Sunday, November 30, 2014

I wonder what Jesus would say about the grand jury decision in Ferguson

What Would Jesus Protest?
By Rev. Paul J. Bern

It started in the Spring of 2011 as most age-defining movements do, with significant unrest and some recognition of what is right and wrong. It started with some people willing to take a stand against rampant injustice. Before long, some more people join. Next time we look it is in another city, then another country. Sweeping across the globe, the civil unrest known by a number of names, such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Anonymous or “we are the 99%” continues to capture the attention of everyone, despite the attempts of the military-industrial complex and their media conglomeration to slander it, discredit it, and lie about it. It is in that same revolutionary spirit that those who are protesting day and night in Ferguson Mo. and simultaneously around the world are on the evening news every night.

By now everyone realizes that there is a “la cosa nostra” of ultra-powerful people (sometimes called the Illuminati) that control the vast majority of wealth in this world, beginning with the US and Europe. They have spoon-fed us American Idol, pro wrestling and other sports, reality TV, idiotic soap operas, and Dancing With the Stars while sneaking around behind our backs tampering with our voting rights, stealing elections, repealing sensible regulations designed to protect us, and enacting laws totally in favor of the rich – and all this occurred as the 1% shipped all our jobs overseas for pennies on the dollar. I know this to be true because it happened to me. There can be no question that their goal is the redistribution of wealth and consolidation of power to the 1% elite while squeezing the once proud middle class into the new working poor caste. You can already hear the screams of "class warfare!" The problem is we didn't start the war, they did. The same ones screaming “class warfare” the loudest are the ones who are waging the war. 

Apparently, when the Arab Spring, Occupy, 'the 99%', Anonymous and Ferguson Movements first started, the power elite underestimated the intensity and dogged determination of the protesters to make their voices heard. They couldn't possibly fathom America's outrage. In their arrogance, they simply didn't comprehend that people had caught on to the illegal Ponzi schemes, crooked midnight deals and winner-take-all financial piracy of the money-worshiping top 1%. That's because our children have been going to the same 'dumbed down' public schools for the last generation or two. But since OWS, “the 99%” and Ferguson have gone viral in the social and political fabric of America, the 1% have begun frantically looking for ways to neutralize this latest movement, but they are already too late. So the next thing they did was to criminalize it, orchestrating mass arrests for the entire world to see. They tried to intimidate the protesters and occupiers by sending in their police squads in full military gear, but that backfired on them too as it only served to garner more sympathy for the people's cause. Next up was an attempt to mock the group and pretend they were somehow uneducated and clueless about why they were protesting at all. That has backfired as well, as all these grassroots movements has generated considerable interest, not only from the general public, but also from some very smart people and astute observers.

Turns out that OWS, “the 99%” and the folks in Ferguson know exactly why they are protesting. Not only are the police out of control and therefore a direct threat to our very lives, people everywhere are arriving at the same conclusion – correctly, by the way – that it is financial suicide to go into hock for $100,000 to get a Bachelors Degree only to be offered jobs that require a paper hat or a $19.95 shirt and tie when they graduate. They become furious when they see billionaires with golden parachutes getting bailed out while their parents are getting evicted. They are vehemently opposed to an economic and educational system that is only available to those who have enough money to pay. They have already read the 2011 United Nations Resolution stating that Internet access is a basic human right (search that), and that denying Web access to anyone due to their inability to pay is a human rights violation at best, and a criminal act at worst. They already see capitalism for what it is – an economy based on greed, plunder and conquest at home and abroad. They see all the homeless people on the streets while entire neighborhoods are littered with abandoned, boarded up houses that represent the shattered dreams of countless families, some of whom are now living in shelters or with relatives because there is no where else for them to go. They see all the school teachers, fire fighters and police officers who continue to get laid off so the country can have more for the top 1%, and so they can have more money for pointless foreign wars. They do not think that 1% of the population should control 99% of the wealth in this country -- and they are absolutely right. Plus, they are scared half to death of the police, and justifiably so.

So what would Jesus protest? Would Jesus protest merciless treatment of the neediest people? “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew chapter 5, verse 7). Of course, the flip side of that coin is that unmerciful, arrogant and belligerent people will be shown no mercy by God. Would he oppose the top 1% who have 99% of our country's wealth? He already has: “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” (Matthew chapter 19, verses 23-24). Would He stand against bully authority? He sure did and still does. “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 'So you must obey [authority] and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them'” (Matthew 23, verses 1-4).

The Occupy, Anonymous and 99% Movements, and the ongoing protests in Ferguson, St. Louis and throughout the planet are all about the least fortunate of us, and it is these very people who want their lives back. They have lost jobs, careers, homes (some of which had been paid on monthly for years or even decades), savings, pensions and even their health. Economic and racial inequality reigns supreme across our land, and the misery that it has spawned threatens to grow into revolution in American streets (cue “Revolution” by the Beatles, “For What It's Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, etc.).

