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“I want to be a Ninja!” That’s what my four-year-old son said as he handed me his costume this morning. Eli likes to dress up in various guises all year long, Halloween etiquette be damned. I looked over at him from my bed where I was sitting, unable to resist his request for assistance. He’s so adorable, I thought. So I put the Ninja costume on him and he ran out of the room, making the traditional Hai Ya! noises as he went off to join his other brothers in the living room.

Eli is in preschool. He’s only slightly younger than many kindergarteners who were killed yesterday in the massacre in Connecticut. I can’t help but imagine the terrifying images of it being my children, as I’m sure many other parents imaged yesterday. “What if it had been my kids?” There’s the immediate relief I felt when I came home last night from work to find them healthy and happy, playing video games. Then came the immediate grief knowing that other parents had no such relief. For them, only the unimaginable horror. I think millons of parents took a moment to let in the pain, knowing in their hearts what it would feel like. Those kids were all of our kids.

The shooting yesterday was one among several recent mass shootings, but it hit a nerve unlike the others. How could this happen to kids? Kids, damn it. Innocent little kids. Kindergarteners. When we look back at our own childhoods, I’d suspect that many of us at that age were lucky enough to be happy, playful, wonderfully goofy, with a healthy optimism that the world was a good place where we could grow up to be like our parents, like super heros, like astronauts…

like… Ninjas.

I’m 29 now, my aspirations for being Batman all but dashed (maybe in my 30s it will happen), but I can think back to my first day of kindergarten. I remember my mom dropping me off. I was sad to see her leave but I was excited about my new school. It was a diverse place where we had an even distribution of white kids, black kids, hispanic kids, etc. I learned very quickly that we were all the same. We learned together watching videos from the prophets like Martin Luther King Jr and Big Bird. The world was a big big place with lots of people in it, but people were basically good. We were all in this together. The future was ours, but first it was time for recess.

When I went online yesterday I immediately saw what many others saw: the best and worst of humanity. I saw the emotional outbursts, the political rants, the loss of hope, the hatred, the fear. It was all there. Most shocking to me were those who, within MINUTES of the news, tweeted and blogged and posted that this was our fault as a nation for not allowing prayer in public schools. Such lack of perspective, such disconnect from reality, from humanity, from decency, is so utterly irresponsible that it makes me shake where I sit, as I type these very words. Such lack of empathy is only possible if one is living in an alternate universe, is only possible if they somehow took some kind of reassurance from the tragic events to justify their convictions that the world was somehow deserving, that these kids were caught in God’s wrath or indifference towards us, towards them.

I am torn between rage and pity for such displays. If that is the God they worship, it is a false one, an evil one. It is a cowardly and archaic deity that does not resemble the Jesus they also claim to live for. It is not indicative of love, compassion or piety to use tragedy as a catalyst for your abomination of a theology.

Yet I am bound to all humanity. I can not claim the children are all of our children and simultaneously disown those who I feel deserve my hatred. I can not claim to be the ultimate judge or jury of such atrocity, such bigotry, such ineptitude. We are still brothers and sisters. All of us. Yesterday is a reminder of that truth. Simply, many of our brothers and sisters have fallen into a web of delusion that threatens our relationships, our potential to be the family of humanity God, or the universe, or the decree of love in general intends (and demands).

But I am pissed off.

Another result of the massacre is the all-too-frequent question that arises in my life. How can there be a God who would allow such evil? It is a question that many try to answer, when really they should just let the question be the question. We do not know. We don’t. Any attempt to answer such a question from a theistic point of view will be met with the awkward insufficiency of their response. If someone believes they know the answer, if they feel the matter is settled, then they have divorced themselves from the Good Friday reality, from the part of us that ever cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

…the words uttered by the very Christ so many use to validate their claims.

There is a truth I once realized, that if we were to witness the totality of evil on this planet we would be forced to confess there is no God. Even worse, far less than the totality of evil may be enough to convince us. I would wager that the atheistic nail in the coffin was struck for many yesterday. Many living on the edge of apostasy most likely made up their minds when the news of the events of Connecticut were revealed. Can we blame them?

But then again, I was once told that if we were to witness the totality of goodness on this planet, the opposite conclusion could also be made valid. There must be a God, we would say to ourselves. Our inner atheist and theist are locked in eternal combat, one claiming victory as the other retreats for a period. While some have made their choice, while some have decided which has prevailed, I simply let the two duke it out. Yesterday both were battered and bruised. But today I gave them the day off…

…because my son wants to be a Ninja.

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AMC depicts a world overrun by the undead, the nations reduced to rubble and decay. In the aftermath of a world-wide pandemic, mindless zombies are the majority while the living are awkwardly the minority. Good men become desperate, forgetting their former compassions and goodwill. Survival is all the matters. A few cling to hope that perhaps some degree of meaningful existence could be possible, but their grim reality offers little reassurance. A new age has arrived, ushering in hell on earth. A hell that is here but dragging its feet, groaning, toying with them. To say this resembles present day America would be misleading, but the familiar smell of decomposition is in the air.

