Time for a New Turn: Journey Toward Nonviolence

Dear friends,

Thank you for being patient with me through this new life transition.

The truth is, there has been more than one transition taking place right now for me. Yes, there has been the new commitment to full-time work, and that has been a great new commitment in my life.

But there’s also been a continuing concern for the subject of nonviolence. 

It’s a subject that preoccupies my mind regularly. I encounter situations that make me wonder what the nonviolent response would be. Or I recognize places of unlove in my heart and wonder how God could implant a greater heart of charity in that place instead. Or I find myself wondering about others who are walking a similar path. What would it be like to connect with them over these ideas? How might we encourage one another and learn together?

For a while, I thought I could somehow do both: explore spiritual formation and prayer alongside nonviolence, either in this space or in two different online spaces. But given the commitments on my plate right now, my energy and time are limited. I simply couldn’t do either one justice if I tried to do both.

So I’ve made a decision. I’m committing to the subject of nonviolence. I’ve begun a new online space solely for that purpose, and you’re welcome to join me there.

It’s called Journey Toward Nonviolence.

I’m going to be closing down this website in the near future. I’m so sorry if this news disappoints readers who had found a safe home here. I had every intention of providing a greater sense of resource and community around the subject of spiritual formation when I began hosting this space.

But life is funny sometimes … sometimes it takes you down a road you least expected, and you find yourself unwilling to resist following the path. 

That’s where I find myself right now with this nonviolence concern. I don’t know where the path will lead, but I need to follow it … and I need to explore it out loud with others who are interested in exploring it, too. 

You are welcome to join me if the subject interests you, and I do hope you will! If you’d rather connect on a more personal level, please feel free to friend me on Facebook … that’s where I’ll be maintaining a more social presence for now. :)

Thanks for joining me for the journey here. I wish you well. 



Journey Toward Nonviolence 4: Sitting in Our Sin

I’ll be honest. 

I can’t say I’ve spent much time in my life owning up to the things I have done wrong.

Yes, there are things I wasn’t proud to have done (many things!). But somehow I always found a way to quickly explain away my having done them.

Usually I did this by believing myself to be the victim. If another person brought some wrong against me, then I believed anything I did — either to retaliate or to participate in the wrongdoing, too — exempted me from judgment.

This worked even in situations where no direct action was done against me preceding the things I did that were wrong. I could always find a reason — however remote from the actual incident — for the things I did, and it usually had to do with something someone else had done somewhere along the line to make me desperate, helpless, or angry enough to do what I did.

I had a culpability problem.

What’s more, I believed God saw things my way in this, too. He could see the root causes motivating all I did. He could see my sins as mere attempts to survive in an environment. In my mind, God understood, took pity on me, and gladly let me off the hook. (You can see one reason why, then, I’d have a tough time understanding my need for grace.)

I believed all these things — sometimes consciously, but mostly unconsciously — for almost the whole of my life. 

Then earlier this year I had an opportunity to begin facing my sin for what it really was (and is). It all began with Gandhi. As part of a two-day silent retreat I took for a school requirement, I cracked open Gandhi’s mammoth-size autobiography and began to read. 

I was not even 10 pages into the book when I came to a section describing his early marriage. Nestled inside these few pages of description, he made a passing comment about an incident that had happened between him and his father that he said he would describe in greater detail later in the book. He used the word “shame” in connection with this incident, and he said he still felt the flooding of this shame each time he recalled the incident to mind. 

Such strong language for a small, passing comment caught my attention.

Then, about 20 pages later, he related the specifics of this incident. It concerned a way he had behaved on the night of his father’s death. He was not proud at all of what he’d done. He called it his “double shame” and said it was “a blot [he had] never been able to efface or forget.”

Gandhi’s genuine, enduring remorse for his sins astounded me. Here was a man, arguably one of the most holy men ever to have walked this earth, who genuinely grieved the ways his humanity had ever brought harm to another or dishonored another person in some way.

