Sunday, March 30, 2014
Why Are the World's Young Adults
Leaving the Church?
Someone recently asked my opinion about why so many of the millennial generation are leaving the church, and what can be done about it. After doing some reflection, prayer and meditating, and based on some personal observations, there are quite a few reasons why this is so. To begin with, the fact of the matter is that young Christians often feel forced to choose between their logic and their faith, between evolution and Creation, and between compassion and piety, as if they are mutually exclusive of each other. Meaning, churches who are losing members do so due to politics and religion being merged into one faith while missing any semblance of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ. This attitude dates all the way back to the time of Christ, when the high priests and the Hebrew religious establishment of that time were expecting the Jewish Messiah to arrive as a conqueror who would set up his Kingdom in Jerusalem – in opposition to the Roman Empire – and rule the entire world (That day is coming, but not until all the scriptures have been fulfilled).
A second and equally noteworthy reason that churches are losing America's young professionals is that young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be either too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned to the point of being and thinking backwards, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to liberal, progressive, environmentalist and LGBT people, among others. Most of all, I have met modern Christians who refuse to congregate and worship with anyone other than their own race. Rev. Dr. King said it best back in the 1960's when he stated, “The most segregated place in America is at church on Sunday morning”. To a large extent, this has not changed much over the last 50 years or so. Does organized religion think that young adults don't see this for the hypocrisy that it is?
A third reason that some well-established churches are driving millennials and young adults away is the time-honored tradition of abstinence from alcoholic beverages. There are at least a few well-known Christian denominations – which I will decline to name – who “teach” that abstinence from alcohol is essential to salvation in Christ. But they have forgotten all about the twin facts concerning this subject; the first is that Jesus' first miracle was changing water into wine, and the second is that there were at least two glasses of wine – and possibly more – that were served at the Last Supper on the night before he was crucified. America's young adults look at this and see it for the spiritual sophistry that it truly is.
While we're at it, let's not forget those who are in favor of decriminalizing drugs that are currently illegal. It's not just marijuana for medical purposes alone. Legalize, regulate and tax all illegal drugs, and watch the existing black market for these substances evaporate almost immediately. Portugal, the Netherlands, and Uruguay down in South America are three well-documented examples of what happens after drugs are decriminalized. Legalization – like the repeal of Prohibition in the US in the early 1930's – has cut drug consumption by more than half.
And then there is one of my pet peeves, that Old Testament-based “teaching” about giving a tenth of your income each and every week, otherwise known as tithing. It is based on a single verse of Scripture from the book of Deuteronomy chapter 14, verse 22, which says, “Be sure and set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year”. But modern churches take this much further than that. Their pastors, deacons and other elders will use a well-known verse from the book of Malachi, the very last book of the Old Testament. It reads as follows: “'Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me'. But you ask, 'But how do we rob you?'. 'In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me'” (Malachi chapter three, verses 8-9, NIV). The Bible tells us that the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the Old Law, and yet modern-day preachers and evangelists use these verses to convince their congregations to keep giving more money and other donations as if the above verses were directed at the faithful. In reality, these passages were severe admonishments from God, not towards members of the Church, but rather directed at the leadership. But many prominent preachers and evangelists twist the two separate passages of Scripture towards their congregations and away from themselves. Such individuals who teach this false doctrine will be dealt with most severely when their time for judgment comes.
The evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules. The world's young adults long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt. We are taught to abstain from sex before marriage and not to commit adultery, yet all the while those who teach this commit the same sins in secret, as if God doesn't know what they are doing. These are the same people who condemn same-sex marriage while committing their own immoral sexual behavior. What a bunch of hypocrites!
Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders is that the key to drawing people in their twenties and thirties back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving. But here’s the thing: Christians of all ages have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re turned off by anything that smacks of consumerism. What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance. We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.
