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Hey everyone. This is Brett, head blogger and founder of WOJ. I have decided to take my work to the next level and actively pursue a career in freelance writing. I will continue to develop weoccupyjesus.org, however my personal reflections and more self-promotional posts require a separate site. I am now officially launching…

iamprobablywrong.com.

If you have enjoyed by previous work, please follow the new blog. I have written an introductory post that I’d be honored to share with you. Please read, like, share, and comment! I would love your feedback. The site is optimized for all mobile devices, so have at it.

Thanks for all the support. #heregoesnothing

 

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Don’t Should On Me!

Brett Gallaher —  January 20, 2014 — 5 Comments

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So I went to see an R-rated movie the other day. Well, first I sat through the forty-five minutes of commercials about buying the giant discount popcorn bucket, and then I watched an R-rated movie. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself again. After the popcorn propaganda came the previews (including the preview for that upcoming Coca Cola bears movie, aka the upcoming 90 minute commercial about Coca Cola). Since I had paid to see an R-rated film, the previews were for many R-rated films as well. One time I read the description of the rating itself, being told that minors must be accompanied by an adult. For some reason, it made me laugh. I mean, the content of the film doesn’t change simply because your parent is sitting next to you. Obviously the message is “We don’t care if your kid should see decapitations and raunchy sex scenes at age nine. We just want to make sure you don’t mind if your kid sees it. And don’t sue us by the way.”

Can't beat the real thing!

Can’t beat the real thing!

~

I had to catch myself, because my inner monologue had begun should’ing all over the place. You see, I think one of the un-evolved elements of humanity is our propensity to tell other human beings what they should and should not do, think, believe, or feel. We do it all day long. It saturates every conversation from religion to politics to education to… who should see an R-rated movie. I mean, I was sitting there in the theater thoroughly enjoying the adult humor and language used in the film. Honestly, a few years ago I would not have felt comfortable with such content, but I have changed. Depending on your own beliefs you may think I made a change for the worse, letting my morals slowly decay and allowing my mind to be infected with unholy influences. Maybe not. Maybe you think R-rated movies are more in-line with the real world, unfiltered and consistent with our modern society.

What really struck me was the fact I couldn’t simply enjoy the show without first dealing with these kind of thoughts; I was somehow compelled to entertain fabricated debates in my head regarding the nature of morality. That’s annoying. I mean, I paid $10 (plus the nearly $15 for the giant discount popcorn bucket) so I could yell internally at my third grade Sunday School teacher (who was a lovely woman by the way). Why was I letting people “should” on me from the past? From decades ago?

"Brett! Stop reading Song of Solomon out loud!"

“Brett! Stop reading Song of Solomon out loud!”

~

I observed the actions of the characters on screen. The uncensored tone of the dialogue was refreshing, but it reminded me of how any truth or lesson lying behind the film would be totally lost on certain individuals. The unmarried couple laying in bed after sex, having a real human conversation filled with laughter and joy and hope… none of that would come across to those only preoccupied with condemning the “sin” of premarital sex. The woman abused by her husband of fifteen years shares a dance and a kiss with a younger man in a bar… but she’s an adulteress whore and a drunkard to some. You see, characters in films may not be real, but they represent very real ideas, people, situations, etc. Movies are truly art imitating life.

So, who is to say how we should live? What should we do? What shouldn’t we do? It’s easier for us to get those answers from other people. For some that is as easy as picking a religion. Right and wrong are able to be defined, creating a framework for living. In such a scenario, one must simple do all they can to avoid what is wrong and pursue what is right. This creates a tendency to dismiss “gray areas” as confused or twisted logic, created by dark forces conspiring to trip you up at every turn. Reality is only black and white to many people, therefore anything gray is to be met with suspicion at the very least.

That reminds me of another R-rated movie coming out soon...

That reminds me of another R-rated movie coming out soon…

~

While I won’t fall into the verbal trap of attempting the phrase “You shouldn’t tell people what they shouldn’t do” …I’ll propose what I see as an obvious downside of should’ing on people. To define life (and particularly your life) as existing within any pre-defined framework is to reject the experience of life. If you tell someone else how they should feel, who they should love, what they should do, etc., you are telling them that their own experience, their own journey, their own path is pointless. Their unique existence? Meaningless. And worse, you are tell them that your unique existence isn’t unique either. You’re kindly (or often unkindly) breaking it to them that life isn’t about doing the work of discovering your own place in the universe; you’re saying life is already decided to be [fill in the blank]. Get use to it.

