How My Nonviolence Journey Is Helping Me Respond to the Government Shutdown

Hope in the midst of shadows.

I remember so well the 2008 election. It was the first time I came to care about politics, and I was an ardent Obama supporter.

It wasn't a hard decision, really. I'd read his memoir Dreams of My Father and then The Audacity of Hope, and I found in those pages someone who valued many of the same things I did: the common dignity of every person, the depth of each person's lived story, thoughtfulness wed to compassion.

You know how it happens sometimes when you're reading a really good memoir, how the author begins to feel kindred, like pieces of their heart overlap with pieces of yours? That happened for me with Obama when reading his books. As I read his story — particularly his first memoir — and how he thought about things and moved through events, I felt a kinship with him and what he valued. This was further confirmed as I followed the evolution of his campaign. All along the way, he was about involving people, about elevating our shared humanity, about dialogue.

When Obama won the 2008 election, I cried. In the days following the election, I bookmarked more articles than I can count about those first few days of his presidency. I called him a rockstar for signing the executive order to close Guantanamo Bay so soon after taking office.

Then came the disillusionment.

I watched — first in disbelief, then in bewilderment, then in frustration and indignation, then in defeat — as everything I had supported in Obama's campaign and had voted for in the election booth got stymied at each and every turn. I watched as the values I support — good will and compassion chief among them — clearly did not hold sway with our swath of elected representatives in Congress.

If Obama moved left, his opponents showed up to stop him. If he then moved right, they put a stop to that intention too. It must have been so frustrating for him.

For me? I grew disillusioned. I lost faith in our system. I lost faith in our leaders. I lost faith in the entire thing, entirely.

The 2008 election and its aftermath coincided with the beginning of my nonviolence journey. In fact, the inauguration happened just a few weeks after I studied under Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne for a graduate residency on the theme of social justice, where Tony and Shane built on the idea that had already planted itself in my mind and had started this journey in the first place: that love is a force strong enough to change whole societies, not just singular hearts.

Tony and Shane helped me begin to think about the institutional side of justice. They helped me see that I need to care about systems and institutions if I'm to care about peace and shalom coming to earth as it is in heaven.

And so I cared and believed it was possible.

And then my government showed itself incapable of bipartisanship. And has continued to show itself this way for almost the entirety of the elapsed time since.

Walking this nonviolence journey, I often grow weary. The weight of all that is not shalom in this world weighs heavy on me. I see the problems in the Congo, in Sudan, in Egypt, in Syria, in Israel and Palestine, and in so many other places in the world — including these United States — and I can't help but feel myself drowning in the darkness we are capable of heaping on one another.

Some people call it compassion fatigue, when you care about and work for good in the world and then become overwhelmed by all that is left to do or all that seems to not make a difference. When you're walking a journey toward nonviolence, you pay attention to this idea of compassion fatigue. And you ask how you are meant to respond to it. (At least, I do.)

And the answer I have come back to again and again on this journey is this: I can only do what my one finite life is meant to do. I cannot invest my life in every cause. I cannot give to every need. I cannot learn about every issue or injustice. I cannot solve every problem.

I am but one finite life.

But I can find the place I'm uniquely suited to serve. I can discern what that place is. I can go deep in one direction instead spreading myself thin — and ineffectively — across many.

The last few days, I've been carrying a new image around with me in prayer. It's an image of myself and God walking side by side on a sandy path toward the horizon. In my immediate field of vision is a manhole directly to my right — a pit where I used to be, but God pulled me out of it. Now we're walking away from the pit, and I'm leaning against God's shoulder as we go.

I'm leaning against God's shoulder. 

It's an image, for me, of dependence. Of remembering where my strength comes from in the work I do. (Hint: not from me.) Of receiving his strength to shoulder my weight as we walk along together. Of noticing his strength is such that we never break our stride as I lean against him.

Tonight, as I watched the government shutdown happen in live time by following tweets on Twitter, I felt those two familiar companions settle in again: disillusionment and weariness. My peacemaker's heart — the one that cares about dialogue, about finding common ground, about honoring others and seeking to understand — just about bowed down to the ground in weariness.

Is there any hope? I just didn't know.

So I spent some time with that image of me and God walking on that sandy path toward the horizon, myself leaning against his arm as we walk. And in that image, I found peace.

In that image, I noticed God's lack of alarm. He just kept walking along with me, not freaked out about the government shutdown (like I was) and not bowed low with weariness (like I was). It was like — no surprise here — he had the strength to carry what's happening.

That relieved me.

And I noticed his posture toward me was this: Just keep doing your part. Bring shalom in the way only you can. Keep going. 

So I will. And I hope you will too.

What Does It Mean to Pray for Peace in Syria?

Prayers for peace.Prayers for peace.

Today I am joining Pope Francis in his call for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, which means forgoing my daily breakfast of a protein bar with my coffee and turning my craving for chips and salsa at 1:30 in the afternoon into prayers instead.

But what does it actually mean to pray for peace in Syria? When we join in this call to #prayforpeace, what is the substance of those prayers?

I'm finding that when my heart turns to prayer for peace in Syria today, my prayers follow three main themes:

1. Prayer for the rebels. The rebels are a large, multi-faceted group of militants attempting to topple the current Syrian government and going about it through a variety of violent means. There is no one leader of this group. There is no unified front or strategy. The rebels are comprised of Syrian civilians, former members of the Syrian army, and even members of extreme jihadist groups from outside Syria who have a stake in the outcome of this civil war.

When I pray for the rebels today, I am praying for them to lay down their weapons. I am praying for the God who moves all hearts toward grace to prompt a turn in their hearts toward mercy. I am praying for a willingness in their hearts to come to the table of dialogue. I am praying for them to be given a chance to answer the question, "What will it take to end the violence?"

2. Prayer for the regime. The "regime" is shorthand for the existing Syrian government, led by dictator Bashar Assad. The civil war that has been taking place in Syria for two and a half years officially began when the Syrian government unleashed force against its civilians — including children — in April 2011 in response to protest demonstrations against the regime. Though the civil war in Syria has been happening for that long, it was catapulted to greater international consciousness on August 21, when news of a chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians emerged. Right now, Assad is believed to be the one who unleashed this chemical weapons attack against civilians, leading to the death of 1,429 people, although the regime is pointing to it being the work of rebel forces.

When I pray for the regime today, I pray for Assad's heart to be turned toward compassion for his people. I pray for a willingness in his heart to hear their cries. I pray for his hand to be stayed from further violence against them. And I pray for a willingness in his heart to dialogue. I pray for him to be given the chance to answer the question, "What will it take to end the violence?"

3. Prayer for the international response. The international community is divided on how to respond to the situation in Syria. The questions at the heart of it are, "At what point ought the international community intervene in the Syrian conflict?" and "To what degree should that involvement be?" Right now, President Obama is agitating — both at home and abroad — for a limited strike against Syria as a specific response to the chemical weapons attack, arguing that the international community has long held to certain standards of acceptable and unacceptable behavior and that chemical weapons use crosses a line all have agreed not to cross.

When I pray for the international response, I pray for all means of dialogue and diplomacy to be exhausted before any military action is taken. I pray for those continued diplomatic efforts to make effective inroads in the conflict. I pray for leaders in the international community to be given the chance to sit down at the table of mediation with the Syrian regime and its rebels to ask the question, "What will it take to end the violence?" and to effectively mediate peace.

What does it mean for you to pray for peace in Syria?

Learning from Gandhi and Martin Luther King in Response to Kony 2012

Sometimes I keep them close by so I feel less alone in my journey. This is a follow-up post to my previous thoughts on Kony 2012

It took me a really long time to read through Martin Luther King's autobiography. I think, all told, it took me two and a half years from start to finish.

The benefit is that I took the long journey of his life into myself, really contemplated and absorbed it, allowing myself the privilege of learning under him as a master teacher of sorts.

I had a similar experience when reading Gandhi's autobiography. I think it took me about two years to finish his 500-page tome. The effect was a sense of real companionship, of getting to know this strong and honorable man by walking slowly alongside him, observing his choices and his leadership and deeply listening to his philosophy and how he made decisions.

Three things always stand out to me about these two great men and the work of their lives. And over the last few days, as I've continued to educate myself and contemplate the events of the Kony 2012 effort, I'm noticing that these three elements can be instructive to us in developing our perspective on the issue the Kony 2012 effort represents and its proposed resolution.

1. The work of both men grew out of their experience and context. 

Pretty early in my nonviolence journey, I heard a story about Mother Teresa. It was shared in the context of how often people sought her permission to come care for the poor in Calcutta alongside her. While she was glad to receive visitors and often told them to "come and see," she also often told them, "There are Calcuttas everywhere." The implication I took from that story was to ask myself and God in prayer, "Where is my Calcutta?"

I think about this regarding Gandhi and MLK, too. They were so clearly called to the contexts they served. They knew the people they served and were, in fact, one of them. They had personal knowledge of the plights they served and sought to change. They were fully immersed in and lived among the struggle.

I think resolution to the violence perpetuated by the Lord's Resistance Army is going to need similar leadership -- that it is going to need to come from those just as closely acquainted with it and living among it.