I found myself touched in a very deep place by this story, too, because of the similarity this incident carried to an incident I faced in my own life on the night of my grandfather’s death. (I wrote about this incident here.) 

Then slowly, as I sat with this memory surrounding the night of my grandfather’s death, another memory of something I’d done even earlier in my life began to surface.

I was eight or nine years old, and I’d done something really cruel to someone I loved. I’d inflicted a rare breed of physical pain on this person, and in the split-second that followed my having done it, I remember reeling in a bit of shock that I could possibly have done such a thing. But after that initial moment of shock, I resolutely shook the remorse away and reared up in self-righteous justification: this person had wronged me, so they deserved what I had done to them.

I felt the shame associated with both of these hard memories and began to wonder what, if anything, united them. I turned in my journal to an essay I’d previously written, called “The Root of Injustice: Am I My Brother’s Keeper?”, and wondered if this same spirit of naked selfishness I’d questioned in the essay was at work in me in these two poignant and painful memories I’d just recalled to mind.

I was pretty sure the answer was yes.

Then more and more memories rose to the surface. 

I started scrawling them in a list in my journal. A long, specific list. A dreadfully incomplete list. A list that could have filled an entire journal if I’d gone on long enough to let it.

A bit later, somewhat spent, I turned to a clean page and wrote the following: 

I have only just begun, but this feels like a purging process and also an exercise in truth. Gandhi would approve, I’m sure. 

I will probably continue adding to this list — continue “sitting with my sin” — for the next period of time. It feels important to do so. Perhaps when I am finished I will sit with each instance and try to ascertain what motive lay at their roots. Perhaps there are common threads. Perhaps they all share the same thread. Perhaps I will learn much about human nature and original sin by examining my own catalog of sin.

— 4 April 2009, My Year With Gandhi Journal

I’ve come to believe the road to nonviolence must be marked by an honest reckoning with our own sin. This is what helps us see that we, too, have contributed to the sin, chaos, and devastation of this world. I remember being profoundly arrested by this truth after I spent time listing my own catalog of sins. I began to see how much I, too, have been part of the problem.

What about you: How has the acknowledgment or unacknowledgment of sin played a role in your own story?

Journey Toward Nonviolence 3: Facing the Reality of Danger

I remember the moment I realized this journey could lead me to jail. 

I was sitting in a session led by Tony Campolo during the January residency of my graduate program earlier this year in Philadelphia. He was talking about having been arrested several times and how frequently he encounters people who reject him for this. They often point to the Bible and say we are to be subject to the ruling authorities. 

This is true, he said. But we can be subject to the ruling authorities in one of two ways. 

First, we can obey them.

Second, we can resist but surrender to the consequences imposed as a result. 

He reminded us that Martin Luther King was arrested several times. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, too, was arrested for vocalizing opposition to Hitler and eventually executed because of it. Even Paul wrote most of his letters to the churches from the confines of a jail cell.

I was startled by this notion. Was there anything I would deem worthy of arrest? Was I willing to count any person or cause more important than my own criminal record?

I tried to imagine a future forever dotted with ticking the “yes” box on any application that asks if I have ever been arrested. It was, I confess, hard to imagine.

That was the first but not the last time I faced the reality of danger along this nonviolent and peacemaking path. A couple months later, I wrote this:

For the past month and a half, I have been (slowly) making my way through John Dear’s A Persistent Peace …

Now I am in the middle of his book, and it feels exactly like being in the thick of things. He has identified his core solidarities: the Salvadorans and the nuclear arms race.

And here, in the thick of these causes, my heart becomes heavy. So many protests, so many arrests, so much danger, so much hostility, hatred, and violence. Sometimes he and his comrades take actions that seem a bit extreme to me. Sometimes it feels like it is all too big and beyond hope. There are so many deaths and martyrdoms.