While the zombies of The Walking Dead are mindless killing machines, they did not choose to become monsters. They were victims. They cannot be blamed for their atrocities since they are already dead. They are also not to be pitied, for they feel no pain. They are simply a new force of nature, much like tornadoes, forest fires, tsunamis, or earthquakes. They are simply dealt with by a sniper’s headshot instead of progressive climate change legislation (oh snap). The Walkers are an old threat in a new (and rotting) package.

While our society is safe (for now) from a zombie apocalypse, we mimic the ethical dilemmas involved. Do we have conditions for our humanity? If our fragile foundations of faith, belief, vocation, and perceived freedoms were shattered, would we then forget who we once were? If the answer is yes, were we ever truly human, or zombies simply lacking an appetite for flesh?

Is faith contingent upon blessings? If our worlds were to come to an end, would all our hopes be reduced to false promises? Would we become mindless cynics, fading into the background chaos of a burning world, not to be pitied but to be feared by those still naive enough to join the plight of the living? I fear that a new darkness is indeed emerging, but it has always been so.

Some of us find a certain transcendance, a connection with the divine spark of humanity. Some call it religion, or philosophy. Others call it God, Allah, or Vishnu. There are even a few who call it Oprah Winfrey. Regardless of the metaphysics involved, such hope and meaning is a valuable possession. But there does come a new age for us all, either an age of light or darkness. We are not bound to one or the other, and for some both may come and go as do the seasons. Yet come they shall. When the darkness emerges, many do not emerge from its grasp. But true death, or should I say un-death, comes when one welcomes such a day to find them.

Remove my faith, my cares, my dreams, my hopes, my ambitions, my memories of innocence and wonder. Take from me my optimism, for it only weighs me down. Do not pity me. I have become numb. I no longer feel the sting of my wounds. I am already dead.


To be human is to live. It is not merely not dying. If you look closely, you will see these Walkers at work, at church, in your own home, or even your own mirror. You’ve been trained not to pity them, since they are victims of life’s cruelties. They are numb, you say. They are to be feared and envied, for they have found an escape from the vulnerable nature of hope. This is the lie that buries more than any other catastrophe. 

There is a reason to start over, to fight, to live again. The charlatans try to market it in the veil of materialism, yet these things decay as we all have witnessed. The false prophets stand on the corners, wielding fear by its name. Sappy movies form allegiances with holiday cards to sell you its cheap aroma. Politicians use its name to convince you of their morality, hiding their true motives. Of course I speak of love, that simple word with the elusive meaning. But this much is certain, that those who abandon love cease to live. Those who cling to love, even on their death bed, know the meaning of life.

And once you know the meaning of life, your brains are off the menu.  

-From your friends at weoccupyjesus.org.

The 2012 Presidential Election has come and gone. The nation along with the electorate has emerged from the rubble intact, although still very much divided. Social media streams remain flooded with ideological rants, rumors of state secession, and folk apocalyptic treatises claiming the “end” is now near. However, most reasonable citizens have stepped outside and glanced up at the sky, taking note that the heavens have not yet begun to fall to earth. They then lower their gaze, confident the ground will not swallow them up on account of President Obama being reelected to a second term. At the end of the day, life goes on. We will go about our lives much in the same way we went about them before the election. A return to normalcy is inevitable, welcomed, and necessary. Yet the normalcy to which we return is still a society of a radical polarization that runs much deeper than our choice for president. Deep prejudices and ideological differences remain, yet many remain hopeful. Some have suggested another world is possible. I agree. To be honest it is not only possible but essential to our country. To break the cycles of division we must abandon the tired debates that perpetuate this gridlock and elect a new paradigm entirely.

Christianity is still undergoing the growing pains of the Emergent Church movement, threatening to splinter the faithful once again into even further disarray. The secular world is still appalled by the archaic social policies championed by many Evangelicals. The more progressive factions of the church still struggle to reveal a meaningful and logical faith to the world while simultaneously fending off their own spiritual leaders who cry heresy. I once held the optimism many still possess today, hoping against hope that a new Christianity would soon blossom. While that indeed may transpire, such revolution is most likely reserved for our grandchildren, if not our great-great-grandchildren. 

In the meantime, church councils continue spinning their wheels developing lackluster programs that amount to little more than self-help programs for a dwindling and aging audience. In the meantime, gay and lesbian teenagers are still sinking into depression or opting for suicide because their Christian friends and families condemn them to hell fire. In the meantime, the rift between theists and atheists continues to grow wider and wider, along with the rift between the gospel and any potential receptivity for wider social reform. While the battle rages to define and defend the meaning of authentic Christianity, the world waits for this Jesus to finally emerge from the tomb of irrelevance. 

