Category Archives: human rights

National Health Care, Trump and the Bible: They’re Doing This All Wrong

President Trump, National Health Care and Jesus

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this in any browser, click here! 🙂

Featured Image -- 1057

The ongoing debate here in America ever since Donald Trump announced he was a presidential candidate back in 2015, and that he was going to “repeal and replace Obama-care”, has reached a crescendo as of this past week as everybody knows. Moreover, the resulting infighting and partisanship, all of which is manufactured, amounts to little more than a systematic division of the American people by design. What many do not yet realize, however, is that this manufactured division of the people has already become weaponized. We see evidence of this glaring anomaly in American society every time Republican goes against Democrat, liberals butt heads with conservatives, and where ever hate groups of various kinds clash with each other. This is also evident whenever we see citizens clashing with the police. I’ve got some surprising news for those who hate the police, and especially those who shoot police officers – the police aren’t the problem, they’re merely part of the symptoms. The real problem is with those at the top. Put your guns down before they kill you!

The Bible has things to say about treating people brutally and government oppression of its citizens, as well as the enslavement of people for financial gain. The Bible says in the Book of Proverbs chapter 29, verse 7, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. That’s God’s take on poverty in a nutshell. “The poor you will always have”, Jesus said not long before His crucifixion, “but you will not always have me”. The poor are humankind’s responsibility, starting with the churches, and the churches have shirked their responsibility to render assistance to their surrounding communities by allowing the government to step in. This is the exact opposite of Christ, who healed thousands. During the early part of his 3 ½ year ministry his immediate predecessor, John the Baptist, had become imprisoned for refusing to stop preaching about Jesus. While awaiting sentencing for his “crime”, for which he received the death penalty, he inquired about his cousin Jesus and the status of his ministry, as the Bible relates it. “When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.’” (Matthew 11, verses 2-6)

Jesus didn’t merely take responsibility for his ministry, he seized on it as if each one of us is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform great works on his behalf. Because, you see, that’s exactly who He is, and Jesus continues to do everything in the above 4 verses. Although we have state of the art medical care here in the US, even so the US has – globally speaking – by far the most expensive medical care and the highest priced prescription drugs. American medical care generates the highest profits because America charges its citizens the highest prices by far. Jesus, on the other hand, never charged anybody one stinking penny! Moreover, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, the very people who call national health care “socialism” are the ones who are profiting off the existing system the most. They’re afraid they’ll lose their cash cow.

Jesus also had lots to say about these same rich people and their cash cows (such as Wall St. and the Federal Reserve). But, one of his most famous and beloved comments comes from the Sermon on the Mount when the Redeemer of our souls said: “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6, verses 19-21) The more attached we become to our material stuff and our accumulated wealth, the farther away we get from God. But it’s more than just stuff. We can become more attached to our spouse or significant other, to our children, to our careers, and even to recreational activities like water skiing, snow boarding, our boats and motorcycles, or fitness training. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the above. But we must always put our personal relationship with Christ first (which should not be confused with religious belief) because it’s invariably the most important! I cannot overemphasize this crucial point!

But God gave all of us brains to think and reason with, and we know when we’re being had. No more will working Americans, together with its multitudes of unemployed, stand and stare or sit and grumble about having upside down loans on our houses and cars, and being the only developed nation on earth that refuses to provide national health care and higher education to its citizens! Exactly the opposite occurs in America, where financial institutions extract an ever greater portion of American wealth (in the form of student loans, unconstitutional taxes, etc.) and concentrate it into the hands of a small minority of multimillionaires! It is time for the middle and working classes to put our collective foot down and say ”no more”! The time has arrived for us to take back our country by any and all means possible! Yes, I know the Bible says we must obey the laws of our land (see Romans 13, verses 1-7). I am not suggesting for even one moment that we should stop doing this. But nowhere in the Bible does it say that Jesus expects us to be doormats for everybody, either (see Mark 11, verses 15-18). Didn’t God force Pharaoh to let the Israelites go from their captivity? Did God not motivate Rahab the prostitute to hide the spies sent from the Israelite encampment from the king of Jericho (see Joshua chapter 2)?

In much the same way, I believe the American people are being motivated by God in our modern times. Our ride to being set free from the slavery of low wages and high debt is now boarding at the gate. It is time for political power to be taken out of the hands of corporate America and their invading hordes of lobbyists and to place it back into the hands of “we the people”, the true owners of this great country of ours (talk about obeying the laws!). And we will do so knowing that God, history and our founding fathers are all on our side, because they left us with a sacred document known as the Constitution of the United States that guarantees us that right. Our free speech and freedom of expression that are guaranteed under the First Amendment, as well as our right to keep and bear arms and to form militias that are guaranteed under the Second Amendment, will not be compromised or trampled upon. Neither will our rights in the court systems, which are routinely violated for the sake of profit. We will demonstrate in the streets, we will besiege government buildings, we will bombard our congressional representatives with phone calls and emails, we will form new political parties, we will organize and build more labor unions, we will blockade wealthy neighborhoods, we will organize peaceful public events and non-violent sit-ins, we will call general strikes and consumer boycotts, and we will not stop until the balance of power in this country undergoes a paradigm shift back into the hands of hard-working Americans, as well as the millions of people who want jobs, health care or higher education but can’t get any of them!

 

Let there be no mistake, America is ripe for mass civil disobedience, even for outright revolution, and I say it’s about time. The conditions and circumstances in which the middle and working classes find themselves has become intolerable! Personally, I am a very patient and thoughtful man. I work hard each day to be slow to speak and quick to listen because I know from experience that there is much wisdom to be derived from living my life this way. But by the same token, I am a Christian man and Web evangelist who stands against oppression, social injustice and economic inequality, and whose patience is at its end. Just as surely as Jesus preached against the political and religious establishment of His day, in like manner I will do the same in the present day in order to emulate the man I regard as my personal Savior. So, if you truly care about the deteriorating state of our nation, if you are really concerned about the issues that we are faced with collectively as a people, and if you want to make a stand against social and economic injustice, and since it’s in all our best interests to do so, you owe it to yourself to stand up in the face of power and say, “That’s it! You’re done!!” You know why? Because if Jesus Christ were to return this very day, that’s what He’d say. And the ones who are having the homeless thrown in jail for begging for spare change would be the first ones Christ would send straight to hell!

To find books on these topics and other Christian nonfiction, please visit http://www.pcmatl.org/#!books-and-donations/c17et Thanks so much!

Tagged , , , , , , ,

America Is Running Out of Patience

How Much Longer Are We Going to Tolerate This?

By Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this in any browser, click here! 🙂

expect_resistance

I have always strongly believed that it’s not possible to be an effective Christian without taking a stand against social and economic injustice, and against government corruption in all its forms (such as lobbyists at the federal and state levels who give out bribe money like Halloween candy). In fact, I have been a proponent for radical change for a number of years now, and I have written and published 3 books on this very topic. Where shall I begin? In God-blessed America, the land of the free where everyone is an economic slave, our Founding Fathers’ sacred idea of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” has become but a cruel joke. Former president George W. Bush has notoriously (for both Christian and secular people) called our Constitution – our supreme law of the land – “that (uses God’s name in vain) piece of paper”. The federal government is currently spending at least $60 billion per month on military excursions in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and northern and western Africa – not including operating between 800 and 1,000 (depending on who you believe) foreign military bases all over the world. Our country’s over-used flying drone aircraft kills hundreds daily overseas, many of whom are only innocent bystanders.

