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.

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.

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.

Update on the Photobomb!

[The lovely, amazing, and inspiring Karen Walrond.]

Hello, friends.

Today is Repentance Thursday, and I'll be updating the blog a bit later to provide space for us to express our solidarity with humanity in our ongoing need for confession and forgiveness ... but first, I want to tell you that Karen Walrond shared an incredible update on the Photobomb project today.

Seriously, check it out!

Totally inspiring. I'm humbled to be a part of it.

Thank you, Karen, for leading us all toward a greater embodiment of truth, peace, and love.

Deadline for the Photobomb Today!

Hello all!

Just a quick note to say that today is the postmark deadline for the Photobomb project Karen Walrond is hosting. (This is the photo project for peace I wrote about here.)

I had some trouble getting my photo submission properly developed, so mine's going out -- just in time! -- with today's mail. I'm sending the photo above, a sweet photo of my girl kitty who teaches me much about God's love.

Before mailing the photo, I need to decide on a message of peace and love to write on the back.

I'd love to hear your thoughts:

What message of peace and love do you think this photo best expresses? What are her eyes telling you?

Be the Change: What's Yours?

[youtube=] Hi there, everyone!

I'm excited to come to you via video post today. Thought it would be a fun way to feel like I am actually talking to you, rather than just writing to you like I always do.

In this video, I'm inviting each of us to consider the question:

What does it look like -- or could it look like -- for me to be the change I wish to see in the world?

In the second half of the video, I share with you how I personally would respond to that question. Please share your own response in the comments below!

Moment of Love Wednesday: August 2010

Hello there, friends. This post is reaching you a couple days later than planned. My apologies! Hopefully you'll forgive my tardiness once you hear about my find for this month's Moment of Love Monday. It's simply amazing.

But before I share it, I want to say how much I love the way you responded last month to the idea of using this monthly feature to showcase others putting love into action in the world, especially when their doing so reflects two of the core values of our tribe:

  1. A commitment to offering creative, life-giving love in response to any degree of violence or hatred, and
  2. An unwavering belief in the power of love to overcome violence.

I'm looking forward to the things we'll learn together as we explore what others are doing to bring greater light and love into our world in creative ways. (And if you come across any great stories that ought to be featured, feel free to send them my way! My e-mail address is christianne at journeytowardnonviolence dot com.)


And now for this month's feature.

Meet Karen Walrond.

Karen writes one of my favorite blogs on the internet, Chookooloonks. It's an incredible photography blog infused with a whole lot of soul. I'm constantly in awe of what Karen can do with a macro lens (for example, see this), and I love the way she translates her careful attention to detail and beauty behind the lens into making the world a more caring, human place.

For example, this fall Karen is publishing a book called The Beauty of Different. It's a book that combines photography and words to celebrate what is unique and different in each one of us, based on the idea that these unique little gems -- even those parts we deem imperfections -- are what make us so heart-achingly beautiful.

Don't you just love that idea?

Another example: Karen has been running full-steam-ahead on a pretty fantastic life list, and one item on her list includes the audacious goal to photograph 1000 beautifully different faces. Yes, you read that right: one thousand different faces.

That is just incredible. And perhaps even more incredible is how big a dent she's already made in that goal in a matter of months.

This woman is a warrior!


So, speaking of Karen as warrior, let me tell you about a campaign she's running this month on her blog that we can be a part of.

She calls it Photobomb.

Here is the story of how I learned about it. Two weekends ago, I logged onto Twitter and noticed three consecutive tweets from Karen resting near the top of my Twitter feed:

I'll be honest. When I first saw these tweets, I didn't think much of them and just kept scrolling through the rest of my feed. But then a few moments later I saw this update from Karen:

Okay, how could I not sit up and take notice when I read that?!

So I went back and read the link in her initial tweet. It leads to a CNN article about a church in Gainesville, Florida that is staging a Quran-burning event on September 11. The church believes Islam is "of the devil" and is promoting the event on a Facebook page that had (as of the article's printing) 1,600 fans.

When Karen put out the request on Twitter for constructive ideas to counteract the Quran-burning event, someone suggested sending cards and images of peace to the church as a reminder of love. It reminded Karen of a photo drive she ran on her blog last Christmas (one that had been wildly successful), and suddenly it made complete sense to do just that.

In that moment, Photobomb was born.

Now through August 25, Karen is collecting photos from people around the world who want to send the church in Gainesville a different message -- a message of peace -- in the hopes of counteracting their violent affront against Islam, its followers, and their holy book.