After a decade of theological courses and several years in active ministry, I came to the personal conclusion that the root of the problem was church itself. It was an awkward conclusion at which to arrive since I had invested the entirety of my education and vocational aspirations to serving and ministering to those within the local church. I do not mean to insinuate churches are evil or corrupt. They are simply not effective catalysts for the type of change the Jesus narrative implies. To be more precise, the “good news” has been supplanted by a mandate to invite people to church functions, “win” souls to Christ, or to promote particular “truths” that must be accepted in order to gain God’s favor. To be even more precise, the church has become preoccupied with reassuring itself. 

While many streams of Christianity have begun moving in more meaningful directions, it often resembles a mere flirtation with general spirituality. There is nothing wrong with being a progressive Christian, but if your goal is to somehow transform Christianity into secular humanism, then prepare for a long and heartbreaking journey. Such naiveté is paramount to those expecting to convert the whole world to their particular religion or worldview.

So often I come across Christians whose rhetoric screams, “I am a Christian but man oh man sometimes I wish I wasn’t a Christian, because you know how crazy those Christians can be.” They know it and everyone else in the room knows it. Being a Christian comes with a ton of inconvenient baggage. It is a distraction of astronomical proportions. It ultimately led me to seek new answers. After much thoughtful prayer, excruciating spiritual pain, the sum of my personal experiences, endless contemplation, and several conversations with close friends both inside and outside the Christian faith, it became clear to me that the world was still in need of saving, but awkwardly (again) the church, and Christianity in general, was not prepared to be agent of that change. At least not yet.

Immediately apparent in my conclusion was the fact the world does not need another religion, or even another brand of a current religion. On the other hand the world is still largely a religious place, so calling for fewer religions would only further alienate those at home in faith traditions. The problem with the status quo is an unhealthy preoccupation with belief. Any change must shatter that mold. But how?

I came to believe the unifying factor for humanity must be action, not belief. We must rally around something tangible, something real and life-giving. We must set aside our petty disputes of theology, ecclesiology, ontology, and metaphysics. Put simply, we must learn to love each other genuinely. How is this possible? The narrative of Jesus must be our new unifying factor, but not the way you might suspect.

I started weoccupyjesus.org back in March of this year. It is an attempt to reshape the landscape to include all who are inspired by what Jesus represents, to take back the name of Jesus from special interests and religious fundamentalism. It is a community of atheists, theists, agnostics, and anyone who has been inspired by the gospel narrative. We do not denounce our current convictions, nor ask anyone else to leave their beliefs behind. We simply have a new naive hope that in the midst of our unity and cooperation something truly spiritual is taking place. 

We do not seek to strip away Christ’s divinity, or to convert atheists to a life of religion. We do not seek to elevate works over faith. We simply believe that living like Jesus is its own reward. We encourage Christians to keep their faith, maintain their roles in local congregations, and to be the best Christians they can be. We encourage skeptics to be critical, to always question, to always seek the truth as revealed to them, to value this life fiercely. By setting aside the disputes over the unknowable, there is a new freedom that quickly emerges.

Immediately some Christians took offense that any group would use Jesus’ name without first signing off on all the tenants of the “in-house” theology, as if we cannot value the significance of Jesus’ story and example based on its own merits. Instead of asking the Church to change to fit our personal convictions, we agree to let Christianity decide its own identity. Occasionally we come across an angry evangelical who believes somehow we are promoting atheism by not taking a stance on God’s existence or Christ’s divinity. The sheer terror of a world filled with atheists living like Jesus is simply too overwhelming. The possibility that God would accept a skeptic’s life of selflessness as an act of worship never crosses their minds.

More often we receive suspicion from anti-theists who believe we seek to kidnap them, throw them in a van, drive them to a creepy Church camp and sing 70’s folk Christian songs to them until they confess Jesus as personal savior. We forgive them quickly for this suspicion, mostly because many Christians have been hauled off to “Jesus camp” early in life against their will. While the secular community is slow to come around, the ones who have joined our fast-growing virtual community are some of our most “devout” and passionate members. It is truly a beautiful experience that would be nearly impossible outside of We Occupy Jesus.  

There are also many advantages when doctrine and dogma are removed from the equation. There is no organism we are forced to continuously reform. We are the organism and we are already fixed. We are already united, since unity is our primary goal. We have already agreed to put our differences aside. We are already the embodiment of Jesus on earth because we choose to simply live like him, without the structures put in place by the institutions to cloud our passions, to pacify us with programs and propaganda. When we convene, we have already made the choice to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters. We have already forgiven them, and they us.  As Jesus would say… “It is finished.”

We Occupy Jesus is not Christianity, but movements like these are important for Christianity. It allows for those within the Church to participate in communities that affirm their convictions as meaningful without fear of political ramifications or (gasp) excommunication, while reforming Christianity simultaneously by fostering greater love for members of the secular community. We Occupy Jesus is also important because it allows for the general humanistic commonalities held by both theists and atheists to be seen clearly by both sides. For us it is clear that many are saying the same things, working to achieve similar goals for a better world even if we disagree profoundly regarding the metaphysics involved. A new day is coming. Some would say it is already here.

