Jan 30, 2018

The Internet is my religion

That's Jim Gilliam speaking. "The internet is my religion," he says. I like his religion.

Who is Jim Gilliam? He's a guy who believes people like you and me can change the world. He's trying to change the world by telling us his story, by encouraging us to find our own story, by saying that we can change the world, by giving us tools to improve it, by making it easier for us to step up and make a difference.

How can we change the world? Jim says: By connecting people through the internet. His company NationBuilder says "NationBuilder offers everyone the technology and community infrastructure to lead people to greatness." Can they help? They seem to have helped Emmanuel Macron--you know, the President of France.
In a single month, President Emmanuel Macron empowered hundreds of candidates to build a party from the ground up, win 350 seats in Parliament, and shift the dynamics of French politics.

There are also reports that Trump's campaign used their services. Never mind that you don't like Trump. If they helped someone outside the political establishment win, they helped someone win. The site claims to be non-partisan. This might be evidence.

NationBuilder encourages people to run for office--without the machinery of a party behind them.  They service anyone who wants to step up and make a difference. Never run for office? They support Run for Office (http://www.runforoffice.org/) a site that provides tools that can help people who know nothing. Want to find out what offices you can run for? You tell the site where you live and it gives you a list of offices you can run for and for each one tells you how to get started. Never run a campaign? The site gives a course on how to organize a campaign. Don't know whose vote you need? They give you a list of voters in your area. Free.

So.

Now I'm thinking of running for State Representative for Maine District 37. And I'm thinking: if Macron can bootstrap a whole political party, why can't I dream big. We'll see. My friend Ralph Chapman currently holds this office. Maybe Ralph can talk me out of running. Maybe I'll talk myself out of it. Maybe I'll lose interest. In the meantime, I'm thinking about it. And researching.

How did I get here? I decided to research campaigning tools to see if I could help Jared Golden in his run for the House of Representatives. My search took me to NationBuilder and a bunch of other sites and ultimately took me to a video of Jim Gilliam's talk at the Personal Democracy Forum.

Jim's talk was inspiring. So much so that I transcribed the entire talk--with some help from Google's automated tools. OK, so Google transcribed and I edited. Still, editing took time and showed commitment.

Then I found that Jim's written a book called, unsurprisingly, "The Internet is My Religion." I just finished reading it. I couldn't stop. If you want a copy, you can buy it on Amazon. But Jim is serious about spreading his gospel. You can do what I did, and go to his website: called, unsurprisingly, theinternetismyreligion.com go to the Spread the Gospel page and get your own copy--free. And get a link for giving free copies to others.  Or you can click my personal book sharing link, and get a free copy from Jim and me.

Yeah, says the cynic. The book is a great marketing tool for NationBuilder. Fair enough. It is. So what? If you change the world and  use NationBuilder then good for you and good for Jim. If you change the world some other way, then good for you. And good for him, if he inspired you. And good for me. I did tell you about this, didn't I?

Jim's book starts with a little background. He talks about the way he felt giving this speech:
I was a little high strung. Crazy nervous, really. In two days I would be giving the most important speech of my life. Standing in front of 800 of the most influential political and technology professionals in the world, I was going 4 to tell a deeply personal story about religion that I wasn’t even sure I could get through without crying. I had no idea how they would react, and I was terrified that I’d be booed off the stage.
He just about cries a couple of times. This might be a good time to watch Jim Gilliam's talk at the Personal Democracy Not yet? That's fine.  I'll rejRead on.

The TL;DR version of his speech:
I had cancer--non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I started chemo right away with my family and the church by my side.  But two weeks into it we found out that my mom had cancer too. Nine rounds of chemo later I survived. She didn't. Our family was destroyed and my faith in God was left shattered...
My faith was restored but it wasn't faith in God. It was faith in the Internet.  Oh no, it was faith in people connected through the internet....
Today we are the creators. We each have our own unique skills and talents to contribute to creating the kingdom of God. We serve God best when we do what we love for the greatest cause we can imagine. What the people in this room do is spiritual it is profound. We are the leaders of this new religion. We have faith that people connected can create a new world. Each one of us is a creator but together we are The Creator.
Now? Here's Jim Gilliam's talk at the Personal Democracy 

Or you can read the transcript. Or read while you watch.

There are three pillars to a successful movement: stories, tools, and faith. We've heard amazing stories the last 24 hours, and many of us are building the tools for democracy. But what I want to talk about is faith--my struggle with faith.

Growing up I had two loves: Jesus and the Internet. My dad worked for IBM, and my family moved out to Silicon Valley when I was very young.  Our home happened to be right across the street from a church.  This wasn't any Church, though. This church had thousands of members and was ground zero for Jerry Falwell's new moral majority movement on the West Coast.

I was born again when I was 8. I put my faith in Jesus and became quite the precocious young conservative. As a teenager, I developed a fiercely independent worldview. I went on mission trips. I listened to Rush Limbaugh. I called talk radio. All while my mom homeschooled my two sisters and I trying to protect us from the corrupting influences of the secular world.

Then one day my dad brought home this funny-looking phone and plugged it into his computer it made this bizarre screeching noise like it was trying to mate with the Renault Souris or something. Instead, it attracted me. That's when I found out that computers could talk to each other. From that point on it was all over for me. I would do my schoolwork in the morning. I would go to church three times a week and then I would go online, and I'd meet all kinds of people: hackers, feminists, punk's, Tori Amos fans, people far older than me who had no idea that I was 12 years old. I was judged by my brain not discounted because of my age. I loved it.

