Category Archives: About

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.


How Do You Define Violence?

Hello there, friends.

I have to begin by saying I so appreciate you.

Your thoughtful and gracious responses never fail to amaze me.

Our last posts’s discussion of capital punishment was no exception.

I think Terri said it best:

I’m so impressed with the responses of everyone who has commented so far.

You have a very kind and wise community here.

And to that I say:


You are seriously the best part about this blog.

Thank you for continuing to be here and for lending your heart and mind to all we do.


So, today I’d like to open things up for a brainstorm.

What say you to a gathering of collective wisdom?

Let’s gather our thoughts around this central question:

What do we mean by “violence”?


For nearly six months, usually as I’m driving about town, I’ve found myself musing on this question over and over.

Usually it’s because I notice subtle violences sprinkled throughout my days and evenings.

  • Ways I wronged those surrounding me.
  • Ways I capitulated to pressure.
  • Ways I went on the offensive.
  • Ways I catered to my competitive streak.
  • Ways I failed to love others — and myself — well at all.

It gets me thinking of all the various forms this “violence” can take.

It’s so much more than physical violence.


Yes, there are physical manifestations of violence.

  • Abuse
  • Rape
  • Assault
  • Murder
  • Acts of terror
  • War

We, of course, decry and grieve over those forms of violence.


But there are other forms of violence.

Supremely subtle forms.

The kind that make this journey intensely personal for each of us.

The kind that gives this gathering space ongoing purpose as we each seek to grow in love.


Take, for example, what I wrote elsewhere on this blog:

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.


So I have to ask myself at any given moment:

Where is my heart?

Is it . . .

  • Regarding itself more important than another?
  • Straining to land on top?
  • Dismissing what others have to say?
  • Disregarding what others feel?
  • Criticizing what others believe and do?

To me, these are acts of violence.

I have to repent of them every day.


And then there’s another form of violence.

The self-inflicted kind.

The kind I wrote about here that so often looks like self-judgment and self-condemnation.

The kind that inflicts self-harm, whether inwardly or outwardly.

Inwardly, this kind of violence can reside below the surface in a voice that incessantly berates us.

Outwardly, it can take many forms, such as:

  • Cutting
  • Overeating
  • Undereating
  • Promiscuity
  • Overspending
  • Poor hygiene
  • Lack of sleep

And many more . . .


I would submit to you, then, the following:

  1. Violence can be directed toward others or ourselves.
  2. It can be a physical act or a posture of the heart.
  3. It can lodge itself in our thoughts.
  4. At any moment we can choose or not choose love, violence lurks in the shadows.


Accordingly, I offer my personal working definition:

That which lacks love is violent.

Where love exists, violence is nowhere to be found.

That is why, for me, this nonviolent journey is ultimately about increasing one’s capacity to love.


So, what do you think?

What does “violence” mean to you?

How would you define it?

Would you add any specific forms of violence to those listed above?

The JTN Vision: What Do We Believe Can Happen?

On that day in early January when I sat on a plane and dreamed aloud in my journal about the creation of this nonviolence tribe, I wrote:

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

I think it 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?

As you now well know, a careful brainstorm followed the asking of those questions. I set down a list of all the truths that a tribe devoted to the nonviolent path would consistently uphold.

And then I sat and thought about the vision.

What do we believe can happen?

What do we want to see happen?

I settled into the small crook of my airline seat and leaned my head against the window. I tapped my pen against my lip.



Daring to believe.

And then I tried to capture in words the images slowly forming inside my mind.

This is what I wrote:

I see pulsating hubs all over the geography of this planet.

Each hub represents a JTN tribemember who is impacting his or her community by consistently contributing an energy of love to each encounter of his or her life.

This injected love begins to infect other people so that lives and events within that hub become transformed into even greater forces for love.

Eventually, hubs grow in magnitude and strength.

Individuals within each hub assemble to effect even greater change concerning specific areas of need in their localized communities.

In this way, the world is taken in by the beauty of love and transformed into a loving family of peace.

It is somewhat grand, I know.

But aren’t visions worth dreaming meant to be?


The central focus of this vision, for me, are the pulsating hubs.

These hubs represent you. They represent me.

Right now.


Day by day . . . one by one . . . we begin to infuse love into the pulsating hubs we represent on the geography of this planet. As we grow in love (which is the work we will accomplish here), we bring even greater love to each moment that we meet.

And slowly, we watch things change.

We change.

Others change.

Situations change.

All because of love.


And then one day, these hubs begin to grow.

We lock arms with other pulsating hubs of love around us — others whose hearts have also been infused and transformed by love — and we bring life, through these growing communities, to the forces of death surrounding us.

And change on a grander scale begins to happen.

All because of love.

Do you believe this can happen? Is there anything you’d like to add to this vision for our tribe?

We Are About: Building Community

As we round the bend on the final points of the JTN manifesto, I couldn’t help but notice that the last four declarations on our list all share a common theme:

All of them touch upon how we’ll build community here.