And much worse, you can rob people of some of the most beautiful moments. You have the power to take something miraculous, or freeing, or life-giving, and write it off as selfish, sinful, or even demonic. Any particular brand of happiness not grounded in your particular worldview can be met with ridicule, dismissal, or scorn. And again, the real tragedy is that you reject the truth behind the packaging. You miss out on life, trading it for a concept you’ve elevated to the place of God.

Obviously we can have our convictions. We can believe strongly in principles that guide our lives. We can fight for what matters to us. But it must be the fruit of our own labor, to work out who we should be as individuals. It will involve trial and error. You will mess up. You will get discouraged. But if you pull through, if you discover what is good and pure, what is dark and empty, what gives you meaning and what poisons your soul… if you experience pain and rebirth, if you conquer yourself and find who you really are…

…No one should ever be able to define life for you ever again.

——–

brettBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. 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.

Is heaven a destination or a journey?

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DISCLAIMER: There are clearly very obvious reasons why Jesus would not call Mark Driscoll after a date (e.g. Jesus isn’t really the “dating” type, Mark Driscoll is married to what can only be described as a “happy” wife, and as far as we know… they are both heterosexuals). However, I have compiled a list of reasons a hypothetical date between these two would not yield the slightest possibility of a second encounter.

Mark Driscoll loves Jesus. There’s no doubt about that. Mark loves Jesus so much that if the Nazarene knocked on Mark’s door with a pair of tickets to see Gravity in 3D, Mark would jump at the opportunity. A dismayed Mrs. Driscoll would nervously wave goodbye from the doorway, clinging to her new book Mark bought her entitled Why My Husband Will Never Love Me. She’d pray she’d have the quiz in the back pages completed before his return.

But most of us know Mark would be back soon with an entirely different opinion of that Jesus fellow. New incompatibilities would come to light. Some might even call them irreconcilable differences. Mark may have friended Jesus on Facebook, Followed him on Twitter, and even created a new contact in his smartphone, but deep down he knows what we all know.

Jesus isn’t calling him back. Why?

1. MARK KEEPS DISSING JESUS’ HOMEGIRLS

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…and pointing in their faces in the girls’ bathroom.

~

You see, Jesus would have eventually brought up his friends, especially his homegirls. Jesus has lots of them. Most of them are called Mary. A few are called Jaquita. One is called Esther. Esther from… the book of Esther, Esther (not Madonna Esther). Jesus and Esther go way back. Well, Jesus was more or less spying on Esther because his Act wasn’t until the Romans showed up, but he was there. But the moment he would have brought up Esther, Mark would have interjected with some less-than-kosher remarks. It’s just what Mark does whenever that broad gets brought up. Exhibit A: Mark’s own words.

“She grows up in a very lukewarm religious home as an orphan raised by her cousin. Beautiful, she allows men to tend to her needs and make her decisions. Her behavior is sinful and she spends around a year in the spa getting dolled up to lose her virginity with the pagan king like hundreds of other women. She performs so well that he chooses her as his favorite.”

[He goes on to say...]

“Feminists have tried to cast Esther’s life as a tragic tale of male domination and female liberation. Many evangelicals have ignored her sexual sin and godless behavior to make her into a Daniel-like figure, which is inaccurate. Some have even tried to tie her story in with modern-day, sex-slave trafficking as she was brought before the powerful king as part of his harem.” -from his article at pastormark.tv.

Jesus would possibly give Mark the benefit of the doubt. Biblical hermeneutics is really hard! He’d politely ignore this one issue and change the subject. Perhaps he’d ask Mark about his own wife, Grace. “Tell me about her, Mark. Tell me about a moment that really sums up your relationship.” If Jesus had read Mark’s book, Real Marriage, so many questions would have been answered. Perhaps he would have taken up Rob Bell’s pottery class offer instead.