 

Our political and court systems are openly rigged against the best interests of the American people, particularly those of color. A massive market mechanism is securely entrenched in our political system where political influence is openly bought and sold. Tens of thousands of highly-paid middlemen called “lobbyists” facilitate the legal transfer of billions between moneyed special interests and our so-called “representatives” in Congress. This very lucrative business of buying and selling political influence has become the driving engine of our government. Our so-called “representatives” in Congress vie for millions in legalized bribes in return for delivering billions of our tax dollars to moneyed special interests. It’s pure folly to think our current political system could possibly look out for the best interests of the American people.

 

Just ponder what our government has done, not for us but to us, in the last ten years alone. It’s utterly mind boggling! The installation of Donald Trump to the US presidency is only the latest insult. Not because it’s Trump, but because he promised to “drain the swamp”! Instead, Trump bought it and is now remaking it in his own best interest. The best interests of the American people have been sacrificed to moneyed special interests time and time again. Hopefully this time the American electorate has learned their lesson. The Wall Street bankers paid millions in bribes for a legal license to steal hundreds of billions of dollars from the American people. When greed got them in trouble, our so-called “representatives” gave them billions more of our money, American tax dollars, to bail them out in October of 2008. In the last ten years, our so-called “representatives” shared nearly a billion dollars in bribes from the “defense” industry alone. In return, they doubled our (2016) defense budget to $700 billion (equal to all other countries combined!) and lied us into unnecessary, endless, expanding wars that will ultimately cost us trillions.

This is aside from the extreme human costs of war with multiple consecutive deployments. For example, 1 in 5 returning veterans from US occupations overseas have permanent psychiatric disabilities so severe that they will never work again. Speaking as a minister and lifelong peace activist, I find this to be utterly reprehensible on the part of the US military! Be all you can be? Yeah, but it’s all for them and none for us except for some vague talk about ‘battlefield honor’. I’ve got some new information for all those people. There is no honor in killing other human beings, especially for religious or ideological reasons, and particularly for financial gain, which the US military is notorious for!

 

Our so-called “representatives” are slashing social spending for senior citizens and the poor just when far too many American people need it most. Yet they continue to spend hundreds of billions on weapons of mass destruction to protect us from our “enemies”. But most of our “enemies” are purposely created by our government’s blatantly unjust foreign policies (that openly support oppressive military regimes for the most rigid internal control possible), and by our violent military operations within their homelands. Without a perpetual supply of “enemies”, ‘defense industry’ profits would plummet, and Washington’s wealthy paymasters will never have any of that! If that weren’t enough, our so-called “representatives” have worked hard to keep America the number one weapons merchant on earth. Our so-called “representatives” continue to support the sale of billions in weapons to oppressive dictatorships around the world, which creates still more “enemies”, which creates more special interests profits, etc. So we can fight wars, but we can’t have a robust space program? We can fight wars, but we can’t update and upgrade America’s dilapidated power grid? We can fight wars, but America can’t replace its crumbling infrastructure? We can fight wars, but we can’t afford to make public colleges and universities free? America can’t forgive $1.3 trillion (as of the end of the 2017 school year) in student loan debt so those of the millennial generation can get on their feet and start families and buy cars and houses? We can fight wars, but middle and lower income families can’t afford school lunches for their kids? This is utter insanity!

 

Our current political system guarantees our so-called “representatives” will continue to pass and sustain legislation that transfers billions of our hard-earned tax dollars to moneyed special interests. That’s because members of Congress who oppose moneyed special interests are promptly punished, ostracized, or replaced (if their offense is great enough). President Kennedy paid the ultimate price for opposing the elitists, but he achieved martyrdom among the American people. Because of the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Rev. Dr. King, Jr., our current political system guarantees moneyed special interests and our “representatives” must participate in this influence-peddling scam against the American people. It’s mainly because they’re being coerced by the implied threat of assassination, but also because it’s so lucrative they’d be stupid not to.

Big corporations could be at a competitive disadvantage (and would likely resort to cheating their shareholders to replace lost profits) if they refused to buy political influence. Likewise, our so-called “representatives” would be at a competitive disadvantage getting elected or staying in office if they refused to broker political influence. Another “problem” as these elites as I see it is that, if corporate influence were to decline, it would open up windows of opportunity for start-up businesses and entrepreneurs, and there’s no way Wall Street will tolerate that. Anything that puts money into the hands of ordinary folks – such as owning a business no matter how small – is seen as a potential threat and gets treated as such. Just ask any of the American merchants who lost their businesses because they couldn’t compete with Wal Mart. I should know, I used to be one myself up until around the year 2000 or so.

 

The rigged national elections in 2016 were merely melodrama for the masses. Our ‘choices’ had all been chosen for us in advance by moneyed special interests pumping millions of dollars into the process. Besides, whoever “wins” will be forced to play by established political rules that guarantee moneyed special interests will always come ahead of the American people’s best interests. After all, the money special interests own the American electoral process outright, like a company owning an asset. For months before the elections, the complicit mainstream media, using colorful pundits who talk smart and know little, entertain us with political melodrama and often-intolerable rhetorical bull-crap. They arouse us by pitting one segment of the American people against another. They make millions bombarding us with empty, emotional, 15-to-30-second TV ads that are little more than name-calling or patriotic platitudes. Congressional elections have devolved into a herd of sheep fighting among themselves for their favorite wolves. Congressional elections merely determine which segment of the America people gets screwed the most by which moneyed special interests group.

 

Trying to reform our current political system using that same corrupt system is just an exercise in futility. It’s like trying to fix your broken arms using your broken arms. It’s like trying to start a car that is out of gas or has a dead battery. Our current political system is designed to be reform proof, although that’s not how it started out, as those who have read the US Constitution well know. The Constitution has well-established checks and balances to protect and maintain the country and the American people from tyranny from within and without. That’s why “campaign finance reform” and all other such efforts to “reform” our current political system from within are doomed to either fail outright or be so watered-down as to be nearly useless. All these outrageous government actions are exactly what we should expect from a government openly for sale to the highest bidder. “We the people” are just government-controlled fodder and political afterthoughts for the moneyed special interests. Moneyed special interests paid for these outrageous government actions, and they got what they paid for. How much longer are we going to tolerate this? We, the people, got screwed while corporate America and Wall St. received obscenely huge bonuses and golden parachutes! I have the solution to this problem, and it can be found in any English dictionary.

 

rev-o-lu-tion (Dictionary.com) 1. an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed.

