Category Archives: the holidays

Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?

Does Anybody Really Know What Time This Is?

Does Anybody Really Care?

By Web pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this on my website, click here 🙂

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This week’s commentary is titled the same as that 1970 song by “Chicago”. The holiday season is what time it is. Question is, does anybody really care about the original reason we celebrate Christmas? Thanksgiving is long gone, Christmas is this coming week, and it will be 2018 before you know it. Some will say to themselves, “I’m so glad it’s the holidays, I love this time of year”, and really mean it. Others will say the same thing but inwardly they are always relieved when it’s all over and done with. And then there are still others who struggle to get through the holidays, those for whom this is a stressful time. Is it any wonder people get stressed about this time of year? All the frenzied shopping and materialistic acquisition of the latest gadgets, the most up-to-date technologies, the loveliest jewelry, the finest watches and accessories for men and women, and all the new clothes, are soon followed by all the returns, swaps and refunds, and let’s not forget the miserable traffic jams while we’re at it. Let’s remind ourselves one more time – why are we doing this? Because it’s the holidays, and everybody loves the holidays because everybody loves to shop! Right? I mean, we all do think and act like everyone else as we’re supposed to, right? Or is that anywhere near being a correct statement?

The ugly truth is that we have been programmed to behave this way. For generations we have been bombarded with advertisements via the media. First it was newspaper, then radio, then TV became the biggest player in advertising and marketing until the Internet came along, and the Web will soon eclipse them all in terms of sheer volume. Back in the days before the Internet some sales were made in stores, but many other products were sold door-to-door, and a lot of people wouldn’t buy anything that way because they were afraid to trust door-to-door salespeople, and sometimes for good reason. Well, the large volume of advertisements of all variations that we see today on TV or the Internet, or that we hear on the radio, are a lot like those door-to-door salespeople of a generation or two ago. People don’t listen to or watch the ads for the most part. They are regarded as a nuisance that one can’t do much about. Suppose, just for a moment, that the Internet didn’t exist. What if all those TV, radio and Internet ads were door-to-door salespeople? It would be like going back to 1960! It would also mean your doorbell would ring once every minute 24/7! That works out to 1,440 doorbell rings per day, 365 days a year. Well, if nobody would put up with that, why do they put up with all the ads? The answer is because we have been brainwashed, conditioned to accept advertisements not as just a part of everyday living – there will always be ads, even in space someday – but as a necessary part of life.

OK, let’s step back and look at this from a broader perspective. It is indisputable that we are programmed to spend, and this is true throughout the Western hemisphere. Who benefits from this bastardization of the birth of our Lord and Savior? Where does all the money we spend at Christmas time wind up? Walmart? Target? Sears? Amazon? Their stockholders get a portion, granted, and the company gets better capitalized, that’s true. The rest of it goes to the top 1% of the richest people in America and Western Europe, and let’s not forget Canada and Japan while we’re at it. There are about 400 families globally who control roughly 40% of the liquid assets of the entire world. They are the ones who are ultimately pocketing our money after all the counting is done after Christmas. They are the ones running the ads with all the subliminal messages while directing them at your children and grandchildren. They are the ones who want to get in between your ears and mess around with your brain. Why knock on your door to sell you something when they can come at you right through your television or computer screen? The only solution to this is to unplug your TV’s and unsubscribe from your cable or satellite company.

The 400 richest families mentioned above are also the ones who fund the international banking system with portions of their proceeds. This means these 400 families help fund Monsanto so they can poison the ground we grow our food in, they fund ‘Big Pharma’ so we can be pumped full of drugs of often questionable value, and they help fund the “black projects” like HAARP and the blanketing of our earth with “chemtrails” that poison the air. They also fund the Wall Street bankers who are stealing us blind. And all this is being marketed and advertised by way of those ads we all get thrown in our faces on a continuous basis. I won’t presume to speak for anyone else here, but is anybody else besides me fed up with the current state of affairs to the point that we are ready to join a revolt – or perhaps even lead one? Moreover, don’t you think this is the complete opposite of what Jesus would want us to do to celebrate his birthday? By poisoning the world his Father created and the people and animal life that inhabit it? “Jesus”, the worn out cliché goes, “is the reason for the season”. Well if that is the case, then why do we celebrate Christmas every year by enriching 400 families who already have more money than they could ever physically spend in their lifetimes? What is it going to take to get you all to rise up against our oppressors?

As I wrote in a Christmas message from a couple years ago, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th anyway. He was born on the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, which is in late September or early October by our Western calendar, depending on the year (the Jewish calendar has 360 days). So I won’t be redundant by restating that. But the holidays are not just about the birth of Jesus. Christmas is a time for a celebration of his life. Normally we have celebrations of people’s lives at their funerals. But, since Jesus rose from the dead and still lives, Christmas is a time of celebration for what Jesus accomplished with his life. Jesus is far more than a little baby boy born in a manger (A ‘manger’, by the way, is a feeding trough for livestock. “This is my body, broken in remembrance of me….”). He was an apostle for 12, and later for 72, a healer of multitudes, a performer of miracles, a bouncer of demons, a teacher of humanity, a Savior of the world, and a King of the universe. He sits at the right hand of God, his only begotten Son, and his Holy Spirit inhabits the hearts of all who will humble themselves enough to ask him in. At Christmas time we celebrate the life of the man who died on a wooden cross by being nailed to it. Once this was done, that cross was stood straight up and dropped into a hole in the ground so that Jesus was about 5 or 6 feet off the ground. He was likely tied to the cross with ropes to keep him from slipping off the nails. I cannot conceive of having to endure such agony. Jesus’ only consolation as he hung on that cross was his occasional relief from the pain as he slipped in and out of consciousness due to the great loss of blood.