Driscoll writes in Real Marriage about his wife
(who deals with depression after sexual abuse):

“My previously free and fun girlfriend was suddenly my frigid and fearful wife. She did not undress in front of me, required the lights to be off on the rare occasions we were intimate, checked out during sex, and experienced a lot of physical discomfort because she was tense…One night, as we approached the birth of our first child, Ashley, and the launch of our church, I had a dream in which I saw some things that shook me to my core. I saw in painful detail Grace sinning sexually during a senior trip she took after high school when we had just started dating. It was so clear it was like watching a film — something I cannot really explain but the kind of revelation I sometimes receive. I awoke, threw up, and spent the rest of the night sitting on our couch, praying, hoping it was untrue, and waiting for her to wake up so I could ask her. I asked her if it was true, fearing the answer. Yes, she confessed, it was. Grace started weeping and trying to apologize for lying to me, but I honestly don’t remember the details of the conversation, as I was shell-shocked. Had I known about this sin, I would not have married her.” [pages 6, 11-12]

So yeah, then there’s the issue of…
2.
MARK’S CREEPY FLOATING TELEPATHIC PORN-O-VISIONx-ray vision

“Hey there, Grandma.”

~

Jesus may forgive Mark for revealing this case of spiritual abuse and all-around “bad husbandry”. He is Jesus, after all. Mark may have a real felt-need to discern the presence of sexual sins in the lives of those around him. Such matters are serious and should never be treated like opportunities to convey spiritual superiority over those in such vulnerable emotional states. That would be a misuse of authority and borderline manipulation. Jesus says a quick prayer for Mark. Afterwards he checks YouTube out of sheer curiosity.

Jesus does a facepalm.

Jesus would send out an emergency text to his homegirls to come rescue him. He’d stall in the meantime. Come to think of it, why was Mark taking him to some abandoned construction site? Scared he’d anger Mark by asking, Jesus would quickly come up with another topic. “Mark, I’m really flattered that you’ve devoted your entire ministry to me. That means a lot. Tell me more about what attracted you to Christianity.” Mark would lean over and whisper two words in Jesus’ ear.

“Real. Men.”

3. JESUS DOESN’T WANT TO FIGHT SWEATY MEN IN CAGES

Wait a minute... This wrestling looks fake!

Wait a minute… This wrestling looks fake!

~

Mark’s vision for Christianity [from Life on Mars (Hill), Bitch Magazine]

“Church today, it’s just a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chickified church boys. Sixty percent of Christians are chicks, and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks.”

Mark previously encountered difficulty worshiping “a gay hippie in a dress.” But something about those disciples changed his mind. They were anything but hippies. They were real men. Real hardcore, violent men looking for trouble. Trouble for Jesus.

“I’ve gotta think these guys were dudes. Heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes.”

Christianity was about men. Real, sweaty men. The sweatier, the Godlier. Sweatiness is next to Godliness, they say. Wait, that’s not what they say at all. Jesus didn’t want Christianity to be “Manly”. That would imply that there’s something inherently wrong with being feminine. Womanly would mean “weak”. Such an idea is fundamentally insulting to women. It’s essentially saying that women’s main flaw is that they’re not men. Mark would look over at Jesus, sensing the date going downhill. “What’s wrong, Jesus?!”

“Nothing!” Jesus would say. “I’m just… err… um… checking out your YouTube videos! So relevant!”

Mark might try his luck by shifting the discussion.
Obviously we know the futility of even trying, especially since we all know…

4. JESUS IS TOO “PRO CHOICE” FOR MARK

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Approaching “Can of Worms” Ohio.

~

Mark would ask Jesus a very significant question. “Are you pro choice?” Jesus may look over at Mark with a smile. Finally Mark would show interest in what he thought. Jesus is an expert on this topic as well. He is a huge advocate of free will. He practically invented it. Maybe this would be a game-changer for the evening. But we know better. Jesus would open his mouth to say, “Of course! Choice is essential to freedom!”

Mark would lash out at Jesus, rudely interrupting him mid-sentence. This misunderstanding would be preventable, if only Mark could suppress his obsession with the topic of abortion. But he can’t.

“Mark, no. That’s not what I-”

“You do not submit to the authority of Scripture! You don’t value human life!” -Mark would exclaim.

After about an hour, Jesus would become fed up with Mark monopolizing the conversation. “You know what, Mark? I’ve had it with your ego, your insensitivity, and your misogynistic rants. You don’t even listen to me anymore! Don’t you understand? Our relationship is all about communication!”

“I can change!” Mark might say.