And so I decided to group all four of these points together in one final post, with a few words on each one.

So here they are . . . the final four pillars of our JTN manifesto:


1. Learning with each other and from each other.

No one person has a corner on this market. We are all beginners, and we are all teachers.

Thomas Merton liked to say, “We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners.”

We have so much to learn from one another, and it is of great value in this community to give and receive from each other on this shared journey.

We will share stories and questions and discoveries and quandaries . . . and we will listen, and hold space, and seek to understand, and in humility receive each other’s wisdom.


2. Celebrating acts of love and nonviolence within this community and around the world.

In a previous post, I mentioned that we will shortly begin a recurring feature on this blog called Repentance Thursdays. I’ll share more about this when it officially launches (perhaps as early as next week), but it affords at its root a weekly opportunity to repent as a community of our individual violences of heart and deed.

But here’s the beautiful thing . . .

As we choose to grow together along our rough edges, we will also make plenty of room to celebrate our ongoing growth in love.

That’s where another new weekly feature will come into play.

Moment of Love Mondays will intentionally create space for us at the beginning of each week to reflect on the specific ways we chose to love in difficult moments the previous week.

(Interestingly enough, Kirsten and Katy-Did already offered two great glimpses into what this type of story-sharing can look like for us each Monday morning in the comments section of the previous post!)


3. Finding specific situations and places to actively choose and practice nonviolence.

Our fellow tribemember Sarah offered this suggestion for our JTN manifesto when it first debuted — and I love it!

  • What if we, as a community, actively chose to demonstrate nonviolent action in response to specific situations that crop up in the greater world?
  • And what if — eventually — we coordinated group efforts along these lines?

I think it’s possible.

In fact, this notion falls right in line with the original JTN vision I promised I would share with you at the conclusion of this series (and which is coming, as promised, in the next post later this week).

I would count it a great privilege to explore what this could look like with you.


And finally:

4. Forgiving ourselves and each other when we fail to live this journey well.

Let’s face it. This journey is not easy.

It is, first of all, not one most people choose willingly.

And once chosen willingly, it is full of its fair share of fits and starts.

But just as this journey is about learning to extend compassionate grace toward those we might find difficult to love, it is also about extending that same compassionate grace toward ourselves and everyone else here.

We will bumble along.

We will discover our many egregious human frailties.

We will want to hide our eyes from these shortcomings.

And we will sometimes find it hard to love and forgive ourselves and each other these failings.

But here is grace.

And grace is here.


We Are About: Offering Creative, Life-Giving Love in Response to Violence or Hatred

In an earlier post in the JTN manifesto series, we explored one of the foundational earmarks of the nonviolent ethic: the power of love to overcome violence.

This ideological affirmation has implications in reality, and that brings us to the next point we affirm:

Offering creative, life-giving love in response to any degree of violence or hatred.

Really, this point gets down to the nitty-gritty.

  • What are we doing in real life to express this love we say has the power to overcome violence?
  • Do our actions generate life, or do they perpetuate toxicity and death?

This is an affirmation that asks something of us. It asks, “What kind of person will you choose to be?”

On this point, we choose love in response to any degree of hatred or violence because it is the small, incidental choices that begin building in us a character worthy of greater acts of love.

We must begin where we are.

The journey toward nonviolence begins with a single step.

I remember one of the first times I tried putting this into practice.

I was driving in a car with someone who was, in all honesty, not a lot of fun to be around in that moment. No matter the topic discussed, their response was negative, sarcastic, or just generally unhelpful. Any attempt to spin a positive outlook by me on any broached subject was met with immediate dismissal.

I felt at a loss in that moment.

And my immediate inclination was to spew exasperation and frustration all over the conversation, once I reached what felt like my upper limit of patience. (Truthfully, that has been my reaction on more than one occasion before.)

But in that moment, I allowed myself to take a longer view.

Or rather, to take a longer look at the person sitting beside me.

Somehow, I was given the grace to see that their pessimism and fatalism were really symptoms of something larger: a great degree of disappointment in their circumstances. This colored their view of everything else they saw.

And somehow that produced a new wellspring of patience in me, as well as a willingness to demonstrate love. (This goes back to that curiosity bent that produces compassion we discussed in a previous post.)

Instead of returning their negativity with more than a bit of my own (“I’ll show them how difficult they are to be around right now!”), I turned toward their heart and sought to address its tender places.

This doesn’t mean I invaded their space or trespassed emotional boundaries.

It means that I listened what what they were saying.

And instead of telling them why they shouldn’t feel that way, I mirrored back that I heard their concern. (This goes back to the compassionate listening we’ve also discussed previously.)

I was surprised to find the conversation turn a corner.

Something came disarmed in them.

I have my suppositions about what happened.

  • Perhaps they felt seen in a way they hadn’t in a long time.
  • Perhaps they felt safe because I extended patience, acceptance, and care, rather than immediate judgment or rejection.
  • Perhaps they simply no longer felt a “me against them” tenor to the conversation, but rather an “us, together.”

