Archives For June 2013

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“We are the 99 percent.”  How many of us identify with this slogan and with the Occupiers?   Perhaps when we hear it we burn with righteous indignation and raise our fists at the lack of justice in our society.  The richest one percent owns 40 percent of the country’s financial wealth.  Meanwhile for the rest of us things can get really scary, really fast.   If we are lucky enough to have a job, many of us are just one pay check away from financial ruin.  Therefore, we can identify with our sisters and brothers here at the bottom, and perhaps we even revel in that (at least a little).  There is a dignity in being in the 99, but as for the other one percent we know where they stand.   But before we start beltin’ out the Internationale, the Billy Bragg version of course, let us take a swig of reality.

Let’s widen the lens a bit. As Americans, how much wealth, opportunity, and resources do we claim in comparison to the rest of humanity? Instead I want to expand our lens even further. Let’s consider life forms on earth, and let’s just consider animals. A cursory examination of the web reveals that around 80 percent of the total number of animals on the earth are insects. If one also calculates the number of rats, bunnies, fish, snakes, elephants, and all the other non-human animals on the planet, it would be easy to say that we must make up, at the very most, one percent of the animal population on the planet. The question then is how are the one percent of animals, us humans, treating the 99 percent, the rest of animal life on earth?

Think this is a ridiculous question? Remember back when you were still in the 99 percent? Were your concerns trivial or ridiculous? Back then didn’t you think that 100 percent of people deserved equal consideration? Surely justice did not merely apply to a small fraction of the population. And yet we the 99 percent, even as crappy as things are down here, rarely want to consider in what ways we are the 1 percent in the grand scheme of things. But I still want to ask you, how are we treating the 99 percent?

Again, I will pass on the opportunity to speak of the mountains, the rivers, the polar ice caps, and stick with animals. How have we treated our fellow creatures? First, we often refuse to identify with them. No matter what science tells us, many in our society STILL refuse to call ourselves members of the animal kingdom. (The Scopes Monkey Trial, anyone?) Secondly, we lay waste to their resources as we pillage Mother Earth. Sadly we have not really learned the lesson that their fate is ours as well. Thirdly, we divide animals into categories and we call them “pets,” “wildlife,” “endangered,” “livestock,” and even “pests.”  We protect some and harm others.

There are four animals in my household, and I consider them family. Judging from the photos on all the social media sites, I am not alone in my affections. And yet, as a society we allow one cat or dog to be euthanized in US animal shelters every 11 seconds.  We consider this a “necessary” evil. But we still must wonder why these particular animals are so expendable. Additionally, we draw up animal welfare legislation to protect animals, but only certain species.  As of this writing there are virtually no such laws that protect “livestock” even though they feel the same pains as our beloved cats and dogs we call “pets.”  Therefore, the agriculture industry subjects millions of animals to frequent torture, mutilation, and stifling confinement before they end up on our dinner plates. Look it up. The information is out there, if you dare!

And so it seems that when the tables are turned, we are not as fair-minded as we would like to believe. Therefore, as we call out for justice for ourselves, it behooves us to widen our lens and consider the meaning of the word. It means that we need to ask how we’re treating the 99 percent.  So, how do you think we’re faring?

“The more you are motivated by love, the more fearless and free your action will be.” – Dalai Lama

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ImageBryan Gillette lives with his husband, three rescue dogs, one crafty kitty, and his mom in the mountains just outside of Asheville, NC. When he’s not situated in the midst of frequent awkward social scenarios, he takes great pleasure reading Merton, spending time with family (both two and four legged), British comedy, and in the contemplation of nature. Although he has always felt like a religious “outsider”, he will soon be trying his hand at Chicago Theological Seminary. (“May God bless her and all who sail in her.”)

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Winter is over…

Brett Gallaher —  June 9, 2013 — 2 Comments

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I have not had the strength to write a blog post since it happened, since I separated from my spouse a little over two weeks ago. Obviously I know there is a time and a place for everything under the sun, yet it never seems the right time to write a blog post about something as sensitive a topic as this. I am someone who hates being hated, someone who avoids conflict at all costs. I did not want to use this blog as a means to bring more pain to those I’ve hurt or to garner increased support for myself. Yet here I am. Here goes nothin’.

