It must be structured efficiently to achieve its objective. As is, the Food for Peace program doesn’t work well, except for the benefit of a privileged few. Reforming food aid would enable America to do justice to a large taxpayer outlay — and to save lives. Read the whole editorial.

“Make our food aid more efficient and sustainable,” we asked. In a way, we’re asking the federal government to take a page from our United Methodist playbook. Our relief efforts already follow these sustainable practices. (Here’s one example.) It’s time for our government to become a little more Methodist. :-)

Remember, it’s not too late to join our OL! You can still write a letter and sign the petition to President Obama. Information and instructions available on our OL page.

Finally, as I wrote last week, if you’re in the Chicago area, make plans to join the public screening of A Place at the Table. It’s a superb documentary on hunger in America. WUMC youth and leaders will be at AMC Showplace 16 in Naperville on Wednesday, May 15. Showtime 7:30pm. Tickets available online. Hope to see you at the movies!

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

 

Responding to evil with a hope and a prayer

How often this week have you heard someone say, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of ______”? Boston, Iraq, Texas, Iran, Illinois…there’s no shortage of people dealing with violence, disaster, pain, and tragedy. There never is.

Has the “thoughts and prayers” sentiment gone the way of “how are you”? Tossed off with little intent; a perfunctory response to bad news? I know I’m guilty of that sometimes.

I aim to change that today. Now.

Here then is an actual prayer for actual people in actual need from The UMC‘s fantastic General Board of Discipleship. As the best prayers often are, this is meant to be said in community.

We come together hoping for healing and rest.

Healing can be hard when the world seems harsh and cruel.

We come seeking peace after the blast, even among the shrapnel of images imbedded in our collective minds.

Peace can be hard when the world roars in chaos and pain.

We come to a God who knows what it is to have nails in flesh and bone. We come to a God who knows our pain.

We come to you, O God, because you know how to change death into life and chaos into beauty. Anoint this hour with your peace as we worship in your name.

Sometimes the evil in the world isn’t as noisy and news-worthy as a bomb. Sometimes it is persistent, pervasive, assumed to simply be part of the way the world is. But no one should be hungry. We can and should and must act to end hunger. Bread for the World can help us do that. So next week, April 28, we will again take up an Offering of Letters asking President Obama and our Senators (Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin) to protect programs that help hungry and poor people.

More from Bread: How is this year’s Offering of Letters different than in the past? The 2013 Offering of Letters includes signing a petition to the president as well as writing letters to Congress. Now is the time for a bold, unified plan to end hunger in the United States and abroad. If you haven’t done so already, take a moment now and sign the petition. You can also download copies of the petition and invite friends to sign it and mail it to us.

Join us at Woodridge UMC on April 28 to learn more, to sign the petition, and to write letters.

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

 

‘Break the Chains…Women Are Not Possessions’

It’s noon on Valentine’s Day. It’s time to dance and break the chains!

If I could be, I would be downtown dancing with Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) or War Chest Boutique: Naperville to join in with 1 Billion Rising.

UPDATE: Check out pictures from CAASE’s rising in Daley Plaza. A friend who works downtown declared, “They made quite the ruckus today!”

CAASE 1B rising

Since I can’t be with them, I contemplated recording a little dance on my own…but thought better of it. I’m not afraid to look like an idiot (which I would), I’ve been in youth ministry for two decades now. Looking like an idiot is part of the job description. No, I thought better of it because I want you to keep reading, not run away in horror never to return. I thought better of it because I don’t want to even give the appearance of making light of this effort.

Where does the 1 billion come from in 1 Billion Rising? 1 in 3 women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That’s 1 billion women.

It is long, long, long past time for all of us to stop treating women as possessions, as nothing more than bodies to be used, abused, and discarded.

It is long, long, long past time for Congress to reauthorize both the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The delay in these actions is unconscionable and shameful.

I urge you to contact your Congress persons right now, today about these acts. Our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our wives, our grandmothers, our friends are fully human and must be treated as such.