But it’d be too late. Jesus would have found a ride, possibly like a stranger on a bus, just trying to make his way home, back up to Heaven all alone, nobody calling on the phone (except for Mark). #straighttovoicemail.

In closing: I’m not bashing Mark Driscoll. Mark Driscoll is bashing Jesus. I’m not even talking about any version of the “true” Jesus, or the most “Biblical” interpretation. Some things are mysteries. We can’t know exactly what the historical Jesus would think today. But Jesus represents something life-giving, something powerful and moving and capable of literally saving lives. You may be reading this and have no belief in Jesus whatsoever, or you may be a life-long Christian. That’s not the point. We all have our own views. But at the end of the day, does the Jesus that Mark calls upon resemble a symbol of love, or of resentment? Does Mark call upon a Jesus who saves lives or who shames lives? Does Mark sound more like a spiritual leader or more like a pseudo sex therapist? You have to decide, but one thing is for sure.

Mark Driscoll wants to wrestle with sweaty men in a cage for Jesus.

——–
brettttttBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. 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.

Magic Jesus…

Brett Gallaher —  July 6, 2013 — 5 Comments

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Yesterday one of my co-workers told me something. He said he no longer believed in Jesus. My natural reaction was, “Jesus? Like, you don’t believe he existed?” My friend went on to say that he no longer believed in God, Jesus, the Trinity, or anything like that anymore. Whether Jesus, the charismatic neighborhood rabbi from the 1st Century Palestinian “block” existed or not was of no consequence to him. He no longer believed in Christ, the God-Man, or as I like to call him…

“Magic Jesus”.

His reasoning was, as is usually the case, the amount of suffering in his own life and the world around him. He said he’s not worried about blaming it on a god anymore. He doesn’t believe in it anymore. He’s just going to “live life” he said. And I don’t blame him.

Now, I am not saying I share his dim outlook, but I understand the exhaustion that comes with trying to make excuses for a deity (or a set of beliefs about a deity) that seems distant, oblivious, unable, or unwilling to give a damn about the rest of us down here. “He’s God. He doesn’t need defending,” some say (ironically in a defensive tone). But basically it just comes off as “God is good even if all evidence points to him being a jerk.”

Let’s not let him off the hook this time. After all, “Magic Jesus” should be able to show up and do something. Let’s call it like it is. He’s not doing a good enough job.

Christians and atheists alike are tired of Magic Jesus ruining their lives. Instead of the human Jesus being a symbol of what we can all strive to achieve, his influence has been usurped by a narcissistic and easily offended long-haired Swedish Superman knockoff, only interested in weekly self-help seminars with a cover charge. 

Depending on your preferred model, Magic Jesus may even tell you who to vote for, which news outlets are biased, and who isn’t allowed to get married. How does he know all of this? Because he’s magic. 

I am going to suggest something radical. Believing in a certain type of Jesus has absolutely nothing to do with being a good person. It also has no bearing on who Jesus actually is/was. If I think he’s magic, that doesn’t make him any more or less divine. It is simply an expression of my current state of mind. That state of mind does not reflect how “on track” or “off track” our spiritual health may be at any given moment. 

If you think my friend is “struggling” spiritually because he no longer believes in (magic) Jesus, then you may be missing the larger point. People have been “Jesus’d”. People have tried for years, since childhood, to come to know, understand, and love Jesus. Some end up wide-eyed in a church camp crying out to God while others run screaming out the door because they can’t pretend any longer. Neither of these two extremes or anyone in-between is any “better” or “worse”; they have run the gauntlet of the Jesus experience, and here they stand, sometimes with the living crap knocked out of them. 

Would you stand over them with your finger pointing down, conjuring the spells of your warlock?

I challenge you to consider that life is more than what we believe. Whether there are gods watching over us or not, we must look out for each other. If there are indeed gods, let them ponder our great love, more powerful than any magician.

—-

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. 

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.

—-

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.
 
—-
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.

 

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On a recent Sunday morning I sat in church barely awake. It was my fault. I’d been up late having an endless discussion with a friend, a discussion that I won’t go into. I give credit to our preacher. He has a way of bringing new meaning to what I’ve been listening to all my life. From a more humane approach towards homosexuality to his pain filled explanation for why he no longer believed in a literal Hell. But this Sunday would be different. He looked sullen though determined as he made a statement I had not expected. He said, “Religion is dying. For the first time in modern history the world’s faiths have not only began to stagnate, but are beginning to decline.” There was a moment of silence, but I have to admit that I was intrigued and shamelessly excited for a moment to hear more. But what followed was disappointing. The remedy seemed to me a guarded one, and far too typical with an overwhelmingly dissatisfying effect that church politics usually has. I knew from conversations I’ve had with my pastor what he had in his homiletic arsenal, but he settled with the church-safe. “Young people find us to be boring. They find no value in church, and what it has to offer.” 