That is what we are actually celebrating – not just Jesus’ birth, but his life and how he lived it! “I have come so that you may have life, and have it to the fullest.” (John 10: 10) Jesus’ life, and the eternal life he has offered to everyone in exchange for our undying faith in him, is what Christmas is really all about! It’s about the birth of Jesus, granted, but there is so much more to it than that. It’s all about what Jesus did with his life once he was born. Christmas isn’t a solitary calendar date, it’s a starting point for a process that is still ongoing as each of us blossoms into the creation we were meant to be. Just as the Father enabled Jesus and his 3 ½ year ministry to blossom into all that it was meant to be. So this Christmas, let’s do more than just celebrate Jesus’ birth. Let’s celebrate Christmas as the starting point to His magnificent life.

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Why Materialism and Real Spirituality Will Never Be Compatible

Institutionalized Consumerism,

Black Friday Weekend, and the Bible

by pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this on my website, click here 🙂

The psychopathology of consumerism and the subtle brain washing of mind control – these are the insidious institutions that Americans find themselves subjected to on a daily basis, and all in the holy name of ‘profit’. We have, like it or not, become programmed like robots to spend more than we can afford on things we don’t really need. Like sheep headed to the trimmers – or to the slaughterhouse, depending on your point of view – we dutifully spend our meager little incomes at the bidding of the top 1% of business owners, the corporate elite and their stockholders while our highly vaunted capitalist economic system fleeces us all while rubbing our noses in it. Those who control America’s shadow government – the real movers and shakers from behind the scenes, not their puppets in Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court – have sold out our country to the competition and therefore have committed treason!

The reason most people don’t care about or won’t even consider these glaring realities is because they can “live so much cheaper” buying the very inexpensively made garbage that China and other Pacific Rim and South Asian countries have been dumping on America’s shores since the 1980’s. Cheaper at first, yes, but due to shoddy manufacturing and poor quality, Chinese products are notoriously short-lived and invariably cheap imitations of much better quality merchandise that used to be made here in the US. But that, of course, was before corporate America and Wall Street outsourced all those middle class American jobs overseas for pennies on the dollar. And so we fight and claw for the thriftiest deal at the various suburban big box stores, purchasing with our meager earnings from our multiple part time jobs – because there are no full time jobs available – as well as other chain stores, all of whom offer pathetic and similarly low wages and zero benefits to their staff. Just like your own employer, most likely.

So, as the ‘pitch man’ says, how much can we save on all these wonderful items (LOL)? That depends. If one uses plastic instead of paper, that “consumer” always ends up paying far more in interest, fees and hidden charges than they would have if they bought a similar higher quality item at the finest store in town and paid cash. Hmm….. maybe we should ask ourselves some more pertinent questions and explore some far more evident realities about this issue. For example, what about the Chinese workers slaving in dangerous non union factories for 10-12 hours a day? How much does the company pay them? It works out to between 1 and 2 dollars per day. Try living on that for just one week!! Yet Jesus clearly stated, “The workman is worth his wages” (Luke 10: 7). So it is clearly a sin for business owners to cheat or underpay their workers. Who benefits most from these kinds of arrangements? Is it really the mesmerized consumer, all teary-eyed with joy while giggling gleefully at 30, 40, and 50% off deals? Or could it be that the whole stinking thing is rigged from beginning to end? Of course it is!!

Just look at what is being sold and calculate how much it costs to make it. If I look at a 15 ounce can of generic or store brand pork and beans on the grocery shelf priced at 75 cents, it doesn’t take a marketing genius to figure out that 75 cents is an outrageous markup. The cans are made by the millions, so they cost just a penny or so to manufacture. The contents of the can usually cost even less. The label costs between 5 and 7 cents at the most. So we’re looking at no more than 2 cents for the can and the contents, and maybe an extra 5 or 6 cents for the label. Add another penny or two for shipping and we have 10 cents at the most. Ten darned cents, and the retail price is 75 cents? So the gross markup is more than seven times the cost, or in excess of 700%? Precisely. Or consider a far more expensive item such as the latest I-phone. They sell for about $700 dollars and up, plus taxes and “fees”, but there was a posting on the Internet just recently to the effect that it only costs Apple, Inc. about $120.00 to manufacture I-phones because they were being made in China, resulting in a profit margin exceeding 300%. So much for “God bless America”.

“Yeah, but,” the politicians and talking heads say to us on TV, “it’s the American workers. They don’t want to work menial jobs like canning pork and beans. And we can’t assemble I-phones in America because our workers aren’t qualified.” Never mind that there are many thousands of recent college graduates who are living with their parents because they are unable to support themselves. There simply are no jobs for these poor young adults, and yet they are expected to repay predatory and exorbitant student loans. The careers for which they have been training have already been out-sourced to the third world during the last 4+ years that these hapless individuals have spent earning their degrees. They have all been robbed of their educations, which have been rendered worthless by the multinational corporations and the US military-industrial complex who are running the whole show. The very companies these young graduates are looking forward to going to work for are the ones who have sold them out. As you can see, they don’t have much to be thankful for except for being alive. But thanks be to God, who makes being thankful for being alive just enough to be happy about!

Yet we are expected to perform our patriotic duty as well as appropriately celebrate the “feast of capitalism” as we shop till we drop looking for that most fantastic bargain. We are in the process of being programmed to slave at multiple part time jobs working for starvation wages and with no health benefits while being expected to buy $300,000.00 houses, $70,000.00 cars and trucks plus big screen TV’s and $1,000.00 I-phones. While all this is occurring, certain employees of multiple multinational corporations are being well paid to line the pockets of senators, congressmen and supreme-court justices in Washington D.C., while sitting on presidential cabinets making decisions regarding our planet’s future, our own future, and our children’s future. Is it any wonder that the entire world seems to be coming unglued? Meanwhile our consumerism is devouring the planet into something that might soon become more lifeless than the moon or a Wall Street tycoon’s conscience. Yet, mesmerized by commercials with intelligence levels less than a jackass after having a lobotomy, we roll blindly into the gates of our hallowed shopping malls and venerated big box stores.