We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation. We want to be challenged to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, and becoming peacemakers. People aren't leaving the church because they don’t find the cool factor there; they're leaving the church because they don’t find Jesus there. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus Christ the Son of God. But I would encourage church leaders eager to win back young adults to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community. The immorality of fighting wars, of extreme inequality, of the drug wars, and caring for the fatherless, widows and orphans would be a good place to start.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Monday, March 24, 2014
Thursday, March 20, 2014
American Martyrs and Political Prisoners
This is your country as it truly is, not as we wish it to be. It's certainly not what we learned in school. Have a look at the genuine 21st century America.
This is your country as it truly is, not as we wish it to be. It's certainly not what we learned in school. Have a look at the genuine 21st century America.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Judging Other People
What does the Bible say about judging other people? This goes way beyond mere physical appearances, mannerisms or idiosyncrasies. It surpasses all concepts of right and wrong, although that can play a part. The Bible defines judging others as having contempt for, or a hatred of people. It means considering ourselves better than others for racial, moral, economic, age, religious or gender related reasons. It is morally wrong to do this because we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and God bestows his gifts and attributes to us on an equal basis. Therefore, we are all equals in God's sight, and I could write a whole sermon on that topic alone. There are several good quotes from the Bible that I am going to use to make my point. The first is from the gospel of Matthew in the New Testament, chapter 7, verses 1 and 2.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (NIV)
What this verse also says is the more harshly we judge other people, the more harshly we will be judged when it is our turn. Make no mistake, every one of us will get his or her turn to be judged by God when our lives are over. The only exceptions will be those who will be caught up in the rapture of the Church during the Great Tribulation that is prophesied by the book of Revelation, as well as by the apostle Paul in his letters to the Thessalonian church. And that, my dear readers, will only be a select few people. So what is the criteria for this? It will simply be how we treated other people, and by how good we made them feel. It's going to be about how much unconditional love, kindness and patience we show others. That's why Jesus said during his sermon on the mountain, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5:7). We are to be practicing gentleness when making discernment about others, otherwise our harshness and being judgmental will come back around and bite us in the tail.
“I will deal with them according to their conduct, and by their own standards I will judge them. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 7:27 NIV)
This Old Testament quote from Scripture is the basis for quotations from the New. The more mean we treat others, the meaner God will be towards us when our lives are over. If we treat people gently, God will be gentle with us to the point where it shows up in the lives of those who habitually perform this good deed. How then should we be living? We should be living as if God is watching everything we do and listening to everything we say. This means we should be taking care of others, nurturing and encouraging instead of criticizing and rejecting others just because they don't meet our lofty standards. We are not at the center of the universe! Remember that for every person who seems to come up short as far as we are concerned, there is another that feels the same way about us whether they tell us or not. People who are in the habit of acting this way toward others are always people who dislike themselves. They see something about themselves that they don't like in someone else's personality or character and they go after that person tooth and nail. As long as they are attacking someone else, they don't have to look at themselves.
The next 2 quotes are from the book of James in the New Testament. They take judging of others a step further by getting at the roots of passing judgment.
“Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his 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 who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 3: 11-12 NIV)
Well said, James, my dear brother. Who do we think we are? Since everyone is a sinner in God's sight, God can only save us if we are merciful towards one another. Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. The Bible commands us to love one another, and Jesus taught us to “love your neighbor as yourself”. We cannot simultaneously judge others and still be merciful towards them. We can't claim to love others while sitting in judgment of them. Judgment and mercy are exact opposites, they are mutually exclusive of one another. The same goes for slander and love. There is no way to talk badly about your neighbor, friend, co-worker or relative and then profess your love for them. This bring me to the final verses of this lesson.
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” James 2: 12-13 (NIV)
True judgment gives freedom according to James. Restrictive judgment says to those around us 'I think I'm better than you'. That is not from God. It is man-made and it is derived from excessive pride. Being merciful towards others no matter what they have said or done tends to motivate most people to want to do better. Judging, on the other hand, implies that they can't do any better, so why not just write them off? It's taking the easy way out, and that is never God's way.