Whatever the reason, it gave me greater faith in love’s power over all that carries the stench of death.

Granted, circumstances are not always this simplistic, nor are the outcomes always this positive.

But we must begin where we are, and adopting a nonviolent ethic of love means choosing to move toward another with generative and creative energy in moments that normally invite us to fight back, dismiss, reject, judge, ignore, or altogether avoid.

So, what about you?

How have you chosen love in the face of hatred, negativity, or violence in your life? What was that choice like for you? Did it make a difference at all?

We Are About: Responding to Violence with Curiosity

Our fellow tribemember Gigi, who early on suggested that we add to the JTN manifesto a commitment to look out at the world with and through eyes of love, also offered up the following:

Responding to violence with curiosity, rather than anger or judgment.

I believe curiosity is the starting point for compassion.

Curiosity gets us exploring outside the lines of our own experience. It opens up the possibility for someone else’s story to hold more than we immediately see. It meets us in a place of being willing to learn.

Consider this:

  • How often do you experience curiosity in your daily life?
  • Is curiosity a source of delight for you, or does it scare you?

I can see how curiosity holds the potential to provoke fear. To be curious implies meeting up against something we don’t yet know and therefore don’t yet understand. It requires humility from us, an acknowledgment that realities exist beyond our personal experience of them.

It allows the world — and the people in it — to be larger than the container we’ve thus far held them in.

On the road to nonviolence, curiosity becomes an essential component of learning to love our enemies.

This is because curiosity is rooted in the acknowledgment that all human stories and all of reality are more complex and mysterious than we can imagine or pin down. From this acknowledgement, we come to regard our enemies as larger than their immediate actions.

We give them the dignity of their whole story.

What’s more, we want to understand it.

This is a tough one, isn’t it?

Here’s what that can look like in practice.

A few weeks ago, a friend told me about some scenes in a couple movies I’ve been meaning to watch. In one (and I apologize for the explicit details about to be mentioned), a key character was beaten and killed by a group of people because of his sexual orientation. In another, a transgendered person was gang-raped and murdered.

When I heard these details, I was initially stunned. The violent acts were so gruesome and devastating, I felt my heart squeeze with pain that any person could sustain such aggression against their personhood.

But in the next moment, my heart squeezed with pain for a different reason.

I couldn’t get these questions out of my mind:

  • What caused them to do it?
  • What beliefs and fears led them to such violent acts?
  • How had they come to believe and fear those things?
  • Did they really understand what they had done?

I wished so much that I could understand the individuals who had done those things. I wished they were real people of whom I could earn the right to ask.

I think it is this kind of curiosity that creates in us a love for those we would normally consider our enemies. Rather than anger or judgment, we ask questions. We wonder at their stories.

And our hearts break because of them.

What about you?

How easy or difficult is it for you to respond with curiosity to people you’d normally consider your enemies?

We Are About: An Unwavering Belief in the Power of Love to Overcome Violence

(We are in the middle of a series about the JTN manifesto. To learn more, click here.)

I remember when I first encountered the idea that love is more powerful than violence.

It was October 2008.

I was reading a book for graduate school called A Holy Longing by Fr. Ronald Rolheiser and encountered these words:

One of the reasons why the world is not responding more to our challenge to justice is that our actions for justice themselves often mimic the very violence, injustice, hardness, and egoism they are trying to challenge. . . . The anger, crass egoism, bitterness, hardness, and aggression of so many peace groups and movements for justice can never serve as the basis for a new world order. It will convert few hearts, even when it is politically effective. . . . Love, not anger, is the basis for nonviolence and nonviolence is the only possible basis for a new world order of justice and peace.

That idea got me thinking for days and days.

How deeply had I believed justice was merely about making wrong things right, no matter how it was done? To be truthful, pretty deeply.

If one was on the path to truth, I assumed it was okay for indignation and self-righteousness to come into play. That seemed excusable to me in defense of truth. After all, “they” were wrong! The situation needed to be made right! It wasn’t okay that “that” was happening!

But here was a new idea.

Somehow, it might matter what kind of energy I put out into the world in the quest for justice.

Somehow, the way I treat my neighbor might affect his or her heart and openness to truth, and their heart and openness to truth might also matter.

I realized this made sense.

People matter as much, if not more, as ideas in God’s economy. After all, it was a love for the world that compelled Jesus Christ to enter into it when we were hopelessly unable to live up to the lasting perfection of God’s ideas.

The more I thought about this, the more it continued to make sense.

Any change for good that had ever happened in my heart had been the result of an encounter with love.

Not guilt.

Not anger.

Not indignation.

Not violence.

Guilt may have motivated me toward right action, but it never converted my heart.

Anger may have made me cower in fear and comply, but it never made me trust and embrace.

Indignation merely served to make me rise up in defensive indignation, too, unwilling to change.

Violence made me lash out in violence, too, or quietly fade away into a mere shell of a human being.

The only thing that ever pierced the flesh of my heart and made me more fully human was an encounter with sincere, genuine love.

What about you?