 

Our country’s elections amount to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We can’t vote our government back to us. It was deliberately taken away from us, so we will deliberately take it back. A peaceful, people’s revolution is the preferable way we can take back our government. But, like a now-deceased colleague of mine used to say, “Use your first amendment rights and protest! If that doesn’t work, use your second amendment rights!” The trillion dollar business of buying and selling political influence (currently the driving engine of our government) must be overthrown, repudiated and thoroughly replaced if democracy is to survive in America. This massive influence-peddling scam must become our number one political issue because it underlies and thus greatly affects all other issues. If we don’t get all the dirty money out of our politics, our democracy and our standard of living will continue to decline and surely America will take the rest of the world down with us. That doesn’t sound like the kind of legacy I’d like to leave at all. The prophet David’s son, King Solomon of Jerusalem, wrote near the end of the Book of Proverbs something which still holds true over 3,000 years later, and I quote: “Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” proverbs 31: 8-9) And again it is written, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (Proverbs 14: 31)

 

We can’t afford to sit by like sheep or stand around like cattle meekly waiting to be slaughtered! We must find ways to hinder and harass the corporate state at every turn, and to control the violent tendencies of the police who protect them. Nothing will change unless we, the people, begin to organize radical acts of civil disobedience to disrupt our current political system, upping the ante until this massive influence-peddling scam is thoroughly exposed and eliminated (search: ‘overturn Citizens United’). For example, in Iceland in 2012 when the entire country went completely bust (you know, like the USA is about to) the people – not the government, but the PEOPLE!) – had arrested and jailed over 100 bankers after throwing the old government out of office – peacefully but evidently very effectively. The citizens stood in the streets and banged on pots and pans, and they didn’t stop until they got what they wanted. Nobody worked, and no children went to school for the first part of this national strike. Then they (the people, not the government!) wrote a new constitution and passed it into law. It was reported all over the European press but largely censored here in the US. Is it any wonder? If there were enough people inspired by what happened in Iceland, it could happen here next. Indeed, it well should! Well, what do the elite capitalists want? They can either allow what happened over there to happen here, in which case America will turn into another Greece, Spain, Ireland, Italy or Portugal. Or maybe even another Egypt, Yemen or Syria. Or they can declare martial law and simply seize absolute control. The only way to prevent this from occurring here in America is that “we the people” must take back our government by peaceful revolution because it will never be given back voluntarily. So get your pots and pans and your biggest serving spoon ready, and brush up on the US Constitution and all 27 of the amendments! Remember what President John F. Kennedy said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

One final thought. “Rich and poor have this in common: God is maker of them all.” (Proverbs 22: 2)

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

A Governing Lesson for the Trump Administration from God

Which Does the Bible Say Is Better? Helping the Rich Distribute to the Poor, or Helping the Poor Directly?

By Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this in your browser, click here! 🙂

we-the-corporations

The events of this past week inside the Beltway in Washington, DC have been a reminder to us all that the super-rich have taken over our country in a bloodless coup. The first step has been taken to repeal the national health insurance passed by the previous presidential administration known as “Obama-care”. In actuality, had both the presidential candidates in last year’s election endorsed Bernie Sanders’ idea of simply putting the whole country on Medicare, this entire discussion, not to mention this past week’s legislation of “Trump-care”, would be unnecessary. But sadly, that is not the case. So, what has occurred this week is that roughly 38 million people will lose their health care coverage while corporate America and the Wall Street billionaires get a $500,000,000.00 tax break.

President Trump, a man whose own qualifications to be president are becoming increasingly open to question, is the one who has spearheaded this entire series of events while conservative white Americans have been cheering at Trump’s every move. This, my dear readers, is what America has devolved into – an all-Caucasian oligarchy! Slavery may have been abolished in 1865, but starvation wages still prevail. If “Trump-care“ passes into law, the bottom 20% of wage earners in America will lose their health care coverage, but not so much for everyone else. This is the reason the “Occupy” Movement has remained so popular, except that it has evolved into Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, S.D. and the fight for a $15.00 per hour minimum wage, among other things. And why is it that the rich have taken over the whole country while the remaining 99% of us languish in poverty? I can sum it up in one word – debt! The rich have buried the remainder of us under a mountain of debt. Today’s American consumers are faced with being forced to borrow just to pay their bills. We have upside-down mortgages, upside-down car loans, never-ending student loans, usurious title pawn loans, payday loans and a whole host of other predatory practices that are fundamentally unfair.

So I got to wondering what the Bible has to say about this topic. After considerable thought, prayer, study and meditation God has shown me which Scriptures to use for today. So let’s go back in the Old Testament to the Book of Nehemiah chapter 5 (for you newer readers, Nehemiah is between Ezra and Esther). I will start at verse 1, but I’m going to break this passage up into a couple of parts so that I may do the best job I can at breaking this down for everyone. “Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. So were saying, ‘We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.’ Others are saying, ‘We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.’ Still others are saying, ‘We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and vineyards belong to others.’” (Nehemiah 5, verses 1-5)

The people during Nehemiah’s time were experiencing a severe food shortage, and whatever food was available was priced so far out of the reach of the working people and the farmers that they were having to mortgage everything just to feed their families. As you can see, government assistance during hard times was nonexistent during this time, and people were really suffering as a result. “Others are saying, ‘We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.’ Still others are saying, ‘We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards.” In today’s terms, credit cards, student loans and 30-year mortgages – combined with stagnant wages that are stuck at 1960’s levels – are the new famines and new insurmountable debts of the 21st century.

“….we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and vineyards belong to others.” Show me a people who have had their economic power taken away by debt, and I will show you a people who have lost their political clout as well. Plus, the slavery back then for the daughters and at least a few of the young men was sex slavery, of that you can be sure. God will never be pleased with us as long as this we allow this kind of bad behavior among humankind! It’s up to us to take charge of this situation and turn it around! What are we waiting for? And now let’s move on to the next few verses, starting at verse 6.

When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, ‘You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!’ So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said, ‘As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!’ They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say. So I continued, ‘What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them – the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil.’” (Nehemiah 5, verses 6-11)

Just like in verse 6, when I see people having to file bankruptcy because of unpaid medical bills, or becoming homeless because of that, or maybe a job loss, I too get angry. It is fundamentally unfair to be living on the streets, or in your cars if you are lucky enough to still own one at that point. But let’s put this into its historical context for a moment. The sentences, “As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!’ They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say….”, are referring to the then-recent release of the Israelites of old from the Babylonian Empire, where they had been held captive for the previous 70 years by King Artaxerxes before being released so they could rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem. All this was done at Nehemiah’s request, which he formally made to the king, not unlike a modern-day petition to the government. The request was granted (see chapter 1 of Nehemiah), the Israelites – who had just spent the previous 70 years in Babylonian captivity – went back to what was left of Jerusalem to rebuild the temple there. So this entire conversation is actually taking place long after everyone has returned, but before the first crop has matured enough to be harvested. Nehemiah is giving those in charge of the rebuilding a stern lecture on fairness.