Lennon and McCartney of the Beatles wrote in the song “Revolution”, “you say you want a revolution, well you know, we’d all love to change your head.” Yes, it is about more than changing Wall Street or who resides in the White House. It is, ultimately, about changing ourselves. If we all really want some serious change, then change must start from within. Speak from your heart to your kids about consumerism, greed and how they are ruining the planet. Help them to understand that it’s not about how much we have, but rather how much we contribute. Life is not about how much we own or the value of our possessions. A life well lived is all about making a stand for good things like faithfulness, showing mercy and kindness, and above all, expressing love. Instead of buying your wife a new car while going into debt, take her up on the highest place around where you live, or to some favorite romantic spot, and renew your vows to her. Instead of buying your husband a new bag of golf clubs, give him a night he will never forget. Enjoy each other and be loving to each other. To enjoy is to enjoin is to unite. And since we’re going to unite in this regard, let’s unite against greed and materialism while we’re at it!

Consumerism, capitalism and the vain pursuit of worldly goods keeps us isolated by gimmicks of sensationalist advertising with strikingly beautiful women, absolutely perfect children and gorgeous, flaming hunks of men that are created off the corporate mold. To put it simply, the corporate mold and the Hollywood image are a load of BS. And who is being molded in all these advertising gimmicks? You are!! For what purpose? To make others rich at your expense!! The blue chip corporations have a very good reason for doing all this. As long as they can keep us isolated, we can never be united. Don’t go there. Keep your money. Find richness in your heart, your spirit and your character and share that with everyone this year instead.

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Giving thanks for a fresh start in 2017

Go Ahead! Hug That Tree and Give Thanks This Holiday

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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It’s true. I hug people, pets, and trees. I have no children of my own, but I dote on everybody else’s. I go out of my way to treat them all well. I make no bones about it. Call me a ‘tree hugger’ and I’ll thank you for the compliment. If you would rather not hug me right about now, it’s OK, I understand. I don’t expect people to reciprocate anyway.

I once tried to hug a tree in California that was alive during the time of Christ. I couldn’t resist. I had to get next to such ancient life. To walk among that grove of redwoods was to walk in the hush of a cathedral, only one far more ancient, more holy, than any church. An ancient habitat still alive with flowing juices while busy sucking moisture from the ground and giving it back to the sky. One busy drawing energy down from the sun and giving it to the earth. I couldn’t help looking up in the presence of such enormous trees. If God creates living things of such magnificence as these trees, how much more will he do for those who ask Him for his help?

But California isn’t my home, Atlanta is. While Georgia may not be California, we also have trees that are worthy of hugging. If you’ve ever hiked to the north Georgia mountains, there are ancient and gigantic pine, poplar and magnolia trees. Although much younger than California’s redwoods, and only about half as tall at the most, I can’t help but be amazed at the majesty of His Majesty and of that which He has created continually since before time began.

You too have hugged trees, admit it or not. When you were a child, you hugged lots of trees if you were a climber, or you may have used trees as ‘home’ during games of hide-and-seek. Carrying a load of firewood is a way of tree hugging, if it’s done with the right attitude. On the other hand, I’ve been known to wrap both arms around a scruffy old oak and utter thanks and blessings for what it’s meant to the scenery and the air and the critters of this garden-spot of the universe. It’s a way of giving thanks, and giving thanks is the key to happiness and balance in our lives. Too many people see the holidays as a time to swap gifts around and to see how much they can get. Far too many more are having the leanest and most depressing Christmas they have ever had, and that is a social injustice!

It may be impossible to write anything truer than this about happiness, so let’s say it again. Giving thanks is the key to happiness. It’s a way of affirming life, of choosing hope over despair, faith over cynicism, if you’ll pardon a detour. I promise to bring this round again, so bear with me.

Abraham Lincoln, a man who sometimes suffered from what today is called clinical depression – a man who suffered personal tragedies and incredible stress, said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” It’s ever so true. To assess life by starting with your misfortunes is a sucker’s game. There’s no end to the misery you can catalog. One of the primary principles of Buddhism is that “All is Suffering.” While recognizing there’s some truth there, I don’t embrace that philosophy. I know it must seem true to some, but I’ve been blessed in so many ways, it would be chintzy and dishonest to pretend otherwise. For the privilege of being alive, I start each day with an attitude of gratitude and a prayer of praise and thanks unto God. How lucky am I, Lord, to still be alive and to have survived all that I have been through? Sixty-one years it’s been, and I’ve took a nasty licking but my clock is still ticking!

I would say the odds of my still being here would otherwise be all but impossible. Life is such a luck of the draw as it is. It’s like winning the lottery each year of our lives to have such an existence at all. That’s how much luck is required. It took all the crazy detours of history to bring my parents together. If a million different ancestors over thousands or millions of years hadn’t done exactly as they did most every day of their lives—and partook of the blessings and curses of life in just the right order, down to feeling romantic or lusty in the right moments, I wouldn’t be here now. If a billion bits of space debris hadn’t interacted in just the right ways to send a giant meteor crashing into the earth about 65 million years ago, eradicating the dinosaurs and making way for us mammals, none of us would be here.