#weoccupyjesus

The End is Not Near

Every four years the people of the United States gather together to celebrate their democratic right to choose a mere mortal as their new messiah. This figure will usher in a glorious new age while simultaneously defeating the forces of evil hell-bent on destroying the very fabric of reality. In public voters may downplay their zeal, pretending to be simply supporting “the lesser of two evils” since an open endorsement of a politician is somehow immoral or at least unpopular. But in secret, or in smaller gatherings, their allegiances manifest for what they truly are.

Fear of the end.

Both believer and skeptic are often guilty of being swept up in political theater. We are thrust into the arena, the lions of civic responsibility and propaganda roaring with terrifying ferocity. This is a bloodbath. There is no escaping it. Even if we one day slay those same lions, we still have the onlooking mob to deal with. They want a show. They want control. The mob demands a victor. We can’t just walk away from the arena, can we?

Others will lay down and do nothing, neither casting a ballot for the status quo, nor caring for the outcome. They create uprisings of mediocrity, inspiring themselves with self-righteous speeches of apathy as if doing nothing is doing something meaningful. They have long since discovered there is a certain popularity in dissent.

Reasonable men and women may disagree on how to change the world. This is a given. Yet do we ever reflect on what it means exactly to change the world? What if we succeed? What if we wake up and all of our deepest aspirations for society have been achieved? I believe that most will admit they do not expect such an outcome to ever happen. It is unrealistic. We admit that our candidates will do much less than we would like. We admit that it is easier to simply stand on the sidelines and cheer on our political parties as they tear each other apart. We would rather see things get worse under the rule of our enemies, since our own warriors should be the rightful champions for our prosperity.

We cling to fantastical delusions of how the world should be, or how it was before everything went to hell. These dreams, instead of inspiring us to bring them to fruition, are wielded as excuses for cynicism. The world isn’t getting any better, so let us blame someone for it. Instead of identifying the actual barriers for change, we blame minorities, foreigners, executives, religions, lawyers, races, sexual orientations, corporations, or political systems.

The prophets scream until they are hoarse with their warning. “The end is near!” They do not wish for the end, because the end will reveal them for the charlatans they truly are. In the end the tyrants of division and corruption will be exposed. Their prophets will be chased from the streets, their priests driven from the temples. As long as the apocalypse is ever on the horizon, we are entitled to the privilege of hate.

The end is not near. If it were, we’d all be singing.

The Machine…

Brett Gallaher —  October 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

There is a force that drives history. It is a raging and chaotic machine that fears nothing and spares no one. It is everywhere, yet it is nowhere. Some call it evil, or cruel. Some call it indifferent. 

Others simply call it Satan.

The valiant fight it, sacrificing everything at times. The cowards cling to it, shielded in a guise of power and status. Others are simply run down by its progress. Do not confuse it with death, for death is the exit, or transition to another mysterious country. Yet this force wields death like a terrible weapon of fear, intimidation, and leverage to accomplish its objectives. 

Over time this machine has become oiled, fine tuned, and painted with bright welcoming colors, gleaming with the seductive light of nationalism, progress, and profit. Some bow to it, still their heads tilted towards their primary idols of vice, not wishing to appear ungrateful to either master.

At times, the reign of the machine is challenged. The battles are often short and bloody, merely an obstruction in the gears which grind their way onward. There are other times when the machine must stop, its wheels pushed back on course by those pushing it along.

But then there are times the machine breaks down. This is still merely a delay. Soon it is back on track, breaking the bones of the saints, the idealists, the poets, the dreamers, the naive sons and daughters of time.

There was once a man who stood infront of the machine, not asking it to stop. Tauntingly, he stared into its menacing eyes, laying down in its very path. The machine crushed him under its weight, thinking nothing it. 

Soon the man became a legend, both revered and ridiculed. Those driving the machine claimed victory and still do to this day. But something had changed. Others stood before the machine. More and more, they came. 

And they’ll never stop.

The machine rages on, more erratic than ever. Its campaign of bloodshed has been packaged and sold to the children who it orphaned. But more and more lay down before it.

And they’ll never stop.

The machine still rages, and so do we. 

And we’ll never stop until the drivers join us, leaving no one to drive the machine.

Heaven…

Brett Gallaher —  October 2, 2012 — Leave a comment

What do you think of when you imagine Heaven? If you’re like me, you start out with ‘superficial heaven’ with all the bells and whistles that would make it customized and perfect for you, including a few vices. Then, realizing that’s not appropriate, you might weed those things out and try to imagine all the important things like seeing your loved ones and being at eternal rest and peace. Then you might start to consider the elephant in the room.

It lasts forever. 

How can that possibly not get boring? I made a deal with God a long time ago that after 10,000 years, I want out. Nuke me. Whatever it takes.

Okay, maybe Heaven isn’t really like forever forever. Maybe it’s just like a state of being where we’re not really conscious. Maybe we’re just like sucked up or absorbed back into the divine stuff we all came from.

But, wait a second. Is that really heaven then? We don’t even know we’re there? We might as well just die. What’s the difference? Maybe this is all just foolishness. Heaven’s probably not real at all. Dang it.

