Category Archives: Politics

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.

‘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!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.