Monthly Archives: February 2010

The JTN Tribe: What Are We About?

In early January, I traveled from Orlando to Michigan for a graduate school residency and ended up having an encounter with a little book that led me here.

The flight from Orlando to Michigan was delayed by something like an hour. During that window of time, I finished reading one of the required texts for the residency and pulled out the next one: Tribes, by Seth Godin.

In it, Seth Godin talks about the need for leaders willing to step out in front and engage others with an idea. He talks about the power of following the trail of an idea that has gripped us with a passion. And he talks about how change can happen in the world when a tribe of people devoted to a singular idea have a place to gather and communicate about it.

I’d been pondering the idea of a dedicated online space to explore nonviolence and my own journey deeper into it for a little while before reading this book. But it wasn’t until Seth Godin framed it in the language of a tribe that something really clicked for me about it.

I wrote in the margins of that book while I was reading:

How can I invite others into their own nonviolent journey, and to share what they’re doing with the rest of the tribe?

Then I put down the book, picked up my pen, and let it fly across the pages of my journal with the following:

What does it take to create a tribe around the journey toward nonviolence?

I think this begins with deciding to go. To do it.

The next step is declaring the vision.

What is this tribe about, and what do we believe can happen? What are we about, and what do we want to see happen in the world?

I sat for a moment and thought about those questions. What would this tribe be about, if it existed? What do people traveling the journey toward nonviolence believe? More pointedly, what had I, in my own journey along this path, come to embrace as the bedrock foundation of my beliefs?

I tapped my pen against my lips for a few moments and stared at the page. Then I wrote, very deliberately, the following:

THE JTN TRIBE IS ABOUT:

This is our manifesto, at least to the extent I was able to craft it on my own. I’d love your feedback and suggestions, too! Personally, if I were to add anything extra to what I wrote in my journal that day, I think it would contain something about the need for divine assistance to accomplish any of this.

It is my plan to explore each of these points in greater detail over the next several weeks. As I write each post, I’ll come back here and link to the new post for each point. And when we’re done with that exercise, I’ll share the original vision I imagined for this community as I dreamed aloud in my journal on that fateful plane ride in January.

In the meantime, is there anything you’d add to the list above? Anything you’d add, change, or remove?

(For future reference, this bulleted declaration will always be nested at the top of the page under the About JTN link. There, I’ll also update the points with links to the posts that explore each one in further depth.)

Oh, the Places We’ll Go

I’ve spent some time this weekend planning out the future of this online space.

I know changes will crop up along the way and that there’s no way to mapquest our way to the future, but it’s been fun to brainstorm things I’d like to see and write about here.

Some ideas I’ve been developing so far include:

  • Open letters to the great peacemakers
  • Stories that get us reflecting on our journeys to this journey
  • Reflections on what this path requires or asks of us
  • Posts that ask the hard questions about nonviolence and peacemaking
  • Recurring features to share moments of love and places of repentance in our own lives
  • Exploration of the theological underpinnings of nonviolence
  • Review of cultural artifacts (books, movies, music) that move us toward nonviolence
  • Ongoing definition of the subject

I thought it would be helpful to open this brainstorm up to the community. When you think about the subject of nonviolence, what haunts you? What excites you? What troubles you? What have you always wondered? What would help you along in your own journey?

Ultimately, my question to you is:

If you could put forth your own topics or questions to showcase in this space, what would they be?

What Is Nonviolence, Really?

I’m going to begin this post by saying my answer to this question is a work in progress.

That said, I do want to share what I currently mean when I refer to nonviolence, especially as we move toward exploring this subject intentionally in this online space.

Currently, when I refer to nonviolence, I mean three things.

  1. Nonviolence means protecting the innocent. A whole lot of violence exists in the world, and most of it is brought against innocents. Whether the innocents are young girls sold into brothels, young boys made into soldiers, civilians hit by falling missiles, families swindled into slavery, or fifth graders stuffed into lockers, nonviolence says the innocent deserve their dignity. This is part of the ethic of nonviolence committed to social — and interpersonal — justice.
  2. Nonviolence means loving our enemies. Just as nonviolence looks at injustice and is willing to stand up and say “no,” nonviolence is also, at one and the same time, unwilling to hate the unjust. We do not diminish the humanity of the offender. We take the incredibly audacious stance of choosing to love our enemies. We might even say the nonviolent way of life means refusing to name anyone an enemy.
  3. Nonviolence means examining and purifying our hearts. It’s easy to keep nonviolence on the back burner or in the history books or news headlines when we don’t personally encounter violence in daily life. And yet violence lodges itself in each of our hearts every day. In split-second flashes, we judge, hate, criticize, demean, condescend, covet, envy, and dismiss other human beings. For much of our days, we think of ourselves more than others. We blur the lines and choose the path of least resistance. We instinctively compete and are altogether dedicated to our self-preservation. These, too, are issues of violence. The nonviolent journey is committed to purifying the muddy waters of the heart.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but these are the considerations that continually come to mind when I reference this term and as I consider what it means for me to be a person committed to nonviolence.