First, a little backstory. I, like many others, am jaded by various individuals and circumstances from my past. The example I wish to use here involves another blog I used to follow. One day I opened my laptop and saw an intriguing article on the front page of MSNBC.com. A student pastor (who I will not name) was fired for his repeated blogging in support of progressive issues like LGBT rights and Christian Universalism. When I first discovered his blog I was still a United Methodist youth pastor. I was outraged that someone would be fired for expressing their personal theological views. I immediately “friended” him on Facebook and the two of us soon began sharing horror stories from our ministry years. It turned out that he had moved back to his wife’s hometown after his firing. That town was Cleveland, Tennessee. My hometown. After I left youth ministry, I moved back there as well to join him in planting a church. I had put all of my hope in this new venture. 

To make a long story short, it didn’t pan out. This “martyr” for progressive Christianity ended up being what I came to abhor about those who claimed to speak for the Christian left. He ended up being a self-adsorbed egomaniac who used progressivism as an excuse to live from the bottom of the moral dung heap, while still calling himself a pastor. After his many infidelities, he still went to his blog and spoke of his calling, of his role as a leader, as someone you should still send checks to. I was horrified he had used his blog to somehow appear noble in the midst of his rancid false piety.

Do I sound jaded enough yet?

Anyway, this individual became the epitome of everything I hoped I would never become. I knew I could never speak for God, for Christianity ever again. It was so stereotypical, the hypocritical pastor who drags the name of Jesus through the mud. I could never become that. It was too predictable. 

So I made We Occupy Jesus, an attempt to push the spotlight back to issues that matter, not about myself and my own Jesus-ness or lack thereof. I do not intend to speak for a religion, only for my own experiences. Yet the ghosts of my past return, telling me I’m just like that other guy, that phony, that charlatan, because I’ve missed the mark.

I know I have hurt people. I do not claim immunity from my actions. In fact, a friend told me not long ago that I had to own my decisions; I couldn’t hide behind my own confusion and apprehension. For once in my life I had to be honest with myself, and with those in my life, regardless of the consequences. I finally did tell my spouse I was unhappy and that I had broken our wedding vows. 

Now comes the long, cold winter. Now comes the self-doubting, the guilt, the fear of condemnation and shame. Here in the south it is especially difficult to live this down. Obviously I’m a monster. Obviously I must simply have a sexual addiction. Obviously I’m a sinner. Obviously I’ve been brainwashed by “the world.” Obviously I have no morality. Obviously We Occupy Jesus is a cult. 

Obviously life is more complicated than that. We are human. We are broken. We have to start over sometimes. We wish things weren’t so messy, but sometimes they are. Sometimes we have to hurt people, or risk losing our own souls. This is the deck life hands some of us. We wish we could go back and change it all, but in doing so we would unmake our own lives. 

Am I asking for anyone to forgive me because I admit my faults? Is honesty somehow a ticket to an admirable humility? Does it make me any less broken? No, not one bit. Yet I can say this. The truth does indeed set you free. Have you mistaken your cell for liberty? The darkness has a certain comfort to it, does it not?

Look deep within yourself. Lift the dungeon gates. Winter is over.
A new day is coming.

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ImageBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Cleveland, Tennessee, the second largest Cleveland in the United States. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

The Law of Love…

Brett Gallaher —  June 5, 2013 — 2 Comments

 

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There’s nothing quite like being ‘in need’ to remind me of what’s really wrong with Christianity: failure to love.
 
There. I said it. And I’m pretty sure each one of us who counts themselves freestanding from the mainstream Jesus culture has—at least to some degree—thought the same thing.
 
