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…”

 

Making US food aid more Methodist?

nepal-photo-by-laura-pohl

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

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

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

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

How cool is that?

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

Kerry et al. provide examples of the increased efficiency:

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

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

The Trib board points out the political realities:

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

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

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

To sum up:

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

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

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

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

Record-breaking OL not done yet

Last Sunday, my congregation, Woodridge United Methodist Church, partnered with Bread for the World in taking an Offering of Letters. Rosie’s story (see above video) was a key component of our presentation and perhaps part of the reason the OL produced 110 names on the petition to the President and 120 letters to our Senators. The 120 letters is a WUMC record! (It was the first year that an OL included a petition to the President.)

I am, naturally, thrilled by this response and very proud of our people for their advocacy for and with hungry and poor people in America and around the world. It seems to me, such advocacy is an important expression of our faith in Jesus.

But this Offering of Letters isn’t done yet. First of all, if you weren’t able to participate in the OL last week, it’s not too late. You can sign the Petition to the President online. The sample letter to Senators is below. Use that as a guide in writing to your Senators. Or, if you’re in the area, paper copies of the petition and the letters will be available in WUMC’s Narthex (a fancy churchy word for lobby) on Sunday.

The final action item (if you’ll forgive the corporate-speak) of this OL happens May 15. That video above of Rosie’s story is an excerpt from A Place at the Table, an excellent documentary on hunger in America. The film is currently available on iTunes and On Demand. But on the 15th it is showing at AMC Showplace 16 in Naperville at 7:30pm. In addition to watching the movie, we’ll also present our petitions and letters to local Bread for the World organizers.

The petition and the letters were an unqualified success. I hope you’ll join us for film as well. Tickets are only available in advance online

Here’s the sample letter to Senators regarding food aid reform:

Dear Senator ______,

I urge you to publicly support the U.S. food aid reforms that President Obama proposed in his budget request. With these common-sense reforms, our food aid program will work harder for U.S. taxpayers, and two to four million more people in need will receive life-saving help at no additional cost.

In recent years, a number of trusted sources have shown that despite the best of intentions, current laws governing U.S. food aid make it slow to reach people in need and wasteful of taxpayer dollars. The President’s proposal would provide the U.S. with the greater flexibility to respond to hunger needs around the world.

As a person of faith, I want to see hungry people fed, and I also want to see our nation’s resources utilized as effectively and efficiently as possible. Please support—in every way possible—the President’s proposed food aid reforms.

Sincerely,

Your Name

Your Address

 

Responding to evil with a hope and a prayer

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

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

I aim to change that today. Now.

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

We come together hoping for healing and rest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do love Bread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the entire film here:

Hands, feet and voice

“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”

It was just a few weeks ago that we read in worship those words from James’ epistle.

This week Fred Clark wrote:

Why do the hungry suffer? For lack of food. Why do the oppressed and enslaved suffer? For want of liberation.

These are not, primarily, metaphysical puzzles for us to ponder. Such puzzles are also significant, but they mustn’t ever be confused for the most important, most urgent, or most obvious response to human suffering. Human suffering is cause for action — for individual and institutional and structural steps to relieve it and to prevent it. [read the rest]

“Supply bodily needs.” “steps to relieve and prevent suffering.” These are other ways of naming what we frequently call being the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in the world.

Over the next few weeks we here in Illinois have an opportunity – and I would say a responsibility – to live our faith, to embody our beliefs, to supply needs, to relieve and prevent suffering, to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in the world as we advocate with and for hungry and poor people.

This work is not new. The reasons for doing it are many.

Here’s what you and I can do right now, today:

1. Sign this Change.org petition to Senator Durbin to protect SNAP, WIC and tax credits for the working poor* in his work as part of the Gang of Eight**.

2. Make a pledge to support WUMC’s participation in Sleep Out Saturday. We’re raising awareness and raising money to fight homelessness in DuPage County.

3. Share a story. Do you or someone you know receive federal assistance, especially from SNAP? We heard again last week from Sen. Durbin’s office that he wants stories to support and personalize the importance of protecting these programs. We’re just looking for basic info (name, age, gender, church, community, family status, employment, etc.) and a sentence or two on how the benefits are used and why they’re important. Only first names will be shared if you prefer. Local Bread for the World advocates will deliver these stories to Sen. Durbin’s Chicago Loop office on Thursday, Nov. 1.