If the Big Bang (“Let there be light”, Genesis 1: 3) had occurred with just a fraction of one percent more velocity, the planets and stars could not have formed. A fraction of a percent less velocity, and the whole universe would have collapsed back on itself. If seawater were a little saltier, if the earth weren’t tilted on its axis just so, if the sun were a few miles farther off or closer in, or if gravity were a few degrees stronger, we wouldn’t exist. All of these so-called coincidences don’t scratch the surface of things that had to go just right to make our lives possible. We are incredibly blessed to be alive and riding this silken beast called breathing – inhale, exhale – from the moment of birth until the instant of death.

And all those trees, exhaling oxygen and inhaling the poisonous carbon dioxide from our own breath, exist in a relationship to us that is at once symbolic of the fragile web of life and a crucial part of it. That fantastic web of life is a feature of this awesome universe we must love and adore. It is reason enough to thank God in this Christmas and New Year season, and every day of our lives. And reason enough to hug a tree.

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As the Annual Orgy of Materialism Draws Mercifully to a Close….

The Devolving of Christmas: An American Tragedy

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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To read this on my website, click here! 🙂

It’s that time of year again, the closing days of the holiday shopping season when people by the millions will finish spending an average of $750.00 each between now and December 31st on a bunch of cheap imported Chinese crap that nobody really needs. The worst part for American consumers is that all these inexpensive imported products from the sweat shops of the 3rd world are designed and manufactured in such a way as to make sure the items wear out sooner rather than later in the hopes that the American consumer will go out and buy a replacement, hopefully sooner rather than later. The giant US multinational corporations have figured out that if you make a product just good enough to hold out for a little while, you can still get people to buy it even though it is made as cheaply as possible. Unfortunately for these same monstrosity corporations, the American consumer has begun to wake up and realize they have been had and that things have been this way for a long time, and they’re getting a little madder about it each day. Their fury and rage first manifested itself in the Arab Spring of 2011, followed by rioting in Spain and England that summer, followed by civil unrest in Greece that has yet to completely simmer down. The civil war in Syria similarly rages on as I write this. This has been followed here in the US and Europe in the form of the Occupy Wall Street and “we are the 99%”, protest movements of which I am proud to be a part, and both of which are still very much ongoing, and most recently the Black Lives Matter movement.

All I’m saying is that people everywhere have become more questioning, more critical or have even become opposed to capitalism as we know it due to what is increasingly being viewed as its predatory nature and its emphasis of profits over people. Many of us, including myself, are completely up in arms over the state of our country. The Christmas shopping season is just one symptom of capitalism gone overboard, with a mad dash to acquire more and more material things just for their own sake at a time when we are supposed to be quietly celebrating the birthday of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is indicative of a society that has lost its sense of direction and lost touch with its purpose for being. I was one of millions of people who boycotted Black Friday last month as a way to peacefully protest being forced to live in a world where the main thing that matters most seems to be how much money one can make.

I’ve been there and done all that. I owned a small computer store all through the 1990’s and made some real good money. I never got rich, but I’m okay with that. I know what it’s like to have all that, and do you know what I found out about wealth and riches? It’s just a big trap, a never-ending treadmill of the pursuit of profits until it consumes your whole life, until in the end you realize that it was all just an illusion. Like a game of Monopoly, when the profit machine comes to an end (and sooner or later they all do) and the game is over, everything goes back in the box only to start all over again. That’s all capitalism and the taking of profits is – one big Monopoly game where the person with the most money wins, and always at the expense of everybody else. Is it any wonder that capitalism and the taking of profits has ruined the spirit of Christmas, let alone the whole country? Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong at all with turning a nice profit, but not if it means ripping off your customers and cheating your employees!

What have we become? Like cattle and sheep headed to slaughter, we roll out at this time of the year at the bidding of shop-till-you-drop gimmicks. Meanwhile, we fight and claw for the blue light special at the various suburban box stores offering low wages and no benefits to staff. So, how much can we save? Wally World is offering 25% off, while Sneers is offering 30%. Let’s run to Sneers! It’s only 30 more miles down the road and we’ve got the gas! What about the Chinese people slaving in non union factories at pennies a day? What do they make off the deal? Who is actually winning? Is it really the mesmerized consumers teary and googly-eyed while giggling gleefully at 30, 40, and 50% off deals? Our politicians say it’s the American workers. Yes, it is our right to slave part time at minimum wages and no health benefits while we shop till we drop looking for that fantastic deal. We make this statement as employees of corporations are lining the pockets of senators, congressmen and supreme-court justices in Washington D.C. while seated on presidential cabinets making decisions regarding our planet’s future, our future, and our children’s future. Meanwhile our consumerism is devouring the planet into what might soon become more lifeless than the moon or, God forbid, a Wall Street tycoon. Yet, mesmerized by commercials with intelligence levels less than a jackass after having a lobotomy, we roll blindly into the gates of the shopping centers, the strip malls and humongous big box stores. For example, consider the following December 2013 release from the Associated Press.

“A shopper in Los Angeles pepper-sprayed her competition for an X-box and scuffles broke out elsewhere around the United States as bargain-hunters crowded malls and big-box stores in an earlier-than-usual start to the madness known as Black Friday. Toys R Us opened for the second straight year on Thanksgiving itself. And some shoppers arrived with sharp elbows. On Thanksgiving night, a Walmart in Los Angeles brought out a crate of discounted X-boxes, and as a crowd waited for the video game players to be unwrapped, a woman fired pepper spray at the other shoppers “in order to get an advantage,” police said. Ten people suffered cuts and bruises in the chaos, and 10 others had minor injuries from the spray, authorities said. The woman got away in the confusion, and it was not immediately clear whether she got an X-box. On Friday morning, police said, two women were injured and a man was charged after a fight broke out at an upstate New York Walmart. And a man was arrested in a scuffle at a jewelry counter at a Walmart in Kissimmee, Fla. In the U.S., Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, has taken steps in recent years to control its Black Friday crowds following the 2008 death of one of its workers in a stampede of shoppers. This year, it staggered its door-buster deals instead of offering them all at once.” (Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press)