Throughout the Bible the number one theme after Christ's salvation is taking care of the least fortunate in society. Jesus said that if we want to be considered religious, then we are to look after the welfare of widows and orphans. “Whatsoever you do for the very least of my brethren, that you do for me”, and this nugget of wisdom holds as much meaning today as when those words were uttered by Jesus 2,000 years ago. The divine truth of human equality that He illustrated with that verse is something that has yet to be fulfilled, and it's our fault. Human equality was a radical notion in the time of Christ, and many churches continue to leave out of the teaching of this revolutionary aspect of His ministry. So long as racial and ethnic hatred persist, equality cannot flourish. It's up to ministers like myself to address this issue, and I encourage all who read this to join me in my efforts.

I am painfully aware that some conservative Christian writers, and a whole lot of 1%'ers, are apparently in love with the Old Testament verse that says, “If a man will not work, then neither shall he eat”, presumably in reference to strikers, protesters and “occupiers”, but they are forgetting the original context of that verse: “Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: "Those unwilling to work will not get to eat." Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people's business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living. As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good. Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed. Don't think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister.” (2Thessalonians 3: 10-15, NLT)

The context reveals that these verses do not apply to the OWS/99% or Ferguson people. On the contrary, the people protesting want some real justice for Mike Brown, but they also want to work and can't find jobs, and that is why they are protesting! You may be of the opinion that the protesters are "lazy" or somehow not trying hard enough but I have actually been through what these protesters are experiencing. I know what it's like to see a 22-year career evaporate, and to not be able to find enough work to sustain oneself. I know what it's like to wind up homeless through no fault of my own, and I have personally experienced how homelessness, even for relatively short periods of time as was in my case, can and will literally ruin one's health. Like these multitudes of others, I too can attest to how brutal it is out there. The true unemployment rate is very likely double or triple what the government is telling us. The jobs being offered have absurdly low wages that are simply not enough to live on, come with no health insurance, and are often temporary or part time.

The other truth revealed from the context of these verses, however, is how we should be acting. The apostle Paul does not say that we should treat these people with contempt, lie about them, or sneer at them. He does not say they should only help those who can afford to pay. Instead, we should be doing for others what we would have them do for us. We must treat others the way we want to be treated. We must love our neighbor as ourselves. He says we should treat them not as enemies but to warn them as if they were a brother or sister. “Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. -- Isaiah 1: 15-17 (NLT)

What God is saying here is to check your hands before raising them in praise to Him to see whose blood you have on them. Give up your sins. Trust Jesus implicitly. Learn to do good. And then what does the Lord say is doing good? Seeking justice. Helping the oppressed. Defending the cause and fighting for the rights of the needy. If anyone really and truly thinks that there is no injustice in our current judicial system (such as the Ferguson white-wash – oops, I meant to say 'grand jury'), then I would call them heartless and soulless. If you honestly do not believe that there is oppression for the lowest in our society today then I advise you to stop watching Fox News and come on out in the street to join us. There is a real world out here and it is really hurting.

The people at Ferguson, Mo., New York, Chicago, the deep south and the West Coast want social and economic justice. They want the same thing God speaks about throughout the entire Bible. They want the same thing Jesus taught about. Once Christ told a parable about the Good Samaritan. Most of us know the story. A man is mugged and essentially left for dead on the street. He is passed over by a Temple priest and a tax collector. But a Samaritan stopped and helped him, bandaged him, and paid for him to recover at a nearby inn. But the context of this parable is the point. Jesus told it because He was asked the question -- "who is my neighbor?" The Samaritan was chosen as the hero of this story by Jesus because there was much hatred towards them by the Jewish people at that time. Who is my neighbor? I think this is the question we need to ask ourselves every day. We need to ask it when we hear the hate merchants on TV and radio trying to stir up our darker side. We need to ask it when we think that we know the motives of people we never even met. We need to ask it when we start to use God to defend things He obviously would never defend (such as waging war). Jesus finishes the Parable of the Good Samaritan with these words: "Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?" Jesus asked. The man replied, "The one who showed him mercy." Then Jesus said, "Yes, now go and do the same." (Luke 10: 36-37, NLT)

As far as the teacher of law that asked the initial question here was concerned, only fellow Jews were his neighbor. Anyone else was looked upon with disdain. We have that same spirit infecting this country too. The other side is presented only for the purpose of blame and hatred. Those who find themselves on the extreme right look upon the OWS crowd negatively because they are not their neighbors to them. It is the Occupy, 99%, and Ferguson protesters who have become the 21st century Samaritans. They also sneer at the protesters in Ferguson as being just a mob of rioters and looters, when in fact only a small percentage of all those engaged in the street protests engaged in such illicit activities, as if they are all somehow unworthy of mercy. They are somehow to blame not only for their own plight, but supposedly for the plight of the country as a whole. God requires something from us and He spelled it out very plainly in the Old Testament: “No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6: 8, NLT)

The world sells various shades of gray to hide the truth, spinning it and disguising it as it goes. The truth is that if somehow anyone thinks Jesus would support a system where over 40 million people are homeless while the ultra rich clothe their dogs, then I suggest that maybe they do not understand what "doing what is right" truly means. If anyone thinks that Jesus would support a system where 16,000 children die every day from hunger while the world's top 1% gets richer and fatter, then I am not so sure that they understand the concepts of loving and being merciful. Not just being merciful – really loving mercy and walking humbly with your God. I want you to think the next time someone is trying to sell you on the notion that the Ferguson, OWS and “the 99%” people are 2nd class citizens. It makes me wonder what their motivation is for saying such things. If anyone has the snooty opinion that the Ferguson, OWS and 99% folks are lazy troublemakers, then that becomes their problem. If you have the political opinion that they should go home and find a job, fine, but have any of you tried to find a job lately? Ask someone who has been unable to find work for months or even years! Brothers and sisters, those are nowhere near being Christian arguments. They are most definitely not Biblical arguments – and they are devoid of any compassion, any mercy, or any humility. What will we do to help all these people? What would happen if you lost your job tomorrow, or if a family member were to be killed by the police? What have we done lately to help each other? Because in the end, that's all that really counts.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Celebrate Thanksgiving by buying and doing nothing

Celebrate Thanksgiving By Buying Nothing This Year
by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Is there a tradition any more primitive or disgusting practiced across America today than that of Black Friday? Hordes of consumers mob stores for great deals on useless "goods" like flat screen TVs that one must have a cable TV subscription to watch it, smart phones and tablet computers that break every time they're dropped, video gaming “stations” that are addictive, or the latest clothes manufactured by Southeast Asian or Latino children in some God-forsaken sweatshop somewhere. Every single year I am further struck by the apparent lack of focus by Christmas shoppers on the original reason for the season. Thanksgiving is the holiday when we give thanks for what we have and count our blessings. It is a time to put things into perspective and realize that we are not so poor after all, economic hardship notwithstanding. St. Paul wrote, “I know what it means to have little and I know what it means to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content no matter what my circumstances.” We would all do well to learn to do the same.

The Christmas shopping season is the time when we are supposed to be celebrating the birth of our Lord. Instead, all I see each year are large crowds of people caught up in an orgy of consumerism and materialism. Hordes of people buying this and that, spending like there is no tomorrow in a feeding frenzy of capitalist consumerism. Think about how much good it would do if the birth of our Lord was celebrated with that much enthusiasm. What if we were to organize a National Buy Nothing Day to protest economic inequality? Or how about a $15.00 per hour minimum wage? Or maybe to protest the cost of higher education, we should boycott our student loans! What if everybody stopped sending in their payments until the loans were forgiven? Two thirds of the US economy is consumer spending. Think of what a shock wave it would send if any such national protest/boycott were to be organized!

We're in a pretty messed up place politically and environmentally. Multinational corporations and financial firms pretty much own the government. Global warming is not only a real and present danger, but rapidly accelerating. There is a plastic "raft" in the Pacific Ocean bigger than Texas. And as people we're constantly being taken advantage of to make this situation last longer so that corporate profits and bonuses can climb even higher than they are now. The strong link between these two things – our society's consumerism and the terrible political, social, environmental, and economic situations we're in – demands immediate and urgent action. By buying things from these corporations and feeding into this model of an economy, we only encourage and empower it. So I'm asking you: please join me in buying nothing this coming weekend.

So this Black Friday, I'm calling for a Wildcat General 3-day Strike. I'm asking tens of millions of people around the world to bring the capitalist consumption machine to a grinding – if only momentary – halt. I want you all to not only stop buying for 72 hours, but to shut off all but your most essential lights, all your televisions and other nonessential appliances. I'm asking you to park your car, turn off your phones and log off of your computer for the day. I'm calling for a three-day interlude of fasting and prayer. From sunrise to sunset we'll abstain en masse, not only from holiday shopping, but from all the temptations of our greed-based and debt-funded lifestyles. Ideally, everyone will power down their electricity for the day and just enjoy some time with their family or friends or both. If you can't do that, at least refrain from the Black Friday madness. Don't go to a store for some kind of deal. Avoid the stress by not going out in the traffic. Don't shop at the big box stores - in fact, don't shop anywhere. Just take a break for Friday, Saturday and Sunday and do nothing at all.

You know the old truism: a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Things are falling apart – the temperature rising, the oceans churning, the global economy heaving – so why not do something? Take just one small step toward a more just and sustainable future. Make a pact with yourself: go on a consumer fast. Lock up your credit cards, put away your cash and opt out of the capitalist spectacle. It may be harder than you think, that is, the impulse to buy is more ingrained in many of us than you may have ever realized. But you will persist and you will transcend – perhaps reaching the kind of epiphany that can change the world.

Some might criticize me for publicizing this idea during such a tough economic times. "We need people to consume in order to drive the economy!" To that I say this: it's not good if we need people to buy useless crap in order to maintain our economy. That needs to shift fundamentally. And the only way to shift it is to stop buying useless crap. So will you join me? Will you take the plunge and break the chord from your normal consumerist ways? Let's all stay at home Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and have a time of prayer and fasting, and some quality time with each other. In this case, fasting doesn't mean we must totally abstain from food. But you can go on a liquid diet (soup only, etc.) for 3 days without doing yourself any harm. I have done this before successfully, so if I can then so can you! If we're going to give thanks, then let's begin by giving thanks to God.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

America's wars overseas are unnecessary and obscene

The Ongoing Obscenity of Our War on Terrorism
by Rev. Paul J. Bern

The war in Afghanistan lasted more than 11 years as of this year. The original reason for the US military invasion was to hunt down and capture or kill Osama Bin Laden as the chief perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks. The reason it took the US military more than a decade to find him was because they were looking in the wrong country. Oops, sorry Mr. or Mrs. taxpayer, we got the right guy but we had the wrong address. Oh well. At the height of its military operations, the United States was spending $60 billion per month on the twin wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That is not counting all the other bases the US military now has in well over 100 countries around the world, such as Germany, Japan, Okinawa, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, to name a few of the major ones.

This leads to a fundamental question; why are our military forces still there after fighting the longest war the US military ever fought? Osama Bin Laden is long gone and we are still there, seemingly chasing our own tails. But that was before the truth came out about two things. First, Afghanistan is a country with vast untapped natural resources, including enormous copper deposits. Second, all the fuss about Afghanistan's poppy seed crop being a target of the 'drug war' here in the US is just a bunch of bull. Upon closer examination of what has been happening there out of sight of the American public, it becomes apparent that it is none other than the CIA running the show. So when you see teenage gang members selling heroin on any given street corner in America, you can thank the CIA. This is a stark contrast to what I have been teaching about being a people of peace. It brings the US “war on terror” into sharp focus and sheds light on the hypocrisy of the American Empire's military machine and its illegal incursions into third world countries where it does not belong. The truth of the matter is that the U.S. position with respect to the dictators in the Arab world has been one of pure hypocrisy. We have supported these tyrants in the name of "stability" and the "war on terrorism", but it has been a policy that has contributed mightily to the oppression of the people in those countries (which is a betrayal of our own revolutionary past, not to mention our fight against tyranny, as well as exacerbating the Islamic terrorism being used against us).

It has been amazing that the people who are in revolt against the dictators and their regimes haven't linked the U.S. with the tyranny they have been forced to live under. Contrary to what is being reported in the Lame Stream Media, their rebellions have been non sectarian, grass roots and non ideological in every country they have occurred and completely unrelated to Islamic fundamentalist or 'jihadist' terrorism. That last fact would seem to expose and make America's policy in the "war on terrorism" while initiating wars in the Muslim world obsolete and absurd. The irony is there has been little if any mention in the media of our wars and the war on terrorism possibly because they have had nothing to do with these Arab rebellions. Yet it is a topic of urgent need. The closest form of mentioning anything in this regard came from “W's” administration Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who said during Bush 43's second term in office, "Any new secretary of defense who advises a president to engage in land wars with vast armies in foreign lands needs to have his head examined".

The fact is our entire policy of pre-emptive war and occupation and the whole "war on terrorism" is a ruse, an unnecessary and a cruel invention concocted by neo-conservatives and cold war warriors who were itching to replace the defunct Soviet Union with an enemy we must oppose in a fight to the death (as we now see in our endless "war on terrorism"). Not only is the war on terror a reason for the American Empire to exist, it has become the only reason for its existence. It was and is a fantasy perpetrated by them and foisted on the American people. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 became their cause for that endless war and is the real, but unfortunate, legacy of that fateful day. But in light of the unfolding democratic "awakening" in much of the Arab world can there not be serious discussions deep in the bowels of the White House of the absurdity of our continuing to fight wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen as well as Iraq (not to mention the proxy war the CIA has been fighting against the Assad regime in Syria)? Gates' comments allude to the insanity of fighting these wars (even if he put it in the context of new misadventures). From here it seems the U.S. resembles (in its ability to end its wars) a giant ship at sea that takes an excruciatingly long time to reverse course. Like the Viet Nam quagmire we seem stuck, committed to the un-winnable yet unwilling and unable to face reality. War is an ongoing obscenity.