This, in fact, seems to be one of the great messages those living in Uganda, the Congo, Sudan, and the CAR keep sending in response to the Kony 2012 video -- and have, in fact, been sending for quite some time. See, as one example, this 6-minute video by Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire recorded in response to the Kony 2012 video.

While it may surprise Americans to hear it, the people of Africa -- in whatever country or context where suffering may exist or emerge among them -- do not want to be rescued as though they have not the strength to help themselves. The care, compassion, and solidarity of the wider world is valuable to them, yes. But they are not helpless people. They are strong. Vibrant. Creative. Resourceful. And they want to be part of their own solution.

Furthermore, they are the ones who best know the situation and its history and its people. They know what solutions will work or not work in response to their struggles. And their personal knowledge of their own context is perhaps their greatest strength.

All this to say that while I am still so glad the wider world has been educated about the existence of Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army, I'm not so sure that agitating the international community and policymakers to do something to make it stop is the real solution this situation requires. We ought, instead, to be students of those affected by the violence -- those who know the situation and its dynamics better than any of us and who can teach us what solutions they believe their situation requires.

2. The efforts of Gandhi and MLK were coordinated and strategic.

When I read Martin Luther King's autobiography, I was struck over and over again by how organized and carefully planned the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement really were. They had to be.

For instance, when the bus boycott in Montgomery began -- which was the first initiative led by MLK in the Civil Rights Movement -- they started with 150 volunteers who donated their cars to the effort. Within a few days, the volunteer drivers had swelled to 300 and the group had distributed leaflets to the community that listed 48 dispatch and 42 pickup stations.

That's pretty impressive and massive coordination in just a few days. Even the white community was impressed by it, Dr. King tells us in his autobiography.

But the oppositional response of the white community to the bus boycott necessitated further strategy and coordinated response on the part of the Negro community. When reading this section of MLK's autobiography, I noted no less than 10 oppositional efforts the white community undertook to derail the boycott:

  • Opposition #1: Use laws against them.
  • Opposition #2: Negotiate an unsuitable compromise.
  • Opposition #3: Divide the black community against itself.
  • Opposition #4: Spread lies.
  • Opposition #5: Institute a "get tough" policy.
  • Opposition #6: Make threats.
  • Opposition #7: Resort to violence.
  • Opposition #8: Initiate mass arrests.
  • Opposition #9: Refuse car insurance.
  • Opposition #10: Take legal action.
  • Opposition #11: Send in the Ku Klux Klan.

And with each oppositional effort, a savvy and thoughtful response was required and offered in return by the Negro community. Indeed, the full length of MLK's life and work reflects such coordination and strategy every step of the way. And in learning about Gandhi's work, we see the same careful planning and execution applied to the particulars of his own time and place.

I believe dismantling the Lord's Resistance Army will take more than finding, capturing, and bringing to justice Joseph Kony, which is the solution offered by the Kony 2012 video. As I read over and over on blogs by people long acquainted with the situation in the last few days, the issue is greater than just one man. It requires us to consider questions like, "How has a small but vicious group been allowed to thrive for over 25 years?"

In other words, there are bigger issues at play here than the efforts of one single man leading a brutal war -- issues like governance in the countries affected by the violence, for one -- and smart and careful planning and strategy needs to be applied to the larger issues that get at the root of things here.

Again, as happy as I am that the video has raised awareness in the wider world about this issue, I have come to believe the solution it offers is just altogether too simplistic.

3. Both men were convinced of the efficacy of nonviolent resolution. 

Of all the insights I've gained in the last few days as I've read and continued to learn about the history and scope of the issue presented by the Kony 2012 campaign, I am most thankful for the perspective that "brought me back to myself," so to speak.

My nonviolence journey began with a single question: Is it really true that the only truly transformative force in the world to overcome violence is love?

It was a question I asked with no little amount of dubiousness. Though I had observed the transformative power of love in my own life experience, I didn't see how this could possibly translate on a broader social scale. But the possibility of it gripped me, and that's why I eventually began my long journey into the study and practice of nonviolence.

Throughout this journey, I've continued to learn that the great nonviolent leaders of history insist on the premise that love is the only way to disrupt, uproot, and transform violence. It sows something new, rather than repeating a cycle with switched-up players as victims and perpetrators.

I have this article by Mark Kersten to thank for bringing me back to the perspective that peaceful solutions are the ones that I support. But beyond just "bringing me back to myself," Mark's article helped me view the particular conflict raised by the Kony 2012 campaign in a different light.

Invisible Children, the creators of the Kony 2012 video, uphold a military solution to the conflict. They want the US to maintain its existing 100 troops on the ground to provide tactical support and to help the Ugandan army capture Joseph Kony so that he can be brought to trial at the International Criminal Court. As much as this effort is devoted to capturing, rather than killing, Joseph Kony in order to bring him to justice, the reality is that this is a military solution. It involves armies, and gunfire and loss of life will be involved in the process.

Invisible Children proposes this is the only feasible solution since peace talks have failed in the past.

But Mark Kersten says this:

There is much to be learned from the previous talks between the Government of Uganda and the LRA in Juba, from 2006-08. . . . In taking the lessons of past experience , energy can be harnessed to get back to the negotiating table.

I love that Mark asks us not to be so quick to discount the possibility of renewed peace talks. And I've decided that, by virtue of the nonviolent path that I have committed to walk, peace talks must be the solution I support in this situation as well.

Lastly, I'll share that in the process of learning more about the proposed peace talks solution, I have been wholeheartedly heartened by the discovery of a woman living today who has been an integral actor in previous peace talks with Joseph Kony and the LRA. Her name is Betty Bigombe, and you can read about her selfless, savvy, and incredibly brave work here, here, and here. She helps demonstrate to me what nonviolent peacemaking really looks like and has become one of my new modern-day heroes.

UPDATED TO ADD: This morning I found this article by Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier in the LRA who now rehabilitates orphans in Uganda affected by the war. It is a beautiful and honest article that also speaks to how Ugandans would like to see this issue resolved and the value of resuming peace talks toward that end. I also forgot to mention in the original post that Betty Bigombe, one of the key actors in previous peace talks with Joseph Kony and the LRA, is a native Ugandan.

A Conversation with Jesus About Creation (Part 2)

Suffused with grace. Part 1

On Friday morning, I opened my Bible to the psalms as part of my usual morning routine of prayer and reflection and read the above passage.

God is all mercy and grace --    not quick in anger, is rich in love.

God is good to one and all;    everything he does is suffused with grace.

I read those lines -- especially the last line -- over and over.

Everything he does is suffused with grace.


"It doesn't feel that way," I told him. I thought about the Old Testament and all its violence. I thought about the nations that didn't get to know the God of Israel. I thought about my ongoing struggle with the contents of history.

It sure doesn't seem like everything God does is suffused with grace.

I sat at my desk, staring at those words, and eventually told God my resistance to their testimony. Then, after a while, I went to sit on the couch in our living room. This has become a place for me to curl up and listen to God when I'm crippled by the noise inside my head. I curl on the couch under a blanket and rest my head against the chest of Jesus.

So there I was on Friday morning, curled up on the couch, that line in the psalm ruminating in my mind. Suffused with grace. 

And Jesus began to talk to me about it.

He didn't come at it directly. Lately, in my prayer times, we have been walking back and forth along a beach shoreline. We walk and we talk. A lot of the time lately, I do most of the talking. I tell him the ways my heart hurts at all this pain and suffering that I see and know exists and has existed. I sputter and accuse and sometimes cry.

I want him to give me answers for these things, but truthfully, I haven't slowed down enough to let him speak. I'm too aware of my pain and the magnitude of the questions to let any other voice in.

He has waited for me to be ready, and on that Friday morning, I finally was. I stopped my talking and opened myself to listen to him. And he took his time responding. He looked up at the sky, contemplating where to start responding. He looked over at me and smiled but still walked along the shore with me in silence.

I walked and waited for him to speak. I knew eventually he would.

And he did.

Eventually, he looked back up at the sky and began to speak to me of the time before the beginning of time -- the time before creation, when the Godhead of the Trinity existed in pure communion with itself, unadulterated love in cosmic joy.

He led me to contemplate what that pure communion of love and joy among the Trinity was like. True perfection and the fullness of all goodness -- a being than which, as Anselm of Canterbury called it, nothing greater can be conceived. Perfect love, perfect truth, perfect justice, perfect kindness, perfect goodness, perfect action: all that is the best, most perfect existence.

Suffused with grace. It occurred to me to ask, "Would grace have existed at this time in God?" There would be no need for grace if nothing but perfection of being -- nothing but God -- existed at that time. Nothing fell short of perfection or lacked any good thing to render grace necessary. The perfect Godhead acted justly -- in perfect correctness and rightness in all things.

Perhaps it was only the introduction of creatures other than God's own perfect self that rendered the active attribute of grace in God necessary.

So we turned to the act of creation next . . .

A Conversation with Jesus About Creation (Part 1)

Sun bloom. A little over a month ago, I read a section of Martin Luther King's autobiography that caused me to write him a letter and ask, "How did you not despair?"

