Category Archives: Justice

On message

What lessons are our young people learning from us? In what ways are we teaching and sharing the messages they receive?

That video has been making the rounds across the interwebs lately. It’s an incredible performance and a stark reminder that our children and youth are extremely perceptive and they see and hear things we might not even realize we’re sending their way. Sometimes they see and hear things we wish they wouldn’t. Not because those things are vulgar per se, but because we wish they weren’t true about us.

We showed that video to our high school youth group last night. They were especially interested in what causes people, schools, communities to ban books. Of what are they afraid? What do those people and places think will be accomplished by the bans? Don’t they know there are always other ways of getting a book?

Given the summer of Ferguson, #StayWokeAdvent, and the seemingly daily reports of violence necessitating the cry that #BlackLivesMatter, I hope next we’ll spend more time considering the stark, arresting lines in the performance about all those bones upon whom we’ve built the dominant culture.

How about at WUMC? What unspoken messages are we sending? Specifically, what lessons are our physical space teaching?

A few weeks ago we asked our teens to spend time in various parts of the church to see what our space teaches. According to our physical space, who do we say God is? After nearly an hour of scouring our building to find the messages therein, we asked them to narrow their responses.

What is the most important message you found?

  • God accepts everyone every living thing.
  • God wants us to be a blessing to others.
  • That we should be inclusive and share God’s love and message.
  • That you should be loving and caring and respectful.
  • Have faith without fear.

What was the most surprising or most troubling message you found?

  • That we should walk with Jesus rather than following him. That’s surprising because we’re used to hearing all about follow, follow, follow. This felt more like ‘think for yourself with Jesus.’
  • Treat people respectfully even if you don’t like them. That’s troubling because when you don’t like someone you usually don’t want to treat them well.
  • We serve multiple purposes, we have to help people not just in Woodridge but all around the world.
  • Surprising that most of the rooms had messages about money, that we need to give money.

What message you found is the hardest to live?

  • Putting God first.
  • Loving everyone. Because you don’t always like everyone. It’s hard to love those who don’t respect you.
  • Always follow God.
  • Waking up everyday like it’s your last, trying your hardest 24/7. Some days you just don’t feel up to giving your all.
  • Spread the word. Because sometimes we’re shy or afraid we’ll be judged.

“We were taught that It is better to be silent than to make them uncomfortable!” May we continually strive to avoid that trap.

Note: Celebrating Sabbath is my attempt to start each week with a reminder of our identity: whose we are and who we’re called to be.

The obvious and only real choice today: the first – and still the best – Christmas song. Yep, Mary’s Magnificat. That is, the song Mary sings as she visits her relative Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. We are still striving to bring Mary’s radical vision to life.

Luke 1:46-55

Mary: My soul lifts up the Lord!
47 My spirit celebrates God, my Liberator!
48 For though I’m God’s humble servant,
God has noticed me.
Now and forever,
I will be considered blessed by all generations.
49 For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
holy is God’s name!
50 From generation to generation,
God’s lovingkindness endures
for those who revere Him.
51 God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.
The proud in mind and heart,
God has sent away in disarray.
52 The rulers from their high positions of power,
God has brought down low.
And those who were humble and lowly,
God has elevated with dignity.
53 The hungry—God has filled with fine food.
The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.
54 To Israel, God’s servant,
God has given help,
55 As promised to our ancestors,
remembering Abraham and his descendants in mercy forever.

Magnificat pic


Photo by Colleen Erbach
Photo by Colleen Erbach

That racism exists in our world, in our country, in our community, in our systems – social, economic, and political – is irrefutable. But as a middle-aged, middle-income, able-bodied, cis-gendered, straight, white, Christian, male, layers of privilege afford me the possibility – the comfort – of not noticing that racism. Or, if I do notice the racism rampant in our systems, those layers of privilege mean I can keep that knowledge at a distance. I’m protected from the violence in, of and from our systems.

Advent, the season of the church year that calls us to prepare for God’s incarnation in Jesus, began on Sunday with the gospel writer exhorting us to “Keep awake!” Mary’s song reminds us just what we need to keep awake for: the healing and justice Jesus brings for the blind, sick, and oppressed. One of the protest chants in Ferguson, MO this summer was, “Stay Woke!” Remaining alert to injustice is the most faithful way to participate in Advent. That’s why I’m eager to connect us with the #StayWokeAdvent movement.

One of the best uses of privilege is to make room for those who are less often allowed a seat at the table. That is, to share any platforms I have with those much closer to the violence than I. It is time for me and for us to listen to the painful stories of those hurt, crushed and even killed by our cultural systems: people of color.

Start with this introduction to #StayWokeAdvent from Micky ScottBey Jones: #StayWokeAdvent is a project of people interested in exploring the depths of the darkness and interaction with light through the time of Advent. It is an experiment in spiritual honesty during a time of the year that is often covers up the pain and struggle of the world with a giant glittery bow. The night is not silent. We are not asleep. [read the rest]

Jones also has a fantastic interview with world-renowned Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann. Here’s a snippet:

MJ: How do we react to anger being viewed as negative, or wanting to avoid it? We want people to “calm down” or “get over it”.

WB: We live in a bourgeois cocoon of niceness and anything that breaks out of that is very threatening and disruptive to people. We have to work towards having honest speech with each other. When we have honest speech we have to speak out about the things that are unjust and unfair. [read the rest]

To get a sense of the historical context of the protests occurring right now in Ferguson, Chicago, New York, and all across the country, read this quick take by Dr. Carol Anderson:

But the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble [read the rest]

To get an even fuller picture of the injustice built into our current systems – and the key role Chicago plays – I once again commend to you the extraordinary, incisive, meticulous essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The men who peddled contracts in North Lawndale would sell homes at inflated prices and then evict families who could not pay—taking their down payment and their monthly installments as profit. Then they’d bring in another black family, rinse, and repeat. “He loads them up with payments they can’t meet,” an office secretary told The Chicago Daily News of her boss, the speculator Lou Fushanis, in 1963. “Then he takes the property away from them. He’s sold some of the buildings three or four times.” [read the rest]

Especially for we who are white, I’m convinced we are incapable of having an honest, informed conversation about Ferguson, New York, or Cleveland – that is, a conversation about race in the USA – unless and until we’ve been reminded of (or taught for the first time) our national history.

Jesus announces that his purpose is to heal the sick and release those bound by the chains of injustice. We who would follow him, we who would be his disciples, must have a #StayWokeAdvent.

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

‘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.








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.