UPDATE 2: As I prepared a version of this post for my church blog I thought about how complicit the church is in perpetuating the mistreatment of women. Here’s what I wrote about that:

Yes, it’s true, the culture in which the bible was written treated women as property, as little more than baby-making machines (more sons, please). But that was two and three and four thousand years ago. Don’t we know better by now?

The church as far too often led the way in treating women terribly. We’re not just talking ancient history here either. Still today, far too many churches tell women their only place is in the home completing domestic chores. Far too many churches still tell women their only important role the only role allowed is that of wife and mother. Still today, far too many churches tell women it is sinful to leave their abusive husband. All of that must stop!

Instead of me being goofy, I offer you this incredible video. Watch it then do a little dance and make a little noise to end violence against women and human trafficking.

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence

As I wrote on Thursday afternoon, word broke of yet another shooting at a school. This time a 14-year-old was shot at a middle school in Atlanta, Georgia. According to police, the suspect is in custody and the wounded student is “alert.” Both suspect and victim are students at the middle school.

This shooting occurred:

  • 7 weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT which left 28 dead.
  • 3 weeks after a 16-year-old shot two students with a shotgun at Taft High School, Taft, CA.
  • 16 days after a student shot an administrator and himself at Stevens Institute of Business and Arts in downtown St. Louis.
  • 9 days after three people were shot at Lone Star Community College near Houston, TX.
  • 2 days after King Prep High School student, Hadiya Pendleton was shot to death in a park in Chicago.
  • 1 day after a gunman shot and killed a school bus driver and abducted a Kindergarten student in Midland City, Alabama.

And those are just the school-related shootings.

To say that all this breaks my heart sounds far too trite, and yet other, better words fail to present themselves. I am sad and I am angry. It seems clear this is not how God intends for us to treat one another. It seems clear that our culture is addicted to violence and in love with guns. It seems clear that I am part of the problem. From the shows I watch to the movies I enjoy to the books I read to the comics I buy, violence is too often a common denominator.

Yet what can we do? After all, Deacon Beth sharply reminded us earlier this month as she considered King Herod’s actions after the birth of Jesus, the slaughtering of innocents is not a new phenomenon. What can we do? Are we resigned to this fate? Beth concluded her post with a brilliant response: “May we choose, as followers of Christ, not to buy guns for an illusory feeling of ‘protection.’ And may we fight, fight, fight for sanity in our gun laws.”

Now a new way to enter that fight for sanity presents itself.

We – as individuals, as families, as a congregation – can emulate The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women by joining our voices with Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. Over 40 denominations and faith-based organizations have joined, including Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs.

This coalition wrote a letter to President Obama and Congress, which reads in part:

Gun violence is taking an unacceptable toll on our society, in mass killings and in the constant day-to-day of senseless death. While we continue to pray for the families and friends of those who have perished, we must also support our prayers with action.We support immediate legislative action to accomplish the following:

  1. Every person who buys a gun should pass a criminal background check;

  2. High capacity weapons and ammunition magazines should not be available to civilians; and

  3. Gun trafficking should be a federal crime.

Adding our voice to this movement will not, by itself, stop all gun violence. A diversity of other actions are needed too. Actions born of our faith that the one we call Lord and Savior is also Prince of Peace. But this is a good step in the right direction. It is something we can do. Join the Faiths United coalition here.

Photo: Reuters
Participants from Newtown, Connecticut, wearing the green and white colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School, walk in the March on Washington for Gun Control on the National Mall. [Photo: Reuters]
For more on this:

I do love Bread

I know there much more important issues to cover: protecting SNAP and other programs vital to caring for poor and hungry people in any fiscal cliff deal; raising our voices to destigmatize mental health care; drowning out the NRA’s insanity with petitions, letters, posts, conversations, and every other way we can; continuing to care for the people of Newtown, CT; and so much more…

In spite of all that, I hope you’ll forgive me for a little shameless self-promotion.