Ever since that time, I've been sinking in a sad state. My heart -- at least a solid quarter-quadrant of it -- is grieving. It's a grief that sneaks up on me every now and again in this journey I've been walking the last three and a half years. Sometimes the grief over the years comes and goes in an afternoon, sometimes a weekend, or maybe even a week.

This is the longest it has stayed.

And in this place, I've deeply wrestled with God. I feels as though my insides have split wide open and that I'm unable to stop feeling or asking him hard questions. Most of those questions circle back to the same central question:

God, where are you in the darkness?

I ask him this question concerning people in my life whom I love dearly who can't see the light at all. They want badly to find God, yet he seems absent. The God of love and tender care that I have come to know and adore has not shown himself to them.

Where are you, God? 

I beg and plead with him on a regular basis concerning this.

I ask him this question about history, too. (I posted a little bit about those questions already here, here, and here.) And most specifically, the reality of World War II keeps breaking my heart into a million little pieces right now.

My concern about this period of history is not new. I grew up reading books like Number the Stars and The Diary of Anne Frank and The Hiding Place and watched movies like Shining Through and Charlotte Grey, amazed and awe-struck at the courage of those who faced persecution and death and those who fought in their own subversive ways against the evils of Hitler's world.

So it makes sense, given this history of mine, that World War II would already hold my heart. It has always held my heart. But I also see that it's close to my mind and heart because of its close proximity, historically, to us today. So many atrocities have happened throughout history -- the darkness of 1939-1945 was not new in the whole scope of our world -- and yet when my mind travels backward in time, World War II is one of the major dark spots in history that I hit upon most immediately. It is still so close to us.

There are many walls of darkness between then and now. The femicide happening right this moment in the Congo is one of them, and its horrifying reality is almost impossible for me to face. The tiny soldier boys being used as human barricades there in the Congo every single day, too, is another. And there have been plenty of other wars between then and now.

But perhaps World War II has its vise grip upon my heart more than any other atrocity right now because I have more knowledge of the facts of what happened there than I do these other sufferings. I've studied it much longer. I've read many more books and first-person accounts. I've thought about it and cared about it longer than any other large-scale human suffering I've encountered.

Or perhaps it is ever-present in my mind simply because of the frequency with which Hitler's name is invoked as the reason nonviolence makes no sense. "If we didn't go to war," I hear again and again, "then Hitler would have won." World War II is an ever-present companion in conversation among those studying and seeking to live a nonviolent way.

But whatever the reason it's plaguing my heart right now, here are the facts: six million Jews rounded up and callously slaughtered as though they weren't human and didn't matter.

God, where were you there? 

At times, light begins to break through this darkness of mine, short fits and starts at attempted answers to my plaguing questions. Like, for instance, the encouragement of Dr. King's response to the darkness when he said, "It is well that it's within thine heart." Or remembering Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie -- how God was in the darkness of their Ravensbruck barracks in so many tangible ways. Or reading through a difficult section in Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts that wrestled through similarly painstaking questions as mine to land at the revelation that perhaps all is grace.

I stumble across these words and thoughts and memories and seek to hold them tight within my hands. But these hands of mine, they are so weak from wringing and soon lose grip on these encouragements.

And so I keep wrestling with Jesus.

Where are you here?

Where were you there? 

And finally, perhaps most pointed of all:

How could you let that happen?

I sob and sob when asking him this question. How could you let that happen? How could you, Jesus?

There are no easy answers to these questions, and God forbid I desecrate the name and memory of those who did suffer and die -- and continue to suffer and die in the darkness of the world -- in my attempt to make sense of these things.

I may never make sense of them. And I am slowly, slowly coming to terms with that. Moments like the one I wrote about elsewhere, where Jesus holds and sings over me, begin to make that not-knowing possibility more bearable.

But I will say this.

This morning, the struggle I've been sharing with Jesus concerning all this took a new turn. As I also wrote elsewhere, I reached a readiness to listen. And where Jesus began his response surprised me. He took me back to creation.

We aren't done with the conversation that started this morning, and so I don't yet know where it will lead or where it will end, but the pieces he's shared with me so far have brought enough encouragement for me to begin holding the tension of darkness and light with a bit more ease. This series will be my attempt to share pieces of it with you.

Dear Jesus: Maybe It's the Result of Human Beings Saying No

Dear Jesus, I've been wrestling still with the comparison between what I've learned of you from my own journey and what I see littered in the debris of history.

Like I wrote in my last letter to you, I see you everywhere in my story. I feel like my whole life has been nestled inside yours and that all I've done is receive -- say yes -- to all that you've implanted in me and designed my life to be.

Even the ability to say yes was given to me by you.

And it has confused me about history. I haven't known what to do with the painful, wicked realities of this world. If the truth is that you are all good things and that you choose us, we don't choose you, then why do evil things happen? Did you not choose some?

While I've been wrestling with these questions, I've also been thinking a lot about the true self and the false self, and I'm starting to think that conversation can be instructive to this conversation here.

It's my belief that each of us has a true self -- a self that conforms to that which you created when you conceived us. Because of original sin, environmental factors, and our own ongoing choices, we also have a false self. It's not the deepest truth of us, but it exists all the same and we live inside of it and from it much of our lives.

Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed into the original image you conceived for each one of us. It is the process of being conformed into the unique image of yourself that we bear.

I wrote recently that our role in that formation process is simply to say yes. You do all the work of creating conditions and issuing invitations and actually changing us, and we simply say yes to it.

Perhaps the insane chaos of this world that seeks to shatter the divine imprint in humanity's particularities is the result of human beings saying no. Turning their backs on the truth of who they are -- beautiful, glorious creations by the hand of God who are meant to mirror your own love and truth and beauty in this world -- and choosing the false self instead.

We are meant to live in harmony with you and with each other. You create the conditions for this. You set the divine imprint and invitation in each one of us. But it is our job to say yes.

And when we say no, hell erupts on earth. 

Our Father,  who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Love, Christianne

Yes. This.

Wall of prayers.

The modern age is in an age of revolution -- revolution motivated by insight into appalling vastness of human suffering and need. . . .

Against this background a few voices have continued to emphasize that the cause of the distressed human condition, individual and social -- and its only possible cure -- is a spiritual one. But what these voices are saying is not clear. They point out that social and political revolutions have shown no tendency to transform the heart of darkness that lies deep in the breast of every human being. That is evidently true. . . .

So obviously the problem is a spiritual one. And so must be the cure.

-- Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines

When I first noticed this journey toward nonviolence calling to me, I had no idea where it would lead. I only knew that the notion of love as the only transforming force in the universe rang true. I knew it by experience, and I was beginning to contemplate it on a theological and philosophical level.

It was an idea that would not let me go.

So I dedicated a year to studying it, which led to a summer set apart to study it some more. And that, eventually, led me here: the creation of this space.

When this space originally got started, it was inspired by Seth Godin's notion of the tribe -- one person compelled by an idea to step out in front and say, "Let's go, shall we?"

So this space began as a community for likeminded sojourners to journey together. And I absolutely loved it. I found myself learning more from the comments each tribe member shared than from the posts I wrote to spark the discussion in the first place.

But then life got pretty hectic and my attention was pulled in many directions. I couldn't sustain every endeavor. And so this space languished on the side.

It never languished in my heart.

These days, the greatest focus of my life is given to the deepening of a calling I noticed for the first time about four years ago and that has grown louder and louder still, forming into a firm conviction and an obedient yes. It is the obedience to a priestly call, a pastoral posture toward others in the life of the heart.

Primarily, that takes the form of writing on Still Forming, a space for contemplative spiritual reflection where I write five days a week. It also takes the form of online classes I'm offering or plan to offer this coming year. It takes the form of one-on-one spiritual direction I'm privileged to offer others.

And also, I continue to sense, it touches upon this space.

Although I continue not to know where this journey toward nonviolence will ultimately lead, one thing that's become abundantly clear to me the last couple years is that my part -- my contribution -- has to do with the heart. It has to do with questions like:

How do we become persons of nonviolence? How does love really grow in us? What brings about true forgiveness? How do we actually become people who love our enemies? 

I assumed at one point, I guess, that this journey would lead me into activism. And perhaps someday that will be true.

But for now, it seems pretty clear that my work in this area has more to do with formation -- specifically, the way our human hearts become formed and fashioned into a more firm foundation of love.

This is spiritual work. And I think, ultimately, it's where the truly nonviolent pathway begins.

A Thought Regarding History

Trinity figures II. I've been taking a 9-month course at my church that provides a survey of the scriptures and church history. We started with the Old Testament, then moved to the Gospels and the writings of Paul, and lately have begun making our way through the beginnings of the church.

It was such a messy process, that.

Our teacher, Father Stephen, often reminds us that the apostles -- the ones who walked and talked with Jesus, saw his resurrected self, and were then commissioned to share the message and begin to teach the way -- had no context for the context of church we have today. They met in homes and catacombs, wherever they were safe and could share life and the teaching of the way with those who had come to believe.

