Category Archives: Activism

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.

A Response to the Criticism of Kony 2012

Most likely, you have heard about Kony 2012 by now. Yesterday this video link made the rounds on Twitter, and today I’ve seen it posted all day long on Facebook. News organizations and blogs have lit up with it, too, by now drawing attention to not only the video and the issue it presents, but also to a critical response the video and its organization, Invisible Children, have garnered.

Here is the place I’d recommend you start for an orientation to the critical response, which includes a lot of helpful links that you can follow for further orientation. Also, here is a point-by-point response to that critical response, written by a staff member of Invisible Children.

UPDATE: Invisible Children has released an official response to the criticism.

I am not affiliated with Invisible Children, nor do I support them financially. But those familiar with this space and my personal journey into nonviolence know that I have been concerned about the conflict in the Congo for some time, and I am personally thankful for the attention this issue has gained in the last 24-48 hours.

And really, I think that is the point.

I think about activism a lot because I maintain this space. I suppose when people learn that I care about, think about, pray about, and write about nonviolence, they think that means I’m an activist.

But I’ve realized over the last year or so that I’m not. At least, not at this point in time. I’m not going to be joining an international aid or humanitarian organization any time soon. I’m not going to move to a third-world or war-torn country. I’m not actively engaged in peacemaking activism in my hometown. And I very rarely write about global or current events in this space here.

Someday that all may change. But for the time being, that is the way it is.

And that’s because I’ve learned — slowly, slowly — over the last few years who I am and what I’m created to do. I am a spiritual director with a pastor’s heart and a priestly calling. I am still learning some of the practical realities of what that means, but in the bigger scope of things, it means I am concerned with the heart and with formation. That is my background. That is my training. That is my own story of healing and redemption. That is what I do with my life’s work.

So when it comes to nonviolence, at least for the time being, I’m asking questions about the heart. I’m engaging people in the interiorities of their own hearts. I’m learning about the violence within and how it is overcome.

That is my contribution.

I accord Invisible Children the same respect. I say this because the main criticism I’ve heard about Invisible Children today is that they primarily make videos and raise awareness and advocacy, rather than help solve the actual problem. I’ve heard they don’t know what it really will take to tackle this issue in Uganda, the Congo, and Sudan.

But I wouldn’t want them to solve the actual problem. That’s not what they’re equipped to do. That’s not who they are. They are communicators to a society of people who watch movies and care about global justice and who will use their voices to speak on behalf of it primarily through social media.

If Invisible Children succeeds in raising awareness about Joseph Kony (which it has) and provokes a democratic nation to speak up about their concern for this issue (which it has) so that those who do know the realities and complexities of this situation will hear that the issue has support and take appropriate steps in response (which only time will tell if it will), then I think they have done what they exist to do.

They are raising awareness to provoke a response that will impact policy. I’m reminded how necessary that awareness was in the Civil Rights and Vietnam eras — when Americans saw the realities of Birmingham and Vietnam, they agitated.

Let us agitate now.

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?

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!