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Jim Gilliam Explains: 'The Internet is My Religion'

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, June 7 2011

A few minutes ago, Jim Gilliam stood up in front of the crowd of about 900 800 people here at Personal Democracy Forum 2011 and shared a personal story about how the Internet helped him restore his faith — and his body — in the face of war and cancer.

"Growing up, I had two loves: Jesus, and the Internet," Gilliam said, beginning a story that took him from Liberty University, where he once fixed Rev. Jerry Falwell's computer, to a hospital room, where, feeling defeated and and broken, he survived on painkillers and the hope he could find a bone marrow donor.

There was salvation: "I watched as a small bag of marrow emptied into my arm," he told the crowd.

Determined to go on with his life, his faith in God shaken after losing his mother to cancer, he said, he "gave his heart to the Internet."

He was on his way to a successful career in Internet technology. Then 9/11 happened, and the activist inside him awoke, he said. It would be that activism that eventually restored his faith.

Through the new media advocacy group Brave New Films, Gilliam sought to change the way people thought about the Iraq war — but activism would also change the way he thought about life. Gilliam then told us that cancer struck him again, and this time, he needed a lung transplant — in his words, that he needed someone to die so that he might live. And he needed a surgeon to perform the procedure, someone who was hard to find.

"UCLA turned me down," he blogged in 2005, "because of the scarring in my upper chest, they feel the lung transplant surgery would be very difficult."

He said some things, he told the crowd today, that perhaps he shouldn't have.

But his activist friends made through the Internet began lobbying the hospital that rejected him to reconsider — through email, naturally — until, eventually, a surgeon reached out to him. No one was going to accuse that surgeon of being afraid of a surgery, Gilliam explained.

And so it was that, before his surgery, Gilliam said, he realized that he owed his life to human interconnectedness — an interconnectness that would be represented by his body in the form of three distinct sets of DNA.

Gilliam seemed to verge on the emotional as he explained the revelation he had then.

"That's when I truly found God," he said. "God is what happens when humanity is connected ... it was only through the grace of God, your grace, that I was saved.

"We all owe our lives to countless people we will never meet," he added.

Gilliam's story is a moving testament to the power that connectedness — something the Internet can help to bring — gives to individuals to affect change. His talk is also an example of the power of individual narrative — a story brilliantly delivered. And it is certainly worth watching.

Updated: While well over 900 people attended Personal Democracy Forum 2011 across both days, the main hall where Gilliam was speaking didn't have more than 800 people in it during his talk.