The world had not yet heard of Jesus Christ. The message was new. And the organization of the church was even further behind the proliferation of that message. It took about 150 years for the followers of Jesus and his way to realize it needed a system to preserve itself. And it was another 150 or so years after that before church buildings ever entered the picture.

In short, the apostles -- even Paul, who wrote a major portion of the New Testament we read today -- had no idea throughout the whole of their lifetimes that the church would come to be what it became. They had no idea the followers of Jesus would learn to organize themselves on the broader scale that they did. They had no inkling of what lay ahead of their lifetimes for the church worldwide.

But Jesus did.

Jesus knew before he ever came to earth what would happen after he left it. The shaky, confusing, stumbling journey the early believers took toward an understanding of what it means to be the church universal and the early, formative steps it took in the first several hundred years of its existence -- not to mention the many centuries that have unfolded since -- were known to Jesus from the beginning.

And it's not just that.

It's that God knew, before he ever created the world, what would happen upon its creation.

He knew the fall of man would happen. He knew man's separation from full communion and intimacy with God lay ahead. He surveyed the landscape of mankind's timeline in advance and also saw his choosing of Israel. He saw the exodus and exiles.

He saw the dark years and then the coming of the light of Jesus Christ. He foreknew the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Christ and the formation of the church. He saw the unfolding centuries of history -- man against man, nation against nation, confusion upon confusion -- and, in the midst of it all, the church celebrating the eucharist, the proclamation of Jesus whose body and blood invite us to share in that same life, death, resurrection, and ascension. And he saw the end of time before it ever began, that holy vision of Jesus presiding over all and the making of all things new.

God saw it all -- every single and continuous piece of it -- and chose to create this world anyway. Somehow, he deemed it good.

Just something I'm continuing to think about in response to Tuesday's post.

Dear Jesus: I Don't Understand History

Dear Jesus, Sometimes I look at my life and see that everything good in it comes from you.

From the moment of my first consciousness, I have been aware of you. You made yourself present to me, and I've never known my life without you in it.

You gave me a family environment that further supported a life with you. I went to church, learned the scriptures, and grew in my faith over time.

Even when my propensity toward sin and error and environmental factors led me astray from your truth and who you really are, you corrected my steps. At a certain point in time, you arrested my attention and caused my spiritual journey to take a new turn: a turn toward you and your true self.

That was a long journey, and I'm still journeying in it, but even as I look at the growth of my life since that journey began, I see your fingerprints everywhere.

My love for you was given to me by you. My spiritual awareness was implanted in me by you. My love for others is your own heart in me. My care for peace and justice and mercy and compassion and dignity and truth -- these are all your cares, further evidence of your own heart in me, given to me by you.

I did not choose you, but you chose me.

I don't know how to express with enough forcefulness that I know this to be true: that the good in me is there because of you, and I did not choose you, but you chose me.

It is because I know this to be true that I get stumped up on history.

If you choose what will be -- you implant goodness, you ordain events, you grow us up into your own heart's desire and reflection -- then why does life contain so much pain? Why is history pockmarked with such depravity? Why, even still today, does evil reign supreme?

People live and die with evil intent in their hearts and venomous actions littered in their wake.

Do you deem this to be so, too? How could you?

It is a perplexing question too great for this heart to hold sometimes. I do not understand. Will you help me understand?

Love, Christianne

Dr. King: "It Is Well That It's Within Thine Heart"

Reflections of the sun. A couple days ago, I wrote a letter to Dr. King asking him how he kept despair at bay when looking out over the vista of all he had worked to bring into existence through the sacrifice of his entire life, only to see humanity had still so very far to go.

I look out over the present reality of this world, and despair can loom so close for me sometimes. I've lost an incredible amount of faith in the American political process. I distrust big business and its gimmicks. I don't believe anything the media tells me, nor do I believe real journalism exists anymore -- or, if it does, that it has any meaningful way of finding its way to our eyes and ears.

The darkness at work in this world -- through HIV/AIDS, war, greed, oppression, power, slavery, poverty, self-absorption, and the slow deaths we bring upon ourselves through our addiction to amusements -- feels so large and overwhelming and impenetrable. What good can the small agents at work around the world really do, when the darkness has more money, influence, and power?

But a much-needed ray of hope broke through the darkness last night as I read the final chapter in MLK's autobiography. In a chapter fittingly titled "Unfulfilled Dreams," Martin Luther King speaks the following words of encouragement and hope:

I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable. We are commanded to do that. And so we, like David, find ourselves in so many instances having to face the fact that our dreams are not fulfilled.

Life is a continual story of shattered dreams. Mahatma Gandhi labored for years and years for the independence of his people. But Gandhi had to face the fact that he was assassinated and died with a broken heart, because that nation that he wanted to unite ended up being divided between India and Pakistan as a result of the conflict between the Hindus and the Moslems. . . .

And each of you in some way is building some kind of temple. The struggle is always there. It gets discouraging sometimes. It gets very disenchanting sometimes. Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. We speak out against war, we protest, but it seems that your head is going against a concrete wall. It seems to mean nothing. And so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered.

Well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time, saying: "It may not come to today or it may not come tomorrow, but it is well that it is within thine heart. It's well that you are trying." You may not see it. The dream may not be fulfilled, but it's just good that you have a desire to bring it into reality. It's well that it's in thine heart. 

It is well that it's within thine heart.

It is well that it's in my heart. To care for others. To grow in love. To know God. To shed the dignity of all humanity abroad in the world. To learn how peace is found. To believe in hope.

What we do here -- in our lives, in this space -- matters. It matters what kind of life we live and the people we choose to be. No matter the outcome . . . whether or not the broadest darknesses turn to light in our lifetimes or not . . . whether any other life is touched or changed because of our one life or not . . . how our one life is lived matters.

Who I choose to be matters enough, even in the face of all that darkness, because one singular life choosing life and light and hope and love is at least one victory won.

I want to remember this.

Dear Dr. King: How Did You Not Despair?

Dear Dr. King, Last night I read the chapter in your autobiography about the Vietnam War. I watched you wrestle through your personal responsibility to speak about it, and I watched how you were scorned for all you did because of it. I watched your friends and colleagues asked you to back down. So many people said you were in over your head and that you should keep your focus on civil rights alone.

What's more, I saw the slow recognition in your heart that all was not as you thought it was in this country.

After so many years of toil spent turning the tide of this country and swaying the president's hand toward greater justice and humanity, in the Vietnam War you came to see just how far from justice and humanity's heart the powers of this country really were. You came to see that might and money mattered more.

How did you not despair, Dr. King? How did you not despair? After working within systems for so long and mapping out strategies that, inch by inch, drew justice nearer the light of day, how did you sustain hope when you saw the brilliant daylight was still so far from drawing near?

As I'm nearing the end of your book, I know your assassination looms close, just a few turns of the pages away, and despair creeps into my heart as I anticipate that fateful moment.

I have spent two and a half years with your autobiography, and such an immersion into the fullness of your life has taught me that you were not a man who gave a few speeches and, through the strength those speeches alone, rallied masses of people to walk and assemble and demonstrate and protest. You were not a figurehead. You did not simply have a dream.

Rather, the fullness of your life has taught me what it truly takes to turn the tide of history. It takes stamina. It takes fearlessness. It takes conviction, yes.

But it also takes strategy. It takes knowing the limits and allowances of the law. It takes long-range planning. It takes creativity. It takes tiny but well-planned, incremental steps. It takes getting down and dirty in the trenches with everyone else. It takes the strength and education of communities.

And it takes an enormity of character and integrity. It takes counting your life as not your own.

Having learned the fullness of your life and how you embodied all these things makes me feel deeply the loss of your life -- that all that strength and courage and leadership and truth and wisdom and action built into the fullness of one man's life could be snuffed out in an instant.

How do you not despair this, Dr. King? How do you not despair?

I know you would say to me that the light of Christ shines brighter still, even as the darkness gets darker. I know you would say that the depth of one's conviction can erase the care for one's own life. I know you would say that the spiritual infection at work in the world does not relent, but neither does Christ relent and nor should we.

But when I awoke this morning, it was with a heaviness of heart I could not shake. I thought about your life snuffed out in an instant. I thought about your disappointment in the powers of your country through the Vietnam War. I thought about Gandhi's assassination. I thought about the crucifixion of Jesus. I thought about all the ways the depravity of this world encroaches and leaves me feeling helpless and so small.

Thankfully, the weight of my grief and discouragement propelled me to the noonday eucharist service at my church. I sat in the pew before the service and tried to pray, but all I could do was feel my sadness. My heart felt weak, and soon the tears began rolling down my cheeks. I gave thanks for a shared liturgy that allowed the prayers of the people to sustain my weakened hope, for I was too weak to pray.

And then, through the liturgy and eucharist, I was reminded of what likely gave you hope and sustained you through the darknesses you faced -- and I found a measure of my own hope again.

In the reading of Psalm 67 -- "Let your ways be known upon the earth, your saving health among all nations. . . . May all the ends of the earth stand in awe of God" -- I was reminded that one day, all the nations of the earth will stream toward God in praise. Eventually all will see and acknowledge his glory and beauty. One day all truth will be known and honestly received.