Lennon and McCartney of the Beatles wrote in the song “Revolution”, “you say you want a revolution, well you know, we’d all love to change your head.” Yes, it is more than changing Wall Street. It is, ultimately, about changing ourselves. This Christmas, change how you celebrate. Speak from your heart to your kids about consumerism and how it is affecting the planet as well as our behavior. Ladies, instead of buying your guy a new bag of golf clubs, give him a night he will never forget. Be creative, be loving, be tender and compassionate. Enjoy each other. To enjoy is to enjoin, to enjoin is to unite. Consumerism keeps us isolated by gimmicks of sensationalist advertising of unrealistically beautiful women, “perfect” children and gorgeous hunks of men that are created off the corporate mold. And who is being molded by all these advertising gimmicks? You are! For what purpose? To make others rich. Don’t go there this year. Find richness in your heart and share that this Christmas. And keep more of your money.

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I Want My Christmas Back!!

The True Spirit Of Christmas

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

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This week as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, I want to pause and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, and on how Christmas has been twisted and perverted by the dying economic system known as capitalism that we’re all stuck living under. Here in the 21st century, people all over the world are in a holiday feeding frenzy of buying ridiculous amounts of unneeded consumer goods. The only sure outcome of this is for every shopper to wind up even more deeply in debt than they were before Thanksgiving, and to be increasingly insolvent as well. Too many people have collectively forgotten the true reason for the season, the birth of Christ, and they have traded His sacred birth for the blind pursuit of material gain. Instead of worshiping the Son of God, people everywhere are worshiping the almighty dollar and all the goods that it can bring home with them. This is idolatry in its purest form, and as a minister of the Gospel I stand against it!

This rampant money-worshiping has been carried to such extremes over the years that it has carried people from all walks of life past the point of insolvency. As I write this, the average level of indebtedness for any given American is well in excess of 120% of their net worth. In other words, the majority of working Americans are bankrupt, a condition that continues to get worse as time marches on. Clearly this trek into the economic wasteland of bankruptcy is unsustainable. A full two-thirds of the US economy is powered by consumer spending. The true unemployment rate in this country stands at around 15% or more here at the end of 2015, because the government doesn’t count those who have given up looking for work as well as those who are working part-time when full-time employment is required. While all this is happening, the US government continues to spend $12 billion per week (see the Defense department or GAO websites) on overseas military excursions, which is similarly unsustainable. The bottom line here is that such obscene levels of spending, which is exacerbated by the Christmas shopping season, will eventually cause the American economy to implode on itself due to corruption from within and crushing debt levels from without. And this may well happen sooner rather than later, so be warned!

We call the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday”. This ominous sounding moniker, which reminds me of the 1970’s Steely Dan song by the same name, is actually a forecast of good tidings, especially if one is a retailer. No matter how poorly retail sales have been throughout the year, the giant retailers whose CEO’s and top managers rake in millions and millions of dollars per year for themselves can count on Americans to put themselves, their families and other loved ones at risk by spending money that they don’t have on gifts that people don’t need. Consequently, the wealthy captains of retail can be certain that their profits will be in “the black” starting on the day after Thanksgiving through December 25.

Many Americans who call themselves Christians claim that they place themselves more deeply in debt starting on the day after Thanksgiving as a way to celebrate the birth of a very special Man. As with all religions, not all Christians practice their faith in the same manner. Not all Christians see the full month before the day on which this man was supposed to have been born as a time to fret over the equity with which they part with the money they borrow. Not all Christians use this time to become agitated, depressed and even angry because of the internal and external conflicts they suffer over the distribution of gifts purchased with borrowed money. However, the man, obviously the man that people today refer to as Jesus Christ, was an extremely special Man. This Man is so special that we began counting time once again based upon the year in which he was born. Therefore, many of those who call themselves “followers” or “Christians”, feel the need to become more reckless, not only with their financial standing, but with the Earth’s natural resources like the water we drink or the air we breathe. I have had a belly full of this worldwide consumer insanity! Moreover, this consumerism is consuming the consciousness of my fellow Americans as we lose our fiscal minds more and more each year!

It’s really not that important, however, to debate the historical narrative of the life and times of Jesus Christ. What’s important is that the part of the Word that’s dedicated to that life and time emphasizes what many would today call “democratic socialism” (see 2nd Corinth. 8: 13-15; Acts 2: 42-47 and Acts 4: 32-37). Although it’s written that, at times, Jesus Christ warned anyone who would listen that they’d better believe in his words and follow his lead and direction lest they spend eternity experiencing unimaginable torture, torment and agony, the bulk of the writing about Jesus Christ describes giving to those less fortunate, plus social and economic inclusion, and world peace. What a different outlook we would have if, every day, from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas, the goal for those with an overabundance was to search for those who don’t have any and, when they find them, give them what they need! Why, it would be just like the unconditional love and peace that Jesus Christ taught us about! You know, being more Christ-like, not hoarding money and goods for oneself, and putting the needs of others ahead of ourselves. That Jesus. The real deal.

What is the available alternative to this? Last year, two people were trampled to death on “Black Friday” as they callously stormed into the money changers’ temples. Refusing to participate in this annual orgy of consumption is much more in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ. But the ugly truth is that this behavior is in large part due to American culture, similar to gun ownership. America is the world’s top arms manufacturer. There are more guns in American homes than in all the other countries of the world combined. We as a people, as I’ve written in the past, have some serious soul-searching to do about what it is we really value. As you read just above, America has now become so violent that we can’t even go shopping on Black Friday anymore without risking accidental death! And, all this is happening within what is supposedly the greatest country in the world! Lately I’ve begun to wonder about that. Hey, I’m just one guy trying to turn the time of year that’s always fallaciously referred to as a time of “peace on earth and good will toward men” into entire years of “peace on earth and good will toward men.”