Notionally, the Christian faith is one of love and grace, forgiveness and action. It is a “do something” religion focused on seeing the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth, now. It is completely summed up in the Law of Love:
 
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:34-40
 
Yet Jesus people are frequently maligned as being hypocritical, unforgiving, judgmental and far less compassionate than their secular counterparts. For good reason. I have often heard fellow Christians defend their lack of love as a misunderstanding. As if “the world” cannot truly grasp tough love and personal responsibility. As if helping a brother or sister in need requires an evaluation of that person’s morality or righteousness. As if Christ’s Law of Love comes with a caveat, even though it was Jesus who said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
 
This great love for a neighbor, this central love for each other… what does it look like? What kind of action might such a love compel? While I might like to quote Paul with surety and tell you that Christian love is indeed patient, kind and everything First Corinthians 13 says it is, I’ve learned that such love in times of need is very hard to find. I wonder if this isn’t because Christians have so idealized love that they imagine it to always feel good, even easy to extend love or assistance to others.
 
What is love? People often say God is love but in the same breath that he condemns us to eternal punishment. I cannot call that love. The best definition I’ve heard comes from Mastin Kipp. He often says that love is the acceptance of what is and love has no opposite. That is not to say that there is no right or wrong, no ethics or morals to be practiced. But the action of love is free from the act of judgment. We accept ourselves and others from wherever we are at, if we love. We deal with reality. We deal with need.
 
Just last week, I found myself jobless, homeless, broke and disoriented within new surroundings. My significant other and I found ourselves in need of a roof, a bed, a couch, a floor—just about anything to not be on the streets or in the car at night. There were some offers of assistance until people learned there were two people as opposed to one needing a place to stay. Others were uncomfortable with what they viewed as our sinfulness or irresponsibility, and so they did not want to get involved. A lot of people said they wished they could help us, but we’d be in their prayers, and I speculate how many people actually prayed for us. Some friends simply said nothing.
 
This is an entirely foreign world to me and I have no interest in justifying, explaining, or defending my position of being a human being in crisis. I do not believe Jesus applied conditions to his Law of Love, nor do I believe Christ followers ought to waste energy analyzing whether they should or shouldn’t give aid to people in trouble.
 
This whole experience has made me evaluate my beliefs and propensity to action regarding love for my fellow man. Do I look for excuses to not inconvenience myself on behalf of others? Do I judge the worthiness of their need? Do I refuse to help those whom I think deserve to live with the consequences of their actions? If and when I do such things, how can I claim to be anything but a clanging cymbal? How can I talk about occupying Jesus if I will not occupy love?
 
Here at We Occupy Jesus, none of us are perfect people. None of us have the answers. That is not a cop-out. That is not an excuse. We may have more questions than answers, but we still ask the questions. We sift the answers for truth. I see this Wojian movement as an exploration of faith and love and social action among individuals from different spiritual paths. We are pantheists, atheists, Christians, Buddhists, theologians, secularists, superheroes, pranksters, and everything in between. We are human expressions of a Divine Love.
 
The remarkable thing about the Divinity of Love is that it does not require belief in any higher power, nor does it negate such a belief. We can all agree that life is somehow sweeter, more complete, a little more of how it should be, when we allow our lives to be ruled by the Law of Love. When we give without reservation, when we offer open arms to prodigals, and when we quit trying to scrutinize the best method to love. Heaven comes down to Earth when you and I give love, unabashedly.
 
At this point in my life, I put my trust in love and from wherever I’m at, I try to occupy Jesus. That’s right, I said try, much to Master Yoda’s chagrin. Still I hope to become more empathetic and action-oriented through my experiences of deficiency and adversity.
 
And so, once I get back on my feet, should you ever have the need, you are more than welcome to crash on my couch.
 
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ImageShannon Ashley is the Director of Social Media for We Occupy Jesus. An aspiring writer, she is currently acclimating herself to life in the “Deep South” of Eastern Tennessee. Of course, she has been told repeatedly that Tennessee does not qualify as part of the Deep South, but like most hipster Minnesotans, she’s just not interested in semantics. When Shannon isn’t kicking ass for Wojian pursuits, she’s working on her novel (no, really!) or dreaming about the finer things in life, like non-toxic, fair trade products and super cute Hello Kitty merchandise. Follow her on Twitter @jashleyshannon.