In the epistle reading, which concerned St. Paul's conversion, I was reminded that even a most-hated man who persecuted and killed the early believers of the church can be set apart and called through grace and receive Christ in an instant. I was reminded that even in the most hopeless circumstances, God can make all things -- even the unthinkable and seemingly impossible -- possible.

And finally, in the gospel reading for the day, we were told by Jesus that we would be sent out as sheep among wolves. We were told to be wise yet innocent. We were foretold the fate of some to be handed over to the authorities, flogged, and persecuted because of Jesus and his teachings.

It was such a fitting word for what I've been thinking and feeling today. For you know these words of Christ to be true more than most, don't you, Mr. King? You were a sheep among wolves most of your life. You brought wisdom and innocence to bear on your life at one and the same time. You were dragged before the authorities on many occasions and pressed against in so many ways -- eventually, of course, you were killed -- and all of this because of the conviction of Christ you carried that would not be silenced or put down.

I needed to be reminded of these things today, Dr. King. I needed to be reminded that a power and hope greater than us lives in us and works through us and is drawing all things to a conclusion that results in celebration and joy. I needed to be reminded of the companionship of Christ through all these things.

Thank you for the life you lived that drove me, even as I despaired over it, back into the presence and arms of our Christ. Thank you for all you have taught me so far.

Sincerely, Christianne

Repentance Thursday: November 2011

Light of Christ.Light of Christ

Hello, friends.

It's been a long while since I opened this space for our monthly Repentance Thursday feature. This is a monthly practice offered the first Thursday of each month that provides an opportunity for us to examine our hearts for the places of violence, unlove, apathy, or anything else that has kept us from God and others in the previous 30 days. (You can find the original post about Repentance Thursday here.)

Although this Repentance Thursday is technically a day behind schedule (I'm writing this in the wee hours of the morning on a Friday), I found my heart craving the opportunity for confession and repentance that this ritual provides. In particular, this prayer of confession from the Book of Common Prayer has been running through my mind tonight, and I thought it would be edifying to share it with you and then provide the opportunity for our Repentance Thursday practice:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

So, on this Repentance Thursday, we are invited to consider the following questions as we prayerfully review this last month:

  • Into what dark mires did our hearts traverse?
  • In what ways did we bring harm to our fellow man, either in thought, word, or deed?
  • How did we sin against God?
You are welcome to leave your confession in the comments section below. 

Why Must There Be Suffering?

Rocky ground. I listen to a contemplative podcast most evenings before bed called Pray as You Go. I absolutely love the quiet, reflective time it provides to listen to scripture and sacred music and then converse with Jesus.

Tonight's podcast opened with a scripture reading from the gospel of Matthew. A lawyer asks Jesus, "What is the greatest commandment?" After reading the scripture passage, the podcast narrator noted that of all the questions someone could have asked Jesus upon approaching him, this one was foremost in this particular person's mind.

What question, the podcast narrator asked me to consider, would I choose to ask Jesus if I could ask him anything at all?

I don't normally give questions like this much thought. When I have a question to ask Jesus, I just go to him and ask him. And when I think about those momentous times, like what I might want to ask God when I get to heaven, I don't expect that any list of questions I bring will be nearly as interesting as the reality of beholding God's presence for real.

But tonight, I spent time considering the question, and my response surprised me. I found myself asking Jesus, Why must there be suffering?

Now, to some degree, it makes sense that I would ask this question. I write a blog about nonviolence and am concerned about the cares of mercy and justice in this world and in the human heart. Suffering is clearly a concern of my life.

But the way I asked Jesus tonight came from a deeper place inside. A place that gave me pause. A place that felt new. It came from a place inside that's developed an acute perception of my own experience of suffering right now. It is a suffering that drives me to my knees in repentance and desperate pleas for God's mercy almost every day. It is also a suffering that seems intent on forging a holy connection in me to Christ's own passion -- a sense of learning to bear injustice while responding in love.

This suffering hurts like hell. It's hard. It causes a whole mess of pain, and I bring heaviness in my heart to Jesus almost daily. But this suffering is nowhere near the suffering and pain people the world over face every single day. Millions go without food or water right this moment. War and violence rage all day outside the doors of huts and houses in village and cities all over the world. Children and parents die of diseases as though it's a normal course of life. The hope of tomorrow isn't a given in so many places around this world.

My suffering is nothing compared to the suffering of these. But still, my suffering is acute and hurts like hell.

And so I found myself feeling so profoundly this question tonight: If that's how mine feels, what must theirs feel like? 

And that's why I asked Jesus, Why must this be so? For all the mercy in your heart, for all the power in your being, why must this go on? Why must you let the world keep spinning this way? Why must this be real in this world you made?

I know the intellectual responses to these questions. I know about sin and the fallen world. I know God is sovereign. I know God didn't create a world to spin on auto-pilot but to be responsive and full of volitional, relational beings. I know God uses our suffering to form us and that such suffering also causes him pain.

But those intellectual responses are simply not my concern right now.

Right now, my concern is the vastness of such suffering. How does God possibly bear it? How does the world not disappear over and over again from the flood of his tears drowning it out? How can he let it go on?

It is in moments like these that I deeply yearn for the new heaven and new earth that will someday come. We are meant for a reality so much greater and grander than this. We are meant for so much more life.

When, oh God, will you allow it to be so? I am so, so ready for that new world.

Nonviolence, Christianity, and 9/11

I hear from friends from time to time who say they wonder what I will write here when certain events happen around the world. The capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. The breakout of violence in Egypt. The war in Libya.

But save for an essay I recently wrote about the Casey Anthony trial, I've remained pretty silent here on current events. I expect that someday I will voice more thoughts on such things here, but for now I don't have words to speak that seem not spoken better elsewhere.

Today, though, I can't help but begin to articulate some of what my experience of 9/11 has been, both at the time it happened and today, ten years later, as I'm continuing to think about what it means to be a follower of Jesus and what influence that has on the ideas of nonviolence I continue to pursue.

So, here are some thoughts.

When 9/11 happened, I was nowhere near this journey toward nonviolence. I couldn't have comprehended that word, even -- nonviolence -- because I'd never, at that point in my life, given the idea any thought. At the time 9/11 happened, I was very much in the middle of a spiritual sea change, seeking to understand who I was and who God was, as all my previous ideas about both had become upended.

As far as actual life goes, I was the director of a university honors writing program at the time. Every morning, I drove from Huntington Beach to La Mirada -- a 45-minute commute against traffic -- and normally drove in silence, letting my thoughts wander and sometimes spill out of my lips in spoken prayer in the quiet of my car. Other times I played favorite albums on my CD player.

I never listened to the radio in my car. Ever.

But for some reason on that morning, I flicked it on. I'm not sure what compelled me to do so, but just as I exited the freeway in Buena Park next to the long row of auto dealerships right there by the exit, I turned on our local classical radio station to hear the announcer stating that an orange alert had been declared for the state of California. After hearing him say this two or three times, it got my attention, and I kept waiting to hear why it had been declared. I didn't even know what an orange alert was at the time, but I could tell it was serious.

He didn't give any more details in the moment, however, so when I arrived on campus a short while later, I unlocked my office and logged on to the campus network. There, I saw a very brief post in our department folder from one of our students that stated what had just happened to one of the New York flights. Thinking the orange alert and the flight were likely related, I headed over to the department secretary's office and found her and several students huddled around a radio in a corner of the room. I joined them in the corner, and we sat listening in silence, unable to wrap our minds around what was happening at that very moment.

The overwhelming feeling I had that day was sadness. Those images of the towers burning and then crumbling to the ground, the people running fast to beat the approaching cloud of chaos and debris, the people jumping from those building windows . . . those aren't images you soon forget, are they? I stood in the second-floor hallway of our department building much of that day, surrounded by staff, faculty, and students, all of us watching the images play over and over again.

It felt horrible and surreal and confusing, all at the same time.

In my confusion were so many questions. Why did this happen? America has an enemy? Why would innocent people be made a target? What does this mean? What now?

I tuned in that night, along with the rest of America, to hear the president's address. I can't speak for the rest of the country, but I can speak for myself: I was looking for leadership in that moment. Answers. Information. Understanding. And to know what happens next.

It was a complete surprise to me to learn we had such an enemy. I'm sure that sounds naive, but keeping up on current events and international relations and political and religious overtones in the world simply wasn't a priority to me at that time.

We all became educated quite quickly, didn't we?

As I look back on 9/11 now, I can see the seeds of nonviolence already at work in my life. In its aftermath, I never became over-zealous for America's sake. I remember feeling scared for our continued safety, and as significant days have come and gone in the intervening years, I have continued to wonder if those who consider America an enemy will stage another attack of some kind upon our soil.

But my experience was never that of adopting a particular brand of patriotism. I wasn't one to brandish an American flag on the back side of my car, for instance, or wear a shirt that said, "We will never forget." That's not to say there's anything wrong with choosing to do that, but only to say that the seeds of a nonviolence ethic were already more present in me than I consciously knew.

Here's what I mean.

When I have thought about 9/11 over these last ten years, I have thought of the people lost. I have thought about their lives cut short and how much that event still grieves their families.