What would you add to this list?

Why This Space?

I’ve been thinking about this new online space for just over a month now. But I’ve been thinking about the subject of nonviolence for over a year.

I took a technology sabbatical this past summer to read and think and journal and write and pray about this subject. At the end of the summer, I acknowledged a few key truths from the experience:

  1. I could not return to life as it had always been. I had entered inside the subject of nonviolence, and it had entered me. I couldn’t look at people, events, situations, or the world the same way again. I had come to embrace a nonviolent ethic of love as a way of life.
  2. I have so far to go. The ins and outs of the human heart are not only cavernous, they’re infinite. I’m continually made aware of new (and old!) places in my heart where God’s love has yet to take up full residence. This path continually humbles me. It will take a lifetime of learning to walk it faithfully.
  3. I have so much more to learn. I focused my studies this past year on a few key “mentors.” I consider them my heroes, and I felt through their writings that I was ushered into a new and welcoming community. But even within their writings, I merely scratched the surface. There’s still much more to learn and think about, and there are still many more writers to teach me the wisdom they have learned.

On the specific reason for beginning this new online space, I shared elsewhere recently:

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

I suppose that is my greatest hope for this online space.

I hope for this to be a place of continued exploration and sharing from my personal journey, but also the collective exploration of a community that is, together, inching its way toward a greater embodiment and demonstration of love in the world.

I’m looking forward to learning with you in this space that is dedicated toward that purpose.

How I Came to Care About Nonviolence

My road to nonviolence was inevitable, I suppose.

Growing up, a few key moments startled me into an awareness of cruelty at work in the world. These moments of cruelty, each directed at me, caused me to bolt upright and pay attention. Each time, I grew wiser.

I learned to hide myself. And I began to live with as great a degree of perfection as I could muster. Perfection, I thought, would save me.

But when I was 19, I had a second conversion. I’d been following Jesus my whole life, but this was a moment of reckoning. I realized my performance-driven life had kept me from deep communion with Jesus.

I didn’t understand my need for him. I thought I could handle things well on my own. And so I prayed for God to show me my need for the Christ who offered a grace I didn’t believe I needed.

It turned out to be a journey into love.

God’s love for me, I learned, was limitless. I didn’t have to perform. Every idiosyncrasy and frailty, every unique feature and strength … all of those were welcome here, safe in the all-encompassing arms of God.

Slowly, I unlearned my dependence on perfection. I learned to breathe, and to laugh, and to take heart that Christ’s grace was lavish and large enough to cover my imperfections.

And then, I began to see more.

I saw others performing and straining to get by. I saw many with downcast eyes, trying to hide from harm’s way. I ached for them to rest in their loveliness and worth. I longed for them to find their voices and step into the light. This became an intentional place of ministry.

And then my journey turned another corner.

In October 2008, I encountered a radical new idea. It was the idea that love can transform violence. In fact, I was told it was the only force powerful enough to do that work.

I had seen the healing effects of love in my own life. As I shared above, a real encounter with God’s love had set me free. But this new idea was presented in the context of social change. Many believed love could transform violence on a systemic scale.

I wasn’t quite sure about that.

But the idea completely gripped me. I could not escape its grasp. Perhaps because of my personal journey, I found myself puzzling over this idea for days and then months at a time.

I decided I needed to learn more.

For an entire year, I apprenticed myself to the journey. I read books. I journalled. I cried a whole lot. I wrote letters. I repented.

And at the end of it all, I realized I still had a long way to go.

The truth is, it will take a lifetime for God to form in me a wholly nonviolent heart. But I’m here. And I’m willing to be formed, even though it is not easy.

My life is completely changed, and I cannot go back now.