I was thrilled and honored when Bread for the World contacted me this fall saying they wanted to write about me in the “From the Field” section of their November/December newsletter. That section highlights a member’s work for and with Bread. Regular readers know I love Bread. I think it is a terrific organization doing vital work with and for hungry and poor people nationally and globally.

I know there are plenty of other people doing just as much and more than I, so it was humbling to be chosen. They wrote a very kind piece. Take a look:

Pastor Dave Buerstetta did not always make the connection between his Christian faith and advocating for hungry people. “I had kind of a conversion experience in seminary,” he says. “I met the Jesus who cares, the one who breaks down the barriers, who helps people who need help.”

“That is the Jesus that I’m in love with. That’s how I knew to live the life that I was called to.”

An ordained American Baptist minister, Dave Buerstetta serves as a pastor at the Woodridge United Methodist Church, in Naperville, Ill., where he lives with his wife, Joann, and two children. At Woodridge, Pastor Dave focuses on youth ministry, outreach, and social justice. He is a thoroughly 21st century minister, maintaining a popular blog and using social media to share his homilies and fight hunger, poverty, and human trafficking.

Despite ministering to a solidly middle-class congregation, Pastor Dave has seen the hidden hunger that exists in most communities. “Even here they have a lot of need,” he says, relating the story of a family who volunteered at a local food pantry for years and now needs help. Unfortunately, the stigma of hunger and poverty drove that family to seek help outside of the community instead of turning to the pantry at which they had assisted for so many years.

That stigma is a barrier that people of faith need to erase, according to Pastor Dave. He points to the new documentary “The Line” as an important resource for understanding that hunger can happen to any of us. “It puts the lie to any notion that people who are struggling are lazy,” he says. (“The Line” can be viewed at www.bread.org.)

In Pastor Dave’s experience, the faces behind the statistics give him power as he advocates as “the hands, the feet, and the voice” for hungry people. He recounts the feedback that he received from a legislative aide for Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) “She said that it’s not enough to tell a moral story. In the current climate, we have to tell stories of people we know in congregations who are receiving assistance. It’s not just millions … it’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith who can’t feed their daughter.”

Since getting more involved with Bread after the 2008 National Gathering, Pastor Dave he has become a seasoned advocate, lobbying in person and on the phone and making the Offering of Letters a major focus in the worship service. He also maintains a one-person Offering of Tweets, sending messages to Congress and informing the world about social justice issues through his Twitter account.

Pastor Dave has seen the positive effect of his lobbying efforts and of the Offering of Letters. When visiting Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) with three other Bread members, she told them that they had received hundreds of letters from Bread and that the letters had make a difference. She also told them that she was cosponsoring a bill to strengthen poverty-focused development assistance.

“It’s experiences like that that help me see the value of lobbying,” says Pastor Dave.

Photo credit: Patti Cash
That’s me with Ushers Jay and Tim, saying a prayer of dedication of our Offering of Letters on April 29, 2012. Photo credit: Patti Cash

Just to clarify, while we live in Naperville, our church is in Woodridge. Also, while I certainly very much appreciate all of you who take time to read this blog…I fear one would have to search far and wide for the metric by which this could rightly be called a “popular blog.” Of course, if more of you reading this would like to subscribe, perhaps we can make that line less of an exaggeration. ;)

Thank you, Bread for the World. It is a joy working with you.

How about you? What ways are you connecting with and caring for hungry and poor people this holiday season?

Moments that matter

In my list of favorite things from the election I mentioned victories for women (most notably, the defeat of the heinous and vile rape apologists). Something I inexcusably left off that list: all the victories by women. To wit:

  • 77 women now in the U.S. House of Representatives, a record (and possible another depending on how Arizona turns out).
  • 20 women in the U.S. Senate, a record.
  • The first openly gay Senator.
  • The first Asian-American female Senator.

More great moments caught on video…

1. Celebrating the victory for equality in Minnesota (via Upworthy). Fast forward to about the 2:30 mark for the best part.

2. President Obama saying thank you to campaign workers. There is just something about telling people you are proud of them that is overwhelmingly emotional. I often get this way talking with our youth group after a big accomplishment.