And I have thought about those who conducted the attacks and whom America sought out in hidden caves and corners of Afghanistan. I kept wondering about them. What, if anything, would make a difference to them regarding us? What did they hope to see happen in what they were doing? Was death and destruction the only way, in their eyes? Is it the only way in ours, too? 

Today, as someone whose life of ministry and study is particularly preoccupied with the nuances of the human heart and how love comes to exist and grow inside of it, I still ask those questions. I have so much to learn -- and will likely be learning the rest of my lifetime -- about these things. How do enemies resolve their conflicts? How do we become people bent on understanding and reconciliation instead of hatred and fighting? Is there be an alternative to war? What would such an alternative require?

I guess what I'm saying is that I speak about these things not so much from the vantage point of an American as from the vantage point of a Christian. I'm learning that my citizenship supercedes any earthly country. I am a citizen of the human race, but even more than that, I am a citizen of the city of God. And in the city of God, every human being bears equal weight and value. Every human life is precious. Every soul carries significance.

The lives that were snuffed out in plane crashes and burning buildings and crashing structures that day were human lives more than they were American lives. And those who strategized and commandeered airplanes and crashed them into land and buildings were human beings more than they were Muslim extremists or enemies of this country.

It is humanity we've lost here -- and on both sides.

So the question I ask in remembrance and consideration of this day's significance is, how can we honor and mourn and dignify the humanity that was lost? And how can we help restore such lost humanity going forward?

It Must Be the Spiritual Director in Me: My Thoughts on the Casey Anthony Trial

Watercolor #2: all is suffused with grace.It reads: Suffused with grace

About two years ago, I was called for jury duty for the first time since moving to Orlando. The summons came right on the heels of having spent a summer dedicated to the study of nonviolence and peacemaking. I was just coming out of that mostly solitary endeavor, and standing to greet me when I emerged was the invitation to jury duty.

I remember driving around my town one afternoon shortly after those months of study ended, puzzling over what it would look like for me to practice a life of nonviolence and peacemaking where I actually live. What would it look like to bring light into dark places where I am, in this time and place in which I find myself? How might I begin to test in my own real life -- on a much smaller scale than the experiments my heroes and mentors had done in their own times and places in history -- the nonviolence philosophy that love is the only transforming force powerful enough to overcome violence in the world and in ourselves?

As I drove around town that afternoon, I recalled the jury summons I'd recently received in the mail. Suddenly, the next step in my journey seemed to unfold like ready-made steps before me on the path.

I considered the dark and hopeless place that a prison or jail really is. In fact, they exist because dark deeds happen. And those staying inside those walls live one dark fight after another each day: fights in the court for their lives and their freedom, fights inside the jail among the guards and other inmates, and fights with their families, friends, and loved ones as they seek to clear their names, speak their truth, or simply be a part of life as much as they can from behind metal bars and double-paned glass.

How often does light shine in a place like that? Does love even exist there? What would happen if it did? Could it overwhelm the fear, the shame, the guilt, and the hate that crawl those walls every day?

I drove home that day, opened up my laptop, and began a Google search on prison ministries and chaplaincy work. Then I began to get acquainted with the prison and jail ministry happening at my church. And I began to anticipate with greater enthusiasm the chance to perform my civic duty.


On the day I was called to jury duty in September 2009, I can't tell you what book I brought with me to read, though I remember holding a book in my hand the entire day and turning page upon page. I can't tell you anything about the people I met, even though I remember participating in several conversations with those seated around me.

What I can tell you, however, is what it was like to stare into the eyes of a young man who had been accused of four different counts of violence.

I was a member of the final group called into a jury panel that day, and it concerned a criminal case. After waiting a long time in the main juror's room and then a while longer still just outside the courtroom, we were called inside to learn about the case and be questioned by the lawyers.

I sat on the right side of the courtroom, facing the judge. Seated in the center of the room, facing us, was a young African-American man in his early twenties. He appeared tall, with short-cropped hair, and clean-shaven.

At least three different times during the hour I spent in that room, I locked eyes with this young man. His eyes were dark and intelligent, but his face never registered any change in expression as we sat in the room being considered for his case.

Every time our eyes met, I felt his eyes boring into me.

I couldn't help but wonder, What was this young man's story? How did he end up here, being tried for such violent acts? Even if he was truly innocent, he was on the scene of the crime that night -- which made me wonder, what sort of life did he lead that would land him in such a scenario?

And who, I wondered most of all, did he have to talk to? What was this young man's story, and who, if anyone, cared to truly know it?

I wasn't selected for the jury on the case, but as I drove away from the courthouse, I kept thinking about that young man. I've thought of him often, too, since then. What happened to him? Was he convicted? How does he spend his days right now?


Shortly after my jury summons, I began helping with a new initiative at my church as part of the prison and jail ministry team. We were beginning to coordinate with many churches in the area to effect a community-wide program that helps returning citizens from jail reintegrate into normal life upon release.

As part of this effort, I attended a training day at the Orange County correctional facility in Orlando in the fall of 2009. That was my first official time on the grounds of the Orange County jail and my first time entering a place with very high security measures: I was not allowed to bring any belongings with me beyond the gate -- no purse, no cell phone, no wallet.

When our training for the day ended, our team stopped by the women's dorm where they had been serving on a regular basis. This, too, was a new experience for me. I'd never been inside the actual walls of a jail before.

After signing in, we walked through a short, secured hallway with windows on either side. Through the window on our left, I saw a young woman in her twenties or thirties, dressed in a bright orange jumpsuit, laying on a bench behind one of the glass windows. She stared at us as we walked by, never taking her eyes away as we walked down the short hallway and through the next secured door. I wondered about her story, too -- why she was there, what her life experiences have been, whether she'd served time there before, and what sorts of things run through her mind as she sits behind that window for who knows how long.

The next secured door led us into a large open area with a very high ceiling and doors leading into various offshoots around the large circular room. Each door led into a separate women's dorm inside the building.

We turned to the right and entered one of the dorms. Inside, a group of women seated at several tables in a main gathering area were finishing an afternoon nutrition class. When we walked in, many jumped from their seats and walked over to embrace the women on our team. They were ecstatic to share stories and have a chance to be seen and heard by those who were visiting them.


As I stood with one of the women on our ministry team inside the dorm that day, she mentioned to me that Casey Anthony was being held on those same grounds.

"Casey Anthony?" I asked. "Here? Really?"

She nodded.

"Do you know where?" I asked. "Like, is she staying in a room like this, with a bunch of other women?" It was hard to imagine the woman from such a high-profile case staying in a dorm room like the one I was standing in.

My friend didn't know any details.

I looked out the window of the dorm where we stood into the main open area just beyond us. My glance strayed to the high ceiling of that main room, then the exercise yard just outside one of the doors, and then to the buildings on the grounds across the parking lot.

Where on these grounds might Casey be staying? What were her conditions like? Did she interact with other inmates, or was she kept isolated? Did her family ever visit? What about her friends? Was she even allowed to receive visitors? Did she get lonely staying there?

These were just some of the questions that flashed through my mind as I stood inside the dorm room that day, taking in the news that Casey Anthony was staying somewhere in the vicinity of where I stood in that moment.


That night, I could hardly sleep. All I could think about was Casey Anthony. I hadn't followed her case very closely, but you can hardly live in Orlando and escape hearing her name or seeing pictures of her daughter for very long.

I wasn't very interested in the case or the media attention it got. No, what mattered to me, suddenly quite intensely that night, were the same questions that had haunted me about the young man I'd seen in the courtroom while serving jury duty. This time the questions sharpened their focus on the woman's face that had become so familiar to all of us living in Orlando.

What was her story, really? And not just the story of what happened to her daughter, but the whole of Casey Anthony's story? Who was she? What had she lived through? And did anyone really care?


I don't drive by the Orange County correctional facility very often -- maybe once a month, if that. But every time I pass by those grounds, I can feel its gravitational pull working on me. The soul of the place is bleak, and it stands as an ominous, soulless presence right in the middle of Orlando.

And somewhere within four of those walls sat Casey Anthony these past couple years.

Every time I have passed by that place in the last two years, I have prayed for her. Sometimes my heart has grown quite heavy for her in those moments and it has taken some time to shake off that heaviness.

I have prayed for her, and I have continued to wonder. What is her story? Who does she have to talk to? And who, if anyone, really cares to know? Who would listen to her soul and look into her eyes without squirming or recoiling in horror?


Really, who?


It must be the spiritual director in me, but these are the things I think about when I think about Casey Anthony. I realize it's unusual, and I realize it's also unpopular.

But last night, after the first day of jury deliberations began, I couldn't sleep because she was on my mind for these very same reasons. I wondered about her fate, yes, and have felt the gravity of her life in the hands of her jury. I have wondered just like everyone else what really happened to her daughter, Caylee.

But more than anything, all these years she's been in the media spotlight, I have wondered even more about her story. That, and whether she has anyone who truly can receive it -- and to whom she would want it to be known.

Even today, as we received the verdict from the jury that acquitted her, it's still the foremost question on my mind. The spiritual director in me believes that it is within the most sacred spaces between people that hold no judgment where true healing, forgiveness, and freedom can be found.