(If you’re asking yourself if I over-think things much, you deserve a cookie)

But what if Heaven means none of those other things? What if it meant a place where we can perceive of it, add to its riches, bring others with us, and witness the beauty and drama of it all, with plenty of time (but not too much time).

Wait, are you thinking what I’m thinking? Nah, it couldn’t be… right now could it?

You’re right, Heaven can’t be going on right now. We all have a lot of crap going on, and people are hurting and dying and stuff. Pretty poor excuse for heaven if you ask me. It feels more like hell sometimes than anything else. Sometimes it’s so bad that you’d think we don’t even need a real hell. We don’t need a hell because people have made a hell on earth for themselves. 

(Long pause)

Wait a second. So if we can bring about hell on earth, we can bring heaven to earth too, can’t we? Maybe that John Lennon chap was on to something.

Oh, what is that you say? There’s no point in heaven if it’s not some apple pie in the sky/socialist utopia? There’s no justice in the world if the jerks don’t finally burn in an endless lava factory/sit forever in a car dealership waiting room? 

Maybe we should ask Jesus. Wait, someone already did? What’d he say?

“Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God, it’s the same “Kingdom of Heaven” from the Gospel of Matthew. “Heaven” was a nice way of saying “God” that didn’t offend the Jewish audience of Matthew’s text. So, Heaven = God. Got it. Okay. What about the word “Kingdom”? What’s that all about?

Mark and Luke use the Greek term “Basileia” that we translate as Kingdom, which is most appropriately translated as “kingship,” “kingly rule,” “reign”, “queen”, or “sovereignty.” Okay, so Kingdom = a state of rule.

So, Kingdom of Heaven = Kingdom of God = Reign of God.

Wait, this has nothing to do with superficial heaven, does it…

If you want to go even further with this, God is known to be synonymous with love in many circles. At the very least, those who believe in God should admit that God represents the supreme personification of love. And also at the very least, skeptics (even if you don’t think religious types have displayed this love) should admit that honest theists perceive the divine as being the personification of love, the best we can all hope to be.

So, what if Heaven means inviting the reign of love within us, a love that overturns the reign of hell in our own life? What if Heaven wasn’t an eternally self-absorbed universe constructed around vanity, but was in fact a temporal existence with a distinct purpose. What if it wasn’t about existing forever, but about truly living now. What if life is not our own, but something given, something we participate in. What if life is a gift we receive and then give away, so that others may receive it from us before they give it away, and so on, endlessly? What if death is more than a cessation of breath? What if hell is also temporal, here and now, with a distinct vendetta against the motives of life and the rule of love?

The kingdom of heaven is now. Is it in you? If not, get the hell out.

     

     The time had come when Jesus decided to make his glorious return to Earth. Before his departure from Heaven, Jesus called a council meeting to discuss the details with the saints, angels, and those multi-eyed animals from the Book of Revelations. Jesus sat at the head of a long table that seemed to go on forever, council members at their respected seats.

     ”Good morning, everyone. You all knew this day was coming. I am returning to Earth,” he said, awaiting an outburst of excitement. To his surprise there was only an awkward silence, accompanied by faint whispering amongst the crowd. “I uh… I said… I am returning to Earth!” Jesus repeated, hands outstretched above his head to give the moment a much needed exclamation point. 

     ”Eh hem,” said a voice from about twenty chairs down. “I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.” 

     ”Peter? Is that you?” asked Jesus. 

     ”Yes, yes my Lord,” he said, standing so that he could be properly recognized by the council. “I just don’t think it’s for the best.”

     ”You mean, my return to Earth?” asked Jesus. “But, I have to go back. I told everyone that I would. It’s the honorable thing to do.”

     ”Oh, yes. Of course, my Lord. Yes, yes you did tell everyone you would come back. I believe you even chose the word ‘soon’ in your promise,” said Peter, his voice shaking slightly. “But-“

     ”But what, Peter?” Jesus asked.

     ”But it’s been over two-thousands years, my Lord.”

     ”Two thousand? Really? Good heavens, I forgot we’re on Narnia time up here.” Jesus buried his face in his hands for a moment, grumbling to himself. “Right. Okay, so let’s figure this out, you guys. Surely, there must be a way to still make this happen respectfully. I assume Judaism has become the dominant religion down there by now, so we’ll just have to reschedule for a more significant day, like Rosh Hashanah or something.” The silence was deafening. Eyes darted back and forth across the table at one another. A look of panic filled each face. “What is it now?”

     ”Um, Jesus?” said another voice. This time it was John the Beloved.

     ”John! I love hearing your input!” said Jesus excitedly.

     ”Yes, yes. I know, you love me, I get it,” said John. “But, there’s something we’ve been meaning to tell you. There’s this other religion now. It’s uh… like bigger than Judaism. Like, way bigger.”

     ”Oh, well… I see,” said Jesus. “Paganism won’t die easily I suppose.”

     ”No. Not Paganism,” said John. “It’s called Christianity.”

     ”Christianity?” asked Jesus. “Wow, now there’s a name. Christianity… I like that. About me, is it?” 