What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them.” I could modernize those first 2 verses by writing, “You’re charging too much interest, and it financially cripples the entire population! This is grossly immoral! And so now, in the interest of fairness and ethics, you must give back all the properties, cars and trucks you have forcibly taken even though the debtors were making serious efforts to make good on those debts. This is a ‘cease and desist’ order to stop this unethical practice immediately!” This also includes credit cards, which people often must use to pay for groceries, clothing, medical bills and utility bills. People should not have to pay interest just to be able to feed their children and pay their power and phone bills! And now let me conclude today’s message, beginning at verse 12.

‘We will give it back’, they said. ‘And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.’ Then I summoned the priests and and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, ‘In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!’ At this the whole assembly said, ‘Amen!’, and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.” (Nehemiah 5, verses 12-13).

This is exactly what the Big Five banks and Wall St. investors need to do, and the same goes for the IRS. Let go of the strangle hold, Washington and Wall Street, that you currently have the American people locked into! Not just a head-lock, mind you, but a stranglehold! That’s felony assault and battery the last time I checked. If any of us were to do any such thing to an individual, we’d be in jail for assault. If any of us were to do that to a business or other financial institution, we’d be charged with extortion. But if the government does that to any of us, then it’s called “taxation”. The warning from God is clear here. The governmental and financial systems must start treating the population – and each other – fairly, or we will find ourselves judged and will be found wanting in the presence of God. Trust me, you don’t want to go there, that’s for sure! So the lesson for today is only this: Stop mistreating each other for profit! And governments, starting with America’s, enact better laws to protect working people so that the problem of economic inequality can be permanently solved. If none of these things are done, and if things are allowed to continue on for much longer, the whole country is going to turn into a powder keg. Then again, maybe that’s the only choice the American people have left if we’re going to be able to take back our country.

Save

Tagged , , , , ,

You Want Change? Then It’s On You to Be That Change Which You Seek

Instead of Complaining About the Status Quo,

Become the Change You Desire and Live It

By Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this in your browser, click here! 🙂

We all need to look for ways to improve our lives and change our world for the better. We’re all here for a purpose. It’s why God put us all here. It’s nice to make and keep new year’s resolutions, put a troublesome person out of your life and break other old habits, but many more people are waking up to the fact that it’s smarter to improve our surroundings and make the kind of contributions that leave legacies than it is to merely break a bad habit. Breaking bad habits is good, but helping to build a better world is far better. To begin with, we can’t create a better world if we haven’t yet imagined it. How much better then, if we are able to touch such a world and experience it directly, can we enact in the here and now the world we actually want to live in. These kinds of organized grassroots efforts come in all shapes and sizes. At the bottom end of the scale we see Utopian flavored mass movements like “the 99%”, Black Lives Matter, the fight for a living wage, and Occupy Wall Street movements with their stands against inequality, and for free libraries, ethic of social and economic justice, and experiments in direct democracy. At the other extreme we see the ongoing civil war in Syria (and its predecessor, the Arab Spring of 2011) which continues to this day.

 

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality,” Buckminster Fuller once advised.“ To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” A brilliant insight, but he was only half right, because the best direct actions – and social movements – actually do both. Consider the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s. They were not only brave acts of resistance against the racism of the Jim Crow South, but they also beautifully and dramatically prefigured the kind of world the civil rights movement was trying to bring into being: blacks and whites sitting together as equals in public spaces. The young students didn’t ask anyone’s permission; they didn’t wait for society to evolve or for bad laws to change. In the best spirit of direct action, they walked in there and simply changed the world. At least for a few moments, in one place, they were living in an integrated South. They painted a picture of how the world could be, and the vicious response from white bystanders and police only proved how important it was to make it so.

 

Many people at the forefront of the nonviolent civil rights movement were moved to action by their Spiritual commitments. Be it the “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” of the Four Gospels, or Gandhi’s call to “Be the change you want to see in the world,” the ethical traditions of many religions have powerful roots in dogma that is largely the teachings of men. It is only when people of faith, such as followers of Jesus Christ like myself, try to live out their deep principles and actually walk their talk in the Spirit that they they tend to come up against the power of tradition. Jesus himself (who promised that anyone who followed his teaching would always be in trouble) was one of history’s more brilliant invaders of the human conscience. He didn’t merely argue that true greatness comes from humbly serving others, he illustrated it by washing his disciples’ dirty feet just before the Last Supper. By socializing with outcasts and the poor, visiting lepers, and always raising up “the least of these,” Jesus didn’t simply prophesy a future filled with a beloved community of believers, He made it manifest. And if Jesus did it, so should we!

 

With the dominance of market capitalism and its apologists proclaiming an “end of ideology” (whatever that is), provocations that stretch our political imaginations are more vital than ever. I would go a step further, arguing that we need to bring back Utopian thinking. Utopian thinking is necessary, because it provides a compass point to determine what direction to move toward and a measuring stick to determine how far one has come. However, in an era of media saturation and distrust, this is increasingly hard to do via criticism alone. Using dystopian visions to sound the alarm – a more and more popular strategy – is just another form of criticism that leaves the status quo standing. What is needed instead are direct interventions that both embody and point toward Utopian possibilities. Contemporary social movements, it turns out, are chock full of them.

 

Of course, we all know that this has about as much chance of occurring as the WTO has of abolishing itself, that GE is actually going to give back the taxes it dodged, or that DuPont is finally going to do the right thing and compensate the 100,000 victims of the Bhopal chemical spill for decades of suffering. Could we possibly ever live in such a world? “Yeah”, people are saying, “why don’t we live in such a world?” And we’re more motivated to go out there to make it happen!

 

In 2006 members from a coalition of environmental groups posed as a government agency – the Oil Enforcement Agency – that should have existed, but didn’t. Complete with SWAT-team-like caps and badges, agents ticketed SUVs, impounded fuel-inefficient vehicles at auto shows, and generally modeled a future in which government takes climate change seriously. Clever protest campaigns can bring little shards of utopia not just into the streets but also into our elections and even legislatures. When Jello Biafra ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1979, one of the planks in his platform called for beat cops to be voted on by the neighborhoods they patrolled. Once out in the open, this and other seemingly radical ideas were revealed as the reasonable proposals they were, and thousands of San Franciscans voted for Jello.

 

Even legislation can be Utopian. A legislative bill called, “What Would Finland Do?” aims to introduce a bill in the New York legislature to prorate traffic fines according to the net wealth of the driver. It wouldn’t pass, but a lot of New Yorkers might think: “Why not?” and the long fight for greater economic equality might inch a tiny bit forward. (Finland, by the way, has such a law, and in 2004 the 27-year-old heir to a sausage fortune was fined $204,000 for driving 50 miles per hour in a 25 mph zone.) Whether religious or artistic, a playful thought experiment, or a serious attempt to be true to one’s values in the face of state violence, Utopian engagement allows us to experience for ourselves (and demonstrate to others), that another world is necessary, possible, and maybe even beautiful.

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

It’s Been 50 Years, and Things Are Worse Than Ever

After Vietnam” 50 Years Later

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this in any browser, click here! 🙂

MLK1

The fiftieth anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s much-beloved (right wing extremists excluded) speech, “After Vietnam” occurred this past week. To commemorate this famous speech I will be posting this slightly condensed version today, particularly in view of the fact that it is at least as relevant today as it was back then.