I went to college at Liberty University. This is where Jerry Falwell trained young soldiers to go out into the kingdom of God and into every profession and win it for the kingdom of God. It was a massive operation--thousands of students on campus, tens of thousands off campus--all connected by a global network of churches, an infrastructure that dated back 2,000 years. My role was in the computer lab. I spent all my time there. I bought the Internet to campus. I set up Liberty's first website. I even fixed Dr. Falwell's computer.

But by spring break I'd run out of breath. Literally, I couldn't breathe.  I had cancer--non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I started chemo right away with my family and the church by my side.  But two weeks into it we found out that my mom had cancer too. Nine rounds of chemo later I survived. She didn't. Our family was destroyed, and my faith in God was left shattered.

My ticket out of all this mess was a startup in Boston but just six months into it cancer came back. This time it was in my blood. My only chance was if they could find a bone-marrow donor and even then it was a long shot--maybe a 10% chance of surviving. The doctors started looking but then I spent two months in the hospital getting hammered with chemo. I was in the ICU constantly. I almost died a couple of times I was so much pain that I had this button to push, right, and every time I pressed it, I would be injected with pharmaceutical grade heroin.  Every time I did, I felt defeated and broken. I just wanted it to end.

God had forsaken me. Well, the doctors hadn't. They found a donor. I spent two weeks getting baked in an oven of radiation. And then early one morning, groggy from all the Benadryl, I watched as a small bag of marrow emptied into my arm. I walked out of the hospital two weeks later. replenished with the blood of a stranger.

I was determined to sort of move on with my life. So I gave my heart to the Internet. I was an engineer at Lycos--one of the first search engines.  I was a CTO at business.com all up until 9/11. Then the activist in me awoke. I was under no illusions that I could actually change anything, but I knew this was a historic moment and then if I didn't at least try I would regret it in 10 years.

Robert Greenwald was looking for someone to research the Iraq war for his first documentary. I sent him a link to my blog in the next day I was a /movie producer! Four crazy intense months later we drove up to our very first screening at an indie theater in Santa Monica. The line was around the block. We added a second screening that night, and in a matter of weeks, thousands of screenings all over the world were organized by activists all coordinated through the internet.

And bit by bit the media changed the way they talked about the war. Holy crap, this works!

My faith was restored, but it wasn't faith in God. It was faith in the Internet.  Oh no, it was faith in people connected through the internet. We went on to start Brave New Films. We made several documentaries. We crowdfunded films.  We changed things that I never even thought were possible, all by telling stories and connecting people through the internet.

And then I ran out of breath again. All the radiation treatments that I had years before for the cancer had scarred my lungs to the point where I couldn't even walk up the steps. They had to be replaced.  Double lung transplant. I needed someone to die so that I could be saved.

First I had to get on the list. All of the statistics for lung transplants are posted online, and UCLA had the best ones on the west coast. But they took one look at my file and said forget it! The surgery was too complicated.

Come on!!

I was really pissed, so I blogged about it.

I called the searches at UCLA a few names which I probably shouldn't repeat here. But then something amazing happened. One of the volunteers at Brave New Films saw the post, and she wrote an email to the generic UCLA email address accusing them of only doing easy surgeries to artificially inflate their statistics. Then my sister wrote an email. And all my friends wrote an email. This is what happens when your friends are activists.

Two weeks later I got a call from the scheduler at UCLA. I told her they had already rejected me. She said..."I don't know.  You're on the list. You need an appointment."

I met with the surgeon, and he said he'd been forwarded the emails my case had been rejected before hadn't even gotten to him. Lung transplant surgeons have many great qualities, but humility is not one of them.  No one was going to accuse him of being afraid of a surgery
[Applause]

There were many more hurdles for us to cross. The health insurance companies tried to weasel out of it. The Transplant Board kept coming up with excuses. I had more tests to do every single week. But my friends, my family, their friends, a bunch of people from the internet all fought to get me on the list. And they got me on the list.

A year later the phone rang. Then my step mom's phone rang. Then my dad's phone, right? It was time. As I was prepped for the surgery. I wasn't thinking about Jesus or whether my heart would start beating again after they stopped it or whether I would go to heaven if it didn't. I was thinking about all the people who had gotten me here. I owed every moment of my life to countless people I would never meet. Tomorrow that interconnectedness would be represented in my own physical body--three different DNAs. Individually, they were useless, but together they would equal one functioning human.

What an ncredible debt to repay! I didn't even know where to start. And that's when I truly found God. God is just what happens when humanity is connected. Humanity connected is God. There was no way I would ever repay this debt. It was only by the grace of God--your grace--that I would be saved.

The truth is we all have this same cross to bear. We all owe every moment of our lives to countless people we will never meet--whether it's the soldiers who give us the freedoms because they fight for our country, or is the surgeons who give us the cures that keep us alive. We all owe every moment of our lives to each other. We are all connected. We're all in debt to each other. The internet gives us the opportunity to repay just a small part of that debt.

 As a child, I believed in creationism--that the universe was created in six days. Today we are the creators. We each have our own unique skills and talents to contribute to creating the kingdom of God. We serve God best when we do what we love for the greatest cause we can imagine. What the people in this room do is spiritual it is profound. We are the leaders of this new religion. We have faith that people connected can create a new world. Each one of us is a creator, but together we are The Creator.

[Applause]

All I know about the person whose lungs I now have is that he was 22 years old and six feet tall. I know nothing about who he was as a person, but I do know something about his family. I know that in the height of loss when all anyone should have to do is grieve as their son or their brother lay motionless on the bed they were asked to give up to seven strangers a chance to live. And they said yes. Today I breathe through someone else's lungs while another's blood flows through my veins. I have faith in people. I believe in God, and the Internet is my religion.

Done? Did you watch Jim Gilliam's talk at the Personal Democracy? No? Now might be a good time.

Yes? Then you might like this long interview at Foundation