     ”It is, indeed,” replied Peter. “They have churches all over the place, kinda like synagogues, but much pointier roofs. My goodness, if you could see just how pointy the roofs are! And at the top of the pointy roofs they have-“

     ”John!” said Peter cutting in. “I don’t think Jesus would be interested in what’s on-top of the pointy roofs, now would he?”

     ”Oh, quite right. Thank you, Peter. Right, what’s on-top of the pointy roofs is not what is important. What is important is what’s on the inside of the churches,” said John.

     ”What’s on the inside?” asked Jesus.

     ”Crosses,” said John.

     ”John!” said Peter.

     ”Crosses?!” cried Jesus.

     ”I am so sorry, my Lord. Completely slipped my mind again about that previous unpleasant history you have with crosses. See, Christians… they love the things. They’re obsessed with them. They wear them as jewelry…”

     ”Jewelry?” asked Jesus in disbelief.

     ”They tattoo them on their skin…”

     ”On their skin?!”

     ”Some churches even construct these giant metal ones you can even see from the highway! They’re really something to see!” continued John.

     ”Have you no decency, man?” shouted Peter across the table at John. “I thought we were going to ease him into the crosses thing!”

     ”Guys, I can handle it. It’s a little sickening honestly, and I might need to throw up a few times after first sight, but I’ll count their devotion to my horrific death as flattery,” said Jesus. “Tell me more about these Christians.”

     ”Well, they’re a large group, made up of thousands of what they call “denominations” but they’re basically little religions all about you,” said Peter.

     John cut in. “Yes, they even have a book about you.”

     ”John!” said Peter shortly. “Not yet! He’s not ready for that one!”

     ”What book?” asked Jesus. “Did they write something bad about me?”

     ”Well,” said John, “it’s not bad, per say. More politically, historically, and morally complex to say the least. They just put the ancient texts of your people together with these other newer stories about your life, plus some letters from Paul…”

     ”Paul?” asked Jesus. “Who’s Paul? I remember something about a guy named Paul.” John and Peter looked at each other, realizing this could get out of hand. 

     ”Oh, you don’t want to hear about Paul,” said Peter. “Sad story really. Let’s just say he wrote a lot about you. Good things! Confusing things. Things that caused lots of heated debates and such. But mostly good! Good things!”

     ”Well, that sounds okay,” said Jesus.

     ”Indeed,” said John. “But before all that he rounded up Christians and kill-“

     ”John! Stop! Just stop it now!” interrupted Peter.

     ”Forget about Paul,” said Jesus (a phrase that every New Testament scholar wished they had overheard). “What is the big deal about the book?”

     Peter picked up again. “Well, you see, no one agrees on what it means.”

     ”Oh, I see. Why’s that such a big deal to them?” asked Jesus. “As long as no one goes to war over it.” No one in the council made a sound for a solid minute. Peter shot daggers at John with his eyes, making an “off with your head” gesture, scraping his thumb nail across his own neck. John got the message loud and clear, sitting back down in his seat. Peter finally broke the silence.

     ”Right. Well. Here’s one reason. Some of them think it means they should feed the poor, while others think it can’t possible mean that literally since feeding the poor will only turn the poor into societal leeches who put unnecessary fiscal burden on the federal budget with expensive entitlement plans,” said Peter. “So for some Christians, it’s okay to feed the poor but only when they really really deserve it, like if they were rich before and just ran into some bad luck, like their mansion catching on fire.”

     ”That doesn’t sound at all like the stuff I was saying back then,” said Jesus. “How could anyone get that from a book about me? I should return at once and set all of this straight!”

     ”But Jesus,” said Peter. “You’ll run into a few problems at first.”

     ”Like what?” asked Jesus.

     ”Well, for starters, if you choose to enter visibly into earth’s atmosphere you’ll most likely be fired upon by what they call a “tomahawk cruise missile.” Not that I think you couldn’t withstand the explosion, my Lord, but probably not the best diplomatic way to make your return. Way too much potential for mass histeria, I’m afraid.”

     ”Right, right. Maybe a more subtle approach. I’ll teleport in at night time. Hold a press conference the next morning. I’ll speak live to the whole world. I’ll tell them I’ve come back to establish a peaceful world where all have their needs met and no one will be poor or hungry every again.”

     ”Won’t work,” said Peter. “You tried that approach last time. The nations will take your message as a declaration of war and a radical threat to their own sovereignty. They’d call you a radical insurrectionist and put you on trial like… you know… like last time.”

     ”I see. Well, then I will simply address the Christians,” said Jesus. “I’ll tell them that I am back and I will give them precise instructions on how to bring hope and change to their countries.”

     ”Still won’t work,” said Peter. “Some other guy is using the ‘Hope and Change’ rhetoric right now, so it’d only come off as cliche. But even with a great slogan, many Christians wouldn’t believe it was really you.”

     ”Why not?” said Jesus.

     ”Because you’re not white,” said John.