I'm sure it's easy to tell why this Photobomb project would inspire me. My own journey toward nonviolence began when I encountered the idea that love was the only force powerful enough to overcome violence. Nearly two years have elapsed since that moment, and every day I still live each day with the question Is it true? ringing in the back of my mind.

I want to see what -- if anything -- sending images and messages of peace to that church in Gainesville can do to make a difference.

But even if it doesn't make any kind of difference, I guess the truth is that I want to do it anyway. So much of this nonviolent path is really about who we will choose to be in any given moment or when faced with any situation.

When faced with this particular situation, then, I want to choose peace and love.


So, here is the image of peace I am sending to Karen in this coming week. It's a picture of my little girl kitty, Diva, looking up with the same eyes of great trust and vulnerability she turns on me each day. It's a look that breaks my heart every time because it fills my heart with more love and care for her than I hardly know how to hold inside myself. And truthfully, it's a look that teaches me more about God's love for me and my love for him than reading the Bible does most days.

Perhaps this picture will provoke similar feelings of tenderness and love in the hearts of those who receive it in Gainesville.


So, what about you? Will you be a part of the Photobomb project? If so, click here to learn how to participate.

And if you do participate, share a link in the comments below to the photo you will send! It would be fun to see the ways in which our community participates in this counter-campaign of peace.

Whistleblowers for Peace, Unite!

I came home from work on Monday night to discover my whistle had arrived!

I was giddy with excitement and immediately loped the chain around my neck, where it stayed until I changed into pajamas for the night. (I may or may not have delayed changing into pajamas a bit longer than usual, simply to keep wearing the whistle . . . )

And then I discovered a second gift for the day.

Mallory, one of the staff members from Falling Whistles, had discovered the whistle post from last week and all the encouraging comments you left in response.

She left a comment for us that reads:


All of this totally blissed me out!

So then, of course, I went straight to social media. :-)


First, Twitter:



And then, of course, Facebook:


To top off all the excitement, I then discovered others of you had also received your whistles that very same day!

A few comments came out of the woodwork on Facebook:

Another friend tweeted in response that she'd also received hers:


Is this exciting, or what?!

So this makes me wonder:

What kind of stories are emerging out there as we wear our whistles for peace?


Yesterday, I wore mine to work in a snazzy justice-themed ensemble: dark blue jeans, black Seek Justice tee that supports International Justice Mission, charcoal gray blazer, and shiny black Mary Jane heels.

And, of course, the whistle.

I had a chance to share the story once with a co-worker who admired it when I stepped inside her office.

I admit, I was a little clumsy in my first telling.

But still, the story can't help but shock and educate.

This is a symbol of protest, I said.

It's a symbol of activism.

And 100 percent of the proceeds helps rehabilitate those young boys who are lucky enough to be rescued from the front lines of war.

It felt surreal to cup the whistle in my hand, tell the story, and know that right in that moment young boys were dying at the sound of their falling whistles, one by one by one.

This cannot -- and should not -- be.


If you haven't bought your whistle yet, you can buy yours here today.

And if you have received yours:

Have you shared any whistleblowing conversations yet? What were they like?

Become a Whistleblower for Peace in Congo

Several months ago -- I can't recall the specific circumstances that led me there now -- I landed on a website called Falling Whistles that completely undid me. Perhaps it will undo you too.

Here is the video that greets you (in full-screen mode) upon arrival at their website:

[vimeo w=500&h=350]


I can't tell you how many times I watched this video that first day. I watched it over and over again and just cried and cried.

Young boys.

Their bodies used as disposable buffers of war.

A shrill whistle cry their saving grace or single death knell.

How can this be?


I scoured the website, hungry for more information.

There, I found the journal entry referenced in the intro video above -- the one Sean Carasso wrote the day he met those boys.






The boys who changed his life.


I learned about the devastating war in the Congo that day.

I also learned about this remarkable band of impassioned activists at Falling Whistles that are spreading the word and asking for our help in doing the same.

Here is how we can help.

We can become whistleblowers for peace in Congo by purchasing a whistle on their website.

  • We can wear the symbolic whistle as a symbol of our protest.
  • We can wear it to raise awareness for the cause.
  • We can wear it to be reminded of those boys and the countless others who need our voices, our help, and our prayers.
  • We can wear it and know that 100 percent of the proceeds benefits the rehabilitation and advocacy of war-affected children in the Congo.


Today, thanks to the boon of an unexpected tax return, I finally purchased my whistle. I can hardly wait for it to arrive!

I will wear it proudly.

I will eagerly await the conversations it inspires with complete strangers.

And I will be reminded on an ongoing basis to pray for peace in Congo.

Will you?