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Thanksgiving wasn’t so happy for everyone

More Volunteers Needed To Serve

The Homeless All Year, Not Just During

the Holidays

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

please_help

Another Thanksgiving has gone by, and I have once again seen the usual fanfare on various media about hundreds of volunteers coming out to feed the homeless this past week. It then occurred to me that, besides Thanksgiving and Christmas, what do all these homeless people do the remaining 363 days of the year? Before you say, “Get a darn job!”, allow me to point out that I once wound up homeless myself. I never thought I would end up homeless. I thought I was well educated and diligent enough to avoid that fate. I also had the opinion that, since I was in the computer field, there would always be plenty of work. It used to be that a busy man was a prosperous man, but that’s no longer true. It’s been over 7 years since I have been in that kind of potentially dangerous predicament, but the memories are still fresh in between my ears. After spending the final 7 years of my former IT career working a series of ‘temp’ jobs that eventually ran out in 2008, I wound up homeless after using up the last of my resources. I am far from being a lazy man – I worked for 35 years. But I developed significant medical problems when I hit my fifties, so now I’m semi-retired while trying to carve out another career as a writer and minister. But my point right here is that homelessness can happen to nearly anybody, except for the rich. My 21 years in IT and the technology businesses did not exempt me or insulate me from the effects of an American economy that has been in a tailspin for years. My current home and office, along with the church I attend, are located in what can only be described as a blighted neighborhood about 2 miles west of downtown Atlanta. I am seeing encouraging signs lately that this run-down area where I live is slowly undergoing a gradual transformation that will someday convert this area into a live/work/play green space surrounded by residential streets lined with newly remodeled houses, many of which date back to before World War II.

Unfortunately, the reality today is that about one third of the houses I just mentioned are currently boarded up, and some of them haven’t been lived in for many years. Since there are a lot of transient and homeless people in this poverty-stricken area, a lot of them are currently living in these abandoned homes with no electricity or running water. Consequently, we have men, women and children living in third-world conditions right here in the United States, even in our midst! The primary cause of this can be laid at the feet of the public education system in America, but also because of institutionalized racism. Over 95% of the homeless people in this area are African-American, and it is minorities and people of color who are being cheated out of higher education or vocational training opportunities. This is a social injustice, and my ministry is devoted to helping out those that I can, either on my own where possible or through my church. Are you going through hard times yourself right now? I’m now living in some HUD apartments and I’m still in recovery from my experience. I am where I am because Christ was with me every step of the way, and if He can do that for me, He can accomplish that for you too.

America was once called “the land of milk and honey”. It was so named for the prosperity and promise associated with the opportunity that was once available to anyone who, when willing to work, could acquire a piece of the America Dream. In contrast, the old notion of hard work in the 21st century seems to mean little in our current system, where the elite control all the money. The associated greed so intrinsic they have robbed good, hard working Americans of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness just so they could squander the money on endless wars overseas that are becoming increasingly dangerous. After a lifetime of effort in the chase for their piece of the pie, some Americans are finding themselves out in the cold, having lost their jobs and their dreams in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Some have fallen victim to not only Wall Street’s criminal over speculation in a system that could not support such monetary betting, but to a banking system that committed wholesale mortgage fraud when looked to and trusted by home buyers for professional guidance! Many of these unfortunate people are quickly finding themselves added to the homeless numbers of America. Many are trying to survive the current economic depression by seeking federal assistance but have found, much to their dismay, that government programs, one of their only rays of hope during their time of tribulation, are being taken by the same group of people who assisted in their demise: Congress.

Those responsible for 2008’s economic plunge and the ensuing chaos are trying to phase out social systems that provide those who are suffering a lifeline in the ocean of betrayal they are drowning in. Even worse, it seems to not matter to those surviving the current economic disaster. The top 1% of America’s wealthy are scrambling to protect their own by supporting a political bureaucracy that has abandoned the remaining 99%. Like prisoners protecting their plate of food, these people are surrendering conscience for three squares and a warm cot of their own. In light of the actions taken – or inaction in some cases – by our governmental representatives, those from rural and suburban areas have had no choice but to abandon their townships and move toward the cities in search of shelter and whatever government aid they can get. They have migrated from everywhere to the urban centers of this nation in search of the remnants of their national security. But in place of the Golden Lamp, they have only found iron bars and cold, impersonal streets. In lieu of allowing the preservation of their survival, cities are beginning to enact anti-homeless initiatives to drive them back to where they came while those responsible for this treachery receive record bonuses and wallow in ill-gotten gains. St. Petersburg, Florida is a prime example of such inhuman approaches. The City enacted new laws back in 2011 towards the criminalization of homelessness. A report that same year by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless, tells much about the current war on these unfortunates:

  • Since early 2007, St. Petersburg has passed 6 new ordinances that target homeless people. These include ordinances that outlaw panhandling throughout most of downtown, prohibit the storage of personal belongings on public property, and make it unlawful to sleep outside at various locations.

  • In January 2007, the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender announced that he would no longer represent indigent people arrested for violating municipal ordinances to protest what he called excessive arrests of homeless individuals by the City of St. Petersburg. According to numbers compiled by the public defender’s office, “the vast majority of people booked into the Pinellas County Jail on municipal ordinances were homeless individuals from St. Petersburg.”