     Jesus sat quietly for a moment before speaking, slightly discouraged. “You know, it has been two-thousand years,” he said. “I mean, no one’s really expecting me to come anytime soon right?”

     ”Right,” responded the council in unison. Maybe Jesus was coming around, they thought.

     ”I mean, they seem to be content with their current setup. I’d only be stirring up controversy again if I went back, right?” he asked.

     ”Right!” said the council.

     ”Jesus?” said another voice. It was Mary, who had come up behind him, resting a hand on his shoulder. 

     ”Yes, mother?” he replied.

     ”You exist on all planes of time and space. Stop being so lazy.” She said.

The Gods of Christianity…

Brett Gallaher —  September 8, 2012 — 1 Comment

Recently I have enjoyed many conversations with friends regarding my personal beliefs in the areas of God, faith, religion, church, the universe, death, the afterlife, and the “now” life. These conversations are usually quite lengthly, filled with healthy and informative dialogue that challenges me to reflect further. But one point keeps coming up.

No one can quite figure me out.

I was recently called a closet atheist by my atheist friend. A Christian friend recently suggested my views were definitely theistic but not quite Christian. This is amusing on a certain level, but slightly frustrating on another. I don’t want to come across as someone who believes in nothing at all, or as someone who doesn’t have deep convictions. Yet, I am discovering slowly my core is shifting away from these predetermined labels that seek to define us.

While some might suggest, “Well, Brett, you’re probably just an agnostic,” I would say yes and no. Then those same people would reply with “Brett, that’s not agnosticism then,” and I’d say “Hey, look over there! It’s Obama!” and they’d look and then I’d start walking in the other direction.

I think the issue is with the term “belief.” People ask me if I believe in God. Let me be honest. That question is as broad as asking “What do you think about stuff?” Which God are we talking about here? I mean, I’m sure they’re referring to the Christian God or his Judaic and/or Islamic cousin, but still we are no closer to the true question. Assuming we’re talking about the generic American version of God, we’re only micrometers closer. Are we talking about the Catholic God? the Baptist God? the Arminian God? the Calvinistic God? While some would say I’m now nit-picking, I have no intent on picking nits whatsoever. If we’re talking about the Southern Baptist God, no I do not believe that God exists. I’m sorry. If you’re a Baptist, I’m an atheist in your book. 

(No offense, Baptists. I’m just saying).

Okay okay, so I’ll admit I can’t pick a “perfect” denominational representation of God. But I just wanted to make a point. There are truly competing Gods within Christianity. If you dismiss this fact and say “Oh, we’re all just talking about the same God. We just have different interpretations,” but then you deny that Allah is the same God of the Old Testament (because you don’t like Islam), while simultaneously confirming that Jews do worship the God of the Old Testament (because you like “God’s chosen people” more than those other sons of Abraham), then you’re simply contradicting yourself. I have legitimate concerns with many of the “gods” within the Church. 

After studying historical theology through eight years of undergrad and grad work, I noticed that there were several amazing theologies that were legit. And by legit I mean they had something incredibly useful for the conversation about God. I also noticed that no one theology was capable of speaking for all the dimensions of what God would truly represent. If you described God in a strictly Orthodox manner, the rationale and articulation would eventually break down. But, if you picked up the conversation with another theology that complimented components of the former position, the dialogue was allowed to continue while maintaining the legitimacy of the first view as well. This allows a belief in God to be mobile, a “moving target” if you will.

Some people believe theologies are about figuring out what you believe about God. Some may feel fine sticking with their theology (or God) of choice, but I simply can’t do that. For me, it is simply impossible to believe in God in such a way. It’s impossible to know such things about God.

So here’s where the “Brett, that sounds like an agnostic to me” part comes in. It is true, I believe it is not humanly possible to develop a theology that even remotely explains what God is, what God thinks about, what God plans on doing, how God “saves” us, if Jesus was God, etc. 

(I can see a Baptist walking to an exit door).

However, the fact that I won’t pick a side (or a God) is not a denouncement of truth. I look at the vast array of positions and theories like Theosis, Exemplarism, Sacramentalism, Liberation theology, Perichoresis, Unitarian, Pantheism, Panentheism, Process theology, Open theology, and say to myself… it’s all good. Why would I ever want to pick just one? I think a conversation about the nature of God should include the best of all these.

I suspect that many Christians at this point would be all squinty-eyed and say, “Okay, Brett. As long as you believe in God, that’s cool.”

Well… that’s when things get even more complicated. I recognize the fact that these theologies, even on their best day, even with pristine articulation, are all simply metaphors. They point to a God that is still, at the end of the day, invisible and indefinable. Whatever “God” we profess to believe in, well… doesn’t actually exist. We only believe in ideas about “God” …whatever “God” would be.

To put it slightly more bluntly, I don’t believe God is a physical being occupying space in our universe. I also don’t believe God is a male (or a female) because that would imply he (or she) is having babies or something. That’s called polytheism, people. I’m not even ready for that discussion. I’m also in no way able to say I am convinced Jesus was literally God or literally resurrected from the dead. I am quite aware that those previous two points place me outside of Orthodox Christian Tradition. Well, that would mean the numerous Christian scholars who share similar doubts would also fall outside of Christianity.

