Who Do We Say We Are?
What Kind of People Do We Want To Become In 2021?
By Minister Paul J. Bern
I was having a casual conversation with someone just recently on the train ride home (that’s right, I use public transit to get around since I no longer own a car), and there came a point where I was asked, “What do you do?”. I replied that I was a minister, musician and a writer, as well as a blogger and political activist. “What denomination are you from?”, the lady inquired. I explained that I was nondenominational, and that I was not aligned nor affiliated with any other churches, be they virtual churches like this website or those of the brick-and-mortar variety. I talked to her about my views regarding being set aside, or standing alone, pledging allegiance only to Jesus Christ instead of 'Religion, Inc'. By that time, it was time for me to get off the train, and we bid each other warm goodbye's.
But it got me to thinking: Who or what do I say that I am? What's my sense of identity? Does that match up to what's going on inside my head, or do I think one way and act another? These are not comfortable questions for anyone, but if we don't inquire about this to ourselves, how do we measure our authenticity as human beings and Christ followers? And so I took an internal, in-between-the-ears inventory of myself. I came to the conclusion that, among other things, I want to be like Chris Mintz, who took multiple bullets at Oregon's Umpqua Community College during the 2015 school shooting there, saving many more lives in the process.
I want to be a peacemaker like Mr. Mintz's friends and family members have called him, and I too stand against indiscriminate violence wherever it may be found. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, Jesus said at the Sermon on the Mount, “for they shall be called 'sons of the living God’” (Matthew 5: 9). So I concluded that being a peacemaker was a good starting point regarding my own self-inventory.
The apostle John wrote about this topic in his first Epistle nearly 2,000 years ago, and I quote: “If anyone says, 'I love God', yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1st John chapter 4, verses 20-21). People who are devoid of love can never be peacemakers because they are inherently selfish individuals. But if we are true Christians and followers of Christ, we sow seeds of peace and unconditional love wherever we go. If you want to be a man or woman of peace, the first step in learning how to do that is to worship the Prince of Peace unconditionally. Let Jesus be your example to follow, your coach and your mentor.
I am also a crusader for civil and/or human rights, and against social injustice and economic inequality. I have written and self-published 7 faith based nonfiction books on these topics and I have blogged extensively as well. I was formerly middle class before winding up on disability. I know what it's like to lose everything and to have to start one's life all over again from scratch. And I know what it's like to wind up homeless. One of the most important lessons I learned from these experiences is that we live unfulfilled lives as long as we chase after money, material goods and the trappings of luxury and convenience. These are the things that simply don't matter in the long run.
But seeing who is in need, or what contribution can be made, or what innovation can be implemented that benefits everyone equally, it is all these things that we should strive to achieve. Cooperation, then, replaces competition when it comes to the worship of the Son of God, and this bleeds over into the life of the believer like a Spiritual blood transfusion. Competition is so 19th and 20th century! Mutual cooperation for mutual benefit, like a beehive, is the wave of the future, and it resembles God's kingdom on earth much more closely (see Revelation chapter 20, verses 4-6).
That is only part of His directions for those that followed Him concerning how they were supposed to live life in service to others. Christians call it the Sermon on the Mount, but it was lived as a lifestyle until about 300 AD by Jesus' followers. By then some Old Testament teachings on warfare had replaced Christianity as a lifestyle and devalued it to a mere ideology. Jesus also said he came to replace the law because it had not been followed by the Jews, much to their own detriment. Just think of all the false teachers and error-laden churches that ignore these teachings. For those who do not follow His teachings I ask this: Are we all the same peoples despite color or nationality, and all the same citizens despite the unjust nature of government or of the religion we follow?
Is civilization all about wars and conflict? What about the non-warriors whose gifts to us include all the advances in farming that none should go hungry? Those who devised portable or temporary shelters so that man could venture beyond the close environs of the cave or those who devised ways to bring water to the villages that none might be thirsty or crops perish from the lack of water? Who was the hero or heroine who devised the wheel? Who among our ancestors built stationary shelters that we now call houses? Who first tamed and rode horses?
All of these people from our ancient past are true heroes, giving us lasting gifts that advanced civilization, even if the gifts were soon turned to warlike purposes. Is someone considered a danger because of their gender, sexuality, skin color, political ideology or personal attributes? Why is it that women in modern society earn an average of 25% lower pay for the same work as opposed to men? Why is a nurse less valued than a doctor? Why is a teacher less valued then a banker or a lawyer? How many can name one person who is not recognized by their own community for what they have given?
How will we be remembered by the next generation? We are all given a choice and a say in what happens tomorrow, today. A million today’s were shaped by what a million nameless, faceless someones did yesterday. Do we go along to get along or do we stand up and demand our say-so and contribution in our future? Do you wait for Jim or Sally, Joe or Jane to take the lead, or do you begin hoping that they will say or do something you can agree with? The only person responsible for your decisions and what happens tomorrow because of them, is the one looking back at you in the mirror. Shall we become part of the solution, or remain part of the problem? We can be contributing individuals to the world of tomorrow, or the zoned-out TV watchers and self-isolating video game players of today. Which do we choose?
Which brings us back to the community and the growing of support and friendship. Who are your friends? Are they just people you grew up with or work with or go to the club or church with? Are they all men or women or all the same racial background as you are? Are all of your friends the same general age or do you number the elderly and the children among your friends? In American society, friendship sometimes seems shallow, temporary and based on filling someone's immediate needs. One different outcome and way of looking at friendship is offered in the Native American community. They look at friendship as a choice, a responsibility and that it be long lasting. Jesus said it best when he uttered these words, “Greater love has no man, than to lay down his life for his friends”.
A friend is someone you choose to give your friendship to without any qualification. It doesn't matter what they do in life, it doesn't matter what they may or may not have done. The friendship remains not because of who we are or what we have to offer. Friendship is a mutual choice. So, go out and make one new friend this week and go back to your current friends and say you will support them, stand by them and offer advice if they ask for it. Make sure they know that you will help them in time of trouble. When times of trouble do arrive, such as mass shootings, follow through with them. Enjoy their companionship at all times. Make it your choice, it is your life. Are you starting to see being a peacemaker as something worthwhile now? Is peacemaking something of value in your family, neighborhood, community, state or nation? Are you willing to become a peacemaker or support those who do choose to become one? Will you be a Chris Mintz, or one who will actively support such uncommon and tough-as-nails individuals? Will you be part of the solution to gun violence?
I, for one, vow to do so without hesitation, and I will go to any length to propagate peace, even if my personal safety is at risk. I will continue to insist that all life is precious, that all life is God's handiwork, with each form of life having a singular uniqueness all its own. I will continue to advocate for the homeless because every human being on the planet has the fundamental human right to shelter. The cave men of 100,000 or 200,000 years ago had roofs over their heads, and none of them ever punched a time clock.
I will also continue to stand up against economic inequality, social and racial injustice, and waging warfare. I would endure torture, jail or death rather then compromise any of my beliefs. Perhaps the act of enduring any or all of the above will bring others to believe as I do, knowing that I write on Christ's behalf. I will speak out against any injustice or any war, and even use my own body to shield victims of injustice, if necessary, just like that ex-soldier in Oregon did back in 2015. I am asking you to do the same, having given you all ample reason to support my stand. No more working for the wealthy to make them richer. We work for the benefit of all humankind from this day forward, not just the top 1 or 2 percent. And we will enforce peace across America, first by our relationship with Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace, and secondly by acquiring the means to defend ourselves whenever appropriate, so this terrible cycle of violence can be stopped for good.