I am familiar with church politics. My family, going back as far as anyone can remember, has been driven to be involved in their church’s operations, usually as board members and Sunday school teachers. One thing that has vexed me is the reality that most people in the South that attend church regularly are unprepared for anything that steps outside of tradition. Preachers have to take care with what they allow themselves to say in their sermons. The past two hundred years have revealed startling information that would have turned religion on its head if it had been shared with its followers. I do not want to go into that now, but careful reading of the bible and other books written by the growing number of theological scholars along with historians of antiquity are good sources for what has been skillfully kept from congregations in most parts of the world. I’m speaking of Christianity, since this is my background, but this trend seems to be consistent everywhere. It’s for this reason that my preacher’s sudden statement of the steady decline of religion was not backed up by anything more than what is evident such as the dwindling number of young people that attend church or involve themselves in other ways. I semi-consciously made myself open to being receptive to the reasons for religion’s decline as they made themselves evident. 

Let me just say that I do not believe that the decline of religion is due to young people being less involved. If they are dropping away from Christianity, or their respective religion, I see that as a symptom of how religion has failed to embrace Jesus’ message of love and offers too great an emphasis on the super-natural among other things that are rarely explained. Is it difficult to understand that a young person would need to have been raised in the church to find supernatural events genuinely plausible or even an adult? I was well into my twenty’s when I had my first serious George Carlin or Bill Maher moment; when a person finally says, “Now let me get this straight…..”. I find that moment of doubt to be nearly as precious as the first time I realized that I was paying attention in church. 

The data is irrefutable. The world’s religions are beginning to decline. Church membership is very slowly shrinking, though hardly noticeable in the United States, but far more apparent in Europe. These European churches are easily seen from high-speed rail along each nation’s less populated countryside, noticeably empty and in ill repair.

Other than the emphasis on the benevolent super-natural there is the pervading message of doom clearly spelled out in the Book of Revelation that fundamentalist Christians claim belief. Back when Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ ‘Left Behind’ series was gaining popularity, I believed their books were a reflection of what was to come. Being familiar with Revelations helped me understand the story from one novel to the next. The theme was consistently negative, and meant to frighten the reader into being an obedient follower of whatever the bible dictated. It would be accurate to say that the reader could find what they were looking for depending on their devotion and expectations. Both of these factors gradually changed for me as I learned more about the origin of John’s mysterious book to the seven very young churches of the first and second centuries. 

My family’s devotion to Christianity gave me the valuable experience of growing with and speaking to a wide variety of people within the faith with still varying beliefs. In conversation the elements of anticipation, expectation, and fear prevailed. Many of the people I met anxiously looked forward to being caught up into the clouds with Jesus during his Second Coming, but also expecting that most people would be stuck here to suffer through the Tribulation. Even as I was sure that my destiny awaited me in the clouds, I feared for those that would be left behind. What an odd expectation for a child, but I believed it until just a few years ago.

Inevitably, a person that believes in the Book of Revelations as being prophetic must also expect great horrors to occur before Jesus will reign here on Earth. The goal being to be with Jesus and eventually to be in God’s physical presence requires the events made clear in the bible; rumors of war, pestilence, disease, starvation, and anything else that can be imagined that may kill us. This is a very odd series of horrors to be looked upon with glad expectation. The mentality is akin to being told that you’re going to win the lottery, but first everything you love has to be subject to destruction and you may be grievously injured. Many are so zealous for this approach to being with God that they yell “bring it on” with smiles on their faces.

New adherents are often discouraged from being a part of Christianity knowing this long-taught expectation and approach to having a final audience with God. Couple this with newly revealed information that has been kept from us for centuries, and we face the unfortunate obstacles that cripple not only the Christian faith, but the paths to God that most religious people follow. This includes Islam; the religion that is basically a mix of Judaism, Christianity and what lengths Arabic tribes will go to in their quest for water.