…Whatever. It’s cool.

Gray…

Brett Gallaher —  September 3, 2012 — Leave a comment

I have believed in God ever since I can remember. My sky was blue. My nights were black. I traveled down life’s paved road with hymns in my ears on my way to Heaven, the highway signs directing my journey. Heaven 1,000 miles. Heaven 900 miles. 800, and so on.

I once sprinted. Then I walked. Now I am crawling, the pavement is now dirt. The sky above is not black or blue, only gray. I see the signs, the miles now stalled. Heaven 100 miles. 100 miles. 100, and no closer. Is Heaven any closer, or further than ever? It all seems the same, tomorrow or never.

The road often changes to grass, soft to the cheek. I cease crawling and lay on my back, staring up at the gray and think it doesn’t look so bleak. Gray is related to blue. Gray is related to black. I stop and just lay back.

The hymns now sound different. The voices have faded to melodies. No words can compare. They sing of a God who looks different, looks larger, looks smaller. She comes in my dreams. Her hair is black. Her hair is gray. She never looks the same. I think I like it that way.

Does God still exist? If she ever did then she still does. She made my world much different, much grayer than it ever was.

A reflection by one of our contributors, Mr. Brinkmeyer:

I’ve been thinking lately about the way that cultures shape their participant subjects.  Interacting with one-another within a culture or even sub-culture can bring a sense of relief and acceptance, and while sameness is not always generated within a culture, this sense of relief can be reinforcing to an individual, whether they practice conformity to said culture or not.

“Nature” or “the Wild” always seems to be in the background, however, and one can get just as lost in a university library, Wal-Mart or at Lowe’s as one can get in an expanse of “natural wilderness.”  The isolation we are capable of experiencing in the former is sometimes more frightening than what turns out to be a sense of solitude gained from interacting with trees, breezes and trickling waters of the latter.  I know I’ve had more than one experience with a friend who walks out of Wal-Mart terrified at the state of things, so overwhelmed by sterile warehouse acoustics ricocheting off of their senses that they just want to curl themselves into a hole somewhere and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Pretend.  That’s an interesting word to think about in relation to what happens in a society where diversionary agreements can at times run away with us.  I have, at times in my life (and I think I’m not alone in this), entered into pretend social agreements, and left a little worse for the wear.  More often than not, it’s because I’m pretending more deeply than necessary, and wind up taking words or actions personally in a way that turns out to be destructive not only to myself, but to the True relationship that I have with a person on the other end.  However, I think there is an element of that which can be applied to a larger social framework in considering the adaptations we are capable of, and allowances we make to one-another when we “turn the other cheek” numbly instead of with a genuine reaction.  We can pretend it doesn’t hurt, but it does.

The dilemma I am experiencing has to do with the way that the larger bodies of our cultures and sub-cultures interact with one-another, often resulting in an “us against them” mentality, which can result in fear, conflict, and judgement.  I have found myself taking these disagreements personally too, whether or not the reality of the situation justifies it rationally or not.  The way this pops up in my life, more often than not, has to do with authoritative structures, which I think is how I find myself drawn to Unitarian Universalist practice, yoga meditation, pursuit of clarity and intentionality, transcendentalist thinking, cooperative organizations and other states of being involving less formality and more interest in a genuine connection with other seekers of true communication and acceptance.

I wonder though, if in this I make myself as much a victim of pretense as I would in agreement with a more arbitrary organic cultural structure.  I believe that in self-reflection we find more truth than in self-examination, that is, when we’re laid out on the examination table of our minds it’s easy to nitpick into problems we find, which can chaotically spin us out of control as we dissect these problems within ourselves.  But in reflection, an other is implied, one that shines us back at us, showing us what we might look like in general in more pure state of existence.  That’s not to encourage self-justification by any means, but to show us that the unrealized potential that we sometimes perceive as flaws can encourage us to become that which is us.

For me, that’s where We Occupy Jesus enters the picture.  In recognizing the person of Jesus Christ outside of or in relation to the problematically cultural-authorative structures that pretend (whether striving forward or backward, or sometimes sideways) to be true religion, we can get catch glimpses of the potential for the compassion, Love, forgiveness and transcendent Spirit that is in Christ.  Christ is a state of being, a possibility of the present, future, and a forgiving outlook on the past which miraculously improves lives through a compassionate outlook on the self.  In meditation, prayer, spiritually intimate and affectionate behavior recognizing that image that is in every human being, a soul-stamp of sorts, a seed which grows into individuality without the oppressive constraints of conformity… like a tree that in its variation from another of the same family yeilds true identity with the fact of and need for acceptance and Love for others… we can find ourselves.

To me, that’s our purpose here.  In offering gratitude toward that which is the source of life, we become more truly alive, gathering the parts of our lives into the oneness that is in Christ in the world, thereby encountering holiness and God.