This is not the only American city to turn its back on those in need. Across America, the painful cries of economic injustice coming from America’s working people is being called to the forefront as the newest form of white-collar crime. Many laws have been put into place to criminalize people living in the streets, thereby dissuading them from coming to their cities at all. Both sides of the Congressional aisle have argued the semantics of the deficit crisis and the current economic strife, but the blame for the downfall of this once great nation means nothing when one is huddled beneath a dirty blanket trying to survive the cold or going hungry. The homeless only know that their basic American rights have been denied. Even cave men lived in caves! Are they better than us? Adding insult to injury, those Congressional representatives who were put into office to ensure the continuation of our American system, are trying to take even more from them.

Many conservatives have complained that the US has become a “nanny state”. They expound upon the belief that we must no longer allow the expenditure of US tax dollars to go to those who supposedly will not help themselves. This may have been a valid approach in strong economic times of yesteryear when work was plentiful and the American Dream was alive but now, in the shadow of Bush Era gluttony and growing neo-liberal faux patriotic oligarchy, it stands as a slap in the face of hard working Americans waking to the American nightmare. Some on the left, voted into office by an American public that needed to be protected, are making deals to further empower the elite in order to acquire their own earmarks and campaign contributor benefits. They too, seem to have lost sight of what America used to stand for. The only security this country seems to care for anymore is the one that allows for funds to be taken from social services and used for illegal and unnecessary wars, Patriot Act driven oppression and corporate welfare entitlements. Those unfortunate souls who have to stand in line for a warm bed in an overcrowded dormitory or in a food kitchen line to get a modest meal, are painfully finding that many of their lifelines are being denied by the very country they pledged their allegiance to. Instead of solutions, politicians are only delivering rhetoric, excuses and false promises. In this, our country’s greatest time of need, they would rather protect their own than fight for proper provision for the American people.

Many try to ignore these people as they represent the errors and gluttony of a nation lost but they are still American citizens and need to be cared for. The religious right and their Tea Party counterparts vehemently expound upon the protection of our borders against illegal immigrants, terrorists, foreign influences and protecting the Constitution for the preservation of America’s citizens, but in the same breath they condemn or cut funding to social services that support Americans in their time of need. The simple reality is this: American governance has become detached from the lives lived by those whom it has been charged the protection and care of.

In America today, people who have been misguided enough to believe in the American system and lost their piece of the “American dream” because of it, are now increasingly angry and have become significantly more demanding about implementing some sorely needed reforms. We are insisting on genuine, authentic reforms to a broken government and to our economic system, which seems to work very well but for only an elite few. We as a nation are quickly falling into the realm of the second world – we are no longer a superpower. Those who continue to blindly follow the myth of American exceptional-ism will end up starting World War 3 and charbroiling the entire planet. The future of this nation and the world will indeed be dim if this bloodthirsty insanity is allowed to continue. The book of Isaiah says, “’Come now, let us reason together, you and I’, thus says the Lord.” This is perfect advice for our modern times. All of humanity had better stop and think about what we want to do next.

Let’s take a look and see what the Bible has to say about all this. First, an example from Christ himself. “Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’, Jesus replied. There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments,’ ‘Which ones?’, the man inquired. Jesus replied, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘All these things I have kept’, the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’.” (Matthew chapter 19, verses 16-26)

Now let’s look at what the apostle James had to say about homeless people. “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed’, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James chapter 2, verses 14-17 NIV) Homelessness has in the past been viewed as a state of laziness, but today it is a growing condition that represents a dying world power. The elite persist in the denial of this national illness, since its recognition would admit fault. At the end of the day, ignoring it will not lessen the inevitability that this, our once great nation, is now a declining empire. Many are on the brink of bankruptcy in this country – so are many small businesses – and where once lay the promise of prosperous times for all, there now exists the reality that we are all only one paycheck, one medical emergency or one misfortune away from being homeless in the land of milk and honey. Plus, one out of every four homeless people are minors under the age of 12. This is no way to run what is allegedly the greatest country in the world. Homelessness in America is inexcusable, and it’s the government’s fault.

 

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The capitalist orgy of consumer spending otherwise known as Christmas

The Holidays In America: Blind Consumerism

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

already_deadThe psychopathology of consumerism and the subtle brain washing of mind control: We have become programmed like robots to spend more than we can afford on things we don’t really need. Like sheep headed to the trimmers, we dutifully spend our meager incomes at the bidding of a myriad of shop-till-you-drop gimmicks while our highly vaunted capitalist economic system fleeces us all. The worst part is that the useless junk we buy doesn’t benefit the US economy, it benefits mainly Red China’s. Those who control America’s shadow government – the real movers and shakers from behind the scenes, not their puppets in Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court – have sold out our country to the opposing side and have thus committed treason. The reason most people don’t care about or won’t even consider this glaring reality is because they can “live so much cheaper” buying the very inexpensively made garbage that China has been dumping on America’s shores since the 1980’s. Cheaper at first, yes, but due to shoddy manufacturing and poor quality, Chinese products are notoriously short-lived and invariably cheap imitations of much better quality merchandise that used to be made here in the US. But that, of course, was before corporate America and Wall Street shipped all those middle class American jobs overseas for pennies on the dollar. And so we fight and claw for the thriftiest deal at the various suburban big box stores, purchasing with our meager earnings from our multiple part time jobs (because there are no other jobs available), shopping at other chain stores who offer pathetically and similarly low wages and zero benefits to their staff. Just like your employer.

