Divorce. Disease. Death. The uncomfortable truth is that our congregation, our communities, and our country is hurting. From more than just those three ‘d’ words, of course. But those are the ones I’ve encountered most in recent weeks and months. Too often, we feel the need to present ourselves as doing fine — even in church. Maybe especially in church. I know because I do it too. In my head, I know that our sanctuary should be just that: a place of refuge from the parts of our lives that expect us to be — need us to be, demand us to be — ‘ok’ all the time. I know I want our place in the world at 2700 75th Street to be a place where it is ok not to be ok. However, I also know just how hard it is to admit to ourselves and others that we’re not ok. For myriad reasons, internal and external, we want and need to appear tough, solid, stoic, strong, above it all.

Yet we follow God in the Way of Jesus. That means we follow a God who willingly became vulnerable and intimately entered the world. Baby Jesus? Vulnerable. Born to an unwed, teenage mother? Vulnerable. Part of a family that became refugees in a foreign country in order to flee violent authorities? Vulnerable. Lived in a country occupied and controlled by a foreign military power? Vulnerable. Openly protested his own people’s cultural practices that further oppressed the poor? Vulnerable.  Arrested, beaten, and executed on trumped up charges? Vulnerable.

But following God in the Way of Jesus means we follow a God who lived in an open, vulnerable manner that allowed others around him to be vulnerable as well — which often led to their healing. Isn’t that what we’re after too? Healing the hurt in our selves and in our sisters and brothers?

Our scriptures are full of people crying out to God for help, for healing, for wholeness. Let those authors provide your voice, if need be. Especially good for this are the psalms of personal lament such as Psalm 13, Psalm 35, and Psalm 86. Or try the psalms of communal lament such as Psalm 44, Psalm 74, or Psalm 80.

This Sunday, our prayer time will not feature a responsive litany. Instead we will engage in directed silence, lament, and celebration. To paraphrase biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, we will seek to be honest about the ways the world disorients us and how we might find a new orientation in the grace and love of God.

So whatever it is that makes you not ok today: your own struggles, or issues with which those close to you are dealing, or broader societal problems like systemic racism or violence such as (this week’s examples) Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott, or desecration of sacred land in Standing Rock Reservation, or global challenges like getting education for all girls…bring it all so that in our honesty we may lay it at the altar.

Conversely, bring too all that helps you celebrate today: good news of a diagnosis, or a new job for a friend, or birth of a healthy baby, or relevant ministries helping someone out of poverty or homelessness, or globally the number people living in extreme poverty has dropped below 10% (down from 44% just 25 years ago)…bring all that to so that we can be reminded that “though the arc of the universe may be long, it bends toward justice.”

This Sunday let’s start a new trend together, let’s be honest about it when we’re not ok. And let’s make sure Woodridge UMC is a safe place to not be ok.


My most famous photo

Well, the photo in question isn’t really famous. And it’s about the only photo of me that’s published somewhere other than on my own sites, so that “most” modifier isn’t really necessary. Oh, and it’s a picture of me but not by me. Other than those minor quibbles, the title of this post is totally accurate.😉

The picture in question?

OL didicating letters WUMC
photo credit: Patti Cash

That picture, or a version of it, appeared in a guest post I wrote for Bread for the World‘s Bread Blog. It appeared in the print version of that story in Bread’s Newsletter. I’ve used it for a post or two here and it serves as my representative on my About Me page.

Then last month I was interviewed about congregations conducting Offerings of Letters for an article to appear in Bread for the World’s April 2016 newsletter. As part of that interview, I was asked for a photo or two of our OL. I sent six or seven options, but in the end they chose this one. Again. I’m no photographer, but I guess it offers a decent amount of color, a vision of collection plates overflowing with letters, a peak at people praying, the context of the shot with “Dedication of Letters” visible on the screen, and it catches Tim looking at the camera.

Anyway, I love working with Bread for the World. They do a tremendous job combining Christian witness and advocacy through education, political engagement, and coalition-building. I’m proud of the way Woodridge UMC has embraced advocacy as worship. My congregation — and it’s Lead Pastors past and present — are amazing! I’m humbled and grateful to have Bread highlight our efforts. Here’s a taste of the article, Congregations Engage in Offering of Letters:

Bread for the World’s annual Offering of Letters campaign engages congregations and other faith communities in writing letters to Congress. There are as many ways to hold an Offering of Letters as there are groups that undertake the activity…

Rev. Dave Buerstetta serves as Koinonia pastor for Woodridge United Methodist Church in Woodridge, Ill. He has integrated the Offering of Letters into the life of Woodridge. He uses the power of social media to raise awareness. Buerstetta also writes a personal blog…

The letters from Cincinnati and from Woodbridge [sic] Church were among the more than 200,000 letters sent to Congress in 2015. In January of this year, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016…

Read the whole thing here.

I admit it makes me a bit uncomfortable to be offered as an example of how to effectively use social media in ministry. Still, thank you, Bread! That’s very kind.

How about you? With what forms of advocacy are you engaging? How can we amplify one another?