There is one more aspect of passing judgment that I think I should mention, and that is the often controversial subject of racism. Hatred, bigotry and intolerance directed towards others are the polar opposites of being merciful. The best way to achieve peace on earth is for everybody to start showing mercy and tolerance towards one another (provided that that mercy and tolerance is not abused by its recipient). The Bible says any time we display racism, intolerance, bigotry and prejudice towards one another, it is the same as hating God who made them all. Who are we to question the handiwork of the Lord? Besides, when we devalue others we ultimately devalue ourselves since God sees everyone as equals. These are simple truths, yet they seem to elude us the majority of the time. Imagine a world without hate or harsh judgment that is filled compassion and mercy for everyone. What a wonderful place to live that would be! The Bible already tells us how. It's just that too few people are putting it into practice.
God has given each of us the responsibility of not being so quick to pass judgment on each other. Instead, we are to be merciful towards each other because “mercy triumphs over judgment”. Ask yourself this question right now. Am I too judgmental? Am I a prejudiced individual? If you are it's time to repent, to turn away from this behavior pattern, and to turn to God, he can provide all the answers you need. If you feel that you may not be strong enough to change, pray to God and ask Him to help you change into a better person. You will be surprised at how willing He will be. Let's practice together to not be judgmental towards one another, and to be merciful instead. It's a better way of life.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Sunday, March 9, 2014
The Ticking Time Bomb of Inequality
(excerpts from, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, by Pastor Paul J. Bern)
The civil unrest and public protests and demonstrations throughout the Arab world, plus parts of Europe and lately Russia, Crimea and the Ukraine, will soon be arriving on our shores. This is a serious development for our country because the lack of job opportunities, plus extreme economic inequality due to a high concentration of wealth being in the hands of far too few people, is turning the entire world into a powder keg. America too has become a ticking time bomb of inequality and lack of opportunity.
When I began my writing career several years ago, I did so to pull the fire alarm on some hearts and minds, such as when one wakes a slumbering neighbor from an overnight house fire. I write to get people's attention, to alert people everywhere to a clear and present danger to our freedom, to shock the uncaring out of their apathy, and to light a fire underneath the complacency of the willfully ignorant. The rich, powerful, and politically well-connected, no less than the top 1% of the US economic pie, have taken over 99% of that pie, leaving the rest of us with the crumbs. And so I am here to alert you that a Second American Revolution, a peaceful revolution aspiring to non-violence, has already been launched. This 2nd American Revolution will remain peaceful so long as “we the people” are not attacked by law enforcement, the military, national guard troops or other abusive authoritarians.
The circumstances and situations that the middle and working classes in the US and abroad find themselves in today amount to a series of gross social injustices that demands a sharply focused and well-coordinated response from the entire populace, a rebuttal and decisive counterattack designed and intended to right, correct and re-balance US political and economic power back into the hands of the overwhelming majority of American citizens to whom it rightfully belongs. There can be no doubt that class warfare has been declared in the US, perpetrated by the wealthy against the middle and working classes, carried out and implemented by the top 1% as a strategic first strike against the remaining 99%. This has been done for the sole express purpose of eliminating from society the constitutional majority of working Americans, and it has been accomplished by the complete and merciless liquidation of middle and working class wealth due to the loss of our homes and retirement savings, the loss of our standards of living and relative prosperity due to loss of income, and even our health due to loss of health insurance. The end result has been the largest transfer of wealth in all of human history. I learned this through personal experience.
I was an IT professional by trade with well over 20 years experience before being sidelined due to a stroke and a couple of other medical issues in 2008. When I attempted to return to the job market in early 2010 I discovered that it was just not possible, partly because of the absolutely pathetic state of the US job market and partly because I was already in my fifties. And so I found myself forced into early retirement even though I wanted to return to work and be productive again. Next, I tried to go back to school and learn a new trade only to be told that I couldn't get a student loan because my credit score wasn't high enough. I found myself temporarily stuck as a result, unable to return to work and unable to retrain myself because of an artificial economic barrier that I could not surmount. I could probably return to the job market in a healthier economy, or get vocational retraining, if the system wasn't broken. Instead, I find myself depending on a government that I fear and mistrust for my monthly sustenance.
There are tens of millions of formerly middle class people just like me all across the country who find themselves in circumstances similar to mine to varying degrees of severity. Many have not been as fortunate as me. They have lost jobs and even whole careers like I have, been forced out into the street due to the epidemic of foreclosures throughout the land, had their cars repossessed leaving them with no way to get to work assuming that they are lucky enough to still have jobs, and are hounded by collection agencies for debts great and small. They have no access to health care except to show up at the local emergency room with no way to pay the bill, putting them even deeper into debt than they already are. They have watched their pensions and their retirement savings evaporate due to market manipulations by unscrupulous “financial managers” who earn obscene bonuses whether they succeed or fail, and all at the expense of their clients. Either that or they have spent their savings during interminably lengthy periods of unemployment after their jobs were downsized or out-sourced overseas to the third world, never to return again. And their children, the ones lucky enough to be able to go to college, are graduating with crushing student loan debts that will take decades to repay if they can be repaid at all, depending on whether they can find suitable work or not. What good is a four-year degree if you wind up flipping hamburgers, stocking shelves, bagging groceries or digging ditches?
Meanwhile, the best jobs, the best educations, and the best incomes are reserved for the wealthy and their families. The same goes for the best health care, the nicest cars and boats and even airplanes (why bother with flying business class?), not to mention the best retirement plans. All of this and more are systematically being procured by the top 1% economic bracket in the US at the expense of everybody else. It's always steak for them and beans for the rest of us, and that is a great social injustice if there ever was such a thing. And so revolution, a peaceful revolution and a civil rights movement of “WE THE PEOPLE” modeled after that of Rev. Dr. King, Jr., is now underway and gaining momentum, and I am asking each of you to do what you can to get involved in the retaking of our country from the elite 1%.
Social and economic inequality, the symptom of which is rampant class warfare, is a cancer growing within the body politic and social fabric of America. Spearheaded by visionaries such as Mahatma Ghandi in the 1940's and 1950's, Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1950's and 1960's – and more recently beginning in the 1990's by the release of Nelson Mandela from incarceration in South Africa – race relations, equal economic opportunity and social parity have come a long way; of that there can be no doubt. But there is the remaining issue of social and economic inequality that has been festering just underneath the surface of the American political landscape, an enforced and entrenched inequality that flows through the bloodstream of the American middle and working classes like an invading disease. This social disease of inequality has penetrated the corporate body of middle America right down to the marrow, becoming so severe that the very existence of the US middle and working classes is now threatened. This same social and economic disease transcends race, and it ranges across nationalities, ethnic groups, and diverse cultures with no preference regarding age, gender, marital status, religion, social or economic status, sexual orientation or anything having to do with the background of the affected individual. The social disease of inequality is not at all peculiar to America, but rather it spans the entire globe and threatens to swallow up any and all chance at opportunity for all peoples, crushing the dreams and aspirations of untold billions.
If people the world over – starting here in the US and later propagating abroad – don't begin to organize and fight back against the rich, powerful and politically well-connected oppressors who are holding us all down as they squeeze the life out of each of us, we will all find ourselves neutralized at best, and obliterated at worst, while an ever-increasing percentage of the nation's wealth becomes ever more concentrated into the hand of an elite select few, rendering the remainder of us powerless and penniless. As time goes on, the ticking time bomb of inequality is gradually but inexorably growing worse. As it does, the plight of the American middle and working classes, and especially that of the poor, gets progressively more desperate along with it.
What can we do to reverse our nation's disastrous course? Obviously, those of us like myself can continue to write about the class war and our battle for survival as we continue to disseminate the awful truth about what's happening to our beloved country and its workers. But a positive message starts with a clear statement of what we are for: A fair economy that works for everyone, not just the rich and powerful. An economy where everyone works and where full employment is more important than record profits. An economy that promotes democracy, not economic and political hostage taking. This is an economy that operates from the moral basis proposed by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, "The care of human life and happiness is the first and only legitimate object of good government."
Based on Internal Revenue Service figures, if middle and upper middle class families had maintained the same share of American productivity that they held in 1980, they would be making an average of $12,500 more per year. That bears repeating: $12,500 of your money every year to the richest 1 percent, and $600 more to pay your share of their tax cuts! Inequality in the U.S. doesn't get the attention it deserves. Many of us brush it off, thinking, "So the rich get richer – it's always been that way." Or we think: "I'm doing OK myself – and I want to be really rich someday, too." Since our economic system is based on individual freedom, most of us believe in the inalienable right to make unlimited amounts of money. The thought of taking back a greater share from innovative and industrious business leaders is (shudder) "socialism." But it's not that at all. Socialism is based on a collective economy similar to communism, and it depends on a large governmental bureaucracy in order to rule over the land and its people. In other words, socialism relies on big government, whereas I am advocating exactly the opposite. Furthermore, I am very much in favor of private ownership and free enterprise whereas socialism excludes both. Enough said.
Fortune magazine reported that the 500 largest U.S. companies cut a record 821,000 jobs in 2009 while their collective profits increased threefold to a record $391 billion. According to Forbes magazine, the top 20 private equity and hedge fund managers took an average of $657.5 million in 2006. The salaries of these 20 people could have paid for 25 police officers, 25 firefighters, and 50 teachers for every one of the 3,000 counties in the United States. Instead we see counties like Ashtabula in Ohio, which cut back its police force from 112 to 49, while a judge advises the residents to "get a gun" to defend themselves. Actually, people have already begun doing just that. As of this writing, there were 5 million handguns, rifles and shotguns sold in April 2012 alone. Millions more have already been purchased by patriotic Americans who love their country but despise their government. We’re in a class war. It’s the corporations and the very wealthiest against all the rest of us.
In 1962 the wealthiest 1 percent of American households had 125 times the wealth of the median household. Now it’s 190 times as much. From 1975 to 2010 median family income rose $42,936 to $49,777. That’s not quite 16 percent over 25 years, less than six-tenths of 1 percent per year. Then came the crashes of 2001 and 2008 and the recessions that followed. The crashes haven’t changed anything. Things have become worse. From 1990 to 2005, adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is down 9 percent while production workers’ pay is up only 4.3 percent over 15 years. At the same time, the rich get richer: Corporate profits are up 106.7 percent. The S&P 500 is still up 141.4 percent since 1990. CEO compensation is up 282 percent. Call it transfer of wealth. Or call it class warfare. If current trends continue, the United States by 2043 will have the same income inequality as Mexico. Countries with high levels of income inequality are third-world countries. When a country is, or becomes, a third-world country, the other thing people can do is run. To some place richer and freer. Like America. But when America becomes Mexico, where will you run to?
Beside loss of income and loss of residence, there are two additional ways that social and economic inequality are being enforced all across middle America. First, for those old enough to retire, their pensions are being systematically looted and/or confiscated by the top 1% tier of US wealth. Simply put, the elderly are superfluous to capitalism. With high rates of joblessness being the “new norm,” more and more people are being made disposable. This leads to an efficient if brutal logic: cutting old-age income and health care will make it easier to scrap old, useless workers. In fact, this reality is already coming to pass. I know all about this from personal experience, as I described earlier.
The final way that social and economic inequality is being maintained and enforced is by an insidious and masterful plan to rob the US middle and working classes of their ability to take care of themselves by taking away their health insurance or vastly inflating the cost. Consequently there is a greater concentration of wealth at the top of the economic pyramid at the expense of everyone else, and the highest level of health care as a result. Compare that to the fact that the number of uninsured is in excess of 56 million as of mid-2012. There are now nearly as many uninsured non-elderly people as those receiving Medicaid or other public insurance such as Medicare and military/veterans coverage.
The gaps in our health care system affect people of all ages, races and ethnicities, and income levels; however, those with the lowest income face the greatest risk of being uninsured. Not having health insurance makes a difference in people’s access to needed medical care and their financial security. The barriers the uninsured face in getting the care that they need means they are less likely to receive preventive care, are more likely to be hospitalized for conditions that could have been prevented, and are more likely to die in the hospital than those with insurance. The financial impact can also be severe. Uninsured families already struggle financially to meet basic needs, and medical bills, even for minor problems, can quickly lead to medical debt.
Where will all of this inequality lead the American people, or at least the overwhelming majority of the population? What do you get when you add the lack of meaningful employment with the apparent inability for the US economy to create new jobs because they are all being out-sourced overseas? What do you get when you add the rapidly increasing phenomena of middle and working class homelessness with the organized theft of homes and cars due to foreclosure and repossession so they can be resold again and again? And what do you get when you add the economic elimination of retirement pensions and affordable health insurance? What happens when a formerly comfortable – even prosperous – segment of the US population is sent crashing downward into poverty, a poverty from which there is little chance of escape unless you win the lottery or some meaningless game show on TV?
Let me tell you exactly what will occur. As more and more people become disaffected and disenfranchised you will see increasing anger, unrest, and overall dissatisfaction until this ticking time bomb of inequality reaches a tipping point. Once this tipping point is reached – and it is almost there right now – you have the perfect recipe for civil unrest, rioting and demonstrating in the streets, wildcat strikes and consumer boycotts, the spontaneous blocking of major highways plus well-to-do subdivisions and wealthy neighborhoods, the burning of government buildings and police stations, the takeover of radio and television stations and the looting of grocery and big-box stores. Look at the current civil unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya and Palestine, and let's not forget about what happened in London and in Spain last summer [2011-PB] and what has happened in Greece. And let's be sure to include the twin civil wars in Syria and the Ukraine. Anyone who thinks that this kind of social and economic upheaval – this high degree of civil disobedience as a response to government repression – can't happen here in the USA simply hasn't been paying attention to current events.
Speaking as a minister of the Gospel, human equality is Scriptural. “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written, 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.'” (2 Corinthians 8: verses 13-15 NIV)
If we are going to be successful in our people's revolution, we will have to do so in a peaceful and orderly way. I think the best way to accomplish this is to imitate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by employing his tactics of non-violent marches and protests. I would caution all of you to not be confrontational and to never carry weapons, because that is not my way, not is it God's. But more than just imitating King, who I regard as one of the mentors of my youth, I want to make the lack of jobs, affordable housing, vocational/professional retraining and affordable medical care into 21st century civil rights issues that will take up where Rev. Dr. King left off, reigniting the twin flames of human equality and full employment into the bonfire that this modern civil rights movement is destined to become. If he were alive today, Dr. King would observe an America increasingly divided into two distinct and unequal classes: the rich and powerful, and the rest of us. He'd see bankers prospering as foreclosures increase; insurance executives reaping profits as people die for lack of health care; and the military-industrial-prison complex advocating and perpetuating endless war (and enjoying the spoils) as the underclass fights, suffers, and pays the costs. Rev. Dr. King understood completely that the people must take charge if anything of importance needs to come to pass. He also understood that civil rights issues are really economic issues of enforced inequality. Today in America the working and middle classes are finding themselves relearning these lessons a generation after the King assassination.
Under no circumstances should we fear the inevitable end of the American empire or the demise of free market capitalism, but instead we should regard them as opportunities to build a better world for our kids and grandkids. There are too many people sitting around muttering and complaining about how bad things are, with much pessimism about the future. We need to stop saying to ourselves, “OMG, we're totally screwed”, and start looking around for ways to take charge of our own situation. The days of waiting around for the government to act are over and done with. It's time that “we the people” retook the reins of power from the rich, powerful and well-connected who stole them from us. After all, our Constitution says it is our country.
Some may ask if there are any legal implications to this. Can protesting against the system in a peaceful way get us/myself thrown into jail? Let me just say quite plainly that there is no law against lawful assembly, the organizing of workers and peaceful protest, all of which are rights guaranteed under the first amendment to the US Constitution. You have every right to take back your country and to reclaim your former position as a productive member of the middle and working classes provided that you refrain from engaging in acts of violence (excluding matters of self-defense) and especially vandalism. The US Constitution guarantees this freedom we all share. The truth of the matter is that things here in the US have deteriorated economically and politically to the point where concerned Americans from all walks of life have no choice but to begin protesting, demonstrating and marching for human equality beginning with a fifteen dollar per hour minimum wage, free lifetime health care and public education, ending the endless foreign wars that we can't afford, for ending homelessness, poverty and crime, and for full employment. But it is a sad reality today that we middle and working class Americans, in solidarity with the poor, have none of the above while every other developed country in the world already has all of the above. Well, if our government isn't doing one stinkin' thing to uphold those whom it governs, then we have a government that has no purpose for existence. And a government that has no useful purpose, or who has abused their authority by oppressing or attacking the citizens instead of governing as is currently the case, must be “altered or abolished” (according to the US Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson) by “we the people”.
We're not about to sit by like sheep meekly waiting for slaughter. We must find ways to hinder and obstruct the corporate state at every turn. 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 flim-flam operation known as the US government is thoroughly exposed for the criminal enterprise that it has become. We, the people, must take back our government by peaceful revolution because it will never be given back voluntarily. "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." – John F. Kennedy
Americans of all backgrounds and colors regardless of social, religious, marital or economic status have a right to be angry and dissatisfied about the current sorry state of US affairs both domestically and abroad. Therefore, it is our patriotic responsibility to do something about it, to force the system to change. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence in 1776, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Instead of racial oppression as was the case a generation or more ago, the civil rights issues of today have to do with economic oppression that knows no racial boundaries. But because this is the case, untold multitudes of oppressed, besieged, disenfranchised, disillusioned and exasperated Americans will rise up together as if on cue against the incurably corrupt, basically unfair and irreparably polluted US government. The fundamentally flawed and inherently biased and discriminatory federal tax code must be replaced by any and all means necessary, even if it means calling for an income tax boycott or a general strike. The right to a livelihood and to earn a living wage, to better economic opportunities through free higher education, to low-cost universal health insurance and to home ownership, and to have a life free from hunger, homelessness, violence and crime, and the right to Internet access, are no longer privileges reserved for the most affluent neighborhoods and families, they are basic human rights that can be denied to no one. In fact the entire governmental system, especially at the federal level, has become so decrepit due to crushing debt from without and from deep-seated corruption from within that trying to get anything done within the existing system is a waste of the American people's time. So considerable civil disobedience, organized protesting, sit-ins and demonstrating, with a tasty touch of peaceful revolution conducted primarily on line and in the streets, is indeed our responsibility as patriotic Americans.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
The Only God That's Real by Rev. Paul J. Bern
This week's commentary will be taken from the book of Acts in the New Testament, which is right after the gospel of John for all you new believers. I will use the Scriptures to prove that the one true God is above and beyond churches and organized religion, in keeping with the theme of this website. The first thing that I want to point out is that there are many false gods in the modern world. The most egregious example that comes to mind is the worship of money and all the evils that come with it. In the apostle Paul's first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil”. That means money in and of itself is not always evil, but the insatiable lust for money most definitely is. Jesus said in the four Gospels, “No one can serve two masters. He/she will either love one and reject the other, or cling to the latter while despising the former. You cannot serve both God and materialism.” (NIV)
Let's ask ourselves these questions – do we sometimes find ourselves in automotive dealerships every time a new model comes out? Do we shop for new clothes, electronics, mobile or “smart” phones, the latest computers, and new decor for our homes whether we need them or not, just because they're “on sale”? Do we sometimes find ourselves shopping for a new house whether we need one or not? Are any of us in debt up to their eyeballs (not counting student loans) because we owe too much on our credit cards? If anyone answered “yes” to any of these questions, and particularly if you prioritize these things at the expense of your Spiritual lives, you may be worshiping a false god. It is Jesus Christ and he alone that must be at the top of our priorities. Anything else takes a back seat to Jesus in the order of our lives. Most of the things I just mentioned are not evil in and of themselves. But false and futile worship of anything other than God, through Jesus Christ our Savior, amounts to idol worship. A similar line of questioning was presented to the apostle Paul 2,000 years ago, and it is well documented in the book of Acts in the New Testament. I will begin with a quote from chapter 17, beginning at verse 16.
“While Paul was in Athens....... he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of..... philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, 'What is this babbler trying to say?' Others remarked, 'He seems to be advocating foreign Gods'. They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus (which was basically a temple for idol worship and a meeting place), where they said to him, 'May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean'....... Then Paul stood up at the meeting of the Areopagus and said, 'Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He himself gives life and breath and everything else. From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth....... God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps to reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each of us.... as some of your own poets have said, “we are his offspring”. Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent....when they heard about [Jesus] resurrection from the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “we want to hear from you again on this subject”...Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the [Jews and Greeks] that Jesus was the [Messiah]. But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, 'Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles'.” (Acts 17, verses 16-32; 18: 5-6; NIV)
This passage is just one of numerous examples of Paul's teaching about the one true God. I especially appreciate that Paul made two distinct points about God. The first is that God is above and beyond all nationalities, races and religions because he preached the same message equally to Jews, Greeks and Gentiles (a group of people that included everybody else). This was considered to be a radical teaching at the time because all these groups believed that their version of God was the correct one to the exclusion of everybody else. This very point continues being emphasized today by certain church denominations who I will decline to name. Nobody has the exclusive path to God. No one has the right to claim that they are any closer to God than anyone else. It's just not true and it never was.
The second point that catches the human eye and captures my imagination is what Paul said about where God lives. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He himself gives life and breath and everything else.” What an awesome statement! Think about how many churches there are in the world. All are called “houses of worship” regardless of which religion they represent. And yet God doesn't live in any of them. Instead, for the true believer God lives in the minds and hearts of all individual believers. Never mind all the spiritual sophistry that's being “taught” in some modern churches, because it's largely based on money. God doesn't care who you are, where you live, what you have done (or not), what country you are from or what church you are connected with (or not). He doesn't care where you have been, and He doesn't care about what is in your past. Unlike many men and women who attend church regularly, God doesn't care what you look like, or what your social or economic status is. God couldn't care less what church you go to, or even if you go at all. The one true God doesn't even live in church, although a lot of phony religious leaders and related clergy will no doubt insist that He does. Instead, God wants to live and breathe in your hearts and minds. He wants you to become a church in and of yourself, a church that walks and talks. Not only does God want to live inside you, He wants us all to act as if we do. That means that He wants us all to have a conscience and to learn how to use it most effectively.
In closing, let me add that there is absolutely nothing wrong with going to church. If you currently attend, I'm certain that God wants you to continue to go so long as you keep hearing messages from the pulpit that are encouraging, uplifting and positive. I don't want this message to be a reason for those who are attending church to stop going. God forbid! On the other hand, please keep in mind that the church is just a building and nothing more. I acknowledge that churches are built as meeting places for like-minded believers and that they should remain so. But now that you have read today's message you know a better way to keep everything in perspective. You can look at organized religion with skepticism as I do, but do not let that compromise your most deeply held beliefs. The one true God is greater that all the religions in the world combined. He is truly above and beyond it all.
Let me say one more thing, and I really wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't point this out. If we are going to have God living inside of each of us then we should be living and acting as if He did. Watch what you say and how you say it. Clean up your life and the language that you use. Be mindful of anything that you are doing to excess because this is the root of all addictive behavior. Live your life as if God is watching what you do and listening to everything that you say because He really is. Until next time, be a church that walks and talks so you can be a good example for others to follow, especially those who look up to you. And the almost incomprehensible peace that is the very embodiment of Jesus Christ – the Savior of the world – will remain with you all. Amen.