MLK’s “After Vietnam” Speech at Riverside Church, Harlem, N.Y. (1967)

I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here tonight, and how very delighted I am to see you expressing your concern about the issues that will be discussed tonight by turning out in such large numbers…. And of course, it’s always good to come back to Riverside church. Over the last eight years, I have had the privilege of preaching here almost every year in that period, and it is always a rich and rewarding experience to come to this great church and this great pulpit. I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I’m in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” And that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on. And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burning of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?” “Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people,” they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

In the light of such tragic misunderstanding, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church – the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate – leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight. I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia. Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they must play in the successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.

Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans. Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor – both black and white – through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.

So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such. Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. And so we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years – especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask – and rightly so – what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent. For those who ask the question, “Aren’t you a civil rights leader?” and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of America.” We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself until the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear….

Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: ‘Vietnam’. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be – are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land…. This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men – for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

And finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place, I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of son-ship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them. This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers. And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam. Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of their reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization. After the French were defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva Agreement. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators, our chosen man, Premier Diem. The peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly rooted out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords, and refused even to discuss reunification with the North. The peasants watched as all this was presided over by United States’ influence and then by increasing numbers of United States troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem’s methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictators seemed to offer no real change, especially in terms of their need for land and peace…..

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor. Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak of the – for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours. This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote:

Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism (unquote).

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy, and deadly game we have decided to play. The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do immediately to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:

[1] End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.


[2] Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.


[3] Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.


[4] Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and any future Vietnam government.


[5] Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement.

Part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country, if necessary. Meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible. As we counsel young men concerning military service, we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection…. Moreover, I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

Now there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. And so, such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years, we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisers in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing – embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response…. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate – ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another, for love is God. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.” “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight. Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message – of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history. And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Tagged , , , , , ,

Free book excerpt #3 from the latest release from Pastor Paul J. Bern

legalization-cover-1

 

“Cannabis Legalization and the Bible: Compatible or Not?” by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Many cops favor legalization A Spring 2014 issue of Law Officer magazine provided a poll of its own showing an even more surprising finding: a majority of law enforcement officers also support marijuana policy reform. There is broad support for change among the readership of the publication as well, 97% of whom indicated they are or had been in law enforcement. Some of the most surprising results include 66% saying marijuana possession should be legalized, decriminalized, legalized for medical reasons or illegal but only punished with fines, with the largest plurality (37%) supporting legalization. Even more surprising, almost 27% supported legalizing “the sale of marijuana in large quantities” with 36% calling for some form of change from the current model. While support for decriminalizing possession of other drugs was significantly lower, 14% of this population (generally thought to be the most opposed to reform) supported changes in policy. Before president Nixon declared the war on drugs in the early 1970s, policing was a different creature altogether. Police were the “good guys” going after the “bad guys” – the rapists, the murderers, the child molesters – most people could agree society was better without. Since that time, the very nature of policing has changed. Today enforcing drug laws not only occupies a huge portion of police time, it forms much of the identity of the profession and of individual officers who dedicate their lives to serving the public. That’s why, to me, the finding that more officers support the legalization of marijuana possession than support the status quo is remarkable.

But in other ways, this finding is unsurprising. I have always believed that those in the trenches were those most privy to the injustice and the lack of logic to the war on drugs, and therefore the most dedicated to righting this wrong. Who better to question its results? That so many officers were brave enough to challenge the prohibition of marijuana – one of the pillars upon which their professional identity is founded – is an act of honor for the love of their profession. Although I commend Law Officer magazine for conducting this study, I find that the questions they didn’t ask are the ones most relevant to police officer and citizen alike: Will the legalization of marijuana and other drugs lead to a reduction in the power of street gangs and cartels that terrorize our citizens? Will it allow police officers to focus greater attention on violent crimes and restore good relations with the communities in which they operate? Ultimately, will it lead to less violence? I hope and believe that most officers brave enough to be honest with themselves about the answers can only answer in the affirmative to these questions. Cops on the street are the ones who see – every day – that the prohibition of drugs, just like the prohibition of alcohol from 90 years ago, is what provides the tremendous profits to the criminal organizations that provide the drugs on our streets. Picking up the petty drug dealer on the corner – the kinds of arrests that federal grants and asset forfeiture laws incentivize – does nothing to affect the long-term supply of drugs and only causes more violence as rival gangs battle to fill power vacuums. Moreover, all of this has caused society generally and our communities of color specifically to look upon the police as people to be feared rather than as public servants advancing public safety, and that that distrust, far from being merely an abstract concept, makes police officers jobs infinitely more difficult as community members shy away from cooperating in investigations.

Top 10 Reasons to Legalize Marijuana Now

10.) Hemp benefits are tremendous! Hemp can be made into paper, paneling, plastics, clothing and thousands of other useful products. The highly nutritious seeds can be used to make flour, cooking oil and cattle feed. This environmentally friendly plant grows without herbicides, nourishes the soil, matures quickly and provides high yields. It’s the number one biomass producer in the world – ten tons per acre in four months. It could be an excellent fuel-producing crop. Hemp, “nature’s perfect plant,” could bring a bonanza to hurting American farmers while greatly reducing America’s dependence on fossil fuels, which could significantly mitigate climate change.

9.) Prohibition diverts billions from the needy. More than 50 government agencies feed at the drug war trough. Food stamps and other social programs are being slashed while billions are spent trying to stop adults from using marijuana.

8.) Prohibition is clearly counterproductive. Guaranteeing massive profits to anyone on earth who can produce and deliver marijuana to our streets cannot do anything but assure that even more will be produced and delivered.

7.) Criminalizing marijuana lacks moral justification. A real crime implies a victim and a perpetrator. Can you imagine being jailed for robbing yourself? As insane as this sounds, our government has done the equivalent by making adult use of marijuana a crime. Only a depraved, corrupt government could invent a crime you commit against yourself.

6.) Marijuana users are not debased human beings. Cultures throughout history – and prehistory! – have altered their minds with a variety of drugs. Billions around the world derive positive benefits from mind-altering drugs (especially from alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and marijuana). Demonizing and criminalizing some drugs, while approving others without rational criteria, is clearly arbitrary and deceitful. Why are marijuana users criminals while alcohol and tobacco users are not? Why are marijuana dealers demonized, but alcohol and tobacco dealers are not?

5.) Marijuana is effective medicine. There’s overwhelming evidence that marijuana can safely relieve pain, nausea and vomiting caused by various illnesses. In fact, marijuana is patently safer than many commonly prescribed drugs.

4.) Promising medical research is thwarted. The discovery of naturally occurring marijuana-like substances in the human body that activate so-called cannabinoid receptors has opened up vast possibilities for new medicines derived from the 66 or so cannabinoids identified in marijuana. These receptors are not just in the brain, but also found in many other parts of the body including the immune, endocrine and reproductive systems.

3.) Billions in potential taxes go to drug cartels. Our cash-strapped states are being cheated out of billions that could be obtained by taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol.