This is what I wish for Casey Anthony, more than anything. That she would find such sacred space and at least one soul who truly listens.

He Suffered Violence . . . for Us

On a Dark Friday

Image by Sister72

Last year on Good Friday, I sat in the back of my church and watched seven candles on the platform stage go out, one by one, as the last seven words Jesus spoke before his death were read from the Scriptures. When the last words were spoken and the last candle extinguished, the sanctuary went completely dark. Several hundred quiet souls sat together in the dark for several long moments in time.



Today as I write this post, I'm trying to get back inside the powerful and profound realization I had in that moment. It was the realization that Jesus sustained violence . . . for us.

This was not a new truth for me to hold. I grew up in the church and have participated in my fair share of Good Friday services, some of which depicted the reality of Christ's last hours in gruesome detail. But this reality struck me in a new way last year, perhaps because I was deep in the woods of this nonviolence journey and could see with fresh eyes that Jesus embodied on that original Good Friday all that I've come to believe is contained in the nonviolent ethic:

  • Love is stronger than evil.
  • Nonviolence is more transformative than violence.
  • Nonviolence is rooted in the conviction of truth.
  • Nonviolence is postured in love.

Early in my nonviolence journey, I began to read the autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. What stood out to me in the early section of that book was Dr. King's own process of coming to embrace the nonviolent way of life. He studied various philosophers -- Marx, Nietzche, and Reinhold Niebuhr among them -- and eventually landed upon Gandhi's nonviolent resistance as that which has the power to "lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale" (p. 24).

I was particularly struck by Dr. King's response to Niebuhr, who had been a staunch proponent of pacifism for many years but eventually rejected it. Regarding Niebuhr's rejection, King said:

Many of his statements revealed that he interpreted pacifism as a sort of passive nonresistance to evil expressing naive trust in the power of love. But this was a serious distortion. My study of Gandhi convinced me that true pacifism is not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent resistance to evil. Between the two posiions, there is a world of difference. Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power, as Niebuhr contends. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love.

-- The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr, p. 26

I remember watching the Ben Kingsley film on Gandhi's life several months later and seeing this demonstrated so clearly in the famous salt march. Along with several hundred of his followers, Gandhi marched 240 miles to the sea coast over the course of 26 days in protest of a salt tax. When the marchers arrived at their destination, they faced aggressors who beat and killed many of them, and yet still the marchers stood in conviction for what they believed to be right and true, and they refused to fight back.

This was nonviolent resistance: a firm stand for truth and justice coupled with an unwillingness to raise one's own hand against another out of love for the dignity and humanity of the one standing against you.

In Jesus, on Good Friday last year, I saw this exemplified in even greater measure. On that day, as I listened to those seven passages of Scripture being read aloud and as I watched those candles, one by one, go out, my mind filled in the details of the story.

In my mind, I watched the Jesus I have come to know and love get arrested. I watched him stand before the chief priest and all the elders and scribes and Pharisees and become the object of their scorn. I watched those religious leaders stir up the crowd against him in derision -- the same crowd who had saluted him with palm branches just days before and who had thrown their cloaks on the ground for him when he entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, many of whom had likely followed him around for years, always showing up where he did because they wanted more of his teaching and more of his healing. I watched those same people seek his crucifixion.

I watched him stand before Pontius Pilate in the court the next day and say nothing to defend himself. I watched him being given over to the death sentence and watched the Roman soldiers beat him with their clubs and their cat of nine tail switches. I watched them laugh at the torture they inflicted on him and watched them rip the robe off his back, raw pieces of his flesh tearing off with it because of how badly he had been beaten.

I watched him stumble down the dusty road  to Golgotha with a heavy wooden cross laid upon his shoulders, splinters gouging into those gaping wounds. I watched the crown of thorns they twisted into his head pierce his temple and his forehead and watched blood run in streams down his face and into his eyes and mouth.

I watched the soldiers pound three heavy, rusty nails into his hands and feet. I can't even imagine the pain of that part, but yes, sharp, thick nails tore through his skin, tendons, and bones so mightily that they were able to hold the weight of his body against that cross when it was raised high up to the sky.

I watched it happen in my mind as I listened to those Scriptures and watched those candles go out on the stage in front of me that day, and as the last candle went out and we sat in the darkness and silence of that room, tears streamed down my face at the realization:

He suffered violence . . . for us. This was his nonviolence act.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus was not afraid to speak words of truth because he believed they contained real life. This speaking of truth is what eventually led to his arrest and crucifixion, as it leads to death for so many who speak truth in places where truth is not wanted.

He was willing to speak the truth, but he was not willing to save his own life to defend it. Instead, he operated with the knowledge that new life would come from his death -- that love would indeed be more powerful than evil.

In the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, we see this principle born out in the most powerful way it has ever been demonstrated. Life really did conquer death. Love really did overcome evil. Everything contained in the nonviolent ethic is played out in its most literal form in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

For that reason, Jesus Christ stands as the foremost example to me of the embodiment of this way of life and its actual transformative power. It is my sincere hope and prayer that he will teach me to be worthy of this reality he exampled through his life for me to follow.

Now, to Live Inside the Kingdom

Image credit: Barbara Lane

It's been interesting to watch my journey into nonviolence these past two and a half years.

The journey began with a lone statement that intrigued and arrested me:

Only love has the power to transform and overcome violence.

I stayed with that statement for months. I could not evade it. It wanted my full attention and would not let me go. So I turned toward the question and asked a number of my own: Really? Is this how all the darkness in the world and in our hearts is meant to be redeemed -- through love? Is love the only way?

I knew it was true.

My own experience of being transformed by love was testimony enough for that. Nothing but love had ever transformed me. Can't you say the same is true for you? When you honestly evaluate your life, can you say you've ever had true, life-altering transformation of heart, soul, and spirit any other way?

So I went in search of mentors. If the world and all the darkness and brokenness living within it could only be changed by encounters with love, then I wanted to see it. It's no secret that I carved out a year of my life to study the great peacemakers. That initial year was the first of a whole lifetime before me that will continue to include such study.

But in the midst of that intentional study, I learned one main thing:

It begins with me.

Even when taking several months inside one summer to study and think deeply about this subject, the majority of those months were filled with the honest examination of my own heart before God. Together, we rooted around inside to see what was really there. And what did I find? Unforgiveness. Judgment. Arrogance and anger. Unlove in spades.

So I've learned this above all:

The nonviolent journey begins with our own hearts.

Much of the work of this space, this JTN blog, is about that central truth: how our own hearts increase in their capacity to love . . . because it is only from a posture of love that we ourselves become nonviolent, and it is only from the posture of our own nonviolent lives that we can ever hope to effect any change inside this world, no matter how grand or miniscule that change may be.

So it's about learning to grow in love. That's what we do here.


Over this last year, my journey into nonviolence has continued into these truthful depths in my heart. I have faced the reality of a competitive spirit. I have faced, and continue to face, my difficulty with the truth-telling side of love. (I look forward to sharing more about this in an upcoming post.) And I've continued to find my heart broken for those we normally call our enemies. For whatever reason he has deemed fitting, God keeps giving me a heart that weeps for those who hurt others.

More recently, God has renewed a fervency of love in my heart for himself. He's been taking my focus off doing and planning and living with passion and cause in order to turn my full attention to himself. He has become, increasingly, the One True Object of my love these past few months.

And as we've grown in love together, I've begun bumping up against my struggles with God's history of violence. I've found myself unable to fathom the wrathful side of God when my own experience of God is one of full acceptance, generosity, intimacy, and unconditional grace.

So we've had our struggles in the midst of this fierce love. And that's been okay, and even good.


Speaking aloud here about my struggle with the violent God of history has been fruitful and has informed my ongoing journey. I'm so thankful you take this journey with me and feel the freedom to share your perspective and your own struggles. I find myself starting conversations, but it's really from your contributions that I learn the most. So, thank you.

More recently, I have begun to find much peace in the knowledge that Christ's coming changed everything and does make a difference. I've been surprisingly comforted by a theological idea I never much noticed before: that Christ's descent into hell inside the grave was marked with revelation, perhaps, to those under the earth who may have anticipated his coming with eagerness or who may never have even known to expect it.

Just tonight, in fact, during a church service I attended, I was reminded of the verse that says "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil. 2:10-11, emphasis mine). This passage reminds me that the reality of Christ will become present knowledge to all at some point. No one will be left out.

That comforts me in the midst of this struggle that recently emerged with God.

That being said, I am sure I will continue to struggle with these ideas and many more. I have no illusions of them being settled once and for all, despite the current appeasement to the struggle that I feel. That's why I continue to be glad to call this a journey.

But for now, I'm ready to go on living inside the kingdom. I'm ready to move forward in exploring the nooks and crannies of what that even means.

What does it mean to live in love inside this world?

Let's continue to find out together.

Struggling with a Violent God, Part 2

Image credit: Barbara Lane

Nearly seven years ago, in what feels like several lifetimes ago, I was living on my own for the first time in my life and going through a process of healing and restoration of heart. I was separated in a marriage that would soon end in divorce, and I felt, on a human level, incredibly wounded, abandoned, and lost.