Do the religions of the Western hemisphere require a degree of pessimism? The argument set before you is that they do. Is this a message that encourages converts or retains those sitting in church pews on Sunday morning? How could it?

Where does a message of hope and love fit in? Many take comfort in the words of Jesus. I presume not to tell you what Jesus actually said. To know that takes a special devotion to the historical Jesus, Jewish culture, bible literacy and a healthy ability to tell the difference between irrational politics and reason.

Many Christians are optimistic that our religion can survive, but recognize that it must be redefined. I want to believe Christians can shed the elements of fear, and that those that are overtly zealous can eventually recognize how destructive the “God, guns, and country” message is to Christianity’s future. Those of us that want to change the direction of this beloved religion need to act soon, and if successful, those that are neurologically challenged may be overwhelmed with peer pressure and follow us into a real Kingdom of God that Jesus taught would one day come. One of my favorite saying attributed to Jesus is not in the bible, but I’ll offer it for those that believe in optimism and reject pessimism as a necessary element in our faith.

From The Gospel of Thomas:
The kingdom of heaven is within you, and all around you.

—-

ImageHeath Skaggs is a blogger for We Occupy Jesus. When he’s not disassembling lightsabers, he enjoys discussing theology, philosophy, and the reasons why Batman is indeed a superhero despite his lack of DNA mutations. If you disagree with him, he will settle all disputes through left-handed arm wrestling challenges.

Happy Easter

The Basic Point…

Brett Gallaher —  March 30, 2013 — 7 Comments

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[A guest post by Justin Acuff]

I’ve been an atheist in the pure defined sense of the word for as long as I can remember, despite being raised in a very conservative household by devout Mormon grandparents. When I was baptized at the age of eight, I distinctly remember everyone talking about the incredible “spirit” (the Lord’s presence in Mormon vernacular) in the room as I, irritated, coughed water out of my throat that had gone up my nose.

I don’t believe in any deity. I never have. Not only do I not, but I honestly don’t understand how any person could, and that lack of understanding is so complete that I don’t even dislike religion. I simply don’t understand it at all, or the people buying into it. Simply don’t get it.

That lack of understanding, however, led to a very different type of understanding altogether; not actively disliking religion or the religious allowed me to look at the institution of churches with objectivity, both seeing the bad — mythical stories that replace scientific fact, institutionalized child molestation, divisiveness, genocide (I’m not saying these are all caused by all religions, just that they are all problems of religion) — and the good.

And make no mistake, atheists, there is good. If you’ve ever been inside of a church congregation joined in song, or if you’ve ever had a feel for the sense of community that shared religious beliefs can have, you’ll know that aspect of the religious community, the sense of belonging and community, is extremely positive.

Atheism doesn’t have that. Well, not in a wide-spread manner. Instead, atheists define themselves based on the lack of belonging, based on the lack of belief. Atheism simply means the lack of belief in any deity, and leaves it at that, but there is so much more to every person, even just that particular facet of each person, than that. I don’t call myself an atheist anymore when people ask what my religious beliefs are. I’ll say I’m nonreligious, or that I don’t care, or if I think they’ll know what I’m talking about, I say Humanist.

When I say Humanist, I mean it in the Greg Epstein borderline-religion sense. A “lifestance,” as certain countries would call it. More than a philosophy and less than a religion.

I don’t have the solution. I don’t know that “atheist churches” are, if only because my experiences in the atheist community indicate that would be looked at generally unfavorably. Other than that, I think it’s a great idea.

Instead of speakers on the Bible, speak about philosophy and scientific advancements. Keep the scientific literacy of the general population higher. Have supplemental classes for kids that encourage working together to solve problems, academic and otherwise. An atheist pulpit would address nothing but social issues and mind-expanding education. Maybe a weekly TED talk on a large screen.

We should celebrate human achievements instead of deity-inspired myths and punishments. There are no miracles; only statistical anomalies. And even if there were, there is no evidence and thus no reason to let it govern our actions. Instead of living to get to heaven, we should cultivate a desire to live to better the world for each other.

The basic point is this: atheists, I agree with you. Yet what are we offering that offers similar benefits?

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Justin Acuff is a political writer and editor for Addicting Info,where he has been read over 1.4 million times. He also writes a blog from his website. Visit his Facebook fan page or follow him on Twitter.