2.) Thousands of prohibition murders occur each year. Mexico is the world’s largest exporter of marijuana (most goes to the United States). There were at least 24,000 prohibition-related murders in Mexico since 2006. Thousands more died here, also a direct result of marijuana prohibition.

1.) Prohibition denies our most basic human right. Prohibition takes away our right of sovereignty over our own bodies and gives this power to government. Does any other human right make sense if we don’t have sovereignty over our own bodies? There’s a word for people who don’t have sovereignty over their own bodies: slaves.

Learn more at http://www.pcmatl.org/#!books-and-donations/c17et

Tagged , , , , , ,

Free excerpt #2 from my recent book release “Cannabis Legalization and the Bible: Compatible or Not?” by Rev. Paul J. Bern

legalization-cover-1

 

“OK, so now let me go deeper. Approximately 100,000 Americans die accidentally each year from legally obtained prescription drugs — that’s 270 per day or more than twice as many as there are killed in car accidents each day. This shows you how dangerous prescription medications truly are. To make matters worse, we are the only developed country that doesn’t control prescription drug prices, meaning that the drug companies can charge whatever they want to – even for drugs that don’t work very well. The pharmaceutical industry’s unlimited hikes in their prices have helped make health insurance unaffordable for most Americans. This is also why wages of American workers have stagnated. When health premiums rise, employers must get the extra money from somewhere, and employee raises are one of the first things to go. Get the price of prescription drugs under control, and this problem goes away on its own.

But what if some of that money that we are spending on apparently dangerous but legal prescription drugs was redirected towards medical marijuana? Has modern medicine been able to document the positive effects of cannabis medication? Research into possible medical uses of cannabis is enjoying a renaissance. In recent years, studies have shown potential for treating nausea, vomiting, premenstrual syndrome, insomnia, migraines, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, alcohol abuse, collagen-induced arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, bipolar disorder, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, sickle-cell anemia, sleep apnea, Alzheimer’s disease, glaucoma and anorexia nervosa. It is also documented to be very effective for patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. I sometimes use medical marijuana because it helps me manage bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and a permanent back injury. I can personally testify that, when used responsibly, medical cannabis can be surprisingly effective, and with zero side effects.

Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs in a groundbreaking law passed in 2000. Just last year, Uruguay in South America did the same. Now, the United States, which has waged a 40+ year, $1 trillion war on drugs, is looking for answers in both countries, which is reaping the benefits of what once looked like a dangerous gamble. White House drug czar at the time Gil Kerlikowske visited Portugal in September 2010 to learn about its drug reforms, and other countries — including Norway, Denmark, Australia and Peru — have taken interest, too. The disasters that were predicted by critics didn’t happen. The answer can be summed up in two little words – provide treatment! Here’s what happened in Portugal between 2000 and 2010 as a result of decriminalization of formerly illegal drugs:

• There were small increases in illicit drug use among adults, but decreases for adolescents and problem users, such as drug addicts and prisoners.

• Drug-related court cases dropped 66 percent.

• Drug-related HIV cases dropped 75 percent. In 2002, 49 percent of people with AIDS were addicts; by 2010 that number fell to 27 percent.

• The number of regular users held steady at less than 3 percent of the population for marijuana and less than 0.3 percent for heroin and cocaine — figures which show decriminalization brought no surge in drug use.

• The number of people treated for drug addiction rose 20 percent from 2001 to 2008.

Officials have not yet worked out the cost of the program, but they expect no increase in spending, since most of the money was diverted from the justice system to the public health service. The U.S. is spending $74 billion this year on criminal and court proceedings for drug offenders, compared with $3.6 billion for treatment. The result of the prohibition of alcohol sales and consumption during the 1920’s was the gangster era of Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde and scores of other lesser-known hoodlums and gangs that profited from the violent underground economy that Prohibition created. Today we have an identical situation since the drug trade is mostly in the hands of gangsters and thugs, with the criminals killing innocent bystanders and each other in fights over turf and cash flow. The fact that more people are being locked up while crime has decreased and our prisons are already bursting at the seams, particularly in minority communities, constitutes a 21st century civil rights issue of the highest order. It is time for the US government and law enforcement to ‘stand down red alert’ in the war on drugs. It’s time to end this madness and this stupidity.”

Written by a nondenominational minister, this book uses the Bible to provide a simple explanation for why marijuana criminalization is a sin against God. Order now on Kindle ($6.95) at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00J1X7802 or buy the softback direct ($14.95, tax deductible) at http://www.pcmatl.org/#!books-and-donations/c17et

One third of all proceeds will be donated to Progressive Christian Ministries of Greater Atlanta, Inc. to be used for our “Feed and Educate” program for the homeless, and for operating expenses associated with this ministry.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Of Refugees, Presidents and Scriptures

Immigration Issues, Progressive Christianity And The Golden Rule

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

chicago_nato_summit_protest

After watching or hearing about all the back-and-forth from the Oval Office about president Trump’s 90-day immigration ban and subsequent court order temporarily suspending it this past week, I would first like to say that I have had a belly full of those who are ranting and raving about the flood of Muslim refugees who are entering Europe and America. I don’t talk, dress or worship as Muslims do either, but that does not give me license to hate them universally! In the first place, since I’m a Web minister and Christ follower it is impossible for me to hate, but I do not hesitate to voice strong disapproval of those who do. Those persons whose battle cry is, “GTHO” have forgotten – or chosen to ignore – that the United States is an entire nation of immigrants. Our country is a great melting pot for people of all nations, races, nationalities and faiths. It’s not like we’re being invaded by an army, although there are unquestionably some undesirable elements that must be rooted out. But we have law enforcement and intelligence agencies that take care of all that (plus a whole lot of vigilance on our part). So it’s time to get over our fear. What we actually have is a humanitarian crisis of colossal proportions. If a family dressed in Muslim attire came to your door asking for food, would you give it to them? Let’s not forget what it says on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”. Let’s also not forget what has been taught by Jesus Christ, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. The entire concept of unconditional love and acceptance while living in peace and harmony escapes those who are hateful, bigoted, prejudiced and intolerant, but children understand it completely – just ask one. Better yet, go and ask one of the so-called “illegal” children and teens crossing America’s borders. They come in search of peace and harmony because they have all escaped from the war zones down in southern Mexico and Central America.

The Bible has something to say about this, if only we will take a minute to look it up. “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt”. (Exodus 22: 21) This verse of scripture dates back to when Moses was at Mt. Sinai, well over 3,000 years ago, and its meaning remains unchanged over the centuries. And the apostle Paul wrote, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call upon his name, for ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’.” (Romans 10: 12-13) It looks to me like if there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, then by extension the same goes for Arabs and Americans or Arabs and Europeans. Granted, there have been terror attacks that have taken lives, a lot of lives, and these attacks demand a response that is even harder and meaner than the attacker(s). I’m all in favor of that, and if I were a younger man I might consider arming myself against the Islamic terrorists here on the home front and joining the fight. But we as Christians – and this goes for the nonreligious too, so all you secular readers please stay with me – can use the influx of Muslim refugees as an opportunity to sow the seeds of generational peace.

