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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

When Did You Begin to Care about Nonviolence?

Hello, friends. I've become curious to learn how each of us came to care about the subject of nonviolence that draws us together in this space.

Each person's journey is unique, and the access points are many, I'm sure.

Wouldn't it be fun to hear each person's story?


As I reflect on my own journey to getting here, I notice the story unfolding in major chapters that keep extending further and further back into my history as a person in this world.

Eventually, I land at my childhood.

I see, then, that this journey has just led me deeper into the person I have always been.

It begins to seem that my landing here was inevitable.

That pretty much blows my mind.


Maybe you'll find the same is true for you.

Maybe you'll find that trying to pinpoint the moment you began caring about nonviolence only propels you further and further back into the connected layers of your own story.

Maybe you'll find, for you, this was an inevitable landing point too.


There will be opportunities for us to explore the deeper, interconnected layers of our stories together here.

But for today, let's focus on our conscious recognition of this subject.

Let's share how we became aware of the subject of nonviolence and how we made the decision to move toward it.


For me, an initial big step was the 2008 election.

Whereas I'd never thought much about voting before -- usually allowing the faith community to guide the way I cast my vote -- this time I found myself caring to learn about the issues and the candidates.

What I found surprised me.

I found myself caring about things I didn't know I cared about.

  • Things like poverty and war and health care and torture.
  • Things like international relations and the way we treat the environment.
  • Things like civil rights and education and how we each help contribute to society.

In other words, things that made the whole world bigger to me than it ever was before.


I don't share this part of my story to get political at all.

In truth, I'm still working out my views on all these things.

I share this because it was a huge whoa moment for me.

It was the first time I realized the greater implications of my ongoing journey.

What I mean is, over the course of many years, I had slowly become a person who cares deeply about each individual person's journey toward living with dignity and hope and peace. My life had firmly become about these things.

Now I realized something:

Caring about those things also made me into a person who cared deeply about the workings of the greater world and all the people living in it.

That, I guess you could say, primed me for my journey toward nonviolence.


I didn't know it at the time, but within a year of this initial recognition, I would:

  • Sincerely ask the question, "Are we called to love Al-Qaeda?"
  • Become deeply affected by any notion of torture.
  • Consider adopting an ideology of pacifism.
  • Ask questions about the difference between charity and systemic justice.
  • Commit a year of my life to studying the great peacemakers of history.

All stories, perhaps, worth saving for another day.

But now I'd love to hear about you:

How and when did you begin to care about nonviolence?