— 6 March 2009, My Year with Gandhi Journal

Those whose lives I chose to study this year carved paths of love on behalf of causes for which they’d been willing to sacrifice everything. For John Dear, it became the nuclear arms race. For Martin Luther King, it was the civil rights movement. For Gandhi, it was the freedom and dignity of his Indian brothers and sisters. For Dorothy Day, it was pacifism and the homeless persons of Brooklyn. For Mother Teresa, it was the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. For Jesus, it was all of us.

These suffered arrest. Rejection. Violence. Poverty. Starvation. Death. For what cause would I be willing to do the same?

What about you: Is there any person, cause, or conviction for which you would be willing to suffer violence, arrest, or even death?

Journey Toward Nonviolence 2: Learning the Limits of Our Love

I was sitting on the plane flying home from Philadelphia in January when I read these words by Mary Lou Williams: “The secret of life is to love everyone.” 

This is so simple and true, isn’t it? We say our faith is about loving God and loving others. We believe love compelled the God of the universe to meet us here in human skin. And I’ve been noticing that the more I grow in my capacity to love, the more I see new life birthed into every moment that love fills.

Love heals. It changes us. It unites. It offers hope. Love really is the secret of life.

But I’m not perfect at it. No one is. 

When I don’t love people, it’s because I’m trying to preserve and promote my own self. When I’m perplexed about how to love someone, it’s usually because I don’t trust God with them and with the outcome.

— 18 January 2009, My Year with Gandhi Journal

I can clearly recall moments when I haven’t loved well. When I’ve been irritated at the first person in line at the grocery store because they couldn’t remember their PIN number and kept on holding up the line. When someone I cared about was tired but I bulldozed into a conversation anyway because I had something I wanted to share. These are moments of caring more about myself and my own needs than about the other person.

Then there are times I’m not sure what it looks like to love someone well. It could be an estranged relationship. Or someone shut down toward the faith. I find that I don’t always know how to move toward these people in my life. This is because I’m mentally managing the situation too much, not yet trusting them or the outcome entirely into God’s hands, not yet loving them with a pure heart and zero agenda.

Love is the catalyzing force of the universe. And when we live inside this posture of love, everything else comes alive. But we’re continually bumping up against our learning curves.

What about you: What keeps you from loving well?

Journey Toward Nonviolence 1: Encountering Our Fear of "The Other"

The first journal entry I wrote this year in my commitment to studying nonviolence and peacemaking was like a moment of declaration. Scribbled hastily into a travel-sized Moleskine notebook on a plane ride back from Philadelphia — I’d just devoured the first few chapters of John Dear’s book A Persistent Peace — it was a moment of looking back at so many inherent beliefs or fears or prejudices that I have carried at different times in my life and beginning to defiantly say, “No more.”

Here’s what I wrote:

In my life, I’ve often encountered a deep fear and suspicion of “the other” — people who are different, theologies that are liberal, interpretations of history that are radical and subversive because they bring to light the darker sides of those people and stories we’ve always heralded. 

Now I find myself asking: on what basis, this fear? 

On what basis, this suspicion and emboldened rejection? 

If Jesus is real, then God is for all people.

— 18 January 2009, My Year with Gandhi Journal

For instance, I remember taking an AP Prep course for US History in tenth grade. The instructor gave us Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a core text for the class.

It was the first time I learned that the first settlers didn’t necessarily treat well the Native American people who were living here before they arrived. In fact, it was the first time I ever thought about how the experience might have been for the Native Americans at all. 

Those are the kind of moments I was remembering when I wrote that first journal entry.

What about you: Can you recall a moment when you faced an inherent fear or suspicion of “the other” in your life?

Journey Toward Nonviolence: Getting Started

Here is a video I created about a new series I’m launching called "Journey Toward Nonviolence." This ongoing series will be a place for me to share reflections I’ve had over this past year as I’ve studied nonviolence and peacemaking.

In this intro video, you get a sneak peek inside my beloved journals!