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.

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*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?

 

Sometimes it works

Here’s a little something that got sucked into my black hole of non-blogging during the last [gulp] half of 2015:

OL 2015 collection

That is a picture of the results of the Offering of Letters we collected in October. Apparently, it wasn’t as memorable as I would have liked. When I asked our church’s Administrative Council what the subject of the letters was, no one had an answer.

Here’s a look:

I urge you to make sure children at risk of hunger receive the healthy meals they need to thrive. One in five children in our nation live at risk of hunger. For every six low-income children who receive a school lunch, only about half also get a school breakfast, and only one also gets a meal during the summer months. In other words, many children are probably missing some meals daily.

Specifically, I urge you to pass a child nutrition bill that protects child nutrition programs and connects more children with healthy meals while not cutting other safety-net programs.

When we write such letters, it is easy to wonder about their efficacy. Do our 80-some letters do any good? Well, when combined with the 220,000 other letters written around the country as part of Bread for the World’s 2015 Offering of Letters, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”.

Late January came good news about a child nutrition bill: The Senate Agriculture Committee passed the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016. This bill would reauthorize expired child nutrition programs. Additionally, the bill would “streamline summer and after-school meal programs to make it easier to serve meals to kids year-round. The bill allows some states to provide summer EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards to families in hard-to-reach areas to purchase groceries. It also allows some states to use alternative methods of reaching kids when they are unable to make it to meal sites.”

See that last request in our letters: “while not cutting other safety-net programs.”? Well, the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act does not make cuts to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) or other anti-poverty programs to pay for these changes! Our law-makers listened to us! Hallelujah!

While this Act has yet to pass the full Senate and is not yet law, the bipartisan cooperation is a very good sign. Neither Illinois Senator is on the Agriculture Committee, but when the bill goes before the full Senate, Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin will need to hear from us again.

Stay tuned…and stay alert to the continual movement of God’s Holy Spirit among us — especially in surprising places like the U.S. Senate!

Sleep Out Saturday

Gonna try live blogging Sleep Out Saturday. Haven’t done that before so bear with me…

2:00pm
Home preparing to go on a bike ride with our kids. Being away from them is the hardest part of any overnight youth event.

In the next day or two, I’ll share more SOS insights from WUMC teenagers in a separate post.

Finally, huge THANK YOU to all our amazing adult leaders: Kathy, Christine, Kevin, Barb, Karen, Troy, Mark, Nikole, Wally, and Martine!
You make WUMC’s youth ministries possible.

Thanks so much for reading. Let me know what you think of all this in the comments.

11:50
Worship services over, the display of Stop & Think questions – some leader-generated, some youth-created – now adorn the Narthex (fancy churchy word for lobby):

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10:30
I can tell the kids are tired at this point (me too!), but they were even better at the Conversation at the second worship service.

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9:03
Our first worship service started a little late, largely due to Pastor Danita waiting for me to finish trying to fix the presentation computer. Note: when I’m the IT guy, things are bad.

But our youth did a great job leading the Conversation with the Children, telling a little about what we did and a little about what they thought and felt about it.

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8:12
My one, indisputable take away is that this SOS completely confirms and illuminates what my friend, Hugh Hollowell, taught us when we visited Love Wins Ministries this summer:

The opposite of homeless isn’t housed, it’s community.

8:00
Breakfasting and reflecting on the experience. We’ll use these reflections to guide us as a few of the youth lead the Conversation with the Children in worship this morning.

7:50
One awesome leader brought coffee. Yet another awesome leader brought us breakfast, including bacon!

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7:40
One leader reports it is 29 degrees. For sure it was cold enough to freeze the water bottle left out:

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7:20
Breaking down tent city:

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7:00
Good morning, everybodyyyyy!

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6:45
Woke up to find most of the kids still sleeping. This is unexpected. Previous years everyone was up by 6:00. Maybe it was warmer this year? Or our groups was better prepared?

4:30
Somehow I lost an update. Need to add that a couple adults arrived at (the second) 2:00am to take a turn as tent city guard. We have the best leaders ever!

4:20
I bailed. I’m ashamed to admit it but, I woke up, couldn’t move in my box and, well, pretty much freaked out. I’ve never felt claustrophobic before, but I have to think that’s what it feels like.

Spent a few minutes talking with the leaders taking a turn watching over our tent city, then went inside to sleep. So I failed SOS. Great.