Every night after work, I returned to my tiny guesthouse and settled into the quiet life I had learned to lead on my own. The furnishings were simple, the dishes delicate and few, and I had discovered a new joy in keeping a tidy and simple home.

Every night for what seemed like months on end, I settled into my evenings at home the exact same way: by flipping on the CD player to play, over and over again, a song by Jeremy Camp called "Revive Me." It was the song of my companionship during that bereft and lonely time and echoed the cry of my heart for God to revive my heart and love me in an intimate way.

As the song played on repeat, I sat on top of the comforter of my tiny twin bed and open the pages of the Bible to the exact same place: Psalm 139. I read the verses of that psalm each night, sometimes inserting my own name into its words, in an effort to begin to understand and believe how loved and held I was by God.

God used that season and that psalm to teach me my belovedness. He taught me my loveliness. I learned that God saw and delighted in me and wanted me for his own. I learned that I was the bride of Christ. I learned that I was cherished and adored by God, so tenderly and thoroughly.


It is largely because of that experience of learning my belovedness that I eventually landed here, in a posture of nonviolence. I came to realize a few years ago that God's tender, fierce, and restorative love for me is the same love God has for everyone else.

It is a love that takes joy in the creation of every single human being, a love that knows the intricacies and particularities of each person's essence, and a love that knows each person's fullest potential and deepest depths. It is a love that seeks to claim each person for the true home in which we were all meant to live, which is: the majestic, merciful, and loving presence of a triune God.

Knowing this, I can't help but walk the journey toward nonviolence.

But the reality of this fierce and tender love God has for all is why I struggle with the violent God of the Old Testament. The God we meet in the Old Testament was indeed long-suffering and compassionate toward Israel over and over again. And in truth, it's amazing that this God chose a wayward, confused, and clumsy people to be his own at all. It's beautiful the way he rescued them, guided them, and stayed with them again and again.

He really didn't have to do that. He is God, after all.

In many ways, then, it's amazing to watch God create the elaborate systems by which he came to be in relationship with Israel. As silly, shocking, or dismaying many of the rituals of the Mosaic law may be to our 21st-century sensibilities, I do stand back and find it marvelous that such a holy God would want communion with the human beings he created so much that he would instill an intricate and extensive system that made it possible, despite how far removed God's holiness was from Israel's utter humanness.


And yet he chose Israel and no one else.

And sometimes, when Israel pushed God too far, he lost patience and exerted his righteous wrath.

And then, on top of it all, he waited hundreds and hundreds of years to instigate a new system by which all humans could be saved and never exhaust God's patience or compassion.

I'm speaking, of course, of Jesus Christ.


Several weeks ago, shortly after we discussed my initial post on the struggle to understand this violent God, I came across a passage in Romans that helped clarify some of my struggle. Paul says:

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. . . . Since we've compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself.  Pure gift. He got us out of the mess we're in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. . . . [He] set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it's now -- this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.

--Romans 3:21-26

At the time I read this passage, I felt an immeasurable amount of relief. The coming of Jesus really did mean something. It really did change something in a cosmic and historical sense that Jesus came and walked the earth and then died and rose again.

It sounds so prosaic and pedestrian to say what we've always known: God took the sins of the world on himself through Jesus because he knew we couldn't do it for ourselves. And through that, he set things right and did something new that had never been done before.

We live in a wholly new age. The character of God exercised in the Old Testament really is exercised differently in the New Testament because of Jesus. In short, Jesus matters.


And yet, as much as this helps make sense of the difference in God's actions and expectations in the Old and New Testaments, which was part of the struggle I voiced in my initial post, I'm still left with my struggle -- it's just a struggle that's been re-clarified.

Now, instead of wondering why God demonstrates himself so different from one Testament to the next, I'm struggling with what essentially seems to be survivor's guilt.

I asked this in my previous post, and I'll ask it again: why me, and not them?

This past Wednesday, Kirk and I attended a lunchtime Ash Wednesday service at the local episcopal parish around the corner from our house. At one point in that service, I heard something that may help lay to rest this clarified struggle, and I would welcome your thoughts on the matter.

Each week in the liturgy, we speak the Nicene Creed that includes a line that says Jesus descended into hell after his death on the cross. There are many theological perspectives on what that means, why that happened, and what was accomplished when he did that, and I'm not here to debate those perspectives. What I am here to share is that I heard, in a very small moment of that service, an expansion on that idea that said Jesus descended into hell and preached.

He preached? To whom -- the dead?

And what did he preach? The reality of grace offered through his death on the cross and consequent victory over sin ?


If it is true that Jesus descended into hell and preached to those souls gathered there who had lived before his time -- the souls who never knew the compassionate, long-suffering, all-inclusively loving God that we now know because of Christ -- then perhaps my struggle with the violent God of the Old Testament is indeed satisfied.

Perhaps this means that God took care to rescue those who seemed beyond the scope of God's rescuing or care in the Old Testament after all.


God of Justice, God of Mercy

Image credit: Barbara Lane

I was so refreshed and encouraged by the comments you left on the last post about my struggle to understand God's violence. Not only did it become abundantly clear that I'm not the only one wrestling with this question, but also that there are many resources and perspectives to help us along. I look forward to continuing to wrestle aloud and pursue this question with you. It's helpful to know we're not alone in it, isn't it?

Earlier this week, I encountered a meaningful reminder about my journey into nonviolence that I think can contribute to our ongoing consideration of this question. It began with my reading a passage in Martin Luther King's Strength to Love that talks about our need for both a God of justice and a God of mercy. Specifically, he wrote:

At times we need to know that the Lord is a God of justice. When slumbering giants of injustice emerge in the earth, we need to know there is a God of power who can cut them down like the grass and leave them withering like the Greek herb. When our most tireless efforts fail to stop the surging sweep of oppression, we need to know that in this universe is a God whose matchless strength is a fit contrast to the sordid weakness of man.

But there are also times when we need to know that God possesses love and mercy. When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance.

-- Strength to Love, page 9

I'll admit that at the time I read this passage, it didn't hit me at my core. However, I could identify with what he said. I thought of the little girls sold into brothels and the families owned by slavemasters around the world and IJM's staunch fight to overcome these realities of injustice. I know the God of justice cares for these oppressed and forgotten ones. I know that he is coming for them and does not tolerate the evil done against them. I know it breaks his heart and angers him.

But I haven't personally been very in touch with this God of justice of late because God has been taking me deeper into his merciful heart -- his heart that grieves for the sins of humanity and wants to rescue us from ourselves. This is the part of God's heart in me that weeps for my enemies and the perpetrators of evil on this earth. There is a connection to the heart of God in this, too.

But then the following morning, I read a psalm that reminded me more concretely of my journey into the heart of God's justice that happened several years ago. The psalm reads:

We've been hearing about this, God, all our lives. Our fathers told us the stories their fathers told them, How single-handedly you weeded out the godless from the fields and planted us, How you sent those people packing but gave us a fresh start. We didn't fight for this land; we didn't work for it -- it was a gift! You gave it, smiling as you gave it, delighting as you gave it.

You're my king, O God -- command victories for Jacob! With your help we'll wipe out our enemies, in your name we'll stomp them to dust. I don't trust in weapons; my sword won't save me -- But it's you, you have saved us from the enemy; you made those who hate us lose face.

-- Psalm 44:1-8

In a vivid way when I read this psalm, I was reminded of key moments in my life where I was beaten up and scarred and wounded, times when I was called out and humiliated, times when I was taken by force and used as a plaything or object of another's selfish gain, times when my innocence was taken, when another person didn't respect my boundaries or love me with a selfless love, times when I was accused and left alone by those who ought to have loved me, times when I was given too much weight for my too-small shoulders to bear.

I recalled these moments in graphic detail and remembered my need for God's just heart when I originally faced the real truth of these hurts and needed to heal from them. I needed the justice of God to heal. I needed to encounter a God who saw those things happen and thought it mattered. I needed to be seen in those moments of pain, and God saw me. He cared for me in a way that I needed care. He acknowledged the wrongdoing and fought for my heart. He ministered to me tenderly and dressed my wounds.

God's heart of justice was the essence of my healing at that time. His justice brought me close to his side. It grew my love for him. It secured me in his love, and my conception of God today is bound up in his having done this for me.

But as I grew in this love from God and became rooted and established in it, a shift happened. I stopped needing God's wrath. I no longer needed his vengeful justice against those who had brought me harm. His love for me overcame my original pain and my need for God's justice on my behalf.

Instead, I began to love those who had hurt me and desired their good and their salvation. I began to see their woundedness and felt nothing but compassion and mercy. I forgave them. I prayed for them. I sought reconciliation with some of them. I desired their good.

In this, I became united to God's heart of love. I entered God's love for the world. It is a love that weeps for the brokenness of humanity and seeks its salvation. It is a love that comes after those who reject God. It is a love that is stronger than hate.

The love of God that was rooted in his justice healed my wounds and helped me forgive and love the world. This is where my nonviolence journey began.