The majority of the Muslim refugees have a negative view of our country. The US military has bombed half of the Middle East back to the stone age, and they have enraged a multitude of people because of that. Well then, instead of killing them with our bullets and bombs, why not try killing them with kindness? We need to let these people know that there are many Americans who vehemently disagree with the New World Order and the Pentagon’s global militarism. Let’s be sure and remember what Jesus said about this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….” (Matt. 5: 44). This commandment from Christ, in and of itself, is one that is completely contrary to what is considered “normal” human though processes. Only he, the Son of God, could consistently do this repeatedly throughout his life. No one can duplicate this on a consistent basis – absolutely nobody! That is, in large part, the entire point of Jesus’ ministry, and it’s why he sacrificed himself for each of us.

But the most famous and timely quote from Christ regarding this entire issue can be summed up in one short paragraph. “The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothed you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’.” (Matt. 25, verses 34-40) The righteous who did all these things during their physical lives will reap an eternal reward, but those who thought only of themselves will receive eternal condemnation.

We all know, or at least have heard of, the story of the Good Samaritan as told to us by Jesus Christ. I won’t quote the entire parable verbatim because my posting today is about how it applies to the subject of so-called “illegal immigration”. If I put the story into modern terms I can cite two different examples, one of how this could work out and the other as it actually did. A certain traveler from a foreign country was making their way through the US seeking to find suitable work and re-establish themselves in their newly adopted country. While on their journey, this hapless foreign national gets jacked up, beat up, and left semi-conscious and bleeding on the side of the road. A short while later a religious leader and church pastor who are passing by see the beaten and now-penniless victim, pause for a moment and say a quick prayer, and continue on their way. A few minutes after that, a well-paid IRS agent passes by the man and doesn’t even bother to stop and help even though he/she could have easily afforded to do so. An hour or two later, after this crime victim has been lying bleeding, severely injured and baking in the hot sun, a homeless man happens upon this person. This street person from the impoverished inner city (fill in the blank with the city of your choice) cleans up the victim’s wounds as best as he can, dials 911 on his/her prepaid flip phone, summons medical assistance to that location, and waits for the ambulance to arrive while protecting this luckless individual from further injury and harm. Once the ambulance has picked the injured person up and taken them to the nearest ER, the homeless person who helped the injured traveler goes on their way, enjoying a quiet satisfaction within themselves at the good deed they have done. But they say nothing to anyone about it, not wanting accolades or applause from anyone, but only to do good and to be merciful towards all God’s children. “Blessed are the merciful”, Jesus said, “for they will be shown mercy”. When the Last Trumpet sounds, guess who will be allowed in first?

We are, after all, a Christian nation, are we not? I know former president Obama said we weren’t, but I have never agreed with that. If we’re going to be a Christian or even a humanitarian nation, then I think it’s high time we started acting as if it were true! Didn’t Jesus heal the sick? Then we should be doing likewise, and the same goes for helping the less fortunate whenever and wherever we can. Anyone who disagrees with me on this point has forgotten their Christian heritage, lost touch with their humanity, or both. When I was a kid, I was taught that kindness wasn’t a choice, it was a command. It wasn’t something you considered doing; it was an automatic reaction that came straight from the heart. We just did it because that’s what Jesus would have us do. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. This includes all immigrants, whether they are here legally or not!

Let me be absolutely clear about what I regard as the crux of the immigration issue. Immigrants, whether they are here legally or not, are not invaders from another country. They are economic and war refugees! I will use Mexico as an illustration. As you may know, the southern part of Mexico is a war zone between the drug cartels. But it’s worse than that. The average blue-collar worker in Mexico has a take-home pay in Pesos that is equal to about $50.00 a month in US dollars. When any given migrant worker comes to the US and takes a job at the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, that works out to a net pay after taxes of about $740.00 per month for a single person, more than a fifteen-fold increase over what they used to make. Now, let us ask ourselves this basic question: if we were offered a job in our profession in Canada, for example, at fifteen times our current pay rate, any one of us would naturally be eager for the chance, is that not correct? Of course you would! Now you know why so many economic refugees from the third world are coming here, and it’s not just from Mexico. They seek economic opportunity just like anyone else would, and it is a level of opportunity available in few places elsewhere. So if the American people want our government to do something about the influx of economic refugees from Mexico and Central America, we as a united people need to tell our leaders to change the economic conditions that is causing our borders (yes, it’s both – the Canadian border is just as porous as it is down south) to be overrun in the first place! How do we do that? One way would be a global minimum wage. Another would be direct economic aid to those affected countries by the federal government.

So why does this issue upset so many people? America is and always has been a nation of immigrants. There has never been a time in American history when this was not so. Every time we welcome one more immigrant into America, we take on the role of the Good Samaritan all over again. And that is a role we should all continue to emulate everywhere we go. Because at the end of the day, if we fail to do these things, we are discriminating. Discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion is banned in the Constitution as well as the laws of our land (see the 14th amendment section 1, our nation’s civil rights legislation of the 1960’s and 70’s, et. al.). The apostle James also had something to say about this when he wrote: “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against their brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?”. (James 4, verses 11-12) Why does this still apply today? Because the world has shrunk to a tiny fraction of its seemingly enormous size back then. Our neighbors are not just down the street or in our town any more. The Internet has connected everyone who wants to be connected, and more new people continue to log on each day. Meaning, everybody is now our neighbor, even if they’re on the other side of the world. Isn’t it time we started acting like it?

Tagged , , , , , ,

Free excerpt from my recent book release

legalization-cover-1

Free excerpt from my recent book release, “Cannabis Legalization and the Bible: Compatible or Not?” by Rev. Paul J Bern
 
[1] Facts About the Drug War The $320 billion annual global drug industry now accounts for over 2 percent of all commerce on the planet. A full 12 percent of Mexico’s economy is built on drug proceeds. For every drug dealer you put in jail or kill, a line forms to replace him/her because the money is just that good. Today it is clearer than ever that cannabis prohibition not only does not work when it comes to drug law enforcement, it actually exacerbates the drug “problem” overall. The February 12, 1996 issue of the National Review had the headline in bold letters, “THE WAR ON DRUGS IS LOST”. Of course that was 20 years ago. Never mind about all those illegal drugs for now. Let’s start with one drug that has repeatedly demonstrated healing properties, and I’m talking about cannabis. That’s right – medical marijuana. Consider a few facts about America’s ‘weed war’:
 
[2] It diverts hundreds of thousands of police agents from serious crimes to the pursuit of harmless smokers, including agents from the local and state police, FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, and U.S. Marshals, Secret Service, Border Patrol, Customs, and Postal Service.
 
[3] By even the most conservative estimate, the outlay from US taxpayers now tops $10 billion a year in direct spending just to catch, prosecute, and incarcerate marijuana users and sellers, not counting other illegal drugs and such indirect costs as militarizing our border with Mexico in a hopeless and pathetic effort to stop marijuana imports.
 