Here’s what you and I can do this Sunday, October 28:

4. Watch The Line in Fellowship Hall after second worship service and participate in the discussion. We are trying to model for our young people (and all of us really) that the church is a place to have real conversations about complex issues that matter. Can’t make it to WUMC on Sunday? Watch it now and find someone to talk with about it.

Here’s what you and I can do on Tuesday, October 30:

5. Participate in the state-wide Call-In Day to Sen. Durbin

  • Number to call: 1-800-826-3688. This number forwards to the Capitol Switchboard. Just ask the operator for “Sen. Durbin’s office.”
  • Sample message to deliver: “Thank you for being a champion for the needs of hungry and poor people in our community, in your work within the Gang of Eight (senators working on a bipartisan deficit-reduction plan). Continue to push the Gang of Eight to protect programs for hungry and poor people, especially SNAP and WIC for our neighbors here and foreign assistance for our neighbors abroad.”

Here’s what you and I can do on Saturday, Nov. 3:

6. Participate in Sleep Out Saturday at WUMC. Bring your sleeping bag, your blankets, and a desire to learn, share and grow.

Here’s what you and I can do anytime:

7. Pray

8. Learn more as we read, watch, listen, and converse.

9. Share all this with your networks.

Together we will be the hands, the feet, and the voice of Jesus in a hurting world.

What did I forget? What would you add?

*Why is this the responsible thing to do? Read The Myth of the Exploding Safety Net.
**Sen. Durbin is a member of the “Gang of Eight” bipartisan senators working to craft a framework that could pass the U.S. House and Senate and receive the President’s signature-­‐-­‐no easy feat, given the highly partisan climate in Congress and the conflicting views for how to best move our country forward. But most members of Congress do not want our nation to go over the “fiscal cliff” of simultaneous funding cuts and tax increases, which will happen soon if Congress does nothing. Yet despite this anxiety, the Gang of Eight is currently the only working group in Congress that could potentially reach a deal on a framework that can become law.

Watch “The Line” and #TalkPoverty

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, tonight you can watch the world premiere of (what promises to be) a terrific, important and compelling movie: The Line.  I threw in that parenthetical qualifier because, of course, I haven’t actually seen the film. Hence the “world premiere” part. 🙂

But I absolutely expect The Line to be compelling. While we USAmericans almost always talk about poverty by way of statistics*, it is stories that move us. Stories, especially (though not always) well-told ones, grab us. Stories shake us up. Stories move us. Sometimes stories even change us. And that is why I have such high expectations of The Line – it tells stories.

The Line documents the stories of people across the country living at or below the poverty line. They have goals. They have children. They work hard. They are people like you and me. From Chicago’s suburbs and west side to the Gulf Coast to North Carolina, millions of Americans are struggling every day to make it above The Line. []

Once again, here’s the trailer:

In just a few hours, at 7:00pm CDT, you can watch the world premiere of the film at it’s site. Click over. Watch the film. Stay there for a panel discussion following the movie.

Then, if you want to be really, extra, super cool…come back here and tell me what you thought of the film by leaving a comment!

But most importantly, let’s stop demonizing poor and hungry people. Instead, let’s make reducing poverty and caring for poor and hungry people a focus of our national politics and, if applicable, of our faith.

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…”

*Unless of course we want to disparage poor and hungry people. Then we almost always use an anecdote about this one person in this one place who really totally abused the system. So obviously no body anywhere should ever be helped at all.

Toeing “The Line”

I’ve written rather extensively about my involvement with and support for Bread for the World. I’ve been less vocal about my involvement with and support for Sojourners. But both organizations help me reflect upon a Christian commitment to social justice. Both organizations help me act on that commitment.

So you can imagine my interest when I discovered that both Bread and Sojo were involved in a new project together! Bonus: there are really two projects.

Now, I don’t know what was up with the “Middle Class First” signs at the DNC (though I suspect it was an appeal for people to think “we’re just folks.” Or more specifically, “we’re just folks like you!”)

But what I heard almost none of was what each party is doing and will do to fight poverty, to protect programs like SNAP, WIC, earned income tax credits. Which are all programs that literally get people from being hungry and lift people out of poverty. Isn’t that something both Republicans and Democrats say they want? To lift people out of poverty? Then we need a President willing to join the circle of protection around those programs.