Time to act thankfully

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Global Food Security Act yesterday (Thursday). Our friends at Bread for the World, the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, and 65 other organizations endorse this bill. Why? More than 800 million people worldwide suffer from chronic hunger. The Global Food Security Act makes into law:

eradicating hunger and malnutrition, especially for women and children; assisting foreign countries to achieve long-term, sustainable, and inclusive agricultural development; and ensuring the effective use of taxpayer dollars to further these objectives. [you can read the rest of the summary and all about the bill here]

As you can see here, both of our Illinois Senators are co-sponsors. Now we just need the Senate to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Meanwhile, over in the House of Representatives, their version of the bill has 121 co-sponsors. That number includes almost all of the Representatives from Illinois. In fact, only two of 18 have not signed on.

While we are confident that advocacy to end poverty and hunger is biblically mandated by Jesus, the prophets, and God’s many acts of liberation — and is thus a form of worship — we haven’t nearly as often offered thanks when our members of Congress respond as requested. Our Outreach Committee recently acted to correct that omission.*

GFSA thanks pic

But there is still work to do. Bill and Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek fame joined with our local Bread for the World organizer, Zach Schmidt, to pen this op-ed on the Global Food Security Act which appeared in the Daily Herald. As they wrote:

We thank and applaud these members of Congress — across the political and ideological spectrum — for demonstrating faithful leadership, and we hope Reps. Peter Roskam, a Wheaton Republican, and Darin LaHood, a Peoria Republican, will join the rest of the Illinois delegation in co-sponsoring this bill.

The GFSA will help 800 million hungry people, including 159 million children. That’s an impact worth fighting for — and giving thanks for.


*A congregation as geographically-dispersed as ours lives in several Congressional Districts. However, a majority of our people find themselves in Representative Bill Foster’s 11th District.





‘We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality…’

Interconnected. Mutual. “What affects one directly, affects us all indirectly.”

Issues overlap. We’ve talked about this a number of times at my church. For instance, I’ve been known to say something like this, “If we want to talk about ending homelessness, we have to talk about the lack of affordable housing. If we want to talk about the lack of affordable housing, we have to talk about society’s negative attitude toward the poor or anyone who needs help. Talk of affordable housing also requires us to talk about racism in the real estate market — both officially and unofficially. Talking about racism requires us to talk about privilege.”

Or, another instance, if we want to talk about ending the sex trafficking of minors, we have to talk about teen homelessness. To talk about teen homelessness requires us to talk about teens who come out as gay getting kicked out of their homes. To talk about that requires us to talk about the role Christianity plays in creating homes where being gay is literally unacceptable.

Our social/societal issues overlap. Which, admittedly, can make them seem ever more daunting and insurmountable. Conversely, perhaps, admitting interconnectedness can open up multiple avenues for addressing those problems.

Today’s case in point: poverty and criminal sentencing. Recently, our Bishop, Rev. Dr. Sally Dyck joined with three other Chicago-area bishops to offer this editorial in the Chicago Tribune. Here’s a taste:

As bishops in Chicago, far too many of the communities we serve bear the devastating repercussions of mass incarceration: increased poverty, fundamental insecurity, generations paying the price of one person’s mistake and a deep sense of alienation from the very system meant to protect and serve all citizens. Ultimately this comes at a real cost to all Americans, as we are robbed of the potential that millions of people have to contribute to building a stronger country…

We are encouraged by developments such as the coalescing on Capitol Hill around bipartisan solutions to unjust prison sentences like the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which would overhaul excessive sentences for low-level crimes, introduce more judicial decision making and lay the groundwork for programs that prepare prisoners for successful reintegration into their home communities and, equally important, cut down on recidivism. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., like many of his Republican and Democratic colleagues, has sponsored the bill. We hope Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., will do the same. [read the rest]

Reading that encouraged me because just a few days before that op-ed appeared, Bread for the World organizer, Zach Schmidt and I submitted this letter-to-the-editor at the Daily Herald:

Last week, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III wrote an op-ed calling for reforms to our criminal justice system. He wrote that as a result of our “overzealous” drug policies, “no other nation locks up more of its own people than the United States.” That is not how to live up to our motto as “the land of the free.” The cost of our prison population is staggering – about $30,000 a year for each federal inmate. For 219,000 federal inmates that comes to over 6.5 billion dollars annually. Does anyone think we are winning the “war on drugs” with this cost? 
Current policy requires lengthy sentences even for non-violent drug offenses, and judges are often unable to take other influencing factors into consideration. Their hands are tied. As Rev. Moss says, “we should be helping our neighbors find redemption, rather than seeking retribution for what are often victimless crimes.” In addition to reducing disproportionate drug sentences so men and women can reenter society as productive citizens, we need to provide better support upon their reentry. Justice is about much more than punishment—it is about protecting the security, dignity and flourishing of all people.
To help right our misguided sentencing policies, I join with Rev. Moss and hundreds of faith leaders across the state in calling for U.S. Senator Mark Kirk to cosponsor S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. So far, 28 members of the U.S. Senate have already signed on in support—with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. This bill is the right step for Illinois and for our nation, and now is the time.

Unlike our bishop’s, my letter never appeared in the paper or on the website. Which makes me all the more grateful to see our episcopal leader collaborating with other faith leaders, using her and their voice on behalf of marginalized people — and calling on the power of the federal government to do the same.

Faith in action.

Yes, as this week’s Psalm of Lent says, we should “wait on the Lord.” But it seems to me — as our Friday study group said — ours is to be an active waiting, doing all we can to create Kin-dom moments “on earth as it is in heaven.”

What moments of interconnection did you notice this week?


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.

Celebrating Sabbath

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!