So, how much can we save on all these wonderful items (LOL)? That depends on whether one can afford to pay cash while doing their shopping or not. If one uses plastic instead of paper, that person always ends up paying far more in interest, fees and hidden charges than they would have had they bought a similar higher quality item at the finest store in town and paid cash. How much could we save now? Let’s ask some more pertinent questions and explore some far more evident realities about this issue. For example, what about the Chinese workers slaving in dangerous non union factories for 1-2 dollars a day? What does the company make off the deal? Who is actually winning? Is it really the mesmerized consumer, all teary-eyed with joy while giggling gleefully at 30, 40, and 50% off deals? Or could it be that the whole stinking thing is rigged from beginning to end? Of course it is! Just look at what is being sold and calculate how much it costs to make it. If I look at a can of pork and beans on the grocery shelf and it’s priced at 75 cents, it doesn’t take a marketing genius to figure out that 75 cents is an outrageous markup. The cans are made by the millions, so they cost just a couple of pennies each to manufacture. The contents of the can usually cost even less, and ditto for the label. So we’re looking at 2 cents for the can, 1-2 cents more for the contents, and maybe an extra penny or two for the label. Add another penny or two as margin for error and we have 7 cents. Seven cents, and the retail price is 75 cents? So the gross profit is more than ten times the cost, or a markup in excess of 1,000%. Or consider a far more expensive item such as the latest I-phone. They sell for about $300-400 dollars and up plus tax, but there was a posting on the Internet just recently to the effect that it only costs Apple, Inc. about $120.00 to manufacture I-phones because they were being made in China, resulting in a 150-300% markup. So much for “God bless America”.

“Oh,” the politicians and talking heads say to us on TV, “it’s the American workers. They don’t want to work menial jobs like canning pork and beans. And we can’t assemble I-phones in America because its workers aren’t qualified.” Never mind that there are many thousands of recent college graduates who are living with their parents because they are unable to support themselves. There simply are no jobs for these poor young adults, and yet they are expected to repay predatory and exorbitant student loans. The careers for which they have been training have already been out-sourced to the third world during the last 4+ years that these hapless individuals have spent earning their degrees. They have all been robbed of their educations, which have been rendered worthless by the multinational corporations and the US military-industrial complex who are running the whole show.

Yet we are expected to perform our patriotic duty as well as appropriately celebrate the “feast of capitalism” as we shop till we drop looking for that most fantastic deal. We are in the process of being programmed to slave at multiple part time jobs working for starvation wages and with no health benefits while being expected to buy $300,000.00 houses, $70,000.00 cars and trucks plus big screen TV’s and I-phones. While all this is occurring, certain employees of multiple multinational corporations are being well paid to line the pockets of senators, congressmen and supreme-court justices in Washington D.C., while sitting on presidential cabinets making decisions regarding our planet’s future, our future, and our children’s future. Is it any wonder that the entire world seems to be coming unglued?

Meanwhile our consumerism is devouring the planet into what might soon become more lifeless than the moon or a Wall Street tycoon’s conscience. Yet, mesmerized by commercials with intelligence levels less than a jackass after having a brain amputation, we roll blindly into the gates of the shopping centers turned shopping malls turned humongous big box stores. To share with you what brought out this little speech, consider the following 2011 release from the Associated Press.

“A shopper in Los Angeles pepper-sprayed her competition for an X-box and scuffles broke out elsewhere around the United States as bargain-hunters crowded malls and big-box stores in an earlier-than-usual start to the greed-fueled madness known as Black Friday. For the first time, chains such as Target, Best Buy and Kohl’s opened their doors before midnight on the most anticipated shopping day of the year. Toys R Us opened for the second straight year on Thanksgiving itself. And some shoppers arrived with sharp elbows. On Thanksgiving night, a Walmart in Los Angeles brought out a crate of discounted X-boxes, and as a crowd waited for the video game players to be unwrapped, a woman fired pepper spray at the other shoppers ‘in order to get an advantage,’ police said. Ten people suffered cuts and bruises in the chaos, and 10 others had minor injuries from the spray, authorities said. The woman got away in the confusion, and it was not immediately clear whether she got an X-box. On Friday morning, police said, two women were injured and a man was charged after a fight broke out at an upstate New York Walmart. And a man was arrested in a scuffle at a jewelry counter at a Walmart in Kissimmee, Fla. In the U.S., Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, has taken steps in recent years to control its Black Friday crowds following the 2008 death of one of its workers in a stampede of shoppers. This year, it staggered its door-buster deals instead of offering them all at once.”

— The Associated Press, Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2011

Lennon and McCartney of the Beatles wrote in the song “Revolution”, “you say you want a revolution, well you know, we’d all love to change your head.” Yes, it is more than changing Wall Street or who resides in the White House. It is, ultimately, about changing ourselves. If we all really want some serious change, then change must start from within. Speak from your heart to your kids about consumerism, greed and how they are affecting the planet as well as our behavior. Help them to understand that it’s not about how much we have, but rather how much we contribute. Life is not about how much we own or the value of our possessions, life is all about making a stand for good things like faith, mercy, kindness, and above all, love. Instead of buying your wife a new car and maybe going into debt, take her up on the highest place around where you live, or to some favorite romantic spot, and renew your vows to her. Instead of buying your husband a new bag of golf clubs, give him a night he will never forget. Enjoy each other and be loving to each other. To enjoy is to enjoin, to enjoin is to unite.

Consumerism, capitalism and the vain pursuit of worldly goods keeps us isolated by gimmicks of sensationalist advertising of strikingly beautiful women, absolutely perfect children and gorgeous, flaming hunks of men that are created off the corporate mold. To put it simply, the corporate mold is a load of BS. And who is being molded in all these advertising gimmicks? You are! For what purpose? To make others rich at your expense. The blue chip corporations have a very good reason for doing all this. As long as they can keep us isolated, we can never be united. Don’t go there. Keep your money. Find richness in your heart, your spirit and your character and share that this year instead.

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