From Bread: “We believe that this presidential campaign should include a clear focus on what each candidate proposes to do to provide help and opportunity for hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world.” Bread & Sojo asked, and President Obama and Governor Romney offered these responses:

But it seems to me, both responses more or less just parrot their already-determined platforms. Though I do appreciate the President grounding his response in his faith. How about really dealing with actual poverty? That’s the second awesome project: The Line.

A movie of stories. Real stories. Here’s the trailer. Woodridge UMC plans to screen the whole film in October. I hope you will join us.

Making hungry people hungrier is unacceptable, Part 2: Showing my work

I recently shared this post that was originally published on Bread for the World‘s Bread Blog.

I would understand if you thought my conclusions in that post seemed a bit like a math student who simply writes down an answer. Even though the answer is correct, you’d still like to know how she got there. This post is me trying to show my work.

In the Wesleyan tradition we use four theological guidelines for understanding our faith and discipleship: scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. (Often referred to as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. But I’m bad at geometry, so I try to stick with calling them guidelines.)

When it comes to raising your voice with and for hungry and vulnerable people, it’s an uncontested slam dunk.

The biblical witness is clear: caring for the hungry and poor is God’s desire for us.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. – Luke 10:27

For me, that really says it all. But that’s no where near all scripture says! There are at least 2000 verses in the Bible about caring for poor and hungry people. Psalm 72:12-14, Jeremiah 22:13-16, Micah 6:8, Mark 12:30, Luke 4:18, 1 John 4:19…just to name a few.

Our tradition is bold: Methodists advocate with and for people in need.

John Wesley was a forthright advocate on prison reform, human rights, abuse of spirituous liquors, labor justice, healthcare, slavery, the humane treatment of animals…The women’s rights movement, the labor reform movement, the temperance movement and the Civil Rights movement all saw leadership from a number of courageous and prophetic Methodist voices. Read more from the General Board of Church & Society.

But one need not be in the Wesleyan tradition to claim a bold heritage of advocacy. Read the first four chapters of Acts again. One of the first things the earliest Christians did in response to being filled with God’s Holy Spirit was to “sell their possessions and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45).

Our experience is encouraging: SNAP works! Letters from constituents are effective.

Since 2008 unemployment has increased dramatically, poverty has increased as well, but food insecurity has remained essentially  the same, largely due to domestic nutrition programs like SNAP. The very same program Congress is currently considering cutting by $36 billion this year and $133 billion over ten years.

Need a more personal touch? Meet Alli and André:

SNAP and WIC work. Letters and petitions to Congress work, too. Two years ago, I was privileged to be present at a meeting with Rep. Judy Biggert and her Chief of Staff. Three other Bread activists and I presented our case, asking Congresswoman Biggert to co-sponsor a bill that would create more and better poverty-focused developmental assistance. The Congresswoman let us have our say and accepted the stack of letters one of the others brought from their Offering of Letters.

The Chief of Staff said they’d received hundreds like them. Then Rep. Biggert declared she was meeting with us to announce that she had co-signed the bill!

Still, there are some reasonable questions about advocacy, such as: Why don’t churches just care for the poor? Why get the government involved at all?
Size and scope.
Private feeding through churches and charities covers just 6% of the nutrition needs for low-income and struggling families in the United States. National nutrition programs like SNAP & WIC provide the rest.

As I wrote previously, to make up the gap created by recently proposed cuts to SNAP – $36 billion this year, $133 billion over ten years – means churches and charities would need to do everything we’re currently doing to fight hunger…and come up with an additional $50,000 each year.

And if churches and charities needed to cover the entire costs, each church, synagogue, mosque, and charity would need to increase their efforts by at least $160,000 each year! That’s just to cover food, they’d also need to create the structures through which they would provide food ans aid.

Here’s another question I hear with some frequency: What about the separation of church and state?
Doesn’t apply. That separation means our government cannot privilege one religion over another. We cannot create an official religion of the state.
There are no restrictions on people speaking to their members of Congress just because they are motivated by their faith in Jesus.

Why write a letter asking our Senators to create a circle of protection around our vital domestic nutrition programs or sign a petition urging Congress not to decimate SNAP?
The biblical witness is clear: caring for the hungry and poor is God’s desire for us.
Our Methodist tradition is bold: we advocate with and for people in need.
Our experience is encouraging: letters make a difference.
The facts are in: domestic nutrition programs work.

We are called to protect hungry and vulnerable people. People like Alli & André need our voice. We are called to speak on their behalf.

Will Congress hear from you?