2:00am (for the second time) and the second shift of leaders have arrived. We are very blessed to have such dedicated adults!

Bed time for me.

2:00am…except now it’s 1:00am again. Ugh. Remember when that extra hour of sleep was a godsend? Tonight? Not so much.

Of course recognizing the privilege oozing out of that lament…is kinda one of the main points of this event.

midnight
Climbing into our boxes and tents to sleep. We hope.

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11:00
Construction complete:

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10:00
Assembling shelters, hoping to avoid the skunk that was just spotted on the church lawn…right next to where the shelters are planned to go.

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9:00
Activity 2 commences: each participant received a persona with which they had to try to gain housing by visiting various agencies: apartment complexes, women’s shelter, public housing, section 8, rescue mission, or a realty company.

We leaders served as staff for the agencies. We were instructed to make it as difficult for them as we could. No one got housed the first day.

8:30
All signed in, thereby “agreeing to abide by the center’s rules,” and the simulation begins.

First, in families of 3, a sheriff is at their door, they are being evicted, and they have 5 minutes to decide what they will take with them, but it must fit in a backpack.

Most of the groups chose to bring their passport, prompting one leader to wonder, “They know they’re being evicted and not going on a trip to Aruba, right?”

8:00
Found our last straggler (a leader no less 🙂 ), so all on the bus heading back to church to reflect, enter the simulation, build our shelters, and, eventually, sleep.

7:50
And there’s tonight’s surprise: the indefatigable SOS director, Jennie Gates, is retiring. I’ll miss working with her on this event. She’s always very organized, making it much easier for me to be as well.

7:35
“Finding Bridge was such a relief for our families.” Shout out to case workers and all who help families like these connect with the resources they need. Those women and men have to be the unsung heroes of this story.
Looking forward to hearing the group react to the stories told.

7:25
Important, honest talk from two families helped by Bridge. One family became homeless due to the mom taking her kids, leaving an abusive relationship.

7:20
The obligatory shout out to all the sponsors and each town represented. Being Woodridge means we’re last on the list. But we can be loud when we try.

7:10
Stephan Stefan Holt on stage to, er, rally the crowd.

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This is the 11th year for SOS, raising $1 Million in that time.
“It’s going to be pretty cold tonight.” Thanks for that reminder, Stephan Stefan.

6:55
Two of our boys won the head or tails game. (Put your hand on your head or your tail and if the DJ calls out where your hands are, you move on). A very helpful prize: handwarmers!

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6:45
One question answered:

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6:10
Our final participants arrive and we’re on the bus heading to Glen Ellyn for the rally. 11 youth & 5 adults. Plus a couple more adults staying behind to set up the shelter simulation which begins as soon as we return from the rally.

The mood on the bus is noticeably split: the youth are all chatting, laughing, animated. While the adults are quiet, pensive even. Or maybe it’s contemplative. Yeah, that’s probably it… 😉

The rally has music, a family or two who have been helped by Bridge Communities will speak, and Stephan Stefan (apologies) Holt from the local NBC affiliate will emcee. Two years ago, a few of our group knew one of the teens who spoke. That, as they say, brought the issue home really quickly. What surprises await us this time?

Will there be t-shirts left for the kids at the rally? Last year they were out by the time we got there.

We’ll know soon…

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changes for the Holidays

“One word can bring you round”

To say that change is difficult is no kind of insight. We know this is true. Yet change comes to us all and sometimes even proves to be a Good Thing.

This fall our wonderful partners at the West Suburban Community Pantry changed how they distribute food boxes at Thanksgiving and Christmas and how they distribute gifts at Christmas. Let’s face it, giving money and unwrapped gifts just doesn’t feel as involved – doesn’t feel as good – as giving a box of food or a gift chosen and wrapped for a specific person. But here’s the effect of that change: previous years the Pantry had food boxes for 400 families at Thanksgiving. With the change in procedure this year they gave food boxes to 1300 families!

But wait, there’s more…Previously at Christmas they only had gifts for families in Woodridge. But we know they serve people from all over DuPage County, not just Woodridge. The change in procedure this year means they have a gift for every child (up to age 12) who comes to the pantry!

Read that again: food boxes for 1300 families and gifts for every child. This change was most definitely a Good Thing. Being part of that rocks. Hungry people being fed rocks the most.

“This year, let the day arrive when Christmas come for everyone, everyone alive!”

Obviously, music is a huge part of our Christmas traditions. Everybody has a favorite. Hopefully we’ll sing yours on Christmas Eve. (If not, be sure to request it at the hymn sing on December 29!)

I love a lot of the regulars: “Joy to the World”, “Silent Night”, the aforementioned “Star-Child”. I’ve said before that I really like John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas” and the Bare Naked Ladies/Sarah McLachlan collaboration “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen/We Three Kings.”

My current favorite is “The Trumpet Child” by Over the Rhine. (H/T David Weasley.) I love, love, love the jazz references and the plaintive tone. Check it out.

How about you? What are your current favorite holiday songs?

SOS aftermath

We participate in Sleep Out Saturday to raise awareness about homelessness in DuPage County – and to raise funds to help end it.

As I wrote recently (here and here), SOS is a way to be in solidarity with our homeless population. SOS creates visceral evidence that those who are homeless are included in that web of mutuality that connects us all.

Yet, I want to be sensitive to reasonable critiques of SOS. For instance:

  • Shouldn’t we just know that we are connected to all people which includes the homeless?
  • Why does it take a big event like SOS to demonstrate mutuality?
  • Is this just another form of poverty tourism?
  • Are we just using the homeless as a way or an excuse to have a fun event for ourselves?

The best responses I can offer are:

  • Yes, we should.
  • I don’t know…perhaps it is part of the nature of privileged living in the first world to need to be shaken out of our complacency cocoons?
  • I hope not.
  • I don’t think so. We’re trying to make it so much more than that.

But I’m probably too close to it to evaluate. I want to know what you think. So I’ll offer pictures, descriptions, and reflections from the evening; you tell me where we seem to be on the continuum:

tourists ————- mutuality

Or maybe that’s not even the best way to express the continuum. You tell me. Please.

The evening begins with a school bus – arranged by and paid for by Bridge Communities – that takes us to the Rally.

SOS 2013 bus

The Rally includes dance music, a roll call of the towns represented (there were dozens, from Addison to Woodridge), thanking sponsors, and thanking participants, all MC’d by local news anchor, Stefan Holt.

SOS 2013 rally

But the highlight of the Rally (at least for me) is hearing two families helped by Bridge’s transitional housing tell their story.

After the Rally at Bridge Communities headquarters, we returned to WUMC for a simulation game. Each of us received a biography detailing age, sex, family history, employment history, and what led us to become homeless. Several of our adult volunteers role played as persons working for an apartment complex, housing authority, women’s shelter, mission house, and realty. Our job was to find housing for the night.

SOS 2013 simulation

It was, frankly, frustrating.  Jumping through hoops only to be turned down at multiple places. Having a place close before I could turn in paperwork. Running out of options.

A few reflections from our teenagers on the simulation experience:

  • “It’s hard to find shelter when you’re homeless.”
  • “Homelessness can happen to anyone of any situation.”
  • “Some shelters might not let you in. Food is not readily available.”
  • “Homeless people live in harsh conditions.”
  • “Homeless people come from all different backgrounds and with all different reasons and face different personal challenges.”

Then we prepared shelter for the night out of cardboard boxes.

SOS 2013 box prep

SOS 2013 boys box

SOS 2013 gavin

SOS 2013 mylene box

SOS 2013 trying my box

I never said it was a grim project. 🙂

We’re lucky. The church has a great space for our boxes right out in front of the building.

SOS 2013 my bag & box

SOS 2013 ready to box

We really did sleep some.

SOS 2013 asleep

It was cold. But we were sleeping out for a few hours for one night. With a building available for warmth and bathrooms. And a hot breakfast prepared for us. We are aware we’re only simulating a fraction of true homelessness. But that fraction, it’s not nothing. The experience impacted us.

“It is humbling realizing what homeless people have to do every night. It is humiliating thinking this was hard for me but realizing they do this every night.”

“It was humbling thinking about people driving by church, seeing us sleeping in boxes and maybe thinking about me all the stereotypes of homeless people.”

Finally, our teenagers were asked what they would be willing to do without to help homeless people:

  • $10 a week
  • a meal every week
  • let them stay in my house until they get somewhere to stay and a job
  • $1 per week
  • half of my American Girl dolls
  • my iPod
  • $10 per week
  • $5 per week
  • $1 per day

So, what do you think? Tourism, mutuality, or somewhere in between?

Sleep Out (in solidarity) Saturday

“Everybody belongs,” I said on Sunday. That phrase comes from a teaching by Father Richard Rohr, but also, once again, calls to mind MLK’s brilliant, under-valued recapitulation of the gospel: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality… Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Lots of ways to express that thought:

  • We are all connected.
  • We are better together.
  • Yes, I am (and you are and we are) our brother’s – and sister’s – keeper.
  • Solidarity.

It is with this understanding of the gospel – and thus of the life of faith – in mind that we approach Sleep Out Saturday tomorrow. It is with that understanding of the life of faith in mind that we offered our youth a scavenger hunt this week. This was a hunt aimed to help deepen our solidarity with the homeless population.

I thought you might like to join the hunt cyber-style. Feel free to try it IRL too! Big THANKS to Kathy Falout for designing the hunt.

Divide into a team of 3-5. Imagine you are homeless. Find these items:

1. rain/bus schedule

2.    Listing of apartments for rent in Woodridge

3.    Can you get a Library card without an address?  Find out!

4.    Job listings or “Want-ads”

5.    Address for the local Food Pantry

6.    Address for the local Walk-In Ministry

7.    Employment application.  What is the pay rate?________  How will you get to work? – map out walk/bike/bus route.

8.    Free museum brochure

9.    Free e-mail account.  Where would you check your e-mail?

10.   Where would you find card board boxes to build a shelter?

11. Where would you go to exercise/work out?

12. Where can you take a shower and clean-up without getting kicked out?

13. Where do you brush your teeth and use the bathroom before school?

14. Address of Community or State Health Clinic

15. Collect sale coupons for the grocery store.

16. Info on bank accounts. What is the minimum to open a checking acct?

17. “Used” car dealer ad.

18. Where can you find a cheap bike?

19. Find a phone booth and call Pastor Dave on his cell phone.

20. You have a budget of $10 to feed dinner to your “family” (your group).  Make a list of the items you would purchase and their cost.  Remember:

  • You don’t have anywhere to cook this food.
  • Think about quantity – will this fill us up?  What about the nutritional value?
  • You are NOT allowed to select food from fast food establishments.
  • You may not add money to the budget.
  • Be creative, spend wisely and don’t forget about tax.

I haven’t often thought about all the different things that having a permanent address makes easier – or even just possible.

This will be my first Sleep Out Saturday. I’m excited to be able to participate this year. I’m a little nervous about my shelter-creating abilities. I can’t wait to experience the rally and hear our young people reflect on the event.

SOS box tent prep

I hope and I pray that our involvement in this event continues to grow in all of us the understanding that we are deeply and truly connected with our homeless sisters and brothers; that what affects them affects us as well.

Take some time to join us – either in person this weekend or online. You can add to our fundraising effort there and read all about the amazing work done by SOS sponsor, Bridge Communities.

Setting out on an SOS

Frequently of late I’ve been talking and writing how  striving to follow God in the Way of Jesus compels me to try to end hunger and poverty. And I will continue to do so. For instance, I’m with Bread for the World: Now that the shutdown is over, it is time to end sequestration.

But with our turn at PADS, with CROP Walk, and with Sleep Out Saturday (SOS) all happening within three weeks of one another, I have some other verbs in mind. Verbs beyond talking and writing, such as:

Walk. It’s not too late to join the South DuPage CROP Walk this Sunday, Oct. 20.

Bring. Canned goods are collected at CROP Walk.

Watch. Take five minutes to view this video. Warning: Watch with caution; you may just find yourself moved to participate in many ways!

Learn. About homelessness in DuPage County. Here’s an arresting statistic: the average age of a homeless person in DuPage County is…8 years old. 8! If that doesn’t infuriate you, I don’t know what will.

Sleep. Outside, that is. In the cold.

SOS night
A scene from WUMC’s 2012 SOS

Experience. For a few hours anyway on Nov. 2 what many people deal with every. single. day.

Read. Bridge Community’s client success stories. They are doing incredible work providing aid and requiring accountability.

View. Our SOS page

…and if you are able, pledge.

So that’s what I’m doing in next few days and weeks. How about you – what verbs occupy you right now?

Mourning, and yet…

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