[4] Police agents at all levels trample our Bill of Rights in their eagerness to nab pot consumers by conducting illegal car searches, phone and email taps, garbage scrounging, stop-and-frisks out in public without just cause just because they can, and door-busting night raids, many of which are not accompanied by Constitutionally required search warrants.
 
[5] Even people who are merely suspected of marijuana violations and have had no charges filed against them can (and regularly do) have their cars, money, computers, and other property confiscated by police. In a reversal of America’s fundamental legal principles, it is up to these suspects to prove that their property is “innocent” of any crime.
 
[6] People convicted of possessing even one ounce of marijuana can face mandatory minimum sentences of a year in jail, and having even one plant in your yard is a federal felony.
 
[7] At least 490,000 Americans are in federal or state prisons as I write this. All are being held on marijuana charges, not counting people in city and county jails, in which there are even more than the prison systems.
 
[8] 89% of all marijuana arrests are for simple possession of the weed, not for producing or selling it. In short, marijuana prohibition is not, and will not, reduce demand. So then, it’s time to regulate the supply. It is time to remove the production and distribution of marijuana out of the hands of violent criminals and into the hands of licensed businesses, and the only practical way to do that is through legalization, regulation and taxation.
 
This book shoots the “War On Drugs” right out of the sky while proving conclusively that the ‘drug war’ is actually an all-out war on the American people. Our time to rise up has come!! Only $14.95; buy direct at http://www.pcmatl.org/#!books-and-donations/c17et (tax deductible)
Tagged , , , ,

More Injustice: Left In the Dust by Those Entrusted to Lead

Our Political, Business and Religious Leaders Are

Ignoring Their Taxpayers, Workers and Membership

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this on the Web, click here! 🙂

Sooner or later, it happens to each of us. There always will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot fix, control, explain, change or even understand. Maybe you’ve been laid off from a job you’ve held for years. Perhaps you’ve experienced a nasty divorce (been there, done that). Or maybe the crisis is more subtle: One suddenly realizes they’ll never have the life they dreamed of living. Any life-changing moment can knock a person down. But it can also open doors if one learns how to “fall upward.”

Older Americans like myself face a two-sided problem: many religious leaders are paying more attention to the collection plate than to us, and the government has been trampling its constituency underfoot for decades while pandering to Wall Street and corporate America. President Trump has already started renegotiating trade agreements, but in many states like Georgia where I live, the minimum wage is still stuck at $7.25 hourly. Much of contemporary religion is geared toward teaching people how to navigate the first half of their lives, when they’re building careers and families, a kind of “goal-oriented” spirituality. Yet there’s less help for people dealing with the challenges of aging: age discrimination in the workplace (which is rampant), the loss of health, the death of friends, and coming to terms with mistakes that cannot be undone.

God can function as a spiritual survival guide for hard times as millions of Americans young and old struggle to cope with “falling”: losing their homes, careers and status. The phrase “falling upward” describes a paradox. Nearly everybody will fall in life because they’ll be confronted with some type of catastrophic loss or abject failure. Yet failure can lead to growth if a person makes the right decisions. I’ve met people who, because of the loss of things and security, have been able to find grace, freedom and new horizons. They have learned to make the best of what can often be a bad situation.

If you’re falling in any area of your life, one of the first skills to learn is accepting surprises. It’s easy for people to turn bitter when things don’t go as planned. God sees such people all the time, whether throwing tantrums at the airport because of long lines or flocking to angry rallies in opposition to some form of social change. If one doesn’t know how to deal with exceptions, surprise and spontaneity by the time they’re my age, one become a predictable series of responses of paranoia, blame and defensiveness. These circumstances often teach similar lessons about hard times:

[1] Suffering is necessary,

[2] the “false self” must be abandoned, and –

[3] everything belongs, even the sad, absurd and futile parts.

People have learned these hard lessons for centuries, sometimes through myth, but most of the time by trial and error. They must first experience humiliation, loss and suffering before finding enlightenment. They are often forced on their journey by a crisis.

Events like the evaporation of a retirement fund or the death of a spouse can force us to summon strength we didn’t know we had. Forced liquidations of businesses that were once thriving enterprises is another example that comes to mind. The key is not resisting the crisis. We must learn to allow the circumstances of God and life to break us out of our egocentric responses to everything. If we allow ‘the others’ – other people, other events, other religions or cultures – to influence us, we just keep growing. That growth, though, is accompanied by death – the death of the “false self”. The false self is the part of our selves tied to our achievements and possessions. When our false self dies, we start learning how to base our happiness on more eternal sources. We start drawing from our walk with Christ. We learn to distinguish from the essential self and the self that’s only window dressing.

Those who break through the crisis and lose their false selves become different people: Less judgmental, more generous and better able to ignore the evil, selfish or stupid deeds of others. It may sound esoteric, but many of us have met older people like this. They possess what I call “a muted enlightenment” – they’ve suffered but they still smile and give. I’ve seen that in the wonderful older people in my life. There’s a kind of gravitas they have. There’s an easy smile on their faces. These are the people who laugh, who heal, who build bridges, who don’t turn bitter. This “muted enlightenment” shouldn’t be confined to older people. I’ve met 11-year-old children in cancer wards who are in the second half of life, and I have met 61-year-old men like me who are still in the first half of life.

I challenge the popular notion that success is a natural result of being religious. Our culture is prone to imagine that growth takes place in a sort of constant, upward movement. Even our religious culture tends to focus on success and stability as ideals for religious growth, while overlooking the grace of failure, from which far more growth originates. With Progressive Christianity tradition, loss, collapse and failure have always been seen as not only unavoidable, but even necessary on the path to wisdom, freedom and personal maturity. I know older people like myself, all of whom have vast work experience, who struggled to rebuild their identities after they poured much of their earlier lives’ energies into professional and personal success. That is what happened to me after 2008, when I found myself forced out of the technology profession after an 18-month absence due to several health issues.

Our culture tends to be youth-oriented, and a lot of spirituality is youth oriented. But our elders are the embodiment of the wisdom that life matters at a much deeper level than what we can achieve and produce. Imperfect people are sometimes more equipped than perfect people to help those who are struggling. The person who never makes a mistake and always manages to obey the rules is often a person devoid of compassion. He or she sees people for whom the wheels have fallen off and they wonder ‘what’s wrong with them’. But the person who feels that he or she has ruined their life often has more capacity for humility and compassion. I’m embarrassed as I’m getting older about how much of my energy and vitality as a younger man was driven by my ego and a win-lose mentality.

As I’ve gotten older I find myself driven by something altogether different: The need for rest, and a need for more time for contemplation. As a teacher once told me, “The first half of life, you write the text. The second half of your life is when you write the commentary. You have to process what it all meant.” I will be challenged to follow his and my own advice, and I encourage all of you to do the same. I will spend less energy on my “false self” as my old self dissolves. It will be a relief to me when the process is over. I am ready, though, to fall upward. If I lose my position as a web minister, author and respected church member, I would still feel secure. Most of us don’t learn this until it is taken away, like losing the security of your 401K as your entire career evaporates before your eyes. Then the learning either starts or you circle the wagons.

Tagged , , , , , ,