3. Finally, this from Rachel Maddow. I couldn’t agree more. Our country needs a viable conservative voice to be part of the conversation and debate about how to create the best policies. Our country needs a conservative voice that isn’t obsessed with white privilege. A voice that isn’t anti-women, anti-gay, anti-nonwhites. Reasonable conservatives, please come back to us!

What were your top moments from the election and its aftermath?

A few of my favorite things from the election

“Love and charity and duty and patriotism.”

It’s no surprise I was thrilled that President Obama won re-election. It should go without saying that he is by no means perfect. I disagree with some of his policies. Most notably: drone strikes, warrant-less wiretapping, and not closing Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Those things need to change. Fast.

But I agree with him on so much more: The overarching approach to government and governance that we’re all neighbors to one another, that we’re all in this together. Ending the awful and horrendous war in Iraq. Bringing the war in Afghanistan to an end (quicker, please). Gay marriage. Respecting women. The Affordable Care Act (moves in the right direction). He says he will be part of the circle of protection around vital programs that feed hungry people and help poor people, programs like SNAP and WIC.

And then there’s, “love and charity and duty and patriotism.

Other favorite things:

I wasn’t shy before in sharing my reactions to the GOP Rape Team. So this made me very happy (even though Paul Ryan retained his House seat.):

Then there’s this:

Enough with the hate. Enough with the bigotry. Enough with the discrimination. We are all Americans, and we are all in this together. Without each other, we have nothing. – Chris Kluwe [read the rest]

And this (h/t Fred Clark):

We chose health insurance for those who cannot afford it. We chose a softer approach to those seeking a better life within our borders. We chose – at least I hope we did – to begin healing our suffering planet. We chose the candidate who promised to protect the people who didn’t have a seat at the table of power, whose voices struggle to rise above the lobbyists, special interests and money that have flooded our political system. [read the rest]

But still, my most favorite thing was “love and charity and duty and patriotism.” Amen to those.

“I’m not just sitting back waiting for somebody to hand me something.”

I was thrilled that we had a full room watching The Line last week. Plenty of discussion going on in small groups afterwards, too.

After the small group discussion time, I asked for people willing to share some of what they discussed regarding three questions:

  1. What in the film surprised you? What did you learn from the film?
  2. What connections among the four stories did you notice?
  3. What creative ideas do you have about how to respond to poverty?

A sampling of responses (paraphrased to the best of my memory):

  • “I didn’t know there was a connection between violence and poverty.”
  • “I noticed how much all [four] people hated being poor. Hated that they needed help.”
  • “I tried to imagine working 365 days a year and still not making enough to support myself. It gave me renewed compassion for a relative struggling with prolonged unemployment.”
  • “It made me realize how close to the edge just about all of us are. An accident, an illness, loss of a job…those stories could be about us.”
  • “Watching this reminded me that we serve the poor because that is how we live the Kingdom of God ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ Serving the poor is what it means to follow Jesus.”
  • “I want our Confirmation Class to find a local project to support so we can help poor people here in Woodridge.”
  • I can’t watch that and think that any of them feel entitled to federal assistance. I can’t call any of them ‘irresponsible.’ None of them wants to be in a position of needing help.”
  • “I noticed it wasn’t their fault they were poor. Their situation wasn’t about choices they made. Rather, it was due to circumstances outside their control.”
  • “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel in order to help people. For instance, right here in Woodridge the West Suburban Community Pantry doesn’t just give food. They also have many programs that help: ESL classes, free child car seats, access to affordable health care, and they help clients register for SNAP.”
  • “James’ story, especially when he said he called his brother and sister to tell them, ‘I’m ok. You’re brother is ok.’…made me cry.”

Were you there? What else was said that we should share?

If you weren’t there last week, have you watched the movie? The whole thing is below. It is such a compelling film. The title of this post is a quote from Sheila, one of the four people the film features. You really need to experience these stories.
Once you’ve seen it, how would you respond to the three questions above?

Watch the entire film here: