Sunday, December 25, 2016
The Devolving of Christmas: An American Tragedy
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
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.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Sunday, December 18, 2016
Better to Be Thankful for What You've Got
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
People everywhere are crying the blues about their financial situation, and with just cause to say the least. There are some people lucky enough to still be in the work force who are being forced into low-end service jobs, many of which pay below the poverty line. It's not the people's fault that they can't find good paying jobs. Most of those jobs have been sent overseas, never to return. The job market is rigged anyway, and so are the political and economic systems we are currently stuck living under. But all this will be coming to an end soon unless the globalists are stopped in their tracks! You know, the ones who just lost last month's presidential race here in the US? Never mind HRC, she was just the face that masked the real persona of globalist interests. If we do not actively oppose the global elites we will be crushed by them, of that you can be quite sure!
So how can we stop these people without tearing everything down and starting over on a clean sheet of paper? We must redefine democracy and the capitalist economic system (in that order) in 21st century terms. Representative democracy such as what been centralized in Washington, DC will ultimately be replaced by a virtual-reality-like online government. Instead of the current hierarchical setup, future government will evolve into a beehive configuration, having a kind of lateral management structure. I don't think that's too far into the future, either. One thing I am sure about – the governmental and economic systems as they currently exist are unsustainable. A huge economic crisis is headed our way. It's not a question of if, but of when.
The only other possibility would be for Jesus to return and take his people home (see Matthew 24, Luke 27, Daniel 9). To put it mildly, that would stop everything and everybody in their tracks! Everything I just wrote about in the opening paragraphs would no longer make any difference! To spare you all any long, drawn out explanations, anywhere from 10% to as high as 25% of humanity will leave earth all at once during the 'rapture' of the greater Church as the apostle Paul prophesied in 1st Thessalonians chapter 4, verses 13-18, and I quote: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and that he rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, and with the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
“We believe that Jesus died and that he rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep”. Notice the emphasis on Jesus' resurrection as the starting point. On the other hand, “fallen asleep” was a pseudonym in the 1608 King James version for being deceased that was carried over to several other versions, such as the NIV. The following verse is just a fancy way of saying that upon the 'rapture' of the greater Church, those who died while practicing their faith in Christ would be the first to be taken up, followed by all those believers who were still alive at the halfway point of the seven years of tribulation when the 'rapture' will actually occur (see Daniel 9, verse 27). “....the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” This is the ultimate fate of every true Christian. We will meet the Lord in the air, or in heaven, and either choice is fine with me.
But until then and while we're waiting for the 'rapture', people are still really upset about the huge pay cuts they have had to take to remain in the work force, their lowered standards of living, unfair burdens of student loan debt, increasing environmental pollution, and burnout from longer work hours adds insult to injury. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, I don't know how much longer American workers, managers and their families are going to be able to put up with this situation. But at the end of the day, we had all better be satisfied and thankful for what we do have, because it can all be taken away in an instant by fire or natural disaster. While standing up for what is right and just are always good things, we should adopt the attitude of the apostle Paul, who, when he wrote his beautiful letter to the Philippian church, said, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content no matter what the circumstances. I know what it is like to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4, verses 10-13)
We can all learn a good lesson from the apostle Paul in those verses above. Paul evidently didn't worry about having all his needs met. Paul is telling us all to stop worrying about material possessions like money and investments, the most stylish clothes, ever more over-sized houses and faster cars, and countless status symbols in American society that don't amount to a hill of beans in the sight of God! In my humble opinion, people had better start learning to live with less, not more. America is addicted to materialism, but the coming financial disaster will break that addiction for good! People will have to relearn the time-honored lesson that there is more to life than just 'stuff'.
Tough times are coming. Nobody knows the exact timetable for this, but I view this as my duty as a licensed minister to warn people about the coming financial calamity and its probable consequences so they can prepare. I also view this as being part of my overall job description, since I am a humble servant in His Majesty's service. What is also a part of my job description is to be a watchman in the fortified guard tower, scanning the horizon for any sign of a possible attack or potential intruder from Satan and the forces of darkness. Thanks to my own relationship with Jesus, I can evade these forces of evil I have written about. By reading your Bible daily, you can achieve the same and dedicate it all to Jesus. In fact, we would all do well to do the same.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Sunday, December 11, 2016
John Glenn Saw No Conflict Between Faith and Science
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
STS-95 crew member, astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn poses for his official NASA photo taken April 14, 1998. Photo courtesy of NASA via Reuters
For by Him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1: 16-17)
The passing of American hero John Glenn this past week has given me cause for reflection. When I think of heroes, Jesus Christ is the first person that comes to mind. Since he has saved us all from our sins against God and each other, Jesus is the obvious first choice. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is another example of a hero that I can think of, the late president John F. Kennedy is yet another. I can think of still more examples from the Bible, such as St. Stephen from the Book of Acts chapter 6, Joshua and Caleb from the Book of Joshua, and the apostle Peter, to name a few. And then there is John Glenn. As an American astronaut he gained heroic stature when he became the first man to orbit the earth aboard Friendship 7 in 1962. Previously, he won five Distinguished Flying Crosses in World War II, and years later went on to become a U.S. Senator from Ohio.
Perhaps less well known is that he was a man of deep Christian faith. This past Thursday, when he left the bounds of earth one final time at age 95, he passed into the arms of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He was one of the pioneering astronauts of the Mercury program at a time when space travel was extremely risky. He said he prayed every day during that time. Those prayers were needed on Glenn’s historic first orbits in space. During the return on February 20, 1962, Glenn’s heat shield was thought to have come loose and many believed it might fail during re-entry, which would cause Glenn’s capsule to be incinerated in its fiery descent. Glenn was instructed to take manual control of the capsule and described “a real fireball outside” as he re-entered the atmosphere. Thankfully, his and many other prayers were answered when he splashed down safely in the Caribbean.
Shortly after his flight, he delivered a sermon, “Why I Know There is a God,” that described his enlarged perspective on God as a result of the mission. In his message, he marveled at the size of the universe. “Our galaxy is some 100,000 light years in diameter. This makes us realize how difficult it is to visualize the tremendous scale of the universe beyond our solar system. The limits of the telescopically observable universe extend at least two billion light years from us in all directions,” he told his listeners in 1962. Then he expressed awe at discoveries from the microscopic level. “Come back to what we know of atomic particles, the smallest particles known. Atoms have a great similarity to our solar system in that they have electrons rotating about a nucleus in regular patterns. Now what is the point I am making?” he asked. “It is the orderliness of the whole universe about us, from the smallest atomic structure to the most enormous thing we can imagine. Could this have just happened? Was it an accident that a bunch of flotsam and jetsam suddenly started making these orbits of their own accord? I can’t believe that. This was a definite plan. This is one big thing in space that shows me there is a God. Some power put all this in orbit, and that power keeps it there.”
John Glenn may best be remembered as one of the 20th century’s greatest explorers, the first American to orbit the Earth and, later, the oldest man in space. Glenn also will be remembered for his long career as a U.S. Senator, representing his home state of Ohio for 24 years as a moderate Democrat. But less well-known is the fact that Glenn was an elder in the Presbyterian Church who saw no conflict between his beliefs in God and in science. He told The Associated Press last year he believed scientific discovery – including evolution – should be taught in schools. “I don’t see that I’m any less religious by the fact that I can appreciate the fact that science just records that we change with evolution and time, and that’s a fact,” he said. “It doesn’t mean it’s less wondrous and it doesn’t mean that there can’t be some power greater than any of us that has been behind and is behind whatever is going on.” And in a space-to-Earth news conference during his second space flight at age 77 in 1998, Glenn told reporters his view of space only strengthened his belief in God. “Looking at the Earth from this vantage point, looking at this kind of creation and to not believe in God, to me, is impossible. To see the Earth laid out like that only strengthens my beliefs,” he said.
From high above Earth, John Glenn saw the face of God. He was not alone. There is something about the beauty of space, Earth and the universe that touches many people's spirits. Logic-oriented scientists and daring pilots turn spiritual, some even evangelical, after their space flights. Glenn and most of his Mercury astronauts strongly testified about how faith helped with their groundbreaking flights. John Glenn summed it all up while in orbit. “To look up out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible,'' Glenn said in a Sunday news conference, responding to a reporter's question. “It just strengthens my faith.'' Glenn said recently that evolution should be taught along with all other types of scientific discovery, and this view does not contradict a belief in God. He went on to say that recording the scientific changes that occur over time due to evolution fit comfortably with his view of God as Creator.
Sunday, December 4, 2016
This Week's Bogus Unemployment Report Is a Sin Against Us All
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
I have always believed that being a good Christian means standing up against social and economic injustice. After all, being religious without putting one's faith into action is like calling oneself a Democrat or Republican without ever voting. The Bible says in the New Testament, “Faith without works is dead”, and I'm a firm believer in putting that into practice. One social injustice that I wrote about in my 2011 book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto” was the outsourcing overseas of what used to be good American middle class jobs. I have some ideas about what is wrong or unjust in this great country of ours, and the following is just one example of what I would like to see fixed within society at large. I am talking about this week's federal government's press release that puts American unemployment at 4.6%. This simply hilarious number is being peddled to the American people at a time when only 61% of American adults are working. So, we're supposed to believe America has 4.6% unemployment while over one third of our workforce has given up looking for work out of sheer discouragement!
Now that Washington is waking up to the destructive impact of outsourcing good middle class jobs overseas, something the American people have known about for years, globalism's advocates have decided this facade of lies has to be maintained by the elite 1% at all costs. The Wall Street Journal, a supposed bastion of truth, recently stated that "the fact is that for every job outsourced to Bangalore, nearly two jobs are created in Buffalo and other American cities." I bet “Buffalo and other American cities" would like to know where these jobs are. On October 25, 2011, 60 Minutes had a program on unemployment in Silicon Valley, where formerly high-earning professionals have been out of work for two years and, today, cannot even find part-time $9 an hour jobs at Target.
The claim that jobs outsourced by US corporations increases domestic employment in the US is one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American public (excluding the biggest one, which is the so-called “Federal Reserve”). Based on a bit of research that I have done from an economics standpoint, I can tell you that our country's governmental and business leaders have reached this erroneous conclusion by counting the growth in multinational jobs in the U.S. without adjusting the data to reflect the acquisition of existing firms by multinationals, and for existing firms who have turned themselves into multinationals by establishing foreign operations for the first time. There is no new multinational employment in the U.S. Absolutely zero. Existing employment simply moved into the multinational category from a change in the status of firms to multinational. American workers have become expendable because corporate America has decided they are too expensive to keep around. I know this to be true because it once happened to me.
The jobs that replaced the ones that were outsourced overseas for pennies on the dollar consist of waitresses and bartenders, health care workers, social services, retail clerks, and while the bubble lasted, construction. These are not the high-tech, high-paying jobs that the "New Economy" promised, and they are not jobs that can be associated with global corporations. Moreover, these domestic service jobs are themselves scarce. Just ask anybody trying to find one. Until this past year the construction jobs had all but vanished. Did you ever wonder how it was possible to have simultaneously millions of new good-paying middle class jobs and virtually the worst income inequality in the developed world, with all income gains accruing to the mega-rich? Or was that just me?
Education is no longer the solution it once was. For example, we already have more engineers than we have jobs for them due to outsourcing. A Philadelphia marketing and research firm called “Twentysomething” found that 85% of recent college graduates planned to move back home with parents. Even if members of the "boomerang generation" find jobs, the jobs don't pay enough to support an independent existence. And let's not forget that nearly all of these recent graduates have student loans with payoff balances in the tens of thousands of dollars. This in turn ruins their credit, which makes finding employment even more difficult. Reporters repeat the lie that the unemployment rate is 4.6%. The government's own more inclusive rate stands at 17%. Statistician John Williams, who counts unemployment the way it is supposed to be counted, finds the unemployment rate to be 22%. In my 2012 book, “Occupying America: We Shall Overcome”, I estimated the total unemployment rate to be 24%. Near the end of 2016 as I write this, total unemployment plus under-employment remains stuck at roughly the same figure.
To keep our eyes off the loss of jobs to outsourcing, policymakers and their minions in the financial press blame US unemployment on alleged currency manipulation by China and on the financial crisis. The financial crisis itself is blamed by conservatives on low-income Americans who took out mortgages that they could not afford, and on US “entitlement” programs. In other words, the problem is China and the greedy American poor who tried to live above their means, or who are allegedly too lazy to work. With this being the American mindset, you can see why nothing is being done to save the US economy.
We need to stop blaming poor people and minorities for America's problems. If anyone wants to know what is wrong with our country, the answers are located inside the D.C. Beltway, and they are there in abundance. This country can end or greatly limit unemployment, homelessness, poverty and economic inequality by simply reeducating its population. The Bible says in the Old Testament, “The people perish for a lack of knowledge”, and it's ever so true even after all the centuries that have gone by. The US is the only remaining developed country that does not do this for its citizens. The same can and should be done today, and I think it should also be a jumping-off point for overhauling or replacing the US public school system.
Take all the long-term unemployed, particularly older workers like I was, and send them back to school for up to two years (four year programs would be available at extra cost using my idea), and allow them to earn the degree, diploma or professional certification of their choice. Do the same for all parolees, as well as all homeless individuals who are judged healthy enough to work – anyone who might otherwise find it nearly impossible to find employment. Should the taxpayers pick up the tab for this? No way, let corporate America be compelled by law to pay for the retraining of these still-valuable US workers! If they can afford to send our jobs overseas for pennies on the dollar, then paying for up to 2 years of school to teach new trades to anyone who wants retraining should similarly only cost them pennies on the dollar relative to their exorbitant annual profits. Moreover, these multinational corporations already engage in enough tax dodging and evasion to pay for all of it!
There is a price to be paid for social and economic injustice, and it's a steep price too. Human being are driven by, among many other things, a desire for achievement, or to better one's lot in life. Those who see opportunities to improve themselves or their situation are by nature predisposed to take advantage of that opportunity, whatever it might be. So, when people find themselves being denied opportunities to succeed, along with the rewards that accompany that success, they resent it. It hurts our feelings because it seems as if we are being punished for wanting to better ourselves, as if we have done something wrong. There are those who might say, “This is something that's beyond my control”. But I continue to maintain that only happens when one capitulates to that 'something', whatever it may be. But if we band together and fight the 1% elitists, we have them outnumbered by 99 to 1, and I predict that is exactly what will happen if our new president sells out to Wall Street like he seems to be doing. As the late president Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make a violent revolt inevitable.”
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Monday, November 28, 2016
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Making Do With Less In A Season of Excess
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone as the Christmas holidays approach, it is time for all of us to change our focus from the acquisition of material wealth to that of intangible enrichment, such as our health, well being, peace of mind and contentment. Everywhere we go we find ourselves surrounded by a bombardment of mass media, mass marketing and corporate sponsorship. The average American gets knocked over with endless commercials from the time they get up until they lay back down at night, especially our children. The existence of a near-constant stream of subliminal messaging through the mass media is common knowledge, and all of it is to our detriment! All the while, it costs a fortune to buy anything these days, even groceries! In contrast, I grew up in a 1,200 square feet house that cost $18,000.00 when it was built in 1954. Today we are surrounded – hemmed in is more like it – by opulence and wealth on a magnitude never before seen in the history of human civilization, even to the point that many of us have begun to take it all for granted. It makes me wonder if losing some of this excess wealth might do some of us a lot of good.
Maybe we should begin to ask ourselves some basic questions about our lives and how we are living them, while we're engaging in fisticuffs for that new microwave-toaster-oven-walk-in-freezer we've been saving our pennies for. For example, why would any of us want a newer car when there is probably nothing mechanically wrong with the one we drive now? And why would any of us want a bigger house when the one we are currently living in is fine? The answer in both cases is that American society is, for lack of a better word, programmed to be upwardly mobile. This happens partly due to social pressure on the part of our peers as well as economic pressure from corporate America, with the accompanying least common denominator being pure greed. Our society here in the US, from our current and terrible medical care system to the dangerously overextended banking system, to the well-established debt-based capitalist economic system that keeps us all enslaved, is based on greed for the accumulation of material goods and the hoarding of cash and assets for “investment” or “retirement” purposes, two euphemisms for “I've got more than you have”.
Owing to the fact that there are 2.5 billion people, or roughly a third of the earth's population, who live on less than $2.00 per day, it has been getting clearer to watchful eyes from everywhere that the hoarding of wealth by the developed and established countries is increasingly happening at the expense of other less fortunate third-world countries. The unending influx of economic refugees from Mexico and Central America to the US is only one example of dozens globally. The more recent mass migrations from Syria and Iraq are another. Increasingly larger amounts of money are being hoarded by an ever smaller minority of elitists worldwide. Some people in this group are for the most part engaged in legitimate enterprises, while others are either drug cartels or just flat-out organized criminals. Capitalism's holy grail, the quest for never-ending profit, has devolved into a monster – composed of endless debt and infinite compounded interest – that is consuming itself, that is unsustainable, and that is therefore ultimately self-destructive. Its impending self-destruction also means that it is harmful to the rest of us when it implodes or otherwise collapses, constituting a real and present threat to us all.
As a result of growing hunger on the part of many of us who are disillusioned with the old school, debt-driven, for-profit business and government, people are beginning to explore other ways of living and to develop new values for a less growth-oriented community. I myself am a part of this movement, having moved from the suburbs to the inner city here in Atlanta where I live, and relying mostly on public transit to get around. Although I'm disabled and don't own a car any more, the lifestyle changes I have made over the last few years have transformed my life. First of all, I'm no longer stuck in Atlanta traffic, and so I seldom get stressed out over much of anything. The buses and trains go at a gentler pace, and I find this rejuvenating. I leave whenever I feel like it, and come back home the same way. But the most practical part of using public transit is that not owning a vehicle saves me at least $10,000 dollars annually by the time I include insurance and maintenance, and that's for an entry-level car. It also gives me a very small carbon footprint so I can set a good example for others to follow.
Besides, in Genesis chapter one it says that God created man to “subdue the earth”, which includes caring for it. In that regard, mankind has done an atrocious job of taking care of the planet that God gave us to live on, a planet that God created specifically for us. Mankind has the collective responsibility to care for and nurture this planet we live on! Whenever we pollute our environment, and especially when whole countries threaten one another with nuclear annihilation, we show utter contempt for God's creations! Those who pollute the earth are spitting in the face of God, and they will be held accountable!! In the interim, one of the best ways to begin to repair the earth's damaged environment would be to move to the city and rent, sell or park our cars, and take public transit, ride bikes, or walk. In other words, doing this would be a way that we can all honor God. Add to this the fact that walking or bike riding is very good for our health, and we have sufficient motivation to begin working toward this goal. As you have guessed, I do a fair amount of walking myself, and I'm better off because of it!
Others are exploring additional ways to simplify their lifestyles and to get by on less stuff than they were formerly accustomed and still be contented. The Bible tells us “to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11). The apostle Paul wrote that he “has learned the secret to be contented” (Phil. 4:12), and that “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1st Tim. 6:6). Many people are opting for smaller, more practical living quarters. One acquaintance of mine from the church I attend and serve as a musician has done something similar to that. When the family car reached the end of its life and they didn't have enough money to replace it with a newer model, they moved out of their suburban apartment into a dwelling where the bus stop is 100 feet away. It's a slightly smaller house than where they had been living, but it gave them the added benefit of becoming a closer family — both literally and figuratively. By moving to a smaller house, this family of four was forced to be around each other more often, which they discovered they actually enjoyed. They essentially traded excess space that they really didn't need for togetherness and inter-connectivity. Everybody should want that deal!
At the heart of this story lies a deeper critique of the American obsession with consumption and the “bigger is better” mantra. Many Americans shun the word “sacrifice,” but studies find that trading stuff for time with people quite often makes us happier, healthier, and more sustainable. I can cite one of my favorite scientific findings: When we act altruistically (volunteer, donate to charity, etc.), we get the same neurological high in our brains that food and sex impart. Being good really does feel good. Welcome to conscious consumption: It’s not just about what we buy (even if it is fair-trade, organic, local), it’s also about being intentional with what we already own and cutting out the excess. On a related note, because of the recent recession, Americans are buying less, but doing more. The Department of Labor, keeping tabs on how people spend their time, found that Americans were cooking at home or participating in “organizational, civic and religious activities” 30% more in 2015 than in 2010.
So what can we do immediately to begin a cooperative movement to begin to rejuvenate the earth? Cook at home more and eat out less. Get involved in politics. Going green in every possible way, up to and including doing without a car? Definitely! Let's replace our antiquated power grid with one that is low voltage and wireless. Those are some hopeful and meaningful signs of progress toward sustainable, climate-friendly cities in a totally green future. Can my crusade for unconditional equality, and for social and economic equity encourage a bigger shift toward conscious consumption and green living? I certainly hope so.
Monday, November 21, 2016
President Trump, Racism in America, and the Bible
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
Lately I have received a little negative feedback from some of my Christian readers saying that I should not be trying to blend religion and politics because it causes too much controversy. Interestingly enough, I'm not hearing any of that from my secular readers on this blog, nor on my other one, the 99% Blog (on Wordpress.com or Blogspot.com). Same thing goes for my website, if you're not already there. I have thought about this issue with considerable deliberation, and I have gone back and re-read some of what my Bible has to say about that. I use three different versions to study from, too, just to make sure I get things as close to being right as I can. Let me sum up my conclusion to this issue in just this one sentence: The two primary reasons Jesus was put to death on the cross was because he preached against organized government and organized religion. For what other reason did he say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me”?
You may say to yourself, “That's all fine, but what does this have to do with mixing religion and politics”? Well, in a way, my above quote covers the religious aspect of this. For a quote from the Bible about the political side of this, with religion blended in, let's go over to Matthew's gospel chapter 23, verses 2-4, and I quote: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them 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 man's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” Isn't that what's been happening today? Religious leaders demand ten percent of people's incomes so they can afford to buy jet fuel for their planes and remodel their 50,000 square foot mansions. Police officers enforce the law on one hand while shooting unarmed people for committing minor traffic violations with the other. Our governments make the laws and administer our country, state and local governments, yet government corruption is well known, especially at the federal level. Jesus blended religion with politics, and there are many more examples besides this one. If Jesus did it then I as his follower, messenger and ambassador will do the same.
Which brings me to the topic of this week – our newly installed government. One of Donald Trump's first appointees has been one Steve Bannon, the editor-in-chief of Breitbart.com, a right wing fringe website that can be so radical at times that it makes Alex Jones and Infowars.com look like child's play. On CNN's website Saturday morning, they had this to say, “Steve Bannon has no regrets. The ex-Breitbart executive, who serves as Trump's chief strategist for the new administration, told The Hollywood Reporter that "darkness is good." "Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power. It only helps us when they (liberals) get it wrong. When they're blind to who we are and what we're doing," he said in an interview published Friday, his first outside of Breitbart since the election.
Darkness is good? Satan equals power? Just as bad, this man idolizes Darth Vader and regards former vice president Dick Cheney as a role model?? I don't know about you, but I am deeply concerned about Mr Bannon being in charge of anything in America's government. What does the Bible say about this, and about people like Steve Bannon (and there's plenty of them)? “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness instead of the light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done he has done through God.” (John 3: 19-21) Need more proof? You got it, and again I quote: “This is the message we have heard from him that we declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1st John 1: 5-7)
Now, let me tie all this together with one more quote from Scripture, this time from the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” (Isaiah 5: 20-21) Although I have the greatest respect for Donald Trump, I have serious misgivings about his choice of Steve Bannon for his Chief of Staff, a man who is apparently quite proud of his ties to the so-called “White Nationalist Movement” and other right-wing extremist groups. The White Nationalists are basically the KKK with a fresh 21st century style makeover, and their political leanings are decidedly Nazi in nature. Many of these people openly admire Adolf Hitler, which tells us everything we need to know about all these people.
Steve Bannon is a demonic racist, pure and simple. Donald Trump knows that, or he certainly should, and evidently that does not bother him. Well, it bothers me a whole lot! The last thing America needs is a throwback to the bad old days of Jim Crow, the John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Klan. President Trump's nomination of former senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general is nearly as bad. I grant you that Mr. Sessions is no neo-Nazi, but he's still a redneck from Alabama who has little or no regard for people of color. The Bible has more than a few things to say about racism, and it's all bad. Let me give you a couple examples: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded him”. (1st John 2: 9-11)
OK, now that we have seen what the apostle John wrote about hateful people – and especially those who normalize that hatred and who try to make it seem acceptable – let's see what Jesus himself had to say about it: “But I say if you are angry with someone you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council. But if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” (Matt. 5: 22) So what Jesus was saying was these three things:
 Whatever level of anger we show towards our brothers and sisters, God will show right back to us.
 In whatever way we are abusive towards others whom we perceive to be inferior to ourselves, the ruling authorities will punish us accordingly in the same way, and deservedly so!
 When we curse others, we ultimately curse ourselves because the same God created us all in his image and likeness. Showing contempt for God's creations is equally contemptuous in God's sight.
In closing, I will confidently predict this one thing – if the new Trump administration starts showing contempt towards or begins to mistreat minorities and people of color, or if any attempt is made to begin massive deportations of undocumented aliens back to their home countries, there is going to be major civil unrest the likes of which have not been seen in over a generation. If fact, these protests will rival, and probably surpass, the antiwar protests of the 1960's and early 1970's. So if the new administration doesn't get its act together and stops staffing our federal government with a bunch of nasty haters, and if the minimum wage is not raised substantially, there may well be political unrest all across the country soon. People are hungry and thirsty for change, and they're all tired of government corruption and ineptitude! The main positive thing I can truly say about the incoming Trump administration is his pledge to normalize US-Russian relations, a process that has already begun. As a result, America and Russia are both breathing a sigh of relief, and I suspect the Lord is too. But there must not be even the appearance of racism and favoritism in our incoming presidential administration, or president Trump will have to answer to the people for it!
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Did We Just Avert World War Three?
By Rev. Paul J. Bern
With the 2016 election new receding into America's and the world's rear view mirror, I find myself taking stock of the current political situation so I can get my bearings straight. We have just been through a tumultuous election that has changed the course of the entire globe. Two things remain certain – Donald Trump shocked everybody when he won the presidential election, and like him or not, he is determined to change the course of America. And, a change of course is not only what America needed, it has been long overdue. Having said that, let me quickly add that I was no Trump supporter. I was initially for Bernie Sanders, and when that didn't pan out, I ended up casting a protest vote for Trump. I was going to vote for Jill Stein, but she wasn't on the ballot here in Georgia. As far as I was concerned, she was the only remaining choice, and that's all I care to say about that. Debating who should have won the election is not this week's topic.
Although Barack Obama got a lot of good things accomplished during his 8 years in office, there were three things he did that I didn't like. The first was 'Obama-care'. It was not necessary to reinvent health care in America in order to have national health insurance. All we have to do is put the whole country on Medicare. Then let's take every citizen on Medicaid, Obama-care and VA Health Care and roll them over into Medicare. Once that is completed, we should simply defund all three of the latter, saving the country a total of about $3.5 trillion annually, give or take. Last but not least, as a budget-cutting measure, the people working in those bureaucracies will, for the most part, have to be let go. When all those government workers object to that, and they surely will, let's remind them that when they stand back and allow corporate America to export all the good middle class jobs overseas, they ultimately eliminate their own jobs.
The second thing president Obama did that I didn't like was his treatment of, and his relationship with, Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Obama treated Putin like they were still on the streets of Chicago, like a feud between gang leaders. Sorry to have to point this out to all the Obama fans, but it looks to me like Vladimir Putin is pretty much out of Obama's league. US troops on the ground in Syria, a ring of US military bases in eastern Europe near Russia's western border, adding US missile bases in Poland and Romania, and US naval incursions in the Baltic sea and elsewhere, are not the way to improve relations between America and Russia! This is one of the ways president Obama has taken the world closer to a world war. President-elect Trump has stated that he will renew and reinvigorate US relations with Russia. I am nervously watching to see if Donald Trump follows through on that promise. I sure hope he does.
The third thing I disliked about the Obama administration was his open dislike for Israel. By handling US-Israeli relations as poorly as he did, he isolates Israel, which is God's chosen land and people. This will undoubtedly escalate tensions in the Middle East that can result in World War Three as prophesied about in the Bible (see Revelation chapter 18, Jeremiah chapter 51 and other places for the actual prophecies). This has been reckless conduct on his part, which could tarnish his legacy as president after he leaves office. Only time will tell, but on these points, president Obama's apparent attempts to intimidate Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu have blown up in his face at the end of his presidency. As before, this could diminish his legacy as president after he leaves office.
But at the end of the day, America has elected an outsider, a troubleshooter from the business world and a successful businessman in his own right, to start running things in Washington. Being out of the political mainstream gives Donald Trump and America an opportunity for passing some badly needed reforms, a chance to reboot the country, and to do something about our economy, which is not in nearly as good a shape as the media portrays it. Barack Obama promised us “change you can believe in”. We got change all right, but not like the American people envisioned at all. Hopefully Donald Trump will take the opportunity God has given him to institute some real change for the better.
What kind of real change, you may ask? Trump has already named a few things that sound promising. Replacing Obama-care while keeping some of the best parts, congressional term limits, tight new regulations for the lobbyist 'industry' in Washington, vastly improved relations between Russia and America, ditto for Israel, labeling Red China a “currency manipulator”, and many others. By doing all these things, president Trump seems to be getting his new administration off on the right foot. But if he does this correctly, he can avert an all-out war between the US and Russia, which would be disastrous for the entire world. It's not hard to see why. If the US and Russia were to go to war, Red China would come in on Russia's side. That's because China and Russia signed a mutual defense and trade treaty just last year in the summer of 2015. If Russia and China were to attack the US simultaneously, America's survival would be in doubt. The only thing for certain in that case would be the world's population being cut just about in half, and the same goes for all the wildlife.
If Trump succeeds in normalizing relations with Russia like he has stated, he can reverse the course America is on with respect to its relations with Russia. He can turn Vladimir Putin from a suspicious rival into a friend and trading partner. In so doing, he would largely negate the threat Red China poses to America. In short, he would avert what was shaping up to be world war three. He could transform himself from a brash capitalist to a peacemaker. Jesus talked about that in his 'Sermon on the Mount': “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the 'sons of God'.” (Matt. 5: 7) Let's hope these words from our Lord and Savior can be fulfilled in a Trump presidency.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
Seven Grievous Sins America's Leaders Commit Against Their Own People, and What the Bible Says About That
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
As the 2016 presidential race mercifully winds down, they are some things that need to be said about those in charge, and why every incumbent candidate or political party deserves to be voted out of office. The US is in such a state of disarray as I write this that we, the voters, need to start all over again on a clean sheet of paper. I can think of lots of things I'd like to see happen. Get the corporate and lobbyist money out of politics and outlaw the greed by overturning Citizens United and imposing Congressional term limits. Call off all the endless wars, close the bases and bring our troops home. The American people will soon need them to protect us from the government anyway. Cut the need for welfare and food assistance programs by doubling the minimum wage to a realistic level and offering free higher education without qualification. Offer low cost single payer health care by putting the whole country on Medicare, including those on Medicaid and Obama-care, and then abolish the latter two. It's really not difficult to figure out what's needed, all that's required is some implementation on the part of Congress and our incoming president. If, that is, these crooks would get out of the office of their 'lobbyist dujour' long enough to go to the House or Senate floor and vote on something once in a while!
I have assembled a list of every gut-wrenching, visceral injustice currently being committed by the very people that have been entrusted with the responsible and prudent leadership of what used to be the greatest country in the world, the USA., with a few interjections along the way from the Word of God regarding these matters. It has been my observation for some time now that the underpaid US workers that do have jobs, combined with the unemployed and sometimes even homeless American population, none of whom are able to find any work at all, are a ticking time bomb hidden in plain sight across America. The following is a listing of the abuses being heaped upon us, when in fact we deserve no such thing! The list doesn't include our most grievous offenses, those of military and economic warfare against the rest of the world. Sinful enough is our own behavior at home because too many people aren't holding their legislators – and the president – accountable enough. Let's go over a few examples:
1. Sins against children
“Jesus said to his disciples, 'Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for them to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves'.” (Luke 17: 1-3) Perhaps "sanctity of life" ends at birth. According to Census Bureau figures, one out of every five American children lives in poverty. For blacks and Hispanics, it's one out of every three. UNICEF has reported that the U.S. has a higher child poverty rate than every industrialized country except Romania. We are near the bottom in all measures of inequality that affect our children, including material well-being, health, and education. One more fact before I move on: 1 out of every 4 American school children will rely on food stamps at some point while they're growing up for their sustenance and nutrition. In communities of color, this figure jumps to a truly shocking – and outrageous – 1 out of 2.
2. Sins against the poor
“Now listen, all you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days! Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have flattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men who were not opposing you.” (James 5: 1-6) The U.S. poverty rate grew from 11.3% to 15.0%, a 30% jump, in just the last 11 years. The impact was felt primarily by minorities and women. The median wealth for single black and Hispanic women is shockingly low, at just over $1000.00 (compared to $41,500 for single white women). Even more shocking – For every dollar of non-home wealth owned by white families, people of color have only one cent. Despite the continued economic assault on already-poor Americans, the number of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) cases has dropped by 60 percent over the last 16 years.
3. Sins against students
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6: 4) Students at all levels have been losing their nation's support. States reduced their education budgets by $12.7 billion in 2012, and here in 2016 the majority of states will be cutting spending even more. At higher educational levels, Americans are paying much more than students in other countries. Only 38% of college expenses come from public funding, compared to 70% in other wealthier “first world” countries. While other nations continue to offer free tuition, with the recognition that education leads to long-term prosperity, the U.S. system has become more incorporated, to the point that expensive programs like nursing, engineering, and computer science have been eliminated to cut costs. The profit motive has blocked the path to academic excellence. But the worst part of America's treatment of its students has been the greed-driven debacle of over $1 trillion in predatory student loan debts, much of which can never be repaid. The same graduates who are obligated to repay those debts are the ones who can't find jobs, or who wind up working at jobs for which they are grossly overqualified. When you enrage a nation's youth, the seeds of insurrection have already been sown. All it will take is one good storm to make those seeds sprout, and the 2nd American Revolution will be underway. And yes, it is coming, you can be sure of that.
4. Sins against the middle class
“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. If you lend money to one of my people who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, for the cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear him, for I am compassionate.” (Exodus 20: 21-27) The middle class, to say the least, is shrinking. In fact, America's middle class is slowly being liquidated. In 2011, according to a Pew Research analysis, 51% of the nation's households earned from two-thirds to double the national median income. In the 1970s it was 61%. One-quarter of America's workers are now making less than $22,000 a year, the poverty line for a family of four as of 2012. Thirty million Americans are making between $7.25 (minimum wage) and $10.00 per hour. With the transition of middle-class workers to low-income status, entrepreneurship is disappearing. Innovation doesn't come from the upper class. A recent study found that less than 1 percent of all entrepreneurs came from very rich or very poor backgrounds. Small business creators come from the hard-working, risk-taking, nothing-to-lose middle of America, but their entrepreneurial numbers are down – over 50% since 1977.
5. Sins against the common good
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are a people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1st Peter 2: 9-10) A recent Tax Justice Network report placed total hidden offshore assets at somewhere between $21 trillion and $32 trillion. With about 40% of the world's most mega-rich individuals in the U.S., up to $12.8 trillion of untaxed revenue sits overseas. Based on a historical 6% rate of return, this is a tax loss of up to $300 billion per year, money that should be paying for the public needs of education and infrastructure. Tax avoidance is so appealing that 1,700 Americans renounced their citizenship last year. The American Thinker Blog argued that "the U.S. tax code is so oppressive that smart and successful people are compelled to renounce their citizenship in order to keep more of their own hard-earned wages." Hard-earned, in truth, by the thousands of contributors to their financial success.
6. Sins against nature
“Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.” (Numbers 35: 33-34) Has it ever occurred to anyone that God lives on the land he creates? What we're doing to the land, the water and the air, we do to God. A number of studies show that investment in renewable energy will create many more jobs than the fossil fuel industry. And the investment will certainly pay off over the coming decades. A National Renewable Energy Laboratory analysis determined that "renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today... are more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050." But now the prospect of cheap natural gas is leading us back to a dirty form of energy independence, with a continuing reliance on fossil fuels, and on the “fracking” technology that despoils our land and pollutes our water and air. The national commitment and political will needed for the long-term health of our nation is more elusive than ever.
7. Sins against common sense
“Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights along the way, where the paths meet she takes her stand; beside the gates leading into the city, at the entrances, she cries aloud: To you, oh men, I cry out. I raise my voice to all mankind; you who are simple, gain prudence, you who are foolish, gain understanding. Listen, for I have worthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning, all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge. Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge more than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” (Proverbs 8: 1-11) The economic deception began, at least in the modern age, with Milton Friedman, who said “The free market system distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people... He moves fastest who moves alone." This unflagging adherence to egocentric free enterprise individualism is consistent with Social Darwinism, the belief that survival of the fittest (richest) will somehow benefit society, and that the millions of people suffering from financial malfeasance are simply lacking the motivation to help themselves. Social Darwinism is a feel-good delusion for those at the top. Or, as described by John Kenneth Galbraith, a continuing "search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." A mainstay of the Progressive Movement is that a strong society will create opportunities for a greater number of people, thereby leading to more instances of individual success. This is the common sense attitude that has been suppressed by conservatives for over 30 years. I'm hoping this election year will change that paradigm. But if not, open revolt will be the American people's only remaining option.